Let's look at . We began examining this passage last Lord's Day, and just really got started. We're going to finish this morning these most important verses. I want you to listen carefully as the Spirit of God teaches us what our Lord would have us to know.
As the Lord Jesus Christ is sending forth the Twelve, He is sending them into a hostile world. He has seen the harvest, He knows that laborers are needed, He asks them to pray, and then He sends the very ones He asked to pray. Earlier in this chapter, He told us who they were by name. Then, in verses 5-15, He gave them their instructions for ministry. Now, in verses 16-23, He tells them how to react when the world rejects them. In other words, in their very commissioning is the anticipation of rejection.
I remember when I was ordained to the Christian ministry; I had just graduated from seminary and I was called before a council of pastors. I had to answer, in three different sessions, questions on the Scripture. I remember standing at my ordination and having a man say to me, "Do you believe you're called to preach the Gospel?" I said, "Yes." He said, "If you were forbidden to preach the Word of God, what would you do?" I said, "I'd preach it anyway." He said, "If this group decided not to ordain you, determined that you were unfit for the ministry, and refused to give you their sanction to preach, what would you do?" I said, "I would preach anyway." I think what he was really doing was setting me up for the anticipated rejection that could come.
In a sense, that's what our Lord is doing right here. He has ordained and commissioned, and now, as He sends them, He says in verse 16, "By the way, you are going forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Don't expect it to be easy." These were the original missionaries, and they were sent with a very honest sending.
They had divine power; on the one hand, there is a certain invincibility in that power. On the other hand, they were sheep, and there is a certain vulnerability in that. So, in the ministry, that's how it is: there is the tension between invincibility and vulnerability; the power of God and the weakness of man.
As they go, they're going to have problems, because the hating world will reject them, and they need to know how to deal with those problems. That is why he writes verses 16-23. Let me remind you of what I said last time; the passage telescopes from the moment in which the Lord was sending out the Twelve on the first short-term missionary assignment all the way to the time of the Tribulation, and there are principles here that relate to believers facing a hostile world in any age.
Verse 23 ends with the coming of the Son of Man, so it sweeps through the history of all of God's people. Some things here are directly and specifically related to the Twelve, and others sweep beyond that, in principle, to relate to all of us, and especially that generation that will be alive just prior to the coming of the Lord.
In order to understand the passage, we have to ask four questions. First, who are the wolves? Notice verses 17 and 22 say, "Beware of men. Ye shall be hated of all men." The wolves are our own kind. Though it is true that we wrestle against spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies, principalities and powers, rulers of the darkness; it is true that we wrestle against demonic enemies, but they find their form in the world through human agencies so that men become the dupes, the pawns, the agents of demons. So we find our enemy attacking us through the human system. The wolves, then, are men.
Secondly, why are they so vicious? Verses 18 and 22 say, "Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake. And ye shall be hated of all men for My name's sake." Their viciousness comes because they are so against Christ; it is not that they really don't like us; it is that they don't like the one we represent. The wolves are men, and they are vicious because of Jesus Christ, who is so despised and hated by Satan and his demons. Thus men, as his dupes, will relay that hate toward us.
Third question: how do the wolves attack? That is very important, and the Lord is very explicit about that. First of all, they attack through religion. Verse 17 says, "Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you," that is, they will beat you with whips, but most often with rods strapped together that flail against the flesh, "In their synagogues."
'Synagogues' is the key word in verse 17 because it establishes a religious context. The Jewish people had synagogues, or meeting places, in every town and village. In the synagogues, they would carry out their own particular brand of law. If someone violated any of the laws of Moses or rabbinical tradition, he would be brought before the local synagogue. A tribunal of 23 judges would render a verdict, followed by a sentencing. Frequently, the sentence was scourging, or smashing this band of sticks into a person's back, which flayed and flagellated the skin.
Old Testament law required no more than 40 such stripes to be given to each victim, according to Deuteronomy 25:3, so they never gave more than 39 to be sure they remained within the letter of the law. One judge would call out the sentence, and another would call out the number of blows to be given, another judge would say, "One," and then the person would be hit. A fourth judge would count, and another would say, "Two," he'd be hit again, and they would keep counting. So they were very involved in carrying out this punishment.
