Men will hand over their own brothers to be put to death, and fathers will do the same to their children; children will turn against their parents and will have them put to death.Everyone will hate you because of me. But whoever holds out to the end will be saved.
[Jesus’ 12 disciples are sent out on a mission trip with these instructions. For background see Days 83-84.]
Jesus says that this mission trip is not going to be all fun and games. It’s serious business. They are going out as revolutionaries; their mission is to shake up the system and ignite passions so violent that people will be killed. It says that family members will betray each other as a result of their mission.
Wow. I think that this would be the time that I would seriously consider jumping ship if I were one of those disciples. This doesn’t sound like anything I would want to get involved in. I certainly don’t want to do anything that will cause family members to kill each other. And frankly I’m not real excited about everyone hating me, either.
Don’t Blame the Messenger
But there are a couple of important points here. First of all, Jesus isn’t doing anything wrong, and he’s not asking his disciples to do anything wrong. He’s sending his disciples out to help people by healing them. It’s a healing mission. He is sending them out to give people hope for a better future. He is instructing them to be peaceful. Nothing is going on there that should ignite violence.
Second, it’s important to note that this is not a mission statement; it is a prophetic statement. It is a statement like those of Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Bible. He is foretelling events in the future. This is not what he wants to happen. He is simply stating that it will happen because he knows people are violent and that they resist change.
Third, there isn’t any indication in the Bible that families were killing each other as a direct result of this mission trip. This kind of killing didn’t erupt until after Jesus died.
So don’t blame the messenger. Don’t blame any of this on Jesus.
The Problem with Putting God First
That having been said, why does he predict that families in particular will turn against each other? Why doesn’t he say that friends and neighbors will betray each other? Why does he specifically mention families?
Unlike Focus on the Family and good Americans everywhere, Jesus doesn’t think the family should be the most important thing in a person’s life. God should be more important than family. Further, he seems to indicate that family shouldn’t have much importance at all. He says several times that we should treat every believer like family. He felt we should love everyone equally. Here are some examples from Matthew:
Matthew 10:37 – “Those who love their father or mother more than me are not fit to be my disciples; those who love their son or daughter more than me are not fit to be my disciples.
Matthew 12:47-50 – “So one of the people there said to him, “Look, your mother and brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak with you.” Jesus answered, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look! Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does what my Father in heaven wants is my brother, my sister, and my mother.”
Matthew 19:29 – “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake, will receive a hundred times more and will be given eternal life.”
While Jesus’ new interpretation of the law aroused the wrath of religious authorities, the de-emphasis of family was a very volatile issue for ordinary people. Then as now the family was sacred and everyone had their role. Children respected their parents. Wives obeyed their husbands. Husbands chose the religion for everyone in his household. Everyone had their proper role.
In the centuries to come this became a serious issue because new Christians didn’t always assume their proper roles – they put God ahead of family. This had particularly serious ramifications for women. Take the example of Perpetua, a 22-year-old Roman woman who converted to Christianity and was martyred for her faith in the 3rd century. After her father pleads with her to recant her faith, she is arrested and imprisoned. I’m not sure, but he may have been the one who turned her in. The father continues to beg her to change her mind, but Perpetua doesn’t budge.
Despite her love for her father, she refuses to conform to normal social conventions. Daughters were expected to care for their fathers, husbands, and children. That was their role in life. Instead, Perpetua defiantly disgraced her family by claiming that her first allegiance was to the God of Israel. While it was OK for men to put their God before their families, it was not permissible for women to do so. Women were the subjects of the men in their lives, a concept subtly reinforced by the apostle Paul in his teachings. See the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:31-35:
All of you may proclaim God’s message, one by one, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. The gift of proclaiming God’s message should be under the speaker’s control, because God does not want us to be in disorder but in harmony and peace. As in all the churches of God’s people, the women should keep quiet in the meetings. They are not allowed to speak; as the Jewish Law says, they must not be in charge. If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands at home. It is a disgraceful thing for a woman to speak in a church meeting.
Just one of Paul’s many personal opinions that he should have kept to himself, in my opinion. I mean, look again at today’s words of Jesus. God’s truth was more important to Jesus than false “harmony and peace.” Paul is way off base in this oft-quoted scripture so treasured by the church. Jesus, unlike Paul, says that God’s truth brings chaos. God’s truth shakes the heavens and the earth. It shakes families, and church meetings too. What Jesus wanted is the peace and harmony that comes from God, not the kind that is rule-based and achieved by force. He wants the peace of God flows from a pure and loving heart.
Christians Killing Christians
And so young Perpetua was murdered for putting God first and is remembered as one of the highly revered Christian martyrs. As Christianity spread throughout the region there was violence in its wake. Christianity was birthed in violence. The actual number of early Christian martyrs is unknown, but we know that people throughout history have died for their faith. They were victims of their families, governments, or others who hated them for being followers of Jesus. However, there are some historians who say that the actual number of people martyred by the Romans was relatively small.
Far worse is the violence among Christian “brothers and sisters” that was inflicted by the Roman Catholic Church centuries later after it became well established. It is well recorded that the Roman Christians killed far more followers of Jesus than Roman soldiers or any other outside force. It has not been the caring, tolerant, egalitarian community that Jesus envisioned. Inquisitions and Witch Hunts against those accused of “heresy” started in 1184 and continued throughout the Middle Ages. 150,000 were killed in the Spanish Inquisition alone. Protestants and Catholics continued to fight into the end of the 20th century; Ireland is a great example. In case you’ve haven’t checked into it, Christians are known throughout the world as being a pretty murderous lot compared to Hindus or Buddhists. Both Christians and Muslims have a reputation for violence.
Religion continues to divide families – more today than ever. Maybe that’s because people can’t be killed for expressing and living out their religious beliefs nowadays, at least not legally. Religious freedom is a blessing that is guaranteed in the United States, and religious institutions no longer have much clout in terms of making people conform to their doctrines. The church can’t kill or imprison people anymore. They can no longer dictate how a person worships, or what a person believes. Churches have lost their authority, not in small part because of their legacy of violence, intolerance, and hate – all of which have nothing to do with Jesus.
Although the institutional church has been forced to curtail its violent ways, many Christians have not. Many are still angry and violent. I remember listening to Moody Christian Radio one morning after an abortionist was killed by a Christian terrorist. The radio personality said that if it weren’t for the fact that the abortionist had a wife and children, he would be elated because he felt the man deserved to die. In all fairness, that man was quickly replaced by Moody, but they didn’t make a big deal about it. They didn’t say that you should love abortionists just like everyone else. They didn’t bother to clarify that Jesus would never say that a person’s family is the only thing that gives one’s life value. If they understood all of the ways that Jesus was being misrepresented in that little incident, they certainly didn’t use it as an opportunity to illuminate the Gospel. I think they were more concerned about their reputation and supporters. They hushed it up. They should have done more, because “hate talk” is where it all starts. Hate talk and the anger behind it (See Day 24). Jesus says that will send you to hell. That’s what he says.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Like all of the Biblical prophets, Jesus follows up this rather horrifying prediction about families killing each other with a ray of hope – “But whoever holds out to the end will be saved.” He says it will all work out in the end.
Jesus doesn’t want families to turn against each other. He is predicting it, but he doesn’t want it. He wants us to love everyone, even our enemies (see Days 34-35). Surely he wants us the love our families! He says peacemakers are God’s children (See Day 13). People killing people because of they follow Jesus – Stupid. People killing people in the name of Jesus – Stupider. Christian brothers and sisters killing each other – Stupidest.
Depressing. Moving on.
What does this scripture say to you?