Having mentioned the recurring reminders that he will return to earth – false messiahs, wars, famines, earthquakes etc., “the beginning of birth-pains,” Jesus mentions extensive persecution as one of the later signs. Extensive persecution is an indication that the return of Christ is beginning to draw near. And there certainly is extensive persecution of Christians in the world today. Our first concern should be to pray for and support our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted. But we should also see it as a sign of the End Times.
2015 was widely seen as the worst year for persecution of Christians ever. Estimates vary between 100 million Christians facing persecution (Open Doors) and 200 million (Christian Freedom International). They suffer torture, rape, imprisonment and death.
Open Doors reports that 7100 Christians were killed in 2015 (up 3000 from 2014), 4028 of them in Nigeria. These are conservative estimates and exclude North Korea, Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist. 214 churches and similar Christian buildings are destroyed per month and 722 Christians (in addition to the above 7100 figure) suffer violent treatment every month.
At least 53 countries place restrictions on religion. Many are Muslim (35 countries) but extreme Hindus also persecute Christians. It is reported that one Pastor is beaten and one church burned every week in Hindu areas. A “Religious Freedom Bill” is being introduced in India to “prohibit conversion from one religion to another by the use of force or allurement or by fraudulent means.” “Force” is defined as “including threat of divine displeasure.” This bill will outlaw basic Christian doctrines, such as salvation, heaven and hell.
In India, the Hindutva movement within Hinduism argues that every Indian must belong to a religion which has originated in India. This view has become increasingly popular and is now a dominant force in Indian politics. Mob attacks on pastors and members of congregation, with attempts to force them to convert to Hinduism, have increased greatly, so much so that there was an average of one incidence of violence against India’s Christians for every day in 2015”
Russia is now placing serious restrictions on Christians (and other religious groups). Religious activities can only take place on Christian property, not private homes (except private prayers) or secular land. Neighbours are obliged to report any breach of this law. Teaching about Christian beliefs can be carried out by clergy and directors of Christian organisations who have a state permit. Even private prayers in a home must not be said if a non-believer is present. Evangelism is banned even in church buildings. Encouraging an unbeliever to convert to Christ is illegal.
Pope Francis describes all the persecution as a third world war. Speaking about the Middle East, he said: “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place.”
Cardinal Nichols and the Bishop of Leeds said that Christians are the most persecuted people.
The Roman Catholic organisation Aid to Church in Need said that Christians are fast disappearing from entire regions in Middle East and Africa.
In summer 2012 the International Society for Human Rights based in Frankfurt … estimated that 80% of all acts of religious discrimination were against Christians. In terms of outright persecution, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMEVE) resported that 75% was against Christians. But controversy surrounds reports that up to 150,000 Christians are being killed for their faith every year …
In France March 2014 Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Seko of Baghdada said: “Interventions [by the West] in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya have not helped to solve the problems of their peoples. On the contrary, they have led to chaos and conflict that do not bode well for the future, especially for Christains…. 1400 years of Islam have not been able to take us away from our lands and our churches; now Western policy has scattered us to the four corners of the earth. More and more Christians are being victimized, and their exodus from the Middle East appears upstoppable.”
Leaders of the European Parliament commented that the persecution of Christians around the world is not getting the attention it deserves. The President, Martin Schulz, said: Europe cannot afford to continue ignoring the fate of Christians, who are ‘ clearly the most persecuted group’ in the world.” The Vice President Antonio Tajani commented: “No religious community is as subject to hatred, violence and systematic aggression as the Christians. The West must break the silence on the persecution of Christians in the world and Europe must promote a model of society in opposition to religious radicalism and brutal and criminal projects, such as creating an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria and then extending its tentacles into Libya.”
We need to pray regularly for our persecuted brothers and sisters, and to support them where we can. We can also remember that Jesus spoke of greater persecution pointing to the drawing near of his return.
 Barnabas Aid Sep/Oct 2016