We know from the reading of Maimonides that while it was going on, they would read appropriate Scripture, or they would even sing songs. So it was a part of the function of the synagogue to discipline. If you think church discipline is tough nowadays, you have no idea what it was really like. They would actually beat the people in front of the whole congregation.
Our Lord told the disciples to expect to be delivered up to the councils, the local courts in the synagogues. The supreme court of the land was the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. He told them to expect to be scourged in the synagogues.
The apostles were scourged in the synagogue in Acts 5:40. Acts 22:19 tells us the Apostle Paul, before his conversion, went from synagogue to synagogue dragging in Christians and having them scourged for heresy. II Corinthians 11:24 says that Paul himself was scourged five times, and probably all five of those happened in synagogues. So it did happen in the early church.
Commentator William Barclay said, "It has often been true that the man with a message from God has had to undergo the hatred and the enmity of a fossilized orthodoxy." The fact of the matter is that our Lord Jesus Christ was actually sentenced to death by religionists; it was men of religion who wanted rid of him - the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, and elders. It was the religionists who wanted Him dead.
So Jewish persecution of Christians continued until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, after which we have no record of Jewish persecution of Christians, up to the present day, even. It is probably true that when Jewish people come to Christ, they might experience rejection and persecution from their family, and there may have been some other, isolated persecutions, but there has been no wholesale persecution of Christianity by Judaism since A.D. 70.
Further, let me say this. In the time in which we live today, there may be a coming persecution of Christians in the Holy Land itself. They are making laws rather rapidly now to stop the spread of Christianity over there, and it could come to the point where the religious forces of the government will persecute Christianity.
So our Lord says in Matthew 10 to expect persecution from Jewish sources. I have to add, in case you think I'm anti-Semitic, which I'm not, that the people I love most are all Jewish; Jesus, Paul, Peter, and all their friends. Next to my wife and kids, I spend more time with Jesus and Paul than anyone in the world, and they're just as alive to me as any of you, by the way. While the Bible shows that Jews once persecuted Christians, that is only a representation of religious persecution in general. There have been and will be other councils of religionists who will persecute Christianity.
For example, in the time of the Apostle Paul, the Romans persecuted the Christians terribly because they were involved in so many pagan religions. In the Roman world, in the city of Ephesus, they worshiped Diana and Artemis. When the Gospel was preached there, in Acts 19, they put the idol-makers out of business. So a riot broke out, and persecution started against Christians because they were affecting the religion of the day.
The Romans were committed to emperor worship, and Christianity posed a tremendous threat to that worship. Pliny, the governor of Bithynia, wrote that he was taking steps to check the rapid growth of Christianity because it was growing so rapidly that the pagan temples were doing little business - no one was buying sacrificial animals or idols. They had to stamp out Christianity because it was affecting their religion.
Many demons have influenced pagan people in remote areas to massacre innocent missionaries century after century in the history of the church. You will find that, throughout all of human history, religion has killed true believers because Satan is behind that false religious system, and he desires to wipe out the church. Believe me, he'll do it in our time, if he can do it, and it may well be coming.
Even within Christianity, false people would be happy to kill the true believers. In Acts 20:29, Paul said, "I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock." Things have been done, even in the name of Christianity, against true Christians, as well as in the name of Judaism, and in the name of paganism. Religion is a persecutor.
It will be in the end, too. Look Revelation 17. When all is summed up, the ultimate and final persecution will occur during the Tribulation, and true saints will be massacred all over the place. Revelation 17:5 designates the final form of world religion as, "Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth." How's that for a title for a religion? Can you see that on a sign out in front of a building, welcoming you on a Sunday morning at 11 o'clock? But that will be the false form of final world religion.
It all came from Babel. You see, it was at Babel that false religion found its form. When the Lord scattered the people from the Tower of Babel, they spread the roots of false religion around the globe. All pagan religions of the world can be traced back to that original, false system. At the end, it's as if they run full-circle; they started at Babel, they spread around the world, and they come together in an incredibly Satanic ecumenism.
The final form of world religion is seen, all brought together, and John sees it in his vision. He says, "I saw the woman [the consummate, final representation of world religion] drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus." What he's saying is that one thing is for sure: false religious systems have made themselves drunk on the blood of the saints. That has been true, that is true, and it will ultimately be true as they slaughter and massacre the believers, even in the time of the Tribulation.
