Ron Graham was called home on March 14, 2013. He began writing this commentary before his death and had asked me, Nathele Graham, to continue his service to our Lord by finishing what he began.
“And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him” (John 5:16a).
The Greek word for persecute is “diōkō” and in the context of the verse above it means: to pursue in a hostile manner; in any way whatever to harass, trouble, molest one, to persecute; to be mistreated, suffer persecution on account of something. The Jews sought to kill Jesus.
They pursued Him in a hostile manner to kill Him. That would be some heavy-duty persecution. It must be noted here that when John says “the Jews” he is not talking about the Jewish people in general, but about the leaders of the Jews…Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees.
Why were the Jewish leaders so upset whenever Jesus was seen doing miracles and speaking the way He did?
“Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
Jesus did some of His miracles on the Sabbath and that upset the Jews. He never turned religious customs into religion. Jesus did come against the leader’s ideas of keeping the Sabbath, but He never came against God. In this passage of Scripture, it was the Sabbath and Jesus had just healed a man who had been ill for 38 years. The Jews weren’t happy. The Jewish leaders were more concerned that Sabbath had been broken, so they persecuted Him.
In addition to Jesus breaking the Sabbath the Jews considered Jesus’ statement blasphemous. But said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. They persecuted Jesus because of the relationship He claimed to have with the Father. This wasn’t the only time Jesus proclaimed His deity.
“I and my Father are one” (John 10:30).
Did the Jews miss His point? No.
“Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him” (John 10:31).
Even if we miss the point we can always count on the Pharisees to let us know when Jesus went against their ideas on protocol. Notice they took up stones to stone Him. This was the prescribed capital punishment of the Law of Moses. Stoning, not crucifixion. They were going to inflict capital punishment on Him right then and there with no trial, but they also had no right under Roman law to enact capital punishment. They were really mad! They were really persecuting Him.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
Christians today are not condemned by God, but are persecuted by people. Why? Because of the relationship we claim to have with the Son and the Father. Jesus made a very clear statement when He said, “Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
By using the word “you,” Jesus is alluding to a very exclusive group of people, to only those few who live a godly Christian life are in view here. Only those who are not conformed to worldly ways, but are living for our Lord, will face persecution.
Let’s minimize our focus, and zero in on one particular country, America. The exact persecution Jesus speaks about hasn’t occurred on this nation’s soil in a way that many would take notice. That being said, can we Christians say with conviction that “not in America” will always be the case? Remember what Jesus said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). The world will hate those who follow Jesus Christ, period. On the other hand He tells us “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own” (John 15:19a).
I believe that the reason persecution has not been obvious to many of the professing Christians in America today is that even though many refer to themselves as Christians, they haven’t actually separated themselves from the world, thus the world loves them – no reason to hate those you love. Where are those followers of Jesus Christ that are not conformed to the world who will see persecution? They’re here, and they know persecution is coming; it’s just a matter of time. When the laws get enacted that will condemn Bible believers as haters you will see persecution and on a very large scale.
Many who claim to be Christians don’t really know what Christ taught, or think that times have changed so we need to change with the times. There is the emerging church, and those proclaiming that all roads lead to heaven, and the New Age movement, and many more. These all seem friendly enough and persecution probably doesn’t exist there. Why? Because they don’t conform to Christ’s, teachings.
“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).
If you have conformed to the world of today that will probably keep you from persecution, but it is not what Scripture teaches. This world will pass away, but Christ is forever…and forever the same.
“Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” (Matthew 13:21).
The word “offended” in this verse might better be translated “stumbled” or “fall away”. This is another reason for the lack of any visible persecution in the USA. Too many, fall into the category of “fair weather Christians.” When tribulation and persecution come these people will not stand-up for Jesus Christ but will themselves be just as offended or stumbled by His word as those doing the persecuting.
For those of us who are truly born again (whose number seems to be shrinking instead of growing these days) the persecution is a factor in our lives. We believe our Lord and His Word and we know we must prepare for any eventuality. I know there are those who can’t see how America will ever turn against the Christian faith but that’s because they don’t understand on what precepts this country was established, where it’s headed, or even where it stands today.
