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Galatians 5:16-23 teaches that at any moment we are either walking by the Holy Spirit or according to the sin nature. Walking by the Spirit, enjoying fellowship with God, walking in the light are virtually synonymous. During these times, the Holy Spirit is working in us to illuminate our minds to the truth of Scripture and to challenge us to apply what we learn. But when we sin, we begin to live based on the sin nature. Our works do not count for eternity. The only way to recover is to confess (admit, acknowledge) our sin to God the Father and we are instantly forgiven, cleansed, and recover our spiritual walk (1 John 1:9). Please make sure you are walking by the Spirit before you begin your Bible study, so it will be spiritually profitable.

Matthew 10:16-25 by Robert Dean
Hated? Dragged into court? Our own families turned against us? Listen to this lesson to hear how Jesus warned his twelve disciples that they would face persecution. Learn the difference between the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Gospel of the Cross. Understand what ''he who endures to the end will be saved'' means. Even though this was directed to Jesus' disciples and those in the future Tribulation, understand that during the Church Age we will face opposition and that Jesus promises never to leave us or forsake us. Click here to listen to or view this Bible class.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:55 mins 7 secs

Jesus Warns of Persecution
Matthew 10:16-25
Matthew Lesson #059
November 30, 2014
www.deanbibleministries.org

Some of these passages are difficult to interpret. Sometimes they are difficult to apply because they are targeted at a specific group of people at a specific time. Often in those passages principles are reflected that are application throughout the generations, even though the targeted instruction is for a specific group at that particular time. That is true about the situation in Matthew chapter ten as the Lord Jesus Christ is commissioning His disciples to a particular ministry. It is a focused ministry. Some of these instructions are unique to this particular ministry while others have a broader application.

Also, by way of introduction we have to understand that in many cases these passages are mishandled by a certain number of commentators and pastors because they don't come to the text with the foundation of dispensational perspective. That doesn't mean that dispensational theology is read into the passage but it is that when we come to understand that God has different plans and purposes for different people at different times it helps us to negotiate our way through some of the passages realizing that they are directed to a specific group of people at a specific time. For example, in this passage, because it is given early in the ministry of our Lord, before His official rejection by the religious leaders, He is not communicating to His disciples in light of the future coming of the Church Age, which is still an unrevealed doctrine. So the telescope sort of collapses here so that both the instruction for the current time period in given as well as the extension of the age of Israel that comes aft6er the present Church Age.

As we look at this passage what we see the focus of in vv. 16-26 is on the persecutions or warning of persecution that will come upon the disciples. Jesus is specifically warning the twelve in front of Him that they are going to encounter a certain amount of opposition. But then there is an extension of that that is applied to all who are the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. So it is not just limited to the twelve, it envisions those who come later—subsequent generations. There is the warning of persecution here that is given and the solution to that, especially vv. 24 down through 31. 

After listing the names of the twelve in the first four verses and identifying those to whom Jesus is speaking, He then commissions the twelve to go to the house of Israel and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom with accompanying miracles of validation. It is really important to remember that as the foundation to this passage because Jesus is sending them on a targeted mission. At this point He is not sending them to the Gentiles at all. They are prohibited from going to the Gentiles, from going by the way of the villages of Samaritans, and they are to go only and exclusively to the house of Israel. That tells us right away that this message and mission is related to the age of Israel, the time period in which they lived.

The age of Israel comes to a pause at the cross. And from what we learn from Daniel chapter nine in Daniel's vision of the seventy weeks, the time scale for the last period of Israel, is that it will cover a period of 490 years from the decree of Artaxerxes II to Nehemiah to go back and rebuild the walls and fortifications of Jerusalem. The last seven years are split off from the others in that 490 years within that vision because there is a pause built into the vocabulary when there will be a future ruler who will come and make a covenant with Israel. But the timing of that covenant is set apart as somewhat distant from the cutting off of the Messiah. So there are 483 years until the cutting off of the Messiah and then in just the way the narrative reads there is a pause, a break in the action, and then the last seven years come some time later.

