Persecuted Christians—“A Theatrical Spectacle to the World”
“It seems to me that God has put us the apostles last on exhibition as men appointed to death, because we have become a theatrical spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men.”—1 Cor. 4:9.
1, 2. What fear do many have? What comfort may they take?
THE thought of suffering as did Jesus and the apostles frightens many persons. True, they know that many marvelous benefits accrue to those who have a spiritual, exalted outlook on life. But they do not believe that they personally will be able to withstand the strong assaults that they visualize as someday taking place against their faith.
2 Is that your fear? If so, consider: Was it not comforting to learn in the last article that you can be a spiritual person? Yes, an ‘ordinary person’ like yourself—a salesman, a lumberjack or a housewife—can actually have “the mind of Christ.” You will find it just as encouraging to learn that you can also successfully bear up under any trial that might come against you from any quarter of this fleshly world.
3. What did Jesus say that his followers should expect?
3 A Christian should expect to be disliked by the world. Jesus explained: “Truly I say to you men, No one has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not get a hundredfold now in this period of time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, with persecutions, and in the coming system of things everlasting life.” (Mark 10:29, 30) What he said proved true in the case of the apostles. And it will prove equally true of genuine Christians, real spiritual men, today. But why, it might be asked, would the apostles, spiritual men, suffer “persecutions”?
4. Why did the spiritual men among Christians of the first century suffer persecution?
4 In prayer to Jehovah, his Father, Jesus answers: “The world has hated them [footstep followers of his], because they are no part of the world, . . . Sanctify them by means of the truth; your word is truth. Just as you sent me forth into the world, I also sent them forth into the world. . . . the world has, indeed, not come to know you; . . . these have come to know that you sent me forth.”—John 17:14, 17, 18, 25.
5. Explain how the fleshly world hated those early Christians.
5 The apostles, spiritual men trained by Jesus, were “no part of the world.” That is why it hated them. The vivid contrast between those spiritual men and the fleshly world became evident to all creation. After Jesus left the earthly scene the apostles expended themselves tirelessly in carrying out their commission to preach and teach “to the most distant part of the earth.” (Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 1:6-8) There was strong opposition to their work right from the start. The first resistance came from their own countrymen. (Acts 5:40; 12:1-5) As the work branched beyond Judea and Samaria, there were conflicts with adherents of Gentile deities who feared that their objects of devotion would be “brought down to nothing.”—Acts 19:23-41; 14:1-7.
“A THEATRICAL SPECTACLE TO THE WORLD”—IN WHAT SENSE?
6, 7. What does Paul mean at 1 Corinthians 4:9 when he says that the apostles were “a theatrical spectacle to the world”?
6 The apostle Paul, at 1 Corinthians 4:9, graphically portrays the suffering that Christians underwent.
“For it seems to me that God has put us the apostles last on exhibition as men appointed to death, because we have become a theatrical spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men.”
7 Here Paul was not talking about the apostles as being a spectacle in just the ordinary affairs of life and saying that as other people viewed the apostles leading honest, constructive lives, they became convinced of the rightness of the Christian way of life. No, he is discussing the suffering that the apostles experienced, as though reproachfully exposed in a theater before a universal audience. The “theatrical spectacle” that the apostles present in the Bible, says the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ‘is by human standards, not a proud one, but a sorry and contemptible one.’
8, 9. (a) How do the translations by Tertullian and James Moffatt help us to see that when Paul says the apostles were a “theatrical spectacle” he was talking about the suffering they underwent? (b) Was Paul ever in a literal arena?
8 The third-century translation of 1 Corinthians 4:9 by Tertullian helps us to get this vivid picture of the suffering Christians when it speaks of them as “men appointed to fight with wild beasts.” (On Modesty, chapter xiv) They were, as it says in the rather freely rendered twentieth-century Bible by scholar James Moffatt, “like doomed gladiators in the arena!” One can therefore picture a triumphal procession of Roman times. At the rear comes the faithful band of apostles and other Christians being led like despised criminals to the arena where spectators will revel in their suffering and death.
