"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12 NASB)
In the last post I spoke briefly on persecution, what it is, and what it is not, and I think that is worth reiterating. You must realize that persecution is an active attempt to do harm to ones person or character. Our spineless Christianity views almost everything as persecution. For instance, if the government threatens to take away a tax exemption that is not persecution. If you think it is, go and read Foxe’s Book of the Martyrs, or talk to some inmates at high security prisons who profess Christ. The government is not required to give you an exemption in the first place so get over it. Or this notion of taking ‘God’ off of our money, or out of our pledge... have you ever questioned whether He wanted to be there in the first place? Regardless, the threat of removing ‘God’ from public places and so on is not persecution. Possibly it may be persecution against God, but not against us. Now, I will say that as believers we are personally persecuted at times, and people try to defame us for our belief, or conspire against us, make up lies about us, etc... these things happen and are legitimate persecution, but even these forms of persecution are far from severe in most cases. So do not through the word persecution around lightly without considering what it is. Enough on what persecution is.
When reading this verse in the context of the beatitudes there is one thing that jumps out at me immediately, and honestly I am not sure why it is important, but I know that it must be important. If you notice in the rest of the beatitudes you hear the words “Blessed are the...” or “Blessed are they...” they are all third person. However when you come to Matthew 5:11 you are hit with “Blessed are you...” in other words this is personal. It is almost as though all the preceding beatitudes are not only intended for the disciple personally, but also that the disciple may discern who are ‘the blessed’. Recall once again that Jesus was out teaching and preaching repentance (See Matthew 4) as well as healing and serving, and large crowds had gathered. But Jesus retreated for this teaching, and is only teaching the disciples. So if the first so many beatitudes were spoken in the third person they may have seemed somewhat general to the disciples... but now in these verses Jesus is making it very personal to them. He essentially is preparing them for what is coming to them. Now imagine what the disciples must have thought at this teaching, “Blessed are you when people [persecute] you because of Me” realize up to this point Jesus has crowds following Him around and it seems that He is pretty well liked. The disciples at this time could hardly have imagined the persecution that would come.
There is another great mystery in verse 12 that must have fascinated the disciples. Jesus compares them to the Prophets of old. A group of fisherman, tax collector, and other non-priestly folk being paralleled with the prophets, must have been shocking. Nonetheless, Jesus was dead on, considering all converted souls salvation history traces back to the gospel being spread by the men sitting around Jesus for this teaching. They far surpassed the Prophets in their effectiveness.
Finally the one qualifier in this verse is that persecution, if it is not for the sake of Christ, is not pronounced blessed in this verse. So often thin skinned Christians will view any insult or prejudice against them as persecution, but the truth is if someone calls you lazy, maybe it is because you are. Or if someone says you bitter, maybe you are. Or if someone says anything mean about you, it might very well be true, so just because you are a Christian does not mean insults against you are blessed persecution. However, if you are insulted because of Christ who dwells in you, and His character that is being formed in you, then the persecution is blessed.
I am anxious to get into the next post, as I believe it is one of the more misunderstood passages in all of scripture, and it will function also as a conclusion for the beatitudes.