Submission to Persecution

There are many verses in Scripture that speak about Christians being persecuted or becoming martyrs. It is important to evaluate these verses without preconceived expectations. Some people assume Christian pacifism and therefore automatically read a verse about persecution as if it is prescriptive for all Christians in all situations. It needs to be considered whether such passages are prescriptive of godly behavior, or simply descriptive of an event or the implications of an event.

It is also not unusual to encounter Christians who confuse any attack with persecution and neglect a careful consideration of events. They tend to equate attacks on a Christians with religious persecution when the act of violence may instead have simply been an act by one person against another. It may have been a simple crime.  Bible passages about the persecution of Christians ought not to be uncritically applied to mere criminal events.

Do you think this section is missing or avoiding a clear passage that would require pacifism or martyrdom in the face of persecution? Let us know. Send an email with the passage and your understanding of it.

Descriptive Passages

The Christian are to expect persecution, or that they are called to persevere and remain faithful until death is not the same thing as saying that they must submit without resistance. As an example, a parent might tell a child that they might expect to experience bullying by others. A parent might explain to the child that if a peer ever fought with them physically, that they should seek to deal honorably with the person. These things are not necessarily at odds with also telling the child it is permissible to defend himself physically.  

Matthew 24:9 

Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.

John 16:2

They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.

Revelation 2:10

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.,

John 15:20

Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

Acts 12:2

And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.

Hebrews 11:37

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated

The Honor of Persecution


While there are a number of passages that do speak of the honor, privilege or blessing of suffering for Christ’s name, that still doesn’t clearly provide us with a prescription, as opposed to it being a description. In other words, that we may count it a blessing to have been persecuted like our savior was, this is not clearly a command to be persecuted or to never resist those seeking to persecute the church. At the very least ,it is clear from scripture that Christians are not required to willingly go as sheep to the slaughter, as we instead see a resistance to persecution in the form of commands to flee.

Matthew 10:23
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

Acts 8:1

And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.


See also Acts 9:25 &30; 14:6; 17:10 & 14


Submission Required?

1 Peter 4:14-16

If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters.

Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.


This is again descriptive. We can recognize that persecution taking place, when not able to be avoided, is something that we should find honor in, in that our Lord Himself was persecuted. What we suffer in and for the name of Christ is honorable, but we are not required to seek it out. We are simply told here that if and when we suffer, we ought to suffer because of the faith.

Matthew 16:24-25

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

This is speaking about self-denial and not counting worldly pleasures as something more important that serving God. As Barnes put it, "Let him, deny himself - That is, let him surrender to God his will, his affections, his body, and his soul. Let him not seek his own happiness as the supreme object, but be willing to renounce all, and lay down his life also, if required."

Acts 21:13

Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul was specifically called to go to Jerusalem. Just as it wasn't appropriate for Peter to seek to save Jesus from the death that awaited Him, Paul expresses his need to go and do what he has been called to do. The duty of self-defense and the impressibility to flee persecution does not mean one is disallowed from obeying their calling, however dangerous it might be.  Commentary