Family members and loved ones may turn on you.

Mark 13.12-13, Matthew 10.21-22, Luke 21.16-18, John 16.2-3.

In Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, he warned his students of the tribulation they’d undergo. Not just the Romans destroying the temple, but how Christians would be persecuted.

It’s something the students needed to hear. Something all Christians need to hear. ’Cause the assumption most people would come to is when God’s on our side, we should never, ever suffer. Suffering’s for losers; for people who lack God. Our God’s a winner, so his followers oughta be winners—people who call down fire on their oppressors 1Ki 1.9-12 or when people just try to put ’em to death, God always supernaturally rescues ’em. Da 3.24-25, 6.19-22 It’s an assumption Christians still make: “I’m working for God, so he’ll keep me safe.”

God guarantees no such thing. The only thing he does guarantee is in this life, we have tribulation. Jn 16.33 Suffering happens. Happened to Jesus too. Imagining that the righteous, the obedient, “good people” don’t suffer: That’s karmic thinking, not reality. In real life, good people die all the time. The universe doesn’t sort everything out; the universe is meaningless, and bad people will sometimes prevail.

So Jesus wasn’t gonna fill his students’ heads with ridiculous happy thoughts. He leveled with them: Bad stuff’s gonna happen to Jerusalem. Bad stuff’s gonna happen to you. They can’t handle who I am, and that you follow me. At some point they’ll come for you. And your family and friends might side with them, not you.

Or as Jesus puts it:

Mark 13.12-13 KWL
12 “And a brother will hand over a brother to death;
and a father his child,
and children will turn against parents and have them put to death.
13 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
One who lasts till the end: This person will be saved.”
Matthew 10.21-22 KWL
21 “And a brother will hand over a brother to death;
and a father his child,
and children will turn against parents and have them put to death.
22 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
One who lasts till the end: This person will be saved.”
Luke 21.16-18 KWL
16 “And you’ll also be handed over by parents, siblings, relatives, and friends.
They’ll put some of you to death.
17 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
18 Or they might not destroy a hair of your head.
19 Gain your lives by your endurance.”
John 16.2-3 KWL
“They’ll make you excommunicants from their synagogues.
But the hour comes when everyone who kills you
might think it’s to offer service to God.
3 They’ll do these things because they don’t know the Father, nor me.”

Even family will get you killed.

I’ve heard people compare Jesus’s day to ours: “In our day, parents might totally turn their kids in. In fact here’s a story”—and they’ll present one they pulled from the newspapers—“where some kid called the cops on their parents,” or siblings, or cousins, or whomever, ’cause they were breaking the law. But, these people claim, in Jesus’s day they’d do no such thing. Because Jews were loyal to their family members. They would never.

And of course that’s rubbish. Family won’t turn over family to the authorities? They have. In every culture.

There are plenty of situations where they might not. If they share the same religious views, or same politics, or take a cause equally seriously, yeah they’ll stand in unison with one another. They might claim it’s because they’re family, but really their solidarity stems from their common cause. If it was a serious enough political or religious disagreement, and they felt “My kid’s a dangerous terrorist” or “My sister’s a dangerous heretic” or “My dad’s nuts,” they’re turning ’em in. They might seriously regret it later… and then again they might not, ’cause they got a dangerous person off the streets.

And yeah, there are people who love their family members enough to overlook how dangerous they might actually be. It’s why parents might totally know their kids are serial killers, or planning to do something horrific in the name of their religion… and do nothing, and figure love might save the day, and of course it doesn’t. But blind loyalty is something we should only have for Jesus, and maybe certain trustworthy people. Not murderers and madmen. Even if they’re family.

So what Jesus is describing, isn’t a radical or unique situation. Not in Hebrew culture either. Family turned on family a bunch of times in the bible. Cain killed Abel. Jacob stole a blessing from Esau. Joseph ben Jacob’s brothers sold him into slavery, Miriam and Aaron tried to undermine Moses, David ben Jesse’s father-in-law Saul and brother-in-law Ishbaal and son Absalom wanted to kill him. Dysfunctional family dynamics are nothing new, and to expect some sort of exceptional loyalty from family solely because they’re family, is naïve.

But remember whom Jesus was talking to: His students. Young men who might’ve had good relationships with their parents, who never considered things might get quite that bad. And of course they could. And did.

Opposition isn’t always gonna come from outside. It’s not always gonna be political. Sometimes it’ll be personal. Our beliefs offend others. Most of the time it’s because we Christians will be self-righteous jerks about it, so it’s totally understandable. But some of us are actually trying to follow Jesus… so their offense isn’t gonna come from anything evil we did, but because we make their selfishness, materialism, and self-justification so obvious by contrast. They’re gonna hate that. And us.

