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Guest Post by Thomas R. Schreiner

Most of us have read the story of 21 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya. An ISIS video showed about 12 of them being beheaded, and it is quite certain that all of them were murdered.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 7.59.17 AMWe Are Not Surprised

Jesus told us to expect persecution, teaching his disciples that unbelievers would hate us just as they hated him (John 15:18-20).

Jesus predicted that some of those who kill us “will think” they are “offering service to God” (John 16:2).

Even though most of us won’t lose our lives for Christ’s sake, we should not be surprised if we do. All of us need to be ready to surrender our lives for Christ. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

We Are More Than Conquerers

Jesus calls us “to be faithful unto death” to receive “the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Jesus also calls us to rejoice when persecuted, for it is a great honor to die for our Lord and Savior, and our reward will far exceed our suffering (Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:41). Naturally, we may be frightened and scared at such a prospect, worried that we don’t have the strength to suffer. And we don’t have the strength in ourselves, but God promises to be with us in the fire and the flood (Isa. 43:2), and he promises to give us grace to endure the hardest things. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).

In dying for Christ’s sake, in not loving our “lives even unto death,” we are not losers but winners; we are not overcome by evil. Instead, we are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37; Rev. 12:11). Those who are slain for Christ’s sake come to life and reign with Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:4).

We Grieve with Those Who Grieve

Paul says that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Still, the matter is not simplistic, and life is not easy. We “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Paul said that if Epaphroditus had died he would experience “sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:27). Grief floods the hearts of those left behind.

We Pray for Both Our Enemies and Our Suffering Brothers and Sisters

We need a special grace to pray for the salvation of those who have done such a great evil.

We also pray for our brothers and sisters suffering around the world; we plead that God would grant them his joy and strength and perseverance to endure until the end.

We pray that God would protect them and sustain his church.

We Plead for God’s Just Judgment

At the same time, like the martyrs under the altar in Rev. 6:9-11, we cry, “O Sovereign Lord . . . how long?” When will you act and bring justice to this world? When will you vindicate your saints and judge the wicked for the sake of your great name?

The day of judgment is coming, the day when everything will be made right. Meanwhile, God is calling out many more to be his children, even among those who persecute us. We praise God both for his saving love and for his just judgment. And we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

Thomas R. Schreiner is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Professor of Biblical Theology, and associate dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest commentary is on the book of Hebrews for the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation Commentary (B&H) and he is currently completing a commentary on the book of Revelation for Crossway’s 12-volume ESV Bible Expository Commentary.

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23 thoughts on “Tom Schreiner: A Biblical Meditation on the ISIS Execution of 21 Christians”

  1. Doug says:

    Amen. We must also realize that there were an estimated 1.3 million Christians in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The Christians had favor with Saddam because they were peaceful toward the government. After we removed Saddam, heavy persecution against Christians began in full. There are now only an estimated 300k Christians in Iraq. Many have been slaughtered. Many have fled. The same has happened in Syria where Bashar al-Assad was also favorable toward Christians. These despicable ISIS actions against Christians are in large part the result of the destabilization of Syria and Iraq by international forces.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      For good background on ISIS, their origin, and their goals, see

    2. Waad Haddad says:

      I totally agree with Doug especially with your last statement. (These despicable ISIS actions against Christians are in large part the result of the destabilization of Syria and Iraq by international forces.)
      I can testify to what your said about Christians living peacefully in Iraq under Saddam. The US gov. takes a huge responsibility and blame to what’s going on in the Middle East.

      1. Michael says:

        The US government is very much to blame, because it didn’t take reprisals against the communities that harbored the persecutors of the Christians.

        Ann Coulter was right when she said: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

      2. Chimaobi says:

        international forces and distabilisation is part of the causes of the killing? We will always try to find human answers to biblical truths. This things must happen. Persecution of Christians all over the world is unavoidable. If Christ is your confessed saviour you will be persecuted and count it all joy for you have eternal reward if you persevere in Christ Jesus. Isis cannot prevail over the body of Christ. We will continue in prayers that our gracious and merciful father touch their hearts but as per the persecution of Christians it will never come to an end until Christ returns. May God protect us and our brethrens all over the world amen.

