“They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.” (John 16:2-3)
Scripture Reading – Acts 22:3-16
Violence done in the name of God is nothing new. The history of religion is filled with examples of those in the majority persecuting those in the minority. And this continues to be true today throughout the world. However, this isn’t what Jesus is telling His disciples; He’s not referring to the manipulation of religion for gaining power. He’s speaking of a much greater spiritual reality. When we enter into the ministry of making disciples of all peoples, Satan sets himself up in opposition to us. In other words, Satan enlists the world and its systems to oppose the fulfillment of the Great Commission. He does this through blinding the eyes of the world so they believe that it is their religious duty to oppose Christ and His disciples.
Jesus and His disciples were faced with hostility from the Jews when the gospel was proclaimed. It is interesting to note that Jesus, His disciples, and Paul all followed a similar ministry pattern. They first brought the gospel to the Jews—some of which received the gospel—but there was opposition that closed the door to ministry among the Jews in that region, so they subsequently took the gospel to the Gentiles. For example, Paul and Barnabas brought the gospel to Antioch of Pisidia, where their ministry faced resistance from the Jews. So Paul declared: “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). God gave the Jews an opportunity to be the first to hear the gospel. After all, the Messiah and salvation came through Israel. But the gospel was not only for the Jews, disciples were to be made from all nations.
It was the opposition from the Jews that led to the death of Christ. In fact, the Jewish leaders thought they were doing a great service by putting Jesus to death. Caiaphas, the High Priest declared: “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:50). The Jews also attacked Jesus’ disciples. They arrested Peter and John, put James to death by the sword, and stoned Stephen. Hatred towards Christ was so great that more than 40 Jews took an oath not to eat or drink before they ambushed and killed Paul. The Book of Acts tells of the great zeal of the Jews for defending their religion and opposing the gospel.
Paul acknowledges their zeal, but explains the cause of it. In Romans 10:2, he writes that the Jews “have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” This is exactly Jesus’ point. They do these things in the name of God, but they don’t know God. If they knew Christ, they would have known the Father. And because they are blinded to the truth about Christ, their zeal leads them to self-deception. They believe that they are honoring God by persecuting the gospel messenger when, in fact, they are instruments of Satan. Zeal and sincerity are not enough to prove the truth about your belief. It must be rooted in facts.
We know that Christ is God because He rose again so we obey His commands no matter the price we may have to pay. Obeying His command to bear testimony to the Resurrection means that we are willing to be in harm’s way. And, even if our faith is opposed with violence and fanaticism, we are to respond with love. We follow Christ’s example from the Cross when Jesus said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We don’t meet fanaticism with fanaticism or hatred with hatred. Instead, we obey God out of love by patiently bearing all things for the sake of the gospel. Are you humbly facing your opposition knowing that God will glorify Himself through your testimony?