Understanding Persecution: Part 1 Beware the Rise of the Spirit of Saul
(Ver 1.1) What a strange title for a Bible study? What could this possibly mean to us here in this modern world? Who was Saul? What is this spirit of Saul reference? I was recently awakened in the middle of the night at exactly 3 AM and suddenly these words arose up in my spirit saying “Beware the rise of the spirit of Saul”. Then Bible verses came to my memory about this actual historical man named Saul and this Bible lesson is the result of my middle of the night awakening. I believe this message was from God speaking to us all a warning according to His stated works in John 16:13. I believe God was informing us of a coming resurgence of an old spiritual force that persecuted the early church and I believe it will become as “great as” or even greater than what the early church encountered and endured. I believe that it is obvious that this is the increasing trend and movement found within the present unsaved world, all those living in darkness (Eph 2:2).
Modern unsaved people living in the world today are identical to all others that came before them. They are all opening a door to allow the repeat of a pattern of ignorance that causes them to not comprehend the difference between that which is called “good” or that which is called “evil”. In them there is no understanding or acknowledgement of who or what represents the true God of good or who or what represents the false deceiving god of evil (Satan). That which God called evil in His Word is being tremendously magnified and exalted by the unsaved world to be called normal and good and everything that God called “good” is being called evil at the same time (Isa 5:20). Anyone that speaks against what is called evil by God is being persecuted and called a bigoted intolerant hate monger. What a sad condition the world has fallen into and I believe by observation that it is getting worse.
Today Christians that are simply speaking the truth in love warning those that are on the way to hell are being labeled as evil. This must break the heart of God greatly and we will see an example of this in the lesson. If you knew that the highway that you were traveling on had a major bridge on it and that it had just collapsed, would you not try to stop everyone that was about to fall to their death because of the deep drop off? The drivers of the cars on the road at night are about to die because of their ignorance and inability to see the truth. Wouldn’t you warn them? That is what every mature believing Christian is faced with today. We can shut up and be silent or we can cry out and try to save them. It is our choice but any warning given may be ridiculed and laughed at by those being warned because probably most will not believe it.
Jesus gave us many warnings about these end times before His return to the earth. One warning to us was very clear when He said “As it was in the days of Noah and of Lot so shall it also be again in the days right before the coming of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:26-30). I am very sure that this statement describes the exact days that we live in right now. It is by no chance or accident that Jesus (God in the Flesh) chose these two biblical events to describe the times directly before His return (2 Peter 2:5-6). However, that is really not what this Bible lesson message is concerning directly. The message of Noah’s flood and Sodom’s destruction is however an indirect applicable truth to this lesson of warning about the subject of coming persecution. Noah was laughed at and the angels in Sodom were commanded to come out and have sex with the men. How appropriate are these two witnesses of truth?
Introduction to the Spirit of Saul
Let us now get to God’s basic message concerning the “spirit of Saul” warning spoken to me. The main subject of today’s lesson is concerning the theme of persecution. We will be looking at this subject from at least three or four different perspectives. The first perspective is that of the persecutor. The second perspective is that of the Almighty God. The third perspective of persecution will be driven from the one being persecuted and these are Christians. And the final perspective introduced today is that of the enemy Satan..
- The Persecutor’s Perspective
- Almighty God’s Perspective
- The Persecuted Church’s Perspective
- Satan’s Perspective
We will similarly be addressing basic definitions and questions concerning this very important and timely subject. We will also look for scriptural answers in the Bible for why persecution occurs and who is ultimately behind it all. As part of the study we will briefly introduce why God allows persecution to occur and see what His attitude and response was in the past and could be again today since we know God does not change (Malachi 3:6). As a final part of the Christian perspective discussion in today’s lesson we will introduce how a Christian’s expectations should already be preset before this persecution occurs to them. Please don’t be surprise when God warns us that persecution will occur if we are living for God and obeying His Word and boldly declaring His truth in love to the lost and dying world.
2Ti 3:12 Yea, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
God promises us that we will be persecuted if we are living for Him and following after Christ’s example. It would be wise based upon these words to check if you are being persecuted. If you are not I would then check to see if you are following Jesus. In Luke chapter 21 Jesus informs us of the coming end of the age describing wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines that are already occurring and then in verse 12 Jesus said before the end of all these things you will be persecuted. Jesus’ warning to us in the Gospels is just another witness to the message that I heard from God personally.
