When believers confessed their faith in Christ and joined the church, they set a boundary marker that distinguished them from the rest of society. Unfortunately, this became a source of conflict because it implicitly passed a negative judgment on their community and its values.
Read Hebrews 10:32–34 and Hebrews 13:3. What was the experience of the audience of Hebrews after their conversion?
It is very likely that the readers of Hebrews suffered verbally and physically at the hands of mobs stirred up by opponents (e.g., Acts 16:19–22, Acts 17:1–9). They also were imprisoned, and it is possible that they were beaten, as well, because officials had the power to authorize punishment and incarceration, often without following appropriate judicial norms, while they gathered evidence (e.g., Act 16:22, 23).
Read Hebrews 11:24–26 and 1 Peter 4:14, 16. How do the experiences of Moses and of the readers of 1 Peter help us understand why Christian believers were persecuted?
To “bear the reproach of Christ” simply meant to identify oneself with Christ and endure the shame and abuse that this association implied. Public animosity against Christians was the result of their distinctive religious commitments. People can get offended by religious practices that they don’t understand or by people whose lifestyle and morals could make others feel guilty or shamed. By the middle of the first century a.d., Tacitus considered Christians to be guilty of “hatred against mankind.”—Alfred J. Church and William J. Brodribb, trans., The Complete Works of Tacitus (New York: The Modern Library, 1942), Annals 15.44.1. Whatever the exact reason for that charge, certainly false, many early Christians, such as the ones that Paul had written this letter to, were suffering for their faith.
Everyone, whether a Christian or not, suffers. What does it mean, however, to suffer for the sake of Christ? How much suffering that we face is for the sake of Christ, and how much is brought about by our own choices?
Supplemental EGW Notes
From Olivet the Saviour beheld the storms about to fall upon the apostolic church, and, penetrating deeper into the future, His eye discerned the fierce, wasting tempests that were to beat upon His followers in the coming ages of darkness and persecution. In a few brief utterances, of awful significance, He foretold the portion which the rulers of this world would mete out to the church of God. The followers of Christ must tread the same path of humiliation, reproach, and suffering which their Master trod. The enmity that burst forth against the world’s Redeemer would be manifested against all who should believe on His name.
The history of the early church testified to the fulfillment of the Saviour’s words. The powers of earth and hell arrayed themselves against Christ in the person of His followers. . . . The fires of persecution were kindled. Christians were stripped of their possessions and driven from their homes. They “endured a great fight of afflictions.” They “had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment.” Hebrews 11:36.—The Story of Redemption, pp. 320, 321.
In Egypt a successful military leader and a favorite with the king and the nation, [Moses] had been accustomed to receiving praise and flattery. He had attracted the people to himself. He hoped to accomplish by his own powers the work of delivering Israel. Far different were the lessons he had to learn as God’s representative. As he led his flocks through the wilds of the mountains and into the green pastures of the valleys, he learned faith and meekness, patience, humility, and self-forgetfulness. He learned to care for the weak, to nurse the sick, to seek after the straying, to bear with the unruly, to tend the lambs, and to nurture the old and the feeble.
In this work Moses was drawn nearer to the Chief Shepherd. He became closely united to the Holy One of Israel. No longer did he plan to do a great work. He sought to do faithfully as unto God the work committed to his charge. . . . He knew God as a personal God, and, in meditating upon His character he grasped more and more fully the sense of His presence. He found refuge in the everlasting arms.—The Ministry of Healing, pp. 474, 475.
Never is the tempest-tried soul more dearly loved by his Saviour than when he is suffering reproach for the truth’s sake. When for the truth’s sake the believer stands at the bar of unrighteous tribunals, Christ stands by his side. All the reproaches that fall upon the human believer fall upon Christ in the person of His saints. “I will love him,” said Christ, “and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). Christ is condemned over again in the person of His believing disciples. When for the truth’s sake the believer is incarcerated in prison walls, Christ manifests Himself to him and ravishes his heart with His love. When he suffers death for the sake of Christ, Christ says to him, They may kill the body, but they cannot hurt the soul. “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).—That I May Know Him, p. 275.
The above quotations are taken from Ellen G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons, published by Pacific Press Publishing Association. Used by permission.