We should not be surprised at such a future. In Matthew 7:15, our Lord warned of those who would come dressed in, "Sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves," coming in the name of religion. II Corinthians 2 says Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, so don't be surprised if his ministers are disguised as servants of righteousness; watch out for religion. Such religion masks itself as respectable, but it is a persecutor of the truth, doing everything to destroy it, even taking life if it has the authority, because it is operated by Satan, who is a liar and a murderer.
There is a second source of attack in verse 18, which is government. Not only is religion going to persecute, but government is as well. "Ye shall be brought before governors," literally procurators, like Pilate, Felix, and Festus, in biblical days. That would also refer to any lesser than a king, any government official. "And kings," monarchs, such as Agrippa I and II, Herod Antipas, and others in the biblical picture. "For My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles."
'For a testimony against them' is a little hard to interpret. Some think that, in the persecution, you stand as a living rebuke, or testimony, against those who persecute you. Others think that you'll be brought before them to give your testimony, and I lean that way. You'll be brought before government officials to give your testimony, to proclaim the truth. On the other hand, as I said, it could mean that you'll be a testimony against them and other such pagans who persecute Christianity.
When you're brought before them to give that testimony, whether it's a testimony of positive message of the Gospel, or whether it's an indicting testimony to condemn them, just realize that you will be brought before them, governors and kings. That's government, not religion. It's the state who will persecute.
The Romans did that, even apart from their religion. Their government feared a slave revolt since there were approximately 16 million slaves in the empire. It was thought that slaves and freedmen could never marry because a slave wasn't considered a person; such a marriage was utterly and totally illegal in the system. But when people became Christians, they were immediately confronted with the truth that, in a spiritual sense, there is neither slave nor free. So many Roman authorities thought Christianity was imminently dangerous because it gave slaves equality with everyone else, so they thought there could be a slave rebellion. Just the thought of millions of slaves revolting would be enough to scare them to death.
Since they were so threatened by Christianity, they made up charges against the Christians. They accused them of cannibalism, distorting the symbolic meaning of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ in Communion. They accused them of immorality in their love feasts. They accused them of revolution because their eschatology taught that the earth would be destroyed by fire.
As a result, Christians were blamed for the burning of Rome in A.D. 64. They accused Christians of disloyalty to the emperor because they wouldn't bow down to him. They accused them of breaking up marriages and destroying the family. Anything they could do, they moved against them, because they were so panicked by the liberation of slaves to an equality, that it might destroy their empire. The Roman Empire persecuted Christians. Most of the disciples who heard Jesus' instruction in Matthew 10 died at the hands of the government, namely the Roman government or some ancillary government.
Governments have attacked the church all throughout history - big and little governments, weak ones and powerful ones, ones dominated by men in groups, and ones dominated by individual men. Throughout history, all have persecuted the church. In Russia, countless Christians were slaughtered after the revolution. Many were slaughtered in communist China as well. In Uganda, under the government of Idi Amin, Christians suffered horrifying atrocities.
Pastor F. Kefa Sempangi told about going with one of his church's elders to visit a family. They discovered the entire family with their tongues and eyeballs cut out, with the exception of one small boy, who was left to discover his whole family terribly mutilated and dead. That's just one example of what has gone on throughout history. Governments have always persecuted the saints, and will continue to do that.
In the Tribulation, the government of the Antichrist will persecute whatever Christians are around. Revelation 13:7 tells us that after he comes to power, "It was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them; and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations." Verse 10 says he will kill them with the sword.
I get upset when post-Tribulationalists, those who believe we're going to go through the Tribulation, say, "You want to get out of the Tribulation because you want to avoid trouble." That has never been the reason; we have never avoided trouble. Throughout the history of the church, there has always been this reaction to the truth, because even though government, as an entity, is ordained by God for the preservation of social structure, the government is a representation of Satan's work, because he is the one animating the actual function.
God keeps government together, and there is enough restraint in government to preserve human society, but it also manifests the control of Satan. There is a very interesting tension. The government is ordained of God, yet manipulated by Satan himself. That is why Daniel, Isaiah, and Ezekiel saw demonic forces behind their governments. The government of the world will persecute Christianity because Satan is the prince of this world. You might think the United States won't persecute Christianity. But if the Lord tarries, and we live long enough, we may see the day when our government will deny us some of the freedoms we have had in the past. It's already encroaching on a few of those now.
