Last week I mentioned the reason the church has been persecuted through the ages is because they were different from the culture and society around them. But not just that we are different; we refuse to be the same.
This is what is going on now in the body of Christ in nations largely considered to have Christian roots: Christians are choosing to either quietly integrate and adopt the values of the culture around them, or they are choosing to be different by standing firm on their beliefs, morals, and convictions.
The pattern of persecution - it starts with culture turning against
We find what first happens is a change of culture that turns people against one another. Consider Daniel was 'turned in' to the king by his peers and coworkers. People even start reporting on their neighbors. In Acts 5:12-13 it says many healings and miracles happened among the believers, who met in home-based churches.
But outside of those home meetings and that circle of people on the 'same spiritual page', in society as a whole it says the people who weren't believers were afraid of them and no one dared join themselves to them. Why were they afraid of them? Persecution? In part. But they were also different from the culture and they refused to conform. Yet in their difference from society God was manifesting Himself in healings and miracles. So a tug of war began in the hearts of the people: The average citizen might say, 'Here is a group hated by the authorities which makes me afraid, yet God is in their midst which is what I want most of all.'
In the very next verse it says many became believers and were added to the faith.
That apparent contradiction reveals a split in society at that time - there was fear among the unbelievers and yet disciples were being made. They were different from the culture of the day, everyone knew what they stood for, and you were either for them or against them.
Selected leaders to be made examples of
Soon the rulers in Israel began a policy of orchestrated arrests. Peter and John were brought before the leaders in Acts 4. Steven's arrest and execution in Acts 7 escalated the persecution. Saul of Tarsus became chief prosecutor after Steven's death, and in Acts 9 Saul, the future apostle Paul, meets Jesus outside Damascus. This stopped the Jewish leaders in Israel's efforts to carry the persecution of the church beyond the borders of Israel.
By Acts 12 we are told (in Jerusalem) Herod had killed the apostle John's brother, James, by the sword and arrested Peter with the same intent.
Notice the seed of State persecution began when the leaders were successful in making citizens afraid of Christians. The fear of the Jews in Jerusalem was that these Christians would try to force their beliefs (religion) on them, threatening the Jewish religion and laws and the culture of Israel. But at this point the federal government of Rome is not yet fully involved.
In Mark 14:55-58 we find the leaders prosecuting Jesus at trial with false witnesses, some of whom took His words out of context and twisted His words from original intent to fit their agenda.
In our day we see the same character assassination, words twisted, words out of context for anyone who does not conform to the prevailing anti-conservative anti-Jewish/Christian culture. Here and there are cases against selected people who stand in the way of the larger agenda. But a time is coming as it did for the church and Rome, where the whole of the culture will turn against and even blame Christians, Jews, and conservatives for whatever is wrong in a nation.
They try to make persecution a federal case
It is about 52AD in Acts 18:12-18, roughly 20 years after Pentecost. In Corinth, Greece we see persecutors of the faith taking their case outside the region of Israel in an effort to get the federal government of Rome involved against Christians.
In Corinth was a Roman Senator and Judge, Gallio. He is well known historically outside of the Biblical text for several reasons, among them that he was the brother of the famous Roman writer, Seneca. Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus was his full name, and when the Jews brought suit against Paul in federal court, they claimed Paul caused people to disobey the Jewish law and therefore they felt, Roman law.
Gallio 'cared for none of these things' and dismissed the case. He sent it back to the Jewish religion and their courts, not involving the federal government of Rome. His dismissal sent a clear message legally speaking, that unless these Christians clearly violated federal law Rome would not entertain such a lawsuit.
For Christians, Gallio had such influence being a Roman Senator and Judge, that the church overall had relative peace on a federal level for about 10 years, until Nero began his persecutions in the year 64. Though Paul was continually persecuted by unbelieving Jews during this time, the bulk of his letters which form our New Testament were written in this decade. (Romans, I & II Corinthians, Galatians, I & II Thessalonians, Philemon, possibly Hebrews)
Soon however it wouldn't be the unbelieving Jews that would scheme to show Rome that Christians violated Roman federal law; Christians would do that for them, for Roman laws were about to change.
And that is where we'll pick it up next week. Hopefully you see a pattern, for what I'm sharing of our past is now in our present, and soon to be in our future. Until next week, blessings,
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