Hated for Their Faith
“You will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my name.”—MATTHEW 10:22.
1, 2. Can you relate some real-life experiences endured by Jehovah’s Witnesses for practicing their religious beliefs?
AN HONEST shopkeeper from the island of Crete is arrested dozens of times and is brought before Greek courts repeatedly. Altogether, he serves more than six years in prison, away from his wife and five children. In Japan a 17-year-old student is expelled from school, although he is well-behaved and at the top of his class of 42 students. In France a number of people are summarily discharged from their employment, even though they have excellent records of diligent and conscientious work. What is the common thread in these real-life experiences?
2 All the individuals involved are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their “crime”? Basically, practicing their religious beliefs. In obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the shopkeeper had been sharing his faith with others. (Matthew 28:19, 20) He was convicted largely under an archaic Greek law that makes proselytism a criminal offense. The student was expelled because his Bible-trained conscience would not permit him to participate in compulsory kendo (Japanese swordsmanship) drills. (Isaiah 2:4) And those discharged from their employment in France were informed that the sole reason for their dismissal was that they identified themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
3. Why is great suffering at the hands of other humans a relatively rare occurrence for most of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
3 Such hard experiences are typical of what Jehovah’s Witnesses in some countries have recently endured. For most of Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, great suffering at the hands of other humans is a relatively rare occurrence. Jehovah’s people are known worldwide for their fine conduct—a reputation that gives no valid reason for anyone to want to harm them. (1 Peter 2:11, 12) They do not plot conspiracies or engage in hurtful behavior. (1 Peter 4:15) On the contrary, they try to live by the Bible’s counsel to be in subjection first to God, then to secular governments. They pay the taxes required by law and endeavor to “be peaceable with all men.” (Romans 12:18; 13:6, 7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) In their Bible educational work, they foster respect for law, family values, and morality. Many governments have praised them for being law-abiding citizens. (Romans 13:3) Yet, as the opening paragraph indicates, they have at times been targets of opposition—in some lands, even of governmental bans. Should that surprise us?
The “Cost” of Discipleship
4. According to Jesus, what could one expect on becoming one of his disciples?
4 Jesus Christ left no doubt about what being his disciple would involve. “A slave is not greater than his master,” he told his followers. “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” Jesus was hated “without cause.” (John 15:18-20, 25; Psalm 69:4; Luke 23:22) His disciples could expect the same—opposition without justifiable basis. On more than one occasion, he warned them: “You will be objects of hatred.”—Matthew 10:22; 24:9.
5, 6. (a) For what reason did Jesus urge prospective followers to “count the cost”? (b) Why, then, should we not be puzzled when we meet with opposition?
5 Consequently, Jesus urged prospective followers to “count the cost” of discipleship. (Luke 14:28, Revised Standard Version) Why? Not so as to decide whether they should become his followers or not, but so as to be determined to fulfill what is involved. We must be prepared to endure any trials or hardships that come with the privilege. (Luke 14:27) No one forces us to serve Jehovah as a follower of Christ. It is a voluntary decision; it is also an informed decision. We know beforehand that in addition to the blessings that we will experience from entering into a dedicated relationship with God, we will be “objects of hatred.” So we are not puzzled when we meet with opposition. We have ‘counted the cost,’ and we are fully prepared to pay it.—1 Peter 4:12-14.
6 Why would some, including certain governmental authorities, want to oppose true Christians? For the answer, it is helpful to examine two religious groups in the first century C.E. Both were hated—but for very different reasons.
Hateful and Hated
7, 8. What teachings reflected contempt for Gentiles, and what attitude developed among the Jews as a result?
7 By the first century C.E., Israel was under Roman rule, and Judaism, the Jewish religious system, was by and large in the oppressive grip of such leaders as the scribes and Pharisees. (Matthew 23:2-4) These fanatic leaders took the Mosaic Law’s precepts regarding separateness from the nations and twisted them to require disdain for non-Jews. In the process, they produced a religion that engendered hatred for Gentiles and, in turn, elicited hatred from Gentiles.
8 It was not difficult for the Jewish leaders to preach contempt for Gentiles, since the Jews at that time considered Gentiles to be vile creatures. The religious leaders taught that a Jewish woman must never be alone with Gentiles, for they “are suspected of lewdness.” A Jewish man must not “remain alone with them since they are suspected of shedding blood.” Milk drawn by a Gentile could not be used unless a Jew had been present to watch the process. Through the influence of their leaders, the Jews developed an aloofness and a rigid exclusiveness.—Compare John 4:9.
