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Persecuted the Prophets

Consider these words of Christ “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) The prophets were persecuted but called blessed. These temporal circumstances do not cause one to “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad” without the expectation of a future hoped for reward in heaven. 2 Baruch 52:6 expresses an imperative declaration similar to Christ’s words of rejoicing in persecution: “Enjoy yourselves in the suffering which you suffer now.”1)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 639

The Scriptures record many prophets having been persecuted. “Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord” (1 Kings 18:4) with only a hundred being preserved (1 Kings 18:13). Elijah knew of these prophets being slaughtered hyperbolically claimed to be the only prophet of God left and expressed his fear that they were seeking his life as well (1 Kings 19:10, 14). The Pseudepigrahical text of The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah records about this time how Miaiah was killed (Ascension of Isaiah 2:16).2)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 159 Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest prophesied and the people conspired and stoned him to death for doing so according to the king’s commandment (2 Chronicles 24:20-21). God’s mercy was repeatedly shown to the people by sending messengers who were “mocked,” “despised” and “misused” (2 Chronicles 36:15-16). Nehemiah reminded the people of the fathers who rebelled against God and slew his prophets (Nehemiah 9:26). The book of Jubilees states, “And I shall send to them witnesses so that I might witness to them, but they will not hear. And they will even kill the witnesses. And they will persecute those who search out the Law…” (Jubilees 1:12).3)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 53

Jeremiah spoke of how the “sword devoured your prophets, like a destroying lion.” (Jeremiah 2:30). Jeremiah himself was no stranger to persecution (Jeremiah 20:2). Tradition claims that he was stoned “with many stones, and his stewardship was fulfilled.”4)4 Baruch 9.29-32; in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, pp. 424-425 Latter rabbinic texts has Jeremiah saying to God, “I cannot prophesy to them. What prophet ever came forth to them whom they did not wish to slay?”5)Piska 26.1/2; Pesikta Rabbati (trans. William G. Braude), Yale University Press (Dallas TX: 1968), Vol. 2, p. 526 Urijah was a prophet within living memory of Jeremiah’s day, who had fled to Egypt when the people wanted to kill him but he was hunted down and slayed (Jeremiah 26:20-24)

Josephus spoke of king Manasseh, who “barbarously slew all the righteous men that were among the Hebrews; nor would he spare the prophets, for he every day slew some of them, till Jerusalem was overflown with blood.”6)Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, Book 10, chapter 3, paragraph 1; he Complete Works of Flavius Josephus the Jewish Historian (trans. William Whiston), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1960, 1981), p. 214 Hebrews 11:37 speaks of the prophets having been “sawn asunder”; of which Justin Martyr says it was a “wooden saw”7)Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chapt. 120; in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA, 2012) Vol. 1, p. 259 in speaking of what has been understood as a reference to Isaiah being martyred by Manasseh. Justin Martyr likely got his tradition from pseudepigraphal book The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah which records:

Because of these visions, therefore, Beliar was angry with Isaiah, and he dwelt in the heart of Manasseh, and he sawed Isaiah in half with a wooden saw. And while Isaiah was being sawn in half, his accuser, Belkira, stood by, and all the false prophets stood by, laughing and (maliciously) joyful because of Isaiah. And Belkira, through Mekembekus, stood before Isaiah, laughing and deriding. And Belkira said to Isaiah, “Say, ‘I have lied in everything I have spoken; the ways of Manasseh are good and right, and also the ways also of Belkira and those who are with him are good.’” And he said this to him when he began to be sawn in half. And Isaiah was in a vision of the Lord, but his eyes were open, he saw them. And Belkira spoke thus to Isaiah, “Say what I say to you, and I will turn their hearts and make Manasseh, and the princes of Judah, and the people, and all Jerusalem worship you. And Isaiah answered and said, “If it is within my power to say, ‘Condemned and cursed be you, and all your hosts, and all thy house! For there is nothing further that you can take except the skin of my body.” And they seized Isaiah the son of Amoz and sawed in half with a wooden saw. And Manasseh, and Belkira, and the false prophets, and the princes, and the people, and all stood by looking on. And to the prophets who (were) with him he said before he had been sawn in half, “Go to the district of Tyre and Sidon; because for me alone the LORD mixed the cup.” And while Isaiah was being sawed in half, he did not cried out, or weep, but his mouth spoke with the Holy Spirit until he was sawn in two. (The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah 5:1-14)8)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 164

Christ criticized the scribe for being the murderers of the prophets. “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:  that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee…” (Matthew 23:34-37). The Sibylline Oracles simply refers to “those who the Hebrews killed” Sibylline Oracles 2.248).9)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 351 Stephen made this accusation also before being stoned: “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers” (Acts 7:52). Paul also mentioned, “who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us” (1 Thessalonians 2:15).

Christ was the ultimate example, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2), and yet He warned that the world would hate those that keep His word (John 15:18-21). James took the prophets as an “example of suffering affliction” and indicates “we can count them happy which endured” (James 5:10-11). This is because the patience they had through these afflictions brought about blessings in the end. James himself is held as an example in latter literature. Josephus gives the earliest account of James’ martyrdom, recording the high priest Ananus “delivered them [James and some others] to be stoned” (Josephus, Antiquities 20.200).10)The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 656 Eusebius cites Clement of Alexandria revealing a more elaborate tradition of the martyrdom of James had evolved over a couple centuries. Eusebius expressed he was “thrown down from the parapet and beaten to death with a fuller’s club” (Eusebius, Church History, bk. 2, chapt. 1).11)Eusebius, The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine (Trans. G. A. Williamson), Dorset Press (1965, 1983), p. 72

Christ warned the in the end times his people would be persecuted for His name’s sake (Matthew 24:9). This is followed in context with a mention of false prophets which will deceive many causing iniquities to abound and love to wax cold (Matthew 24:11-12). This is likely indicating the true believers will be persecuted by those within the charismatic movement, following false prophets and having no compassion for those faithful to Christ and His word. This due to the fact that there is a spreading influence of the Dominionism heresy among the charismatic movement and a growing scorn in the words of these false prophets towards those who reject their unbiblical teachings.

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Heath Henning
Heath Henning
Heath heads the Set Free addictions ministry on Friday nights at Mukwonago Baptist Church and is involved in evangelism on the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, offering his expertise in apologetics at the weekly Set Free Bible Study every Tuesday evening. He currently lives in East Troy, Wisconsin with his wife and nine children. Read Heath Henning's Testimony

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