Not Holding Our Lives Too Dear
1. What did Jesus say would happen to his followers in the “last days”?
IN JESUS’ long-range prophecy spanning 1,900 years, he foretold intensified persecution for his faithful followers in the last days. He warned: “People will lay their hands upon you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, you being haled before kings and governors for the sake of my name. It will turn out to you for a witness. . . . I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your opposers together will not be able to resist or dispute. Moreover, you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death; and you will be objects of hatred by all people because of my name.”—Luke 21:12-17.
2. (a) For what particular reasons do Christians not suffer? (b) But from what source can persecution be expected?
2 Jesus did not say these things to discourage his followers, but to forearm them. He told them to “have no fear” for “he that finds his soul will lose it, and he that loses his soul for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:31, 39) So Christians from that time to this have not been surprised or perplexed at the opposition they have encountered as a result of their stand for the truth or for sharing the good news with others. However, their suffering never has been as a result of wrongdoing. “Maintain your conduct fine among the nations,” Peter exhorted them. “For the time that has passed by is sufficient for you to have worked out the will of the nations when you proceeded in deeds of loose conduct.” (1 Pet. 2:12; 4:3) “It is better to suffer because you are doing good, if the will of God wishes it, than because you are doing evil.” (1 Pet. 3:17) Opposition was bound to come from the great adversary or opposer, Satan, and those taking his side against Jehovah’s servants. Paul could confirm this from his own experience, as he wrote Timothy: “All those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.”—2 Tim. 3:12; 1:7, 8.
FACING SPIRITUAL WARFARE
3. (a) What charge has Satan made against the servants of God? (b) What decision does each person have to make, and what makes this decision difficult?
3 The last book of the Bible also foretold that persecution would continue in the time of the end. The account in Revelation chapter 12 reveals that Satan was cast down from heaven to earth, “having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.” (Rev. 12:9, 12) He has always claimed that men are motivated by selfishness, not by love of God, and that they would forsake God if their lives were at stake. Now time is running out for Satan and those aligned with him, so he intensifies his opposition toward God’s servants, waging war against them. Each one has to decide which side of this controversy he wishes to be on, and whether he will serve God faithfully out of love no matter what comes.
4. What elements were foretold to share in the attack against true worshipers?
4 Satan uses certain elements in his attacks against true Christians. One, described at Revelation 13:1, 6-8 as the “wild beast” or the political element, not only was instrumental in the death of Christ and many of his followers in the first century, but also was foreseen to wage war against the “holy ones” and to speak “blasphemies against God” in its attempt to get the support and worship of all peoples in the last days. Often supporting this political “beast” in its actions is the false religious organization fittingly described at Revelation 17:5, 6 as “Babylon the Great,” which is depicted as “drunk with the blood of the holy ones and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” Both of these elements, the political and the religious, worked together in bringing about the death of Jesus, as well as the imprisonment of the apostle Paul, Jewish zealots turning Jesus over to the Roman state.
5. (a) What key weapon has Satan used to break integrity? (b) How can we enjoy freedom from fear?
5 Throughout the centuries Satan has used as the ultimate threat, the key weapon, the fear of violent death to try to break the integrity of Jehovah’s servants. Most people do not get too concerned or upset at the advent of old age with the prospect of eventual death, but may get very fearful if threatened with immediate death, being inclined to compromise or do anything to avoid it. Satan well knows this. But we should remember the faithful course of Jesus, that he learned obedience by the things he suffered and that he showed his loyalty even to death. As Hebrews 2:14, 15 says, it was “through his death [that] he might bring to nothing the one having the means to cause death, that is, the Devil; and that he might emancipate all those who for fear of death were subject to slavery all through their lives.” We do not want to be in slavery due to fear of death. Instead, we should put our confidence in Jehovah and be prepared to face any tests that may come, even as Paul and other men of faith of times past did.