So what happens at the cross is that God hits the pause button, and then there is going to be something inserted between the cross and the final resolution of history and the last seven years related to Israel. The last seven years is what we often refer to as the great Tribulation. So as far as Jesus is communicating to His disciples at this point they don't understand that there is going to be the insertion of a dispensation, the Church Age, they are just thinking in terms of the Old Testament dispensation. Remember, the Church Age was not revealed in the Old Testament; the church is not revealed in the Old Testament. The term "church" isn't used in the Gospels except once in Matthew, and that is not until Matthew chapter sixteen. So this is a targeted mission to go to the Jews only and not to the Gentiles or the Samaritans.

The message is related to the kingdom. In the Gospels there is the phrase "the gospel of the kingdom"—the good news of the kingdom. The kingdom was their message. This kingdom that was prophesied in the Old Testament was about to come but in order for that to take place the people needed to be in a right spiritual relationship with God. They weren't, so they needed to repent. For some that meant that they needed to be justified; they needed to trust in God for their eternal salvation. For others, they understood salvation—they were called Old Testament saints—but they were not in right relationship with God; they were disobedient or apostate. Both categories are addressed by this command. This was the message of the twelve, "the kingdom of heaven is at hand", and the sign for that was the miracles that they performed, the miracles that are distinct to the Messiah. They are representatives of the Messiah who is commissioning them to go forth with the message.

The second thing that we saw was that Jesus instructed His disciples about the response to their message. There would be two responses. Some would accept it and some would reject it. In context He is going to explain this and how they should respond to these two different responses to their message. Now whether a person is in the Church Age or in the age of the Gentiles prior to Noah there are still those two responses. It is either acceptance of the gospel or rejection of the gospel. But what Jesus says in this context we know is related to the message of the gospel of the kingdom. The gospel is the kingdom is this message that the messianic kingdom will come if Israel will be in right relationship to God. There is a difference between the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of the cross. The gospel of the cross is what becomes clear after Jesus is crucified. The message, the good news of the cross, is that Christ died for our sins. He paid the penalty, so that by faith alone we have eternal salvation. The gospel of the kingdom is different. The cross hadn't taken place yet. It is the good news that the kingdom is about to come into reality and that people needed to get right with God before it does.

Now some people are going to accept it and some are going to reject it. In relation to that message Jesus gives some unique commands to His disciples. In terms of their provision they are not to take money with them, etc., they are just supposed to be focused on the message. One aspect of this is that it was to teach them to trust in God's provision. This was a training exercise that would prepare them for the future. They don't know what the future holds but the Lord Jesus Christ does and He is beginning to teach them what it is to conduct their ministry on the basis of trust in God to provide the necessities for their ministry.

The second thing that Jesus is emphasizing here is the response of the people. If they don't have anything with them it is going to be even clearer what the response of the people will be, because if the people respond to the message they will be supportive of the messenger. That is the expectation here. Those who accepted the message of the gospel of the kingdom would then take care of and provide for the messenger.

This same principle is going to apply in the Church Age. It was true in the earlier part of the dispensation of the Law, the dispensation of the patriarchs and the age of the Gentiles prior to the age of Israel. That is that those who are serving the Lord with their lives are to be financially supported by the Lord's people. This is applied throughout the history of mankind. It has different dimensions to it depending on the dispensation. In the Church Age believers are to financially support those who minister the Word of God—pastors and missionaries. The reason for this is so that pastors and missionaries will not be distracted by everyday cares and problems of the world.

This is what Paul teaches Timothy about in 1 Timothy 5:17-18 NASB "The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,' and 'The laborer is worthy of his wages'." The term elders [PRESBUTEROS] refers to those who are the spiritual leaders of the congregation. We often use the word "honor" in terms of respect, but the Greek word TIME as it is used here is a word that in a number of contexts is related to the financial pay of someone. That is how it is taken and should be understood here. To paraphrase this into everyday language" "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of a double salary, especially those who labor in the Word and in doctrine."

This is a passage that is sometimes abused today. It is a passage that a lot of pastors may not spend time teaching on, and a lot of pastors might feel awkward talking about financial things, especially as it relates to them; and this is an important aspect of humility. On the other side there are also pastors who spend a tremendous amount of time trying to fleece the sheep. (I have been in congregations where the plate is passed four or five times) Money is frequently mentioned. We don't do that here at WHBC; we minimize our discussion about finances, and sometimes that is a little bit of an overreaction to those who spend so much time talking about money. But money is a reality, and money is something that is frequently spoken about in Scripture—our responsibilities in terms of how we handle our finances, especially in relation to the plan of God. And one of the areas where God is very clear is in this particular passage where the congregation is expected to generously support the pastor and those who work for the local church, as well as missionaries. They are to be counted worthy of a double salary.

