The first result of living out the first six Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-8) is stated in verse 9: "Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the sons of God." Those who live according to the principles of the Beatitudes will be peacemakers and identified as sons of God. A second and contrasting result is found in verses 10-12: "Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you."
A. The Irony of the Beatitudes
He who lives out the Beatitudes will be a peacemaker yet receive persecution. The Christian, by trying to make peace, stirs up strife and that is what causes him to be persecuted. Our Lord Jesus Christ was the Prince of Peace yet He said, "I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matt. 10:34). Believers are peacemakers to those they help make peace with God. They are troublemakers to those who do not respond to their efforts.
B. The Inadequacy the Beatitudes Provoke
Those who understand that the Beatitudes delineate what characterizes kingdom citizens may feel inadequate. A person who lives out the Beatitudes can seem a little too good to be true. The Beatitudes can make you feel like you are looking at someone on a stained-glass window or at a plaster saint. Our natural reaction is, "No one lives that way in day-to-day life!"
No one could fulfill all those incredible characteristics on a consistent basis. But God doesn't deal with stained-glass saints and plaster facsimiles. In the Beatitudes Jesus presented an ideal portrait of the believer--God doesn't lower His standards to accommodate sinful man. Instead He hands all Christians over to Christ, who works through His disciples and enables them to meet God's standards.
C. The Inevitability of Suffering
All who belong to Christ's kingdom will demonstrate the attitudes mentioned in Matthew 5:3-12, and only they are truly happy. At first you may demonstrate them only minimally--but they are all there. As time passes they should increasingly characterize your life. And as that occurs, there will inevitably be pain and suffering. You will be a peacemaker but the world will view you as a troublemaker. James 1:2-4 says, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into various trials, knowing this, that the testing of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing." First Peter 5:10 says "The God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after ye have suffered awhile, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, [and] settle you" (emphasis added).
D. The Intolerance of the World
The world can't stand those who are poor in spirit because it glories in pride and self-promotion. It can't stand those who mourn over sin because it doesn't want to think about sin's implications. Unsaved people are proud--they don't value meekness. They can't stand those who know they are undeserving and seek a salvation that can only be received as a gift. The world teaches we have a right to everything because we have earned or deserve it. Unbelievers know little about mercy, nothing about purity, and have never learned how to make the peace with God that brings peace among men. The characteristics described in the Beatitudes flagrantly counter the world system.
I. THE PERSECUTION FROM THE WORLD
Matthew 5:10-11 appear to form one Beatitude. Verse 10 begins, "Blessed are they." Verse 11 begins, "Blessed are ye." Jesus personalized the preceding thoughts. Another reason verses 10-11 appear to form one Beatitude is that persecution is spoken of in both verses--verse 11 expands and applies verse 10. A third reason is only one promise is given regarding those who are persecuted: "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (v. 10). Just as each Beatitude in Matthew 5:3-9 states one promise, only one promise appears in verses 10-11. The reason both verses 10 and 11 begin with the word "blessed" is that God doubly blesses those who are persecuted--it's as if they need a double blessing because of their circumstances!
A. Who Will Be Persecuted?
1. Those who live a godly life
Verses 10-11 don't specifically identify those who are persecuted, but the natural flow of the Beatitudes shows it's the same people who are blessed in verses 3-9. Those who live out the Beatitudes will be persecuted--the more a person lives for Christ, the more likely the world will react negatively. To whatever degree a person fulfills the first seven Beatitudes he is likely to experience the eighth.
a) The guarantee of persecution
In 2 Timothy 3:11 Paul speaks of the persecutions and afflictions he endured in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. Paul lived a godly life and as a result he suffered. In verse 12 he says, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." That is a gilt-edged guarantee that anyone who lives in a Christlike manner will suffer. Galatians 4:29 says, "As [in the time of Isaac] he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now." Nothing has changed--those born of the Spirit will be persecuted.
