In case you were not already aware, Sunday, November 10, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (though some are observing it this Sunday, November 3).
I hope you are staying abreast of the alarming increase of the persecution and martyrdom of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world in recent months. Of all the current events we read about and write about, from a biblical perspective, I truly believe this is one of the most important, if not the most important, issues of our day.
A few recent articles have pointed out the relative lack of coverage the media—both secular and Christian—have been giving to this issue. I encourage you to read both of these carefully and prayerfully, if you have not already done so:
“Three reasons the American church is ignoring Christian persecution,” by Jonathan Merritt
“A Global Slaughter of Christians, but America’s Churches Stay Silent,” by Kirsten Powers
Though different interpretations of the book of Revelation have sometimes led to disagreements in the Body of Christ, whatever particular approach you take, I believe one thing is undeniable: One of the main emphases of Revelation is the persecution and martyrdom of fellow believers in Jesus Christ, and the encouragement to stay faithful in the midst of persecution, as well as to pray for those who are suffering persecution.
After being led on a prophetic tour of the seven churches in Asia Minor that at the time of the writing of Revelation were already experiencing persecution in various degrees, and were getting ready to go through an even fiercer time of affliction, we are introduced to the following scene in Revelation 6:9–11:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
When sharing with some friends the other day some news regarding the persecuted church around the world, one of them asked, “What can we as Christians in the West do about it?” I believe one of the primary—if not the primary—answer is found in Revelation 8:1–5. The imagery is breathtakingly poignant:
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
In other words, though God Himself, who is ultimately in charge, is always on His throne and calling the shots, it is the prayers of the saints accumulated down through the centuries that finally tip the scale, as it were, and kick into action God’s sovereign plan for judgment, justice, and the ushering in of His eternal kingdom of truth and peace and righteousness.
A few chapters later, in Revelation 12:10–11, a few more details are brought to light:
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”
And a few chapters after this, in Revelation 19:1–2, we read of the jubilant shout of victory of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have been called out and chosen to suffer for His name’s sake:
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
In other words, if I am reading this right, at the culminating moment of the entire history of the world, in the midst of everything else that is going on, the focal point of it all is the persecuted church.
And even though we in the West may not presently be going through the same type of persecution as our brothers and sisters in other places of the world, when one member of the Body suffers, all the members suffer with it (1 Cor. 12:26), and our prayers certainly are included and taken into account together with the accumulation of prayers in the incense burner of Revelation 8.
What can we do to help? We can write our congressman. We can send money to support ministries that work with refugees and persecuted Christians. We can get more informed about specific situations around the world. We can help to get the word out to others. Some of us may even have the opportunity to travel to places where persecution is going on and lend a hand in some practical way. But, in addition to these things, we can pray. Notice I didn’t say, “We can always pray”—as if that’s “all” we can do. We can pray!!! And if I’m reading my Bible right, our prayers—together with those of all our brothers and sisters around the world—are, in the long run, what, more than anything else, is going to make the difference. In response to prayer, God will act. And justice will be done. And His kingdom will come. And those who have suffered in this life will receive their eternal reward. And Jesus will reign. And God will get the glory.
Here is a collection of additional links I have found in the past month or so that will help you to get more informed on the persecuted church: