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“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
–Matthew 5: 10
Jesus identified circumstances of blessedness for his faithful followers in Matthew 5:3-12. The eighth Beatitude states that believers who are persecuted because they represent God’s righteousness will be blessed.
Persecution of Christians began in earnest when Stephen, a Jerusalem church leader, was stoned (34 A.D.) after preaching about Jesus. In the years of the early church, disciples and other Christians often were violently harassed, resulting in stoning, sawing, crucifixion, burning at the stake, or other forms of torture and death. The Book of Martyrs, written by John Foxe in 1563, is one of many accounts of the sufferings and persecution of Christians through the ages.
Last year, one in eight Christians worldwide was persecuted, which included kidnappings, church burnings, torture, imprisonment, beheadings, and death, according to Open Doors, a global NGO advocating on behalf of violated Christians. Estimates indicate approximately 340 million Christians (in 50 countries) experience extreme levels of discrimination and persecution.
Jesus experienced resistance and rejection in a world where people “call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5: 20). He reminded his followers, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15: 20). In fact, Jesus proclaimed that persecuted, faithful Christians will possess and occupy the kingdom of heaven. Even when a sinful world discounts and persecutes Christians, the Lord’s faithful followers will inherit and inhabit eternity in God’s kingdom.
Elaborating in the verses following the eighth Beatitude, Jesus further stated: “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” (Matthew 5: 11-12).
The Apostle Peter also alerted us: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But 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 Peter 4: 12-14).
Lord Jesus, you instruct, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5: 44). Thank you for salvation’s grace which empowers us to extend forgiveness even when we are persecuted by “evil people and impostors [who] go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 1: 12). Glory, honor, and praise are yours, Jesus! Amen.
Kay Henry is a columnist for the Claremore Progress. All Bible quotations are from “The Holy Bible, English Standard Version” (ESV), unless otherwise noted.
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