It’s an unfortunate fact that we of the modern era have a difficult time relating to Christians who lived in the first century in order to learn by their example. We can hardly relate to the generation that founded the United States just two hundred forty years ago, much less the vastly different culture in a distant part of the world nearly two thousand years ago. Thus, when we arrive at passages that speak of their “present distress” (1 Cor. 7:26) – i.e. the persecutions that came upon the early Christians at the aggression of the Jews and pagans – our minds almost subconsciously set aside the point being made as though it has no modern application.
No, we are not being arrested for believing in Jesus Christ or being thrown to the lions for sport…at least, not here, in the United States. Not yet. There is a universal principle, however, that we need to remember. Just as Paul called upon Timothy to remember his own example of enduring persecutions, naming several instances of them (cf. 2 Tim. 3:10, 11), he informs Timothy of an unchanging truism: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).
If we are not suffering some form of persecution for the faith, there is likely something wrong with our attempts at living “godly in Christ Jesus.” The evangelistic nature of our responsibility to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), and to commit the teachings of the faith “to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2) inevitably causes some amount of conflict in our lives with people. Mentioning the exclusive nature of the church belonging to Christ – that it is the only religious group that even has a hope of being saved from the effects of sin – tends to rub people the wrong way when they do not accept the need for change. They don’t always want to hear what we have to say.
The devil’s persecution of those living godly today is a bit more subtle than it once was, but it is all the more effective. Our loved ones are being used against us. The laws of the civil government no longer have an appeal to a higher authority to establish right or wrong. The modern Christian struggles to maintain purity in their home. They have problems with modern dress-styles, music, television (programming and advertising), magazines, the forcible removal of religion from public schools and its curriculum; external conflicts with scoffers; internal conflicts within the church; multiple, but different, versions of the Bible causing confusion…the list is extensive.
In reality, the persecution against modern Christians is coming at them from every possible angle. Often this results in the individual Christian growing weak and potentially indifferent at the very least. Such indifference is not looked upon favorably by the Lord. He tells a congregation that had grown “lukewarm” that He would “spew them out” (Rev. 3:16). That is the picture of apostasy, right where the devil wants us.
All of the letters dictated by Jesus to the apostle John to the “seven churches of Asia” (Rev. 1:4) contain similar messages to each. The Lord asserts His authority by some description of Himself. He makes them aware that He is aware of their works, problems, trials, and persecutions. Some of them need to make some corrections. But all of them receive some form of encouragement to remain faithful by the offer of a reward “to him that overcometh” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).
Each of the blessings offered to the overcomer represent the full meaning of life and hope in Christ. By that we gain an understanding of who the overcomers are. When does any person overcome the trials, persecutions, and threats of this world, whether ancient or modern? Do we ever “overcome” of our own ability? Of course not. It is only by being “in Christ” that anyone may overcome the ultimate threats of this life.
Jesus encouraged His disciples just prior to His crucifixion by saying, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The question is not, “How do I overcome my trials and persecutions?” Rather, we should ask, “How do I get ‘in Christ’ and remain ‘in Christ’?” When we get “in Christ” is the moment we start being one who overcomes resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12). “Being then made free from sin” we become “the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18); and as “servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (Rom. 6:19). The offering of blessings to those who “overcome” is an encouragement to remain faithful to Christ from the moment one becomes a Christian in biblical baptism.
We may indeed overcome our own individual persecutions by “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
It is Christ’s victory over all persecutions that we are offered to enjoy (1 Cor. 15:57). Those who continue to remain faithful to His name and His faith, those who continue to “overcome” are promised to “eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7; cf. Gen. 3:22). They “shall not be hurt of the second death” (Rev. 2:11; cf. 20:6, 14; 21:8). They are permitted to “eat of the hidden manna” (Rev. 2:17; cf. John 6:47-58; Matt. 4:4; Heb. 13:10), and they are given a “white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Rev. 2:17; cf. Isa. 62:2; Acts 11:26).
Those who overcome are those who keep faithful to the Lord’s work, and He gives them “power over the nations” (Rev. 2:26), and “shall rule them” by use of the unbreakable word of God as “a rod of iron” (Rev. 2:27; cf. Matt. 19:28, 29; John 10:35; et. al.). These are also given “the morning star” (Rev. 2:28), which is Christ Himself (cf. Num. 24:17-19; Mal. 4:2; Luke 1:78, 79; 2Pet. 1:19; Dan. 12:3; 1Jn. 5:12, 13; Jn. 1:9).
Those who continue to overcome “shall be clothed in white raiment” (Rev. 3:5; cf. 3:18; 4:4; 2Cor. 5:1-4 – a spiritual covering of purity), and their names will remain in “the book of life” (Rev. 2:5; cf. Phil. 4:3; Isa. 4:3; Rev. 13:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27). The Lord Himself “will confess his name before [His] Father, and before his angels” (Rev. 3:5; cf. Matt. 10:32, 33; Rom. 10:10, 11; Heb. 2:11; 11:16). They are made “a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out” (Rev. 3:12), the picture of immoveable confidence as solid as the existence of objective truth (cf. 1Tim. 3:14, 15; 1Cor. 15:58; Eph. 3:1; Heb. 3:14; 10:35; 1Jn 3:21). The Lord Jesus will honor them by writing “upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and… [His] new name” (Rev. 3:12; cf. Phil. 3:20, 21; Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 22:1-4).
Those who overcome are granted to sit with Jesus in His throne even as He overcame and is sat down with the Father in His throne (Rev. 3:21; cf. John 16:33; Heb. 1:3, 8; 4:16; 8:1; 12:2; Matt. 19:28; Luke 1:32, 33; Acts 2:30; 7:48, 49; Rev. 22:1-3). If they continue to overcome all of their trials, and persecutions in this world by remaining faithful to Christ are promised that they “shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Rev. 21:7; cf. 2 Cor. 6:17 – 7:1).
There is no doubt, trying to live a godly, humble, God-fearing, God-loving life, constantly in the service of others is not always easy. It is a burden likened unto bearing a cross (cf. Luke 9:23); but, in comparison to the burden of sin (cf. Rom. 6:23), we ought to be happy to recognize that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). Are not all of those incentives quite enough to keep us going? Shall all of those “spiritual blessings in Christ” (Eph. 1:3) be offered for nothing? Shall we not “consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest [we] be wearied and faint in [our] minds” (Heb. 12:3)?
Take heart, true yokefellow. Keep on overcoming by living in the faith of Christ. Know that God keeps His promise to make us partakers of all those blessings given To Him That Overcometh.
Members of the church of Christ know the only way to get “in Christ” is by obedience to the gospel (2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Pet. 4:17), in belief with one’s whole heart (Acts 8:37), repentance (Acts 2:38), confession of faith (Acts 8:37, Rom. 10:10), and baptism in the likeness of Jesus’ death, burial, and