“But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
(Matthew 10:22b-23 ESV)
Jesus continues His warning about persecution today. Over the past few days we have studied this passage from Jesus which is mostly prophetic. Just a short time after giving these warnings to His apostles Jesus would be crucified and would ascend into heaven. It was beginning at this point and continuing on through the present that this persecution of His followers would occur. It will not cease until Jesus returns sometime in the future.
In today’s passage Jesus tells us that the one who endures to the end will be saved. Jesus is not saying that enduring persecution results in salvation because it is the fact that we are saved and follow Jesus that brought the persecution in the first place. We also know that salvation can in no way be earned – it is a free gift from God [Ephesians 2:8-9].
We do not earn salvation by endurance but rather we prove it. Only those who are absolutely sure of their salvation will withstand ridicule, bullying, physical torture, or even death because they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they cannot be separated from Christ. Any pain that someone brings upon a believer – be it mental pain or physical – is only temporary. Those who are against Christ can only kill the body. They cannot kill the soul.
A true believer also knows that suffering persecution is a witness to the persecutor of the reality of Jesus. We stand up under harsh treatment without taking revenge as a demonstration that we are fully confident in Jesus.
Having said all that, Jesus does not condone seeking martyrdom. If we are persecuted in one town we should flee to the next, if we can. While sometimes we can’t flee, like our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria who are being killed by ISIS, we should if we can. God never calls on us to put up with harsh treatment if we can avoid it, even if we have to run away from it.
This is exactly what Paul did. He endured ridicule, beatings, imprisonment in many of the places to which he brought the gospel. But when things got so bad that he could no longer be effective he moved on to another place [Acts 12-14, 17].
Jesus’ comment about the apostles not going through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes is difficult. Scholars who are much more learned than I debate what Jesus is actually saying here, so I won’t draw any conclusions of my own. The most likely reference seems to be to the judgment God brought upon Jerusalem less than 40 years after Jesus spoke these words.
As there was tremendous persecution of Christians at this time by both the Jews and Romans the apostles would have had to flee from one town to another quite often. Before they could get to all the towns in Israel, Jesus would have “come” with judgment on Jerusalem in the form of the Roman army which He did in 70 AD.
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