Bible basics teach us that humans are designed by our creator God as a triune being made in the image of the Almighty God. A human is a freewill spirit being that possesses a soul (a mind, a will and our emotions) that lives in mortal human body (1 Thes 5:23). However, this spirit of Saul warning was not a warning that the natural man Saul written about in the Bible will return to the earth because that would violate scriptures and make God a liar (Heb 9:27). Therefore, we need to learn more about what the message could mean by rightly dividing the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15). We will however, briefly study the life of Saul to learn from it the persecutor’s perspective and I will begin by reading a verse concerning the stoning death of Stephen in the early church description found in Acts 7.
Act 7:58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.
Please allow me to provide a very quick overview of the context of this verse so we can better understand this part of the message. The context actually begins back in chapter 6 and it is a story concerning a Christian man named Stephen. He was ministering to people and doing many signs, wonders and miracles the same as Jesus did before him here on the earth. It is important to know that Stephen was not one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus yet he did the same types of miraculous works as Jesus did. I find that fact very important and fascinating as many in the church today teach miracles passed away with the death of the 12 disciples. Oh well? Oh Lord, please help us all to see the truth.
These supernatural miraculous works done by God through Stephen were not well received because of the accompanying message being preached concerning salvation only through faith in Jesus Christ who was recently condemned to death by a similar type of court with made up evidence that Stephen stood before. Men from the synagogue accused Stephen of blasphemy and soon he was on trial before the leadership of the Jewish synagogue. It is during this trial that Stephen gives a great overview of the Old Testament and how it applies to the gospel message of Jesus Christ. However, this message was not well received either. The Jewish leaders refused to listen and stopped up their ears and then took up stones to kill Stephen. Stephen sees a vision of heaven while being stoned of Jesus standing at the right hand of God as they hurl their deadly stones. That brings us now to verse 58 which was just quoted.
This verse 58 is the first time that the name “Saul” is mentioned in the N.T. The Hebrew name Saul occurs approximately 26 times in the book of Acts alone. This N.T. Saul is the exact same Hebrew name as the first king of the O.T. nation of Israel. By the number of mentions in the book of Acts we can easily see that the man Saul was a very prominent figure to learn about and learn from. We learn from reading the N.T. that Saul was a young devout religious man and a very self-righteous zealot man during this time of the birth of the church in the first 8 chapters of Acts. We can learn more about the background of this man named Saul by reading in his writings because he wrote nearly 2/3 of the N.T.:
Php 3:4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:
Php 3:5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
Php 3:6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
Reading here Saul/Paul claims to be of a very noble stock of the natural nation of Israel. He was circumcised according to Mosaic Law on the 8th day after his birth. He was by no doubt raised in a very strict home that observed all of the Jewish Holy days, laws and Sabbaths. He also must have spent a very significant time in reading the Law of Moses growing up in the strict order to become a Pharisee. I can speculate that Saul must have thought very highly of himself, during this time and he must have been very proud of his learned position of authority. However, if we read in Proverbs 16:18 we see a verse that Saul appears to have possibly ignored. This verse says “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall”.