Thirdly, there is one more attack that Satan will make through the wolves. In verse 21 it says, "The brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child; and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death." Persecution also comes through the family. That's why, in verse 36, He says, "A mans foes will be they of his own household, and if you love your father or mother more than Me, you're not worthy of Me. If you love your son or daughter more than Me, you're not worthy of Me." In other words, it's going to come down to the family.
I have known of people whose families held funeral services for them upon hearing of their faith in Christ. I know of a child who is dead because of his Christian faith, that was really the issue. Only God knows how many people have persecuted, betrayed, or killed members of their own family because of their faith in Christ. Only God knows how many parents or children turned their own families in to the government in 2ndand 3rdCentury Rome. Only God knows how many people in other countries throughout the history of the world have revealed to authorities about believing family members. Only God knows how many people were eaten by lions because they were turned in by their own family. But the Lord says to expect it; if you're looking within your family for solace, you might instead find your own worst enemy.
Commentator R.C.H. Lenski quoted one author as saying, "Two things are stronger than natural love, the one born of hell, the other born of heaven." I think that's right. Stronger than natural love is the love of God, and stronger than natural love is the love of hell. According to Romans 1:24-26, people forsake natural affections because they are so evil.
There is an interesting reverse parallel to this in Zechariah 13:3. This is in the future time, the time of the Messiah, in the end times, after the Valley of Megiddo. This chapter talks about a time of salvation for Israel, and it may well be the time of the Kingdom. This will be the fate of false prophets at the return of Christ: "It shall come to pass that, when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and mother who begot him shall say unto him, 'Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord;' and his father and his mother who begot him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth." Zechariah says that there may come a day when parents will kill their false prophet children; this is unbelievable conflict within the family.
In Matthew 10:34-37, Jesus said, "I came not to send peace, but a sword, to set a man at variance against his father. A man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loves father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me; and he that loves son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me." Families will become persecutors, and that may hurt the deepest, but that will be the way it is. I think it will happen in the Tribulation that families will be set against each other.
In Mark 13:12-14, he records the teaching of the Lord, and Jesus repeated this same teaching in the Olivet Discourse. The context is the Tribulation, and He says, "Brother shall betray brother to death, and the father, his son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for My name's sake; but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel, the prophet." That last statement places the context as the middle of the Tribulation. So our Lord is saying that this will be the case throughout history, and especially during the time of the Tribulation.
Christians will be persecuted because the world, religion, and government react negatively to the Gospel. False religions react because they are generated by Satan. Government reacts because they are controlled by the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this world. Families react because they cannot tolerate a righteous individual in the midst of their unrighteousness. The wolves will do all they can to slaughter the sheep.
One final question; what are the sheep supposed to do in response? The wolves are men, they are vicious because they hate Christ, and they attack through religion, government, and the family. What is the response of the sheep? I am going to give you six responses, and we will finish, so hang in there. But we aren't here to finish, but to get the message, right?
Number one: be wise. Verse 16 says, "Be ye, therefore, wise as serpents." In Egyptian hieroglyphics, the serpent is a symbol for wisdom. The ancients viewed snakes as shrewd, cunning, smart, keen-minded, prudent, and cautious, using great skill to avoid danger. The word speaks of shrewdness, wariness, having a circumspect perspective. In Colossians 4:5 Paul says, "Walk in wisdom toward them that are outside." In other words, Christians are to be wise in dealing with the wolves of the world around them. What kind of wisdom? The subtlety, anticipation, sensitivity, cunning, cautiousness, wariness, shrewdness of a serpent.
To put it another way, say precisely the right thing at the right time in the right place. It's a serious attempt, I believe, to discover the best means to achieve the highest goal. As we confront a hostile world, we have to be wise. There is no sense in creating havoc all around us. We know their tempers, that they are anti-Christian, they don't want our message, so we must be careful in how we approach them. We have to use wisdom. You can say inflammatory things and ignite conflict with every step you take, or you can use discretion.
