And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads (Acts 26:14, NKJV).
Paul rehearsed the events of Christ’s appearance to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 26:14-18). He was persecuting Christians when the Lord appeared (Acts 26:9-12). Christ described Paul’s futility with an example from everyday life. Saul was only hurting himself. A goad is a pointed stick used to prod oxen along the way. When an animal kicks against the nudging of the prod, it causes more pain to the animal. So it was with Saul of Tarsus. His misdirected zeal against the name of Jesus of Nazareth was pointless (Acts 29:9; 5:39). The afflicter was afflicting himself, adding sin upon sin in his rage against the saints (1 Tim. 1:12-13). Our lesson becomes obvious. We will not succeed in fighting against the word and will of God. Arrogantly denying God by pursuing personal freedom enslaves us to sin (2 Pet. 2:19). Arguing against and rejecting the word of Christ exposes a selfish, unrepentant, and corrupt heart (Acts 7:51-53). Professing oneself to be wise and refusing to honor God leads to the pain and foolishness of unbelief (Rom. 1:27, 20-26). When we proudly resist the Lord, He resists us (James 4:6-10). We must humble our hearts before the Lord. Do we think we can fight against God now and survive the day of His wrath (Rev. 6:17)? Those who kick against His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering will not (Rom. 2:4-6). Are you kicking against God’s will? If so, stop hurting yourself. Like Saul, repent and obey Jesus. Christ forgives our self-defeating sins when we turn to Him and follow His will (Matt. 11:28-30; Acts 22:16).
36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 37 “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrews 10:36–39, NKJV).
The Hebrew Christians faced persecution for their faith (Heb. 10:32-34). These pressures and fears tempted some to drift back into the shadows of the first covenant, presumably, to avoid persecution (cf. Gal. 6:12). But such neglect and even willful rejection of Christ exposed them to God’s vengeance (Heb. 2:1-3; 10:26-31). God delivers His people from sin’s punishment of sin by faith (Heb. 10:37-38; Hab. 2:3-4). So, these Christians were encouraged to endure the present trials of faith and not shrink back to destruction (Heb. 10:39). Endurance is accomplished by doing the will of God and therefore receiving God’s promise of eternal life (Heb. 10:36). So, they needed to continue to be faithful through their present trials of faith. “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). Again, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). May we also hear and heed the inspired exhortation given to the Hebrew saints: “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward (Heb. 10:35).”
4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, 5 which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; (2 Thessalonians 1:4–5, NKJV)
Jesus blesses those persecuted for righteousness’s sake (Matt. 5:10-12). Many early Christians were “made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations” because of their faith (Heb. 10:33). The saints in Thessalonica exemplify steadfast endurance in the face of fierce opposition. Their persecution was not due to God failing or forgetting them. Far from it (1 Thess. 3:12-13). Their faithful fortitude despite suffering for their faith revealed two unbending truths. (1) God will righteously judge those who persecute His people (v. 5). Paul explained, “since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you” (2 Thess. 1:6). God will judge those who bring suffering upon the righteous. The persecutors of Christians “do not know God” and “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” therefore, they will experience divine vengeance (2 Thess. 1:7-8). (2) Those who suffer as Christians are worthy of the kingdom of God (v. 5). These faithful ones will share in the glory of Christ when He comes (2 Thess. 1:10; Col. 3:4). Like them, may we faithfully endure trials and the promise of eternal life (Heb. 10:36-39). Do not be ashamed of Jesus (Mark 8:38). Glorify God when you suffer for Christ (1 Pet. 4:16). Great is your reward in heaven (Matt. 5:10-12).
5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” (Hebrews 12:5–6, NKJV)
Jesus faced “hostilities from sinners,” and so do Christians (Heb. 12:3). Instead of becoming “weary and discouraged” when this happens, we should remember God’s exhortation to us, His children. God uses times of trial to discipline us (educate through instruction and correction), train our faith, and bring us to spiritual maturity (Heb. 12:11; Jas. 1:2-4). If you find yourself asking why you are facing trials, God’s explanations in Hebrews 12:5-11 will help sustain you. 1) God loves you (Heb. 12:5-6). Just as discipline shows love for a child, even so, trials are undergirded by God’s love for us (Prov. 13:24). Do not despise the discipline trials afford. 2) Develop endurance (Heb. 12:7-8). The presence of God’s parental love teaches us to endure the temporary pain of trials (2 Cor. 4:16-17). By accepting God’s discipline, our faith grows because we are “looking unto Jesus” for strength (Heb. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 12:9). 3) Our faith needs this training (Heb. 12:9-10). Children need instruction and correction, and so do Christians (Eph. 6:4). We submit ourselves to the training trials bring so we may partake of God’s holiness. 4) The intended result (Heb. 12:11). Trials hurt and are not joyful. Still, the pain generates peaceable fruit in the lives of faithful saints. Trials help train our faith to rely on the Lord. Let’s do that when hardships arise. God loves us, and He will use our trials to strengthen our faith, not discourage our souls. Keep running the race set before you (Heb. 12:1-2).
