Preparing for Persecution

Wisdom's Friend

Usually I hear the Lord speak in quiet, gentle whispers (John 10:4, Job 15:11, 1 Kings 19:12-13). But one morning while reading the Bible, the Lord spoke unexpectedly and strongly as I went through a particular passage. I heard him say, “They do not love their lives even unto death.

The voice was so strong that I was taken aback and alerted in my spirit that this was the Spirit saying something of more than usual importance. I immediately recognized that Scripture passage from Revelation 12:11. But the strange thing was that I was reading a passage from the Old Testament, where Moses recounted to the people of God their fear of coming before God at the mountain in the wilderness, after being set free by God from slavery in Egypt (Dt. 5:23-27). As I was pondering what the Spirit was telling me so forcefully, I knew I had to write down whatever was coming to my mind just then so that I would not forget it. I also asked the Lord for instruction as to what it was he meant to teach me from this. What follows below is my attempt to share with you this lesson.

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“There is a heavy burden on my heart: A world-wide persecution of Christians is drawing close.”

That is the message which I did not want to write here for believers to read, but which I felt impelled to post as a warning. It is just so hard to bring a distressing message to others, as Jeremiah knew so well:

“Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me, I cannot keep silent. For I have heard the sound of the trumpet; I have heard the battle cry” (Jer. 4:19 NIV).

As it turns out, however, I do not have to write much about what I believe the Lord has shown his church about what is soon coming, because another believer of an earlier time has already done this. The opening quote above is from her writings of years ago. Her name is Basilea Schlink and she went through the communist years of enslavement after World War Two and thereafter wrote many insightful books based on real-life experiences from persecuting governments. I make much use here of one book in particular, “The Eve of Persecution,” from which many quotes or references will be made in what follows. I thank the Lord that he brought her book to my mind as he alerted me one morning while reading his Book that I should re-read that little book of hers and pass on her insights to the rest of his Body. What follows is my attempt to be obedient to what He showed me.

Though sister Basilea wrote specifically against communism, she knew that that political and philosophical worldview was only a part of a larger rebellion against God; for she also wrote with keen insight that both communism and its anti-thesis, capitalism, actually come from a broader worldview: “materialism, which aims at a life detached from God and in opposition to His authority. . . . Behind it all is the great adversary of God, a fact which mankind in its blindness fails to see.”

She went on to say that Jesus’ prophecies for the end times have begun to be fulfilled and that Christians will soon be persecuted in all parts of the world and that These are highly crucial times.

I have emphasized this last comment of hers because today, as when she wrote it, this is the key fact that so few seem to realize. In her own words:

“It is nearly midnight and Christian persecution is on the threshold. Thus as Christians, we cannot evade the issue. One question is important: ‘Am I ready to suffer for Jesus and to lay down my life for Him?'”

“Jesus’ command, ‘Be prepared!’ is His summons to His disciples today. This command is like a trumpet call to startle us out of our sleep when we are too involved in the everyday affairs of life. The Lord wants us to practise now for tomorrow so that we can stand in the hour of trial.”

Yet Basilea notes that when observing what the church is preaching about and writing in Christian journals, “one does not get the impression that we are living in a highly crucial era. . . . The sense of urgency is missing, as well as the fervent entreaty, ‘Lord, prepare us!'”

Then she asks a most pertinent question: “What could be the explanation?” (for this lack of urgency and focus). Her answer: “In order to keep us from spiritual preparation, the devil resorts to another method to lull us into a false state of security. A certain teaching, which prevails in many Christian groups, asserts that the believers will be raptured before the great revolutions, the persecution of Christians, and the nuclear war. . . . Thus countless numbers of believers are diverted from the real preparation–a life of contrition and repentance–which will make us ready for suffering, for the persecution of Christians and the world disaster that will follow.”

1 Cor. 15:51 indicates that the believers will not be raptured to the Lord until the last trumpet is blown. That means they will have to live through the severe sufferings brought by the first six trumpet judgments. . . . However, this does not imply that these believers will have to endure the great tribulation during the antichrist’s reign.”

