THE FIERY ORDEAL
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4: 12-14)
What was the fiery ordeal of which Peter spoke? In his day it was the persecution of believers at the hands of Nero. There were no lengths to which Nero would not go to rid the empire of the followers of Jesus. Their lives were forfeit at the hands of gladiators, ferocious and half-starved wild beasts kept especially for the purpose, and fire; Christians were covered with pitch and set alight to amuse the emperor and entertain his guests at his lavish garden parties.
Don’t be surprised, said Peter, when this happens. Was this the way Jesus’s followers were normally treated? Peter was merely echoing Jesus’s many warnings that following Him would be no walk in the park. The world then, as now, was polarised into two camps. Jesus said it would be so. He did not come to bring peace but a sword.
‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. (Matt. 10: 34-36)
But Jesus, I thought you came to bring peace? Is that not the promise the angel brought when he announced your birth to the shepherds outside Bethlehem? “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.” The disciples were convinced that Jesus’s mission was to conquer the occupying Roman forces and restore their land to them as it was in David’s day. However hard He tried, Jesus could not convince them otherwise.
Yes, Jesus did come to bring peace, but not the kind of peace they anticipated. His peace was the peace between His Father and His estranged children, reconciliation through His blood which would bring them restoration to their place in God’s household as His sons and daughters.
Of necessity, this new relationship with God would produce a chasm between believers and unbelievers. Everyone who sided with the devil would be in the opposite camp to those who followed Jesus. It would have to be because of the irreconcilable rift between the devil and God. So deep was the hatred in the hearts of unbelievers that they would do anything to get rid of the scourge of those who constantly irritated their conscience by their godly lives.
Peter said, ‘Don’t be surprised.’ The moment they stepped over, through faith, into the camp of those who followed Jesus because they were convinced that it was He, not Caesar, who was the true Son of God, they became marked people. On the contrary, as Peter echoed the words of His Master:
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5: 11, 12)
Instead of complaining or even retaliating, they were to rejoice in the midst of their suffering because it was for His sake that they were facing their fiery ordeal – and they were in good company. The prophets faced and endured the same treatment at the hands of God’s own people. Persecution would be transient and a part of their experience in this life only, but their reward would be eternal.
Jesus even told His disciples not to be afraid of those who could only kill the body and, after that could do no more to them. The body was destined to perish anyway, to make way for a resurrection body that would be eternal and imperishable like the body of their resurrected Lord. They were to live in reverent fear of the one who had the power to destroy them forever in hell.
On top of their temporary suffering which would give way to eternal glory, the very suffering they had to endure to experience forever the glory of God would bring them the overshadowing power of God’s Spirit to endure it in a way the echoed the suffering of Jesus. Far from being a raw ordeal, like Stephen who, in the midst of his ordeal, saw Jesus awaiting his arrival in glory, they would also have God’s Spirit resting on them.
Have you ever wondered how the people in Peter’s day, and even those at the present time who are being tortured and beheaded for their faith, were able to endure? We tremble at the very thought, but God’s promise still stands:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor. 12: 9)
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.