I heard of a man who got a job working among a group of evil men and was fearful of what they might do to him because he was a Christian. After his first day at work he came home and his wife asked him, "How did you get along?" He said, "I got along well with them. They never found out I was a Christian." You will get along well with the world if people don't know you are a Christian. But as you manifest the Beatitudes, share the reproach of Christ (Heb. 11:26), and participate in the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil. 3:10), you will find that sons of the flesh will always persecute those born of the Spirit. If you live in direct opposition to Satan and his system you will experience antagonism from people who don't respond to the gospel. If you aren't experiencing persecution it's probably because people don't know you are a Christian or because the way you live isn't different enough to be noticeable.
b) The example of Christ's suffering
A Christlike life will produce the same reaction Christ received during His earthly ministry. No one has ever been more loving or a greater peacemaker than Christ. Some responded to His love and entered into a relationship of peace with Him. But the most loving, gracious, kind, and peaceful Person who ever lived created antagonism wherever He went because He confronted unrighteousness. Like Him the righteous have suffered throughout history for their godliness. Abel was murdered by an ungodly brother who could not tolerate Abel's righteousness (Gen. 4:8). Moses choose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of Egyptian society (Heb. 11:25). Righteousness carries with it the price of persecution.
Thomas Watson said, "Though they be never so meek, merciful, pure in heart, their piety will not shield them from sufferings. They must hang their harp on the willows and take the cross. The way to heaven is by way of thorns and blood.... Set it down as a maxim, if you will follow Christ, you must see the swords and staves. Put the cross in your creed" (The Beatitudes [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975], pp. 259-60). One of the most wonderful guarantees of salvation is the persecution that comes with it. If you don't have persecution because of righteousness in your life, you have reason to question your salvation.
(1) Philippians 1:28-29--"In nothing [be] terrified by your adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation.... For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." When persecutors come against you and manifest a hatred for the gospel and Christ, that proves they are going to hell. But for us persecution is a token that our salvation is genuine.
(2) 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4--"No man should be moved by ... afflictions; for ye yourselves know that we are appointed to these things. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation, even as it came to pass, and ye know." God intends for all believers to experience some persecution.
(3) Luke 2:34--Like Christ we are "set for the fall and rising again of many." We will be loved, hated, honored, and cursed.
c) The importance of expecting persecution
If you aren't in conflict with the world there may be something wrong. It doesn't matter where you live. The Spirit-inspired writers of Scripture were aware that some of their readers would live in societies and under governments that would tolerate of Christianity. But regardless of how tolerant people are in different areas or eras of history, the cross will never cease to be a reality. When you live out the principles of Christ's kingdom you will cause a reaction. Those who live out the righteousness of Christ in this world are obnoxious to Satan. That's true even in a country that professes to be Christian.
Some Christians enjoy being popular with the worldly. They think a person can be a Christian and be in show business or any other activity they want to engage in. They think the world is different from what it used to be. Today there are well known people who claim to be Christians and who are accepted by society without any trouble--but that's not because the world has changed. They are accepted because they've compromised God's standard of righteousness. If those same people lived righteous lives, the systems they are a part of would spit them out.
God's standards haven't changed--ours have. We think the world is more tolerant than it used to be but that's because we don't live as we should. We want to be popular, famous, and accepted. But if you live the way God wants you to, the world will resent you and hate you. That doesn't mean all Christians will be burned at the stake. When Jesus said, "Blessed are they who are persecuted" (Matt. 5:10), He didn't mean we ought to be experiencing intense suffering all the time. He meant that the world will inevitably persecute those who truly follow Him.
It may seem that the world is different because Christians are no longer burned at the stake. But which is worse: being burned at the stake or never getting a promotion at work because people resent your Christianity? How about when you are ostracized because you live for Jesus Christ? Persecution can come in the form of neighbors who stop talking to you because you confront their sinfulness. There are many ways the believer endures the reaction of the world to Christ. Constant or great persecution will not happen to every believer, but because the world is set against the standards of God, those who live them out will experience the reproach of Christ. Some will suffer more than others.
d) The dishonor of avoiding persecution
There is a way to escape persecution. All you need to do is approve of the world's standards, morals, and ethics. You must live like the world lives and not tell people they are sinners who are doomed to an eternity in hell without Jesus Christ. You must not preach that Christ is the only way to heaven and that every other religious system is wrong. Instead of separating yourself from the world you must go along with it--laugh at its jokes, enjoy its entertainment, smile when it mocks God, and let people take the Lord's name in vain. If you never take a stand for Christ, you will never be persecuted for His sake.
