False Teachers and Persecution – the Battle is On
Jesus warns His followers: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you…If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18 and 20b) Conflicts will take place before Jesus returns. And if you love Jesus you will most likely suffer persecution.
On our side of the battle, we try to spread the Good News that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior. That He died to take away our sins and rose again. That He is Life and Light. And when we humbly open our hearts and believe in Him, we receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus said:” I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one come to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) The battle is all about Jesus and who He is. And the battle is a spiritual battle.
But on the other side, the false teachers- mock the believers and angrily deny Jesus to be the Savior and the Son of God. Sometimes they pretend to be believers (wolves in sheep’s clothing) and try to water down our faith by considering Jesus to just be a great teacher who lived two thousand years ago. They are too smart to believe in the real Jesus of the Bible, and they work to keep everyone else from believing in Him too. They come into our churches to deceive people who are coming to Christ and to destroy Christian fellowship. Scripture describes them as “savage wolves.” (Acts 20:29) The battle is spiritual, and the battle lines have been drawn.
Christ-followers have received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit which guides us into all truth. (1 John 2:20-21) But the false teachers, or “antichrists”, want to destroy the truth and they mess with Jesus’ identity. (1 John 2:22-23)
Christ-followers believe what the Bible says about Jesus, and this believing - or faith - on our part opens our hearts for the Holy Spirit to come in and transform us. (1 John 2:26-27) It is truly a miracle! Scripture says: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31a) and “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Christ followers need not fear because God’s Holy Spirit holds fast to us. The Bible says that when we believe in Jesus the Holy Spirit “abides” (or lives) in us. (1 John 2:26-27) We are admonished to study the Bible (abide or live in God’s Word) and learn the truths in God’s Word so well that we can be able to distinguish the truth from the lies.
There is a spiritual battle going on – the battle between light and darkness, truth and lies, good and evil and as Christians we are in it. But Jesus won the battle over sin and death at His resurrection. And He will return in victory. And we will be victorious with Him if we are His followers. (1 John 2:28)
God’s Word, the Bible tells us that since there are many false prophets trying to confuse us, we are to test what we hear before we believe it. (1 John 4:1-6) The truth is that Jesus is incarnate (born and lived on earth as a man) and is the Son of God. Anyone who teaches anything different about Jesus Christ is teaching falsehood, according to Scripture. Jesus couldn’t be our Savior and Redeemer, giving us eternal life in Him, if He was just a man and not the Son of God! False teachers always try to water down who Jesus is and that He is the only way to God the Father. You can count on that.
Along with false prophets, we as believers also may face persecution in this spiritual battle here on earth. Jesus sends a message or letter to the Christian church in Smyrna, one of the early churches that was going through heavy persecution. The year was approximately 95 A.D. and Jesus gave this message to the John, the apostle to pass on to the church. Here is Christs’ message to the church in Smyrna that was under heavy persecution at the time.
“These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and come to life. I know your works, tribulation, and poverty, but you are rich. And I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer, Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested and you will have troubles for ten days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:8-10)
Smyrna was one of the cities in Asia Minor (now Turkey). In 95 A.D. Smyrna had built a large magnificent temple to the worship of the Emperor Augustus. The people of Smyrna took great pride in the imperial cult. They worshipped the emperor as a god, and they insisted on zealous support from all the citizens. History reveals that there was a law that once each year every citizen in Smyrna was forced to kneel before the statue of the Emperor Augustus and burn incense to him and worship him as his god. Of course, this caused a problem for the Christian church in Smyrna, since they (and we) are only to worship God and serve only Him. (Exodus 20:3) There are to be no other gods before Him.
Each person who bowed before the Emperor and burned incense to him was given a receipt for the year which allowed him or her to buy and sell their goods in the cities’ large marketplace for that year. When the Christians in Smyrna stood up for Jesus and refused to worship another god, they were denied a receipt to buy or sell their goods. The believers in Smyrna were willing to give up selling their goods and receiving the money that those sales would bring. They were willing to live in poverty for Christs’ sake. And He sees their poverty.
Jesus tells them that He knows about their troubles and about their poverty. He knows that they would rather be poor and needy than to forsake Him. And He tells them that they are really very rich. Rich toward God. Spiritually rich! Jesus tells the church in Smyrna that some of them would be thrown in prison for their courage in standing up for Him. But that their troubles would only last a little while. And some would die. But after death, He promises them a crown of life.
We have read the history of the Christian churches and we know that soon after 95 A.D. a large number of believers in Christ had to face prison, slavery, torture and death because of their refusal to participate in worshipping the Emperor. Not to participate in emperor worship was interpreted as a lack of loyalty and friendship. The price of disobeying Roman law was death. Down through these last two thousand years there have been many martyrs for Jesus. – people who refused to compromise with evil and deny Christ, even though it meant their death.
One of the early slanders widely circulated about Christians, accused them of being “haters of all mankind.” When we Christians refuse to join in on some of the sins that our friends are involved in, some of the actions that are popular, when we don’t “fit in” with the lifestyle of the world around us, we are often excluded, laughed at and persecuted. Are we willing to stand up for Christ even when we won’t ”fit in” with what most everyone else is doing. Are we willing to take the heat?
What similarities can we see between the culture of Smyrna and our own? Have we seen society’s pressure on Christians to compromise our faith growing? Would we be willing, like our brothers and sisters in Smyrna, to not buy and sell – and to suffer poverty – in order to stay true to our Savior?
Let’s live today like it won’t last forever. Not expect in this life to get everything that is promised to us in the next. (Matthew 19:29) Lets’ pursue being rich toward God rather than being rich in this world. (Luke 12:21) And lets’ remember that if you stand up for Jesus you can know that He will stand up for you. (Acts 7:55-56)