One of the most unsettling and surprising experiences of the new believer in Jesus Christ occurs when those who used to be their friends and who used to run with them into the same excesses of dissipation (1 Peter 4:4) begin to ridicule them and reject them and even attack them. The hostility and the venom that can flow from those who, until your conversion, seemed to be your best buds can be very confusing. It is confusing because you do not understand the reality of the cross-shaped target that is now etched onto your back. When you come to Jesus Christ, you die to the old life and you are born-again to the new, and in that moment of faith and repentance you are not only justified before a holy God, but you forever change kingdoms and become alienated from those who remain slaves of sin and death.
The New Testament has much to say about what I am calling “the cross-shaped target,” so much so that it could almost be a major theme of the Christian life. The believer is to expect rejection and persecution when they convert and begin to follow Jesus, because the believer is now at enmity with Satan. Prior to conversion, we walked according to Satan’s bidding and were sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2), but now we are Satan’s enemies and he hates us with an evil hatred.
Paul experienced the cross-shaped target. Before he came to faith in Christ, Paul was progressing in Judaism (Galatians 1:14) and was persecuting Christians (1 Timothy 1:13; Acts 8:1, 3; 9:1-2) and was enjoying the life of a fanatical Pharisee. Then he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, was radically converted, was baptized and immediately became a flaming torch for the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 9:20-22). What happened then? In Damascus right after his conversion, the Jews plotted to put Paul to death and he only escaped by being lowered over the city wall in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). Only days before Paul had been a hero among those who despised “the Way,” and now those same people are trying to kill him. Then he goes to Jerusalem where he was trained as a Pharisee and where he had been so zealous for the Law and what does he find there? When he argues with the Jews in Jerusalem, they want to kill him. Again, those who grew up with Paul and had long-term relationships with him suddenly turned on him because he now followed Jesus. What’s the point? The point is that Paul had changed kingdoms and he now had a cross-shaped target on his back.
Peter’s first epistle has much to say to the new believer about the reality of the cross-shaped target now carved into her back. These new believers may be “distressed with various trials” and be “tested by fire,” but they continue to “greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible (1 Peter 1:6-8).” The apostle Peter tells them, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12).” It is evident that suffering for the name of Jesus is an accepted and expected part of being a disciple of Jesus. “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (4:14).” Yes, the believer has become an alien and a stranger in this world (2:11) and has donned the cross-shaped target.
Probably more than anyone else, Jesus told His disciples about the hatred they would receive from the world when they chose to follow Him. In Matthew 12:30, Jesus says, “He who is not with me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” In other words, the one who is not a follower of Jesus is one who hates Jesus and is one who seeks to destroy the kingdom of God. On the night that He was betrayed, Jesus taught His disciples much about what was to come and about how the world would respond to them when they followed Him. Jesus was not ambiguous, but was very plain. In the Upper Room Discourse, in John 15, Jesus said:
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. . . If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. But all these things they do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. . . He who hates Me hates My Father also. . . but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well (15:18-24).” “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming when everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God (16:2).”
The spiritual reality must be grasped, so that we as believers will not be unsettled or confused or feel betrayed when our proclamation of the gospel or our life of living faithfully for Jesus is met with hostility and ridicule and rejection. The truth is that the believer has changed kingdoms and is now viewed by those who remain in the kingdom of darkness as a traitor and an enemy at worst, or as a fool and a fanatic at best.
MEDITATIONS AND APPLICATIONS:
Application 1: If the world opposes you and rejects you because of your testimony and your faith in Jesus Christ, you should see that as a source of great encouragement. Of course, no one likes to be rejected, but if you are rejected for Jesus’ sake, it means that He will reward you. Be encouraged, because this bears out the truths taught in Scripture.
Application 2: Paul said, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12).” Therefore, if you are NOT experiencing opposition and persecution from the world, you have reason for concern. Paul said “ALL who desire to live godly WILL be persecuted.” Not only are we to expect persecution, but we are to be concerned with its absence. Again, the reality is that we have changed kingdoms and are now opposed by Satan and his demons, and by the world and the world systems of this darkness. Jesus has told us that the world hates us and that the devil wants to kill us. If there exists that much opposition to the godly and I am not experiencing any opposition, it means either that I am not living boldly enough for Jesus to draw the enemy’s fire or it means that I have not actually changed kingdoms at all, but just think I have changed masters.
Application 3: When you have a cross-shaped target on your back, you should expect to be attacked. The believer must read their Bible and realize the spiritual realities of our warfare. We are at war with the forces of darkness and those forces want to take us down. Therefore, live with reckless abandon and boldness for Jesus Christ and when the fiery ordeals and the testings come, embrace them as proof of your value to the Master and your threat to Satan and his kingdom.