The world we live in today is filled with awareness of the Person of Jesus Christ. One perhaps has to travel to extreme corners of the earth that have yet to embrace any sort of civilization for discovery of groups of people who have yet to arrive at awareness of the name of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes, Christians, who otherwise are well meaning relate to others as if awareness of Jesus Christ that is coupled with unbelief in Jesus Christ implies conscious rejection of Jesus Christ. For demonstration of the spiritual reality that combination of awareness and unbelief does not, in of itself, imply conscious rejection of Jesus Christ requires only one illustration.
Paul, the Apostle, who formerly was known as Saul, was a student of Gamaliel, a Pharisee (Acts 22:3). In respect of response of the Jewish Establishment to disciples of Jesus Christ, Gamaliel advised his fellow Pharisees and Sadducees as follows. Using examples of men who, previously had claimed to be ‘The Christ’, that is, the ‘Anointed One’, Gamaliel showed that always, subsequent to demise of the person claiming to be the Christ, such persons’ disciples scatter, and return to their homes, with outcome the movement dies. If Jesus was a false Christ he advised, absent any intervention from leaders of the Jews, the same outcome was bound to come to pass. So then, if Pharisees and Sadducees were interested in the truth, it was best to allow outcome of the movement be decided by interaction of truth and time (Acts 5:33–40).
Whenever rulers or people fight against persons who voice beliefs that promote love in society , and who spend their time doing good, it always is clear who exactly is consumed by evil.
When, for the very first time in 303 AD, Emperor Diocletian explicitly decreed Christianity to be illegal in domains of the Roman Empire, it appeared Christianity was doomed to extinction.
Using evidence from secular historical records that many Christians refused to deny the name of Jesus Christ, as such, died with equanimity even as they were fed to lions in Coliseums of Rome, the historical record testifies that during this time, Christians honored the name of Jesus with faithfulness unto death.
Do Christians today still have capacity for honoring the name of Jesus with faithfulness unto death — even death by spectacle in a Coliseum filled with jeering haters?
In 312 AD, Constantine the Great received Jesus as Lord and Savior and became Protector of the Christian faith. By 325 AD, the other contender for rulership of the Roman Empire, Licinius, who had continued to persecute Christians, had been executed. Constantine the Great would go on to pass an edict that no one was to be persecuted for not wanting to become a Christian.
A ruler who fights for emancipation of the oppressed, who then decrees that those who disagree with his spirituality, but yet who live right in relation to their neighbors not be persecuted reveals the true heart of a righteous king.
With his Christian principles not celebrated by the Roman Senate, Constantine the Great would go on to establish the only glory that the Roman Empire would have from that point on, namely, Constantinople and the Christian Byzantine Empire.
The ten years of persecution that were endured by believers in the name of Jesus Christ between 303 and 312 AD are prophesied by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in Revelation 2:10, which is part and parcel of His message to the Church in Smyrna. The prophecy reads as follows (words in brackets mine in spirit of an amplified reading of Christian Scriptures).
Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days (in Biblical prophecy, a day equates to a year, Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6). Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
From edict of Diocletian in 303 AD to protection of Christians by Constantine the Great that commenced in 312 AD is exactly 10 years. In ancient times, a portion of a year was counted as a year.
The name of Jesus became foundation of the Eastern Roman Empire — the Christian Byzantine Empire — the only part of the Roman Empire that, from about 325 AD through 1204 AD had any glory whatsoever.
For Constantine the Great to be converted, the good news of Jesus Christ had, already, without protection of any earthly kingdom survived for almost 300 years. We know then how exactly Gamaliel’s litmus test turned out.
Jesus allows persecution come to His disciples, at times, because only the faithfulness unto death that results in spilling of the blood of the righteous by evil men, blood which then cries out for vengeance (Revelation 6:9–11), has power for putting of evil people to shame.
Jesus allows the persecution, then demonstrates faithfulness of the righteous, because those who love and do evil claim that if those who believe in Jesus Christ were not weak at evil, they would be just like them. So then, sometimes, with His divine wisdom at work, Jesus demonstrates that the righteous are as faithful, as such strong in their commitment to righteousness, love, and justice, as the wicked are to their ways of evil.
