4 Powerful Persecution Stories from the Bible
One of the most beautiful aspects of Christianity for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world are the stories from the Bible of those who came before who were persecuted. The Bible is rich with accounts of people who suffered for their faith in different ways.
Job isn’t a story that we think of as “persecution” story, but when you consider the book’s context it absolutely is. Many believe Job was the first book of the Bible written and therefore our first look at the Hebrew understanding of why evil and suffering exist.
The Hebrews were surrounded by cultures who said suffering came from fickle gods who enjoyed human suffering. If you worked hard to please the gods then they might reward you, if not you would be punished. Job refutes this, showing suffering as coming from a (then) mysterious “accuser” who wages accusations against us before the one true God. This God may allow suffering to happen, but he does not cause it and he ultimately honors Job’s faithfulness, restoring what he lost.
This book is a vital foundation for understanding persecution: there’s an enemy in this world who hates God’s people, but ultimately God will vindicate his faithful followers.
As a child Joseph is thrown down a well, exported to a foreign land, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and forgotten in prison. All of this lasts for 17 years, and the unspoken question in all this is “where is God? Why is he letting this happen?”
If Job taught that God will reward faithfulness, Joseph’s story shows that God will use the specific details of our suffering and use it to redeem his people. The administrative gifts and cultural awareness Joseph develops while imprisoned become vital to God using him to feed the Hebrew people during a famine.
The prophet Jeremiah, prompted by a God-given “fire shut up in his bones” is compelled to speak truth to a corrupt religious culture around him. In exchange Jeremiah is rejected, mocked, put in stocks, and thrown down a well. His story is the story of millions of faithful Christians throughout the years who have lost everything for faithfully speaking the message of Jesus.
But the lesson of Jeremiah’s persecution goes one step further: in chapter 20 of his book, Jeremiah accuses God of having basically forced himself on Jeremiah. That he was deceived, seduced and taken advantage of. The original language is shockingly brutal, and the message it sends those persecuted shockingly freeing. It’s okay to be angry at God. It’s okay to feel like he’s abandoned you. It’s okay for you to scream in rage at him.
He can take it.
John the Baptist
John the Baptist spoke truth to power, calling out the king for immorality, and because of this boldness rotted in prison, questioned whether Jesus was truly the Messiah, then was decapitated when the king promised his daughter any request after she danced seductively for him and his friends. If you read this story here on the Open Doors site, and that was the end, you would think it was a horrible, senseless tragedy.
And yet that’s not how we look at John the Baptist’s life at all. We think of him as one of the great heroes of the faith who paved the way for Jesus himself.
Sometimes the stories of the persecuted end tragically, but that doesn’t mean they are not pointing the way to Jesus. Sometimes it takes time for us to see how God works “all things together for good.”
We are told that when God became flesh that he was “a man of sorrows” and “acquainted with grief.”
Jesus was rejected by members of his own family, endured the shame of his hometown community who gossiped about his “illegitimacy,” was hated by the religious leaders of his day, betrayed by friends, falsely accused, beaten, and tortured to death. And again, this was the path of the incarnate God, one he chose and willingly endured.
What a beautiful message for our persecuted family around the world, to remember that whatever path of suffering they are walking, the footsteps of their savior go before them, leading them on, and that through the Holy Spirit Jesus is also there with them, encouraging them, giving them strength, saying “me too.”
And what a powerful message for those of us blessed to live a life of relative comfort to remember as well: the path of Jesus is a path of suffering and sacrifice. Are we willing to let that be true for ourselves, and see Jesus in our brothers and sisters who suffer around the globe?