“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10 (NKJ)
It’s been said that this beatitude is the most searching of all the Beatitudes. This is because it forces believers to evaluate their “spiritual impact” on the world around them. Persecution by definition is not desirous in that it includes harassing or oppressive treatment because of what one believes and/or how one lives. Are you experiencing persecution for being a follower of Christ and His teachings? If not, perhaps this beatitude will help you “let your little light shine more brightly” (Matt. 5:14-16).
What did Jesus mean when He spoke of persecution “for righteousness’ sake”? As discussed earlier in this study, righteousness (dikaiosune) (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay) means “to be in right standing and acceptable to God”. This is reflected in godly thinking, feeling and acting. To live righteously requires a “new nature” that God provided for us (2 Cor. 5:17)—a nature that is being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). To be persecuted for righteousness’ sake infers that we are oppressed or suffer for being like Christ.
Righteousness is when we are “like Christ”. Jesus was the supreme example of righteousness. While we may desire to be righteous like Christ, we would prefer not to experience the persecution part of this beatitude. But persecution was a frequent topic of Jesus as He prepared His disciples for what lie ahead. (John 15:18-20).
If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world — therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.
Kingdom living is righteous living. The Beatitudes, as with all of Jesus’ teachings, turned the world upside down and challenged the status quo with all its sin and injustices. Jesus would reward the poor in spirit and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake with the kingdom of heaven. For those who recognized their brokenness and sinful natures—those who mourned, were meek and hungered and thirst after righteousness, God offered through Jesus Christ an eternal inheritance, spiritual comfort and complete satisfaction. Their new nature in Christ would cause them to be “Christ-like”—pure in heart, merciful, and peacemakers in an aggressive and unfriendly world. Kingdom living, as outline in the Beatitudes, would result in persecution by the world.
Those who choose to live godly in Christ Jesus can expect to suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). Jesus’ teachings were not only controversial in the context of the 1st century but they continue to create major discomfort for those living by the world standards (which are no standards) in the 21st century. The principles of kingdom living outlined in the Beatitudes represent a way of living that is counter culture. They call to question the way the world deals with life and with those who exist within its boundaries. The Beatitudes evoke anger and hostility from those who choose to remain in sin (John 8:21) The Apostle Paul can attest to the true cost of righteous living as he personally suffered imprisonment, beatings, and danger from his own countrymen all because He preached the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 11:23-27).
Even in the technological age of the 21st century, Jesus’ teachings are relevant and pertinent for living. The topics of our daily news never change—murder, corruption, and sufferings perpetrated by mankind upon mankind. These signs of the time reflect the need for Jesus Christ. The believer’s life, kingdom living, is an opportunity to share what righteousness looks like. As believers do this, they can anticipate the same treatment Christ received from a hostile and sinful world. The possibility of persecution should not silence righteous living. Beware of teachings that steer you away from the reality of suffering and persecution. Such teaching lends itself to “silencing” the true Gospel and “undermines” the glory that is to be realized in suffering with Christ (2 Thess. 2:14).
Good to the Last Byte…
In these last days before the return of Christ, the Church and Christians must learn to expect and embrace persecution for righteousness’ sake. Persecution for righteousness’ sake has its outworking throughout the Bible with examples including Abel, Moses, David, Daniel, Elijah and Jeremiah, just to name a few. Their righteous living caused others to hate and mistreat them. Don’t feel bad when you are persecuted for righteous living—you are in good company.