    3. Tom~ RYG says:

      Thanks for reminding us of the spiritual war fare that is taking place. We need to continue to pray for those being persecuted that they will hold firm and the gospel will spread as a result.

    4. D C Brown says:

      We were so ready for revenge and blood following 9/11 – followers of Christ and unbelievers alike. “Love you enemy” was about as far away from our minds as could be. I was a part of “let them hear from us” crowd. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

  2. Dave Evans says:

    This is a good Biblical meditation on the ISIS execution of 21 Christians. A verse I would add to this is Romans 13:4 “…for he (it’s talking about one in authority, a soldier, police officer) is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”
    As we’re praying, what responsibility do we have “to execute wrath on those who practice evil?” The Word says they are God’s ministers… This is how innocent children are protected from evil-doers. ISIS is not only executing men, but women and children as well. That is well documented. That’s why while I’m praying for my enemies and for those in authority, So, I’m praying and urging Romans 13 action as well.

    1. Michael says:

      This is correct. I would add that the enemy bears the name of Amalek, with whom God swore to have war from generation to generation (Exodus 17:16). The objective must be the total annihilation of the enemy who is under the curse of destruction.

  3. I just thought it was tacky for Schreiner to begin his article with “We Are Not Surprised.” He could had at least started by showing some emotion, such as indignation and outcry. Last time I checked anger is not a sin, particularly toward evil. Show some humanness. His short piece reads strangely stoic-like. Just found it odd and terse.

    Everything he said was biblical, but it was how he said it and the lack of emotion conveyed.

    1. Consider that the common rhetoric on this and related subjects is often inflammatory and emotional to a dangerous degree, relying on pathos more than any kind of biblical argument. Schreiner may be trying to counter that. He does make it clear that he and others should “grieve with those who grieve,” but maybe he does not emphasize it in the way we are accustomed to seeing because such grief is often mixed up with thoughts of vengeance. In making this a biblical meditation and starting out with the words of Jesus, he helps us prioritize our feelings.

  4. Andrea says:

    Thank you for ministering to us with this article. While others would rather debate about the salvation of those martyred (only God Himself knows the heart, it’s not for US to judge) I’m thankful that there are shepherds out there who care for the Bride of Christ and bring us the comfort of the scriptures. It’s a scary world we live in, I pray we who call ourselves by HIS Name will not faint or shrink back if persecution or martyrdom comes knocking on our doors. Thank you for bringing us the Word of Truth and comfort at this time.

  5. I just thought it was tacky for Schreiner to begin his article with “We Are Not Surprised.” He could at least had started by conveying some emotion, such as indignation and outcry. Last time I checked anger is not a sin, particularly toward evil. Show some humanness. His short piece reads strangely stoic-like. Just found it odd and terse.

    Everything he said was biblical, but it was how he said it and the lack of emotion conveyed.

  6. Oh G-d of my fathers and Master of the of the Earth; as a Jew I am sickened by this filth called Isis and I tell you this on the blood of Yeshua HaMiskiach; Isis is the filth that needs to be destroyed; it attacks and butchers Christian because it comes from the excrement of Satan; for those that bear arms and kill Isis I say to you, G-d bless you for you do the work of the Almighty; for those who want to erase Christians from their ancient and rightful lands; G-d will send an army to slaughter you, just as he did to help Joshua crush the miserable pagan Cannanites Isis is Pagan devil worshippers who defile the name of G-d; they will die..blessed be the name of G-d and his Saviour of the Universe who lives with us; Que Viva Cristo Rey! Que muere Los paganos de infierno Isis

