Responding to Persecutions (1 of 2)

Q. These days we often hear that the end times are fast approaching and that Christians will be persecuted. What should we do when this happens?

A. Let me answer this in sections:

Actually, persecutions exist throughout church history, not just in the end times:
Mk 10:30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.
It’s only when it happens to Christians elsewhere and not in N. America, we don’t pay as much attention.

Who and Why?
The persecutors include “people” (Mt 5:11) and government authorities (Lk 21:12). The former took place, for example, when Communists, Socialists and dictators mandated citizens to report on their friends’ and neighbors’ suspected “subversive” activities. Even family members will turn against each other:
Mt 10:21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.

The reasons for persecution are many, but primarily because of Christ (Jn 15:20; 2 Co 12:10). Christians are persecuted for His name’s sake (Lk 21:12), for the cross of Christ (Ga 6:12), for righteousness’ sake (Mt 5:10), and for desiring to live godly in Christ Jesus:

Mt 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
• Lk 21:12 “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.
• Jn 15:20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
• 2 Co 12:10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
• Ga 6:12 Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
• 2 Tim 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

What form will the persecutions take? There are many forms, including:
• Verbal: insults (Mt 5:11; 2 Co 12:10), false accusations (Mt 5:11);
• Loss of freedom: imprisonment (Lk 21:12);
• Beatings: struck down (2 Co 4:9);
• Starvation: famine (Rom 8:35);
• Humiliation, cold: nakedness (Rom 8:35);
• Death: sword (Rom 8:35).

2 Co 4:9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
• Rom 8:35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

(To be continued)

Different kinds of Peace?

Q. Is the peace mentioned in the following verses the same peace: Lk 2:14; 12:49-53; Rom 1:7?

A. First, let’s look at the passages:
Lk 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
• Lk 12:49-53 I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
• Rom 1:7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In all 3 the word “peace” translates the Greek noun “eirene“, which occurs 92 times in the NT and carries a range of meanings. Quoting from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words, eirene could mean:
1. Harmonious relationships between men;
2. Between nations;
3. Friendliness;
4. Freedom from molestation;
5. Order in the State;
6. The harmonized relationships between God and man, accomplished through the gospel;
7. The sense of rest & contentment.

Which shade of meaning is meant depends on the verse’s context. My sense of the meaning in the 3 verses is as follows:
• Lk 2:14 – (6) as this is peace among men with whom God is pleased, because of the arrival of the Savior announced in Lk 2:11;
• Lk 12:51 – (1); peace between individuals i.e. harmony, concord, as the context speaks of division with family members against each other;
• Rom 1:7 – (6); the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, & so fearing nothing from God & content with its earthly lot.
Hope this helps.

John the Baptist Shirking Responsibility?

Q. Why did John the Baptist go to live in the desert instead of with his parents? It seems like he had not observed the commandment to take care of his parents. Was he allowed to weasel out of his Levite duties? or maybe he left the priesthood because of the Pharisees.

A. I believe he lived in the wilderness to fulfill his calling as prophesied in:
Isa 40:3-5 A voice is calling,
“Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
“Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

I think maybe you assumed too much. The word of God came to John in:
Lk 3:1-2 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.

Tiberius was the stepson of Augustus, whom he succeeded on the throne AD 14 according to Roman history. The 15th year of his reign was AD 29. Since John the Baptist was only about 6 months older than Jesus (Lk 1:26 ff), he was already a grown man at that time. His parents Zacharias and Elizabeth were not mentioned again in the NT after Luke 1. They might have already died by that time, after John had fulfilled his filial duties to care for his parents.

John did not weasel out of his duties as a priest. When God called him to be the Messiah’s herald, he obeyed, just as Samuel was raised by Eli to serve in the tabernacle, but responded to God’s call to become both a judge and a prophet. There is no evidence that John left the priesthood because of the Pharisees.

John the Baptist and Elijah

Q. Is there any connection between Lk 1:17 and Malachi 4:5-6 ? Why is John the Baptist compared to Elijah? Is Malachi talking about the 2 witnesses before the Millennium ?

A. Yes, Lk 1:17 is a quotation from Mal 4:5-6. The wording is not identical as the former is in Greek while the latter in Hebrew:
Lk 1:17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
• Mal 4:5-6 Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.

