“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus Christ once pointed out that His disciples would suffer for the sake of the kingdom and the righteousness of God. In the Bible, there are many characters who were persecuted for the sake of Jesus Christ and the gospel. Jesus suffered great persecution from the religious leaders of His day. After the establishment of the apostolic church, Jesus’ followers were persecuted for taking a stand for the Lord.
Persecution follows a Christian. 2 Timothy 3:12 reads, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Persecution can arise for many reasons. People may be harassed or oppressed due to differences in race, religion or beliefs. Persecution, as understood in Christianity, is not any form of suffering for being a Christian, but suffering for righteousness’ sake or on account of Christ. In other words, what provoked the persecution must have arisen from the desire to preserve one’s righteousness given through faith or from a zeal for Jesus Christ.
Why do we face persecution? Jesus once said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” As followers of Jesus Christ, we do not belong to the world. Our faith, values, and lifestyle are different from that of the world, and therefore, the world hates us. Furthermore, the Lord tells us that as long as we are on earth, we will have tribulations, and we are destined to suffer (Jn 16:33). Since the Lord suffered and was persecuted, we should not be surprised when we too have to undergo trials. As servants of the Lord, we should arm ourselves with the mind of Jesus Christ.
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Eph 6:11)
We can learn how to discern the devil’s schemes by looking at Nehemiah chapter 6. When the wall was almost complete, the enemies began to attack Nehemiah with rumors (v6), deceit (vv10-13), and false reports (v17). Rumors are horrible. People love rumors. The enemies took advantage of human weaknesses to slander Nehemiah. What impact was the “unsealed letter” (v5, NIV) intended to have on the public? The enemy wanted to make sure the letter contents were made public, much like mass emails today. Church leaders or holy workers are often targets for attacks. The closer the holy work is to its completion, the more careful we must be. Serving the Lord may not always be smooth. It is hard to please everyone and meet others’ expectations. Criticism and complicated human relationships are difficult to handle. If we don’t hold firmly onto a heart of thanksgiving, it is easy to lose joy when serving the Lord.
What blessing will the persecuted have? In Matthew 5:11, Jesus encouraged His disciples: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” Those who endure trials will receive God’s promise of the kingdom of heaven, where they will receive great rewards.