98) Fifth Seal – Persecution Of The People Of The Book

And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” (Revelation 6:9-11)

More than 340 million Christians – one in eight – face high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faith, according to the 2021 World Watch List compiled by the Christian advocacy group Open Doors.

It says there was a 60% increase over the previous year in the number of Christians killed for their faith. More than nine out of 10 of the global total of 4,761 deaths were in Africa…

The World Watch List ranks 50 countries in which Christians face persecution and discrimination, with North Korea in the No 1 spot as it has been for the past 20 years.

China has re-entered the top 20 for the first time in a decade, and India and Turkey have also reported an increase in government authoritarianism and nationalism.

The report says Christians in numerous countries in Africa and Asia have been refused Covid-related aid…

In China, the government has increased surveillance, with facial recognition systems installed in state-approved churches in some areas and online services monitored. The government’s campaign to “sinicise” Christianity has meant crosses and other Christian imagery have been replaced with pictures of President Xi Jinping and national flags, and Communist officials selecting church leaders, the report says.

In India, the Hindu nationalist government has fostered a climate in which attacks and harassment of Christians and Muslims have increased. Foreign funding of Christian-run hospitals, schools and church organisations has been blocked.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, Christians have faced 30% higher levels of violence than last year at the hands of Islamist militant groups who took advantage of lockdowns and governments weakened by the crisis, the report says. In Nigeria, the number of Christians killed has nearly tripled to 3,800 recorded deaths.

YHVH allows persecution of people who claim to believe in his Savior to force us to make a decision in a crisis: trust in

  1. the word of the human powers of this world for increased length of mortal life or
  2. the word of the Creator of this world for immortality after death.

This weeds out the fair weather friends from the true. If people aren’t willing to follow Jesus into battle, what makes them think they’ll follow him into his kingdom?

“Behold, a sower went forth to sow

  • some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up – When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.
  • Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away – he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
  • And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them – he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
  • But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold – he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit.” (Matthew 13)

“The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.” (John 12:23-27)

“Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus…Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ…Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory…It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:” (II Timothy 2:1-12)

“thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (II Timothy 3:10-12)

It is only because of Jesus’ identity as a human that his death can be applied to humans, yes? And the reverse is also true. We can only be saved from judgment for sin by our identity as Jesus himself.

And what is that identity? Shocker. It is not Christian.

Most historians agree that Jesus or his followers established a new Jewish sect…The first followers of Jesus were essentially all ethnically Jewish or Jewish proselytesJesus was Jewish, preached to the Jewish people, and called from them his first followers. According to McGrath, Jewish Christians, as faithful religious Jews, “regarded their movement as an affirmation of every aspect of contemporary Judaism, with the addition of one extra belief-that Jesus was the Messiah…characterised by combining the confession of Jesus as Christ with continued observance of the Torah and adherence to Jewish traditions such as Sabbath observanceJewish calendarJewish laws and customscircumcisionkosher diet and synagogue attendance, and by a direct genetic relationship to the earliest followers of Jesus.

[They] regarded Jesus to be the Messiah, the promised king who would restore the Jewish kingdom and independence. Jewish messianism has its root in the apocalyptic literaturepromising a future “anointed” leader or messiah to restore the Israelite “Kingdom of God“, in place of the foreign rulers of the time. This corresponded with the Maccabean Revolt directed against the Seleucid Empire. Following the fall of the Hasmonean kingdom, it was directed against the Roman administration of Judea Province, which, according to Josephus, began with the formation of the Zealots and Sicarii(6 CE), although full-scale open revolt did not occur until the First Jewish–Roman War in 66 CE…

it is increasingly accepted among scholars that “at the end of the 1st century CE there were not yet two separate religions called ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity'”.

Those who take on Yeshua’s name and identity are identified with the Jews, caught between a Rock and a hard place, violently rejected as heretics by both the Orthodox Jews and pagan Gentile Christians.

“ye, [Gentile] brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus / Yeshua haMashiach: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus / Yeshua, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us;” (I Thessalonians 2:14-15)

“Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh…ye were without Christ / Mashiach, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus / Mashiach Yeshua ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ / Mashiach.” (Ephesians 2:11-13)

“godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come…For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” (I Timothy 4:8-10)

For a long time Christianity regarded itself as part of Judaism. It had its center in Jerusalem (Irenæus, “Adversus Hæreses, i. 26); its first fifteen bishops were circumcised Jews, they observed the Law and were rather unfriendly to heathenism (Sulpicius Severus, “Historia Sacra,” ii. 31; Eusebius, “Hist. Eccl.” iv. 5; compare Matt. xv. 26), while they held friendly intercourse with the leaders of the synagogue (see Grätz, “Gesch. der Juden,” iv. 373 et seq.; and Ebionites, Minim, and Nazarenes). Many a halakic and haggadic discussion is recorded in the Talmud as having taken place between the Christians and the Rabbis (see Jacob the Gnostic). Probably the Christian Congregation, or Church of the Saints, did not distinguish itself in outward form from the “Ḳehala Ḳaddisha” at Jerusalem, under which name the Essene community survived the downfall of the Temple (Ber. 9b; compare Eccl. R. ix. 9: ‘Edah Ḳedoshah)…

The founder of Christian theology…the Apostle of the Gentiles never ceased to consider himself a Pharisee…he was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the Law.” Gamaliel was…so learned that the Jews, who keenly honor scholarship, called him “the beauty of the Law,” and gave to him first, as to only six men after him, the title of rabban, “our master.” From him and others Paul learned that shrewd and subtle…manner of Biblical interpretation…he remained to the end a Jew in mind and character, uttered no doubt of the Torah’s inspiration, and proudly maintained the divine election of the Jews as the medium of man’s salvation…

Until 68-70 AD/CE believing & non-believing Jews coexisted, sitting in the same synagogue, and attending the same temple.  Early believers kept all the Feasts of God…Jerusalem was between 1/3 & ½ believers in Yeshua before the destruction of the Temple…While many Jews did not agree that Yeshua was Messiah, they respected the believers for their lifestyle & devotion.

The first major split occurred between 68-70 AD/CE. Believers…heeding Yeshua’s words in Matt 24 [to flee the city in advance of the Roman attack caused them to be labeled]…as traitors in the eyes of many Jews [for not helping defend Jerusalem].

Between 70 – 100 AD/CE another major change began, as large numbers of gentiles accepted Jesus…Before 70 AD/CE all leaders in Jerusalem were Jews, after, all were Gentiles.

It was during the last struggle with Rome in the days of Bar Kokba and Akiba [136 AD] that, amidst denunciations on the part of the Christians and execrations on the part of the Jewish leaders, those hostilities began which separated Church and Synagogue forever, and made the former an ally of the arch-enemy [emphasis added]

The growing schism of Gentiles from the Jewish believers Christianity is evident in 190 when Ephesus’ bishop, St. Polycrates, held a council to consider The Quartodeciman controversy.

Polycrates emphatically stated that he was following the tradition passed down to him: We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming … All these observed the fourteenth day of the Passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people[a reference to the Jews]put away the leaven...

nevertheless the Ephesian Church soon conformed in this particular to the practice of all the other Churches…the Council of Nicaea (325), confirmed for Ephesus its ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the whole “diocese” or civil territory of Asia Minor, i.e. over the eleven ecclesiastical provinces…the Council of Constantinople (381) formally recognized this authority.

“by the early 4th century all Christians were celebrating Easter on a Sunday….Emperor Constantine Irejecting the custom of the Jews, who had crucified Jesus...first of all, it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul…Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd…withdraw ourselves from all participation in their basenessWhy then should we follow those who are confessedly in grievous error?

When we base our faith and practice on scripture, there is no question about it. The core of the gospel of the kingdom is Jewish, with continuity of the city of Jerusalem and temple worship.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ / Yeshua Mashiach, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee…and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the [new] covenant…And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years…For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed…John did…preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins…Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.(Mark 1:1-3; Malachi 3:1-6; Mark 1:4-15)

Most of all, there is hard core demand for righteousness and holiness.

if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenantye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6)

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers / newbies scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy…ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God…abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;” (I Peter 1-2)

“Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles…without Christ / Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus / YHVH’s Anointed Savior ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ / Messiahwho hath made both one [equal citizens in the commonwealth of Israel]…Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God…built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets [like Isaiah and Jeremiah], Jesus Christ / Yeshua Mashiach himself being the chief corner stone…In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:12-22)