9 Of course, it is possible, if not probable, that the apostle Paul, like other early Christians, actually faced wild beasts in an arena, judging by what he says at 1 Corinthians 15:32: “If, like men, I have fought with wild beasts at Ephesus . . .” It is true that Paul had faced “beastly” men in the figurative “theater” at Ephesus. (Acts 19:29-41) But notice that he refers, at 2 Corinthians 1:8-10, to the “tribulation that happened to us in the district of Asia [where Ephesus was located]” and where, continues Paul, “we felt within ourselves that we had received the sentence of death . . . [God] did rescue us.” This seems to suggest that Paul at one time faced literal wild beasts in the Ephesian arena.
10. List the sufferings that Paul says Christ’s followers underwent.
10 However, in 1 Corinthians 4:9 Paul is making an illustration. He is saying that ‘men and angels,’ a universal audience, were spectators to the indignities, the opposition and persecution to which he and his companions were subjected as they carried out their ministry. He goes on to detail the suffering they underwent:
“We are fools on Christ’s account. Ah, but in Christ you [certain ones at Corinth] are wise! We are the weak ones, you the strong! They honor you, while they sneer at us! Up to this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, poorly clad, roughly treated, wandering about homeless. We work hard at manual labor. When we are insulted we respond with a blessing. Persecution comes our way; we bear it patiently. We are slandered, and we try conciliation. We have become the world’s refuse, the scum of all; that is the present state of affairs.”—1 Cor. 4:10-13, The New American Bible. Compare Hebrews 10:32-34.
11. Who allowed the apostles to be subjected to being such a display?
11 In spite of the suffering that the apostles bore, spiritually minded persons back there would have known that God backed the apostles. Their constructive labors proved that. Such persons would know, too, as Paul said, that “God has put us the apostles last on exhibition as men appointed to death.” (1 Cor. 4:9) Yes, God allowed the apostles to appear as lowly by the world’s standards.
12, 13. (a) So, who today can expect to suffer? (b) What question comes up?
12 Jehovah’s witnesses today, as they carry out their worldwide ministry, suffer similarly. This does not mean that God has rejected them. In fact, in the foregoing article it was clearly shown that one needs the modern congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses today in order to be a spiritual person. The truth is not to be found with those who are most popular with the world. The apostle Paul reminds us: “All those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.”—2 Tim. 3:12.
13 But a question comes up: Do not many persons that say they are “Christians” and that are not Jehovah’s witnesses also suffer persecution today? True, many that claim to be “Christian” suffer today. Even pagans and atheists are persecuted. But why do they suffer? True spiritual men believe and stand for the very same things that Jesus and his apostles did, so they suffer opposition for the same reasons that these did.
IS CHRISTENDOM A MODERN “THEATRICAL SPECTACLE TO THE WORLD”?
14. Are the churches of Christendom suffering? Why?
14 Do any of the churches of Christendom represent true Christianity? Well, are they made up of spiritual men and do they therefore suffer hatred and persecution for the same reason as first-century Christians? Many churches of Christendom today are hurting. They are losing members and money. Their influence is waning. But it is not because they are suffering for righteousness’ sake as did the apostles. (Compare 1 Peter 2:19-21.) How do we know? Consider this:
15. How do the churches compare with the apostles as to belief in the rightness or wrongness of killing?
15 The apostles believed that it is wrong to murder, even to hate. (1 John 4:20, 21; Rev. 21:8) Have not Christendom’s churches winked at, even supported and encouraged the world’s wholesale murder on the battlefield? The book Black Jack Pershing by Richard O’Connor helps to answer this question. It reports concerning America’s entry into World War I:
“None were more urgent in demanding that America go to war than the ministers of God. The New York Federation of Churches proclaimed March 11 ‘War Sunday.’ From coast to coast, militant preachers denied that Christ was a pacifist, that war was evil, that killing Germans was any violation of the Commandments. The evangelist Billy Sunday, addressing a throng in Times Square, was only phrasing their thoughts more vividly when he shouted, ‘If hell could be turned upside down, you would find stamped on its bottom, “Made in Germany”!’”
In lands where Christendom’s churches or leaders are restricted, it is usually because of their record of meddling in politics. Thus we read in the New York Times of October 21, 1973: “The Chilean military authorities today ordered the expulsion of three foreign priests. The priests—two Spaniards and a Frenchman—had been engaged in ‘extremist activities,’ according to official sources.”—Page 9.
