In Matthew 24, Jesus prophesied that the people of God in the end times will be a persecuted church. What does this teach us about the true Church of God?
In our last article in this series, we explored Jesus’ prophecy that “lawlessness will abound” in the end times (Matthew 24:12). People will overwhelmingly reject God’s standards of restraint. Human conduct, unrestrained by the law of God, will bring this earth to the point of almost complete destruction.
But Jesus also predicted that there will be some people—a very small group—who will not embrace lawlessness. In fact, these people will be defined by the opposite, lawfulness. They will govern their lives by God’s law (1 John 5:2-3), which will make them stand in stark contrast to the world around them.
While society’s love grows cold, God’s faithful will hold to the law that teaches love, care and concern for others (1 John 5:3).
But they won’t be honored and respected for their way of life. Jesus said: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9, emphasis added throughout).
Hated by all nations.
Who was Jesus talking about, and why will they be so unpopular in the end times?
Who will be hated by all nations?
The two pronouns Jesus most frequently uses in the Olivet Discourse are “you” and “they.”
When He says “you,” to whom is He referring? The answer is found at the beginning of the discourse: “The disciples came to Him privately. … And Jesus answered and said to them” (verses 3-4).
The disciples were the 12 men Jesus began His Church with. The Church was officially begun with these men (minus Judas) and a number of other disciples of Christ on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:15; 2:1; 1 Corinthians 15:6). So when Jesus uses “you” throughout the Olivet Discourse, He is referring to His Church.
When He uses the word “they,” He is referring to those outside that Church. Throughout the New Testament, those outside the Church of God are called “the world” (Matthew 5:14; 13:38; Revelation 12:9). In this case, Jesus used “all nations” to identify the entire world.
Think about what that means: the true people of God will be a hated minority throughout the world—in all nations. Jesus said that His true Church would be a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). Throughout the centuries, its members have always been a minority in the nations where they have lived (John 15:18-19; 17:14).
But today there are over 2.2 billion professing Christians in the world—making up the world’s single largest religious group. About 60 percent of the world’s nations have a majority Christian population.
The lawless and brutal character of the world at this future time will result in a level of persecution that has been unseen in modern times.So we are left with this surprising conclusion: The true Church of God is a minority among those calling themselves Christians. The people of “all nations” who hate and persecute God’s people will include billions of people who claim Christianity as their religion.
We have already learned in this series how the great end-time religious deception Jesus warned about will be a form of counterfeit Christianity. The leader of this movement will unite Christendom behind him in the greatest Christian ecumenical movement the world has ever seen. By performing seemingly supernatural miracles, he will deceive people into believing that his powers come from Jesus.
Why will they be hated?
But why will the true Church of God be so violently hated in the future? What could they possibly do to receive such scorn?
They will be persecuted for the same reasons God’s people have always been unpopular—because of how they live and the message they preach. A look back at history shows these have always been the reasons people hate and persecute the people of God.
The first martyr in the Bible, Abel, was killed by his brother because he was trying his best to serve and please God (Genesis 4:3-8; 1 John 3:12). The apostle Paul wrote that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Throughout the last 2,000 years, many of God’s people have been persecuted for their faithfulness to the 10 Commandments of God—particularly their observance of the Fourth Commandment, to keep the Sabbath holy. It’s likely this will also be a reason they will be hated and persecuted in the end times.
The prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18), John the Baptist (Mark 6) and Stephen the deacon (Acts 7) were three servants of God who were persecuted for proclaiming what sin is and the need to repent. They boldly preached the truth that those around them didn’t want to hear. Because of that, they were hated. John’s and Stephen’s preaching led to their untimely deaths.
In the end times, God’s Church will still be preaching the true gospel (Matthew 24:14) to a world violently hostile to it—particularly the portion of the message that calls on people to repent, change and align their lives with God’s law. Tragically, most people will stubbornly refuse to repent and change (Revelation 9:21; 16:9, 11).
The lawless and brutal character of the world at this future time will result in a level of persecution that has been unseen in modern times. Satan, the evil dragon who deceives the world, will direct his great wrath at God’s people (Revelation 12:9-17). Thankfully, some of God’s people will be supernaturally protected from this persecution. To learn more about protection in the end times, read our article “Place of Safety.”
Right now, we are experiencing a time when God’s people aren’t facing violent persecution in most places. In fact, in much of the world this may be the safest time in all of human history to be a true follower of God. But that will change radically in coming years.
As deception and lawlessness increase, hatred against true Christians will surge. The good news is that God will shorten those days “for the elect’s sake” (Matthew 24:22). Jesus Christ will come to save His people from those who violently hate them—and to save this world from destroying itself.
To learn more about how to identify the true Church of God, download our free booklet Where Is the Church Jesus Built?