Operating Among Wolves
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves . . . (Matthew 10:16a)
As New Testament Christians, we have a front row seat to what the Lord is doing in the last days. We have the advantage of seeing things in the last days that no one else will have an appreciation for as we do. On a much smaller scale than what the Apostles experienced, we have all experienced certain degrees of persecution. I have personally ministered in places where I was unwanted. In some cases, hostile places. I have been spat upon while giving the Gospel. I have received verbal threats while sharing the Gospel. I have lost count of how many times I have been cussed. These are relatively small occurrences of persecution, but they are persecution, nonetheless.
While taking a stand against the sale and distribution of hard liquor some years ago, our church was picketed by a group of local atheists. The group invaded our parking lost during a morning service and were roaming among our cars. Our security team informed them that this was not permitted and told them that they would have to leave the property. The group set up their protest on a nearby sidewalk and it was there that they held up signs mocking Christ. One sign made jest of Hell and insisted that he would go there sooner if we could give him directions. The picketers made rude and crude gestures to the members of our church as we exited the sanctuary at the end of the service. Again, that is a mild form of persecution.
During that same time, people repeatedly called our offices and left obscene remarks and threats on our answering service. It disturbed our poor secretary so much that we had to stop answering unknown calls and screen the messages later. Lies were printed in the local paper. Property was stolen. These are all forms of persecution.
The climax of the events came on a Sunday morning in August when I was personally shot at. It was around 8 a.m. I was walking my normal prayer route when someone from the woods fired a shot over my head and cursed at me. I ran home and called law enforcement. Deputies found tire tracks in the woods and investigated, but no arrest could be made. No doubt, it was intended to scare us, and it did. What was equally frightening was that they never caught the perpetrator. In many ways I still have anxiety that no one was arrested.
This is what persecution is intended to do – intimidate and create fear. In every case of persecution, whether major or minor, we are reminded that we are in a hostile environment. The Apostles were not called to live, but rather to die. They were not called to prosper, but rather to suffer. Jesus told the Disciples, “I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34b) There is no confusion or a sword. Most of the Disciples realized early what they were getting into and they lived to see the day when the fires of persecution burned all around them.
Responsible students of the Bible predict that the church will encounter days of harsh persecution before the Lord returns. God does not want His children spiritually in the dark in days of persecution, so He personally tells us how to behave during these times. Thankfully, anything this besetting and troubling comes with sound instructions.
The hands and forearms of Muslims and communists overseas are already red with the blood of beheaded Christians. Severe persecution is already taking place in our world. It is illogical for us to assume that we will be immune from this in our own country.
If this predicted persecution is anything like what the Disciples experienced, it will fit the description of sheep in the midst of wolves (Matt. 10:16a). That is a very vivid way of describing persecution. Because when you talk about sheep in the midst of wolves, you are describing a very unnatural arrangement. Shepherds are aware that generally a wolf will stalk a flock of sheep and track it down covertly. In other words, sheep do not go to wolves, wolves normally come to sheep. However, what Jesus described was quite contrary to that. He told the disciples that they were being sent to the wolves. He surprised them when He made them aware that their place of ministry would be close to the wolves. They would be dispatched to the wolf dens to minister among the predators. The ordeal of operating among wolves would be what the Disciples would have to familiarize themselves with.
There is no better description of persecution than that. Every day that we live we are among spiritual enemies. We are ministering, serving and laboring among predators. Notice that we are not described as wolves among wolves. Being sheep among wolves tells us that we can expect an incredible disadvantage.
The twenty-third Psalm tells us that our Shepherd will make us lie down in green pastures. (Psalms 23:2a) In his masterful work A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Philip Keller observed, “The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very make-up it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met.” Keller offers the four following conditions:
Keller added, “A flock that is restless, discontented, always agitated and disturbed never does well.”
