The three Hebrew men lived in a hostile environment where daily they faced life and death situations as they lived out their faith as a minority in Babylon. They were believers in the one true God, but lived in a land where the people ridiculed and even outlawed their God. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, sent out an edict commanding that all his subjects must worship the idol he set up. How would these young men respond to intensive pressure to cower, be silenced, and worship a false god? They were being commanded to conform to a worldview they could not accept. Exodus 20:1-4 had always been their standard: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” They resolved in their hearts that they would not be defiled (Daniel 1:8). They accepted the consequences of non-conformity (3:12,16-18) knowing that whether in life or in death (Phil. 1:20, Romans 14:8, 1 Cor. 3:22) they could not deny their God.
The three Hebrew young men display for us an eternal principle of God’s Kingdom: All persecution for Christ’s name will ultimately lead to the advancement of the purposes of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom. This may seem foolish when current statistics indicate an exponential increase in the number of Christians being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ—seemingly without any effect on the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Reflect back on the Early Church. They experienced intense persecution, which resulted in the scattering of the gospel to new areas (Acts 8:1-8). In like manner, we have the assurance and promise of the Word of God as our foundation during persecution (Matt 10:16, 20). As we reflect on the three Hebrew young men, let us see how the Early Church viewed persecution and the advancement of the Gospel.
The Book of Acts describes the Early Church and believers amid different levels of persecution. Fred Farrokh, in his book Prepare for Persecution, states “A persecuted church is not a disabled church.” He uses the Book of Acts to demonstrate the levels of persecution: mockings (Acts 2), arrests (Acts 4), threats (Acts 4:19-20), imprisonments (Acts 4-5), physical assaults (Acts 5), martyrdom (Acts 6, 12), expulsions (Acts 9, 13), and legal entanglements (Acts 21–28). However, he surmises that the Church in the Book of Acts does not present a shallow triumphalism that ignored or covered over the sufferings, but rather as a victorious church. In fact, the Book of Acts portrays the Church as suffering and in peril but always advancing. How will we respond, even in the West, to the rising numbers of Christians giving their lives for the sake of the Gospel?
Will we lose our voice in the face of growing opposition to conform to cultural norms that are unbiblical?
Will we draw back in our outreach and evangelism as opposition arises in Hindu and Muslim contexts? Will we draw back in restrictive areas of our world?
Will we, for the sake of preservation and security, withdraw, or cower to opposition when it involves the loss of life?
As opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ increases, we must face these questions in our missions endeavors. Jesus prepared His disciples and coming generations of believers regarding the persecution (Matt. 10:5-25). In the Book of Acts, there were times when the disciples withdrew while, on other occasions, they gave their lives for the gospel. As evident in the Book of Acts, opposition from religious leaders and governmental authorities is the number one factor common in persecution. Why? Because the religious authorities were being challenged by the power of the gospel and the signs and wonders that followed the message of the Kingdom of God. Dr. Farrokh (2021) states: “Shrinking back in fear is what the devil seeks to accomplish when he incites people to persecute Christians” (p. 19). We praise God for Christians worldwide who are demonstrating tenacious faith to overcome and see Kingdom advancement. In these days, just as in the Early Church, sacrificial living and supernatural ministry are the characteristics of an overcoming Church.
God delivered the three Hebrew men who were thrown into a burning furnace (Daniel 3), but they still had to go through the fire, as this advanced God’s plan. God does not always deliver His children, but God always uses suffering and persecution for His redemptive purposes and Kingdom advancement. Throughout the Book of Acts, we see that persecution opened new areas to the Gospel, the witness of Jesus Christ spread, and victories were won (Acts 14:22). The Book of Acts includes several growth statements that demonstrate how the Church or the gospel spread after or in spite of persecution (cf. Acts 5:12-14; 6:1, 7; 12:24; 16:5; and 19:20). Some believers, like Stephen and James, faced martyrdom, while, on another occasion, God rescued Peter (Acts 12:6-19). In both instances, God carried the Church forward.
May we remain an overcoming Church that focuses on Kingdom advancement knowing that this is Christ’s Church and He will build it (Matt. 16:28) in spite of all opposition. In all our missions endeavors, we must fully rely on the indispensable empowerment of the Holy Spirit to persevere, respond, and advance in contexts of opposition. The Holy Spirit “worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:20).
Prepare for Persecution: Lessons from Acts
by Fred Farrokh
This book guides today’s believers through the example of Jesus’ disciples. The Early Church overcame persecution again and again in the pages of the Acts of the Apostles—witnessing as they went, in the comfort and power of the Holy Spirit. This book chronicles nine key storylines of Acts. Each chapter concludes with “Applications for the Church Today” and “For Further Discussion,” making the book ideal for group Bible study.