We come now to the last beatitude in our series. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Persecution is a relative concept. That is, there are many reasons why and many ways a person is persecuted. You can be persecuted for the wrong reason or the right ones. You can be persecuted physically or verbally. So my aim today is to narrow down who is this blessed man by answering these questions:
1.) What is Righteousness in verse 10?
2.) Are all persecuted persons included in here?
3.) Are we to seek after persecution?
4.) Why Embrace and Endure Persecution?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [That is,] “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you [falsely] because of Me. [Therefore] Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
There are two ways to understand what does righteousness means in verse 10. We can look at the preceding verses. The first three of the beatitudes are state of emptiness(vv. 3-5). Then in verse 6 something happened. That emptiness and hunger was satisfied and filled with righteousness. So what would you expect in verses 7-9? Expressions of that satisfaction and fullness. Before, they lack mercy, now they are merciful. Before, they have impure hearts, now they become sincere and godly. Before, they love violence and retaliation, now they become peacemakers. So the righteousness in verse 10 is the blessed man’s works of righteousness. Or to confirm that definition we can also look at what follows. Verse 11 is an expansion of verse 10. It says that the blessed persons are being slandered. This means that the evil spoken against them are not true. Rather they practice righteousness and because of that they are being persecuted. They uphold mercy, purity and peace and the world hates them for it.
This observation then leads to my second point. Not all persecuted persons are blessed. The prerequisite for this state of blessedness is if the persecution is on account of or for the sake of righteousness(vv. 10). But anyone can pose as persecuted for righteousness’ sake. After all, people have a peculiar admiration for underdogs. That’s why the parallel in verse 11 is important. This persecution on account of righteousness is on account of Christ. If you remove Christ from the picture, then you’re just being a social justice warrior. Ghandi was assassinated because of his stance on non violence and peacemaking with other religious traditions, but he rejected Christ’s deity. He rejected Jesus as the only way to true righteousness and acceptance to God. “Mother” Theresa too was known and criticised for her ministry of mercy, and her view against abortion. She even said that she’s doing it for Christ, but what does she meant by “for Christ”? The advancement of the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and for the glory of God alone? No, she’s advancing Romanism. She’s not advancing Christ. The Ghandis and Theresas of our day are not the blessed ones. The blessed are those people whose righteousness are but reflection of the very righteousness of Christ that saved them.
Just a quick qualifier. This passage is not telling us to become masochist and sadist. This is not a command to seek for persecution. Rather, it is a statement of fact. True believers, one way or another, will in fact experience persecutions, whether you like it or not. Paul says in Phil 1:29 that what was granted to us was not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him. So we don’t have to seek after it. We will suffer persecution for doing good if it be God’s will as it is said in 1 Peter 3:17. It will come to us in accordance with God’s sovereign will, but it will definitely come, for Acts 14:22 says, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Or look John 15:19,it says,“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you”. There is no true follower of Christ who will enter heaven without any scars. D.A. Carson rightly said that this final beatitude becomes one of the most searching of all of them, and binds up the rest; for if the disciple of Jesus never experiences any persecution at all, it may fairly be asked where righteousness is being displayed in his life. If there is no righteousness, no conformity to God’s will, how shall he enter the kingdom?
If we are not to seek after persecution then why suffer at all? Why not escape persecution when it befalls us? Three reasons:
1.) Kingdom of Heaven is promised only to those who will holdfast to their faith in the midst of it. The ultimate test if you are the blessed person is if you’re persecuted for this traits and endured it because of Christ(vv. 10-11).
2.) We will receive a great reward in heaven and therefore we are to rejoice while being persecuted. Not before, nor after but during persecution(vv. 12).The second verb is compounded from two Greek words that mean (literally) “to leap exceedingly.” The response to persecution is unbridled joy. We are not to retaliate, but we are to joyfully and gladly receive such mistreatments(Mt. 5:12; 2 Co. 12:10; 1 Pe. 4:12-13)
3.) We will be counted as belonging to a cloud of witness who suffer the same fate(vv. 13).
So how is this relevant to our lives today? This is relevant because if you belong to God’s kingdom, it is not a matter of if we will be persecuted, but it is a matter of when. And the question is will you embrace and bear joyfully your own cross as you follow Christ? Will you endure all persecution, reviling and slander for the joy that was set before you?