6. What fine example of faithfulness do we find in Daniel chapter three, and how did Jehovah bring deliverance?
6 The three Hebrews in captivity in Babylon were of this sort, not holding their lives too dear, being unwilling to compromise even though it could mean their death. When warned that they would be thrown into the fiery furnace if they did not bow before the golden image erected by King Nebuchadnezzar, they boldly replied: “Our God whom we are serving is able to rescue us. Out of the burning fiery furnace and out of your hand, O king, he will rescue us. But if not, let it become known to you, O king, that your gods are not the ones we are serving.” The account shows that these men were delivered from the furnace, not a hair of their heads being singed and without even the smell of fire coming upon them.—Dan. 3:17, 18, 27.
7. (a) What attitude did Jesus display when taunted and threatened with death? (b) Why did Jehovah permit him to be killed?
7 Jesus also faced death in the service of his heavenly Father. On one occasion those listening to him in the synagogue at Nazareth became so filled with anger that they led him to the brow of a mountain, intending to throw him down, but without success. (Luke 4:28-30) Yet the time did come for him to die in the accomplishment of Jehovah’s purpose. Now the chief priests taunted him, saying: “He has put his trust in God; let Him now rescue him if He wants him, for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” (Matt. 27:43) But God did not prevent Jesus’ death. In effect, “Jehovah himself has caused the error of us all to meet up with that one,” but “because of his wounds there has been a healing for us.” (Isa. 53:6, 5) Thus as a redeemer and ransomer for the human family, he accomplished even more by his death in faithfulness than by all the rest of his ministry on earth. (Mark 10:45) The course of faithfulness he followed was not an easy one, yet he did not hold his life as too precious, but was willing to offer it as a sacrifice on behalf of mankind. (1 Tim. 2:5, 6) Even when suffering, he did not resort to threatening or reviling in return. As Peter commented: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.”—1 Pet. 2:21-24.
LOYALTY TO DEATH
8, 9. (a) What power does Jesus now posses ? (b) Why should we not be fearful about facing trials?
8 Having proved his loyalty to death, Jesus was raised by Jehovah to spirit life in the heavens where he is in a position to ‘bring Satan to nothing’ as the one who has used both the threat and the execution of violent death in his efforts to control mankind and to break the faith of the righteous ones. (Heb. 2:14) Jesus counseled his disciples Andrew and Philip: “He that is fond of his soul destroys it, but he that hates his soul in this world will safeguard it for everlasting life.” (John 12:25) Thus to love our life with undue desire to preserve it at all cost may mean loss of our prospects for everlasting life. But our not being unduly concerned with threats to force us to compromise our faith can mean safeguarding our prospects for eternal blessings in Jehovah’s new system.
9 We do well to remember that since Christ “himself has suffered when being put to the test, he is able to come to the aid of those who are being put to the test.” (Heb. 2:18) Jehovah has also promised to give us the strength to bear up through trials. (Ps. 55:16, 22; Isa. 35:4) So Christians are encouraged even though they expect persecution. Suffering for their adherence to the truth brings them no shame, but, rather, joy that they can stand firm under reproach in a way that honors Jehovah’s name.—1 Pet. 4:12-14.
10. (a) What did Paul indicate was most precious to him? (b) In what way can Christ’s followers be conquerors?
10 As Paul said: “I do not make my soul of any account as dear to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:24) Similarly in the prophecy at Revelation 12:11 we are told that Christ’s brothers would prove themselves conquerors over Satan despite his false accusations of them before God. “And they conquered him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their witnessing, and they did not love their souls even in the face of death.” Thus the victory over Satan will include, not only his defeat at the hand of the “Lord of lords and King of kings,” but also the moral victory of all faithful servants of God who show themselves faithful even in the face of threat of death. (Rev. 17:14; 20:1-4) Christ’s followers are conquerors “because of the blood of the Lamb,” in that they have confidence in the redemptive value of his sacrifice. They also show themselves conquerors by “the word of their witnessing,” not being intimidated by opposition intended to silence the proclamation of the Kingdom message.
