From the Gospel according to Matthew, ch. 24 (all translations in this post are from the New English Translation):
5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these things are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name. 10 Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, 12 and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the person who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
And indeed, we see more and more headlines each day about the increasing persecution of Christians around the world. It is a consequence of the reach of our modern technologies that there are more Christians alive today than at any previous time in history. But it is also a consequence that as their numbers grow, so their persecutions grow.
Yet even more can be said. If what the Bible tells us about God's purpose for this age is accepted as true, then it follows logically and inevitably that the persecution of believers -- along with their deplorable apostasy and falling away -- must increase with time. Let me try to explain.
According to standard interpretation of "end-times" Biblical passages (the technical name for which is "eschatology"), this is the Age of the Gentiles, when God's word is commanded to go out into all the world of the non-Jews, so that "in the fullness of time" all nations may come to God.
Jesus tells a series of parables in Matthew chapter 13 to illustrate how the word of God will fare in these days:
3 He told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. 6 But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered. 7 Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them. 8 But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. 9 The one who has ears had better listen!”
18 “So listen to the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart; this is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. 21 But he has no root in himself and does not endure; when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 The seed sown among thorns is the person who hears the word, but worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choke the word, so it produces nothing. 23 But as for the seed sown on good soil, this is the person who hears the word and understands. He bears fruit, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”
Then he immediately told them another parable, thus:
The Parable of the Weeds
24 He presented them with another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 When the plants sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared. 27 So the slaves of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’ 28 He said, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the slaves replied, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I will tell the reapers, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, but then gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”
These two parables illustrate what is happening in the world with God's Word today. The missionary efforts to spread it are greater than ever before, but the Enemy's efforts to see that it does not take hold, and to increase the number of weeds in the mix, are also increasing.
The results of this struggle may be expressed by a simple equation. If we let x stand for the cumulative total of all those who have heard God's Word, starting with the birth of the Church at Pentecost and continuing right up until yesterday (or the end of last month, or the end of last year); if we let y stand for the number of those who have been introduced to God's Word between that date and today; and if we let z express the portion of (x + y) who have for whatever reason become apostate, or who never accepted God's Word after hearing it, right up until today -- then we may consider the expression
x + y - z
and ask: is it growing larger, staying the same, or decreasing from one day (or month, or year) to the next? To answer this question, let's calculate the periodic increase in z from one date to the next, by subtracting the value of z at the end of the previous day (or month, or year) from its value today, and let us call that value Δz.
The answer then turns upon which of the two quantities y and Δz is greater. So long as y -- the number of new converts since the end of the previous period -- remains greater than Δz (the number who have been lost since the end of that period), the sum will keep getting larger, i.e., more and more people will be hearing God's Word. But when Δz starts to be constantly larger than y, that number will grow smaller than it was the day (or month, or year) before. And that should be cause for concern in heaven.
Why? In Romans 11:25-26, the apostle Paul tells us a key fact about the age of the Gentiles -- it is happening because of the temporary hardness that keeps Israel from absorbing the good news:
For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:“The Deliverer will come out of Zion;he will remove ungodliness from Jacob.
"All Israel will be saved" -- but not until "the full number of Gentiles has come in." And once that has happened, Israel will be saved in this manner when the Deliverer comes out of Zion -- that is, when the Second Coming takes place.
The "full number of the Gentiles" may be expressed by the sum (x + y - z) given above. So long as the number is increasing, its "fullness" has not yet been reached. But for the Second Coming to take place, and for all Israel to be saved, that day must certainly come when the sum has reached its maximum -- and will never get any larger.
And what will have to happen for that sum to start getting smaller? Well, the number of apostates from the Word will have to be larger than the number of converts to the Word. And one way to increase the number of apostates (or, what comes to the same thing, to decrease the number of converts) is to persecute all those who hear God's word.
That is not the only way to make the number smaller, of course. It is also a truism that the more the missionaries do to spread God's Word, then the fewer peoples there will be to reach -- and increasingly so, with today's technologies. So at some point -- and who knows, we may already have reached it -- the total of the sum will start to increase by less and less each day, until finally it stops increasing, and starts growing smaller.
"No one knows the hour or the day" the end times will start -- not even the Son, but only the Father. We may not know just when the sum (x + y - z) will start to get smaller, because we do not know the exact numbers of its individual components, which change from day to day. But the Father knows them, and knows them exactly.
So as the persecution of Christians increases, it is a sign of the Enemy's putting Christians to the test, to see whether or not they will hold fast to the saving Word. But at the same time, it is a sign of the commencement of the end times, when there will be fewer and fewer left to be saved. As it is written in 2 Pet. 3:9 (with my emphasis added) --
The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
Deo sit gloria.