Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
Matthew 24:9, 10
Jesus had spoken of signs of His coming in the church, in the world, and in nature. He had spoken of false Christs, of wars and rumors of war, of famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places. These are the foreshadowing of Christ’s return, the travail or birth pangs that serve to bring forth the new creation.
Many of these are obvious signs of judgment. They plainly show that this present dispensation is not “a period of grace” in the sense that God postpones judgment until Christ returns. God does not love sinners as sinners, nor does He show His favor to them, but He is angry with the wicked every day. He visits sin with His righteous judgments, which are God’s just condemnation of the wicked, but which in the meantime serve as chastisement and blessing for His people.
That does not mean that the members of God’s church do not suffer in the midst of these judgments. Jesus warns His disciples and us that there will be persecutions, defections, and deceptions. That occurred already in the old dispensation, as is evident from Hebrews 11:35-38. Our faith, which is more precious than gold, is tried as by fire. Persecution has characterized this present dispensation and will greatly increase in frequency and intensity as the end approaches.
Jesus states, “They will deliver you up to be afflicted.” The word for afflicted means “to be pressed.” It reminds us of a serpent that tightens its coil about a victim until it has gradually crushed him to death.
Little did the disciples realize how soon this warning would become a reality in their own lives. Shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven, when Peter and John were in the temple witnessing of the resurrected Christ, the chief priest and Sadducees laid hands on them and put them in hold. The next day they were released, but not without being warned that they should no more speak of Jesus as the Christ.
It was only a short time later that all the apostles were cast into prison by the enraged sect of the Sadducees for preaching and performing miracles in the name of Jesus. Even the fact that an angel delivered them from the prison did not deter these enemies from warning them to speak no more in that name.
Wherever Paul went on his missionary journeys he was met with opposition, often from his own people, the Jews. He informs us: “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned …, In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, … in perils among false brethren” (II Cor. 11:24-26).
It was also soon after Pentecost that the first martyr gave his life for the cause of the gospel. Stephen was stoned even while he testified that he was bearing the reproach of his Lord. His final statements were similar to the words spoken by Jesus from the cross. Soon after the death of Stephen, James the brother of John was also killed. And it was Herod’s intention to kill Peter also, but an angel delivered Peter from prison on the very eve of the intended execution. Some time later both Paul and Peter gave up their lives for the cause of Christ.
Since that time, history is replete with accounts of the sufferings of the martyrs, some of whom wasted away in prison, while others were burned at the stake, hanged on the gallows, or killed with the sword. Many had to flee for their lives, go into hiding, and thus offer up their lives for the truth they cherished.
We speak of the heroes of faith of the old dispensation, but another list could well be drawn up of the witnesses of faith in more recent times. The truth of God’s sovereignty has always been challenged and denied. God’s double predestination, sovereign providence, a unilateral and unconditional covenant, and particular grace meet opposition wherever these truths are proclaimed. All emphasis is placed upon a loving God, while God’s justice is denied. Even eternal punishment in hell is being denied. Ultimately the conclusion of a universal salvation must be reached. Even unbelievers have always liked to speak of a bright and pleasant future for those who have departed from this life.
Jesus added: “And ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.”
The real cause for the hatred of the nations against the true church is the name of Jesus. That name represents Christ’s person, just as we are always associated with our own names. If anyone mentions your name he is either speaking about you or to you. The same applies to the Jesus of the Scriptures. But this name also represents all that He stands for. Everyone, with the exception of the true believer, rejects all that Jesus teaches, that is, the message of the gospel, the Scripture in its entirety.
Paul accused the dissenters in Galatia of following another gospel which is not another. Many profess to believe in and preach Jesus, but, under the pretense of preaching Jesus, the only name under heaven whereby we can be saved, they preach and profess a false Jesus. The truth of the Scriptures is always under attack, and those who maintain it are hated and despised for the simple reason that the God and the Jesus of the Scriptures are hated and rejected.
Paul warns Timothy: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Tim. 4:1, 2).
Jesus also warns us: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18, 19).
Anyone who maintains the sovereignty of God in our day is branded narrow minded, bigoted, and quaint, and even rejected. Man receives the emphasis rather than God. Anyone who maintains the truth of the Word of God must expect that he will be a pariah, an outcast in the modern church world.
It is exactly for that reason that “then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.”
Paul writes in II Timothy 3:1-5: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those who are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”
It is not all Israel that is called Israel. The term “Christianity” is a very large umbrella that covers a host of people. Many profess to be Christians, disciples of Jesus, but deny Him in their confession and walk. Many belong to a certain church and engage in its activities with various ulterior motives. As long as their “faith” is not challenged, they feel perfectly at home and are perfectly content there.
But when their faith is put to a test, they are offended. The word literally means “to be trapped.” They are in a bind, and they prove that their faith is a mere pretense rather than conviction. Money, goods, position, honor, family, and friends are preferred instead of the Christ. Sometimes a boy or girl friend may gain the preference. Often it is a lack of courage to stand up for the truth and bear the sacrifice that is involved.
These nominal Christians frequently become the strongest opponents of the truth.
Our Lord warns us: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matt. 10:34-36).
As you know, that is exactly what happened to the Jews and even to many Christians in the Netherlands during World War II. Friends and neighbors, and sometimes members of the family, would cooperate with the Nazis and betray their relatives and neighbors. This resulted in constant harassment and persecutions of various sorts, but also in people being sent to a concentration camp, or even killed. The atrocities of that war demonstrate to us what we as true believers can expect, especially in the last days.
Thereby the church will be purified. Beyond a shadow of doubt no one will want to experience such fiery trials unless it be for his strong conviction of love for the truth. Jesus asks: “When the Son of man cometh, will He find faith on the earth?”
As cross bearers after Christ we bear His reproach outside the camp. Therefore we are called to be strong in our conviction, patient in tribulation. Peter speaks of the incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that is laid away for us in heaven and adds: “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 1:6, 7). Then God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus teaches us: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:11, 12).
Sincere hope is perseverance. That hope maketh not ashamed, for the love of God is spread abroad in our hearts by His Spirit.
“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Rev. 21:7). The Lord stands at the door!