11. How can persecution actually increase our faith and happiness?
11 Do we have the same spirit? Do we love Jehovah so much that we would not shrink back even from death if necessary to prove our loyalty? Do we really believe that Jehovah is the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him, so that even if we die we know we have not lost out but have the hope of life through the resurrection? Since hatred along with persecution of Jesus’ followers in all nations is one of the signs he gave regarding the time of the end, the fact that it is now taking place should actually strengthen our faith. (Luke 21:12) We do well to remember Jesus’ words: “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake.” (Matt. 5:11, 12) Yes, it can even be a cause for joy to be privileged to demonstrate the tested quality of our faith under trial as we maintain a good conscience before God.—Jas. 1:2, 3.
HATED WITHOUT CAUSE
12. (a) What did Peter say about Christian suffering? (b) What problems do Jehovah’s Witnesses face in some countries?
12 Christians know that when they suffer as Christians it is for a righteous cause. It is not for taking sides in politics, or for being involved in a seditious conspiracy, or some crime of violence. For as Peter wrote: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer . . . But if he suffers as a Christian, let him not feel shame, but let him keep on glorifying God in this name.” (1 Pet. 4:15, 16) So it is not for any such wrongdoing that Christians face persecution in this generation, but, rather, for zealously observing the commandments of God and sharing in the work of bearing witness to Jesus. (Rev. 12:17) It should come as no surprise then that, in more than forty of the 210 countries where Jehovah’s Witnesses were busy last year preaching about God’s kingdom, there have been hindrances or opposition to the work, such as restrictions on public assembly, or prohibitions on the house-to-house activity, or refusal to accord legal recognition to the work or to permit importation of certain literature, or refusal to legalize marriages, even outright bans and imprisonment of those speaking about the “good news” to others.
13. Why are true Christians objects of world hatred?
13 As Jesus said, his followers would be “objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.” (Matt. 24:9) Certainly this has not been true of those who are Christians in name only, those who are ‘friends of the world,’ supporting the old system in its policies, no matter how contrary to Scriptural principles they may be. (Jas. 4:4) But it is true of those who, by reason of following the precepts of Jesus, make themselves “no part of the world.” Just before his death Jesus prepared his followers for what was to come and the opposition they would face, not only in that century, but also in the last days, when he said: “These things I command you, that you love one another. If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you. Bear in mind the word I said to you, A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also . . . But it is that the word written in their Law may be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’”—John 15:17-25.
14. In what ways have the Witnesses in one country been put under pressure?
14 That this hatred exists in modern times can be seen by the following reports from various parts of the world. The Witnesses in a Spanish-speaking country report: “There is a campaign against us on all fronts, on the radio, over the TV, in the newspapers, in worker centers, at the hospitals, in the streets, in the schools, even block by block. A great number of friends are without jobs. We are as the Israelites in Egypt. We continue encouraging the friends to go on with the good news because no demon or human can stop them.” However, the brothers face severe hardships. Parents have been imprisoned from three months to a year because their children have refused to take part in flag ceremonies. They have steadfastly followed the course of the faithful Hebrews mentioned in the third chapter of Daniel. This issue has involved at least one thousand cases. According to the law, children can be taken from their parents if the judges find it advisable. Pregnant mothers have been incarcerated with all sorts of criminal types, and have been forced to leave little ones at home in an effort to stop these mothers from teaching their children God’s Word.—Ex. 20:4, 5.
15. What trials and hardships have the brothers had to endure, and how have they been strengthened?
15 A brother, fifty-seven years of age, was accused of proselytism and was fined $100. A sister nineteen years of age was sentenced to a month in a penitentiary for the same reason. Many have been accused of being involved with the American C.I.A. to stir up hatred against them. Brothers are often arrested for having “illicit meetings,” sometimes even being arrested on such charge late at night when everyone in the home is sleeping. Some have been imprisoned for their conscientious objection to military service. Many have suffered beatings or were forced to work long hours in the fields. Three brothers were sentenced to two years in prison for refusing to work on tobacco for reasons of conscience. The government does not permit children of Jehovah’s Witnesses to attend meetings for religious instruction. Kingdom Halls have been closed and all types of restrictions have been put on Christian meetings so that newly interested persons and young ones cannot receive instruction in God’s Word. Yet still the brothers write: “Jehovah our God is the one in whom we have to trust. Jehovah loves his people tenderly and he shows his power marvelously.”
