10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Verses 10-12 are about persecution and usually get lumped together, but this morning I noticed something interesting: Jesus talks about persecution in the past and present. This is about the past; He is talking about those who have been persecuted. Before we go any further, I want to clarify that this will not be a discussion on the end times nor the apocalypse…”What? How can talking about the past be about the coming end of the age?” One of the things we need to remember is that God’s vision and scope of reality is not limited by time. What we classify as before, now, and after are all “now” to Him. His omniscience isn’t just in the scope of location, but also in time. With that, I go to Revelation 6, where we find John witnessing the opening of the seals of the book with seven seals:
9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
In these steps through the beatitudes, we have seen not just a list of “do-good” rules or a list of how to be blessed, but a slow progression of spiritual maturity. Notice, however, that what Jesus paired as the blessing for this one is the same as what He said about the poor in spirit: theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Now we have come full circle and understand why being poor in spirit wins us God’s Kingdom because it starts us on a journey to where when we begin to realize the end state (not to say the journey has ended, but that we finally get to a point of maintaining this status of righteousness), we will understand more how and why we gain the Kingdom of Heaven. It isn’t merely by physical death we gain the Kingdom. In our discussion of Matthew 5:3, I posed the idea:
When we recognize that our poverty is that we do not have God in our lives, we will work to have Him in our lives. When we find the puzzle piece and where it is, we will be working to get that piece where it belongs to complete the picture.
Matthew 5:10 is an overall picture of how we know when we have matured. If the evil world has come against us and Satan is working hard to bring us back into his grasp, then we know we are getting somewhere! Jesus will continue with the next verses in discussing how we should view this persecution, but until then, let us reflect upon the blessedness of those who have gone before us and have been persecuted. We should look to them as examples. The Apostle Paul is one of them. He was jailed, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead…and all because He was a follower of Christ. He got in the face of evil in the world and shined Jesus’ light upon it to expose it for what it really is and proclaimed that, “you don’t have to live in the dark anymore!” This is why John began his account of Jesus this way:
4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
When the darkness is subjected to the light, it is confounded, confused, and frustrated. Some feel relived but at first, most feel vulnerable and attacked. The darkness in all of us fights back. So when this persecution happens, we should understand because we have been there at some point in our lives. At this point, we have become reliant upon God, empowered with His might but wisely keep it under control, and learned how to be peacemakers. Persecution is a breeze! These martyrs, while they seem like spiritual heroes to us, would never accept that claim. They are simply spiritually mature enough to withstand the level of persecution they are receiving. So, they are not persecuted, they are blessed because they have reached that level of closeness with God. Tomorrow we will dig into how blessed it is when we are persecuted, but today, let us reflect upon those who have been tortured and killed simply because they loved Jesus that much!