Looking ahead, what will life be like for Christians who are committed to living according to God’s Word? What will it be like in 2021? 2025? If you expect my next sentence to tell you to vote for candidate X (lest you lose your religious freedom) or candidate Y (lest you ignore biblical principles of justice), you’ve stepped into the wrong church (or tuned into the wrong livestream) today. The proper role of the pulpit is to say “thus says the Lord,” and to help God’s people understand what that Word says about various issues—but it is not to give you specific instructions on how to vote. As Jesus in Matthew 10:17–31 tells his disciples what to expect as he sends them out, you and I can learn something of what he expects of us, his followers today. Whatever the outcome of the US election, and wherever in the world you live, expect suffering.
Be on your guard. Jesus is speaking to the 12, whom he is sending to teach, preach, and heal in the towns of Galilee. While the instructions are specific to that setting, his words suggest broader principles that will continue to apply following his death, resurrection, and ascension. Though the disciples faced opposition, it is after Christ’s ascension that believers are hauled before governors and kings. Christians in North America have long enjoyed freedom that many brothers and sisters lack. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to live as a Christian if you believe principles that the world considers politically incorrect. I am thankful for those who seek to oppose those trends, whether in the courtroom or the ballot box. But the danger is not only straightforward opposition. A religion that wraps itself in the flag can insidiously confuse the kingship of Christ with the political movers and shakers of our society. Christians today need to listen to Jesus’ command to be on guard, and not be surprised by persecution and opposition. That opposition to God’s people can, as Jesus’ reference to Micah 7 indicates, cut across family lines and other relationships. 1 Peter can be read as a commentary on what Jesus said.
You are not greater than your master. Don’t be surprised by suffering—because that is the path that Christ walked. He warns the disciples that it will be on account of him that they are hauled before authorities. He reminds them, and you, that you are not greater than your master, Matthew 10:24–25. Your union with Christ is at the heart of your salvation. You who trust in him are united with him in his death and resurrection. But that union also involves union in suffering before it means union with him in glory, Romans 8:17. Where the gospel is proclaimed and the powerful Holy Spirit uses it, great things happen. People are transformed from death to life. And where hearts are changed, profound influences on society can follow. Yet, even while the gospel advances, so does opposition. The suffering of this present age includes not only overt persecution, but also the friction that comes from living as someone who belongs to the age to come—but is still living in the present evil age. Jesus tells the disciples, when persecuted in one village to flee to another, Matthew 10:23. He states that they will not finish doing this before the Son of Man comes. There is ambiguity about what Jesus means. The Son of Man did come powerfully in his ascension and Pentecost. He may have the destruction of Jerusalem in view. But the language, while including those events, seems to look forward to the great coming of the Son of Man, of which earlier comings were anticipations. The final overcoming of evil takes place when he returns, and Jesus points you to that event. “The coming of the Son of Man is the background ruling the whole of their [the disciples’] struggle and difficulty. It is their consolation in times of persecution (Matt. 10:23), the secret of their constant prayers (Luke 18:1,8), the motive of their perseverance ((Matt. 10:22), the incentive to faithfulness and vigilance (Luke 21:36).” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, pages 470–471).
Persevere to the end! Jesus warns of suffering, but he does not discourage you. He calls you to be prepared, not to be paralyzed with fear. If you are being persecuted because of your union with Christ, remember that he is with you. He summons you to persevere, not only in easy times, but especially in times of testing and trial. Those who persevere will be saved. That is not a promise of a short cut out of suffering. It is an assurance that even persecution and suffering will not separate you from your Lord. Remember Bruce Hunt’s account of hearing Korean wives and mothers calling gut ga jee, “to the end,” to encourage their husbands and sons who had been arrested for refusing to engage in emperor worship in occupied Manchuria.
Fear not—you have been given the Spirit. Jesus’ admonition not to be afraid is not simply encouraging, but empty words. He promises that his disciples, when suffering, will be given words to say by the Spirit. (Notice this early indication of the Trinity: the Father gives the Spirit so that believers can testify to the Son. When the Great Commission commands baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it is a concept for which Matthew has prepared you earlier in the Gospel. That Spirit works in and through the Word. In Ephesians 6 Paul includes the Word as the sword of the Spirit. “And that Holy Spirit is not an unconscious power but a person who is always present with that word, always sustains it and and makes it active, though not always in the same manner. In accordance with the unsearchable good pleasure of God, he uses that word for for bringing people to repentance but also for hardening; for the rising but also for the falling of many. He always works through the word, but not in the same way. And when he wants to work through it so that it leads to faith and repentance, he does not objectively have to add anything to the word. That word is good and wise and holy, a word of God, a word of Christ, and the Holy spirit takes everything from Christ.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 4, p. 459). How do you prepare for persecution (as well as for whatever else you encounter in your life)? Saturate yourself in the Word of God. Hide it in your heart. Don’t underestimate how important that gift of the Spirit is. The Spirit is specifically the person of the Godhead active in raising Christ from the dead. What the 12 received in a preliminary way, you, the church this side of Pentecost, have received in abundance. And that gift of the Spirit is a down payment on the fullness that you will receive.
The stakes are much bigger than who wins an election in November. Expect persecution and suffering—Jesus said it is coming. But, as those united with him, as those who have received the Holy Spirit, stand firm. Endure to the end. You are presently sharing in your Lord’s suffering. He has ascended into glory, and you share in that as well. Do not be afraid!