One of the most extraordinary patterns of Christian history has been the peaceful freedom given to gospel people in one prosperous nation called America. If you survey redemptive history, it’s normal to see Christians suffering hardship, oppression, and persecution for their faith. It seems that the days of peace and prosperity for the gospel in America are numbered. With the legalization of homosexual marriage and the debate upon restroom policies for transgender people and others who want to self-identify as the opposite sex all point to the obvious clash of world views that will likely continue to restrict religious freedom for Christians. The liberal trends have gained enormous momentum over the past eight years — in ways that even the most liberal historian would not have predicted.
As politicians fight over the recent vacancy in the Supreme Court, it’s apparent that the stakes are high. That point could not be any more clearly portrayed as we look at our choices for the highest seat of power in our nation and the leader of the free world – the presidency of the United States of America. We must admit that our days of religious peace seem to be fading off into the sunset. No matter who becomes president, the people of God are called to be people of perseverance. If we can learn anything from this radical cultural movement, we must certainly learn to live well under the rule of evil kings.
Learning Perseverance from Ancient Examples
The Hebrew people came to Egypt to seek refuge during a horrible famine (Gen. 43:1). They were received because of the faithful leadership of Joseph who had risen to great power beneath the Pharaoh. As the book of Genesis ends, Exodus begins with these somber words, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 2:8). That one sentence defined the horror the people of God would experience under the harsh slavery of a wicked king. However, there were faithful people among the Hebrew slaves who refused to doubt God. From those people who believed the Abrahamic covenant arose Moses after 400 years of slavery. The people of God obeyed their leaders, but they kept their focus on God who had promised them deliverance.
Through all of the Old Testament kings, we see Israel learning to live beneath the rule of radically different leaders. Saul served as king. He was the people’s choice. He looked good and seemed like a man fit for the job by outward appearance, but Israel soon learned to live beneath the rule of a poor leader. David was the successor to Saul’s throne, and he is described as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). David was an imperfect man, but a good king. All through the kingly period of Israel’s history, the evil kings outnumbered the good kings. The line, “And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” is repeated at least twenty four times through 1 and 2 Kings in the Old Testament Scriptures. The true people of God among Israel were constantly forced to live well under evil kings.
Unfortunately, the people often walked in the footsteps of their evil kings and followed in their rebellion. Regarding King Manasseh, the Scripture says he “has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did” and “made Judah also to sin with his idols” (2 Kings 21:11). When Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Law that had been lost, it was read to King Josiah. The result was that he “tore his clothes” for he understood the wrath of God was greatly kindled against them (2 Kings 22:8-13). Josiah was a rare king in Israel’s history, a reprieve from the tyranny of evil rulers.
Learning Perseverance from the New Testament
After Pompey conquered Jerusalem, the people of God found themselves under the dominion of Roman authority. Occupied by outsiders, Israel had to learn to live well under evil kings once again. The Herodian dynasty was marked by murder, arrogance, sin, and the crooked exploitation of the Jews through burdensome taxation. This is one reason why the tax collectors were so despised among the Jewish people. They were considered traitors and thieves. Herod the Great was a horrible man, a feared man, and a ruthless man. His ruthless character was put on display while murdering children in Bethlehem during his attempt to kill Jesus. When he died, he split up his land into distinct areas for three different Herods, specifically his three sons – Herod Antipas, Herod Philip, and Herod Agrippa. Their leadership was similar in nature to their father’s leadership. As the people of God lived under their rule, they had to learn to live faithfully under the rule of wicked men. This involved paying taxes and following the rules established by the Roman authorities. Although faithful men like John the Baptist lived in accordance with the laws, he was unwilling to allow the sin of unfaithful leaders to go without notice. John the Baptist called out Herod for his sexual sin, and it landed his head on a platter. There is always a high cost to perseverance during the rule of evil kings.
Following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension came the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the church. Eventually the church of Jesus Christ was pressed between the Roman authorities and the Jewish religious authorities – the Sanhedrin. After being accused of being troublemakers, threatened, and beaten, the apostles were told to stop spreading the gospel. They were forced to make a decision. Would they obey God or men? The apostles chose to obey God. They responded to the threatening Sanhedrin by stating, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). They had learned to live faithfully under the rule of evil leaders as they stood on the shoulders of faithful men and women all throughout redemptive history. They made the right choice.
When evil leaders with sinful hearts rise to power, anything is possible. We are living in such times in our current political climate. It would do us well to learn to live faithfully under the rule of evil kings. It doesn’t matter if you’re more at home in the presence of elephants as opposed to donkeys, the end result will be the same for the church of Jesus in America. Eventually all political parties will fail to respect the church of Jesus Christ in our nation. In the next several years, unless God intervenes, the true church will be tested on the soil of America like never before. Will we obey God or men? We can learn much from people such as Jochebed, Peter, and John the Baptist. As Jesus stated with such great wisdom, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).
It would be wise to obey God rather than men, but as we consider our decisions today, we must remember that debates far more costly than restroom privileges will soon arise. True Christian character, courageous conviction, and God honoring perseverance will be necessary as the cultural pressures continue to reach a boiling point for Jesus followers. When faced with big decisions, it’s vital for Christians to remember our commitment to a greater throne occupied by the highest King.