Some are puzzled over why John the Baptist was compared to Elijah, especially in the power of Elijah. Elijah performed many miracles, but John did not perform any. Where is the power? The similarity is in the spirit or nature of their ministry.

Elijah was God’s prophet who called Israel to repentance:
1 Kgs 18:21 Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word.
• 1 Kgs 18:39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.

His ministry truly turned hearts to repentance. He restored the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their.

When John the Baptist came, the focus of his ministry was also repentance:
Mt 3:1-2 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
• Lk 3:3-6 And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT. ‘EVERY RAVINE WILL BE FILLED, AND EVERY MOUNTAIN AND HILL WILL BE BROUGHT LOW; THE CROOKED WILL BECOME STRAIGHT, AND THE ROUGH ROADS SMOOTH; AND ALL FLESH WILL SEE THE SALVATION OF GOD.’”

John’s ministry fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy in Isa 40:3-5. Even Jesus acknowledged that John came in the spirit & power of Elijah:
Mt 11:14 And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.
• Mt 17:12 but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. (Also Mk 9:13)

The power was in turning hearts to repentance, not performing miracles.

A second confusion over the quotation from Mal 4:5-6 arises because it applied to both Comings of Christ. The fulfillment in Christ’s First Coming was in John the Baptist. Elijah’s presence during Christ’s Second Coming will be in:
Rev 11:3-6 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.

Elijah is not mentioned by name, but the description of calling down fire from heaven and shutting up rain fitted him:
2 Kings 1:10 Elijah replied to the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. (Also 2 Kgs 1:12)
• 1 Kgs 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
• Lk 4:25 But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land;
• Jas 5:17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.

The references to turning water into blood and plagues fitted Moses (Ex 7:17-21). Interpreters differ whether these are two literal witnesses modeled after Elijah and Moses, or symbolic of God’s servants during the great and terrible day of the LORD. My humble opinion is the former.

Least in the Kingdom of Heaven?


Q. Are Mt 5:19 & 11:11 talking about different kinds of people? Who is the least in the Kingdom? What are these least commandments?

A. The kingdom of God or heaven is not a physical kingdom, but the rule of God on earth:
Lk 17:21 the kingdom of God is in your midst.
Those in the kingdom are the kingdom’s subjects.

Both Mt 5:19 & 11:11 refer to the least in the kingdom i.e. the lowest rank within the kingdom, and are talking about the same kind of people:
Mt 5:19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
• Mt 11:11 Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Also Lk 7:28)

The least in the kingdom of heaven are those who:
• annuls one of the least of the commandments, &
• teaches others to do the same.
“Annuls” translates the Greek verb “lyo” and literally means “loosens” or “relaxes”. It does not mean “breaks”, in which case the perpetrator would be transgressing the law and become a “sinner”, which would disqualify him from the kingdom. It means he complies with the commandment, but not fully, barely meeting the minimum requirements.

Which are the least commandments? The Bible did not say, but note:
Mt 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
The weightier provisions of the law, or the more important commandments, are justice, mercy, and faithfulness. In comparison, tithing, ceremonial cleansing (Mt 23:25-26), outward appearance (Mt 23:27-28) are lesser matters of the law. Whether they are the least, the Bible did not specify.

Lastly, we can also get some clues from the converse:
Mt 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
• Mt 18:4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The opposite of “the least” is “the greatest” in the kingdom. Who are the greatest? They are the ones who humble themselves like a child:
Mt 23:12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
• Lk 14:11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Also Lk 18:14)
• Jas 4:10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

They are greatest because God exalts them. The value system in God’s kingdom is upside-down from the world’s!

To Abort or Not Abort?


Q. A church sister’s non-Christian relative is pregnant. The doctor told her the baby has congenital heart disease and will be born blind. Even if the baby survives infancy she will have lots of health problems throughout her life. He advised her to abort the fetus. What is your pastoral advice?

A. This is a very difficult ethical issue, especially when the parents are unbelievers and not expected to accept biblical principles in making decisions. The doctor is looking at the burden on the parents who might be facing a “life sentence” in raising a child with so many problems. There is also the cost to society in paying for medical bills. Abortion seems to offer a convenient way out.