Philip Keller’s expertise in shepherding far exceeds mine, but I just want to point out that ministering near a wolf den does not promise any of those four conditions. We are not promised any of these freedoms. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We belong to Him. He has chosen to situate some of His sheep in hostile territory. Apparently, wolves need the Gospel too, and that is why we are here.
Understanding the nature and habits of wolves is not the only emphasis here. Sheep need to be understood as well. Sheep are the most dependent, helpless and stupid of all domesticated animals. They are just as panicked by harmless things as they are by those that are truly dangerous. When real danger does come, they have no natural defense except for running, and they are not very good at that. Even flies buzzing around their eyes and ears have been known to irritate and frighten sheep. In trying to escape real, or imagined danger, sheep will panic into a blind stampede, and pregnant ewes will lose their lambs from the running and sometimes even their own lives from exhaustion and stress.
When you pair the vulnerable nature of sheep with the vicious nature of wolves, calamity awaits. Spiritual wolves will always make raids on the church (cf. Acts 20:29; Rom. 8:36; Matt. 7:15), but again that is not the condition being described here. It is the nature of every wolf to howl and the wolf will not howl unless he can raise his dignified head and point his nose to the sky. It has been proven the wolves can sense and read fear, bravery and other emotions in humans and animals. Wolves can detect a diseased animal long before it is obvious to the eyes of even a trained observer.
The normal danger for sheep was that wolves would come in among them, but here the sheep are sent into the wolves’ territory. Most wolves run in packs and all packs have a system of government. There are three categories of wolves that are listed in the immediate context of Matthew ten: 1) Religious Wolves (10:17). 2) Political Wolves (10:18). 3) Family Wolves (10:21, 34-37).
RELIGIOUS WOLVES (Matt. 10:17)
Jesus assured His Disciples to “. . . beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues . . .” In days of persecution false churches will betray true churches. What often materializes in days of persecution is churches with poorly laid spiritual foundations become envious of the faithful and target them for persecution. Do not be surprised in days of persecution when religious people become vocal in their attacks on the faithful.
In our recent bout with the Corona virus, it was suggested early that churches should close their doors. Later it was mandated that churches could not have a gathering of more than ten people at a time. Some states and counties finally ordered church not to open their doors at all to the public. Many of us refused that order and operated in violation by opening our church doors to the public. I was amazed when I discovered that the pastors who were persecuted for this were in many cases betrayed to county officials by other churches in their area. One church in Georgia was actually invaded during their service by a health official and a deputy because they were double-crossed by another pastor.
As alarming as that sounds, this should not surprise us. Jesus predicted that one type of persecution would come in the form of religious persecution. Remember that Abel was murdered in days of religious persecution by his own brother (Gen. 4:8). Remember that Joseph was betrayed in days of religious persecution by his own brethren (Gen. 37:4; 23-24; 27). Jesus died because of religious persecution from his own brethren (John 1:11).
In the days of Christ, the religionists were capable of four stages of examination: 1) Arrest. 2) Trial. 3) Conviction. 4) Punishment. Imagining a church having that kind of power seems out of focus, but it was the reality of their day.
Remember that after Pentecost the Jewish segment of the early church was persecuted by the religious Jewish authorities. Both the Synagogue and the Sanhedrin became enemies of the Gospel during the days of Christ and His Apostles. The Apostles were scourged – Acts 5:40, And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Paul testified of scourging Christians before his conversion – Acts 22:19, And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee . . . Paul spoke of being scourged five times – II Corinthians 11:24, Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.
This is also expected to happen again in the Tribulation when Antichrist will oppose the Gospel of the kingdom and the Jews will again turn on their own. Revelation 17:6 says, “And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.” Revelation 13:7 adds, “And it was given unto him [Antichrist] to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.”
POLITICAL WOLVES (10:18)
And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. We will comment later about how to behave in such circumstances, but for now be aware that these circumstances will be a reality for some of us. Political wolves can be involved wittingly, or unwittingly. I have some background in law enforcement and I can attest to the fact that many police officers and sheriff’s deputies are acting under orders when they place someone under arrest. They themselves, however, have a spiritual crisis if they claim to be believers and are ordered to arrest fellow Christians.
