“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12
This is the last of the beatitudes that Jesus has been using a particular formula. Verses 11 and 12 starts with a blessing but the subject and added length makes it seem more like a final summary blessing of the previous blessings, especially this last one about persecution. Persecution, hostility, or ill-treatment are something expected to the believer (2 Tim. 3:12). Perhaps the previous blessing about being merciful, pure in heart, and a peacemaker have all led up to this truth. While we seek to do good to others, it may not come back to us the same way. This has led to many to turn away from the faith or become very defeated in their walk with Christ. But Christ tells us to expect it and somehow has a way to use it for our good so that we can be called “blessed.”
There is a past tense wording to this phrase that implies a permissive understanding, “those who allowed themselves to be persecuted.” These are the ones who did not flee from persecution in any form! An outside threat normally brings out a flight or fight response from us. We either run away or we stand up and fight when we are insulted, falsely accused, or persecuted. Jesus, on the other hand, brings in a third option to react. He introduces the idea that we go through persecution with neither fight or flight. Later in this same chapter Jesus will say, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mt. 5:39). Fulfiling the Old Testament the prophecy, Jesus would give us an example of this as “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Is. 53:7). Could we really suffer shame and pain without opening our mouth or fighting back?
To deny that Christ’s true followers don’t have a target on them is to plead ignorance. For one, we are told this is the reason we shall suffer, “because of righteousness,” and “for my sake.” Another reason is that it is clearly visible in its many stages. Persecution comes to believers in manner manners but typically in an ever escalating fashion. This usually happens in the following sequence, 1) ignore, 2) humilate, 3) legally restrict, 4) confine, and lastly 5) execute. Each of those key words can be filled with examples of each but they are pretty self-explanatory. Still, the lesson to believers is to not fall into disbelief when it comes because it will.
The other thing for believers to learn is that when we are persecuted and go through any trial in life, we can grow from it. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:3-4, “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.” When tough times comes we can know that God will use them to mature us (Romans 8:28). Trials teach us how to endure and when we endure our character is mature and a mature believer knows to place all their hope in Christ. In the face of persecution will you try to fight or take flight? Both are reactions to try and preserve your life. Christ asks us to trust His leading and grace by going through things. Will you hope and trust in Him