But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes. (10:23)
Persecution is never to be sought or endured for its own sake; nor should we intentionally bring it on ourselves, supposedly for Christ’s sake. We have no right to provoke animosity or ridicule. And Christ here urges escaping persecution when doing so is expedient and possible. We are not obligated to stay in a place of opposition and danger until we are killed, or even imprisoned. Whenever they persecute you in this city, Jesus says, flee to the next.
That is the pattern Paul followed throughout his ministry (see Acts 12–14, 17). When persecution became so severe in one place that he could no longer minister effectively, he left and went to another. He was not afraid of persecution, and many times he was severely beaten before he left a city. At least once he was stoned and left for dead. But he did not try to test the limits of the opposition. He endured whatever ridicule, reviling, beatings, and imprisonment were necessary while he ministered. But he left a place when his effectiveness there ceased.
That is the pattern that every faithful minister and missionary is to follow until the Son of Man comes. Even during the Great Tribulation, Christ’s faithful 144,000 Jewish people will preach all over the world and keep moving from place to place as they are persecuted and afflicted.
Despite their many misunderstandings, shortcomings, failures, and boastings, the disciples knew that Jesus was their only resource, that without Him they could do nothing (John 15:5). They hung close to Him and huddled around Him whenever there were problems or difficulties. He continually turned nature into one grand parable of God’s sovereignty, power, and love. Every field, mountain, tree, flower, animal, leaf, and threshing floor became a picture of Spiritual truth. He not only taught them, but He cared for them, loved them, and provided for them. When they finally realized He was actually going to leave them, they panicked.
The Lord would indeed send the twelve out among wolves into dangers they could never have imagined while they were with Him. But just as He promised to send them out among wolves, He also promised to send His own Spirit to indwell, empower, and encourage them. If the world persecuted the Master, it would certainly persecute His servants (John 15:20), and a time would soon come when those who killed His followers would actually think they were “offering service to God” (16:2). It was therefore both advantageous and necessary that Jesus go away, in order that the Holy Spirit, the divine Helper and Comforter, could come to them (v. 7). “These things I have spoken to you,” Jesus told them, “that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (v. 33).
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