Operating among political wolves can be partly understood with an illustration. Imagine that a church has been ordered to cease conducting public services for no good reason. If the pastor of that church takes a stand, he will likely be warned that he is in violation of the law if he continues to congregate. If he continues an arrest warrant can be issued. Generally, law enforcement would choose not to arrest a man on his actual church property because it would seem distasteful to the community. They do, however, have the right to make an arrest even while the pastor is in the pulpit preaching. After an arrest is made, the pastor will be transported to the county jail and processed. If he can make bail, he may be in jail less than an hour. In many cases the charge is a misdemeanor, but nevertheless, that is a form of persecution. He will then be given a court date and be required to appear before a magistrate or judge. By that time, he will need legal representation.
If either the deputies, the sheriff, the state attorney and the local judge are antagonists to the faith, this process can be far more difficult. Deputies can manufacture charges to strengthen their case. The state attorney can do the same. The local judge or magistrate can deem the individual as a flight risk and forbid bail or set a high bail that would force the individual to remain in jail until their hearing or trial. The likelihood of any of these things occurring depends on the ethics of the people involved in the arrest.
The main goal is to not panic in the circumstances at hand. Your family will be frightened by the arrest, but the chances are that they are imagining the worst. They see you rotting away in jail or prison and never getting out. That would rarely occur in these cases. If, however, you choose to violate the law again after you are released, the charges could become more severe and the jail time could increase.
Historically, when the state turned on Christians it came in the form of false accusations. Ancient Christians were accused of being cannibals because of the words of communion that state that the bread and wine are the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. They were accused of being disloyal citizens because they would not take the oath of the godhead of the emperor. As a result, Christians were blamed for the burning of Rome in AD 70. Ancient Christians were accused of meddling in family affairs because of how many homes were set at odds by some of the members being born again.
First and second century Christians were accused of being insurrectionists because of the view of born-again slaves. There were 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman Empire. It was always feared that the slaves would one day organize and unite to rise in revolt. In early Christianity, when a slave was saved, they were treated as equals in the church. Christians taught that the Golden Rule applied to the treatment of slaves also.
Ancient Christians were considered bad for business in Rome because Christianity seriously affected interests connected with pagan idolatry. When Christianity came to Ephesus the trade of the silversmiths was dealt a mortal blow because far fewer people desired to buy the images they fashioned. Acts 19:24-27 tells part of the story:
For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen; Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth. Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands: So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.
Because of these, and numerous other reasons, the state has historically persecuted believers. This should come as no shock to us. Aristotle wondered if a good man could ever really be a good citizen: for, he said, “. . . it was the duty of the citizen always to support and obey the state . . .” There were times when the good man would find that impossible.
FAMILY WOLVES (10:21, 34-37)
This is probably the most desperate and hurtful scenario. Jesus predicted, “And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.” Jesus added, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” This clearly predicts that those who are closest to us may become our betrayers in days of persecution.
Again, this took place with Abel when he was betrayed by Cain and murdered. This took place with Joseph when he was betrayed by his brethren. Sibling love could break down, as well as parental love and respect for aging parents, and they will be replaced with variance. The word for variance in the Greek language means to make into two. What once was unified will now be divided. What is intended to be understood here is that even those closest to us will potentially betray us. If that could happen then the loyalty of those who are more distant would be transactional as well.
This is particularly dangerous because your relatives and immediate family know your habits and if there is sensitive information to betray, they certainly have it. Wolves will hide their intentions and prowl unnoticed in the shadows until they can pounce on their prey. Family wolves can certainly gather damaging information on us that could be incredibly useful to those who are adversarial.Use great caution when dealing with wolves in days of persecution. They are surreptitious and covert in some cases. They can also be overt and manifest, but they mostly work in the shadows that shroud their perilous presence. Jesus predicted that state, religion and family would eventually join forces to betray and condemn believers.
 Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
 Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
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