“Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Jesus was nothing if not a realist when it came to the kind of reception His followers should expect when they set out to advance the kingdom by proclaiming the Gospel to the unbelieving world. He made this abundantly clear: We should expect trouble. In these couple of verses He makes clear we should expect three different kinds of persecution.
First, we will be delivered over to courts. Jumping cultural contexts, the first thing our opponents will do is to attempt to make our faith illegal. They will likely succeed in this at least for a time. And indeed, we are seeing this in our culture today.
Canada’s Supreme Court recently told Trinity Western University, an evangelical Christian school in British Columbia that they cannot include a law school among their 40 undergraduate and 17 graduate programs because their code of conduct which requires among other things that students abstain from any kind of sexual conduct outside of marriage (which includes all homosexual interactions) is unacceptably discriminatory against potential LGBT students. What this means for the school’s other programs isn’t yet clear, but the court put the whole nation on notice that organizations and institutions that expect Christian values out of their members may soon find themselves holding to illegal standards. Sadly, Trinity Western’s response has been to make their code of conduct voluntary. This caving to pressure will not serve them well in the long run.
In our own country, our Supreme Court may have ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, but it was a narrow ruling that did not at all address the religious liberty concerns he raised, and the case reached that level in the first place because the Colorado Human Rights Commission made aggressively clear that in their view living out Christian values in one’s business was illegal and should be punished with excessive fines and communist-style re-education. And now, the Colorado Human Rights Commission is after Jack again for refusing to bake a transgender transition cake for a Colorado attorney who has been hounding him for months precisely to bring another suit against him to force him into compliance.
If the world (and by that I mean the institutions and systems of power which are most concerned with maintaining their own power and position and which don’t take kindly to the notion that there is a power higher than them to which individuals falling under their purview will submit over them) has the opportunity, it will move to make public expressions of historic Christian devotion illegal. We should not expect otherwise even in this nation.
The second situation of persecution Jesus mentions here is that His followers should expect to be beaten in the synagogues. Now, for Paul in his efforts to advance the Gospel, he experienced this literally. For us, jumping the cultural divide, we can expect to be abused in our culture’s places of worship.
This raises an obvious question: Where are our culture’s places of worship? The quick answer would seem to be churches, and indeed, those have been the locations of abuse against evangelical believers at various times since the days of the Reformation. But, let’s think a bit more outside the box. What are the things our culture worships today and where does that take place?
Here are two prime examples. We worship knowledge. The primary centers for this are our universities. Well, where have some of the most egregious cases of Christians facing persecution of various kinds taken place? Colleges and universities.
We also worship money. The primary centers for this worship are twofold: Corporate headquarters and retail outlets. Corporate headquarters have become in recent years hubs of secular progressive values where those who aren’t willing to bow down have been driven out. Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla, was driven out for financially supporting a traditional marriage campaign. More recently, Jack Dorsey came under withering fire for tweeting about having simply eaten at a Chick-Fil-A. He later apologized for it.
The third place of persecution Jesus mentions here is that we will be dragged before governors and kings. Again, Paul experienced this literally in his lifetime. We aren’t likely to because our political structure is different, but who are our “governors and kings” today? The courts function in this capacity to some extent. And indeed, we will be given the opportunity to stand before the courts for sure. At work, HR departments function with the power of a governor or king. Certainly if we are very consistent in our efforts to advance the kingdom there we will be dragged before them.
More important than the various locations of our persecution, however, is the reason for it. We will be delivered to courts, flogged in the places of worship, and dragged before policy makers and setters for His sake. We will face all of this so that we can bear witness to the Gospel before them.
When our Heavenly Father allows us to be placed in a situation such as these all represent, the reason will be because He wants for us to proclaim the Gospel before these particular audiences. Rather than being a mark of shame to have been persecuted as such, these should all be considered badges of honor. They mean our God trusts us to be an effective witness before someone who is in position to impact many others. It means He is actively trying to change the culture of our world and is using us to do it.
None of these would be particularly fun experiences in the moment, and all of them are wrought with the potential for serious negative consequences for us in the immediate future, but to be considered for such an honor by our Lord Jesus means we are doing a whole lot of things right. If this is you, be proud and stand boldly. Your Lord is on your side.