For years now, terrorism is a big global issue. We can describe terrorists as murderers, evil, wicked, heartless, ignorant, and on and on. But thank God that a number of Muslims have seen the light, trusted Jesus, and turned their back on the darkness. Jesus died for all mankind, terrorists included, and the Bible tells us, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 NLT). Terrorists can come to faith in Jesus, because God is able to make that happen. Let’s turn the pain, frustration, anger, and even hatred that we feel toward them into prayer.
As Christians, the apostle we reference most often is the apostle Paul (aka Saul) of Tarsus. Before he became an apostle, he was a terrorist! He persecuted the Church of Jesus Christ; he was one of the witnesses and was in total agreement when Stephen was stoned to death for testifying about Jesus. Why was he a terrorist? As a Pharisee (the strictest sect of Judaism—see Acts 26:5), Paul wanted nothing to do with Christianity (The Way, as it was called). He took it upon himself to preserve Judaism, and in his own words, “I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem… I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities.” (Acts 26:9-11 NLT)
Paul continued his terrorist acts until Jesus got his attention. He had received letters from the High Priest in Jerusalem, requesting the cooperation of the synagogue in Damascus, to arrest and bring back to Jerusalem any Christians in Damascus (see Acts 9:1-2). As he neared Damascus, his trip was interrupted; Jesus had a dialogue with him.
“Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
The response, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:3-6 NLT). That was the turning point in the life of this terrorist; he became a new person: a believer!
Saul, received marching orders (from God) while in Damascus. Immediately, he started preaching Jesus and fellowshipping with the very people he had gone to terrorize and arrest. Those who heard him speak about Jesus as the Son of God could not believe what they were hearing. They questioned, “Isn’t this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem? And didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?” (Acts 9:21 NLT) His arguments about Jesus were so convincing that the Jews in Damascus could not refute his proofs. On his return to Jerusalem, the believers there were afraid of him, and could not believe that he had become a believer of Jesus Christ.
This dramatic change is proof that no matter how much people hate Jesus, God can turn them around, making them useful instruments in His service. Our current-day terrorists can be confronted just as Saul was; they can understand the truth about Jesus, believe in Him, and take the message to their former colleagues. This is a call for Christians to sincerely pray for all non-Christians, especially the terrorists and all who support and encourage their cause, just as Stephen prayed for those who killed him (see Acts 7:60).
On Paul’s return to Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit commissioned him and Barnabas to go and preach the gospel; they travelled extensively, preaching to both Jews and Gentiles. Through their ministry, many believed and were saved, many were healed, Christians were encouraged to live for the Lord, and churches were planted (see Acts 13-14). In addition to sharing the gospel, he continued to encourage the churches he planted and individuals he discipled through letters, and constantly prayed for them. Those letters (Epistles) continue to build and strengthen the Church today. Indeed, Paul was a terrorist turned evangelist/missionary!
Saul, the most anti-Jesus individual mentioned in the Scriptures, worked extremely hard for the cause of the gospel. His hard work was not without suffering. This is his own testimony: “I have worked harder (than the other apostles), been put in prison more often, been whipped without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea…I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep warm.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)
So, is there hope for terrorists? Yes! If we Christians pray fervently, this hope can be realized. The Scriptures tell us, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16 NLT) As we pray for them, let’s also pray for churches that are experiencing the brunt of this evil: that God will encourage them, and that they’ll find it in their hearts to pray for their persecutors. Let’s pray until we have numerous Paul-type-terrorists turned evangelists and missionaries!