“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 10).
The last two beatitudes in Matthew 5 actually reveal God’s blessing on the same kind of people, and, by including elements of the first beatitude, wrap up the entire list nicely, helping us to understand one of the basic truths of the Christian life. In sum, the last two beatitudes tell us the same thing — that those who are persecuted for the sake of Jesus and His righteousness receive a great blessing indeed (vv. 10–12). What is this blessing? It is the same one promised to the “poor in spirit” in verse 3, namely, the “kingdom of heaven.” Living a life of repentance and faith in Christ alone and suffering trouble for the sake of Jesus’ name go hand in hand. Both suffering and humble faith bring about the same reward, which indicates that we cannot have true faith without worldly opposition.
This idea that true faith and persecution are inseparably linked should not be all that surprising to us, for it is the experience of the church throughout the ages. Martin Luther said that there is always opposition when the gospel is preached plainly and accurately. Yet he was not the first, nor the last, to suffer for the biblical gospel. Jesus Himself did not promise that we would have an easy existence but that we would have trouble in this world. Our cause for rejoicing is the fact that He has overcome the world and will deliver an eternal reward to His people, not that we will never suffer pain for Christ’s name (John 16:33).
As we consider suffering for the sake of Jesus, it is important to remember that our Lord does not promise a blessing to every type of suffering; rather, it is suffering for the kingdom that proves the kingdom is ours (Matt. 5:10–12). Sometimes we misinterpret our suffering as enduring pain for Christ when all we are really suffering is the pain of our own bad choices and misbehavior. So we must be careful that we do not count ourselves blessed until we are sure that our pain is on account of faithful service to Jesus. But once we see that we are suffering for our Lord, we should also take care that we do not water down the gospel. All of us are prone to avoid conflict, and it is all too easy to try and make the gospel’s content less offensive to a fallen world. But if we do this, we deny our Savior and risk forfeiting our blessing (Luke 12:8–9).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
While we are certainly not called to seek out persecution, there is also a sense in which we should expect people to make fun of us or even beat and kill us when we faithfully proclaim the gospel. As in every generation, the temptation is to water down or change the gospel so that it will be more palatable to the world and less likely to get us into trouble. Today, let us encourage one another never to succumb to this temptation.