16, 17. Do the churches of Christendom believe and act like the apostles (a) in the matter of morality? (b) in the matter of lying?
16 The apostles abhorred adultery, fornication and homosexuality and they put away from their presence those who carried on such practices. Paul said plainly: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” (1 Cor. 5:11-13; 6:9-11) But when was the last time you heard of someone being expelled from your church—or any church of Christendom—for such practices?
17 Liars were not permitted in the early apostolic congregation. (Acts 5:1-11) But how many political leaders and businessmen do you trust never to lie? Yet, are they not, for the most part, members of a church—perhaps your own?
18. Thus, why can we say that Christendom is no “theatrical spectacle to the world”?
18 The answers to these questions are obvious. The many organizations that tolerate such practices, regardless of their outward professions to be “Christian,” are no “theatrical spectacle to the world.” Rather, they blend in with the world. Christendom has shown itself to be a “friend of the world,” and so also an “enemy of God.” God calls such ones “adulteresses.”—Jas. 4:4.
19. What does Christendom yet face?
19 Thus, the pains that Christendom’s churches are currently undergoing are not for following in the footsteps of Jesus and the apostles. They are reaping what they have sown; it is deserved. Their current suffering is but a foretaste of what is due to come upon the whole world empire of false religion, described in the book of Revelation as a richly adorned prostitute atop a beast. False religion, like that harlot, tries to control the beastly nations. But the “beast” referred to there in Revelation turns on her and destroys her. The time for the end of all false religion is imminent. Those who are a part of her now are not spiritual men suffering for righteousness’ sake. They have legitimate reason to be concerned, even fearful.—Rev. 16:12-21; 17:15-18; Re chap. 18; compare Ezekiel chapter 24; Matthew 13:42.
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES—A MODERN “THEATRICAL SPECTACLE TO THE WORLD” IN PERSECUTION
20-22. How do Jehovah’s witnesses suffer?
20 On the other hand, Jehovah’s witnesses have suffered a great deal in modern times. They were violently hated in Nazi Germany. A newsletter published for the Commission for Ecumenical Affairs of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, recognizes this fact, saying: “The German Jews . . . were not the only victims in Hitler’s concentration camps. All known [Jehovah’s] witnesses in the fatherland were also imprisoned. They were then offered freedom if only they would bow down and recant. . . . Not hangings, not shootings, not cruel bodily or mental torture would sway them. The anger of their SS captors was diabolical because the witnesses would not stifle themselves.”
21 More currently, under governments today, how are the Witnesses treated? We read in the book Aspects of Religion in the Soviet Union 1917-1967: “Jehovah’s witnesses are universally prohibited.” In other nations, also, the Witnesses have become a spectacle for special attention. Did you know, for instance, that in Turkey it is a “crime” for Jehovah’s witnesses to worship God? Completely false charges are leveled against them. Individual Witnesses in Turkey face heavy fines that amount to a major portion of a person’s income for a year.
22 In Malawi, on the African continent, Jehovah’s witnesses have been the focal point of intense hatred for several years. Men have been beaten, yes, some have been murdered. They have lost jobs and seen their women raped. Like cattle, thousands have been driven not only from their homes, but actually out of the country.
23, 24. (a) Do the Witnesses suffer because they have dabbled in politics of the nations or because they are immoral? (b) Then why do they suffer?
23 But why have they suffered like this? Is it because they have tried to run the political affairs of the various nations in which they reside? No! Have they abandoned the high principles for which Jesus and his apostles stood? Consider what an outsider, an unbiased observer, has to say as to the Witnesses’ conduct. Bryan Wilson of Oxford University notes regarding their suffering in Africa:
“The banning . . . may cost more than it looks, however. Witnesses . . . have been uniquely successful in getting their following to keep high standards of moral rigour and self-discipline. They instill the values of hard work, punctuality, sobriety and self-respect. Their members reach a quality of family relationships that is highly exceptional in East Africa. Their techniques of instruction and indoctrination are extremely effective in moral as well as in doctrinal matters . . . The stock rhetoric of African politicians is the condemnation of tribalism. Paradoxically, the Witnesses are perhaps more successful than any other group in the speed with which they eliminate tribal discrimination among their own recruits.”—New Society, July 12, 1973, page 75.