The words of Jeremiah…To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah…unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month…saying...I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations...I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:1-5)

“Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion: And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding. And it shall come to pass, when ye be multiplied and increased in the land, in those days…At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart.” (Jeremiah 3:14-17)

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD God of Israel, saying, Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book [As a guarantee, like the deed to a house or title to a car or warrenty for repairs]The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee…For thus saith the LORD; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O LORD, save thy people, the remnant of Israel…for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. For the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him…Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah… this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people…Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31:31-37)

“I [Paul] say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew…at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” (Romans 11:1-5)

Germany’s Churches during the Nazi Holocaust are the perfect examples of Gentiles who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ choosing, or not, to identify with “the Israel of God”.

Germany’s 45 million Protestants were…members of the Lutheran, Reformed, or United Churches…differed not only in their religious practices but also in their political views. A few openly opposed the Nazis, while others saw themselves as neutral. Still others actively supported Nazism, calling themselves “storm troopers of Jesus Christ…”

The Nazi government ushered in key changes to the Protestant churches in Germany. First, the Nazi leadership supported the German Christian movement, a group of Protestants who wanted to combine Christianity and National Socialism into a movement “that would exclude all those deemed impure and embrace all ‘true Germans’ in a spiritual homeland for the Third Reich.”

Second, the Nazi leadership urged Protestants to unite all regional churches into a national church under the centralized leadership of Ludwig Müller, a well-known pastor and Nazi Party member, who was appointed as Reich bishop. Many German Protestants embraced these changes…In a national vote by Protestants taken in July 1933, the German Christians were supported by two-thirds of voters, and Müller won the national election to lead them.

The German Christian movement made significant changes to German Protestantism to bring it in line with Nazi racial ideology. Instead of classifying people as Christians or Jews based on their faith, as the Protestants had always done, German Christians began to classify people by racial heritage, as the Nazis did. Therefore, church leaders whose parents or grandparents had converted from Judaism to Christianity were considered Jewish and, according to the 1933 civil service law, no longer officially permitted to serve in those positions.

By January of 1934, Müller was vowing to purge Protestant churches of all “Jewish influence,” including removing the Old Testament from their bible because it is based on the Hebrew bible. A public appeal released by German Christian leaders claimed that “the eternal God created for our nation a law that is peculiar to its own kind. It took shape in the Leader Adolf Hitler, and in the National Socialist state created by him. This law speaks to us from the history of our people. . . . It is loyalty to this law which demands of us the battle for honor and freedom . . . One Nation! One God! One Reich! One Church!”…

In response to the growing power of the German Christians, another Protestant faction was formed called the Confessing Church. Its slogan was “Church must remain church,” and its members sought to protect their religion from the grasp of politics and the Nazi government. For instance, the Confessing Church considered that anyone baptized in the faith was a Christian, regardless of his or her racial descent. Also, the members of the Confessing Church opposed the German Christian movement’s changes to the bible…

Despite their opposition to the German Christian movement, the Confessing Church did not object to most elements of Nazism, and some people within the movement were Nazi Party members. The disagreement between the two groups was focused on how much influence the Nazi government should have over how they practiced their faith. Early on, Confessing Church member Martin Niemöller and two Protestant bishops met with Hitler and his top aides. The religious leaders reaffirmed their support for Hitler’s domestic and foreign policies and asked only for the right to disagree on religious matters. Hitler did not compromise, and after the meeting both bishops signed a statement of unconditional loyalty to Hitler; Niemöller did not. As a result, Niemöller was increasingly targeted by the Nazis and was eventually imprisoned for seven years in concentration camps.

Although about 7,000 of the nation’s 16,500 Protestant clergymen openly supported the Confessing Church, they limited their opposition to defending church teachings against Nazi influence.  One member of the Confessing Church, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, did resist the actions of the Nazis more broadly. In April 1933, he professed sympathy for Jewish victims of Nazism and argued that National Socialism and Christianity were incompatible. He later became an important symbol of resistance to Nazi Germany and was executed for his role in a plot to assassinate Hitler in 1945.