We can learn while studying his life that Saul spent a great amount of his time persecuting, hunting down, imprisoning and even killing any of those that confessed faith in Jesus Christ. However, was this natural man named Saul the actual main source of the problem of the persecution to the church? Could there have been a greater force of influential power behind this evil man persuading and even controlling his thoughts and actions? I believe according to the future writings of this man named Saul there was certainly a much greater spiritual force that helped influence him to do all this evil to other people on the earth. Let’s read one verse to confirm this reality:
Eph 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
What we must glean in the beginning of this lesson is that physical natural people that are persecuting us are not our real problem even though it looks like it on the visible surface. Saul/Paul in this verse teaches us that Christians are not at odds with anyone of the divinely created flesh and blood design order. However, he does reveal very clearly earlier in this chapter that we are at war and he names the enemy here in verse 12 of Ephesians 6 to be hidden unseen spiritual forces and the evil invisible rulers of this present world that rule the kingdom of darkness. This truth will become considerably more important as we continue this lesson to learn how we should react to persecution. This information helps to better comprehend who and what the “spirit of Saul” is referring to in the warning. I am completely convinced that the “spirit of Saul” reference on the rise in our world is a reference to Satan our adversary and all of his demonic followers. Let’s review what we should have just learned in this section:
- People Persecute Other People
- We Will Be Persecuted if We Live Right
- We are at War
- It Appears That Humans are Our Enemies
- But, Our Actual Enemy is Not a Human
- We are at War With Unseen Spiritual Beings
- These Invisible Spiritual Beings Influence Humans To Do Evil
Persecuting the Church Today is still the same as Personally Persecuting Jesus
If the naturally born Hebrew man named Saul was not the real problem being spoken of by the LORD, why would God say “Beware the return of the spirit of Saul” to us? The answer to that question is because as we should have learned that unseen spirit beings are at the root of every seen evil event occurring in the world. I am convinced that the natural man Saul was not who the early church was wresting against based upon what he later wrote in Ephesians 6. However, why would a man do something so evil and suddenly then change and not do it anymore? That is a really good and important question. I believe the answer to that is that the natural man Saul was unmistakably a very deceived man who bought into and believed in so many lies given to him from the real enemy Satan. I believe the natural man Saul was doing what he thought was right in his own blinded mind (2 Cor 4:4) and was performing what he thought was pleasing towards God even though what he was doing against Christians on the earth was very wrong and taken very personally by Jesus. Let’s continue reading additional truth in the book of Acts about the death of Stephen:
Act 7:56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
These are some of the last recorded words spoken by Stephen the first martyr of the early church to his murderers and they reveal how their wrong actions were being received by the LORD Jesus. Please notice when reading this verse that in Colossians 3:1, Paul teaches us that the LORD Jesus ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God in heaven but here in this recorded vision of heaven Jesus is intentionally standing up on his feet observing the wrong being done to his servant Stephen. Wow this verse speaks literal volumes to me. Jesus showed such great love and concern for what is happening to Stephen that He makes the personal choice to stand up from His seated position of rest and authority to welcome Stephen into His spiritual realm presence. I believe that this position of Jesus standing teaches us that Jesus wanted to do more to stop it from occurring but did not again by choice. You might remember that later Paul formerly Saul would teach us “to be absent from the body is to be present with the LORD” (2 Cor 5:8). Therefore, when Stephen was killed, his spirit immediately departed his physical body to be in the presence of Jesus where Jesus was personally standing up to observe and welcome him into heaven.
Since the murder of Stephen there have been countless numbers of other Christ followers that have been killed and have gone to be with the LORD simply because of their beliefs in Jesus. No actual crime was necessary for either Stephen or any other saint to be persecuted with evil acts. We should learn from “how was Stephen persecuted” in order to know what to expect again today. If you read the context of the chapter you will find that leaders gathered false witnesses to accuse Stephen (Acts 6:13-14). These false accusers used the semblance of law and order to justify their evil done to others. They were clearly disobeying their laws by speaking their lies and perjuring themselves before man and God but in their minds they were justified to do so. I recently learned this is taking place in people in Islam. They are taught that it is permitted for them to lie to others in the world in order to promote the greater cause of spreading Islam. This is clearly of demonic influence since the Bible teaches Christians that “all liars will have their part in the lake of fire” (Rev 21:8).
This is what is coming now to Christians here in this world whether you believe it or not. It is already occurring in many nations of the world right now. Terrorists kill many people just because they are Christian. Islamic governments and their extremist religious people of that nation are persecuting, imprisoning, torturing and killing Christians daily. Communist nations also throw into prisons people who are reading their Bibles and being a Christian that walks in love trying to save others from hell. Who could have seen all of this coming? I believe only Jesus and this is why the warning is being given to us today. Let’s please continue reading in the book of Acts:
Act 8:1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Act 8:2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
Act 8:3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
Act 8:4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.
The Greek word G4909 that was translated as “consented” in Acts 8:1 is a word that means Saul was “very pleased” by the murder of Stephen. In fact this Greek word implies that Saul took great pleasure in watching Stephen die. The zealot Saul after the death of Stephen then takes out after other Christians to do the same with them. Saul is very intent upon forcing his will and reason upon everyone that is preaching Jesus to be the only way. This is a very common motivation for persecution. The demand is frequently made to Christians to deny the Lord Jesus Christ, convert or die.
