Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Maybe you live in an area of the world where talking about Jesus brings a death sentence. Maybe you work in an office where any religious talk meets strong resistance. Maybe your field of expertise considers the Bible a book of fiction, therefore negating any contribution you may make in the eyes of your peers due to your faith. On the flip side, maybe you’ve stood against Christ in the past and now are seeking forgiveness for it. Well, no matter whom you are, the Bible has plenty of examples and teachings to help and encourage you; and that’s what the Holy Spirit wants me to write to you about today.
Religious persecution happens. In fact, Jesus suggests that it is actually a good sign. –Wait, what? Check out what he says on the topic of a believer coming under persecution and resistance: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). Whoa, Jesus actually says that if everyone agrees with you in your faith, you’re probably doing something wrong. Whereas on the other side of the coin he states,
Blessed are you when men hate you,
When they exclude you and insult you
And reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets (Luke 6:22-23).
If you’re acting out of the Holy Spirit and talking to people about Christ only to get a “shut up” or something worse out of it, then you’re in good company. Jesus actually warned his disciples about what the life of a follower of Christ can lead to in Matthew 24:9, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” Indeed, all over the world people are dying, even in this modern age, just because they trust in God and his Son, Jesus Christ. As Christians, we’re told not to be surprised because much of the world no longer accepts us. He says,
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you (John 15:18-19).
Ever since the church first came to be there has been resistance to the name of Jesus Christ. Scripture records that after Peter and the apostles were detained for preaching, they faced the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council of the time), who were a combination of outraged and terrified at the teachings of Jesus. We read after Gamaliel (one of the Law experts) persuades the council to back off,
His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:40-41).
Even persuaded that the apostles were either benign or from God, the Sanhedrin still beat them before sending them off. But the apostles were overjoyed- after all, Jesus did say that they’d face persecution just like the prophets did. And just like the prophets, the apostles didn’t let it slow them down, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:42).
Alright, so we know that persecution (in many different forms) exists. What are we supposed to do about it? First of all, I feel compelled by the Spirit to mention that you should be respectful of the laws of your country or the rules of your workplace. Paul writes on this,
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:1-2).
Now I’m not saying that if your leader thinks he’s God that it’s ok to worship him (because it’s not). When faced with a similar situation, Daniel’s friends refused to bow to their king as a God and the Lord helped them out of that situation. But keep account of the channels through which it is ok and not ok to talk about the Lord. In the same way, at work you’re expected to work, not preach the Gospel. Preach the Gospel when you can, but do your job and do it amazingly well in order to preach through your actions rather than words. Ok, that needed to be said. Aside from respecting authority, the Holy Spirit says that we should be strong and not be afraid when we face persecution. Jesus tells us, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more” (Luke 12:4). The whole world fears death. However, as believers in Christ and the saving power of his blood, we shouldn’t fear at all- since, y’know, heaven is waiting for us. Paul was proud to proclaim in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” His life was wrapped up in Christ but if he did happen to die then he’d be heaven-bound, which is even better. Peter (who many think was crucified upside-down for Christ) encourages us by writing,
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14).
Remember that persecutions and hardships for God’s people is nothing new. Joshua, after being given Moses’ authority, was instructed by the Lord,
Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:8-9).
God tells Joshua to stay close to his Bible and his beliefs, and that God will stay with him through any hardship. Therefore, the Lord says that Joshua should focus on his faith and being strong. When you’re facing persecution, be strong, don’t let it get to you and don’t let it break you- and be respectful even to those who speak out against you. After all, Jesus said, “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). Always remember, that as a child of God through Jesus, the Lord always has your back. If someone is coming down on you because of your faith, God will take care of it, all you need to do is be strong and hold up under the pressure. For it is written,
“If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
Whoever attacks you will surrender to you.
See, it is I who created the blacksmith
Who fans the coals into flame
And forges a weapon fit for work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc;
No weapon forged against you will prevail,
And you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And this is their vindication from me,”
Declares the Lord (Isaiah 54:15-18).
If you’re up against resistance, trust in God. He’ll give you what you need to say through the Holy Spirit if you’re open for him to work. Who knows, maybe he’ll save your persecutor and bring him to repentance- or, who knows, he might just kill whoever that person is and take them off the chessboard. Either way, it’s on God, not you. As followers of Jesus, we’re living in Christ and Christ is in us. That means we’re like a Jesus Oreo. He’s got us covered through all situations.
Let’s take a look at the poster boy of being persecuted: Jeremiah. Almost nobody listened to him during his time preaching about the Lord to Judah. Not only would people not listen to his warnings though, they set their faces against him and persecuted Jeremiah mercilessly. The Bible has a great example of one of his times of persecution; let’s see how he responded. We read,
Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the Lord’s temple and said to all the people, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.’”
When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the chief officer in the temple of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the Lord’s temple (Jeremiah 19:14-20:2).
Keep in mind that Jeremiah did nothing wrong. God told him to preach to Jerusalem, so he preached to Jerusalem. However, Pashhur didn’t like what he was hearing, so he punished Jeremiah for what he believed in. Do you think Jeremiah shrunk back after this humiliation and persecution though? If you think that, then you don’t know Jeremiah very well,
The next day, when Pashhur released him from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The Lord’s name for you is not Pashhur, but Magor-Missabib. For this is what the Lord says: ‘I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will hand all Judah over to the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword (Jeremiah 20:3-4).