You know the type of person who jealously can’t handle it when family members are successful? “What, does he think he’s better than me? He ain’t better’n me.” I have some of those. Their envy is ridiculous—why can’t you simply rejoice at others’ success?—but there are a lot of people like that, who think the only way to rise is to tear everyone else down. And when Jesus helps us put our lives in order, they can’t abide that: They have us pigeonholed as unsuccessful screw-ups, and they won’t believe we can change for the better. Certainly not better than them. They’ll want to knock us back down to “normal”—and if that means destroying us along the way, they’re remarkably okay with that.

And yeah, they’ll blame Jesus. “You must’ve joined a cult,” they might claim; or they’ll think you’ve lost your mind. If they imagine they’re Christian themselves, they’ll insist you joined a tribe of extremists, or heretics, or some other wackadoo group. “They’ll make you excommunicants from their synagogues,” Jesus warned his kids in John: You can’t worship with them. They won’t even discuss this stuff or debate with you; get out. How dare you suggest they’re wrong?

Yeah, it’s highly personal. So people in your personal life, family and friends alike, may turn on you. Don’t be surprised. Two of Jesus’s Twelve turned on him.

Some will die. Some won’t.

The way I translated Luke is a little different from the way it’s commonly put:

Luke 21.16-18 ESV
16 “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish.”

That’s an obvious, glaring mistranslation. Because the students he was speaking with—Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John—did perish. Peter and Andrew by crucifixion, James by decapitation, and John by banishment. (Various Christians claim John didn’t perish, because he didn’t suffer capital punishment. Yeah, like life on a prison island is any better.) All of them perished. Including the hairs on their heads.

The translators are simply repeating the KJV’s “But there shall not an hair of your head perish.” The assumption is οὐ μὴ ἀπόληται/u mi apólite, “may not, not perish,” means the hear of your head really won’t perish: U mi is a Greek double negative which, like our English “ain’t no way,” means it really won’t happen. But the verb apólite means “may perish”; it refers to something that might happen, not something that will happen. And the opposite of something that might happen is something that might not happen; not something that won’t happen. Something still within the realm of possibility, not something where there ain’t no way.

Jesus was contrasting “They’ll put some of you to death” with “They might not destroy a hair of your head.” Some will die. Some will live! This isn’t a message of doom and despair; it’s a warning that persecution would happen to his students, and might happen to any future Christians. Depends on whether we stay vigilant, and keep our governments—and more importantly, the people who covet power, on both ends of the spectrum—from clamping down on freedom of religion in their favor.

Because of this mistranslation, you’re gonna hear Christians who declare this verse applies for their circumstances; they’ve staked a claim on it. “Not a hair on my head will perish!” And sometimes it doesn’t; sometimes popular sentiment is in their favor, or they have a clever lawyer, or God actually bails ’em out through too many “coincidences” which set ’em free. But sometimes it does. Sometimes they die in prison. Sometimes they totally deserve to die in prison. In any event this verse doesn’t mean what they insist it does. It’s subjunctive. Might not destroy a hair on your head. But might so.

And Acts has stories of supernatural intervention. Angels freeing Christians. Earthquakes shaking prisons. If things look dire, never rule out God. Don’t assume persecution automatically means all the Christians are going to the guillotine.

(On a side note, where’d this idea Christians are getting guillotined during the great tribulation come from? Well, Revelation refers to beheaded Christians, Rv 20.4 so the 1978 End Times movie A Distant Thunder has some rounded-up Christians getting beheaded with a guillotine. After all France was still executing convicts by guillotine until 1977. But the movie image is kinda burned in the brains of so many “prophecy scholars,” so a bunch of ’em keep insisting the guillotine will make a comeback. Yeah, that’s not what that verse is about anyway.)

Lasting till the end.

Suffering has an endpoint.

For pessimistic people, that’ll be death. They don’t expect to get out of the suffering alive. And Jesus did say some will die. But he also said some won’t.

For those who believe in a seven-year tribulation, that’s the only kind of suffering they’re thinking about. They’re not thinking of Christians under persecution today, or Christians who’d been under persecution in the past by the Romans or the Spanish or the Japanese or the English. They’re thinking of End Times stuff, of Christians who for whatever reason didn’t get raptured before the tribulation. So the endpoint is the second coming: Jesus returns and puts a stop to the suffering.

But Jesus meant any suffering. Any persecution. At some point those times are gonna come to an end. Chief persecutors will die, and be replaced by benign leaders… or even pro-Christian leaders. At some point enough people in the Politburo is gonna be succeeded by a Christian. Happened in Russia; might yet happen elsewhere, God willing.

And if you held out the whole time, Jesus said you’ll be saved.

Yeah, you’ll be tempted to cave. Especially under torture. Plenty of ancient Christians gave in to the Romans’ demands and worshiped the emperor, and felt like they’ve doomed themselves to hell because of it. (As if Jesus won’t forgive people who deny him.) We’re human; we’re weak. Jesus is fully aware of this. But, he encourages us, try. Work on your endurance. It’s worth it.

Because if you don’t die, and Jesus doesn’t yet come back, suffering has an endpoint. Are you gonna come out of it in victory or defeat? ’Cause Jesus offers us the power to be victorious. It sounds way better than the alternatives.