But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. (Matthew 10:17)
Beaten In Church
Synagogue worship developed during the captivity in Babylon as the Jews were unable to go to Jerusalem and worship at the temple. The Babylonians had destroyed both the city and the temple and the remnant of the people of God were captive slaves. By the time of Jesus, the synagogue remained a central part of Jewish worship, with weekly assemblies to listen to the reading of the law and the prophets. It was the custom of Jesus to attend every Sabbath and read from the scrolls. Many cities had more than one synagogue, including Jerusalem. Depending on the synagogue’s size, each had various officers who attended to the ministry of prayers, readings, laws, and teaching of children. A group of Jewish leaders called elders presided over the synagogue. A synagogue would have a ruler (one or more) and a servant or minister who would see to the lighting of the worship place and keep the building clean. The minister would also be charged with wielding the whip to punish those found guilty of disobedience.
The power and influence of the synagogue had become so prominent in the days of Jesus many believed in Jesus, including some of the Jewish leaders. Still, they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. Jesus tells His disciples the day will come when resistance to the teaching of Jesus will bring them into the synagogue to be beaten. To be beaten like a criminal in the presence of the local synagogue would have brought incredible shame to the family. Jesus warns that many will face the disgrace of their names being brought before the rulers of the synagogue and, as friends and family watch, to be scourged. The law prohibited more than forty lashes, so the whip used for scourging had three thongs of leather with bone or lead. Thirteen lashes would be counted, leaving the scourging to thirty-nine lashes. The Romans had no such law and did not limit the scourging to a number.
Following Jesus would bring the shame of beatings in the synagogue. Paul recounted how he punished the followers of Jesus in every synagogue, compelling them to blaspheme. He witnessed the followers of the Way being beaten in the synagogue. The early disciples used the synagogue as a place to teach the gospel of Christ. It was a dangerous place to show the Jews the covenant of Christ. In the city of Corinth, Paul reasoned every Sabbath in the synagogue and persuaded both Jews and Gentiles. Facing opposition, Paul left the synagogue and taught at the house of Justus, whose house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed along with his household and many Corinthians. Persecution would come a year later when Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, was beaten before the judgment seat.
The faith and courage of the first century Christians is a remarkable story of how devoted they were to the teaching of Jesus Christ. Their belief that Jesus was the Christ helped them to face the inevitable persecution of those who would not believe. The synagogue was supposed to be a place of worship and reflection on the word of God and it became a rallying cry to stand for Jesus Christ. These saints were beaten in the synagogue because of what they believed. A modern version would be as if one were beaten in church. How would the church fare today if men were beaten for believing Jesus was the Christ or the Bible was the only true word? What will be the condition of the church in time to come when a bold stand against the immoral values of a world brings severe consequences of the law against it? How many Christians will be willing to be beaten in church for God? Jesus told His followers that life for them would be a cross-bearing life. That lesson has not changed.
For many, it will be difficult to be beaten in church because they never attend. The worse persecution they face is if the internet is slow. Others are too busy with work, recreation, and leisure to be where the Lord commands. The faithful will endure the ridicule of a world increasingly discontent with the faith of those who hold fast to Jesus Christ. When the Bible is taught in its divine force, the world will react. Will you be where you should be on the first day of the week – even if it means you might be beaten and scourged? Be faithful. Serve God. Obey His word. Endure and overcome.