“It is the suffering of the coming persecution that will prepare the Christians who survive, for the rapture. . . . Suffering alone transforms them and brings them great glory [Heb. 5:8-9]; neither conversion nor baptism in the Holy Spirit is a guarantee for the rapture. . . . For suffering . . . prepared them to meet the Lord and behold him in his glory, for no one can see God without holiness (Heb. 12:14).

Clearly, sister Schlink’s end-times theology is evident. However, before all those reading this who hold a pre-tribulation rapture or other end-times theology in opposition to this view become annoyed, note that she still does say that Christians will not have have to endure the great tribulation during the antichrist’s reign. On the one hand, maybe those with differing views can find some common ground with her, while, on the other hand, perhaps she just managed to annoy even more people with that stipulation. Whatever the case, we should still listen to what she has to say about how believers are to prepare themselves for the persecution that is soon to come (and already here in many ways and places). For Jesus himself said that (whatever our own personal theology of end-times may be) all who believe in him will be persecuted (Mk. 10:29-30, Jn. 16:33), as do other Scripture passages (1 Th. 3:3, Acts 14:22).

Basilea: “Who will be able to endure such torment? Only those who have prepared themselves. . . . Now is the time to go into training. This is the urgent message that Jesus has laid upon my heart, for persecution is imminent.

“Let us be realistic about the future. When persecution of Christians breaks out in our lands, will any one of us be able to remain faithful to the end? Judging by our own strength and resources, we are forced to conclude that we are incapable of bearing such suffering. However, by approaching the matter from another angle, we are filled with triumphant assurance for the future. There is another factor to remember that will tip the scales in our favour: the omnipotence of our heavenly Father. We must include him in our calculations, for he possesses all the strength we lack and will demonstrate his power when we undergo persecution.

“Today we must practise claiming his aid for ourselves.”

“Fear not, for I am with you . . . I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Is. 41:10).

“We only have to do our part by claiming the promise.”

Basilea is both full of hope and realistic. She says, for instance, that “when God intervenes, torture will have no effect.” There are numerous examples down through the ages of believers who were tortured and felt no pain. But that is not always the case, of course. What then? Is it all a lie? Is all this talk about God enabling us to go through tremendous suffering just fantasy? Not at all. For even if we do suffer pain and are even killed, his Word has not failed. For, just as in the case of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death, if we too should die for Jesus, we find permanent release from all further suffering. If it should please our heavenly Father to allow us to suffer in like manner, we need to remember the psalmist’s words:

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Ps. 56:3-4 NIV)

And also remember the words of Jesus:

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Lk. 12:4-5 NIV).

But all of this does not happen spontaneously and instantly at the moment of crisis. We must prepare ourselves and be in training long before that moment arrives. How is this done? By living day by day in accordance with God’s Word, in daily repentance for our sins.

Basilea: “It has to be practised now, for unity with God, which means unity with his will, does not come to us naturally.”

She goes on:

“It is vital that we declare war on the spirit of defiance that arises in our heart when our will is thwarted. We must learn to submit to others, since it is ultimately God who ordains the course of life. This must all take place now–on the eve of persecution.”

“If we are only sometimes committed to God’s will in situations and relationships when our will is frustrated, we shall have only a loose connection with God–and that will not suffice.”

“In the midst of persecution we shall rest in the Father’s arms like a child. The wickedness of others, the torture and suffering thy plan to inflict upon us cannot harm us.”

The fact that we cannot be harmed by anything the enemy throws at us does not mean that we will not suffer. There is a difference between a solid promise that the enemy cannot harm us (Jn. 14:30, Jn. 11:25-26) and a desire never to feel pain, even though we know that our soul cannot be torn from God’s protective hand (Jn. 10:28). But perhaps the most explicit such promise is found in 1 John 5:18:

“We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.”

Notice, however, that this comforting promise of God’s Word follows reference to the child of God living a sanctified life, one that reflects his or her faith and trust in God. Sanctification is a major thrust of God’s Book and also in sister Basilea’s book. Her words:

“His will is our sanctification (1 Th. 4:3). Sanctification does not imply holiness–that is, flawlessness in the perfectionist sense of the word. Sanctification is a process that includes fighting the battle of faith against sin with our last ounce of strength so that we may be remolded into Jesus’ image.”

