Coming Persecution

Yeshua told His disciples that they should anticipate persecution from both Jews and Gentiles.

Typical courthouse with Corinthian columns (Image © Bigstock)

Rabbi Yeshua’s disciples could anticipate standing trial before the synagogue beit din, before the local Roman administrator, or even before kings and emperors. The Master foresaw a coming day when His disciples would suffer rejection from their own countrymen and brothers among the Jewish people. “They will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues … for My sake, as a testimony to them” (Mark 13:9). The “courts” refers to the local Jewish court of law, that is, the beit din. These petite courts, consisted of three judges over a local synagogue. They had the authority to judge both civil and religious matters, and they had the authority to administer floggings. Yeshua warned His disciples that they could anticipate receiving floggings in the synagogues. The twelve apostles received at least one flogging. Paul reported, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes” (2 Corinthians 11:24).

The Master’s assumption that His disciples would endure such floggings provides an important (and often overlooked) piece of information about the early Jewish believers. It proves that the disciples and early followers of Yeshua did not consider themselves outside of and independent of the broader Jewish community. They did not need to submit to those floggings. Rather than suffer a flogging, they could have simply disavowed Judaism and Jewish authority over them. Instead, they stayed within the synagogue and under its authority—even submitting to its punishments.

Submission to the Jewish authority was a choice. It was necessary for membership in the Jewish community, but it was a voluntary choice to be made. Submission to the Roman authority, on the other hand, was mandatory. Yeshua predicted that His disciples would also stand trial before governors and kings:

You will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. (Matthew 10:18)

“Governors” refers to men like Pilate, Felix, and Festus. “Kings” refers to men like Herod Antipas, King Herod Agrippa, and his son Agrippa II. Apostolic lore tells stories of the apostles standing trial before governors and kings in the various among which countries they minister. Legend has it that both Paul and Simon Peter met their deaths after standing trial before Caesar’s tribunal, and other legends tell about the disciple John and the grandsons of Jude (brother of the Master) standing trial before Domitian. The martyr stories of Christianity’s early centuries are filled with such high-profile encounters.

Yeshua told them not to worry about what to say in those situations. Instead, the Holy Spirit would speak through their mouths, giving them words to say. The disciples were not concerned with how to adequately express the gospel in difficult situations. Instead, their anxiety was primarily about formulating a legal defense with which they could hope to extricate themselves from the situation. The Master tells them, “Do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12). He says, “So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute” (Luke 21:14-15).

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