Does persecution have to be violent to have an impact?


Living in a culture where violent persecution is almost unknown, multitudes who call themselves Christians seem to have forgotten what faithfulness to the truth often costs.  Did I say “often”? As a matter of fact, faithfulness to the truth is always costly in some way or another (2 Timothy 3:12), and that is precisely why Jesus insisted that anyone who wants to be His disciple must be willing to take up a cross (Luke 9:23–26).

from The Truth War, by John MacArthur


Does persecution really need to be violent to be effective?  
Or are we just so “blinded” by ordinary life that we don’t even know what persecution is?
Are we actually being violently persecuted – and don’t even “have eyes to see” it?
Do we even know what persecution means any more?

I made a note to myself to write about this a week ago.  And I would have agreed with it.
Then my “best buddy” – Dewey – succumbed to an eight month battle with cancer.  
Dewey is a dog – so it’s more like a 5 or 6 year battle in human terms.  
It seemed that long for me too, even as a human.

But now, I don’t totally agree anymore.  It’s something I should have seen years ago – and maybe did, a little bit.  But it became all too clear this past week, after we had to put Dewey to sleep.  You can read a lot more about Dewey and his cancer battle – and what I learned from Dewey about me and God – as part of my series – learning from a dog.  The ones about Dewey all have a title about learning from a dog.

Anyway, when the day after making the note to write about this quote, Dewey suddenly couldn’t walk right.  We took him to the local vet, then to an emergency clinic that shares facilities and records with his oncologist.  Within a matter of hours, it was obvious that the cancer had gone to Dewey’s brain, and nothing could be done.  He was going to die a very painful death.  He was already at a point where my wife and I couldn’t bear to watch or listen to him crying in pain.  Throughout his entire fight with cancer – he was never anything like that.  We had him put to sleep – ended his misery – and prayed that dogs will in fact go to Heaven.  (All dogs go to Heaven is also in that series I just mentioned.).

The next week we tried to deal with what happened – mostly why it happened the way it did.  
And now – one week after Dewey’s passing – I feel very differently about the quote at the top of the page.

So let’s start with the image at the top – in case the direction of my message isn’t clear yet.

When you read that image – which says “pray for the persecuted” – do you include yourself in the prayer?

If not – ask yourself – why not?
Do you feel like you’re not persecuted?
Do you think maybe you’re not worth persecuting?

Keep that in mind as we go along.

What does “persecuted” mean today?

In today’s world of not really saying anything while trying to look like we’re saying something really profound, here are the first two definitions from

  1. the act of persecuting.
  2. the state of being persecuted.

Wow.  That tells a lot, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, it might.
It may very well tell us, subconsciously of course, that our definition of persecuted is correct, and that one can either be the persecutor or the persecuted.  Perpetrator or Victim.  Of what we originally thought persecuted meant.  
No need to go further – we’re “confirmed”.

If you’re still with me here on the definitions, here’s the next, and final, entry

  1. a program or campaign to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate people based on their membership in a religious, ethnic, social, or racial group

Exterminate – drive away – or subjugate.

The quote talks about violent persecution.

We tend to think about exterminate – or at least do something violent.
We tend to not think about “drive away” or “subjugate”.

The question is – why not?

Why are we so narrow in our thinking about what persecution is about?

Don’t believe what I just said is true?

I Googled the word persecution.
Other than definitions, here’s what came up at the beginning of my search results –

  • voice of the martyrs.  Death.
  • Christian persecution worldwide.  Each month – 322 Christians killed, 214 churches destroyed, 722 instances of beatings, abductions, rapes, Etc. All violent.
  •  Persecution of Christians claims more than 150,000 lives each year. Death.
  • Christianity Today – verbal harassment to violence.  Finally – they got it right.
  • more on Martyrs. Death

What was the first instance of the word “persecuted”?

While we will most certainly find the word “persecuted” in our Bibles today, the word didn’t actually come into existence until somewhere between 1300 and 1350.
That begs the question – what was the intent of the word when the original authors wrote something that we started to translate as persecuted?

The very first time something is translated as “persecute” predates Jesus, so it obviously wasn’t about Christianity.
It comes in Deuteronomy, after Moses has led the people away from the slavery imposed on them by Pharaoh in Egypt.  It’s part of the renewal of God’s covenant with His people –

Prosperity After Turning to the LORD

Dt 30:1 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. 7 The LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. 8 You will again obey the LORD and follow all his commands I am giving you today. 9 Then the LORD your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers, 10 if you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

(emphasis added to make the word easy to find)

We see God telling His people that their enemies will persecute them.  
But did God mean that those enemies were going to kill the people and do violent things?  Or did He mean something else?

