“If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (Reference: Revelation 13:10 )
Barnes says of this passage, “The general truth is, that people will, in the course of things, be dealt with according to their character and their treatment of others; that nations characterized by war and conquests will be subject to the evils of war and conquest – or that they may expect to share the same lot which they have brought on others.” Barnes goes on to explain that these verses are directed at nations who “invade other countries and to make their inhabitants prisoners of war . . [who] made slaves of other people . . [who] set up an unjust dominion over other people . . .[who were] distinguished for persecuting and imprisoning the innocent, or for depriving the nations of liberty.” Barnes further clarifies that he believes these verses were might to applied to the Rome of biblical times. The writer of Revelation and the biblical generation of that time found much to blame Rome for.
Barnes further notes that the power of the Rome of Barnes’ time was reduced to the near point of extinction; it was only 1848 and only by the intervention of France and Austria that it was saved. Barnes’ final comment about this is most chilling, and even more so if we allow an expansion of the definition of “Rome.” He says, “The period designated by prophecy for the final overthrow of that power had not arrived; but nothing can secure its continuance for any very considerable period longer.”
Leonard Schiemer, historic Anabaptist writes during a much earlier earlier time than Barnes, and his world view is smaller than Barnes’. In addition, his focus is more personal for him and his fellow believers, while Barnes is speaking from a place of relative safety. The emphasis is much different. While awaiting his death sentence he prayed and his prayer is recorded. He first laments that “supposed Christians” (I think we can safely assume he means the established church of his time, which stands much in the place of ancient Rome) have done much damage to the holy places of God and killed the people where they have found them. He continues saying, “And now that we remain as a little flock (Luke 12:32), they have driven us with reproach and disgrace into every country. We are scattered like sheep that have no shepherd. We have to abandon house and home, and are as the night ravens, which lodge in the rocks. Our chambers are in caves and cliffs, and snares are laid for us as for the birds of the air. We go about in forests, and are hunted with dogs. We are led captive and bound as dumb lambs which do not open their mouth. Acts 8:32. We are proclaimed rebels and heretics. We are led as sheep to the slaughter. Many sit in distress and bonds, and their bodies have perished. Some have been overcome by the severe sufferings, and died without any guilt. Here is the patience of the saints on earth; and thus must we be proved by suffering. Rev. 13:10.”
He is describing, beloved, the lengths to which the historic Anabaptist believers had to go to in order to be safe. They were hounded and chanced, hunted down and killed, by the state and the established church of the time – which was Roman Catholic. Looking at the history of Roman papacy, both through Barnes’ and Schiemer’s eyes, it is not surprising to discover that some strains of Catholicism have harassed it own members. Schiemer and his fellow believers were part of the Catholic church (that was the established church of the time, and quite before it lost some of its power and sway.) When they broke away, and declared faith that went against the established order, response was swift and deadly.
However, these stories of oppression, persecution, violence, and death are common amongst sects and denominations of Christianity. And those who consider themselves “the saints” in these stories patiently endure and hold firm to faithfulness. But if the stories of Christian saints are filled with endurance under persecution, there are also stories of Christian who have persecuted.
We have then a mixture of stories that cannot be ignored. We endure because God has called us to that. But God does not call us to be oppressors and persecutors. And if we find ourselves in that role, taking people into “captivity” and causing “death” with the “sword” of intolerance, prejudice, hatred, aggression, and violence – we must be aware that we maybe victim to it also.
And not only those who profess Christianity, but as Barnes says all nations. Let us never forget that all nations are still under the judgment of God, whether or not they actively profess God or not. And the truth of Barnes’ statement does not rest only on God’s judgment, but the level of tolerance found in the leadership of each nation. If we have been intolerant of other nations, why should we expect tolerance of us from them? And sadly, as Scheimer says, it is the “little flocks” that suffer most gravely.
May you, beloved, have the courage, conviction, patient endurance and faithfulness to live the lives of the called saints. Selah!