"Christian persecution? Really? That's a cheery article. I think I'll pass." Wait. Don't go!
Although American Christians, and those in other countries with religious freedom, don't quite relate to the idea of Christians going through tribulation and persecution, Jesus and the apostles were quite clear that such things were to be expected as the normal Christian life.
We are taught in the New Testament that believers will be reviled, falsely accused, hated, have conflict, be mistreated, endure hardship, get threatened, and be defamed (Matt. 5:10-12; Philippians 1:29,30; II Tim. 3:12; I Peter 3:13-17). In fact, Christians have enlisted in the army of the Lord and are expected to "endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." (II Tim. 2:3,4, NKJV) We are told that we will be hated just like Christ was hated (John 15:18-20).
Christians throughout the world have been imprisoned, tortured, and martyred for their faith for 2000 years. Some of us have just been fortunate.
Christians in many countries have become so accustomed to religious freedom that they are not at all prepared in the event they may actually have to suffer for Christ's sake. What if, one day, we have to take a stand like we never have before–or have to run for our lives just to escape death for our beliefs. "That could never happen in my country!" Or could it?
How many Christians believe in a pre-tribulation rapture? Why? Because their pastors and famous prophecy teachers have said so. That belief is a part of the "I'll never suffer persecution" mentality. Not only are we extremely spoiled in that we never have to suffer true persecution (no complaints), many of us think we won't even have to deal with the tribulation if it happens in our lifetimes. We are going to get beamed up in the rapture before all the troubles happen. I disagree.
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. – II Thessalonians 2:1-4, NKJV
Do you know what these verses are saying? There are two things that must happen before Jesus Christ returns and gathers his saints in the rapture–ONE, a "falling away" and TWO, "the man of sin is revealed." This man is the world leader who will be empowered by Satan to rule the world.
There is only one "second coming" of Christ (Hebrews 9:27,28) – after the great tribulation (Matt. 24:15-31). This will be the "last day" spoken of by Christ and is the only time He will both resurrect the dead believers and rapture the living believers before the beginning of His millennial reign (John 6:39,40; I Thes. 4:13-17; I Cor. 15:50-54; Rev. 20:4-6).
So, backing up to the above set of verses (II Thes. 2:1-4), what does it have to do with Christian persecution? It means that believers will go through the tribulation and we will have to stand for our faith and possibly be martyred, or we will have to run for our lives. Why do you think there will be a "falling away"? There may be a variety of reasons. But many professing Christians will fall away by worshiping the beast instead and taking "the mark of the beast" so they can spare their lives and continue to live normal lives.
4 So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” 5 And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. 6 Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. 7 It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. …15 He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. – Revelation 13:4-7,15, NKJV
The beast is "the man of sin" spoken of in II Thessalonians 2:1-4. During his 42 month (or 3 1/2 year) reign he will "make war with the saints." Many believers may be killed for not taking the mark of the beast. Other professing Christians will "fall away" and take the mark so they can continue to eat and pay their bills (not realizing they just sold their souls to the devil).
So many Christians have been deceived by the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine. We have been told we don't have to go through the tribulation period. Read the key points of these verses again:
… concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, …Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. – II Thessalonians 2:1-4, NKJV
In essence, we are being told not to be deceived into believing that Christ will come before the tribulation and rapture the Christians. That is the bottom line. The Lord is returning for all believers (dead and living) one time AFTER the falling away, AFTER the 42 month rule of the beast/antichrist, and AFTER the tribulation.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. - Matthew 24:29-31, NKJV
We must prepare our minds and hearts for Christian persecution in our lifetimes because we will be here during the tribulation if we are in the last days right now.
The prophet Daniel openly forewarned us regarding the persecution of Christians during the period just before Christ returns:
21 “I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom. 23 “Thus he said: ‘The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; he shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings. 25 He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time. – Daniel 9:21-25, NKJV
The horn/beast (man of sin) will be persecuting the saints (Christians) "until the Ancient of Days" (Christ) returns to earth "for the saints to possess the [millennial] kingdom." But "the saints shall be given into his [man of sin] hand for a time and times and half a time" (3 1/2 years) until "the Ancient of Days" comes.
Will we ever face serious Christian persecution in our lifetimes? Will the tribulation occur in our lifetimes? Maybe, maybe not. But we need to watch and be ready because the signs are pretty strong.