In general, Protestants in Germany found a way to be both believers in Christianity and supporters of Nazism. In contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses struggled under the new regime…their faith often prevented them from serving in the army, swearing allegiance to the state, or uttering the words “Heil Hitler,” by this time a common way of saying hello and goodbye…The Nazis destroyed their national headquarters, outlawed their church, and sent many thousands to concentration camps or prisons, where more than 1,000 were killed.

In 1934, as the Protestant Church attempted to come to terms with the Third Reich, [Karl] Barth was largely responsible for the writing of the Barmen Declaration (Barmer Erklärung). This declaration rejected the influence of Nazism on German Christianity by arguing that the Church‘s allegiance to the God of Jesus Christ should give it the impetus and resources to resist the influence of other lords, such as the German Führer, Adolf HitlerBarth mailed this declaration to Hitler personally. This was one of the founding documents of the Confessing Church and Barth was elected a member of its leadership council, the Bruderrat.

He was forced to resign from his professorship at the University of Bonn in 1935 for refusing to swear an oath to Hitler…The newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung carried his 1936 criticism of the philosopher Martin Heidegger for his support of the Nazis. In 1938 he wrote a letter to a Czech colleague Josef Hromádka in which he declared that soldiers who fought against the Third Reich were serving a Christian cause.

But did that do anything to help the Jews, as well as the other victims of Nazi inhumanity?

When Karl Barth wrote the Barmen Declaration, a statement from pastors who did not want the Nazification of the Church, there were no mention of the Jewish problem or condemnation of other injustices in Nazi Germany, it was merely a theological statement…

At an institutional level the Confessing Church did not provide much resistance to the Nazi deportation of Jews because of the worry that resistance would cause the Confessing Church to collapse and fail. Individuals did act, but as an institution the Confessing Church failed to make a stand for the Jewish people, or to even make a strong statement against the Nazi treatment of Jews. Bonhoeffer, in order to project the Confessing Church, cut all ties with the church before he joined the Abwehr to actively resist Hitler and the Nazi Party. Bonhoeffer was concerned that his resistance could lead to his arrest and that the Nazi’s would turn their focus towards destroying the Confessing Church and leaving the Reich Church as the only Protestant Church in Germany…their fear that the Confessing Church would be disbanded and there would be no Christian institution to protect true Christian values in Nazi Germany paralyzed them from offering resistance to Hitler’s rule…

During the holocaust the individuals have more of an impact because they were more willing to act, and they were motivated to act for different reasons. For individuals who resisted some were pushed by a religious cause. Others, often the non-Christians were motivated for a different reason but one connector between all the instances of resistance was they were helping people they knew…

The Ten Booms were a very religious family, Kasper Ten Boom would often read chapters of the Bible to his children both in the morning and at night…In response to seeing Jews being arrested in the town square Corrie expressed worry and pity for the Jews who were being led away. Her father also felt pity to the Germans because he said they have touched the apple of God’s eye, which would surely lead to their downfall…To understand the motives behind the actions of the Ten Boom’s it is important to understand…they wanted to serve God and their faith by serving and caring for others in a time of need and despair…Their response was not to save an institution or an established church either. They simply acted how they felt they should act with little thought to how they might be impacted because the Jews and others needed their help.

Also in the Netherlands was…Miep Gies…a self- described Christian. She would become famous as the woman who hid Anne Frank…While she was a Christian her first motive for helping was not a religious one. The action was out of kindness to a friend…This willingness to act had an impact…it was the effort of resistance that mattered. Both women acted…

The cost of resistance was high…People who decided to resist had to give up their way of life. They could no longer live freely and worry free, at least to the extent they could while being in a country controlled by Nazi Germany. There was the constant threat being raided or having your home destroed and being separated from loved ones. The Ten Boom’s had to face these as their family was arrested. Kasper died ten days into imprisonment, while Corrie and Betsie were sent to a concentration camp for women called Ravensbruck where Betsie would eventually die because of disease. Corrie herself would be released at the very end of 1944, only weeks after Betsie had died.

Faithfulness in identifying with YHVH’s Savior through great tribulation even unto death results in one last surge of witnessing and opportunity for salvation of unbelievers. If you consider that this includes our own loved ones, isn’t it worth it?

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