They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. (John 16:2, N.K.J.V.)
Could a society ever become so warped as to think that serving God means killing Christians? Absolutely! As a matter of fact, the time that Jesus spoke of in our text verse came pretty quickly after He uttered the words.
Following Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and the dawning of the church age, the Jewish religious leaders excommunicated Christ’s apostles from the synagogues in an attempt to stamp out Christianity. Even worse, over the course of the years that followed, those same apostles were all ultimately martyred by the Romans for doing nothing more than serving Christ. While Acts 12:1-2 tells us that the apostle James was martyred by way of the sword upon the order of Herod Agrippa I, the martyrdoms of the other apostles aren’t recorded in scripture. They are, however, recorded in other historical records. For example, Peter was crucified upside down and Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross.
The apostles certainly weren’t the only Christians to be martyred, either. By one account, 2 million of the Roman empire’s 7 million Christians had been killed by 325 A.D. Just as the Jewish religious leaders considered excommunicating the apostles to be a service to their god Yahweh, the Romans considered martyring any Christian to be a service to their human “god” Caesar.
This points us to the fact that zeal for one’s god can be a dangerous thing if that zeal is misguided. Islamic terrorists provide us with plenty of modern-day evidence of this, but the fact is that history is replete with such examples. According to the Encyclopedia of Wars, there have been 1,763 recorded historical conflicts, and 123 of them have had religion as their primary cause. Even if some of those 123 were actually conducted at God’s bidding, the truth remains that religion (devotion to one’s god) can cause a man to pick up a weapon as quickly as any other motivation.
In Romans 10:1-3, Paul describes the lost, unbelieving Jews of his day and begins his description by giving them credit for having a zeal for God. But then he explains that their zeal is “not according to knowledge.” This zeal without knowledge was what caused those Jewish religious leaders to ban Christ’s apostles from the Jewish synagogues in a deluded attempt to keep those synagogues “pure” for God, to say nothing of committing even worse atrocities such as stoning Stephen to death (Acts 7:54-60).
The takeaway from all this for us Christians today is that we must go to great lengths to ensure that our own zeal for God is indeed a zeal that is marked by knowledge. We do this by praying, studying, showing discernment, and submitting to God’s will in regards to whatever we do in the name of the Lord. Putting it simply, it’s not enough to be “on fire for Jesus.” No, that fire must be a controlled burn that doesn’t burn down anything it shouldn’t. You see, if we start acting like that, we run the risk of making the same mistake those Jewish religious leaders and Romans did. That’s the mistake of banishing God’s spokesmen from our presence and putting to death what God has ordained and blessed.