None of us knows how we would react to severe persecution unless we have already experienced it. If we are inexperienced at being persecuted we must prepare ourselves so that, if put to the test, our faith will not fail.


Very early in His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus began preparing His disciples to face persecution (Matthew 5:10-12). Right at the end He was doing the same (John 15:20-21).

The Apostle Peter tells believers to prepare themselves for persecution by practising self-discipline and focusing on the Christian hope (1 Peter 1:13). 

Suffering for Christ is not only a service we give to God but also a gift from God to us (Philippians 1:29). It can have many benefits. Like any suffering, it can teach us to be humble and heavenly minded. Our suffering can bear fruit in others’ lives. 

“Suffering not only purifies individuals but also purifies the Church”

The Apostle Paul understood his suffering as intrinsic to his mission, not impeding it.1 His sufferings had positive missiological benefits, bringing salvation and life (2 Corinthians 1:6; 4:10-12) and he saw them as an extension of the sufferings of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:5; 4:10; 13:4).

Suffering not only purifies individuals but also purifies the Church as some fall away from the faith, but those who remain are encouraged in their walk with the Lord and grow in love for each other.

FOREWARNED AND PREPARED SO THAT WE CAN STAND FIRM 

God often forewarns His people of coming suffering, whether in public messages through the prophets or one-to-one as He warned Noah (Genesis 6:13) and Abraham (Genesis 18:17).

Jesus forewarned of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple that took place some 40 years later as well as of the terrible events at the beginning of the end of the age, such as wars, earthquakes, famine and pestilence (Luke 19:41-44; 21:6-27; Matthew 24; Mark 13). Before these catastrophes will come the persecution of His followers (Luke 21:12). 

“Suffering for Christ is not only a service we give to God but also a gift from God to us”

Jesus helps us prepare for this by warning of false prophets and even false Messiahs who will preach false messages (Matthew 24:11,24-25; Mark 13:22; Luke 21:8). Some will offer ungrounded hope, and some will create unjustified fear. 

Jesus, however, wants us to have realism and resilience. If we are prepared by Jesus’ words, painful persecution should not undermine our faith but should strengthen it (John 16:1,4). 

He tells us not to be troubled or alarmed (Mark 13:7; Luke 21:9), that the time of distress will be shortened (Matthew 24:22) and that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13, ESV). 

We should note that the promise of being saved is a promise about our souls, not our bodies, for he also says that some of us will be persecuted to death (Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:16-19). 

Even if no specific Divine warning is given, we can expect calamity if, for example, we see in our nation arrogant godlessness, materialism, immorality, neglect of the poor or other sins for which God has previously punished other nations. 

John Flavel, a Presbyterian minister in 17th-century England, suffered persecution, sickness and bereavement. He was convinced that Christians must proactively prepare for suffering if they are not to be overwhelmed when it comes.

This matches the findings of modern psychologists. “Prepare for a storm,” wrote Flavel, “and provide for yourself an ark, a hiding-place in Christ and the promises.”2 

Paul had evidently been pondering the persecution he might encounter in Jerusalem (Acts 21:13) and could face it more calmly than could the Christians of Caesarea. 

None of us knows how we would react to severe persecution unless we have already experienced it. If we are inexperienced at being persecuted we must prepare ourselves so that, if put to the test, our faith will not fail.


1 Kar Yong Lim, “A Theology of Suffering and Mission for the Asian Church”, in Timoteo D Gener and Stephen T Pardue, Asian Christian Theology: Evangelical Perspectives, Carlisle, UK, Langham Publishing, 2019, p.186. 
2 John Flavel, Preparation for Sufferings, 1681. This quotation is from an edition revised by Jennifer Adams, Preparation for Suffering, Forest VA, Corner Pillar Press, 2011 p.41.


This article was originally published in Barnabasfund magazine.

Photo by Jakub Kriz on Unsplash
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo is the International Director of Barnabas Fund and the Executive Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life.