Look at Acts 8:3 and notice what begins to happen to the Church of Jesus Christ. Both men and women were taken to prison just for being a professing Christian. Also notice in this chapter the complete removal of basic human rights of privacy by the people committing these evil acts. Acts 8:3 tells us clearly that there was a house to house search for Christians done by Saul. This is exactly what is about to happen and even has started to shine on the horizon here in America. For example, there have been Christian people who refused to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples because of their beliefs in God, Jesus, the TRUTH of the Bible and they have spent time in jail. I believe the house to house search for Christians will also come as the world continues to slip into greater realms of deceived darkness. It already has taken place in other nations.
Act 9:1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
Act 9:2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
Act 9:3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
Act 9:4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
Act 9:5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Saul continued speaking his great threats of violence directed at and towards all Christians. He began moving out of the city of Jerusalem to other nearby regions. Notice that the persecution taking place was with the authority of the law givers and administrators. Wow, is this not happening now? Law givers and judges in America are making so many decisions that violate the Truth of the Word of God that it is literally shocking to me. Evil now is prevailing by the misguided interpretation of the law and the wrong definition of what is good vs. evil. Watch for laws to continue to come to support this evil behavior. Watch for the removal of basic human rights that have been guaranteed up until this point in time.
Saul was on the road to a city named Damascus in these verses of chapter 9 of Acts to bring about more evil in the name of good. However, things this time didn’t go so well for Saul’s way when the LORD interrupted his journey with a very personal touch and a very strong message of truth. Instantly a great light shown down from heaven and a powerful voice came down clearly saying to Saul alone “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me”. As in the death of Stephen again we can recognize how Jesus was taking personal notice of what was being done to Christians by this natural man named Saul. We can learn a very important lesson from these awesome words of truth. The first thing that we should have just learned from reading these verses is that coming against any Christian for any negative reason is the exact same thing as coming against the risen divine LORD Jesus Christ. The second thing that we should have just learned from this is that Jesus takes these acts of evil personally. Why does Jesus take persecuting a Christian the same as persecuting Him? Saul/Paul clearly writes to us later in the New Testament and informs us in 1 Corinthians 12:7 that “Christians here in this world are the body of Christ”. Natural people who choose to persecute Christians must learn and realize before it is too late that it is not wise to come against Jesus’ body here on the earth. Jesus Christ is a far greater Spiritual Force than the spiritual force that is tricking them to do this evil (1 Jn 4:4). Wow, I do not believe that very many people understand this truth yet.
I will go further and also say that this revealed truth is true regardless of your salvation state, being either saved or unsaved. If you are not a Christian and you are persecuting a Christian mentally, physically, emotionally, legally or verbally you are coming against the greatest spiritual force of power which is much greater than you can possibly imagine. My point is that this same message of warning is true for a Christian that comes against other Christians as it is for an unbeliever to come against a believer. This is still true even though you may believe that you are totally right and they are totally teaching false doctrines that you do not believe in. Let’s review a summary of the major points in this section of the lesson:
- Persecutors believe they are doing “good” in their own minds.
- Persecutors are very pleased when they are victorious over and even cause the death of a Christian.
- Persecutors are deceived people that believe they are good and Christians are evil.
- Persecutors obviously do not believe, know or understand that they are deceived.
- Persecutors will use the law to back their agenda of persecution.
- Persecutors love to force their will and beliefs upon others.
- Persecutors feel justified to do evil because their rule of law is in agreement with them.
- Persecutors will use lies and break laws if there is a greater good for the expansion of their beliefs to occur.
- Persecutor’s goals are the complete removal of all Christian freedoms and privacy and eventually the end of all Christians.
- God takes note and watches all persecution that occurs to the Church.
- God takes all human persecution of the church personally.
- God says to persecutors coming against the church “Why are you persecuting me?”
- A Christian is the Body of Christ on the earth.
- Anyone persecuting a Christian is persecuting the LORD personally.
- A Christian when killed by persecution goes to be with the LORD instantly.
- Christians will be persecuted falsely without doing any evil.
THE CONVERSION OF SAUL THE PERSECUTOR
God showed the evil man Saul some very great mercy by appearing to him on the road to Damascus. Paul the former Saul will forever be grateful for the exceeding great compassion given to him. While I believe it is within God’s power and ability for the Lord Jesus to do this with everyone that persecutes His body, I do not believe that He will and I may try to talk about this later but if not you will have to wait for another opportunity for me to try to explain why the Lord may not come down to save you from every evil doer on the planet personally. We should have learned this truth when reading about the death of Stephen.