But if that's true of you, you need to examine yourself to see if you are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). Those who live that way need to remember Jesus' warning in Luke 9:26: "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed." The last thing any of us should want is for Christ to be ashamed of us. Jesus said, "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!" (Luke 6:26). Those claiming to be Christians who are popular with all have either masked their Christianity or are not Christians.
e) The mounting opposition against Christ
When our Lord taught the Beatitudes He was already hated. Mark 3:6 says, "The Pharisees went forth and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him." The Jewish religious leaders began to plot the destruction of Christ soon after He began His ministry. Luke 6:7 says, "The scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the Sabbath day, that they might find an accusation against him." That evidently happened prior to Jesus' preaching of the Beatitudes, which are recorded in Luke 6:20. Christ went ahead and healed someone and verse 11 says the scribes and Pharisees "were filled with fury, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus." The Lord didn't even have time to articulate the principles of His kingdom before hatred was expressed toward Him.
2. Those who are willing to pay the price
Jesus' message to the Pharisees, the disciples, and the others in the crowd around Him, was that there is a price to pay for living in His kingdom. Those who follow Him aren't going to have thrones, crowns, fame, prestige, acceptance, or exaltation. Rather they will suffer. Christ's honesty separates the wheat from the chaff. It ensures that no one will try to enter into the kingdom on the wrong basis. We need more preaching like that--the kind that tells people, "When you become a Christian, you will have to live contrary to the world's system. There will be a price to pay."
a) They risk losing employment
There were people in the crowd Jesus spoke to whose jobs could have been affected by what He was teaching. Suppose you were a stonemason employed to build a pagan temple. After hearing what Jesus said you might have said to yourself, If I become a Christian, what will I do? I will lose my job if I stop building the temple to start living like a Christian. I won't have any way of making a living. If you were a tailor employed to make robes for the priests of false gods, you would have to stop making those robes. If you worked for a ruthless and dishonest boss who expected you to act similarly, you wouldn't be able to work for him anymore. When a person became a Christian it could result in his leaving the only trade he knew.
There are people today whose jobs will be affected if they decide to live like kingdom citizens. They especially need to trust God to supply their needs. More than a hundred years after Christ taught the Beatitudes a man came to the church father Tertullian with his business difficulties and said, "What can I do? I must live!" "Must you?" asked Tertullian (cited by William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, rev. ed. [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], p. 111). The only option a Christian has in this world is loyalty to Jesus Christ--even if that means death.
b) They risk disrupting relationships
Before a person becomes a Christian he entertains himself in much the same way his friends do. But once he acknowledges Christ as Lord and Savior, he has some decisions to make: Do I still go out with the boys? Do I still engage in certain activities with my friends? In the ancient world most feasts were held in the temples of different gods. That's where the music, dancing, and entertainment was. Sacrifices would be made to various gods and then the people would eat what was left over. Eventually it got to the point that sacrifices were only waved over the fire on the altar and then the meat would be divided between the priests and the partygoers. Gentiles who became Christians had to decide if it was right to go to pagan temples for entertainment and socializing. Jews who became Christians risked being thrown out of the synagogue and being disowned by their families.
If you are going to live a kingdom life you need to be prepared to be lonely in some crowds. That's why we as Christians need each other so much.
These Paid the Price
When a person becomes a Christian all kinds of problems can occur--even the disruption of one's home.to be a Christian at the time of Christ meant that people often had to choose between Him and someone they loved very dearly. Christians paid a high price for their faith in those days. Some were thrown to the lions while others were burned at the stake. Emperor Nero smeared pitch on Christians, crucified them, and then burned them to light his garden parties.
The Romans trumped up all kinds of charges against Christians. They said they were cannibals because Jesus said, "My flesh is food ... and my blood is drink" (John 6:55). Christians were accused of immorality--their love feasts were said to be orgies of lust. The kiss of peace was considered to be illicit. Nero blamed Christians for the burning of Rome in A.D. 64 (though many suspected the charge was a smokescreen). They were said to be revolutionaries because they taught that God was going to destroy the earth with fire (2 Pet. 3:10), and were accused of breaking up families.
The Roman Empire was vast. After the time of Christ it stretched from the British Isles in the west to the Euphrates River in the east, and from the Danube River in the north to the coast of North Africa in the south. The Romans were deeply concerned with maintaining the unity of the empire. The one man personifying the empire--the emperor--was declared a god and emperor worship became compulsory. Once a year every person in the Roman Empire had to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar and say, "Caesar is Lord." Then he was given a certificate that freed him to worship any god he wanted to.
