First of all, we must understand that persecution and hardship always accompany God''s people, who hope for heaven and live a sincere life of faith, regardless of era (Ro 8:17).
2,000 years ago, Satan persecuted the Christian Church that followed the truth, by using the power of the world, especially with the support of Judaism that held vested rights and of Rome which dominated Israel at that time. However, the early Christians began to boldly preach the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit which Jesus had poured out upon them at Pentecost after His resurrection and ascension. The more they were persecuted, the faster the gospel spread even to the Gentile nations, giving off a stronger fragrance of Christ, like myrrh—the more it is crushed, the more fragrant it becomes.
Judaism and the crucifixion of the Messiah, and the early Church and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
Judaism is the Jewish religion that believes in Jehovah as the one and only God. 2,000 years ago, Judaism had already taken deep root in Israel—its history and tradition had been handed down for thousands of years, whereas Christianity was merely a new religion. On top of that, its followers believed in Jesus, who was just a carpenter in the eyes of people, as the Messiah—their Savior. This greatly displeased the Jews, and they treated the Christian Church as a cult.
In those days, the religious leaders arrested Jesus and handed Him over to Pilate the governor. Then they just kept crying out, "Crucify him!" They themselves killed the Messiah, whom they had been longing and waiting for so eagerly.
After the death of Jesus, His disciples were scattered, so the Jews thought that the Christian Church would fall soon. On the contrary, however, the Church became more prosperous: In just one day, about 3,000 people were baptized in the name of Jesus, and even a large number of priests became obedient to the truth of the new covenant. It was a result of the preaching of the apostles; they preached the gospel boldly after receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
Being surprised at this, the leaders of Judaism arrested the apostles, had them flogged, and put them in the public jail. Then they strictly warned them not to preach or teach in the name of Jesus. Beginning with Stephen, many Christians died as martyrs. However, the persecution of Christians by the Jews accelerated the spread of the gospel to the Gentile nations and the work of the early Church started in earnest. Then Satan also began to work more strongly to stop the work of the Holy Spirit.
Suppression of Christianity by the Roman emperors
Rome was a polytheistic nation that served the sun-god as the supreme god. They ruled over many nations including Israel and forced their colonial subordinates to submit to their authority in everything. The Christians also showed loyalty to the Roman emperor, but when it came to the matter of faith, they did not compromise with reality but followed God''s will, although they violated the emperor''s order.
Moreover, the imperial religion was prevalent in Rome—the worship of the emperors as well as many different gods and goddesses, as a way of unifying the entire empire. The Christians opposed it, so they were unable to avoid criticism that they were not loyal to the empire. As a matter of fact, they were a real thorn in the Roman Empire''s side, and the emperors adopted oppressive policies against Christianity and started to persecute the Christians.
Emperor Nero (54-68 AD), a well known tyrant, falsely accused and executed the innocent Christians; he did not hesitate to massacre the Christians and to kill the apostles. Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), who called himself "Dominus et Deus noster" (Latin for "our Lord and God"), commanded the entire empire to worship him and severely persecuted the Christians who refused to worship the emperor. The persecution lasted for hundreds of years, and any gathering of Christians was strictly prohibited. During the reign of Diocletian (284-305 AD), there were four edicts issued against Christianity.
Regardless of age or gender, the Christians who did not submit to the edicts were cruelly tortured. After being flogged, they were thrown to hungry wild animals or burnt at the stake; they were killed in such horrible and cruel ways, being torn apart from limb to limb. Their bodies were left behind unburied and then were thrown into the fire or a river.
The Roman Empire tried to eradicate Christianity with its imperial authority.
Unceasing rumors and Christian hardships
The Christians were forced to gather in underground caves called catacombs to escape the Roman persecution, and it continuously raised more suspicions and doubts among the Romans. There were numerous false rumors spread among the public about the Christians, such as: "They eat their children and commit incest."
As the rumors spread throughout the empire, the people of Rome treated the Christians harshly and blamed them whenever there was trouble in Rome.
Some scholars launched ideological attacks against Christianity. Celsus, who denied the virgin birth of Jesus and His divinity, severely criticized Christianity using all kinds of theories, common sense and satire in those days, and he did not hesitate to make spiteful comments about the Bible.
The Christians could not escape being misunderstood and hated by the people of the world. Even their close neighbors suddenly changed their attitude towards them and treated them cruelly and violently.
The Christians had to endure being insulted, beaten and stoned by the people.
They were unjustly accused and dragged into court to be questioned, and were kept in prison. Later, they were brought before the governor for trial and underwent all kinds of tortures. The people of Rome insulted and ridiculed them, while praising their gods—the idols.
Even after the truths, including the Sabbath and the Passover, changed one by one according to the prophecies of the Bible, those who loved the truth and obeyed it moved from place to place in order to keep their faith; they became hut-dwellers and gradually started to go out into the desert to worship God. Later, they were not even able to gather together for worship, so many of them lived a solitary ascetic life in a cave.
The faith of the Christians whom the world was not worthy of
It is not too much to say that the history of the early Church is the history of persecution. Being surrounded by all sorts of difficult and dangerous situations, the early Christians suffered intense persecution and hardship. However, they considered it an honor to be persecuted for God and preached the gospel every day wherever they were. Although they seemed to lose outwardly, they were victorious spiritually; they lived a life of victory every day.
Ro 14:6-9 『He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.』
Their minds were set only on God. And they believed God''s promise to give them rewards and crowns in heaven. Since they had this sure hope, they were able to run toward the eternal kingdom of heaven and the crown of life, without being discouraged.
Rev 2:10 『"Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life."』
The early Christians willingly laid down their lives for the truth. They were hated by people, but were complimented and appreciated by God. Now they are comforted and admired for all their efforts, and the crown of life is shining on them.
Heb 11:33-38 . . . who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Nothing could destroy the faith of the early Church—neither the great power of Rome which held sway over all the world, nor the tradition of Judaism that had been handed down over thousands of years, nor coldness and jealousy from numerous people. Indeed, they had such great faith that the world was not worthy of them.
The warriors of the truth who have inherited the mindset and spirit of the early Church
The saints of the early Church serve as true witnesses for us today who have received the truth of the new covenant. Even in this age, when each individual''s rights are respected and people''s living conditions have become much more comfortable and safer, Satan is trying to destroy our faith using all kinds of crafty schemes and methods. The devil will continue to devise evil schemes to oppose God and His people until the Last Judgment.
Rev 12:17 "Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus."
The true nature of our faith is revealed in times of trouble, not in times of peace. The saints of the early Church had absolute faith in God and maintained an unyielding attitude toward Him, only looking forward to heaven, even in the face of death, so they were able to achieve such a great spiritual victory. We, too, should have the same kind of faith; no matter how difficult our circumstances may be, we must never neglect or abandon our faith. Trials are temporary, but the world to come is everlasting. We have to be more alert and restore the faith of the early Church, only looking forward to God and the kingdom of heaven.
Ro 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
2,000 years ago, the apostles'' love for Christ spread from Jerusalem to all the other parts of Israel and to the Gentile nations, destroying the power of Satan. In this age of the Holy Spirit, God has shone the light of the Holy Spirit, which is seven times stronger than that of the early Church, on God''s people who believe in Elohim and have true, Bible-based faith. Now is the time for us to show the faith that is seven times stronger than that of the early Church which the world was not worthy of.
With faith great enough to surprise the world, let us boldly preach Elohim as warriors of the truth. In this age, our unbreakable love for Heavenly Father and Mother will frustrate the devil and will finally reach to the ends of the world.