Act 9:5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Act 9:6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
I personally believe from understanding Romans 10:9-10 that Saul became a Christian falling on his knees on the road to Damascus. I hope you understand how you and I became a Christian. To be saved we must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that God raised the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead after being crucified and buried 3 days and we must then confess Him as our LORD and Saul certainly did both of these while on the road to Damascus. We can confirm this belief simply by reading Acts 9:17 when God sends a disciple named Ananias to Saul for him to receive his sight and to be filled with the Spirit of God. Upon entering the house where Saul was waiting, Ananias calls the man Saul his spiritual brother and this is only possible and true if Saul has already received the Spirit of God being born again on the road to Damascus. Therefore, Saul became exactly what he was fighting against and persecuting and that was very fortunate for him.
1Co 15:8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
God gives us another quick confirmation for what was just taught concerning Saul’s salvation on the road to Damascus written directly from the hand of Paul. Here in this chapter and verse Paul tells us about several others seeing Jesus personally after His resurrection. Then Saul says that he also saw him providing us an incredible revelation that he was then reborn “abnormally” during this encounter. Saul was speaking of his spiritual rebirth (John 3:3) but I do not have the time to explain all of this more fully in this lesson. Please just accept the facts that 1) Jesus appears to Saul, 2) Saul asks who he was, 3) Jesus identifies Himself, and 4) Saul then believes what he heard and acknowledges Him as his LORD and that was the definition of an abnormal spiritual rebirth.
We are extremely blessed to have Saul the former evil persecutor of Christians become a Christ follower. After his salvation, Saul was given such great revelation from Jesus Christ of the Truth. Saul would go on in his life of Christian ministry to write approximately 2/3 of the New Testament. I believe that without Saul’s conversion that we would not have all of the information that we needed for us to be victorious Christians. I know that this salvation of a persecutor seems to be off the mainline subject but I believe it is very important to know as a Christian. Let’s look at some writings of Saul/Paul and learn from him what he thought of this great transformation that he experienced:
1Ti 1:12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;
1Ti 1:13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
1Ti 1:14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
1Ti 1:15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
We can learn the most valuable information concerning a persecutor’s perspective by reading the N.T. since Paul was a former persecutor and he writes about it. As we can read in verse 12, Paul is so very thankful. Here is a man that has now realized that he was headed for an eternal existence of pain and suffering in hell but now suddenly has been given the free gift of eternal life, a purpose and a new destiny. I can identify with Saul’s heartfelt change. I know I am also eternally grateful for the free gift of God’s salvation and I know I don’t deserve it and neither did Saul. We are all sinners (Rom 3:23) and deserve hell but God paid the penalty price for our sins (2 Cor 5:21). Thank you Jesus!
Paul lists just a few of his guilty sins in verse 13 that he was personally participating in while persecuting Christians. Let’s go through these to better understand the dramatic change that took place in the heart of Saul. The first sin listed was Saul calling himself a “blasphemer” and this is a Greek word that reveals significant amounts of new information that we should learn from. According to the Strong’s definition of G989 translated as “blasphemer” it means to be scurrilous towards someone. This word scurrilous has the following dictionary definition:
Scurrilous : making or spreading scandalous claims about someone with the intention of damaging their reputation
This is exactly what Saul was doing to the early church. He used the words of his mouth to slander, accuse, condemn and judge the church falsely. But even though Saul thought he was fighting against evil human people that were deceived, Jesus informed Saul that He was blaspheming against God personally. This is pretty amazing information and I pray that it will hopefully cause someone to shut their mouth when speaking against Christians.
However, this Greek word G989 has some deeper more specific meanings for sinning against God with the words coming out of our mouths. Remember what Acts 8:1 and Acts 9:1 said that we looked at earlier? Acts 8:1 used the word that was translated as “consented”. This implies that Saul consented to words of others spoken against Stephen in addition to the actual murder of Stephen. Saul did both of these willingly, physically, emotionally, mentally as well as verbally as both a willing direct instigator and participant and as an indirect accessory that watched others cast the stones. These represent sins of both commission and omission.
