Before we can explore the contours of growing domestic persecution, we must first be clear on our baseline for persecution in the first place.

What defines persecution?

Is it defined by the actions of a surrounding culture? Is it a particular pattern of legislation in more advanced governments, or the overthrow of a more sympathetic regime, a rash of violence targeted against Christian communities? Or do the changing winds of culture indicate that Christian persecution is rising?

Do we look to the historical Christian heroes of the past, such as the Ten Booms, the Boenhoeffers, or any of Foxes’ martyrs? Having stayed faithful under the rigid fist of history’s totalitarian regimes, their stories warn, inspire and encourage us – but they too, have their limitations.

External circumstances and historical martyrs most definitely inform persecution, but they do not define it.

The question, then, is not what ultimately defines persecution, but rather “Who.”

The persecution of Israel’s prophets, and that of the saints of the New Testament and this age find their nexus in the life and Person of Christ. He sets the pattern for persecution within an inhospitable culture, and Scripture shows us at least two ways of understanding Him from this angle.

Living Prophet

As ultimate Prophet, Priest and King, Christ fulfills all three offices essential to biblical Israel. In numerous places in his teaching, he presents himself as both a part of the line of succession of the Old Testament prophets, and yet he reveals that he is also uniquely set apart from them as the Son of God and not merely a servant (Mark 12:1-12).

He constantly reminded the disciples and the culture into which he came that Israel had always persecuted and killed the prophets God had sent to her (Luke 13:33-34, Matthew 23:33-36). He saw the cultures’ rejection of him as patterned after the experience of the prophets (Matthew 17:12). Christ is the connecting point for the suffering and martyrdom of the prophets of the past.

This post originally appeared on Culture of Life: The Personal Blog of K.A. Ellis. Read the rest of the post here. Read Part 1 here.