  7. Marc says:

    We should be brought to our knees in sorrow and prayer not because the Coptic Christians – as they’ve come to be known – are Christians who share our saving faith in Jesus. Coptic Christians (by their confession) do not share our saving faith in Jesus. That should make no difference to the sadness of this tragedy…except, perhaps, make it sadder and even more tragic.
    In the broadest possible (and most inaccurate) sense possible, the term Christian is applied to the Coptics for the same reason it is applied to Roman Catholics by major media.
    We cannot consider the Coptics an unreached people group by the IMB one day and then call them Christian martyrs the next.
    What’s at stake, you see, is the Gospel. May God forbid our (good and honorable) desire to show sympathy for temporal suffering lead us to say careless words that might lead to eternal suffering. The Coptics, by their confession, believe in salvation-by-works. They need to be evangelized, and they need to come to Christ.
    Please love the group known as ‘Coptic Christians.’ Please pray for them.

    1. Waad Haddad says:

      Marc: Many of these Coptic Christians are GENUINE Bible-Believers, regardless of their religious affiliation. They love the Lord and they were willing to die for him. In the Middle East we use the term Christian loosely, as you mentioned, but this does not prevent the fact that there are some born again Christians in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox circles. In fact, I personally have talked to many of the Coptic Christians in Cairo and they can share the gospel with sinners just like an evangelical Christian in the US. Also, I’ve seen some Orthodox priests that preach the gospel by faith alone. However, they don’t think it is the right thing to do to leave their church just as some evangelicals, in America, who associate with liberals and they don’t separate from them!!!

      1. Marc says:

        Most criticism has come from one of three directions. From the first direction, a certain segment of high-church sacramentalists who also would criticize us for believing that Roman Catholics are not – if they hold to their confessions – Christian. There’s little we can do about that criticism. We do not believe that baptized equals saved. Like most Protestants still holding to our confessions, we recognize those whose confessions negate a grace-alone, faith-alone, Christ-alone salvation as unbelievers. And so…here, we stand.
        There has also come criticism from mainstream evangelicalism that doesn’t really have a confession at all. Like the aforementioned group, these believe that having the name Christian suffices. We believe one must be born again and have a faith in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and his righteousness to be saved. The Coptic Christian confession and church tradition (that, like the RCC, sees as a higher authority than the Bible) denies this. Is one saved by orthodox doctrine, one critic asked? One is saved by faith alone in Christ, but one cannot be saved without an orthodox understanding of what that means. This is nothing controversial in the realm of Christian orthodoxy, although it may not be well received in the midst of emotional hysteria. Likewise, some have said “How do you know for sure none of these men were born again?” Clearly, we do not know that, just as it would an absurd assumption that these martyrs were born-again believers. We can only assume that they hold to their confession, of which there is good reason to believe the negative – that they held to the theological convictions of their “church.” Likewise, there may be (hypothetically) a professed Mormon or Muslim or Catholic somewhere who doesn’t hold to the doctrines of their faith, who do not take part in false worship, and who somehow maintains a belief in Jesus. But it would not be irrational to assume people hold to their confession. It would be irrational, however, to assume for some inexplicable reason all of the 21 had forsook their confession and we are to consider them Christians. Neither have we said they weren’t martyrs. Indeed, they were. And there are Muslim martyrs, Buddhist martyrs, and Hindu martyrs. It may be an Islamic belief that to die a martyr makes one a true believer and assures a place in paradise, but such is not a Christian belief.
        ” They would say the same of Jesus, no doubt, who Luke 13:1-5 who upon hearing the news of a massacre in the temple, chose to make the message, “Repent, or else ye, likewise, will perish.” As stated in the article very, very clearly, we must not assume these men are believers to call this act terrible and sinful, and to weep with their families or be drawn to prayer for them.
        Theology is a hair splitting endeavor, and since our theology will shape our practice, it’s important that we get this right. The Coptic issue brings up another much larger issue, “what do we do with evangelizing Roman Catholics?” Think of all the Christian missionaries in Central and South America and Western Europe. Do they need to be called home from the field because those Catholics are truly brothers and sisters and Christ even though their church teaches faith plus works? The Coptic and Eastern Church is no different.. if you have any allegiance for the 3 Forms of Unity, then salvation by grace through faith and justification by faith alone are non negotiables. There’s a reason certain men don’t sign the ECT docs or the Manhattan Dec and that’s because Protestants and RC’s and any off shoot teaches a different gospel.
        The evangelical bandwagon don’t need to be upset and heartbroken that this happened, specifically, to Christians. We need to be upset and heartbroken that this happened. Period.

