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Fear and persecution

August 2017 | by Stephen Holland

One of the signs of the end times, as predicted in Scripture, is the rise of fear within human hearts and the persecution of the Lord’s people.

This is nothing new. We cannot overstate the warning given to the early New Testament church of such tribulation and suffering. Take the words of our Saviour: ‘But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time … with persecutions…’ Or the comfort given by the apostle Peter to the early church, ‘If ye suffer for righteousness sake … be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled’ (Mark 10:30; 1 Peter 3:14).

Revelation

We cannot only add verses of Scripture, detailing coming persecutions and tribulation, but a whole book, that being the last book of the Bible — Revelation. One fatal mistake to make in reading the book of Revelation is to put it all into the future, as if it said little or nothing to the people who were the original recipients.

That is to do a great disservice to the early suffering church: a sort of telling them in their own tribulation, ‘It has nothing to say or to do with you’. In fact, there are actually ten churches in Asia Minor mentioned in the New Testament, but seven are spoken of in Revelation 2-3, as that is the number of completeness. Revelation was written to the complete church, that is in every age. It was never intended as a prophecy glass for future generations to play with, for John even tells us ‘things which must shortly come to pass’ (Revelation 1:1).

One is ever amazed to hear Christians say, ‘Oh, I’m sure we must be in the last days’. The temptation to respond with, ‘When did you wake up?’, is ever present! After all, we’ve been in the last days for 2000 years.

Take Paul’s word to Timothy, ‘In the last days perilous times shall come’. Compare that with his earlier words, ‘Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith’ (2 Timothy 3:1; 1 Timothy 4:1).

When are these days that Paul speaks of? Was he thinking hundreds or even thousands of years ahead? Or was he actually speaking of his very own, present day? We believe he was speaking of his very own day.

After all, were there not perilous times for the early Christians? Were there not those who departed from the faith? We know there were, as even John himself states: ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us’. Or think of the heartache suffered by Paul: ‘For Demas hath forsaken me having loved this present world’ (1 John 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:10).

Present days

But it becomes even clearer when we read the words of Hebrews, ‘[God] hath in these last days spoken unto us by his son’ (Hebrews 1:2). There can be no future last days, or even talk of being in the last of the last days. This is foolishness. The next day to come is eternity.

The former days were God’s redemptive age before Christ came. The last days started at the coming of Christ and will end with the return of our Saviour, who will set up his everlasting kingdom of which there will be no other day to follow — it will be never-ending.

Be careful about reading present-day atrocities into the Bible. Yes, we are witnessing awful things in our day. But there were equally horrendous periods in human history before. Take the Black Death, that wiped out between 30 and 60 per cent of Europe’s population. Some have stated as many as 100 million people died from it, in the 14th century. More than half of London’s population perished as a result.

Or we could jump forward to the days of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, in the 17th century. So trying were those days that people expected the very imminent return of Christ. The church is ever passing through great tribulation, so let us ever be ready.

Stephen Holland

This article, reproduced by permission, first appeared in the September–October 2016 issue of Protestant Truth, the magazine of the Protestant Truth Society, for whom the author works as a Wickliffe Preacher.