Holidays are over, diets have started, 'catching up' from time off ended; now we get back to routine. We left off our study of Baptist History with that of heresy. Heresy was invading the church though the Jews and their legalism, gnostics and their 'special knowledge,' and more. Of course, these heresies were battled by TRUTH. Seeing that heresy cannot defend itself against Truth, a new attack commenced from heresy's adherents-PERSECUTION!
The first persecutions we read of in Scripture is that from the Jews (Acts 4:21; 5:40; 7:58; and 8:1-3). At first they were focused upon individuals, but soon it spread to an outright persecution of our Lord's churches. As you read of the Gospel being preached throughout Israel and then into Europe, it is first the Jews that persecuted God's preachers. For the Jews, it was a stumbling block (Isaiah 8:14). While they should have seen the pictures of the Messiah in the Old Testament come to realization in Christ; instead they rejected Him and attacked those that pointed out their sin of rejecting and crucifying our Lord. There were stonings, beatings, forsaking all from the Jews towards those they designated slanderously "Christians" (Acts 11:26).
Persecution though had only begun and its beginning minuscule to what it would become. Soon came the Roman persecutions. There were two reasons why the Romans began a persecution of Christians. First was the Christian's open rebuke of idolatry and sensuality. The Roman culture was one of gross sensuality and entertainment and idolatry of man and man made gods. The Truth preached at the Lord's churches rebuked such culture and forbid the practice thereof. One must ask why the world would seek to persecute a teaching that does not persecute it. It was true then as it is now, that the world attacks because of conviction and exposure of its own faults. The world and even 'Christians' today attack the Truth not because it attacked them, but because it exposes their faults and shortcomings.
Another reason why a Roman persecution began was due to this preaching: "None but Christ!" Caesar claimed that he was a god and demanded worship. The first great persecution came under the wicked Emperor Nero (A.D. 53-68). Upon the burning of much of Rome (A.D. 64), Nero blamed the Christians and a severe persecution of Christians ensued. We read in Outline of the Church by Centuries by McSorley the following:
They were punished with cruel torments, covered with the skins of wild beasts, worried to the death by dogs, nailed to the cross, burned to serve as torches at night. He (Nero) offered his own garden for this spectacle.
This persecution continued under the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96). He decreed "no Christian should be exempt from punishment without renouncing his religion." It is difficult to believe, but he was more sadistic than Nero. It is not my intention to write another history book, but one can easily research and study the historic fact of the persecution of the Lord's churches. While they were not the only ones persecuted, they were indeed all over the world persecuted. Oddly enough though, the more they were persecuted, the more they increased. Persecution sent them scattering to all parts of the world. The Gospel and the Truth was taken to the world just as the Lord directed it should (Matt. 28:19-20). The book of 2 Peter was written by Peter to believers suffering under these persecutions. While Satan, no doubt, sought the destruction of the Lord's churches and the Gospel, he soon realized his efforts were in vain. Peter encouraged the churches to keep preaching Truth and despite persecution to stand strong!
For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness; sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness an fear; Having a good conscience; that; whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
I highly recommend the reading of the Book The Martyrs Mirror for further study of the persecution of Truth over the centuries. It can be purchased from Challenge Press Here: http://www.baptist-books.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=BHCP&Product_Code=127&Category_Code=