Heaven’s Perspective on Persecution…
by John MacArthur
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
With those words Jesus comforted His disciples. His followers would not be alone in their suffering; they would partake in what He had already endured. It’s a comfort that points to the certainty of persecution for everyone who follows Christ. The Lord acknowledged that inevitability just a few verses later:
These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. (John 16:1-4)
All believers know, to at least some degree, what it is to suffer for the sake of the Lord. At times we’ve all been alienated or ostracized for our faith. Some have lost relationships, forfeiting friends and even family members for the sake of Christ. Many believers feel the pressure to keep silent about the Lord and His Word, often with the threat of losing their position in an organization or some other social structure. All Christians face those kinds of persecution at one time or another.
But that is mild persecution compared to what we see in Scripture, and what many believers still suffer around the world. Current statistics indicate that today as many as 100 million Christians live under the constant threat of bodily harm and even death because of their faith. By God’s grace, many of us don’t face that fierce level of persecution at our doorstep—yet. However, it is on the rise as the world becomes increasingly hostile to God’s Word and His people.
Whatever the degree of persecution you might face, how you respond is dictated by your perspective. If you can’t see beyond your own suffering and fear, persecution will be a hindrance to your spiritual growth and usefulness. But if you view persecution from heaven’s perspective, you’ll be able to endure, an even thrive in the midst of it.
So what is heaven’s perspective? Like any other hardship we encounter, persecution is a trial permitted by God for our growth. And as James writes, we need to
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
God is not caught off guard by our suffering. Persecution isn’t an indication that He lost control, or that we’ve fallen out of favor with Him. It’s a trial that serves a purpose in His divine plan. And if we react the right way, we can expect to benefit from it in the end.
That’s the promise James makes just a few verses later: “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
Peter made that same point to his readers in 1 Peter 4:12-14.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
Peter’s readers were indeed facing a “fiery ordeal.” Scattered across the Roman Empire, they lived as aliens amid a pagan society. On top of that, they endured the constant threat of violent persecution, as the Romans excelled at devising excruciating tortures and horrific deaths for their enemies. And in spite of that, Peter called them to rejoice.
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
The fruit of believers’ suffering is a proven faith. Enduring persecution proves the quality of their love for the Lord, and nothing is more valuable than tested faith. It not only affirms your status as a child of God (Romans 8:17), it also empowers you to conquer sin (1 Peter 4:1).
Because of that immense value of having confidence in your salvation, you’re willing to suffer the pains and hardships of persecution. You don’t try to escape it; you accept it as the Lord’s preordained proving ground for your faith. That is why Peter writes that we can rejoice in trials.
In other words, there’s nothing—not health, comfort, or security—more valuable than the confidence that your faith is real. Believers can gladly sacrifice those things because they know their suffering builds up their spiritual strength, the assurance of their faith, and their anticipation of future glory in heaven with Christ.
John records these words from Jesus, which He said hours before His salvation-securing death: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The worst thing the world can do is kill us, which sends us directly into the arms of Christ and our ultimate triumph.
We should expect to face various forms of persecution in this life. And in the coming days, we’ll consider some biblical principles for responding to that persecution. But we’ll never be able to bear up under the weight of the suffering if we don’t first have heaven’s perspective on it—that God is allowing it for our good.