When the Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus if we should pay taxes, our Lord could have replied, "Caesar is a rotten, wretched, vile, no-good, debauched, evil sinner, damned to Hell forever." But He said, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God, the things that are God's." He didn't compromise the truth, yet He was wise enough not to say everything that could be said and perpetuate something that wasn't supposed to happen.
Be wise; find the best way to handle a confrontation or conflict. Be careful. The one who faces a hostile world should avoid offensive situations. Don't make trouble and wreak havoc. Some people become Christians and immediately get fired from their jobs, and say it's persecution, but it's only stupidity. Be careful, be wise.
Secondly, He says, "Be harmless as doves." I can't imagine being threatened by an attack from a dove, can you? It seems rather innocuous - the lovely, little, white dove. But there is more than harmlessness. Christians are not to cause harm, create issues and problems. We're not to be running through the world, fighting back and crushing people, devastating people, and being intrusive, brash, or rude. We're to be harmless and gentle.
More than that, the concept here is purity and innocence. In Song of Solomon 5:2, the husband says to his wife, "My dove, my undefiled." The dove was a symbol of purity, holiness, and innocence. While we are to be wise, we also are to be pure. When we seek a wiser method in dealing with a problem, we should never compromise the truth.
So it's a two-fold idea: on the one hand, we don't fight back, but on the other hand, we don't compromise truth. But sometimes, we don't have to say all that could be said in a vitriolic manner. Be wise and shrewd, but do it in a way that doesn't compromise. Keep your integrity, honesty, and purity. The dove is gentle, pure, uncorrupted, and sincere, in the imagery. Those who represent Christ are not to cause injury or employ trickery or deceit in trying to escape from danger; they are to be wise, pure, and gentle.
In Luke 6:27, Jesus summed it up by saying, "Love your enemies, do good to them who hate you." He's saying to maintain your purity, wisdom, harmlessness, show a gentle spirit. In I Corinthians 9:22, Paul said, "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." You have to be discreet, but never compromise the truth, so that you maintain your purity. Find that perfect balance between the two.
In I Peter 2:23, when our Lord was reviled, He didn't revile in return. When He was cursed, He didn't curse back. When His enemies abused Him on the cross, He forgave them their sin. Such was the gentleness displayed by Jesus. That's where it all begins.
Thirdly, be wise, harmless, and beware. Be alert, on your guard, watchful, perceptive. You know what evil intentions lurk in the hearts of men. Men who are the agents of the Devil, and that's all men who aren't regenerated, are after something. When I talk to the press or do a radio interview, I have to be watchful and discerning, seeking to avoid forums that attempt to discredit the Gospel. There are some forums that are right, and some that are wrong for the proclamation of the Gospel, and you must understand the intention of evil men; you must be watchful and discerning and seek to avoid those kinds of situations that will discredit it.
Paul was caught in such a situation in Acts 23:1-5. He said he stood before God with a clear conscience. When the high priest, "Commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, 'God shall smite thee, thou whited wall.'" I mean, we knew Paul had it in him all the time, didn't we? That's just name calling. But when Paul discovered that he just said that to the high priest, he had to apologize. He wasn't alert and under control as he should have been. Be careful. Don't give the wolves an opportunity to condemn you or play in their court. Be careful. Their evil intention is to make you compromise. Beware.
Fourthly, be calm. Verse 19 says, "When they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak." In other words, when they haul you into the councils and courts, and threaten your life, don't be anxious, be calm.
You say, "To be arrested and persecuted is a very traumatic experience. How do I be calm?" First of all, don't worry about your defense and what you will say. Jesus told the disciples not to worry because He would take care of them; He would give them what to say. He said, "Just go about your business ministering. Don't worry about what is going to happen. Be wise, harmless, and beware. Minister, and if it comes to the point where you come before a council, I'll take care of it." They didn't need to prepare a defense; they just needed to relax and stay calm. Literally, drop all worry completely. In Philippians 4:6 Paul says, "Be anxious for nothing."
