God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, December 2, 2014
30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
These two quotations are from Deuteronomy 32:35,36. Our author has been urging Christians to be faithful even through persecution, and to remember that even though some persecutions will mean loss of property, loss of reputation, loss of freedom, and even loss of life, the reward for perseverance is the bliss of heaven itself.
We must remember that God is with us, and in this case we are called to remember that God is the one who will avenge the tortures and agony we may face; God is the one who will judge those who terrorize us and hurt us. This is not only true of those who mutilated and killed the early Christians who read this letter, but everyone who harms a Christian because of his faith—even the devil himself will answer for every one of his sins and crimes.
32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering.
Perhaps our author is recalling the kind of persecution carried out by Paul before his conversion. In those days, Paul (then called Saul) “was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” and tried to take Christians prisoner. Confiscation of their property might have been a real possibility for those who were arrested and imprisoned.
33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
In the year 115 A.D., Roman historian Suetonius wrote that “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he (the Emperor Claudius) expelled them from Rome” (The Life of Claudius 25.4). The identity of Chrestus is either Jesus Christ himself (his followers were first called Christians in Antioch around the year 45 A.D., Acts 11:26), or possibly a false Messiah in Rome during Claudius’ reign (41-54 A.D.). Either way, Claudius ordered that the Jews (which would have included Christians in the eyes of the government) should be expelled from Rome. This is also mentioned in Acts 18:2 where we first meet Aquila and Priscilla, who settled in Corinth “because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.” Since we believe that this letter to the Hebrews was written before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., this early persecution by Claudius seems to be the most likely incident being described. Nero, who ruled from 54-68 A.D., also persecuted Christians, but the words here in Hebrew refer to an earlier persecution and as an encouragement to withstand the approaching difficulties under Nero.
This can happen again. In fact, Jesus warns: “They will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name” (Luke 21:12).
We know what to pray for. We pray that God’s kingdom would come, according to his will, according to his plan, and at whatever time pleases him. We pray that we will stand up for his name when persecution comes our way. We may well need to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Perhaps this will come to some because of a moment of poor judgment—do not let that cloud the fact that the devil wants to remove the voice of the gospel from the world. He will use whatever means he can to accomplish his ungodly will. Keep looking to Christ, no matter what takes place, and know that you have a place with him forever in heaven.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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