Obviously, Jehovah’s witnesses are not a threat to law and order. They are real Christians. They attain the conditions of life that any enlightened nation wants among its citizens.
24 Jehovah’s witnesses do indeed represent the genuine Christian congregation. This is proved by how they scrupulously try to apply the Scriptures in their own lives. Their modern congregation is the same in structure as that overseen by the apostles and prophets in the first century. (Eph. 2:20-22) Its people teach the same truths. Jehovah’s witnesses are a modern “theatrical spectacle to the world” in suffering for the same things as did Jesus and his apostles. And as an organization, they know that they will continue to face tribulation right through the end of this wicked system of things.—2 Thess. 1:6-10.
WILL YOU STEP INTO THE MODERN ARENA?
25. What question faces each person?
25 But there is a question for each individual: “Am I personally willing to accept the same opposition and be part of the modern ‘theatrical spectacle to the world’ presented by modern spiritual men?” You can, if you wish, take to heart the advice that Paul gave Timothy: “Do not become ashamed of the witness about our Lord, neither of me a prisoner for his sake, but take your part in suffering evil for the good news according to the power of God.”—2 Tim. 1:8.
26. How can a person endure adversity as a real spiritual man?
26 But how, you might ask, can any person endure such adversity? There is only one way an individual can remain firm as a Christian while “suffering evil”: He must be a spiritual person, see things from God’s standpoint. Such a one will know that he is suffering for the sake of the truth. (Matt. 5:11) But if fleshly thinking is affecting his life and he has a worldly viewpoint, even he who claims to know the way of the truth may under pressure rationalize and compromise. This could lead to his eternal undoing. Therefore, now, while there is relative calm in most of the world, is the time to work hard at developing “the mind of Christ” and to let it control in every aspect of one’s life. Work at making yourself the kind of person that God would approve at any time.
27. What tendency does a spiritual person want to avoid? Rather, what should be his outlook?
27 It is not wise to develop and dwell on dark, morbid fears regarding future trials. Nor is it sensible to skewer oneself with thoughts about what perverse things the enemy might someday do to God’s people. Rather, a Christian will prove his loyalty to God day by day. The opposition that the apostles endured was not just outright persecution of a violent nature. Remember, Paul said at 1 Corinthians 4:10-13 (according to The New American Bible): “We are the weak ones . . . they sneer at us . . . we go hungry and thirsty, poorly clad, roughly treated . . . homeless . . . we are insulted . . . we are slandered.”
28. In what way may true Christians suffer today other than by outright violent persecution by the enemy?
28 True Christians today must endure similar treatment. It does not always come from “enemies,” but may be from those we love, members of our own household (1 Pet. 2:18–3:6), or from persons with whom we have grown up. A Christian may on occasion be discriminated against on his job because of his high principles. Or he may feel urged to give up a high-paying prominent position because it is not compatible with his Scripturally trained conscience; for this he may be subjected to intense pressures and jeering treatment. Or there may be ridicule of a youthful Christian by his classmates because he stands up like a Christian man for what he knows is right. If Christians are able to face all such treatment today—and they do it every day—why be overly fearful about the future? A spiritual person knows that he can take whatever God allows, just as the apostles did. Like the apostles and Jesus himself, the spiritual person therefore makes it his aim to be of good courage and joyful.—John 16:33; Rom. 12:12; Col. 1:24; 1 Pet. 1:6, 7; 3:14; 4:12-16.
29. What prospects face each genuinely spiritual person?
29 Obviously, being a spiritual person is not just a veneer that one glues to the surface. It must be reflected in everything that one does. Continue to deepen your devotion to Jehovah. If you do you will be able to face whatever problems and persecutions are ahead. By enduring under persecution you will remain part of the “theatrical spectacle to the world” right through the end of this entire system of things. Yes, you will as a spiritual person survive Gog’s concentrated attack on those “dwelling in the center of the earth,” and live into a marvelous new system of things.—1 Cor. 4:9; Ezek. 38:12; Rev. 21:1-4.
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True Christians are “a theatrical spectacle to the world” as objects of its persecution