Whenever Christians deny their faith, because faith in Jesus Christ is frowned upon, they, in their actions declare that they were Christians only because they are weak at evil.
You see then how it is denial of faith in Jesus Christ gives glory to evil, and makes it more difficult for others to believe in the name of Jesus Christ. Constantine the Great, his mother, and other Roman notables became impressed with Christianity partly because they witnessed waves and waves of Christians die with equanimity, peace, serenity, and joy in Coliseums within which they were sacrificed to lions.
Since death is but opportunity not to be limited by the body, that is, opportunity to live in Christ as spirit, Christians who truly know Jesus never are afraid of death that arrives because they are persecuted for reposing faith in the name of Jesus Christ.
Whenever Christians do not maintain faith in Jesus Christ in midst of persecution, this is akin to giving up on arrival at morning just as the day begins to dawn.
So then, did the blood of the martyrs cry out and achieve vengeance? Consider that it is on record that the Western Roman Empire did not, subsequent to 325 AD have any peace. By 454 AD, the last Roman Emperor had been deposed by a barbaric people, the Visigoths. By 476 AD, there did not remain any vestige of the Western Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire which adopted principles of Jesus Christ for governance? Had within the same time period, become envy of the entire world.
The blood of the saints crying out for vengeance had, within 150 years (the five months of Revelation 9:5,10) achieved its purpose.
But then, I digress.
It was Paul who, while yet he remained Saul, watched over garments of the men who stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7:58). Since Stephen was on trial for preaching of the good news of The Christ at timing of his death, clearly, prior to arraignment of Stephen, Saul already had arrived at awareness of the Person of Jesus Christ.
Saul would go on to persecute Christians, throwing many of them in jail (Acts 8:3). Apparently, Saul was attempting to prove to his teacher, Gamaliel, that a student need not continue to depend on his teacher for wisdom as to what is right, and what is wrong. But the onus is on a student to demonstrate that he does not merely rebel against soundness of wisdom, that rather he demonstrates, in relation to his teacher, a wisdom that is superior.
It is of course straightforwardly true that Saul was acting on hubris, Gamaliel on wisdom.
On his way to Damascus, Saul would encounter Jesus. Saul still yet could have chosen not to believe. Wisely, however, he chose to believe, would go on to become Apostle Paul, the Apostle without which the gospel probably would not have been preached to the Gentiles during times of the original 12 disciples.
How do we know that Saul still yet could have chosen not to believe? Well, consider his Old Testament namesake, king Saul.
While he was on his way to kill David, who at that time was hiding in the house of Prophet Samuel, God so baptized Saul with the Holy Spirit, he not only began to prophesy, he also no longer — absent contact with anyone — could proceed towards Samuel’s house. He had then to turn back to his palace (1 Samuel 19:18–24).
On two different occasions, David would spare Saul’s life (1 Samuel 24:1–7; 26:5–25). Yet, unlike Apostle Paul, king Saul would continue to chase after the life of David. You see then that men can experience kindness, mercy, and the miraculous, but still yet choose to remain on a path of evil.
Just because men experience the miraculous does not imply that they always arrive at belief.
With illustration from life of Apostle Paul in tow, it is straightforward that awareness plus unbelief that is evident in persecution of those who believe does not imply arrival at a point of conscious rejection of Jesus Christ.
With illustration from life of Apostle Paul in tow we arrive at the inference that the point at which a person is deemed by God to have arrived at a conscious rejection of evidence that the mind witnesses to him or her to be truth is a point that is determined, in entirety, by God Himself.
It is important that Christians not assume that, just because their neighbors are aware of the name of Christ, but still yet do not believe, that this is to be interpreted to imply they, their neighbors already have arrived at conscious rejection of the name of Jesus Christ.
Consider that Saul was hurting Christians, and yet, The Father did not deem him to have consciously rejected the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Let us not act as if we know those who, regardless of witness of their own hearts, consciously reject Jesus as Lord and Savior, as such are rejected by The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has called us to Love, not to Judge. Since we have to love enemies anyway — else we are not any different from those who treat us as enemies — let us just focus on loving, not on judging.
After all, it is Love that Never Fails (1 Corinthians 13:8).