Blessed are Those Persecuted for Righteousness Sake

For Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven


Dr. John Hoole – October 25, 2015




Today, we come to the last of the 8 beatitudes as mentioned in Matthew 5:3-10.


Matthew 5:10 NKJV


10     Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.




                        It is LOVE.


John 13:35 NKJV


35   By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."





I don’t know if it is second, but a willingness to suffer for Christ will be near the top.  The Scriptures link it with love.  Actually, the one leads to the other.  Christ Himself modeled this by showing His love for us by dying on the Cross.


Romans 5:8 NKJV


8   But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


                A willingness to suffer proves the genuineness of our love.


To start our lesson today, I want to take you to one of the 7 Churches of Revelation.  It is the 2nd city mentioned in Revelation 2 – the city of Smyrna.  Today the city is called Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey – Population over 3 million.


Revelation 2:9-10 NKJV


9  I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

10  Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.


Smyrna, along with Philadelphia, were the only two churches where Christ had no condemnation or warning.  And both of these churches suffered great persecution.  Unlike the church in Ephesus, who had left their first love, those in the congregation at Smyrna still had their pristine love for Christ.  They were willing to suffer and die for Him.  Like Peter and John, in Acts 5:41, they were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name of Christ.”


The church at Smyrna experienced severe persecution.  Elsewhere, the Bible mentions that this will be part of the life of one who follows Jesus Christ.  The enemies of the faith were aggressive and cruel.  It was a dangerous thing to be a Christian in Smyrna.


Jesus says to them, and also to us, “I know your tribulation, your affliction……” That fact is the source of much comfort.  One of our greatest needs during troubling times is someone with whom to share it.  We long to unburden ourselves to somebody who understands.


The beatitude we are discussing today was severely experienced by this church in Smyrna.  Christ tells this church to be “be faithful unto death.”


Some years ago a popular national magazine took a survey to determine the things that make people happy.  According to the responses they received, happy people enjoy other people but are not self-sacrificing.  They refuse to participate in any negative feelings or emotions, and they have a sense of accomplishment based on their own self-sufficiency.


The person described by those principles is completely contrary to the kind of person the Lord says will be authentically happy.  The beatitudes paint a comprehensive portrait of a disciple of Christ.  He comes to God as a beggar, knowing he has no resources in himself.


We are told that the first step to living like a child of the King is admitting our spiritual bankruptcy and having a humble, honest attitude toward myself.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit” applies the ax to the very root of pharisaical pride and hypocrisy.  The first beatitude sees the Christian on his knees before God, acknowledging his spiritual poverty.


The phrase, “Blessed are they that mourn,” is not speaking of how we feel at the loss of a friend.  Rather, it deals with my attitude toward my sin, instead of criticizing the other person, for what we see them do.  It speaks of judging myself of whatever hinders my relationship with God.  The child of God truly mourns over his sins.


“Blessed are the meek” deals in part with my attitude toward God, where I am submissive to Him and do not try to impress Him with who I am or what I have done.


Meekness is not weakness – but power under control.  How controlled are we when we know we are right and yet others disagree?  Is it that important that you point has to be proven.


When I “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” then God provides that righteousness in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  We sing Psalm 42, which says, “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee.”  That is this beatitude.


Next, we see the child of the King with others, out in the human community.  His close relationship with God does not cause him to withdraw from society.  Nor does he allow himself to be insulted from the world’s pain.


On the contrary, he is in the thick of it, and, having received the righteousness of God, and beings to manifest the very character of the King Himself.


The follower of Christ becomes merciful instead of condemning.  Pure in heart means he maintains integrity in his dealings both with God and man.  He seeks to play a constructive role as a peacemaker, instead of a troublemaker.


Yet, for all these things, he is not thanked for his efforts, but rather opposed, slandered, insulted and persecuted.  As you and I exhibit the qualities of the Beatitudes – becoming more like Christ, we are told that we will be persecuted on account of the very righteousness for which we stand.


Let’s again read beatitude #8, this time adding the two verses that follow.


Matthew 5:10-12 NKJV


10             Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11             "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.

12             Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


This is the only beatitude that Christ expands upon.  That is what we read in verses 11 & 12.  Be happy because you are persecuted.  Some might say, ‘That is a bit much.’  One writer I read called this beatitude ‘Happy are the Harassed.’  Finding happiness in persecution seems at best impossible.  Actually, all 8 beatitudes are impossible in our own strength and resources.


Is the study of persecution relevant today?


Some have asked if this admonition is still relevant.  The life of the Church in America certainly has not seen much persecution.  Haven’t we done well without experiencing extreme persecution?


At the beginning of our lesson today, I want to address this question concerning the relevance of persecution.  Let me give you two reasons why teaching on persecution is still relevant today.


1.         The Global Perspective


The first reason the study of persecution of Christians is still relevant today is to look at the plight of Christians around the globe today.  I mention a few current reports.


Tanzania – Arson destroyed 7 churches.


Last month, between September 22 and September 27, 2015, 7 churches we destroyed by arson.  Others are being threatened.




Two pastors have been jailed by the charge: “utilizing a cult to undermine law enforcement.”  20 other Christians were imprisoned with the pastors.  This occurred on October 5, 2015.




Two churches in Nepal were bombed on September 15, 2015.  One other church had a bomb planted which did not go off.  Fortunately, none were injured or killed.


North Korea


Although it is estimated that there are 200,000 to 400,000 Christians in North Korea, there are no Christian churches except for four in the capital, Pyongyang.  Of these four state-controlled churches, two are protestant, one Catholic and one Russian Orthodox.  Elsewhere, the government deals harshly with any religious body.




