The Olivet Discourse – Persecution and Martyrdom

22Jun11

Matt 24: 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.

There is always a bit of a chuckle I must be forced to restrain when I hear popular Prophecy Experts use this passage to “prove” that the Rapture is right around the corner. There are two reasons why this shouldn’t be a passage a Dispensationalist should use to prove the imminent return of Christ.

  1. To many the Rapture would have already occurred at this point since the Church is supposed to escape the coming holocaust.
  2. The persecution described here is significantly more intense than the fact that prayer has been taken out of public schools. Modern evangelicals are not facing the kind of persecution described here!

Of course that goes without saying that the text itself does not allow for it to be postponed into our present situation. Let’s look at that verse again and at the parallel passage in mark that does a great job of detailing the kind of tribulation that should be expected.

Matt 24: 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.

So, who is the “they” and who are the “you” in this passage? The you should be painfully obvious as this has been discussed previously and even a glancing view of the context shows that Jesus was speaking to his Disciples. Fortunately the Mark passage describes even more who the “they” that will be doing the persecuting are.

Mark 13:9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.

The they are the persecuting Jews who will bring them before councils, governors and kings. But did that happen? Did the Disciples die for the sake of Jesus? Did they bear witness before these governmental leaders?

Acts 4:1-3 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them…[3] And they arrested them and put them in custody

2 Cor. 11:24-25 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. [25] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned

Acts 5:17-18 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy [18] they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.

Acts 12:1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church.

Acts 23:24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”

2 Timothy 4:17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. (This is in reference to Nero)

The Disciples were taken off into custody, brought before councils, governors and kings and were persecuted for the sake of the Gospel. And were they killed as well?

  • Matthew was speared – mid 60’s AD
  • James son of Zebedee beheaded- Acts 12 – before 40 AD
  • Paul was beheaded in 66 AD in Rome
  • Peter was crucified upside down in Rome in 66 or 67 AD
  • Andrew was crucified on an “X” shaped cross in Asia Minor in the 60’s AD
  • Phillip was imprisoned after converting the wife of a Roman proconsul and later crucified in Phrygia in 55 AD
  • Simon the Zealot was killed in Persia after refusing to worship the sun god – 54 AD
  • Mark was dragged to pieces in Alexandria – Mid 50’s AD
  • Martyrs Mattias, who replaced Judas, was stoned and beheaded in Jerusalem – Early 60’s AD
  • Bartholomew – beaten unto death and crucified – Early 60’s AD
  • Thomas – speared to death – Mid 50’s AD
  • James – stoned to death – Mid 50’s AD
  • James – brother of Jesus – was tossed from the temple roof and clubbed to death in mid 60’s AD

The “you” determined by the context of the passage was certainly the Disciples and both Biblical and secular bears out that they were all killed for the sake of the Gospel except john who “only” flogged, boiled in oil, tarred and feathered and exiled!

They truly faced a persecution the likes of which the modern evangelical could never even comprehend!

One final interesting note about John. He is the only Disciple to live past the year 70AD and be aware the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. Why is that a curious coincidence? Well, if the Coming in Glory and Power that Jesus describes in…

  • Matt 16 (which would be seen by some standing in His midst)
  • Matt 26 (where the High Priest would see Him seated at the right hand of the Father and coming on the clouds)
  • Rev 1 (seen by those who pierced His side)

…is the coming of judgment found in Matthew 24’s Olivet Discourse then the words said by Jesus referring to John in John 21:22 (Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he [John] remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”) makes some sense.

That is a topic for another day, but it’s always fun to wrap our minds around difficult passages and see what a paradigm shift in thinking can stir up.

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