"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting..." (Acts 9:5)
The above dialogue takes place on the road to Damascus. It is between, as is quite evident, Saul and Jesus. Saul (Paul's name before his conversion) is on his way to Damascus. He has in his possession a letter from the high priest which gives him the permission to arrest the followers of Jesus and bring them to Jerusalem. Saul is described as a "zealous" Pharisee who "intensely persecuted" the first Christians.
It is impossible to know the real extent of persecution against Christians in the first century. Early writers have said that "great multitudes" were martyred. It is calculated that the early Christians suffered about 130 years of persecution under various emperors. The extent of persecution hugely depended upon the disposition of the emperor.
Since the fifth century, ten major persecutions have been counted, a number that parallels the ten plagues of Egypt. These ten persecutions are:
Persecution under Nero (AD 64-68)
Persecution under Domitian (AD 81-96).
Persecution under Trajan (AD 112-117)
Persecution under Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-180)
Persecution under Septimus Severus (AD 202-210)
Persecution under Decius (AD 250-251)
Persecution under Valerian (AD 257-59)
Persecution under Maximinus the Thracian (AD 235-38)
Persecution under Aurelian (AD 270-275)
Severe persecution under Diocletian and Galerius (AD 303-324)
Of the above emperors, Nero is reported to have tortured Christians most.
Though the real extent of persecution is still under debate, scholars agree that early Christians suffered torture of a high degree under Nero.
The pain and the suffering of the early Christians was not hidden from the eyes of our Lord.
That is why here, on the road to Damascus, Jesus appears before Saul and asks him, "Why are you persecuting ME?"
God is never unaware of your pain and suffering. Though it may seem that your prayers are unanswered and that God has abandoned you, never doubt in your heart that Jesus has turned a blind eye to your troubles. It is for certain that He has experienced your every pain and suffering. Because, when you accept Jesus into your life, it is Jesus who is living your life. You are never alone.
But, why, you may ask, did he allow the suffering of the early Christians? He allowed it so that the Good News might spread. He wanted the word of God to reach every ear. Did the Good News reach you, my friend?