Jesus gave the reason for not being anxious: "For it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak." Let's take that in a broad sense. I believe that when anyone in any age at any time goes before any council in the name of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God will bring to his or her mind the right things to say. Based on what we have learned from our study of Scripture, the Spirit of God will be their defender. I don't believe the Lord would abandon us in that kind of situation.I read in a book this morning some of the testimonies of great martyrs that were uttered just before they were put to death. Some of the most marvelous words imaginable were uttered by these men and women before they died. God obviously gave them a special presence of mind and clarity of thought to present a testimony more powerful than they would otherwise have been able to give in that crisis moment. I never fear that; if I were to be cornered in a situation on television in front of cameras, or in the middle of a hostile situation in another part of the world, I've never even given a second thought to what I'd say, because I believe that at that moment, the Spirit of God would bring to my heart and mind the things I know to be true, and would help me to say the right things. If He can lead me everywhere else, He can lead me then.
There is something far more than that in this text. There is something specific for the apostles that is not for us. Look again at verse 19. "For it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak." Listen to this, it's the real capper. Verse 20. "It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you."
That is a promise to the apostles of divine inspiration. It wouldn't be them speaking, but God, in His Spirit, would speak through them. I believe that beyond the general ramifications of this concept, that the Lord will give us from our recall what we ought to say, that He gives these men the promise of divine inspiration. That promise also stretched to Stephen, so that when he stood before those who took his life, he spoke the Word of God. So did Paul when he stood before those who brought him to trial. I don't know what else that phrase could possibly mean.
Since God gave the apostles the very words to speak in the moment they were brought before the councils of men, and they were not their words, or them speaking, but the Spirit of God. If God promised them that in the moment they met a council, how much more can we be assured that when they sat down to pen the Word of God they could claim the same promise? I believe this, by implication, is one of the purest texts in all of the Bible on the matter of inspiration and inerrancy. Verse 20 says it. "It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you." All you will do is laloun, utter, but God is the one really speaking.
The commentator Lenski writes, "Without previous thinking, planning, imagining, at the time of their trials in court, the apostles will receive directly from God just what to utter. It will come into their minds just as it is needed, and thus they will utter it aloud. The apostles, indeed, make utterance, and yet they do not, for their act is due to the Holy Spirit, so that most properly He is the one who does this uttering. Everything that is mechanical, magical, unpsychological is shut out. The apostles will not be like the demoniacs - their organs of speech and their very wills being violated by a demon. Absolutely the contrary: mind, heart, will operate freely, consciously, in joyful, trustful dependence on the Spirit's giving, who enables them to find just what to say and how to say it down to the last word, with no mistake or even a wrong word due to faulty memory or disturbed emotions occurring. This, of course, is Inspiration, Verbal Inspiration."
In other words, the promise is that they will be verbally inspired, and I'm just going on extrapolation, that if they were to be verbally inspired by the Spirit of God to speak in their defense in a council, when they came to the matter of writing Scripture, which is an issue with far wider ramifications, they will have the same promise. His Spirit will equally inspire them as they write the Word of God. Be wise, be harmless, beware, and be calm. For the apostles, that meant inspiration; for us, it means enlightenment and recall as God brings to mind what we should say.
Fifth, be real. Verse 22, "Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake, but he that endures to the end shall be saved." What is that saying? Endures to the end of what? The context is persecution, so it is saying that if you make it through persecution, you get saved. It really means this: if you survive the persecution, you're the one being delivered. So it isn't saying people who can make it through persecution will hold on to their salvation. It is saying endurance is a hallmark of genuine salvation. Those who are really saved survive.
Sometimes I pray that God would persecute the church because it has the effect of purging the chaff. You see, when persecution begins, the phonies get out. Why die for something you're only playing games with? It isn't worth the price. Nothing is more purifying to the church than persecution. So He says, "In the middle of it all, be real. Be one who endures to the end, one who is truly saved." Essentially, it's the same principle we find in Romans 2:7. "To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life." People aren't saved by continuous good deeds, but they do prove the validity of their salvation in their continuing. You're not saved because you endured, you endured because you were truly saved.
It's the same in the mind of the writer of Hebrews 3:14. "We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end." In other words, you can tell one truly committed to Christ because he is true to the end. Jesus said, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed." John said, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us." So continuance is the proof of being a real Christian. Jesus says, "Be real, be genuine, be a true Christian, and you'll endure to the end and be delivered."
You could almost say this means 'be patient,' because, in the end, you'll be delivered. The Greek word translated 'saved' means 'delivered.' Go through the persecution and you will be delivered. I Corinthians 10:13 says, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not permit you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape." If you are real and you are patient, you will endure whatever comes and be delivered.