Paul gives a rationale for this that comes from the Scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18. This is a quote from Deuteronomy 25:4. The picture here is that in the threshing floor you have the oxen walking around in the mill, and of he is muzzled then as he is crushing out the grain he can't eat. The muzzle would prevent him from participating in the produce that he working to manufacture. He should benefit also from his own work, his own effort. Then the second quote comes from Leviticus 19:13, that it is a valid idea that a laborer should be paid well for his work. The laborer is worthy of his wages. So the Bible clearly recognizes the fact that if the person works hard he should be paid well and provided for. 

This is the idea behind what Jesus is telling them: that they go out and proclaim the gospel, and the people who accept the message will provide for the messenger.

Another point that is emphasized in this section is that the disciples needed to learn, as every one of us has to learn, that no matter what our background, our job or career might be, ultimately the pay that we receive for what we do, the logistical support that we receive, comes from the Lord. He is the one who provides us with our jobs and everything that we have in life; and we look to Him ultimately to take care of us. It is real easy for people to become self-deceived and think they make the kind of money that they make because they worked hard, they have done it all; and the reality is that the Lord can take that away from any one of us in a heartbeat. So we need to be grateful and thankful to God every day that we have the jobs that we have, that we have the support that we have, because every dollar that comes in comes from the Lord.         

Jesus now warns them of the opposition and rejection that they will encounter as they go about the cities and villages in Galilee proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. This section in Matthew 10 from verse 16 to 39 can be divided into three sections. First of all, in vv. 16-23 Jesus is warning them about future persecutions. Then in v. 24, "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master." He begins to explain the basis for this persecution and gives three reasons why disciples should not fear persecution. In the last section, Matthew 10:34-39, Jesus warns that the gospel will not automatically bring peace on earth; it will bring hostility—war, rejection, and much persecution—even to the extent that family members will be divided against each other. 

Now I want to set this section up a little more and look at a couple of other passages in terms of how we interpret this particular section. In reading through this chapter it gets very confusing sometimes because a lot of commentators don't understand these fine-tuned distinctions about what Jesus is saying in terms of the surrounding context and the overall structure of His particular ministry.

Jesus is describing the hostile reaction that the disciples will encounter, but the timing is important. He says it is before the coming of the Son of Man. Look at what He says in vv. 22-23. NASB "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish {going through} the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes." The words "the one who has endured to the end who will be saved" is critical for understanding this passage. It has often been misunderstood and misinterpreted throughout the centuries of the Church Age. It indicates the time frame that this section is talking about.

Look at verse 23: "But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish {going through} the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes."  When did that happen in the time period of the life of Christ? It didn't. There wasn't that kind of persecution directed toward the disciples during the time of the life of Christ.

When we read, "he who endures to the end shall be saved" in the English it probably comes to mind that it has something to do with salvation. But we have studied many times that the word "salvation" in the Bible is not always talking about eternal salvation from eternal condemnation. In fact, oftentimes it is not talking about eternal salvation, it is talking about some kind of temporal deliverance from a calamity. That is the basic sense of the word that is translated "saved". It is the Greek word SOZO, and it basically means to be delivered from some sort of difficulty or hardship or calamity. So understanding the calamity in context helps us to understand what we are being saved from. In some contexts where people are healed from a disease the word that is translated "healed" is actually SOZO—a person is saved from their sickness. So sometimes the word simply means to be healed, sometimes it means to be rescued or delivered from some difficult situation, and sometimes it is related to persecution. Other times, as in Ephesians 2:8, 9, it is talking about eternal salvation—justification.

Here, where Jesus says, "he who endures to the end shall be saved", the context is persecution, rejection. In verse 21 He says, "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father {his} child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death." The question that comes from this is, who can survive such persecution? The answer is, "he who endures [survives] to the end shall be delivered" or rescued from that calamity.