Acts 9:1 is much clearer when it informed us that Saul spoke direct “threats” against Jesus and His body and this is a strong example of what blasphemy is defined to be in the Bible. I personally believe that a man or woman on the earth that speaks against a preacher or prophet of God or even just against one of God’s children is risking great consequences and danger if they do not repent like Saul did and change. Jesus will certainly take all of these words personally either now in this world or later at judgment day. Words have power and words have consequences.
The second sin that Paul lists is being a “persecutor” of the church, which is the body of Christ. This Greek word translated as “persecutor” means someone who is in pursuit of another. However, this type of pursuit can not be for the good of the individual(s) being pursued as revealed to us by God in the passages we read about Saul in Acts chapters 7, 8 and 9. Let’s quickly examine some synonyms for the word “persecute”. Persecute is the same as words like “oppress”, “abuse”, “accuse”, “condemn”, “ill-treatment”, “torment”, “torture”, “martyr” and others could be added and we get this idea of truth because these are exactly what Saul did to the Christian members in the early church. It is very important to note that Saul thought that what he was doing was what was right and good in the eyes of God and the government leadership of that day.
The third sin listed by Paul in verse 13 is “injurious” and this again is synonymous with the word persecute. Being injurious was a further explanation for what great evil sin he was guilty of. I believe this word literally means physical injuries were taking place upon men and women in the name of good. However, this word can also mean a verbal assault as well as a physical assault. I am convinced that doing any Christian hurt and harm physically, mentally or emotionally is equivalent to the abuse and persecution of Jesus Christ that the Jews did to Him personally when they crucified Him on the cross in the eyes of God.
If we continue to read past Saul’s list of sins in verse 13 we will observe Saul’s stated appreciation for the Lord’s mercy being provided to him. Saul informs us that he received mercy instead of what he should have been given. Wow, that is the amazing love of God being displayed to a very deceived and evil man.
Did you also notice in this written passage that Saul declared why he was given this great mercy from God? Why was this unthinkable mercy available to Saul even after all he had done? Why was the judgment of the Almighty God not immediately given to Saul? Why instead was mercy given? Paul tells us the answers in verse 13 that God’s mercy was available to him because of his own great “ignorance” of the truth.
This revelation of mercy based upon ignorance reveals so very much to us about God, people who persecute the church and about the Christian people who are being persecuted. According to God’s inspired Holy Word written through Paul, his ignorance and his unbelief were two of the main reasons that the church was then being persecuted and I believe these are the two main reasons the church is still going to be persecuted today.
Even though Saul was a very learned and educated man, he was extremely ignorant of the truth that really mattered. Yet Saul did not know how ignorant he was while he was sinning killing Stephen. Please understand that no one that is ever deceived believes that they are deceived. This is impossible simply because of the existence of their ignorance of the truth. That is everyone’s problem “we simply don’t know what we don’t know yet”. That is the mysterious advantage of the deceiver Satan. Satan uses the weapon of human ignorance to destroy us (Hosea 4:6). Satan can present enough lies with some basic mixed truth to allow a human to think that they are doing good for God when they are actually doing the evil plan that Satan desires them to do. Satan is a revealed master deceiver (Rev 12:9)
Persecutors justify their evil actions in their minds overruling the evidence for clear evil acts with the belief that they are doing a greater good for a higher power of authority. Recently here in North Carolina, USA we have been in the news around the world because our state passed a law that disallowed men from going into women’s restrooms and women from going into men’s restrooms. This law was designed to protect innocent children from predators. Yet, North Carolina has been accused of being biased, prejudiced, intolerant, discriminatory, bigoted and even hate filled towards a select few people who demand the right to go into any restroom that they sexually currently “identify” with. Wow, where has truth gone? Absolute truth, reason and morality have certainly passed highly over the minds of everyone that has been protesting against the law. All of these deceived people are extremely ignorant of God’s truth. We should ask ourselves a simple basic question, if truth is based simply upon how someone thinks and feels today; how and when will truth all change when they think and feel differently tomorrow? Where do we ever draw the line of absolute? It sounds like a constant moving target. If we change the line of truth drawn today that was established then tomorrow it will become even more distant away from the standard of truth tomorrow. I could teach an entire series on this but this is not the subject and I will not go there today.
