Happy Though Persecuted!
“Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them.”—MATTHEW 5:10
1. Roman Emperor Nero launched what persecution?
“COVERED with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” So wrote the Roman historian Tacitus. (The Annals, Book XV, paragraph 44) And who were the victims? Christians—disciples of Jesus Christ. Rumor had it that Emperor Nero was responsible for the burning of Rome (in 64 C.E.), and he sought to fasten the guilt on Jesus’ followers. Thus was launched the first of various persecutions of Christians during the heyday of ancient Rome.
2. (a) What did Jesus Christ say about those “persecuted for righteousness’ sake”? (b) To be happy though persecuted, Jehovah’s Witnesses must know what?
2 How were those early Christians able to endure such brutal persecution? Indeed, how have past and present witnesses of Jehovah found it possible to be joyful while undergoing harassment or injury deliberately inflicted upon them with a view to stamping out their religious faith and belief? (2 Thessalonians 1:3-5) Yes, Jesus Christ did say: “Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them.” (Matthew 5:10) However, to be happy though persecuted, Jehovah’s Witnesses must know (1) the Devil’s aim in bringing persecution upon them; (2) why Jehovah permits this tribulation; (3) why God’s servants can be happy though persecuted; (4) what can be done to prepare for persecution; and (5) how it can be met with endurance.
The Devil’s Aim
3, 4. (a) Who really is behind the persecution experienced by witnesses of Jehovah? (b) How did Jesus identify the chief instigator of this persecution?
3 The Roman rulers had nothing to fear from genuine peace-loving Christians. Those witnesses of Jehovah were in relative subjection to governmental “superior authorities” and ‘rendered Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.’ (Romans 13:1-7; Matthew 22:21) Little did Rome’s emperors know that someone behind the scenes had continually been stirring up hatred against witnesses of Jehovah, doing so all the way back to “righteous Abel.” (Matthew 23:33-36; Hebrews 11:4, 32-40; 12:1) That evil fomenter of such persecution to this very day is none other than Satan the Devil. As an adversary of God, and of Jehovah’s people, he “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.”—1 Peter 5:8.
4 Jesus repeatedly told his disciples that they would be persecuted. For instance, he said: “A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me [which they certainly did], they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20; 16:2; Matthew 10:22, 23) Moreover, Christ left no doubt about the chief instigator of this persecution when saying to one of the “seven congregations”: “Look! The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison that you may be fully put to the test.” (Revelation 1:1, 4; 2:10) Yet, what is the Devil’s aim in persecuting witnesses of Jehovah?
5. What is the Devil’s aim in bringing persecution upon Jehovah’s servants?
5 Satan’s aim in bringing pressure and persecution upon servants of Jehovah is to force them to compromise their faith. He wants to destroy the precious relationship they have with their heavenly Father. Why, at the very inception of sin, Jehovah God foretold enmity between the “serpent” and God’s symbolic “woman,” and between their respective ‘seeds’! (Genesis 3:14, 15) Jesus unquestionably identified the serpent as Satan and told His persecutors that they were ‘from their father the Devil,’ hence, being of the Adversary’s “seed.” (John 8:31-59) In these “last days” the Devil’s time is short and his anger is great indeed. (2 Timothy 3:1-5; Revelation 12:7-17) So enmity between the ‘seeds’ goes on, and everyone on earth must line up eventually with either the godly seed or the devilish seed. (Compare 1 John 3:10.) Hence, if an individual is faithfully serving Jehovah God, he is or will be the object of persecution. Satan the Devil will see to that.—2 Timothy 3:12.
6. Satan has raised what great issue and has called what into question as far as humans are concerned?
6 Satan has raised an issue of universal sovereignty, and he has called into question the integrity of humans when they are put under test. For instance, integrity to God was at issue when Satan instigated persecution against the man Job, whose wife and three “comforters” wittingly or unwittingly served the Devil’s purpose. (Job 1:8–2:9; 16:2; 19:22, 28) As the case of Job makes clear, the Devil challenged Jehovah, claiming that no human would remain faithful to God if Satan were allowed to test that one. Therefore, the Devil persecutes witnesses of Jehovah to break their integrity and to prove his challenge true.
7. What is enough to compromise a Christian’s faith, but how did Jesus react when thus tempted?
7 Satan knows that one “act of worship” to him is enough to compromise a Christian’s faith and lend support to the Devil’s challenge that humans would not remain faithful to God under test or persecution. When the Devil showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory,” what did that chief persecutor say? “All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.” But Jesus’ staunch refusal supported true worship, upheld Jehovah’s side of the issue of universal sovereignty and proved the Devil a liar.—Matthew 4:8-11.