If we look up the word, for context, we see –

7291 רָדַף [radaph /raw·daf/] v. A primitive root; TWOT 2124; GK 8103; 143 occurrences; AV translates as “pursue” 74 times, “persecute” 20 times, “follow” 18 times, “chase” 13 times, “persecutors” seven times, “pursuer” six times, “follow after” once, “flight” once, and translated miscellaneously three times. 1 to be behind, follow after, pursue, persecute, run after. 1A (Qal). 1A1 to pursue, put to flight, chase, dog, attend closely upon. 1A2 to persecute, harass (fig). 1A3 to follow after, aim to secure (fig). 1A4 to run after (a bribe) (fig). 1B (Niphal). 1B1 to be pursued. 1B2 one pursued (participle). 1C (Piel) to pursue ardently, aim eagerly to secure, pursue. 1D (Pual) to be pursued, be chased away. 1E (Hiphil) to pursue, chase.  [1]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

There are quite a few choices there – including that wonderful one of circular definitions, where we see persecute defined as persecute.  The key is though – persecute is a whole lot more than just killing, or even violence.  In fact, more than three quarters of the time that this Hebrew word translated as “persecute” is used in the Old Testament – the intent was for it to mean something along the lines of “to pursue, follow after”.  Not killing and violence.

We can see – like so many other words, persecute has really lost it’s meaning.  It’s not in the usual way, where things get watered down to the point where they don’t mean anything.  

This one has lost it’s meaning to the point where what would have been considered persecution in the Bible would today just be considered ordinary behavior.
Yes – we have sunk so low that what we do to each other every single day and consider it to be just people being people would have been considered persecution in Biblical times.  Or – in many cases – we call it “comedy”.  Satire.  Even “art”.  Certainly “freedom of speech”.  

But God would very like call it persecution.  Because the purpose behind a lot of our comedy, art, and free speech is to drive people away from Him.

What does that do to your thinking about the opening quote now?

What is the purpose of persecution?

We can learn something else from the verses in Deuteronomy, on top of what the word means.
If you look close enough – you’ll see that the persecutors are also the persecuted.  If that’s not clear yet – it should be by the end.

The goal of persecution in Deuteronomy was to get the people to turn away from God.

If we look at persecution as killing – we can lose sight of that.  We could look at it as punishment – kill the person for what they believe.  But it’s more.  It’s also to try to get others from believing that same thing.  In the case of Deuteronomy – the people were supposed to learn that God did save them from Pharaoh – and that He can also save them in the future, as long as the people follow Him.  The enemies of God’s people learned a similar lesson – if they can get God’s people to turn away from Him, then they can defeat God’s people, again.

If we look at the first time Jesus used the word persecute (NIV), we see –

Mt 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Since the NT is from Greek, let’s see what it means here –

1377 διώκω [dioko /dee·o·ko/] v. A prolonged (and causative) form of a primary verb dio (to flee, cf the base of 1169 and 1249); TDNT 2:229; TDNTA 177; GK 1503; 44 occurrences; AV translates as “persecute” 28 times, “follow after” six times, “follow” four times, “suffer persecution” three times, and translated miscellaneously three times. 1 to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away. 2 to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after. 2A to press on: figuratively of one who in a race runs swiftly to reach the goal. 2B to pursue (in a hostile manner). 3 in any way whatever to harass, trouble, molest one. 3A to persecute. 3B to be mistreated, suffer persecution on account of something. 4 without the idea of hostility, to run after, follow after: someone. 5 metaph., to pursue. 5A to seek after eagerly, earnestly endeavour to acquire.  [2]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

As with the Hebrew, most of the times a word is translated to “persecute”, it is intended to mean something along the lines of pursue.  About 40% of the time.
Also note – it’s not just about killing and violence.

Let’s look at another word here – one that has the same effect as “persecute”, in the sense of pursuing someone with the intent of having them abandon what they had previously believed.  For example – to get them to abandon God, as was the case in Deuteronomy.  As was the case for those who Jesus was addressing in Matthew 5:11.

That word is “tempt”.

Since we’re talking Biblical terms here, let’s see the definition from the very un-Biblical Concise Oxford Dictionary –

tempt – verb
1 entice (someone) to do something against their better judgement.
2 persuade (someone) to do something; attract.  [3]Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (Eds.). (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.


At least it should be interesting.  Extremely interesting!

Death and violence as persecution?

Yes – death and violence are used as tools of persecution.  
But does that mean they are actually the most effective means?

Below is a quote from C S Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, where a demon is writing about the effects of war in the effort of the demons to turn people away from God –

Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy’s party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition! And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.  [4]Lewis, C. S.. The Screwtape Letters (pp. 23-24). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

C S Lewis had this incredible understanding of what we are like – the things that impact our lives, our faith, our fears, Etc.  And look at what he wrote for his demon, Screwtape, regarding the best way to tempt us and the problems of too much fear –

One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless.

So while violence and fear may be the weapons of choice today – contented worldliness is more likely to get to us.

We don’t live in a world like it was in the days of Moses.  Cities and principalities don’t go around slaughtering each other, in most parts of the world.  Yes – they do in some – but even there, are they effective?  When ISIS captures people, do they convert to Islam – or do they die?  They die!  The attempt to get them to abandon Jesus fails.  That kind of persecution may scare some – but ultimately it fails.

A different kind of persecution is needed for many parts of the world today.