Upon being released, Jeremiah continued to prophecy about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah did not give up, nor did he shut up because his faith was great and his calling was strong. Jeremiah trusted in the Lord to avenge him just like he trusted that what God told him was the truth. Did Jeremiah suffer for his beliefs? Sure, lots of times. He even called God out on it,
O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived;
You overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
Everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
Proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
Insult and reproach all day long (Jeremiah 20:7-8).
But even though the persecution sucked, and it did- a lot, Jeremiah was resolute that God would avenge and help him. He continues a couple of verses later,
I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!
Report him! Let’s report him!”
All my friends
Are waiting for me to slip, saying,
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
Then we will prevail over him
And take our revenge on him.”
But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior;
So my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced;
Their dishonor will never be forgotten (Jeremiah 20:10-11).
Jeremiah knew that God had his back all the time. Where did he get this confidence from? Well when Jeremiah was still young, the Lord drilled it into Jeremiah that he’d take care of him,
“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land- against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 1:17-19).
This is a promise to us in Christ as well. We will face opposition, but the Lord will rescue us from our troubles and he will fight for us when we’re bold. Remember, the Lord says, “Don’t be terrified, or I’ll terrify you.” We can’t shrink back from our faith. Check out the prophet Uriah, who ran away when he came against opposition,
Now Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath Jearim was another man who prophesied in the name of the Lord; he prophesied the same things against this city and this land as Jeremiah did. When King Jehoiakim and all his officers and officials heard his words, the king sought to put him to death. But Uriah heard of it and fled in fear to Egypt. King Jehoiakim, however, sent Elnathan son of Acbor to Egypt, along with some other men. They brought Uriah out of Egypt and took him to King Jehoiakim, who had him struck down with a sword and his body thrown into the burial place of the common people (Jeremiah 26:20-23).
Uriah was a prophet, just like Jeremiah, preaching the very same things as Jeremiah. However, whereas Jeremiah stood his ground and wouldn’t back up, Uriah got scared and ran away, and the Lord relieved him of his mission. Ahikam, another prophet, stood with Jeremiah during this time. So we read, “Furthermore, Ahikam son of Shaphan supported Jeremiah, and so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death” (Jeremiah 26:24). Keep in mind, these people were preaching the same message of Jeremiah when they started facing opposition. Uriah ran away, Ahikam stood with Jeremiah, and Jeremiah never shut his mouth. And yet, the ones who continued in the Lord’s work (as much as the king hated it) were spared. Jeremiah was following the example of Micah, who never backed off of King Hezekiah. Of him, the city elders explained,
Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. He told all the people of Judah, “This is what the Lord Almighty says:
‘Zion will be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,
The temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.’
Did Hezekiah king of Judah or anyone else in Judah put him to death? Did not Hezekiah fear the Lord and seek his favor? And did not the Lord relent, so that he did not bring the disaster he pronounced against them? We are about to bring a terrible disaster on ourselves!” (Jeremiah 26:18-19).
Micah had become a role model for Jeremiah and other prophets. He never backed down and he actually instituted change in his king. Jeremiah was like Micah, and as you can see, he actually inspired the city officials to think of Micah’s days through his speaking. Why? Jeremiah didn’t back down, he was strong, he was bold (but respectful), he was resilient. Jeremiah knew that he had a God who was greater than anything else he’d come against in this life and he trusted in him. We too have this as believers, and we should never forget that as Jesus Oreos, he’s protecting us on all sides. Christ himself makes note of this himself, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). As a believer, you will have trouble, but Jesus is so much greater than that. He’s already beaten all there is to beat and he’s willing to help you do so as well. So when opposition and persecution come, stand your ground- what’s the worst that could happen? You see Jesus’ face a little early? Many would call that a win in its own right.
Ok, let’s flip this over. What if you’re one of those people who’ve spent years firmly against the church and against Christ? You’re not alone. God has a funny habit of pulling his enemies into his army. Take Paul for example. Or…should I call him Saul? That was his name before he changed it to the well-known Paul in order to improve his image. When the great persecution broke out against the Christians, Saul was their go-to guy- the persecutors go-to guy that is. Acts 8:1-3 picks up right after a young man named Stephen was stoned for preaching about Jesus,
And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
This guy was set to be the biggest threat to Christianity ever. But Saul met Jesus on his way to round up the believers in Damascus,
He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:4-6).
Saul met Jesus, and was instantly changed through his power. Now we know him as Paul, the dude who wrote most of the New Testament and traveled around most of the Roman world preaching about the mercy of Christ. Paul never totally shook his past though; it stuck to him through the rest of his life and career. He even wrote in one of his letters, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). However, because of his past, Paul was even more motivated to serve God with all of his heart. He continued, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them- yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Maybe you did some bad things in the past; maybe you said some things against Jesus. It doesn’t matter, take that and use the grace that God has given you to turn it into something beautiful. Paul used his understanding of God’s mercy to power him and drive him to work and to endure suffering in the name of Christ. And the Lord backed Paul up, protected him, and spoke out in his favor when he was opposed, just as the Lord had protected Jeremiah (who had been a prophet since he was young). It doesn’t matter who you are, salvation through Christ Jesus is available to you. For it is written,
And everyone who calls
On the name of the Lord will be saved;
For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
There will be deliverance,
As the Lord has said,
Among the survivors
Whom the Lord calls (Joel 2:32).
So get up believer, dust yourself off, and keep spreading the Word of the Lord and remember that Jesus has got your back!