Basilea correctly calls the Lord’s work of sanctification in us a process. A process takes time. We learn and achieve sanctification over time in our lives. This sanctification will stand us in good stead when we are confronted with all the evil that the enemy throws at us in the last days–but only if we have learned to stand up and conquer those sins and human weaknesses that seek to overpower us in our daily lives when there is relative freedom from persecution by worldly people and governments. If we have not learned this when times are comparatively free and easy, how shall we ever find strength to suddenly do so when evil throws its full might against us?

“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” (Jer. 12:5 NIV).

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10 KJV).

Therefore we see how important all the myriad “little” details of our lives are. They are training to strengthen us to withstand the full force of oppression from the enemy forces shortly to be unleashed.

Basilea: “When this frightening darkness seeks to oppress us, our hearts can suddenly be filled with light. Two little words can effect total transformation: ‘For Christ!'”

But if we have not been faithful in those things often viewed by us as insignificant in our lives now, neither shall we be found standing faithful then. If we do not live our lives totally for Christ now, we shall not find the strength to do so then. It all has to do with the wider and higher vision that we should have for our lives here on earth now. What we see–or do not see–now, we will see, or not see, then, when the fullness of persecution comes. The purpose of the suffering in both times is the same:

“We are suffering for a definite purpose, for Christ and his body, the church. . . . By contributing our suffering, we help to complete these eternal purposes of God. This is our amazing privilege, for with our suffering we help to prepare the Church, the bride of the Lamb, and so hasten the day of Jesus’ return.”

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Pt. 3:11-12 NIV).

Once again we see the combining of these two principles in one statement of Scripture: sanctification and our part in helping to realize the eternal purposes of God, by our lives lived in full view of the enemy forces, seen and unseen.

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. . . . I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. (Eph. 3:10-13 NIV).

A telling statement about all of this is found, appropriately, in the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible and the book of the last things of earth. There it says of those who belong to God and suffer for him in those final days as they conquer the evil one:

“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11 NIV).

So now we are back at that moment when the Holy Spirit made for me the connection between the last-day people of God and the “first-day” or ancient people of God: The same requirement is imposed by God on both groups, to not love one’s life even unto death. But one group failed to meet that expectation of God while the other succeeded. For the ancient people of God withdrew from him on the mountain because they were afraid of the fire and the cost of coming close to God. They loved their lives more than they loved God; they did not love their lives even unto death. They were not prepared to die, give up their lives, for the ultimate prize of life, the God who is Life itself. And so they lost whatever real life they had while still existing.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Mt. 16:25 NIV).

Yet, of the “last-days” people of God, Scripture says that they did not love their lives even unto death. In other words, they were willing even to die rather than turn away from God as did those of the OT encounter with him on the mountain.

This the key to the whole matter. We must not love our lives here on this earth even to the point of death. For truly our lives are not our own.

“For every living soul belongs to me” (Ezek. 18:4).
“You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19).
“A man’s life is not his own” (Jer. 10:23).
For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Rom. 14:7-8).

This, then, is the crucial question for the crucial time that is upon us: To which group do we belong? The answer to this crucial question is found in how we answer another question: For whom do we live, self or God? Upon the answer to that question lies our fate and destiny for eternity.

If we do not deny ourselves now, in our daily life, we shall find to our utter dismay that we have no power to do so when the final challenge of worldwide persecution comes. Therefore, we desperately need to heed our Lord’s call to repentance and sanctification now in our daily lives. For soon there will be no more time to prepare, only time to die. But if we have already died to self and become alive to Christ, then nothing that man or devil can hurl at us can harm us. Rather, we can say with our brother in Christ:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20 NIV).

What is true of Christ is true for all who have died to self in him:

“For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him” (Rom. 6:9 NIV).

Therefore, we practice daily living in this manner, as dead to sin in our daily lives, so that when the persecution comes we will already be dead and the attempts of the evil ones to kill us will be useless, for we are already dead and protected by the risen One, Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Praise the name of Jesus!

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