1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:1–5, NKJV)
Perilous times. Times of trouble that are difficult, dangerous, harsh, and hard to bear. Such were the days that lay ahead for the early saints. “Last days” means “days after this” without necessarily implying the imminent personal return of Jesus (1 Tim. 4:1-3; Heb. 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:20). We live in the same days. Peter wrote extensively of the difficulties through which we must pass on our way to eternal joy (1 Pet. 1:6-9; 2:18-25; 3:13-17; 4:12-19, esp. 4:18). Today’s passage reads like the current events of 2021. We must turn away from those who revel in darkness. Do not be drawn into the ungodliness of this age. Let us “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). “Do not be overcome by evil” when it surrounds you, “but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). And again, “Repay no one evil for evil,” instead, “if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:17-18).
9 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 testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” (Revelation 6:9–11, NKJV)
The souls of martyred saints cried out to the Lord for righteous judgment against those who drew their blood and took their lives because of their faith. His promise to execute His vengeance against evil would prevail (cf. Rom. 12:17-19). But other Christians would face distress and death before God judged and removed the persecutors. With elaborate imagery, The Revelation tells of Rome’s defeat and the victory of the faithful (cf. Rev. 17:14). We must patiently endure and remain faithful to Christ when we face pressure and persecutions “for the word of God and for the testimony” we hold (Heb. 10:32-39). God will reward our patience (1 Pet. 4:12-13; Rev. 14:12-13). The Lord will defeat evil, just as He did in the days of Rome (which was “Babylon, the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth,” Rev. 14:6-11; 17:5-6, 14, 18; 19:1-6, 11-21). When our faith is tested, let us be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen. (Revelation 1:7, NKJV)
We may immediately think this verse refers to Christ’s return on the last great day (Acts 1:11). That day will surely come (Acts 17:30-31). But to apply it to the last day overlooks its immediate context and the broader context of the book. Christ gave John this revelation to show to the servants of Christ “things that must shortly take place” because “the time is near” (Rev. 1:1, 3). Jesus Christ is “the ruler over the kings of the earth,” a central truth borne out in The Revelation (17:14; 19:15-16). Yet, Christians were being persecuted unto death (even though Christ had loved them, redeemed them, and made them a kingdom of priests on earth, Rev. 1:5-6). The Revelation assures them He would execute judgment against their persecutors; They would be victorious in Him (Rev. 17-19; 18:20-24; 19:11-21). The expression, “coming with clouds,” is judgment language (as Jesus used in Matt. 24:29-30 of Jerusalem’s demise, cf. Isa. 19:1). He said, “They shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” There was no visible image of Jesus when Jerusalem fell. But its fall was evidence that the Son of Man rules in heaven and on earth. They would “see” the Son of Man coming in judgment against Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70. His heavenly reign and authority were on display for all to see (Mk. 13:26, 30; Matt. 26:64). Similarly, Revelation 1:7 refers to Christ’s judgment against the persecuting powers, the Roman empire (cf. Rev. 14:14-16). “The ruler over the kings of the earth” would soon execute His judgment, and it would be evident (“every eye will see Him”). “Even so, Amen.”
41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:41–42, NKJV)
The apostles of Christ had just been beaten for preaching the gospel of Christ in Jerusalem. They were also commanded by the ruler council of the Jews not to speak in the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:40). They were not discouraged or deterred. Lenski commented, “These disgraceful stripes the apostles considered badges of honor” (The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles, p. 237). Their work was of God; men would not overthrow it (Acts 5:39). Christ’s apostles continued their daily practice of publicly and privately instructing and proclaiming Jesus as the Christ. We must not allow opposition to God’s truth to prevent us from continuing to speak God’s word faithfully. Threats and obstacles, even violent hostility, did not cause the early Christians to stop preaching the word (Acts 8:1-4). Let them be our examples when we face resistance and aggressive opposition to the truth of the gospel (Phil. 3:17; 4:9). Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). May we seek Christ’s blessing rather than the favor of men (Gal. 1:10).
3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, 4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, 5 which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; 6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels (2 Thessalonians 1:3–7, NKJV)
What a magnificent summary of the Thessalonian saints’ faithfulness in the face of persecution, of their tremendous example of suffering for the kingdom and its powerful influence on brethren, and of God’s justice that trouble the troublers and rewards the faithful with rest. God is righteous; therefore, so is His judgment. In the glory of Christ returns, God will right every wrong leveled against His people (2 Thess. 1:8-10). Until then, keep patiently enduring in faith and love. God sees, He repays, and He and rewards.
22 And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22–24, NKJV)
What drives you to withstand trials, adversities, and obstacles of resistance to achieve your goal? Too often, we are driven from our spiritual goal to seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness by fear, by doubt, by uncertainty, and many other hindrances. Paul’s example helps us stay the course (cf. Heb. 12:1-2). 1) He was “bound in the spirit” (to go to Jerusalem, v. 22). His mind was set on things above (Col. 3:1-3). His obligation to Christ was fixed deep within his soul. 2) He was undeterred by personal hardship (v. 23-24). Fear of persecution did not pull him off course. He cared more about serving the will of God than his own life. 3) His goal was to finish his race with joy (v. 24). Paul would not just finish his race; he would do so with joy (2 Tim. 4:6-8). 4) The ministry the Lord gave him was more important than his life (v. 24). Paul’s priority to faithfully preach the gospel is evident from a review of what he endured for Jesus (2 Cor. 11:23-33; 4:7-11). Our faith will be tested. Will we be moved when our adversary puts the allurements of sin before us? Will we be moved when enemies of the truth put trials and persecutions in our path? Will fear of death move us away from finishing our race with joy (Matt. 10:28)? Or will we say with Paul, “None of these things move me?”