The same thing is seen in Matthew 24 which is Jesus' discourse on the Mount of Olives in answer to the question: "When will these things happen, and what {will be} the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" Jesus is answering this specific question. He says [v.4], "See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many." The time frame in Matthew 24 is not talking about the present Church Age; it is talking about the situation just prior to the return of Jesus to the earth to set up His kingdom. This is parallel to the first part of the Tribulation period as described in Revelation chapter six. There will be these false Christs. The fact that we have false messiahs in the Church Age does not mean that is what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about the signs of His coming.

We all know that the next event on the prophetic calendar is the Rapture of the church. The Rapture is often stated to be a signless event, which means there are no prophecies, no signs that have to take place before Jesus returns for the church at the Rapture; it could happen at any moment. This is called the imminent return of Christ. These particular signs indicate the coming of Christ to establish His kingdom. Jesus is not talking about what is going to happen before the Rapture; He is talking about what will take place during those seven years after the Rapture as a sign of His second coming to the earth to establish His kingdom. He is talking about the intensification of a lot of trends that we already see in the Church Age, but they are going to be even more so in the Tribulation period. The first is the rise of these false teachers and false messiahs.

Then in Matthew 24:6 He says, "You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars…" That is not talking about the wars that we see today which are not any different from the wars and rumors of wars that were seen in the 19th century, the 15th century, the 10th century, or the 5th century BC. All of these wars are roughly the same category, but the wars that are going to be signs of Jesus' coming are going to be worldwide cataclysms that are described in Revelation chapter six in the seal judgments that are of a totally different order of warfare that we have seen in any of human history up to this particular point. So there will be an increase of wars that are beyond anything man has ever experienced.

During the first seals judgments a quarter of the earth's population will be destroyed. That is far beyond the destruction of the Second World War and far beyond the destruction of any other war in human history.

Matthew 24:7 NASB "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes." These are all described in the seal judgments of Revelation chapter six. [8] "But all these things are {merely} the beginning of birth pangs"—describing the Tribulation period. He is saying that all of these signs are just the beginning of that seven-year period known as Daniel's seventieth week or the Tribulation period. 

Matthew 24:9 NASB "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name." This is the persecution that will come against believers in the Tribulation period. He is not talking specifically about the twelve disciples who are sitting in front of Him because they won't be alive when that comes about. He is talking to the believers of the Tribulation period through them.

In Matthew chapter ten Jesus starts talking not just about the opposition that is going to occur to the gospel of the kingdom message in their lifetime, but He is making a shift and is talking about the increase of persecution that takes place at the end of the age of Israel, which is the time period of the Tribulation.

This is important for understanding Matthew chapter ten. It shows us that Jesus isn't talking about what is going to happen in the Church Age. He is talking to them about what is going to happen in relation to the gospel of the kingdom. What is the gospel that we are proclaiming now? The gospel of the cross. There is going to be a return to the gospel of the kingdom—which, by the way, will not exclude the cross—during the Tribulation because once the Tribulation countdown begins and they are in that seven-year period they know that there are seven years and the kingdom is coming. They are going to know exactly what is coming. The gospel of the kingdom will be a major emphasis in the age of Israel to the Jews with reference to the coming of the Messiah.

Matthew 24:10 NASB "At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another." There have been pockets of this throughout history but nothing to the degree that will be seen in the Tribulation period. This is an extreme situation, and this is comparable to what Jesus is saying to His disciples in Matthew ten. [11] "Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. [12] Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. [13] But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved." This is the same statement in Matthew 24:13 that we have in Matthew 10:22. And what is the time frame? It is what is happening at the end of the Tribulation period. So this builds the case foe what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 10 to His disciples and has now shifted to what happens at the end of the age of Israel during the Tribulation period.

Then He goes on to say in Matthew 24:14 NASB "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come." This is about what is going on in the Tribulation period; it is back to the gospel of the kingdom. The end is talking about the second coming of Christ. 

Going back to Matthew chapter ten, after Jesus says that he who endures to the end will be saved, He then says: Matthew 10:23 NASB "But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish {going through} the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes."

What in the world does He mean by that? If we just read this at a surface level it looks like He could be describing general trends until He comes. But there is more to it than that. How do we figure that out? By looking at the phrase, "until the Son of Man comes". What are the other references to the coming of the Son of Man that Matthew is talking about? Is this talking about the Son of Man coming with His church? The idea of the coming of the Son of Man is grounded in an Old Testament passage, one that His disciples would have been very familiar with. In Daniel chapter seven we see the layout of the future kingdoms of man that will oppose the kingdom of God. It culminates with this monstrous kingdom at the end, that is, the revived Roman Empire during the Tribulation period. As that periods comes to an end Daniel writes:

Daniel 7:13 NASB "I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him."

