16 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. (John 16:1-4)
Jesus warns his disciples about the coming persecution. “Who ever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” This was the bitter reality following Jesus death. By 80 A.D. Jewish law forbade those who believed in Jesus from attending synagogue. At that time the synagogue was not just a place for worship but it was the center of the Jewish community, something almost akin to a salon or a Roman bath house. Business deals were made, classes were taught, feasts were held at the synagogue. To be thrown out of the synagogue was to live as an outsider in the community. But Christians were not only shunned by Jews but killed and murdered by them. To the shame of Christ that service has often been returned. There are perhaps times when society is served by execution of a criminal. But persecution of religious beliefs is not Christian, even when Christians do it.
Even today when Christians are persecuted they are often persecuted by people thinking they offer service to God. This happens with for instance with Islam all over the world. Other’s today glean from that that belief in god must entail this great hatred for man. As a Christian I think we can understand that the opposite can be true. It inspires a great love for man despite all their sins. But I think I would be lying if I did not recognize that with this great love there can also come a fanaticism that I myself have, and at times it inspires great disgust with the world and things that are happening. Sometimes I think that because of my Christian faith I can better understand the Islamic fanatics and terrorists, but I can also see it for the great perversion of true faith in God that it is. One can see this in the life of Christ, who did not call down legions of angels to defend himself, but willingly gave up his life that all might be saved, that everyone could be forgiven for their sins, even the sin of persecuting others for their religious beliefs. “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”