Persecution - Then & Now
By: Donna J. Kazenske

I recently had the wonderful privilege of teaching a workshop on persecution at a Christian Training Conference in IIlinois. To my surprise, about 40 people attended the workshop. I was so blessed to be able to share this vital message with the body of Christ.

Persecution statistics:

* More than 43 million Christians have been killed for their faith since the crucifixion of Jesus.

* It's been estimated that more Christians have been martyred in the 20th Century than in all the prior 1,900 years combined.

* There have been more than 26 million documented cases of martyrdom in this century alone.

* More than 200 million Christians in over 60 nations face persecution each day, 60% of these are children.

* 150,000 to 165,000 are martyred each year.

Christians today are the most persecuted group in the world. Persecution is on the rise because of Communism, the expansion of Islamic and Hindu extremism, and because of the anti-Christ spirit that is prevalent throughout the world.

Of the world's over six billion people: 151 million claim to be atheists, 2 billion are Christians, 1.2 billion are Muslims, 786 million are Hindus and 362 million are Buddhists.

Literally hundreds of thousands of people today are being killed, brutalized, sold as slaves, imprisoned, tortured, threatened, discriminated against and arrested solely because they are Christians.

I Peter 4:12-16 - Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. If any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.

John 15:20 - "Remember the word that I said to you, a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you."

Christian persecution can be traced all the way back to Christianity's beginnings. Jesus Christ himself was martyred on the cross. The Early Church faced widespread persecution with Stephen being the first Christian martyr.

Acts 8:1 - Now Saul was consenting to his (Stephen's) death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

This persecution caused the word of God to spread to other parts of the known world. It forced the church to come out of their comfort zones and go to places they did not plan on going to. It wasn't an easy thing for them, but God turned it for good.

Eleven of the twelve apostles were martyred for their faith. John was the only apostle who died a natural death. He was seized by the authorities under the order of Emperor Domitian who reigned from AD 81-96. Tradition says that John drank poison to prove that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were with him to protect him. A condemned prisoner was then forced to drink the poison to prove that it was lethal. The prisoner died and John raised him from the dead. John was then thrown into a caldron of boiling oil which also failed to kill him. He was eventually banished to the Island of Patmos where he received the awesome revelation of Jesus Christ.

Rev. 1:9 - I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Why was John on the Island of Patmos? Was he enjoying a much needed vacation or taking a Bahama cruise? Of course not. He was there because of his testimony for Jesus Christ. He was being persecuted for his faith in the Lord.

It's time for the church of Jesus Christ to wake up, come out of her slumber and begin to be a living testimony for Jesus.

As we continue reading chapter one of the book of Revelation, we see that the Lord begins to give John some specific instructions concerning the revelation that he is about to receive. The Lord reveals Himself to John as the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.

Rev. 1:17 - And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last."

John was very familiar and acquainted with Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. He walked with Him, talked with Him, ate with Him and probably slept in the same house. He was very intimate with the Lord during His earthly ministry. However, on this particular day, the Lord revealed Himself to John in a way that John had never seen Him before. He never knew Jesus as the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last. This was a whole new ball game for John. The experience was so powerful that John fell at His feet as dead.

As I was preaching this message a few weeks ago, the Lord showed me a vision of a large diamond being graciously held and turned by His steady hand. A bright light from heaven was glistening upon the precious gem. As the Lord turned the diamond around very slowly, I was able to see the different facets of this luxurious gem. The Lord spoke to me and said, "Just as this diamond is many faceted, so am I. There are many facets to knowing who I really am."

John was in the midst of being persecuted for his faith when God gave him this awesome revelation. He was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, caught up into a place that He had never been before. This glorious experience was unlike any previous encounter that He may have had with the Lord.

We would not have the book of Revelation today if it hadn't been for John being exiled to the Island of Patmos. The Bible, as we know it today, would be an incomplete book. God used this horrifying persecution experience to show John another facet of who He was.

Can God use persecution to further His work in our lives? Can he anoint and protect His people during times of great trial and persecution? Can He reveal Himself to us in times of persecution? The answer to all of these questions is yes!

Jesus never promised us a life of ease and pleasure. His word specifically tells us that we will be hated and persecuted by those who do not know Him.

2 Tim. 3:12 - All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

No Christian is exempt from what the Lord has declared in His word. This should not bring fear to our lives, but it should cause us to rejoice knowing that we have been counted worthy to take part in the fellowship of His sufferings. If we really want to know the Lord in the way that the Apostle Paul knew Him, we must be willing to go all the way with Jesus. We must be willing to lay our lives down for the cause of the Gospel. People everywhere are looking for a cause. Today I've given you one.