Is there anything that can destroy you? No, there is nothing. You say, "What if the persecution gets fearful?" There is no fearful persecution that can touch you. Paul said in Romans, "What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, 'For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.' Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord."
Nothing will destroy you. When you are in the midst of persecution, be patient and real, and you will endure to the end and be delivered. Your deliverance may come in death; it did for many. It may come another way.
How do we respond? Be wise, be harmless, beware, be real. Last, be gone. That's practical, isn't it? Verse 23, "When they persecute you in this city, flee into another; for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come."
What that verse is saying is that from now until the Second Coming, just keep moving as necessary until Jesus comes again. 'Be gone' means don't just stay in one place until they kill you. Leave, go to another place, because you'll never cover all the places until the Lord comes. Keep moving. There is no sense beating a dead horse; shake the dust off your feet, as He said in verses 14-15, and get out. There is no sense in standing around taking harassment and persistent persecution until someone kills you.
Let's say that something happened here. If I preached some things, and we got issues stirred up and began confronting our society, and severe persecution came on us, this text would tell me to leave town and let you all stay with the persecution (you're laughing, I know), and I'll go somewhere else and start all over again. I'll preach until I can't preach anymore, and if I can just stay one step ahead of them, I'll be OK.
That's what Paul did; he would preach, a riot would start, then he'd leave town and go to another. When a riot broke out there, he went to the next town, and so on. He just kept moving; he wasn't going to stay in one place and die - life was too precious; there were too many towns to reach and too much to be done. We have to keep moving.
In Acts 12, 13, 14, 16, and 17, in all of those places, they got heat in one place and went to another place. That's the way it has to be, even into the Tribulation. In verse 23, He's jumping to the last missionaries who will be moving from one place to another when the Son of Man returns. During the Great Tribulation, He says, "Keep moving; they will come after you. The dogs will be on your heels, but keep moving." It seems to me that everyone in the Tribulation will be an itinerant missionary, on the move. During the Great Tribulation, Christ's faithful Jewish people, the 144,000, will preach all over the land, and keep moving until the Lord comes. When all the cities are reached that He has in the plan, He will come.
What is the sum of our Lord's instruction to us? This: we have no right to provoke animosity or destruction. There is too much work to be done and too many places to reach. Life is too precious. Every one of us matters to God's Kingdom. We have to move to the receptive places and keep moving, knowing that God is with us all the time. In the power of the Spirit, He will help us to say the right things and have the effect that He wants us to have.
We are sheep among wolves, beloved, and we're going to find that out more and more, I think. It was not uncommon in Palestine to hear about a shepherd found dead among the sheep he was trying to defend. May I add that we have no such Shepherd. He ever lives and is able to defend us. There is a certain invincibility about us, because He controls everything.
In Alberta, Canada, the Alberta Department of Agriculture Pest Control Branch has come up with a special invention they're testing on sheep. The sheep are attacked by the wolves so very frequently that they have developed a wide collar they put on their necks, where the attack comes. On the outside, it has the sheep's wool, a skin-like covering, so that it looks like a part of the sheep. Inside that, there is a rubber tube filled with poison, so that when the animal sinks its teeth in, it simply goes into the leather, and into the tube, and another piece of leather underneath it. The poison goes into the wolf's mouth, and it dies. That's how they are trying to protect the sheep.
That reminds me of Zechariah 2:8, where it says, "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye." If you think it's tough on the sheep, from God's end, it will be tougher on the wolves for what they do to the sheep. God will make all things right in the end.
The poet has written, "Jesus is our Shepherd, guarded by His arm, though the wolves may rave, none can do us harm. When we tread Death's Valley, dark with fearful gloom, we will fear no evil, victors, or the tomb." No matter what Satan does, even to death, he can't win with God's sheep.
Thank You, Father, for our wonderful time of worship this morning, for teaching us out of Your precious Word. Thank You for these dear people, their open hearts to love You, worship You, to feed, to minister to one another. We pray that what we have learned today might sink deeply into our hearts and prepare us for that inevitable time when we need to apply these things. Give us the boldness to confront this fast-fading society with the message of Christ, and to respond in the way that You have instructed us when they react. Thank You for counting us worthy to bear the reproach and carry the cross for Christ's sake, Amen.