FUGITIVE OR MARTYR? THE ANSWER MAY SURPRISE YOU
Updated: Jan 3
Over the centuries, Christians have had to face intense persecution from state authorities hostile towards the Christian Faith. At times this persecution was so brutal that it resulted in the systematic destruction of millions of innocent lives. Even today, Christians continue to face persecution in countries that restrict democracy and freedom of religion. And their response to this has ranged from accepting martyrdom (or even provoking it) to denying their beliefs and apostatizing.
The Western world, however, has never known such persecution. We have been blessed with a democratic form of government that permits us to worship God in whatever manner we choose. Needless to say, our convictions have never been tested to the point of torture or death. Yet all of that is beginning to change as new restrictions are emerging under the guise of a fabricated health crisis. So how should the Western Church respond to these new threats? The purpose of this study is to consider what the Bible teaches concerning fleeing from persecution and the end times calamities presently facing us.
TO FLEE OR NOT TO FLEE?
There is no denying the fact that those who are willing to lay down their life for Christ are immensely rewarded (Revelation 20:4). For this reason, we celebrate martyrs as heroes of the Faith and every martyr's story is recounted with great admiration. To be a Christian martyr is the ultimate sacrifice and this is an honorable and pleasing thing in God's sight.
But martyrdom isn't for everyone. And there is a big difference between Christians who are forced into a martyrs death without the intent to die, versus those who are acting reckless by actively seeking it. Martyrdom is a great privilege if it is inevitable, but it is not to be sought. Jesus said, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next” (Matthew 10:23).
Furthermore, reading through the book of Acts, we see that the early church continually fled from intense persecution and took all necessary precautions for survival (Acts 8:1; 9:25, 30; 14:6; 17:10, 14). When Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39), He is not calling for people to make an attempt to lose their lives. Rather, He is calling us to be willing to lose our lives for His sake. Therefore those who actively seek the path of martyrdom are not seeking it for the glory of God, but for their own glory.
By observing the following verses, we can be sure the Bible prescribes fleeing as the appropriate response during persecution or end times calamities. Notice:
"Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luke 21:36).
Christ instructs us to pray so that we can be "counted worthy to escape" the harms of the Great Tribulation. Evidently, it isn't God's will for Christians to endure these judgements meant for the secular world.
"And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto." (Luk. 21:20-21).
"But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Mat. 24:20-21).
According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the early Christians heeded Christ's instruction here and fled to Pella Jordan when observing the Roman troops on the march. All were spared as a result while the rest of the Jews were slaughtered when Jerusalem fell to the Roman siege of 70 AD.
"Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. REMEMBER LOT'S WIFE" (Lk. 17:30-32).
Many Believers will be tempted to remain behind with their material possessions, and thus they will perish like Lot's wife. They should have fled without looking back.
"Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: HIDE THYSELF AS IT WERE FOR A LITTLE MOMENT, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain" (Is. 26:19-21).
In the above passages, God is preparing to punish the inhabitants of the earth. But first, He commands His people to go into hiding. This is an interesting verse to consider for those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture.
"A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished" (Prov. 22:3).
What do prudent men do when they see trouble coming? They hide themselves.
"And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days" (Rev. 12:6).
The woman of Revelation 12 is symbolic for spiritual Israel (the Church). Notice that God has prepared a place of refuge in the wilderness to shelter and feed His people during the duration of the 3.5 years of Tribulation.
"For God hath not appointed us to wrath..." (1 Thes. 5:9).
Christians are not meant to endure the wrath of God on the ungodly.
"Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev. 3:10).
We are given a comforting promise in this passage. If we are faithful to Jesus and live as He commands, He will keep us from suffering the harms of the Great Tribulation.
CONCLUSION (Written by R. Herbert)
"Fleeing is not fear, it's wisdom".
I recently read a disturbing article in a Christian publication that stated that those undergoing persecution in areas where they and their families were no longer safe should not attempt to flee, but that they should have faith and should stay where they are in order to be a light to those around them, including their persecutors.
Although I’m sure the writer was well meaning, I think it's important that persecuted Christians understand there is nothing biblically wrong with fleeing to protect oneself and one’s family rather than staying in the proverbial “frying pan.” In fact, Christ specifically commanded his disciples to do exactly that: “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another” (Matthew 10:23, emphasis added).
Whenever it has been possible, it is “fleeing,” not “frying,” that has characterized Christianity throughout its history. We have only to look at the biblical record to see the example of countless men and women of God who fled persecution. Elijah fled from Jezebel before it was his time to return (1 Kings 19:3). Jeremiah urged the people of Jerusalem to flee before the city was attacked by enemies (Jeremiah 6:1). The family of Christ was commanded to flee with the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:13), and Jesus, of course, told his followers not that they should linger in the zone of danger, but that they should pray that their flight be not at a dangerous and inopportune time (Matthew 24:20). It is historically clear that when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, with a great loss of Jewish life, few if any Christians died in the siege of the city, as they had followed the teaching of their master – and fled.
We see this pattern of fleeing persecution throughout the New Testament. And even the leaders of the early Church who stayed originally in Jerusalem thought it wise to flee when circumstances indicated they should. We see that the apostle Peter fled when his life was threatened (Acts 12:17), and the apostle Paul fled on numerous occasions to avoid persecution and threats to his life (Acts 14:6, etc.).
So the Bible does not teach that we should feel it is a matter of faith not to flee when every indication is that it would be wise to do so. Certainly, there are cases where God has called individuals to stay and face persecution, but without a clear call to do so, God expects us to use wisdom in all things (Ecclesiastes 7:12) and to avoid threats that are avoidable (Proverbs 22:3 and Proverbs 27:12).
The answer to most life-threatening persecution is not to stay, but to have the kind of faith that trusts God enough to flee and receive his guidance and help to reach a place of safety. The Church has always fled when appropriate and always will (Revelation 12:6). To suggest otherwise is to not understand the example of the Bible itself.