Recently we had someone unsubscribe from our weekly email news service The Persecution and Prayer Alert because, he claimed, it was hard to read of their “incredible experiences.” He wrote, “We will always have persecution, as Jesus has said. It can be overwhelming and almost defeating when not appearing balanced with what God is doing through His people - it is like Satan has won a battle.”
I was struck by the last phrase because I had just finished writing a commentary on Revelation 13 for our January newsletter and theology of persecution website in which I addressed this very issue. In 13:7 we read that the “beast” is allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. As I wrote in my commentary, at first glance, this might seem to contract 12:11 where the saints are said to “conquer.” Are we to conclude from this that the beast wins some of the battles and the Christians others? Who are the real victors when God’s people suffer and die for their faith?
The answer, as Richard Bauckman rightly observes “depends on whether one sees things from the earthly perspective of those who worship the beast or from the heavenly perspective which John's visions open up for his readers.”
To the inhabitants of the earth (13:8) it is obvious that the beast has defeated the martyrs. The political and military might of the beast, which seems to carry all before it and wins the admiration and the worship of the world, here seems triumphant even over the witnesses of Jesus. That it can put the Christian martyrs to death apparently with impunity seems the final proof of the invincible, godlike might of the beast. In the judicial contest as to who is the true God - the beast or the one to whom the martyrs witness - it seems the verdict is clear: the evidence of the martyrs has been refuted.
Even Christians must have been tempted to see it that way. They were a tiny minority of powerless people up against the overwhelming might of the state and the overwhelming pressure of pagan society. To refuse to compromise was to become even more helpless victims. What was the point of resisting the beast when he was proving irresistible? But John's message is that from the heavenly perspective things look quite different. The martyrs are the real victors. To be faithful in witness to the true God even to the point of death is not to become a victim of the beast, but to take the field against him and win. But only in a vision of heaven (7:9-14; 15:2-3) or a voice from heaven (11:12; 14: 2) can the martyrs be recognized as victors. The perspective of heaven must break into the earthbound delusion of the beast's propaganda to enable a different assessment of the same empirical fact: the beast's apparent victory is the martyrs' - and therefore God's - real victory.[i]
Thank God that He provides us with a revelation of this heavenly perspective. How easy it would be, in the face of all of the reports of persecution we receive on a daily basis, to lose sight of this in the midst of the battle and to think that we are fighting a losing cause. Persecution and martyrdom, from God’s perspective is a sign that He is winning the battle; God’s people are witnessing to the His truth even to the point of death. There is no defeat here from God’s perspective.
May I, therefore, encourage you to make sure that you are receiving news of God’s victories in the world today by:
- asking to receive our monthly 16-page newsletter with its testimonies of faith and courage from around the world.
- subscribing to our weekly email news service with its up-to-date reports of persecution around the world and how you can pray for those in the battle.
- following us on Twitter and getting updates throughout the day.
[i] Richard Bauckman, The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Cambridge, 1993: 90-91.