October 18, 2019
Author: Dennis Call
In John 17, Jesus offers what many call His “high priestly prayer.” In this prayer, the Lord prays for His disciples to be strengthened, unified, and sanctified by God’s Word and to His glory. He also prays for future believers who would come to faith by the preaching of the Apostles after Christ’s ascension. Jesus clarifies His petition of the Father stating, “I do not ask that You take them out of the world,” employing “that You keep them from the evil one.”
When you consider this prayer in conjunction with what the Lord says to Peter in Matthew 16:13-20 there is tremendous encouragement to be found for Christians past, present, and future. In this passage Jesus asks His disciples “who do men say that I am?” Their answers are as various as one might expect even today, but then He asks them, “but who do you say that I am?” To this, Peter replies “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” A profound response to an equally profound question.
But then Jesus offers Peter and the disciples additional insight into this interaction saying, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
What an encouragement that was to His disciples, especially when they suffered persecution in the years that lay ahead. Early Church PersecutionThe Roman world the Apostles and early Church lived in was brutal, but the Roman emperors did what they could to keep the peace and promote the welfare and longevity of the empire. The third century (200-300 AD) was a century of chaos, filled with murder, disease, and war. In fact, war and instability ravaged the empire throughout the entire century. While there was significant persecution during this chaotic period, the worst persecution took place in 303-305 AD under the rule of Diocletian. Diocletian, like Augustus and Trajan before him, styled himself a “restorer.” He urged the public to see his reign and his governing system, the Tetrarchy (rule by four emperors), as a renewal of traditional Roman values and, after the anarchic third century, a return to the “Golden Age of Rome.” As such, he reinforced the long-standing Roman preference for ancient customs and Imperial opposition to independent societies.The exclusivity of the Gospel and rejection of much of the Roman ideals of shared culture made Christians a clear and easy target for the those who hated them. Convinced by his friend Galerius (and Galerius mother), Diocletian launched the most horrendous persecution of the Church between 303-305 AD killing thousands of Christians during that period. The Unification of Church and StatePrior to the Battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine had a vision to conquer his enemies under the sign of the cross. In the days following his vision he had his soldiers paint a cross on their shields, and he defeated his rivals to become Emperor. His ascension to the throne led to a new tolerance of Christians across the Roman Empire and culminated at the Council of Constantinople 381 AD where Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.This new tolerance of the Christian Church brought about new challenges unforeseen during the many years of persecution. In his book the Insanity of Obedience Nick Ripken contrast’s persecution in the former USSR with the Chinese government in the 1960s. The Soviet leaders tortured and killed millions of Christians. The Chinese government, however, took a much different approach, writing a “secret white paper” concerning faith in China: “The church in China has grown too large and too deep; we cannot kill it. We have determined to give the church properties, building, seminaries, and denominational headquarters so as to make the church rich. Once we do that, we will be more successful in controlling the church.” Though the Chinese government has come full circle and become much more aggressive in its persecution this approach to destroying the Church is insightful to consider.Upon This Rock
Peter’s confession of Christ as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God is the Rock upon which all our faith is set. Whether under threat of persecution or protected by a Constitutional Amendment, Christ’s promise “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” should encourage believers around the world to remain faithful to Him who “remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself.”
Do you live like you believe the Lord will build His Church, or do you shrink back in the face of adversity?
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Author of Battle Hard Blog
Dennis Call joined the Army as an infantry officer shortly after the 9/11 attacks on our country, serving fourteen years on active duty. During his Army service, Dennis deployed for thirty-three months to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of the Global War on Terror. Prior to joining the Army Dennis served as the Director of College Ministries at First Baptist Church in Texico, N.M. where he mentored students at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, N.M. Dennis and his amazing wife Katie live in Colorado Springs, CO with their five children (four boys and one super sweet daughter).
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