Christians never got that certificate because they refused to burn incense to the emperor. As a result all Christians were criminals because they engaged in illegal worshiping. They were willing to pay the price for worshiping Christ as Lord.
B. How Will They Suffer?
1. The kinds of persecution
Matthew 5:11 says, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake." Christians suffer in three ways: by being harassed, insulted, and having evil things said about them.
a) People will harass them
(1) The word explained
The Greek word translated "persecuted" in verse 11 comes from dioko, which means "to pursue" or "chase away." Over time it came to mean "to harass" or "treat in an evil manner." In effect Christ was saying, "Blessed are the harassed."
(2) The willingness required
The first seven Beatitudes express inner attitudes. Verses 10-11 also express an inner attitude: willingness to be persecuted. The Jewish people had an external religion while Christ preached an internal one. The internal attitudes expressed in the Beatitudes result in a desire to obey Christ and accept the persecution that may result.
The Greek text contains a perfect passive participle. Jesus' words could be translated, "Blessed are they who have been willing and continue to be willing to allow themselves to be persecuted." The perfect tense indicates an ongoing attitude; the passive voice speaks of being willing to accept whatever comes as a result of living out the Beatitudes.
Many of us are not willing to be persecuted. I struggle with that myself. Sometimes we're not willing to be bold and say what needs to be said. We accommodate ourselves to the world so it will like us. We may justify our behavior, saying, "If I'm popular with people then eventually I'll be able to sneak in something about the gospel." But God doesn't need sneaky preachers, prophets, witnesses, or evangelists. He needs people who are willing to confront the world.
The early Christians were willing to be pursued and harassed. For some that meant imprisonment and death. If you desire to live a Christlike life you will be unable to mingle socially without discernment--go to wild parties with the boys or do what all the gals in the neighborhood do. Christlike people end up being chased out of the worldly groups they were a part of. They don't fit in anymore, and that's the way it ought to be.
b) People will insult them
The Greek word translated "reviled" (oneidizo) in verse 11 means "to cast in one's teeth." It is also used in Matthew 27:44: "The thieves also, who were crucified with him, cast [insults] in his teeth." The criminals crucified with Christ mocked and scorned Him. To revile someone means to abuse him with vicious and mocking words. Christians will be insulted and mocked. That's what happened to Jesus.
c) People will say evil things about them
It's hard to have evil things spoken against you. I can take being chased away. No one wants me around after they find out I'm a minister, especially when they find out I'm more confrontive than most ministers! I'm rarely invited to the activities that such people engage in. I can even handle being threatened. I was once arrested for preaching a sermon at a town in the South. The policeman put me in jail and threatened to strip me and beat me with a whip if I continued to do what I was doing. That happened in the United States of America!
But the hardest thing to handle is when people "say all manner of evil against you falsely" (v. 11). It's hard when people accuse you of something you've never said or done. You end up trying to defend yourself for something that never happened. Some accused Jesus of being the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier (cf. John 9:34). Christians have had all kinds of things said about them through the centuries. Commentator Arthur Pink said, "It is a strong proof of human depravity that man's curses and Christ's blessings should meet on the same persons" (An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953], p. 39). The people the Lord blesses the world curses. That shows you how far removed many are from God. Living a righteous life provokes resentment from the ungodly. Note the enmity of the serpent against the holy seed of Genesis 3:15.
2. The extent of persecution
This point is discussed in the next lesson (see pp. xx-xx).
I appreciate the Lord's honesty. In His first recorded sermon He defined how a person could be happy, but set the standards so high His Jewish audience must have been bowled over. Then he concluded, "By the way, if you want to live this way, you will be persecuted and chased away from your jobs, homes, and society. You will be reviled--people will speak viciously against you. They will also say things about you that aren't true, so be ready."
C. Why Will They Be Persecuted?
1. The world rejects Christ
Why does the world persecute Christians? The last Beatitude says it is on account of "righteousness' sake" and "for [Christ's] sake." Unbelievers persecute us not because they hate us but because they hate Christ. That's good to keep in mind. Our Lord told His disciples, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:18-19, cf. 16:2).
2. The world rejects Christ's standard
Jesus revealed holiness in action to an unholy world. Before Christ's birth the world had never seen a perfect man. The longer people went without seeing a perfect man the more smug they became in their sinfulness. Jesus' life blew apart such self-confidence. They were so convicted of sin they killed Him. Apparently they thought, If you can't meet His standard, wipe it out so it isn't around. As you and I allow Christ to live through us, we hold up a standard unbelievers cannot attain. People who love their sin and recognize they can't live up to that standard will want to remove it so they can remain content their in sinfulness. Christians are indeed persecuted for righteousness' sake.