8, 9. (a) How did early Christians show that they would not render one “act of worship” to Satan? (b) In what way have some 20th-century Christians been tested similarly, and what position have they taken?
8 How appropriate, then, that faithful early Christians refused to render a single “act of worship” that would have supported Satan’s side of the great issue! Loyal followers of Christ refused to burn incense in honor of the Roman emperor, even though this cost them their lives. Regarding this, Daniel P. Mannix wrote: “Very few of the Christians recanted, although an altar with a fire burning on it was generally kept in the arena for their convenience. All a prisoner had to do was scatter a pinch of incense on the flame and he was given a Certificate of Sacrifice and turned free. It was also carefully explained to him that he was not worshiping the emperor; merely acknowledging the divine character of the emperor as head of the Roman state. Still, almost no Christians availed themselves of the chance to escape.” (Those About to Die, page 137) Just one such “act of worship” would have been enough to satisfy Satan.
9 Some 20th-century Christians have been tested similarly. From the time of arrest and repeatedly throughout the internment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi concentration camps, efforts were made to force them to renounce Jehovah and refuse to have any further contact with his people. To that end the Nazis prepared a declaration that was held out to the Witnesses to sign in return for their freedom. All that was required was one’s signature. Yet, few Witnesses signed.
10. Why would it be unwise to make a minor compromise with the hope of gaining freedom to preach?
10 Being aware of Satan’s purpose in causing witnesses of Jehovah to be persecuted, may we never yield to any devilish temptation to sidestep an issue to avoid trouble. Let us not even entertain the mistaken idea that a seemingly minor compromise would quickly free us for the preaching work. Any compromising as regards our integrity can mean our total downfall. (Compare Matthew 13:21; Galatians 6:12.) When a compromise constitutes “an act of worship,” no longer are we fit to represent Jehovah’s Kingdom interests. We can be sure that a single act breaking our integrity would bring glee to the Devil, and surely we do not want to make him happy. Rather, we seek to make Jehovah’s heart rejoice by integrity keeping that gives him a reply to the Great Taunter.—Proverbs 27:11.
Why Jehovah Permits Persecution
11. For what principal reason does Jehovah permit his people to be persecuted?
11 Our heavenly Father could prevent the persecution of his people. But he chooses to allow it, and knowing why will help us to be happy though persecuted. The principal reason for permitting persecution has to do with the issue of universal sovereignty. Every witness of Jehovah who maintains integrity under Devil-inspired testing proves Satan to be a liar and gives evidence that even an imperfect human can remain faithful to God though sorely tested or persecuted. The loyal individual upholds God’s side of the issue and supports Jehovah’s right to rule as Universal Sovereign. What a joy to add to the evidence that “he rules supreme”!—Psalm 47:9, Today’s English Version.
12, 13. For what additional reason does Jehovah permit Christians to be persecuted, and who among them will have a lasting place in God’s arrangement?
12 Jehovah also permits persecution in order to test the loyalty of those who have made a dedication to him. He has brought together “a people for special possession” so that these spirit-anointed ones might ‘declare abroad his excellencies.’ (1 Peter 2:9) God is also ‘rocking all the nations’ so that “the desirable things of all the nations”—people having divine approval—might be brought into his “house” of worship and fill it with glory. (Haggai 2:7; compare Zechariah 8:23.) Accordingly, persons with a heavenly hope and others who look forward to eternal life on a Paradise earth have become dedicated Christians and witnesses of Jehovah.—Luke 23:43; Revelation 7:1-17.
13 But who among all these dedicated Christians will finally be part of the promised “new heaven” and “new earth”? (Revelation 21:1) Not everyone among them will be. (Psalm 15:1-5; Matthew 22:14) There will be no lasting place in God’s arrangement for those proving unfaithful. Hence, whereas Jehovah does not cause persecution, he permits it to sift out from among his people those who are disloyal, while preserving in their ranks individuals of unquestioned loyalty and wholehearted love for God. (Matthew 22:37, 38; 25:31-33; 2 Corinthians 13:5) May we be among those who endure persecution faithfully and so have the continual “privilege of fearlessly rendering sacred service to [Jehovah God] with loyalty and righteousness before him all our days”—even forever.—Luke 1:68, 69, 74, 75.