The sister knows the sanctity of life. Even though the child is going to be problem-prone, she is still made in the image of God. We know abortion is wrong when the considerations are the parents’ lifestyle and pocket-book, but what about the child’s health problems? How does quality of life factor in? And why would God allow something like this to happen? What good can possibly come out of it?

Since prenatal diagnosis are only possible with medical advances made within the last few decades, there are simply no biblical precedents as to what to do when we know the fetus is going to encounter problems. All we have to go on are biblical principles and contemporary examples of life having fantastic value despite suffering severe handicaps from birth.

I can think of Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms and legs, but became an evangelist sharing his message of hope to over 6 million people in 57 countries:
Or Patrick Henry Hughes, who was born without eyes and unable to fully straighten his arms and legs, making him unable to walk. But with his father’s help he overcame incredible odds and became a multi-instrumental musician and public speaker:
Had their parents chosen abortion, the world would have been robbed of tremendous motivation which we all need.

The counter-argument is that most people are not like them, who many consider to be rare examples out-of-reach of ordinary folks. I agree they are our models in the minority, but there are many other less well-known folks who are fighting valiantly despite overwhelming odds against them. I recall cases of babies born without brains:
In this case the heroes are the parents, whose faith sustained them.

What if the baby dies soon after birth? What’s the point in that heartbreak? Even then a super-brave mom sees the silver lining in donating the healthy organs to save other young lives:
Of course I’m not the parents staring at a potentially bleak future, and unbelievers do not see the situation with a Christian worldview. But since I was asked I offer my humble opinion from a pastor’s perspective. Leave the life choice to God. He gives life in whatever form He chooses, only He has the right to take it. We ask for grace to carry through, as the brave parents have.

Hacksaw Ridge and Thou Shall Not Kill


This post is prompted by “Hacksaw Ridge“, but it’s not a review of the film, which is a fine movie. Although I differ from the main character Desmond Doss’ understanding of the sixth commandment “You shall not kill”, I admire his courage in singlehandedly saving the lives of 75 soldiers during WWII’s bloodiest Battle of Okinawa, for which he received the Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty.

Doss was a conscientious objector (“CO”), a person who refuses to bear arms in a military conflict on religious or moral grounds. However, he wanted to serve his country in the armed forces, and joined as a medic to save lives, not to kill. He was also a Seventh Day Adventist, and refused to work on the Sabbath. Both convictions were misunderstood by fellow soldiers in his battalion, who viewed him as a coward and can’t be counted on to help when they needed him. So they persecuted him, both physically and verbally to try to get him to quit the army. But he stood firm, which nowadays many are not prepared to do, and for that he earned my respect.

My disagreement with COs and pacifists is with their interpretation of the 6th commandment, which appears 5 times in the Bible:
Ex 20:13 You shall not murder.
• Deut 5:17 You shall not murder.
• Mt 5:21 … ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’
• Rom 13:9 … YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, …

“Murder” translates the Hebrew word ratsach and Greek phoneuo.
Ratsach means to murder, slay, kill:
• premeditated,
• accidental,
• as avenger,
• slayer (intentional),
• assassinate.
Phoneuo also means to kill, slay, murder.

Although the older KJV and ASV chose “kill”, nearly all newer versions (e.g. ESV, HCSB, NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV etc.) chose “murder” as the more accurate rendering. This is because while God gave this commandment, He also ordered capital punishment and allowed going to a “just war” to defend one’s own country:
Ex 21:12 He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.
• Num 35:16, 17, 18, 31 the murderer shall surely be put to death
• Num 35:19, 21 The blood avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; he shall put him to death when he meets him.
• Num 35:30 ‘If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses,
• Lev 24:17 If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death.
• Deut 19:21 Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
• Num 10:9 When you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you,
• Prov 20:18 Prepare plans by consultation, And make war by wise guidance.

If the 6th commandment prohibits killing, then God would be contradicting Himself, which He would never do. So by “you shall not kill” He must have meant the premeditated and intentional taking of a human life i.e. murder. That being the case, the CO’s refusal to bear arms to defend his country is not God’s requirement but his own preference. It’s his choice, and using the 6th commandment as justification is not warranted. Still, we commend Doss’ courage. We need more people with conviction like him.