        1. Waad Haddad says:

          We, as evangelical Christians, know and believe that RCC and Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) do preach a false gospel, and we need to separate from them. I came from the RCC background and I’ve deeply studied the Eastern Orthodox Theology and I’ve been in Egypt for more than 12 mission trips. I don’t want to be misinterpreted. I do believe that RCC and EOC are false forms of Christianity. I also know that in Egypt there is the largest evangelical community of believers in the Middle East with 1200 bible-believing church. There is a large number of Coptic Christians who are genuine believers. I neither can assume nor deny the faith of those martyrs. On many occasions, ISIS would not slaughter some Christians who deny the faith and convert to Islam.
          In Egypt and the Middle East in general, some Christians would remain in their traditional churches for pragmatic reasons (or lack of a bible believing church near by), even though they know for sure that salvation is by faith alone and their church confession deny that!!!! The doctrine of Biblical Separation is not pervasive there. Just as in the US, we have so many evangelical Christians who shake hands with Liberals and accept them in their churches and bible colleges/seminaries for pragmatic reasons. In fact, some good and popular theologians (and seminaries) accept those who openly teach Open Theism and New Perspective on Paul. Some popular theologians praise some writers (esp. who hold PhD) although they deny the inspiration/sufficiency of the Scripture and hold to continuous prophecy. Nevertheless, these false (Liberal) Christians are accepted in the church membership and even invited to speak in gospel proclamation conferences, and allowed to teach in academic circles. Generally speaking, only in Fundamentalist circles there is a consistent practice of biblical separation.
          Thereofre, I did not come up with the conclusion that we should pull out our missionaries to Europe and South America (this is your straw man arg.) I personally serve in Egypt and try to evangelize the Coptics as well as the muslims there. I praise the Lord for the courage of many Egyptian Christians and their love for God and the Bible. They persevere in faith unlike MANY American evangelical Christians and theologians who don’t!!!

  8. Let’s not forget that what ISIS intends to do with Christian and Jews, is what Hitler intended to do with Jews: exterminate them. This is first-rank genocide. Should we had “turned the other cheek” with Hitler? (a biblical text that is so often grossly taken out of context). We need to cease with the out-of-context religious platitudes and affirm a biblical Just War theory that is glorifying to Christ and faithful to his Word. Much of the former comes from swedish-baptist pacifism. Mechanical-stoic “meditations” is about tactless as you can get immediately after such as tragic event as this. Coptic Christians have been martyred. Grief and indignation is a good thing.

  9. Michael Snow says:

    Excellent food for meditation. We also need to remember that it was the U.S. invasion of Iraq that opened Pandora’s Box and created the vacuum in which ISIS could be birthed. Will we ever see American evangelical leaders repent for their endorsements of war?

  10. Esther Luna says:

    My heart breaks for the families of these men. I just want to point out that members of other religions, Yazidis and Muslims, are being persecuted in the same way. The Copts are a people group as are the others and IS is attempting genocide. Many members of this people group will tell you that salvation comes from your good deeds outweighing your bad deeds, just as Muslims would say. The big issue here is genocide. We feel a kinship with these men because of their Christian names so we grieve especially for them. May the gracious Lord receive them into His house! But let us show no less compassion for victims who happen to wear other religious labels. May God have mercy and purge the world of this evil.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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