Why Happy Though Persecuted
14. Jesus specifically cited what as the reason to be happy though persecuted?
14 The Kingdom hope was specifically cited by Jesus Christ when he said: “Happy the persecuted on account of Righteousness; for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens!” (Matthew 5:10, The Emphatic Diaglott) Yes, association with Christ in the heavenly Kingdom is the marvelous prize awaiting Jesus’ anointed followers who faithfully endure persecution. (Luke 12:32; Revelation 2:10; 14:1; 20:6) And for faithful witnesses of Jehovah having earthly hopes there is the grand prospect of eternal life on a Paradise earth. (Luke 23:43; John 10:16; 17:3; Revelation 7:9, 10, 14) Surely, then, we can be happy though persecuted if we keep in mind the Kingdom hope.—Romans 12:12.
15. How is Jehovah’s sovereignty linked with the Kingdom, and how is all of this related to our being happy though persecuted?
15 Jehovah’s universal sovereignty is inseparably linked with the Kingdom, for by means of it he will sanctify his holy name. As Jehovah’s faithful witnesses and Kingdom proclaimers, we are upholding his sovereignty and thus have added reason for happiness even amid tribulation. (Isaiah 43:10-12; Matthew 6:9, 10) So, with God’s help, may we maintain integrity to God and thereby prove the Devil a liar who cannot support his claim that no human would remain faithful to Jehovah under test. (Job 27:5) How happy any persecuted Christian can be when he upholds Jehovah’s side of the great issue!—Compare Acts 4:24.
16. Why can it be said that a clear conscience contributes to our being happy though persecuted?
16 A clear conscience also contributes to the happiness of persecuted, though loyal, Kingdom proclaimers. Whereas a professing Christian is likely to experience shame and mental anguish if he suffers for wrongdoing, a person is rightly joyful if his suffering is for righteousness’ sake as a faithful witness of Jehovah and follower of Jesus Christ. Thus, even after being flogged, Jesus’ apostles “went their way from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of [Christ’s] name.” (Acts 5:40, 41) Similarly, after being beaten and imprisoned at Philippi, Paul and Silas were not morose or conscience stricken, as though they had done something wrong. Instead, about midnight they “were praying and praising God with song.” (Acts 16:22-25) Hence, while a witness of Jehovah should never conduct himself in such a way that he must be punished as a guilty and possibly conscience-smitten murderer, thief, evildoer or busybody, he can be happy if he is suffering for the sake of righteousness.—1 Peter 2:11, 12; 3:13, 14; 4:15, 16.
17. What especially will contribute to our happiness when we are persecuted as Kingdom supporters?
17 Pleasing Jehovah and glorifying him especially will contribute to our happiness when persecuted as Kingdom supporters. Even when under extreme duress, ‘walking so as to please God’ is vital to our continued joy as Jehovah’s servants. (1 Thessalonians 4:1) Furthermore, when suffering as a Christian, we should “confess that name to the honour of God.” Think of it! Besides pleasing Jehovah, when we endure persecution faithfully we “keep on glorifying God.” (1 Peter 4:16, The New English Bible; New World Translation) What a joyous incentive to endure persecution courageously!
Press On as Integrity Keepers
18. How should Jehovah’s Witnesses feel about keeping integrity to God?
18 Clearly, then, Jehovah’s Witnesses have sound reasons to be happy though persecuted. Therefore, with God’s help, let us be as resolute as the psalmist David, who declared: “As for me, in my integrity I shall walk.”—Psalm 26:11.
19. What questions now present themselves for consideration?
19 As faithful Christians, we can be happy though persecuted because we know the Devil’s aim in bringing such tribulation upon us. We also realize why Jehovah God permits his people to be persecuted. Yet, while we have such reasons to be happy in the face of persecution, what can we do to prepare for it? And how can we meet intense or even brutal persecution with endurance?
Questions for Review
□ What is the Devil’s aim in bringing persecution upon witnesses of Jehovah?
□ Satan has raised what great issue and has called what into question as regards humans?
□ Why does Jehovah permit his people to be persecuted?
□ Jesus Christ specifically cited what reason to be happy when “persecuted for righteousness’ sake”?
□ What contributes to our happiness when we are persecuted as Jehovah’s servants?
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When tempted, Jesus refused to render an act of worship to Satan
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The Kingdom hope gives sound reason to be happy despite persecution