In the context of Daniel chapter seven it is at this point that the Ancient of Days, who is God the Father, gives the kingdom to the Son of Man who is the Lord Jesus Christ. Following the reception of that kingdom Jesus then comes to the earth to establish His kingdom. So the Old Testament framework is that the coming of the Son of Man is to come to establish His kingdom on the earth.

Let's see how Matthew uses the term. Matthew 16:28 NASB "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." So again it has this future tense orientation. In that particular passage this is fulfilled in a unique way on the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus in all of His glory is revealed to Peter and John, and this is a prefiguring of His coming in His kingdom.

Matthew 24:30 NASB "And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory." That occurs when Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom.

Matthew 24:44 NASB "For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think {He will.}" What He is emphasizing there is for the world at that time. They will not be looking for the coming of the on of Man. This is till talking about the same event that comes at the end of the Tribulation.

Matthew 25:31 NASB "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne." So the coming of the Son of Man is still seen to be the coming of the second person of the Trinity to establish His kingdom upon the earth.

Matthew 26:64 NASB "Jesus said to him, 'You have said it {yourself;} nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN'."

The point being made in these verses is that we get one story from Daniel seven all the way through the Gospels, and that is that the coming of the Son of Man that occurs at the end of that seven-year period, at the end of the age of Israel when Jesus returns to the earth to establish His kingdom upon the earth. So understanding how this phrase is used throughout the rest of Scripture tells us that what Jesus is emphasizing here in Matthew chapter ten is that they are going to begin to experience a measure of opposition and persecution at the beginning of their ministry, but this is going to intensify above all expectation by the time of the end of the age just prior to the coming of the Son of Man. Verses 22 and 23 tell us that Jesus is carrying out this description all the way to seven years of the Tribulation. We see that the coming of the Son of Man and the term "enduring to the end" both locate these events near the end of the Tribulation period.

Jesus is warning them about the intensity of future persecution, both in terms of their life (Matthew 10:16-19) and how this will intensify (vv. 20ff).    

Matthew 10:16 NASB "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." He uses a very graphic image here that brings to our focus the ravenous hostility of wolves toward sheep. When the wolf looks at sheep he is looking at dinner! He can't wait to eat. And throughout the Scripture we see this imagery of wolves. The earliest use of wolves in this metaphorical sense occurs in Genesis 49 where the tribe of Benjamin is described as a ravenous wolf. The idea of this conflict between wolves and sheep is mentioned in Isaiah 11:6 in talking about the future kingdom: the wolf will lie down with the lamb. That is not the way things are now. Wolves are the natural predators of sheep and are depicted in Scripture again and again as ravenous, violent and destructive.

So wolves are often used as a metaphor for leaders who destroy their people. The people are described as sheep. And by the way, that is not a compliment. Sheep are not ever viewed very positively in Scripture. Sheep are not very bright; sheep can be a foot away from water and they won't drink it. They have to be led to the water; they have to be led to food. In fact, the existence of sheep is one of the greatest examples against evolution and the idea of the survival of the fittest that we will ever have. Sheep are helpless without human beings. There cannot be the survival of sheep without the presence of human beings as shepherds to provide for them.

The idea of leaders as wolves is often found in the Scripture. In Ezekiel 22:27 God is indicting Israel and says, "Her princes within her are like wolves tearing the prey, by shedding blood {and} destroying lives in order to get dishonest gain."

Zephaniah 3:3 NASB "Her princes within her are roaring lions, Her judges are wolves at evening; They leave nothing for the morning." What a graphic image that is for us! Wolves are designed to destroy and to decimate a people.

So Jesus is giving a warning that those who are involved in carrying out this ministry in Israel are going to be out in an extremely hostile environment. And He is warning the disciples that those who reject His message will not just passively say, "Well we'll just let our disagreements stand," or "we'll just agree to disagree", but that this will generate an extremely hostile negative reaction that will possibly lead to their destruction.