Saul did such significant evil and justified it because he believed he was knowledgeable, correct and backed by the law. Saul was greatly deceived into believing in their popular religious human traditions. Satan filled the mind of Saul with replacement knowledge that sounded good to him. However, it was still Saul’s ignorance of the actual truth that caused him to carry out the will and plan of Satan. Once Saul came to the saving knowledge of the truth, suddenly the thoughts he had as a persecutor were gone. Wow, that is good news for persecutor’s today. There remains hope for everyone to be saved.
Just as Satan influenced and controlled the unsaved people like Saul nearly two thousand years ago to persecute the church, this is the same warning being given to us today. The spirit of Saul (Satan) is still at work in people today and these deceived people will rise up and begin to persecute the church with increasing enthusiasm before Jesus returns. It has already started and we can clearly learn this from the Spirit of God’s message of warning or we can remain an ostrich Christian and bury our heads in the sand and choose to ignore it pretending it is not happening. I would recommend that we do not ignore it or pretend that it is not happening already.
I personally expect some very negative comments for the truth that I published today. You will receive the same soon if you are speaking the truth to anyone in the world today concerning their life style personal choices. The spirit of Saul is alive and well on the planet.
Hos 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.
Did you know that God allows people to be ignorant, wrong and to even do evil and sin? This truth has always been an extreme mystery in the minds of many Christians “Why doesn’t God stop all of this evil?” This would take another series of lesson’s to explain this to you today. Therefore, I will leave that to another day also. But we must at least first begin to understand that God does allow evil to occur in the world and is not the one that is causing it to occur and we can simply learn this truth by reading the story of the stoning of Stephen in Acts. Jesus was found standing at the right hand of God observing the evil being done and did nothing to cause it or to stop it. Wow, that boggles the mind of many religious people in the world. I believe that God’s passive observation made it appear to Saul that he was doing what God desires and that He is for them and it temporarily reinforces their wrong behavior. However, the wages of their sin will still overcome them and they will be judged for what they have done on the earth according to the truth found in the Bible. The main point in this paragraph is that God will allow this persecution to continue so we better learn it is coming.
I have talked briefly about the persecutor’s reasoning and justification for persecuting the church as well as the superior divine perspective on the persecution situation to allow it to occur. Now in conclusion I want to speak to the church’s reaction to this coming persecution. What was the reaction to this evil in the early church and what will probably happen in these end times? I believe that the early church’s reaction was both natural and supernatural.
Act 8:4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.
Reread Acts 8:4. God reveals to us all the two fold reaction to the great havoc being perpetrated upon the church. First notice the fact that it did not stop the Gospel from being preached. It did however cause the people to scatter. What does scatter mean? This Greek word is a based upon a farming concept of “sowing” seed. This is a great revelation since it is concerning the “Word” of God being spread to the entire world. Remember when Jesus taught the parable of the Sower in Mark 4? The sower sowed the Word of God. The seed being sown was God’s Word and this is the only thing possible today in the world that can save people and turn them from hell.
The end result of persecution in the early church was a greater spread of the Word of God, an explosion of salvations in many new locations and this is exactly what will happen today in the end of the church age.
The Greek word translated as “preaching” in this verse is a word that means “to announce good news” to someone. What kind of person would still be trying their best to preach the good news of God’s salvation to anyone that was or still is trying to imprison and kill them? The normal human tendency or reaction against persecution is for us to fight back, or to defend oneself or even to run away and hide in a cave to not be found. I have seen people plan and do all of these in this modern world. Which would you do? Wow, that is a very great question to consider. If you are a Christian would you be able to do nothing but be forgiving and loving to the persecutor and turn your other cheek? Consider the warning and then make a good choice now before being faced with it.
- Persecutors believe they are doing what pleases God and their lawgivers.
- Persecutors don’t believe they are sinning.
- Persecutors believe their words spoken against Christians are good.
- Persecutor’s goals are to damage the reputation of God and Christians.
- Persecutors believe causing physical injury to Christians is good.
- Persecutors believe they know the truth and are not ignorant.
- Persecutors believe others are deceived and they are not.
- Persecutors believe there is no God to answer to or Satan influencing them.
- God sees all of the sins of everyone including persecutors.
- A persecutor can be saved and change their evil ways.
- God says speaking against a Christian is equivalent to “blasphemy”.
- God says killing a Christian is the same as nailing Jesus to the cross.
