Why didn’t God help the early church under Roman persecution but he did with Israel in Egypt?

By Al Ngu, New York                                                                                                                September 23, 2018

I want to pull a parallel between the sufferings and persecutions of the Jewish nation Israel during the time of Moses and the early (ancient) church in Jerusalem.

Israel’s Slavery in Egypt

To be real, the sufferings of Israel was predestined by God to have the children of Abraham to suffer in exile in a foreign nation as God told Abraham in a vision as He established a covenant with Abraham in a semi trance when the fire of God passed over the sacrifices. (Gen 15:12-16) [1]

And sure enough 3 million Jews suffered intensely in Egypt and they cried out to God, and God, in his timing, sent a deliverer/prophet, Moses to their rescue. And that culminated in the greatest miracle in the human civilization ever, the great Red Sea was parted as God sent a mighty east wind that blew all night for the 3 millions Jews to cross on dry sea bed, only to close it as Egyptian army chased them into the sea bed. Israel was delivered and Mariam led the women of Israel as they danced before the Lord and sang “The Lord mighty: The chariots of Egypt were thrown into the sea. Now, quick forward history to the church, what about the persecutions & sufferings of the church of Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

The Early Church Martyrdom

Since the resurrection of Christ at about 33 AD, the apostle Peter, James & John took over the reign of the church and led the church to some phenomenal growth both numerically and qualitatively. The most important part was the spirit of the early church was so strong and the foundation laid by especially Paul is phenomenal. The book of Acts exploded with the arrival of the Pentecost when 3000 men were converted in a single event after 300 men were filled and baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. The church took off and tightly knitted communities were formed only to be the envy of the world, for they so loved one another, and shared all with everyone else. No one was in lack. The Lord was in their midst.

But under the Roman emperor of that time, both our greatest apostle, Paul, was martyred, and also Peter crucified, and John, James beheaded. There was a huge price to pay for Christ. Then came the ancient church forefathers who were powerful in their theology and loving the Lord and church, but were all martyred. Those included Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Ignatius, and a woman of mighty faith and intellect, Perpetua who was fed to the beast, as a nursing mother. The stories couldn’t be more dark and heart breaking as we plow through those years, as I read my seminary book-The Story of Christianity ’ by Justo Gonzalez.

To summarize right from the get go, Christians faced severe persecutions of the kind that modern churches in our 21st century has not seen or heard at all. Let me just spring to the final & worst persecution of the church. The Caesar of Roman Empire called Galerius started the final and worst persecution. Christians were labeled as rebels as they refused to join the Roman military. Galerius, in fear of the Christians refusing to join the army, and hence may even pull out of army in time of war, started pushing them to deny their faith. In 303 AD, he finally convinced the Augustus (Emperor) of the Roman Empire, Diocletian, to issue a new edict against Christians. He ordered that all Christian buildings and books to be destroyed, and as many Christians who refused to turn over their sacred writings (Bible), they were tortured and condemned to death. Throughout the empire houses where Christian met and sacred writings were being sent to the torch, and overzealous officials put Christians to death. There were resistance from Christians (rightfully) and caused disturbances in some areas, and Emperor Diocletian became convinced that Christians were conspiring against him. He reacted and has all the church leaders arrested and later all Christians must offer sacrifice to the gods. Thus was unleashed the most cruel of all the persecutions that the ancient church had to endure. Many Christians were encouraged to abandon their faith. (Does this sound similar in some ways in America today in a subtler one?) The rest were tortured with refined cruelty, and eventually killed in a variety of ways. A number of them took the sacred books and fled to Persia across the border. [2]

How did God intervene?

That’s my thesis of this reflection. In Moses time, God heard the cries of Israel, and sent Moses. People of Israel bowed when they heard Yahweh heard and responded. Exodus 3: The Lord said,I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering….. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” That response changed the entire trajectory of Israel and brought in the most thunderous awesome divine act of God, next to the crucifixion of Christ & resurrection. There is a visible and expressive tangible response from God and Israel were able to worship Him and bow down. To be truthful, I didn’t see any martyrdom of the Jewish population at that time, but only intense hardship in their labor to collect straw for the making of bricks.

The whole approach of God towards his people changed from the OT (Old Testament) to the NT (New Testament)

In the NT, the church is God’s people, the spiritual Israel. And when the ancient church in 300 AD went through the most terrifying martyrdom, the church cried out to the Lord Jesus and God the Father, Yahweh, God didn’t send a ‘Moses’ per se. God’s way seems to be more like “be strong and build up your inner man and that God may be glorified”. That’s why I believe Christians have a much higher calling and hence harder one compared to the OT’s Israel when all they needed to do was to obey and it will be well. The choice of the OT is simple and straightforward, but the NT people of God, the church, has a much harder route in following God and loving Him.

Many were called to martyrdom in the early ancient church, and God seemed to be quiet

But when you hear from the lips of these martyrs, something break loose in your spirit as you know God is so real in their hearts and spirits. Justin martyr (the first bishop after apostle Peter/John) asked the church in Rome not to stop his journey to Rome to be martyred so as to give glory to our Lord. Perpetua [3] (Readings in Christian Theologian-Michael Reeves), a nursing mother, wrote in her Passion of Perpetua that she was ready to be sacrificed for the glory of God and she was fed to the beast. As all these atrocious murderous acts were condemning Christians, God finally tangibly acted. In 311 AD, God intervened in a quiet way, the emperor of Rome, Galerius became ill with painful disease and perhaps convinced by the Christians who said this was a punishment from God, grudgingly decided to change his policy, and in April 30, 311, Galerius proclaimed…to allow Christians once again to gather in their assemblies, as long as they do not interfere with public order. ……And in our tolerance, Christians will be required to pray to their god for us, for the public good, for themselves, so that the state may enjoy prosperity and they may live in peace. [4] Galerius died five days later. The Roman Empire was divided among Licenses, Maximinus Daia, Constantine and Manutius.

Then came the emergence of the savior of the Christendom of that time as Constantine began to emerge. Constantine was the emperor of the Western Roman Empire including Western Europe and the UK, where Galerius was the emperor of the eastern Roman Empire covering Israel and Jerusalem. Constantine, when least expected, gathered his armies in Gaul, crossed the Alps and marched on Rome, Maxiencius capital. Constantine conquered Rome. According to Christian chroniclers who knew Constantine, on the eve of the battle he had a revelation. Lactantius says that it was in a dream Constantine received the command to place a Christian symbol on the shields of his soldiers. The other chronicler, Eusebius, says that in the vision appeared in the sky, with the words “in this you shall conquer”. The symbol looked like the superimposition of the Greek letters chi and rho. Since these are the two letters f the name, “Christ”, this labarum could well have been a Christian symbol. At the end of 313 CE, after the edict of Milan, the persecutions ended.


God intervened and cursed the evil emperor and sent an emperor who would be converted to Christianity and brought the greatest expansion of the gospel in the early ancient foundations of the church. But that’s only after the martyrdom of a lot of Christians in most cruel way. I believe God’s work in this NT time is different from that of OT, and obviously the Son of God, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, came into the world and lit the whole world for a new baptism of fire with the final consummation on the death on the cross and his glorious resurrection. Our Lord was martyred himself too. This calls for a wisdom and heart preparation as we face persecutions in our 21st century.


[1] 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

[2] Gonzalez, Justo   The Story of Christianity Pg 121

[3] Kerr, Hugh Readings in Christian Thought   Pg 24-28

[4] Gonzalez, Justo   The Story of Christianity  Pg 124

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