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To follow Jesus is to begin a perilous journey. When you enter His kingdom, you are immediately delivered from the wrath of God. But having escaped eternal condemnation, you become exposed to another danger, one that is threatening and though only temporal, still damaging. You begin a new life of being persecuted.
To all believers, Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). Jesus maintained that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are rejected by the world and are accepted in Christ. This persecution becomes an identifying mark of your heavenly citizenship. Conversely, the absence of opposition would mean that you likely still belong to the world.
Explaining the expected persecution, Jesus stated, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (v. 11). He said this threefold suffering is to be anticipated. False accusations. Malicious slander. Utter rejection. This fierce opposition will come because you are following Jesus. If you openly confess what Jesus taught and daily walk as He lived, you will surely be, in one way or another, resisted as He was rejected.
Jesus concludes, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (v. 12). The Lord announced that when you are received into His kingdom, you will be attacked by the world. But that places you in good company. You will be aligned with the prophets of old, who were also hated by the world.
Rather than toning down His rhetoric, Jesus reinforced it: “You will be hated by all because of my name” (10:22). If ever there was proof of the total depravity of the human heart, here it is. Those who believe the good news of salvation and proclaim it to the world will be the objects of the world’s hatred. Any close association with Jesus will provoke bitter animosity.
Further, Jesus promised, “If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!” (v. 25). His disciples will even be slandered as children of the devil.
The night before Jesus was crucified, He warned His disciples: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Because the world despised Jesus, it will inevitably hate His chosen ones. Jesus promised, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (v. 19). Such harsh treatment awaits His followers because the world viciously hates Him, as the darkness hates the light.
Instead of softening His words, Jesus escalated them: “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (16:2). Those in apostate religion will actually think they are serving God by killing true believers. This is the evil residing in unconverted hearts that will be unleashed against Christians.
In Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, He interceded: “I have given them your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (17:14). These two polar opposites—believing the Word of God and the resulting fury of the world—are inseparably bound together. Those who receive the Father’s Word will be the object of the world’s hatred. This intense hatred would reach its zenith in the crucifixion of Jesus. It would later be poured out on the early believers. Peter was crucified (21:18–19). James was executed with the sword (Acts 12:2). Stephen was stoned to death (7:59–60). Paul was also martyred (2 Tim. 4:6). John was exiled (Rev. 1:9).
Over the following centuries, the world continued to despise Christians. Ignatius was thrown to the lions. Jan Hus was burned at the stake. Martin Luther suffered a death sentence. John Calvin fled Paris for his life. William Tyndale was hung, then burned. Hugh Ridley, Nicholas Latimer, and Thomas Cranmer met the same torturous end.
In this hour, the hatred of the world is only intensifying against believers. Our post-Christian culture is now rabidly anti-Christian. We should not be surprised, because Jesus said it would come. But we should take heart. In the face of this fury, we know that Christ is victorious over this evil world system. Until He returns, we can rejoice that we have been counted worthy to suffer for the sake of His glorious name (Acts 5:41) and that our Lord has “overcome the world” (John 16:33).