16. Why have the brothers been willing to risk imprisonment, and how have they turned the situation to Jehovah’s praise?
16 In another country where the work is banned some of the brothers arranged to travel to a nearby country to enjoy the convention program. However, on their return, eleven of them were beaten and were thrown into prison for two days. A brother visiting there was arrested on arrival and the Bible literature he had with him was confiscated. After some time in prison he was finally sent out of the country. The night before his departure the local television station announced that all religions are free in this country, but, of course, no mention was made of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Seven brothers were imprisoned for some months in this country, but the circuit overseer reported: “They are busy preaching the good news to their fellow prisoners.” Arrangements were made for these brothers to be helped with food so that they did not have to suffer unduly during their imprisonment.
17. How has false religion instigated imprisonment for some brothers?
17 In a country where religion has strongly influenced the government until recently, two special pioneers were imprisoned for their preaching work. They say that no assemblies can be held in the country, and the road controls have been tightened so the possibilities are slim for anyone to leave to enjoy an assembly elsewhere. A letter from them says: “In spite of talk about personal freedom for every citizen, a number of Christians were imprisoned just because of preaching from the Bible, which is considered an activity hostile to the church. We received reports from at least three congregations where groups of brothers were arrested during their house-to-house service, during meetings, and even in their homes. Some were offered freedom if they would pay a fine for having preached things not in harmony with church doctrine. They preferred, rather, to remain in prison, counting it an honor to suffer for Christ’s sake.”
18. Over what issues have some Witnesses courageously faced beatings and jailing?
18 In still another country where the government has refused to recognize the work legally, the brothers continue with their Bible teaching work despite much opposition. Because of not getting involved in political matters, not buying political party cards or singing political songs, many brothers and sisters have been terribly beaten and over 500 jailed. When the circuit overseer visited one area of strong opposition, he was badly beaten until he fainted, but thereafter he never stopped encouraging and building up the brothers. When told he must pay a fine, he explained: “Those you have locked up with me are my home, my food and my brothers, so where will I find money for a fine?” Even in the face of dire threats, one of these brothers commented: “What a privilege to test my faith and see prophecies come to fulfillment!”
19. What threats were made when the Witnesses were released, but how have they responded?
19 Of the 502 locked up, 124 were women and 21 of these were pregnant. The child of a sister who was born in prison due to this persecution was appropriately named “Persecution.” During their imprisonment the brothers were not properly fed except by their own children who brought them food. When they were finally freed, they were warned not to cultivate their land. They were also told: “You must not be seen two or three together in one place. You must not be seen with tracts, booklets, books or singing songs of your religion. You should not be seen praying. Let the name of Jehovah not be heard from you. You should not be seen having meetings. Do not be calling each other ‘brothers.’” (Compare Daniel 6:7, 10.) Despite all of this, the brothers did not give up or quit. They simply determined to meet together in small groups at different times and on different days. In spite of all the persecution in this area, a tremendous witness has been given as the people see that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not return evil for evil toward those who persecute them.—Rom. 12:17-21; 1 Cor. 10:13.
20. (a) Why should we not count our lives too dear? (b) What wonderful prospects await those who come off victorious?
20 So throughout the world Jehovah has faithful ones, both young and old, who have shown their loyalty and devotion under trial, not counting their lives too precious in the face of death. Regardless of whether we face opposition from family or friends or even violent abuse from other sources, the important thing is to put our trust in Jehovah. While individuals may die as did Stephen and Paul, Satan and his agents will never wipe out God’s people. Rather, Revelation definitely foretells a “great crowd” of faithful servants of Jehovah who will be delivered safely through the “great tribulation,” proving their devotion to God by rendering him sacred service day and night. Instead of now fearing the wrath of Satan or of any man, we should be more concerned with maintaining Jehovah’s favor and not being among those who come under the burning rays of the “sun” or “scorching heat” of God’s displeasure. How much better to continue enjoying the helpful direction of the Lamb of God who has promised to shepherd faithful mankind, guiding them to the fountains of waters of life! There “God will wipe out every tear from their eyes” as the persecution and hatreds of the present system are put far behind them.—Rev. 7:14-17.