We can be tempted to have a small view of the persecution in our lives. We think persecution is first personal against us, rather than first against God. The cutting and mocking comment from a coworker for being a follower of Christ, or being picked on by a teacher, or being barred from a family event because of your beliefs, we might want to merely attribute to the human and naturalistic reasons of our circumstances, culture, or human desires. While these factors are involved, God wants us to see that persecution is not random nor only attributed to human activity, but cosmically and spiritually significant.
Persecution is not localized to just this corner of our world, but rather spreads to believers throughout the corners of the earth because of spiritual enemies. For example, in 177 AD, persecution arose in Lugdunum (Lyon) and Vienne, France. Believers were banned from appearing in public, attacked, looted, arrested, slandered, and unjustly sentenced to death. In response to such persecutions, an anonymous Christian letter mentioned how the Adversary, that is the Devil, “fell upon us with all his strength.”
In other words, this Christian understood that believers participate in a conflict that surpasses the people, authorities, and kingdoms of this world. Every day Christians suit up for battle on the side of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, against Satan, the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:1). Such persecutions against the church are attributed to Satan’s activity through various instruments in creation.
We know our enemy “has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4) and that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Meaning those who persecute Christians are captive, blind, and deceived to such a degree that they do not even see they are hostile to God and doing the Devil’s will.
Therefore, God reminds us in 1 Peter to view our localized everyday sufferings through the cosmic perspective of God, “knowing the that same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” (1 Peter 5:9).
Peter concludes the letter with exhortations for believers to “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Peter’s mention of the Devil is not unrelated to the broader theme of suffering in the letter.
The “various trials” and persecutions of believers such as slander and reviling (1 Pet 2:12; 4:14), intimidation (3:14), physical suffering (4:1), and unjust suffering for doing what is right (2:19–20, 3:17; 4:15–19) are part of a larger cosmic battle with God and the Devil. We have hope that even though we suffer through this battle “for a little while” (1 Peter 5:10; 1:3) it ends in victory for Christians as we are protected by the power of God to receive salvation and glory (1 Peter 1:4–9; 5:10). Ultimate dominion belongs to our God forever (1 Peter 5:11) and even “angels and authorities and powers” are subjected to Christ (1 Peter 3:22).
What significance does knowing persecution is part of a cosmic conflict with the Devil have on our Christian walk today?
1. Be encouraged that others have stood firm in the faith with persecution, so you are not alone.
Instead of viewing the persecution from a family member, an employer, or governing authorities, as isolated and individualistic persecutions that only affect us, God encourages us to see these persecutions as common and part of a larger battle. Faithful Christians have experienced these common sufferings through the centuries and have resisted firm in the faith. Peter reminds the Christians how the Devil works through various people and instruments to cause sufferings to Christians and often they are even blind to such purposes. God encourages us to resist the Devil, firm in the faith, knowing that other believers throughout the world are experiencing the same kinds of sufferings (1 Pet 5:19).
2. Humble dependence on God and his spiritual resources.
When we understand that extent and scope of the battle and the nature of our enemy, it should lead to dependence on the Lord. We must trust in his power and avail ourselves to the spiritual resources that he gives us through the Holy Spirit to stand firm in the faith. Do we see the spiritual resources and disciplines of prayer, his Word, the gospel, the body of Christ, and the promises of God’s character as vital for resisting and standing firm (1 Peter 5:6–7; Eph 6:10–19)? God wants us to be sober about our adversary. The people and resources that we run to each day in preparation for everyday life reveals much for how spiritually alert we are to our participation in a cosmic battle.
For Meditation and Application:
- What characteristics of God and promises from his word help you trust the Lord and respond righteously when treated unjustly for being a Christian (1 Peter 4:19)?
- What examples of saints who stand firm in the faith have been encouragements for you to respond righteously when persecuted?
- What resources to you prioritize each day as necessary to prepare for your day? How does understanding you are in a cosmic battle of eternal significance influence the resources you will pursue?
Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash