Let's Study the Beatitudes! Part 9, Persecution
There was a time when 2 Timothy 3:12 worried me. In it, Paul tells Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It wasn’t the idea of persecution that worried me, but the idea that, at that point in my life, I couldn’t really think of any great moments of persecution I had experienced.
I need not have worried. Pastoring, preaching, evangelizing, defending the faith, and writing for the glory of God have brought more than their fair share of persecution. I have been verbally lashed at (even by those within the church), ridiculed publicly for my faith in Christ, and mocked for my pursuit of holiness (usually being labeled a Puritan, which is more a compliment than they realized). There have even been times where I have been threatened. Perhaps the reader can relate.
There’s good reason Jesus said to both count the cost of following Him and to recognize that if we don’t love Him above all else, we cannot follow Him (Lk. 14:25-33). Those who desire biblical fidelity and faithfulness to Christ will be persecuted. So, it may come as a surprise to know that Jesus has promised that those who are persecuted are blessed.
While it is true that each of the Beatitudes is counter-cultural and a reflection of God’s economy rather than man’s economy, no Beatitude is more counter-cultural than the eighth: Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed.
Most try to avoid persecution. Even those with considerably great power are oftentimes fearful of being persecuted for their Christian faith. Consider how, in John 12:42-43, even the authorities who believed in Jesus were afraid to let it be known lest they suffer on behalf of their righteous confessions of faith.
Yet, there is wonderful encouragement for those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: They not only will be blessed, but already are blessed. That word blessed is taken from the Greek word μακάριοι (mak-ar-ee-oi) which can also be translated as happy. Therefore, to put it differently, the one who is persecuted for righteousness’ sake will not only be made happy in Jesus in the future but will be made happy in Jesus now.
How can this be? Anyone who has experienced persecution knows how trying and difficult it can be. Many of us who have been verbally assaulted, had our character defamed, have been scoffed out, belittled, and sometimes physically attacked for Christ know how painful it can be in the moment. We can, perhaps, understand how there is a future blessing promised to us. But how can there be a promised blessedness that is current with the persecution?
Jesus helpfully expounds upon what He means in the Eighth Beatitude (something He does not do with the other seven) by explaining that, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). The current blessing and joy of persecution lies in the knowledge that there is a great reward that awaits us in Heaven. Likewise, there is a blessing and happiness in knowing that we do not suffer alone but stand in a long line of godly saints who have also been persecuted for Christ’s Kingdom (cf. Heb. 12:1-2).
Peter evidently had this in mind when he penned 1 Peter 4:12 and encouraged Christians to recognize that suffering for Christ is not strange or unusual, but a common part of living for Jesus. Indeed, we are to “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:13-14). The blessed joy of righteousness' persecution is in knowing that our suffering is for Christ; the reason we suffer is because the world hates the light of Christ it recognizes within us.
This is no excuse to live foolishly or wickedly and then look at punishment for sin as a blessing. The persecution described in the Eighth Beatitude is peculiar to those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus. Yet, when persecution occurs for righteousness’ sake, remember that there is every reason for blessed joy now, for we have been counted worthy by God to suffer for Jesus’s sake, we stand in a long line of godly saints who have experienced what we do, persecution strengthens our faith, and our reward in Heaven will be great.
So, you persecuted of the Lord: Rejoice! You are most blessed.
Jacob Tanner is pastor of Mt. Bethel Church of McClure in Central Pennsylvania. He has spent time as a reporter, journalist, and editor, and has written for various Christian websites. He and his wife, Kayla, have one son, Josiah. He is currently completing his M.Div. through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.