Continued From Part Seven…
After presenting seven beatitudes, Jesus then spoke about a blessing that the soon to be established Church would experience in great measure for the next 2,000 years. He said in verses 10-12:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12
This beatitude is especially emphasized by the way Jesus doubled how He spoke about the coming persecution. First He said, “Blessed are those…in verse 10; then He personalized it by saying “Blessed are you” in verse 11. This is because those who choose to live a true “Christ-like” life, will endure some of the worst, vile treatment of anyone on this earth.
It did not take long for the disciples to get a hint of what the future was going to hold for many who would choose to be followers of Jesus. After only 3-1/2 years with the Master, they saw him falsely accused, brutally beaten, and finally crucified as a common criminal. Jesus had warned them about what would come.
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his master,’ if they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. John 15:18-21
After the New Testament Church was established on the Day of Pentecost, members of the fledgling Church began to experience the same vile hatred and persecution that Jesus had warned them about. Now, His words of warning come to mind today. Statistics show that more Christians have been martyred since the beginning of the 20th century than all previous nineteen centuries combined. And, we know it will continue until the Messiah returns and sets His Kingdom up on the earth.
In verse 10 Jesus says that this persecution will be for righteousness’ sake. It is interesting that anyone would want to persecute or mistreat someone for their righteousness? One can better understand bad treatment in return for evil actions, but ill treatment for living righteously? This tells us that there must be a wicked source to this kind of twisted thinking. When we look at the original Greek word for “sin”, we find that one of the four main definitions is “an organized force against the good.” There truly is an evil force that has aligned itself against God and all those that choose to follow God’s ways. One of the most effective deceptions used by the devil is to convince humanity that he does not exist. Many don’t believe that there is a literal Satan, nor do they believe in the existence of evil fallen angels. But, exist they do, and their goal is the defeat of Almighty God, mainly by destroying His prized creation, the human race. This is the source of the persecution experienced by those who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ. Even though it is humans that do the persecuting, the real source is demonic. Here is what the Apostle Paul had to say about this:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12
Another Scripture referring to the hatred toward the righteous is found in 1 John:
In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. 1 John 3:10-13
The persecution can come in many forms. Often it comes in wrongful accusations meant to damage or ruin someone’s reputation and standing in the community, or to question the value of their beliefs. What happened to Jesus before both the religious and secular rulers of His day is an example. The account of Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples, describes his “trial”:
Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’” And the high priest arose and said to him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to him, “I put you under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said…” Matthew 26:59-64a
Here was a case where the Sanhedrin of the Temple wanted to have accusation against Jesus, but couldn’t find anything to use. So, they paid some men to accuse Him falsely.
We find another example of false accusations being made against a righteous person in the Book of Acts. A young man named Stephen found himself in a dispute with some men. Because they could not argue against the power of God that was obviously working through Stephen’ life, they resorted to accusing him falsely. In the end, Stephen was stoned to death, but not for anything he had done wrong. He was being persecuted for righteousness sake. This is how the story is told in the Bible:
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law…” Acts 6:10-13
There is reviling, and then there is outright physical persecution. The above story of Stephen was an example of both. In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews we find a long list of Godly people who suffered unspeakable things for their faith in Jesus Christ. Starting at verse 35 it reads:
…others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth…Hebrews 11:35-38
These very things have been done to the followers of Jesus all over the world for the last 2,000 years. The early Church was persecuted by the Roman Empire and its pagan Caesars. After the Roman Empire, it was the Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church. The cruelty of the Popes continued all through the Dark Ages. Also, during the Dark Ages, in the 7th century, Islam was founded by Muhammad who commanded persecution in the Qu’ran. Muslims have persecuted all infidels, especially the “people of the Book”– the Jews and Christians, ever since that time. Multitudes are being murdered in the name of Allah every single year.
Verse 10 of Matthew 5 says the persecution is for the sake of righteousness, and then in verse 11 it is said to be because of Jesus Himself. The Apostle Paul put it this way in the Book of Romans:
Who shall separate us us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who love us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39
As with every one of the beatitudes, a promise of blessing is given. Blessed (or happy) are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake…Blessed (or happy) are you when they revile you…for My sake. There is no blessing in being persecuted or reviled for our own foolishness or sins, but if it is for the sake of righteousness and because we are representing Christ and following His commands, there is reason for great joy and happiness. There are many examples of this in the Scriptures. One of these is found in Acts 5:
…when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Acts 5:40-42
Jesus taught that there is a great reward for those who suffer because of their faith in Jesus Christ. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Does this mean that we have earned our part in the Kingdom of Heaven? No. It cannot be earned, but it is a gift for those to whom it is promised. And…God always keeps His promises. No matter what any of us go through during our mortal life on this earth, what we receive on the other side will so outweigh it, it will seem like nothing! We just need to be patient and stay strong in our faith. That is something that we have been given to do. God will help us in our faith walk but He expects us to persevere in it.
Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. Revelation 3:10-11
One last point being made by Jesus in verse 12 is that this persecution that we endure is what the prophets of old also went through. We find this confirmed in the Book of James.
My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. James 5:10-11
Our Lord promised that His grace would always be sufficient for us, no matter what. The testimonies that have been recorded in the well known book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, has recorded within it an abundance of testimonies showing that no matter how bad the circumstances were, God’s grace was greater. This is also the case today. Story after story testifies to the same grace being with those who are going through unspeakable things right up to the time of this writing. This part of history has nearly come to a close. The return of our Lord, Master, and KING is now within sight. He will judge this earth and those who have been perpetrators of this evil. And those who have been enduring the worst that hell could throw at them will receive their eternal rewards.
And the LORD God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy. 2 Chronicles 36:15-16
Knowing all these things, in verse 12, Jesus said that we can and should rejoice and be exceeding glad. We can do more than endure patiently and be content with our circumstances such as they are. We can rejoice. Not out of pride because of the reviling or persecution we’re enduring, but rather because we have the privilege of suffering for our Lord, who gave His all for our freedom. We find the Apostle Peter leaving us these words to contemplate:
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 1 Peter 4:12-13
One last thought on Matthew 5:10-12. It is not in our own strength that we endure or accomplish any of these things. It is through the strength that our Lord provides. None of us has it within us to walk the Christian life on our own. And, no matter how strong we might think we are, it is in our weakness that God’s will is accomplished. He works through our weaknesses. His grace is more than sufficient. Here is what the Apostle Paul was told by Jesus:
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 1 Corinthians 12:9-10
Forever in His Service,