- God will show mercy to any sinner including murderous persecutors.
- God tells us that persecutors are extremely ignorant of the truth.
- A Christian has gained saving knowledge of the truth.
- A Christian was shown great mercy by God and is thankful for it.
- A Christian desires to share this saving knowledge of Jesus with others even though it costs them their own life.
- A real and maturing Christian begins seeing things happening in the world from God’s perspective.
In conclusion I want us to see a future prophecy concerning the coming persecution of the church. Revelation chapter 4 and verse 1 God calls for John to come up to heaven so that he can be shown things that will happen in the future and this includes this prophetic chapter of Revelation 12. Let’s read just verse 12 and 13 concerning our main subject study to learn Satan’s motivating factor for increasing persecution upon the church during the end time.
Rev 12:12 Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
Rev 12:13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
This chapter in Revelation 12 totally fascinates me. I could spend a long time trying to convince you who the woman in this chapter symbolically represents but I have already tried to do this in another lesson series. I will summarize briefly that lesson series by saying this woman being described can only fit the pattern of the church that is being persecuted by Satan. We learn this easily by the symbolism that she is clothed with at the beginning of the chapter and by the statements within the chapter. For example read verse 11:
Rev 12:11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
This is the immediate preceding contextual verse and it can only apply to those that are in the church. I have heard this verse quoted in many church services and they are applying these words to themselves and their struggles in this life with the devil. It is the Word of God and the Blood of Jesus that were given to us by Jesus in the church to insure us we will overcome Satan. If you have not read the Revelation 12 series of lessons I would strongly recommend that you do so. I do not have the time to repeat every detailed verse.
Let’s go back quickly to verse 12 and review the message from God. This is clearly a warning from God given to the inhabitants of the earth through the apostle John. In this verse Satan has been cast down from heaven after a great spiritual warfare and according to this prophecy he is in a furious way committing murder on the earth. If you look up and study the Greek word that is translated as “wrath” it comes from a root word that can mean to slaughter, kill or sacrifice someone. This sounds a lot like what Saul was doing doesn’t it? This simply confirms what we learned earlier. It was the spirit of Satan influencing and controlling Saul through his ignorance that caused the persecution of the church to begin on the earth.
As it was in the beginning of the church age so shall it also be at the end of the church age. Persecution is the key word found in verse 13 of Revelation 12. Satan in this verse is still persecuting the same woman that he was persecuting using Saul that we read about in Acts. We in the church are not a different woman; we just have newly grown members within the same body of Christ. If you are confused about what I just said I would strongly recommend you read the Bible lesson that I wrote a long time ago about “How the Church Became the Body of Christ”.
During this end-time persecution it will also be Satan using new ignorant people with the exact same spirit behind it all. If you look up the Greek word in verse 13 translated as “persecute” it is G1377 which was also the word spoken to Saul while on the road to Damascus by Jesus “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” God connects the two verses with His word selection and the message is very plain to me that God is speaking of the same subject being done to the same church body.
Today’s lesson was just a basic introduction to the broad subject of “persecution” and the spirit of Saul that is behind it. I believe God awakened me in the night to bring this message of warning to those that would receive it and learn from it. There is a rising of evil on the earth taking place. The enemy’s rage is increasing as the end of the age draws closer. How you react to it may just determine where you spend eternity. A Christian that withdraws and conforms to the world view may be greatly disappointed with their choice. However, standing up for the truth of God’s Word and proclaiming it boldly will certainly cause us to be persecuted. I will conclude today’s Bible message with these words from my Lord Jesus:
Mat 5:10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mat 5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Mat 5:12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
I wanted to talk more about Satan’s perspective for persecution today but I will try my best (the LORD willing) to cover this part of the topic in the next lesson Part 2.
Thank you for reading and studying the Bible with me. I hope this word of warning given by the Lord Jesus will be taken to heart and it will help you to prepare for what is certainly coming. God bless you all very much and thank you for your prayers for me as I will continue to pray for you also.
If you would like to continue to read the next lesson in this series please click here “PART 2“
Posted on July 8, 2016, in A Prophetic Word from God, Bible Study, Persecution, The Church and tagged Bible, Christianity, Church, God, Persecution, Prophecy, Religion, Truth, understanding. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Understanding Persecution: Part 1 Beware the Rise of the Spirit of Saul.