A Muslim president? Who could have foreseen that coming? Remember, Muslims hate Christians. Persecution is on our doorstep… in our White House. Few Christians are actually prepared or willing to stand up for Christ in a world that is becoming more and more hostile towards us.
“But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake” (John 15:21).
Because we take on the name of Christ, being called Christians, we will be maltreated, hated and persecuted. This is not something we can hide from, at least not for long. Sooner or later the world will find us, even in America.
Remember what I’m telling you my brethren. Many professing Christians are of the world; in other words they don’t see their home as heaven, they see earth as their home. They don’t stand out when looked at by the world because they love the world and the world loves them. How many tattoos do you have? What movies do you watch? When you say, “Jesus Christ,” are you praising Him or cursing?
If you quote Scripture instead of catchy lines from the latest vampire movie will your friends shun you? Do you stand biblically correct on issues such as homosexuality and abortion, or have you been turned from God’s truth in order to be accepted by the world? We are the Ekklesia of Christ and need to look and act different than those who are of this world. We may be persecuted and shunned because we take a stand for Jesus, but stand we must.
For a believer to be subjected to the persecution Jesus spoke of they must pick up their cross and follow Jesus Christ, daily. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24).
Jesus is saying that if anyone makes the decision to follow Him, they must put their own self-interests behind them, they must put Jesus Christ first. To “take up his cross” means to bear up under the many persecutions that the world fully intends to throw at us.
The world teaches us to just fit in and everything will be fine. But to bear one’s own cross is to put our selves in the same arena as our Lord and Savior.
“And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20).
Peter and John had just spent the night in jail because they were publicly proclaiming Jesus. When told not to do that again, they chose to follow Jesus. Persecution followed them everywhere. No matter what the world throws at us – lies, hatred, persecution, or whatever – we must stand firm as “Disciples of Christ.” We stand on His name and on His word.
The persecution of America’s Christian Ekklesia is not something we should ignore. It is absolutely foolish and arrogant for any follower of Jesus Christ to reject Jesus’ own words to His Ekklesia. Many think tribulation only refers to a seven-year period spoken of by Daniel the prophet. Tribulation also speaks of persecution, trials, suffering, pain, distress, and troubles. No true follower is immune to the persecution that’s coming.
Why would any of Christ’s servants think they are “greater than his Lord?” If it’s because we think America can’t be touched by the evil that has come down on most Christians in most countries since the persecution, torture, and crucifixion of our Lord, we better open our eyes. Steel yourself now against what’s coming instead of waiting for it to hit you square in the face while being completely unprepared.
Laws are being changed all over the world, and in many cases quite subtly, all the while being touted as prevention against discrimination of any kind. In actuality they’re aimed at silencing the Christian Ekklesia. When it comes to standing up for Jesus persecution will abound, and it will hurt. The news is full of articles about Christians being arrested, threatened, jailed, and beaten for their faith. Ah yes, but nothing like that can happen in a free country such as America, right? These things I’ve just mentioned have all happened right here in America. And it’s only going to get worse. We will know who the true Christians are by how much persecution they are forced to endure.
I once heard a Bible teacher say that if we (Christians) are not being attacked by the enemy for our faith in Jesus Christ or aren’t persecuted by those who follow Him we would do well to re-examine our faith. Do we walk the walk or are we merely talking the talk? Do you say grace before a meal in your home? How about when you are at a restaurant or in a school cafeteria?
I’ve not written this commentary to instill fear in my brethren, but to open their eyes to the truth. Many will try and convince you that Christian persecution will never occur in America, at least not on any large scale. I’ll be the first to say I hope they’re right. But to ignore Jesus and His words would not be the act of a prudent Christian. Remember this though, the same God who said “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you”, is the same God who tells us to fear not. God is in control and He has the world in His hands. America is part of the world, therefore let’s heed Jesus’ words and believe in what He tells us. Believing Jesus’ words doesn’t mean to be afraid. Standing firm on our faith in Him will show the world we have no fear of what they can do to us.
God bless you all,