Jesus faced and died of persecution on the cross, so it shouldn't come as a great surprise, perhaps, that those who follow him would face persecution as well. For a detailed overview of Christian persecution over the centuries please click here.
Why are followers of Jesus persecuted?
Persecution is not unique to followers of Christ, of course. Persecution of those who are in a minority, or are viewed as weak because they don't fight back, has taken place in all ages before us. All such persecution is wrong. And there are many examples of courage and sacrifice facing such persecution.
Sometimes persecution takes place because the community of those who follow Jesus is growing and those in authority in the region view this growth as a threat to their power.
Sometimes persecution takes place simply because followers of Jesus declare their allegiance to Christ to be of a higher order than their allegiance to the state or a philosophical principle held by others.
How does persecution develop?
Whatever the cause, studies of persecution have found this general process:
Misinformation: Falsehoods or misunderstandings about the minority group are perpetrated, either purposefully or in ignorance.
Devaluation: The group about which misinformation is disseminated comes to have lower value in the eyes of the larger community and essentially becomes marginalized.
Loss of Rights: Rights of the marginalized group are withheld or withdrawn.
Violence is perpetrated against the discriminated group: their property, personhood or dignity.
How should we respond?
The first letter of Peter addresses a suffering community and contains these words of encouragement:
I Peter 2:21: "...Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 "He himself bore our sins" in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; "by his wounds you have been healed." 25 For "you were like sheep going astray," but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."
In fact, a believer from Central Asia - where churches are growing despite persecution - expressed it this way:
"If you are beaten, thank God you are not put in jail.
If you are in jail, thank God that you have not been killed.
If you are killed, thank God you are in Heaven!"