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Judgment & Persecution

By Bruce Riley
In Formed
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About two years ago I was able to have a conversation with a cancer survivor. What she shared with me was new to my understanding. Having cancer alone was not painful to her at all. The pain came when the treatment began. She expressed the agony of chemo and its effects on her body as the doctors were seeking to heal her from her sickness. Her testimony is that she was able to endure the treatments and be rid of the cancer. However, she could have made the decision to avoid the pain and skip the treatment. But the result would have been fatal.

Sometimes I feel like we have the same experience amongst the body of Christ. We understand that we are in a sin sick world. And we pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Unfortunately, we want this to be done without the treatment necessary to cleanse this world from ungodliness. And what is God’s treatment? What is His Chemo? I believe it lies within his justice and judgement, which we see so clearly in Revelation 8-20. And amazingly, it is the response and sign to those that God is responding to with a defiant hope.

I find it amazing that this whole section, highlighting the infamous judgment of the end times, starts off with God smelling the aroma and petitions of all the saints. A priestly angel is cooking up prayers to God and then hurling these prayers down to the earth to begin the trumpet judgments. The prayers of the saints play a role into the judgment of God. Some consider these the prayers of those persecuted during the tribulation. Others argue for it to be the collective prayer of all the saints. Either way I still feel the prayers to have the same message, “May the Kingdom of God come.” And what I find interesting is that in order for our prayers to be answered, the shocking and violent events of Revelation must take place. The passage lets me know two things about the world that I live in:

First, is that it is far more wicked and lost than I could imagine it. There is no saving or redeeming the world. There is no government that has the capability of living right before God. All nations are wicked and extremely opposed to God. Even God’s people, Israel, when giving Christ their Lord, they crucified Him. They couldn’t even live according to His kingdom even when they were His children. How much more the nations that we live in today.

Secondly, I have also come to realize how comfortable I am living in a culture and governmental structure that is far from God. So much so that I don’t recognize that my prayers to God are petitioning God to judge the very society that I rather enjoy. I have become insensitive to its ungodliness. I’m entertainment by things offensive to God. I convince myself that my political affiliation is best for God’s agenda. I hid the offensive truths of scripture to make my faith look attractive. And constantly struggle to please a culture by trying to gain their love then please God by being willing to speak His truth. According to Revelations, God is going to utterly destroy all the kingdoms that man has created because of their great wickedness. And yet I’m still tempted to blame it on the other political party’s ungodliness. Because it is their wickedness that is going to cause the Lord’s judgment to fall on this country…right?

So far, we see God responding to our prayers in Revelation with judgment and justice in order to bring about the true Kingdom of God, where Christ is our King, amen. In the midst of Revelation 8-20, there is a wonderful passage that I believe every believer should adopt. In Chapter 13, we are introduced to the beast, or antichrist as we also know him to be. The antichrist makes it his personal mission to wage war against God’s holy people. And in verse 10, John gives encouragement that, “…God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.” Although the persecution in this passage is likely worse than most Christians in America will ever experience, I believe the mindset of John’s words should be adopted in our lives.

We must learn to endure persecution patiently. An amazing statement in itself considering the context. I pray for God’s kingdom to come; God brings terrible judgment and justice; evil rears its ugly head; and now I’m being persecuted. And generally, it is in persecution that we start to lose hope. It is so important that we learn to still stand for God when the world will hate us for living according to his kingdom. When Christ tells us to seek first the kingdom, he literally is telling us to live as citizens of heaven before we subject ourselves to any other statute, belief, or opinion.

Now, I have been on social media enough to know that if you state your belief in the light of nation, you will receive more hate than applause. The world wants no accountability and conviction. And the gospel is offensive to those who want to live their own way. The response is that you, a representative of God’s kingdom, will become a target of their hatred. We are persecuted in America. As we choose God, it is very likely that we lose friends, people will lie and say all kinds of bad things about you (Matt. 5:11), you can lose jobs, be sued, etc. This can cause many to keep their faith quiet and personal when that is not what God wants. He wants us to put our faith on display (Matt 5:14-16). Then endure persecution faithfully.

We must remain faithful. As an alumni of Prairie View A&M University, I know too much about remaining faithful. Our football team holds the record with 80 consecutive losses and only 23 games won between 1990 – 2006. I was on campus during this era. Every year we would go to the Cotton Bowl during the Texas State Fair and watch Grambling State vs. Prairie View. Every year I stayed committed to my team hoping that we would win. Even to this day, there is not another school that can go against my school without me supporting my alma mater. Because I’m faithful. God wants us to show that kind of faithfulness toward him.

Even when persecution comes, when everyone believes differently than you, and even some of your fellow believers switch sides because they can’t handle the criticism, you must remain faithful! And strengthen your faith always with the defiant hope that God will hear your prayers and won’t leave you in a place of persecution but will justify you completely in the end. Even though I had graduated Prairie View, my hope was made complete when Prairie View’s football team won the SWAC Champions being undefeated that season. In Revelation 8-19, we see a season where God’s people are called to endure and be faithful without losing hope. But in chapter 20 we see that God closes the story with ultimate victory as he cleanses all unrighteousness and begins to set up his kingdom.

“Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” (Rev. 19:9) I have always found it helpful to remind myself that I am blessed. Even if I experience the persecution that is meant for the believer, I am still blessed. Why? Because I have an invitation that is greater than anything this world can offer. An invitation that will one day make every trial and tribulation, every struggle and heartache, every abuse and scandal, church hurt and family hurt worth it in comparison. We get to be with Jesus. We get to commune with God. We will be able to experience true life because his Kingdom has finally come. This is my defiant hope.

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