The hatred and affliction that follows the witness and holy life of God's people in a hostile world. The concept is stressed in many of the Old Testament prophetic books, such as Isaiah. The New Testament also teaches that God's people will suffer persecution. Jesus taught that God's prophets always faced persecution <Matt. 5:12>; so His disciples should expect the same <Matt. 10:23>.

In the early church, two ideas were taken over from Judaism to express the meaning of persecution. The Jewish theologians taught that the death of the righteous sufferer had redemptive value. While this idea was applied primarily to Jesus by the early Christians, the persecution of His followers was seen as a participation in Jesus' suffering: filling up "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" <Col. 1:24>. A good statement of this is that of Tertullian: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

The idea of the coming Messiah held that the suffering of God's people was part of the coming of the kingdom-- evidence that a person is truly one of God's own. Therefore they are "blessed" <Matt. 5:10> and should "rejoice" and "glorify God" since "the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God" <1 Pet. 4:13-17>.

Jewish opposition to Christianity arose primarily among the Sadducees <Acts 4:1; 5:17>. At first the common people and the Pharisees did not oppose the church strongly <Acts 5:14,34; 23:6>. The first persecution came because Stephen spoke out about the inadequacy of the land of Israel and the Temple for salvation. This intensified when the apostle Paul began to proclaim the salvation of the Gentiles through Jesus Christ alone. Both Jew and Christian began to realize that the two were now separate religions, rather than sects of a single religion.

Roman opposition to Christianity also developed gradually. The Book of Acts emphasized Roman tolerance for the new religion. But this began to change with the Jewish riots against Christians in Rome, resulting in the Emperor Claudius banning both groups from Rome in A. D. 49. This set the stage for the intense opposition of later years that allowed Nero to make Christians the scapegoats for the fire which leveled Rome in A. D. 64. During this persecution the apostles Paul and Peter were martyred.

(from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary)

(Copyright (C) 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

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