9. What was the effect of the teaching by Jewish leaders regarding non-Jews?
9 Such teachings regarding non-Jews did little to promote good relations between Jews and Gentiles. Gentiles came to regard Jews as haters of all mankind. The Roman historian Tacitus (born about 56 C.E.) said of Jews that “they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies.” Tacitus also claimed that Gentiles who became Jewish proselytes were taught to disown their country and hold as worthless their family and friends. For the most part, the Romans tolerated the Jews, who were sufficiently numerous to be formidable. But a Jewish revolt in 66 C.E. prompted harsh Roman reprisals, leading to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
10, 11. (a) What treatment of foreigners did the Mosaic Law require? (b) What lesson do we learn from what happened to Judaism?
10 How did that view of foreigners compare with the form of worship outlined in the Mosaic Law? The Law did promote separateness from the nations, but this was in order to protect the Israelites, particularly their pure worship. (Joshua 23:6-8) Even so, the Law required that foreigners be treated with justice and fairness and that they be received hospitably—as long as they did not flagrantly disobey Israel’s laws. (Leviticus 24:22) By departing from the reasonable spirit clearly evident in the Law respecting foreigners, the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day produced a form of worship that engendered hate and was hated. In the end, the first-century Jewish nation lost Jehovah’s favor.—Matthew 23:38.
11 Is there a lesson in this for us? Yes, there is. A self-righteous, superior attitude that looks down upon those who do not share our religious beliefs does not accurately represent the pure worship of Jehovah, nor does it please him. Consider the faithful Christians in the first century. They did not hate non-Christians, nor did they rise in revolt against Rome. Nevertheless, they were “objects of hatred.” Why? And by whom?
The Early Christians—Hated by Whom?
12. How is it clear from the Scriptures that Jesus wants his followers to have a balanced view of non-Christians?
12 It is clear from Jesus’ teachings that he intended for his disciples to have a balanced view of non-Christians. On the one hand, he said that his followers would be separate from the world—that is, they would shun attitudes and conduct that were in conflict with Jehovah’s righteous ways. They would remain neutral in matters of war and politics. (John 17:14, 16) On the other hand, far from preaching contempt for non-Christians, Jesus told his followers to ‘love their enemies.’ (Matthew 5:44) The apostle Paul urged Christians: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” (Romans 12:20) He also told Christians to “work what is good toward all.”—Galatians 6:10.
13. Why were the Jewish religious leaders so opposed to Christ’s disciples?
13 Yet, Christ’s disciples soon found themselves “objects of hatred” from three sources. First were the Jewish religious leaders. Little wonder that the Christians quickly attracted their attention! The Christians had high principles of morality and integrity, and they delivered a hope-inspiring message with fiery zeal. Thousands abandoned Judaism and embraced Christianity. (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7) To the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus’ Jewish disciples were nothing more than apostates! (Compare Acts 13:45.) These angry leaders felt that Christianity nullified their traditions. Why, it even denied their view of Gentiles! From 36 C.E. on, Gentiles could become Christians, sharing the same faith and enjoying the same privileges as Jewish Christians.—Acts 10:34, 35.
14, 15. (a) Why did Christians incur the hatred of pagan worshipers? Give an example. (b) The early Christians came to be “objects of hatred” by what third group?
14 Second, Christians incurred the hatred of pagan worshipers. For example, in ancient Ephesus, the making of silver shrines of the goddess Artemis was a profitable business. But when Paul preached there, a considerable number of Ephesians responded, abandoning the worship of Artemis. With their trade threatened, the silversmiths rioted. (Acts 19:24-41) Something similar happened after Christianity spread into Bithynia (now northwest Turkey). Not long after the Christian Greek Scriptures were completed, the governor of Bithynia, Pliny the Younger, reported that pagan temples were deserted and that sales of fodder for sacrificial animals declined greatly. Christians were blamed—and persecuted—since their worship did not allow for animal sacrifices and idols. (Hebrews 10:1-9; 1 John 5:21) Clearly, the spread of Christianity affected certain vested interests connected with pagan worship, and those who lost both trade and money resented it.
15 Third, Christians became “objects of hatred” by the nationalistic Romans. At first, the Christians were known to the Romans as a small and perhaps fanatic religious group. Yet, in time, merely professing to be a Christian became an offense punishable by death. Why would honest citizens leading a Christian life be seen as fit victims for persecution and death?
The Early Christians—Why Hated in the Roman World?
16. In what ways did Christians keep separate from the world, and why did this make them unpopular in the Roman world?
16 Primarily, Christians were hated in the Roman world for practicing their religious beliefs. For example, they kept separate from the world. (John 15:19) So they did not hold political office, and they refused military service. As a result, they “were represented as men dead to the world, and useless for all affairs of life,” says historian Augustus Neander. Being no part of the world also meant avoiding the wicked ways of the corrupt Roman world. “The little Christian communities were troubling the pleasure-mad pagan world with their piety and their decency,” explains historian Will Durant. (1 Peter 4:3, 4) By persecuting and executing Christians, the Romans might have sought to silence the troublesome voice of conscience.