But before going there, we need one more piece of information.

Who is the target of persecution?

People always wonder why bad things happen to “good” people.
I have wondered why so many bad things happen to me.  And I don’t even consider myself good.

See my article – Why do bad things happen to good people?

I started wondering about that again after what Dewey went through.

But then – I’m not worth persecuting.
Like – what have I done that would catch the attention of Satan that he would be so bent on persecuting me?
And it’s for sure that I’m not in some Job situation where God’s holding me in front of Satan talking about how upright I am.

So I figure it’s just life and when is God going to put an end to it?

You – yes you – are the target of persecution

Yeah.  I really meant that heading.

You are the target of persecution.

I don’t care who you are.  You are a target.

Maybe you’re Christian.  Maybe Muslim.  Maybe Hindu.  Maybe atheist.  You are a target of persecution.

Let’s go back to the purpose of persecution.  It’s not to kill you.  It’s not to torture you.  It’s to pursue you – to harass you – until you are beyond ever wanting to follow God.  That, of course, is when you’re dead.  But the goal is to keep you from God.  Period.  End of discussion.  
If you’ve already turned away from Him – you’re more than a target – you’re a victim.  A success.  And the goal is to keep you that way.
If you’re following a false religion – you’re also more than a target – you’re a victim.  A success.  And the goal is to keep it that way.


Let’s go back to the origin of all this.  Why is there persecution?  Why is there tempting?

Well, it starts here –

Isa 14:12 How you have fallen from heaven,
O morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
Isa 14:13 You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.
Isa 14:14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
Isa 14:15 But you are brought down to the grave,
to the depths of the pit.

Satan was cast from Heaven, for trying to have a coup against God, with a third of the angels following him.
Obviously – it failed.
For reasons that we don’t currently understand, Satan was cast down to earth.

And now – Satan’s goal – since he cannot be forgiven – is to get us to the point where we refuse to be forgiven.

Satan is going to the lake of fire.  And he wants us to go with him.

Do you believe that?
First – do you believe that Satan is going to end up in the lake of fire?
Second – do you believe that some of us are also going to be there?
Third – do you believe that God created the lake of fire to punish people?
Finally – do you believe that Satan’s goal is to get you to go with him?

There’s a progression in what I just asked.

And, not surprisingly, all of those questions are answered by Jesus – in one verse!
Yes – one verse.
It’s in the middle of a parable – the one about the sheep and the goats.
Maybe you know the parable.
But do you remember verse 41?

The Sheep and the Goats

Mt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Mt 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Mt 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
Mt 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Mt 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
Mt 25:44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
Mt 25:45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Mt 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Yeah – Satan is going there.  And he knows it.
And it’s not like he wants to go alone.  
And it’s not like he cares about you.
While some people do worship Satan, his goal isn’t that – his goal is merely to turn you away from God.  Any way he can.
Because his goal is to hurt God.  To get to Him by getting to us.

God could force is to follow Him.  But He values free will – our free will.

And so He gave us an offer of salvation and an offer to return to Him, via the death of Jesus.

But it’s up to us.

If we choose to not accept the offer –
then we go with Satan to-

the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels

Yes – prepared for the devil and his angels.  
It wasn’t prepared for you.

No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done – it wasn’t prepared for you.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t go there, if you choose to.


Living in a culture where violent persecution is almost unknown, multitudes who call themselves Christians seem to have forgotten what faithfulness to the truth often costs.

And that’s because we don’t know what persecution is – why it exists – who is doing it – what the goal is – pretty much nothing.

We feel like if it’s not violent and deadly – then it’s not persecution.
Let me rephrase that – if it’s not physically violent and deadly.
But is psychological violence really any different?  
And, as I mentioned earlier – what of the drip – drip – drip, as compared to acts of violence?   Are they any less damaging to us?

And if it’s not violent and deadly – then it’s “just life”.

If it’s not violent and deadly – then there’s no impact.

But it is persecution – it isn’t “just life” – and there’s a huge impact.  One that lasts forever.

So remember – you are a target of persecution.
Even if you are a persecutor – you are also among the persecuted.  You just don’t realize that you’ve been persecuted so much that you’ve fallen victim to it, and – like Satan, don’t want to be there alone.  You’re bringing others with you.  And like you to be with Satan – away from God.  And, worst of all, you don’t even know it.

We need to know it.
And we need to not fall for it.

Whether it’s the violent and deadly kind of persecution –
or if it’s like the slow drip -drip – drip of Chinese water torture –
you are a target.

I leave you with one last thought from C S Lewis –

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. The sort of script which is used in this book can be very easily obtained by anyone who has once learned the knack; but ill-disposed or excitable people who might make a bad use of it shall not learn it from me.  [5]Lewis, C. S.. The Screwtape Letters . HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

So be aware – but don’t go overboard about it.


the quote and info on the book are available at —



1, 2Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
3Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (Eds.). (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
4Lewis, C. S.. The Screwtape Letters (pp. 23-24). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
5Lewis, C. S.. The Screwtape Letters . HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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