Increased Persecution, Increased Unity

Satan is ramping up his assault on believers in preparation for the Tribulation

The church is uniting like never before, and it’s also being attacked like never before. Both of these are signs that we’re living in the last days.

Sunday, November 22, marked the 24th International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, which united Christians around the world in prayer. Even though the mood toward Christians in America has deteriorated in recent years, our situation is nothing compared to the 60 nations that face persecution and even martyrdom from their authoritarian governments.

Consider these statistics from the Esther Project, which gathers data about the persecuted church:

  • More than 70 million Christians have been martyred in the course of history. More than half were martyred in the 20th century under communist and fascist governments. (Gordon-Conwell Resources)

  • In the 21st century, roughly 100,000 to 160,000 Christians have been killed each year. (Gordon-Conwell ResourcesWorld Christian Database)

  • Roughly 1,093,000 Christians were martyred, worldwide, between 2000 and 2010. (World Christian Database)

  • 322 Christians are killed for their faith every month. (Open Doors)

  • 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed every month. (Open Doors)

  • 772 forms of violence (beatings, kidnappings, rape, arrest, etc.) are committed against Christians every month. (Open Doors)

Making war against the saints

As I have written previously, the global increase of persecution is an end-times theme in both the Old and New Testaments.

Daniel tells us that the Antichrist will make “war against the saints…prevailing over them” (Daniel 7:21).

Jesus says “they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9).

Paul tells us to expect persecution in the last days, as “evil men and imposters grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

Revelation is sometimes called “the Book of Martyrs” because the theme is so prevalent.

On one hand, these persecutions will not reach fever-pitch until after the Rapture, during the Great Tribulation. On the other hand, we should not have expected the rate of persecution to go from zero-to-sixty overnight. Satan is ramping up his assault as he prepares for those seven years of hell-on-earth. The greater the persecution, the closer we are to the very end.

Unity of the faith

But that’s not the whole story, either. Even though the church will be persecuted like never before, it will also be united like never before. This is what we learn in Ephesians 4:

11 And He Himself gave some [to be] apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.—Ephesians 4:11-13

Why does God give the so-called “five-fold ministry” of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers? It’s to equip God’s people for reaching perfect unity. As everyone begins to operate in their gifts, the church will embody Christ like never before. When the world sees us—they will see Jesus.

That’s precisely why, in the last days, the world will respond with increased persecution. Jesus says, “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you, also” (John 15:20). The more we look like Jesus, the more the world will hate us. The very fact that the Church is being so persecuted is actually evidence that the global Church looks more like Jesus than ever before.

In America, we don’t see that nearly as clearly as our persecuted brothers and sisters. Like the Laodicean church, America’s relative wealth has blinded us to our desperate need for God. Out of all the seven churches in Revelation, the two faithful ones were in Smyrna in Philadelphia. Smyrna had only a little money and Philadelphia had only a little strength.

Both of them faced persecution.

Sanctification through suffering

The Church in America could learn a lot from those Christian groups enduring persecution all over the world. Many Christians are concerned about persecution visiting America’s shores in the not-too-distant future. I share that concern. At the same time, I know that Jesus is coming quickly to rapture His Bride. But even if persecution comes to America before then, my hope is not in a painless life. It is in being conformed to the image of Christ. 

In this age, being conformed to Christ’s image happens through pain and suffering:

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.—Romans 5:3-5

At the end of the age, it happens through Christ’s return: 

…when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”1 John 3:2

I’ll take my sanctification any way God gives it, but I sure prefer the “rapture option” over pain and suffering! Either way, let us unite in prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters. 

And let us pray for Jesus to come quickly!