17. What shows that the preaching work of the first-century Christians was effective?
17 The first-century Christians preached the good news of God’s Kingdom with uncompromising zeal. (Matthew 24:14) By about 60 C.E., Paul could say that the good news had been “preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Colossians 1:23) By the end of the first century, Jesus’ followers had made disciples throughout the Roman Empire—in Asia, Europe, and Africa! Even some members of “the household of Caesar” became Christians.* (Philippians 4:22) This zealous preaching aroused resentment. Says Neander: “Christianity steadily made progress among people of every rank, and threatened to overthrow the religion of the state.”
18. How did rendering Jehovah exclusive devotion put the Christians at odds with the Roman government?
18 Jesus’ followers rendered Jehovah exclusive devotion. (Matthew 4:8-10) Perhaps this aspect of their worship, more than any other, put them at odds with Rome. The Romans were tolerant of other religions, as long as their adherents also shared in emperor worship. The early Christians simply could not participate in such worship. They viewed themselves as being accountable to an authority higher than that of the Roman State, namely, Jehovah God. (Acts 5:29) As a result, no matter how fine a citizen a Christian was in all other respects, he was considered an enemy of the State.
19, 20. (a) Who were largely responsible for the vicious slander that was spread about faithful Christians? (b) What false charges were raised against Christians?
19 There was yet another reason why faithful Christians came to be “objects of hatred” in the Roman world: Vicious slander about them easily gained belief, charges for which the Jewish religious leaders were in no small way responsible. (Acts 17:5-8) About 60 or 61 C.E., when Paul was in Rome awaiting trial by Emperor Nero, leading Jews said of Christians: “Truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:22) Nero could hardly have failed to hear slanderous stories about them. In 64 C.E., when he was blamed for the fire that ravaged Rome, Nero reportedly selected as scapegoats the already maligned Christians. This appears to have precipitated a wave of violent persecution bent on exterminating the Christians.
20 The false charges against Christians were often a mixture of outright lies and a twisting of their beliefs. Because they were monotheistic and did not worship the emperor, they were labeled atheists. Since some non-Christian family members opposed their Christian relatives, Christians were accused of breaking up families. (Matthew 10:21) They were branded cannibals, which accusation, say some sources, was based on a distortion of Jesus’ words uttered at the Lord’s Evening Meal.—Matthew 26:26-28.
21. For what two reasons were Christians “objects of hatred”?
21 Therefore, faithful Christians were “objects of hatred” by the Romans for two basic reasons: (1) their Bible-based beliefs and practices, and (2) the false accusations against them. Regardless of the reason, the opposers had but one objective—the suppression of Christianity. Of course, the real instigators of the persecution of Christians were superhuman opposers, unseen wicked spirit forces.—Ephesians 6:12.
22. (a) What example shows that Jehovah’s Witnesses endeavor to “work what is good toward all”? (See box on page 11.) (b) What will be discussed in the next article?
22 Like the early Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses in modern times have been “objects of hatred” in various lands. Yet they do not hate non-Witnesses; nor have they ever been a seedbed of insurrection against governments. On the contrary, they are known worldwide for practicing genuine love that crosses all social, racial, and ethnic barriers. Why, then, have they been persecuted? And how do they respond to opposition? These questions will be discussed in the next article.
The expression “household of Caesar” does not necessarily refer to immediate family members of Nero, then reigning. Rather, it may apply to domestic servants and minor officials, who perhaps rendered such household services as cooking and cleaning in behalf of the imperial family and staff.
How Would You Answer?
◻ Why did Jesus urge prospective followers to count the cost of discipleship?
◻ The prevailing view of non-Jews had what effect on Judaism, and what do we learn from this?
◻ Faithful early Christians faced opposition from what three sources?
◻ For what basic reasons were the early Christians “objects of hatred” by the Romans?
[Box on page 11]
‘Working What Is Good Toward All’
Jehovah’s Witnesses endeavor to heed the Bible’s admonition to “work what is good toward all.” (Galatians 6:10) In times of need, love of neighbor motivates them to help those who do not share their religious views. For example, during the calamitous situation in Rwanda in 1994, Witnesses from Europe volunteered to go to Africa to help with relief efforts. Well-organized camps and field hospitals were quickly set up to administer aid. Huge quantities of food, clothing, and blankets have been airfreighted. The number of refugees who benefited from this relief effort was more than triple the number of Witnesses in the area.
[Picture on page 9]
The first-century Christians preached the good news with uncompromising zeal