Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10
On a warm summer day, July 19, 64 AD, fire broke out in the poor quarters of Rome near the coliseum. In those days the streets of the city were narrow and were used primarily for foot traffic. Many buildings in that area had been built of wood, and in the dry heat of summer they burned quickly. In only hours, there was a conflagration unlike anything Rome had ever seen. The Temple of Luna was consumed along with the Shrine of Vesta...hundreds, then thousands, of people were homeless.
When people tried to extinguish the blaze, they were forcibly restrained by the imperial soldiers, which led to the belief that Nero, who had a fixation with buildings which bore his name, was really responsible for the fire's having been set. In the Tower of Mycenius, Nero watched and gloated. For three days, the city was ablaze with the inferno. In the evening as the sky glowed with the burning inferno, on the balcony of the Imperial Palace, Nero played his fiddle with glee.
When a public outcry arose, Nero needed a scapegoat, and the Christians of Rome offered the perfect one. First of all, the growing Christian population wasn't liked. Large numbers of Jews, whose success in the business world was resented, had converted to Christianity. Furthermore, dislike for Christians was fueled by rumors such as the belief that Christians were really cannibals who ate flesh and drank blood in their religious rites which we know as communion today.
The madness of prejudice quickly turned into the fire of persecution, and people who had lived relatively peaceful lives suddenly were victims of malicious cruelty which they had never before known.
Within months the Apostle Peter, who had known something of prejudice and persecution himself, picked up pen and wrote to help those who suddenly were confronted with pain and suffering which they did not deserve nor had they expected. Peter wrote, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Christ..." (1 Peter 4:12,13).
Another version translates the phrase, "painful trial," as "fiery ordeal" - which accurately describes what they were going through. Literally, the word means "the process of burning." Men and women who were peaceful and law-abiding suddenly had become targets of hostility which they couldn't quite fathom. The admission, "Christianos sum," or "I am a Christian," made you a victim of hatred and violence which was immune from the prosecution of Roman courts.
What believers were going through then is still being repeated today. In the passage which you ought to get familiar with, located in 1 Peter 4, Peter talks about two kinds of suffering: First, he says, "if you are insulted" which translates emotional suffering, and then he says, "if you suffer as a Christian..." which translates actual physical suffering.
Why should you be the brunt of unkind words or prejudice because of what you believe? There are times when your basic goodness is a prick to the conscience of an unbeliever. "Don't be surprised" when this happens, is Peter's advice. Would not logic demand that if something is to be no surprise, we should be aware of its possibility if not outright expect it? Jesus said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first" (John 15:18). Paul wrote, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."
"Rejoice," says Peter, no matter how strange the logic, for you share in the suffering of Christ.
Resource reading: 1 Peter 4:1-19