We can see an application to that in our era. If we lived in an environment historically where we were living in a culture that was predominantly built on Christianity then there would be very little fear of persecution from those who believe in the Bible. This is the way it was in this country for many decades. But now we see more and more of the rise of anti-Christianity, and along with that we also see the rise of anti-Semitism. These two things are going hand-in-hand together today and it is going to increase in the coming years.

It is amazing when you read about what is going on around the world in terms of anti-Semitism and that there are many people who just are not yet aware of just how horrible this is in a number of countries, and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe is scary right now, especially in France. In fact, the nation with the largest number of Jews that are leaving to go to Israel is France because of the rapid increase in anti-Semitism in that country. The huge Arab population in France generates a lot of that but it finds a receptive soil because historically the French have been anti-Semitic. This is a trend that is going on today along with the anti-Christian trend. In the Middle East there is an enormous number of Christians who are being persecuted to death in Islamic countries. In Iraq there was a population of about 200,000 Christians in the early 1990s but the population has been reduced now to just a few thousand. Many have been forced to leave but many others have been killed. Many Coptic Christians were killed in Egypt. Yet we don't see much of a noise about this among Christians in the US.

I think that is due to a couple of reasons. One is that we look at those Christians as maybe not being real Christians. They are Eastern Orthodox Christians, very different from Protestant Christians, and they may not actually be born again. They don't proclaim the gospel like we do so maybe they are not really Christians. The other thing is that Americans are historically pretty ignorant and apathetic about what happens in other countries—that is happening over there; it doesn't really affect us. But what happens when anti-Semitism is allowed to increase without any sort of response, and when anti-Christianity is allowed to increase without any response, eventually it reaches the scope of what took place in Nazi Germany in World War II and there has to be a response to it that is going to be horrible. I'm afraid that is where we are heading because everybody is turning a blind eye to it; they just want it to go away. It won't go away; it is going to get worse and worse as the time goes by.

So what we see is that those who are opposed to believers are depicted as ravenous wolves. Paul used that same imagery in Acts 20:29 when he warned the leaders of the church in Ephesus after his departure savage wolves would come in among them, not spearing the flock.

Jesus says that the way they are to handle this persecution is to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. There is a sort of proverbial nature to this, and that is that serpents (going back to Genesis 3:1) are viewed as being subtle and became depicted in literature as the source of wisdom. And doves are not aggressive, and so they are harmless. They are often viewed as being not very bright. Often what happens in Christianity is that we get this reversed and we prove to be as guilty as serpents and as stupid as doves; but that is not the command. 

Jesus goes on to describe the fact that there are going to be two courses of opposition: government and religious leaders.

Matthew 10:17 NASB "But beware of men, for they will hand you over to {the} courts and scourge you in their synagogues; [18] and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles." Of course, this happened in Acts in chapters four and five where Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin and are whipped before the Sanhedrin. There are examples later on in Acts. In chapters 24 and 25 Paul is a prisoner and he witnesses to Festus and king Herod Agrippa II. So yes, that happens in the Church Age but that is not the context. Jesus is talking about how this is going to increase even more to an extreme level, especially during that last seven-year period of the age of Israel, the Tribulation period. But there is application to the Church Age and that is that we are going to face persecution at different times and in different places, but not to the universal extent that will be experienced in the Tribulation period. 

And then the most extreme case of persecution comes from the family. This is ironic in the Scriptures because the family is supposed to be the source of stability and security for a nation. Here we see that the family will break down and brothers and parents and children will betray those in a family who are Christian and cause them to be put to death.

We live in a time I think is very strange compared to the previous generations. I run into more and more Christian parents who have done what appears to be a very good job of raising their children, and yet they have children who reject every value that they were taught by the parents, children who reject the gospel, children who reject Christianity, and immerse themselves in the pagan culture around them. We haven't seen anything like this in the history of this country. We have a generation (I would say under forty) now that has completely rejected everything that their parents taught them and everything that they were reared to stand for. And this bodes evil for this country because as that generation increases that way and the next generation increases that way, then we are going to see a complete collapse of western civilization. This is exactly the kind of scenario that leads to the Tribulation period.

Then we come to the solution that Jesus has here. That is that there will be security only in the Lord. Jesus promises that we should not be fearful of persecution at all because of our relationship with God. And He will give three basic reasons why we should not be afraid of persecution.