The twelve disciples were persecuted just as Jesus told them they would be. According to tradition Andrew was fastened with cords to a cross so his death would be slow. Tradition also records that Peter was crucified upside-down after nine months in prison. Paul was beheaded by Nero. James, Matthew, Matthias, Bartholomew, and Thomas were martyred. It is likely that every disciple was martyred except John, who died after exile on the island of Patmos.
There is a price to pay when you live the kingdom life. But the fruit of living such a life is eternal (Matt. 5:10). Even though men may take away everything you possess in this world, they can't touch what God will give you in the next.
Focusing on the Facts
1. What two things does a person become when he lives according to the principles of the Beatitudes ?
2. What inevitably happens when you live out the first seven Beatitudes?
3. Explain why verses 10-11 in Matthew 5 are one Beatitude. If verses 10-11 are one Beatitude, give a reason why does the word "blessed" appear twice?
4. What does 2 Timothy 3:12 guarantee to the believer? What does Galatians 4:29 show?
5. According to Philippians 1:28, when unbelievers attack you, what does that prove about them? What does that prove about you?
6. According to 1 Thessalonians 3:3 why should we not worry when we are persecuted?
7. Discuss why some Christians are accepted in society today.
8. How can a person avoid being persecuted by the world?
9. If you say you are a Christian but are not persecuted and don't take a stand for Christ, what do you need to examine (2 Cor. 13:5)?
10. How will Christ feel about those who are ashamed of Him (Luke 9:26)?
11. What might be true about you if you are popular with everyone?
12. What does Christ's honesty in Matthew 5:10-11 do? What do we need to tell people when we call them to Christ?
13. How might the principles Christ taught in the Beatitudes have affected the lives of some of those who heard Him?
14. How were Christians treated in the Roman Empire? Cite some of the accusations made against them.
15. Explain the Greek word translated "persecuted" in Matthew 5:11. In effect, whom did Christ say would be blessed?
16. What kind of attitude should Christians have toward persecution? Because a perfect passive participle is used in Matthew 5:11, how might it be translated?
17. How do we sometimes justify ourselves when we are afraid to be Christlike?
18. What does the Greek word translated "reviled" in Matthew 5:11 mean? Explain.
19. Why do unbelievers persecute Christians (John 15:18-19)?
20. What was the world's response when it saw Christ, the perfect man? Why?
21. Why is the price of living out the Beatitudes worth paying (Matt. 5:10)?
Pondering the Principles
1. Christians often think that suffering for Christ always means enduring persecution from the world. But suffering for Christ's sake means more than what is happening to us circumstantially. Pastor Walter Chantry wrote, "Evangelists have failed even to mention that Christ insists on self- denial at the outset. Having failed to pass on our Lord's requirement, and forgetting it themselves, evangelists have never questioned whether their 'converts' with self-centered lives are true followers of Christ. Assuming that it is possible for a man to be self-indulgent and yet heaven bound, Bible teachers look for some way to bring ego-centric men to a higher spiritual plane. Then self-denial is taught as the requirement for a second work of grace" (The Shadow of the Cross: Studies in Self-Denial [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1981], pp. 21-22). Suffering for Christ requires self-denial. Are you daily walking the path of suffering that Christ calls all who know Him to tread--the path of self-denial?
2. Some believe affliction, suffering, and persecution should be expected only of those called to a deeper Christian walk--what they sometimes mistakenly label discipleship. But that fails to account for the good affliction works in the life of every believer--all of whom are disciples. Thomas Watson wrote, "Afflictions work for good, as they are the means of making the heart more upright (Hos. 10.2). The heart cleaves partly to God, and partly to the world.... God takes away the world, that the heart may cleave more to him in sincerity. Correction is a setting [of] the heart right and straight. As we sometimes hold a crooked rod over the fire to straighten it; so God holds us over the fire of affliction to make us more straight and upright. Oh how good it is, when sin has bent the soul awry from God, that affliction should straighten it again! (All Things for Good [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), p. 28). Do not dread persecution. Rejoice that God uses it to fashion you into a fit inhabitant of His kingdom (James 1:2-4)!