John 16: 33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
It was the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. Eleven Israeli Olympic team members were taken hostage and eventually killed by a Palestinian terrorist group. The Olympic Games were intended to “promote peace and unity within the international community through the medium of sports”, so the world, understandably, was horrified to watch such a barbaric act unfold on this world stage.
It seems like such horrific events are commonplace now. What once was an isolated occurrence, seems to now happen many times each year. It is easy to become disheartened and even frightened when we hear the constant barrage of tragic news. Sometimes we may even wonder if God is in control of what is going on, or perhaps for some, they might even question His existence. Has it ever been as bad as this?
At times like these I am encouraged by the backdrop of the New Testament writings. As modern-day Christians, we often fail to understand the duress that the world was under, specifically the early day church. Here is just a snippet of what transpired in Rome around the time that Paul penned “Romans”. Claudius had been in power a decade earlier and was married to Messalina who was brutal and had numerous murders committed at her bidding; she married another man while Claudius was away travelling and upon his return his advisers let him know he had better deal with it or lose his throne. He had both her and her new husband executed. Claudius ended up marrying his niece Agrippina and she too eliminated anyone she did not like. During this time Claudius had many Jewish Christians expelled in AD49 because they were followers of “Christus”. Agrippina soon hated her husband and devised a way to poison him so her son Nero could have power; she succeeded and Nero took power. In 64AD a terrible fire burned in Rome for 6 days and it destroyed three quarters of the city. It was suspected that Nero had set the fire for his own amusement, but to deflect the accusations he laid blame on the Christians. He arrested a few members, tortured them into implicating other Christians and then he had the entire Christian populace implicated. As many Christians as possible were rounded up, put to death in the most horrific manner (perched on sticks and set afire) for the amusement of the citizens of Rome.
This was the backdrop of Paul’s writing where he said: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13: 1-2). To encourage his Christian brothers in Rome, Peter wrote: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1Peter 4:12)
Many years before the Christian churches were established, Christ prepared his disciples for what they and the entire church would endure. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). In difficult times like today, I encourage you to “take heart”, remembering that CHRIST HAS OVERCOME THE WORLD!