In His concluding beatitude in Matthew 5:11, Jesus pronounces a divine blessing on those who suffer persecution: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” True disciples of Christ are persecuted “on my account” or, as several translations put it, “because of me.” Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus warns His followers of unavoidable harsh treatment from the world: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matt. 10:22).
Persecution is inevitable for Jesus’ followers because of our personal identification with Him. In Luke 6:22, Jesus pinpoints the title “Son of Man” as the specific identification that often instigates hostility from an unbelieving world. This title recognizes Jesus as a divine, heavenly King who reigns over a universal and eternal kingdom. Because of this sovereign majesty, Christ alone is ultimately worthy and commands the worship of all peoples. For it will be the Son of Man who “will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers” (Matt. 13:41).
It is the Son of Man who “is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father,” when He “will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27). It is the Son of Man “coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:28) and the Son of Man who “will sit on his glorious throne” (Matt. 19:28). At the end of Jesus’ life, while He was on trial before the high priest Caiaphas and the religious leaders of Israel, this very title caused Him to be labeled blasphemous and therefore worthy of condemnation and death. Caiaphas demanded, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him: “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then Caiaphas “tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy’ ” (Matt. 26:63–65).
A lost and unbelieving world is agreeable with believers that identify Jesus as an inspirational role model, a great leader, or a moral teacher. But the world becomes outraged toward believers when they attribute to Jesus Christ divine authority and sovereign kingship, and when they direct worshipful adoration to Him. When believers identify with the Christ of Scripture—divine ruler of the cosmos, worthy of all worship and obedience—they exhibit an alien righteousness that is unique. This righteousness is not of our own making or invention. This distinctive, heavenly righteousness has been gifted to us by Christ on the cross, who grants us the unparalleled message to share with the world: Jesus is King and calls for our allegiance. The evidence of this righteousness—humility, meekness, peacemaking—in the lives of Christ’s followers always elicits persecution. But to those who identify with Christ as the Son of Man, regardless of the hostility that is visited on them or the suffering they endure, Jesus promises “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).