A man jailed for distributing Bibles.  He is released on bail, but could be sentenced to 3 years in jail.


According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions.  And by far, the most restricted are Christians


Here is a map showing the places on the globe where such persecution and religious restrictions occur.  This chart shows the top 50 offending countries.  Of them, 38 are countries predominantly Muslim.  Open Doors is a ministry directed at helping persecuted Christians.  They have been engaged in this never-ending dilemma for the past 60 years.  North Korea tops the Open Door list as the most oppressive country against Christians.


By and large, the extermination of Christians and Christian culture from the Middle East and Northern Africa is greeted by the West with a sigh or ignored.  That is because for most Americans, persecution of Christians is perceived as happening only somewhere over there in other countries.  Distance serves as an anesthetic.


2.         Our Testimony ‘ the Way We Live and Talk


The second reason for saying that these words about persecution are relevant today is taken from the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3.


2 Timothy 3:12 NKJV


12             Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.


How could Paul make such a sweeping statement?  All who desire to live godly in Christ will be persecuted.  He makes it on the basis of a deep conviction about the nature of Christianity and the nature of the sinfulness of man.  He knows there is a tension between the message and way of the life of a Christian and the mindset and way of life of the world.  Conflict is inevitable with those two conditions.


There are several other passages reflecting the same teaching given by Christ Himself.


John 15:20 NKJV


20             Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.


Matthew 10:25 NKJV


25             It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!


Before I go farther, I must offer a personal caveat.  I have no firsthand experience with persecution.  I have spoken several times in places where the Christian witness is somewhat restricted.  But I have never lived day in, and day out where my bodily freedom and safety were in danger because of possible arrest, abuse, or death.  But that doesn’t give me the right to skip this beatitude


Why the Persecution Comes


Let me focus for a moment on why persecution comes.  The reason this is important is because not all persecuted people are blessed.  Only those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  Again, this beatitude reads: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Verse 10


John 15:18-19 (NKJV) adds:


18             If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.

19             If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.


Last week I made the comment that the primary theme of the Sermon on the Mount is righteousness.  The structure of this sermon is around the topic of Righteousness.  In an earlier lesson, I mentioned that the 8 beatitudes can be divided into two groups.  The first four concern our vertical relationship – our relationship with God.  The final four depict our horizontal relationships – our relationship with others.


There is another way to address these two groups of four beatitudes.  Each of the four groups ends with a reference to righteousness.


            Beatitude #4 - ΅Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.΅


            Beatitude #8 – ¨Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.¨


The first three beatitudes that lead to hungering for righteousness’ sake are a description of a kind of holy emptiness.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn over their needy condition and the meek who hand their cause over to God.  It is natural that these three would be followed by description of hunger.


The promise of blessing given to those hungering and thirsting for righteousness is that they will be filled.  And whereas the first three are a description of emptiness, the next three are a description of fullness.  Out of the fullness promised to those who hunger for righteousness, comes an overflowing mercy, a pure heart, and power to make peace.  And the final beatitude tells us the response of the world for that righteousness.


But, why is persecution in its various form the response to the way we live our lives.  This is probably the one beatitude that people will struggle with.  But “persecution for righteousness’ sake” is as much a part of the multi-faceted character and life of a Christian as is being meek or hungering and thirsting after Righteousness.


True persecution “for righteousness’ sake” comes as a result of a believer who dares to live what the Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount teaches.  The world’s philosophy is exactly opposite of that which Jesus expresses in this Sermon and these differing viewpoints lead to opposing ways of life.


Let me share with you  a couple of diagrams.  What do you and I normally picture in our minds when we think of the illustration given by Christ later in this Sermon on the Mount, about the “Two Ways” – the broad way and the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14).


I used to picture this Passage as all humanity coming to a point – a sort of “Y” in the road,….where they must make a decision which road to take, and whatever their decision, it will lead them off in opposite direction, like this diagram.


Matthew 7:13-14 NKJV


13             "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 

14             Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.


I do believe the Christian and non-Christian are going in opposite directions, but I think it could be depicted in a better way.  I would like to suggest that we depict the narrow road running right down the middle of the broad road, but in the opposite direction -- as depicted in the diagram you see now.


If a person decides not to accept Christ, they continue to go the same direction they have been traveling.  If you are an unbeliever, the choice of destination – heaven or hell – is yours, and yours alone.  To go to hell, all you need to do is absolutely nothing.  To go to heaven, you must decide to choose Jesus Christ as Savior, but that decision has to be made before you die.


For the person who accepts Christ, they repent of their sins.




It is asking God for forgiveness, and then turning and going in the opposite direction.


If you are a Christian, you are walking or running against the current – against the crowd.  Many more are on the broad road.  We are walking in one direction, and the world is walking in the other, and it is impossible not to collide at many points along the road.


Sometimes that collision is good.  You have a friend or an acquaintance, and you share the love of Jesus Christ with them.  They listen, and they respond to the tug of the Holy Spirit, and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior too.  Then they turn around and begin walking the direction you are.


At other times, the person rejects the Christ you live for.  And some will very strongly resist the love you show to them.  They may even hate you or persecute you, or spread false rumors about you and slander you.


Many will hate the moral standard taught by Jesus Christ.  They will call you and I a bigot or a prude.  When we voice our opinion for honesty in business, chastity before marriage and fidelity after it, they may call you old fashioned or say you are out of touch with reality.


The point of the 8th Beatitude is that it teaches us persecution is the lot of all Christians.  The righteous have always suffered for their faith in one way or another.


It began with Abel being killed by Cain – and Cain was a religious man.  Moses chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God (Hebrews 11:25) than to compromise his position in Egypt.  Jesus told us that the prophets were persecuted, and warned that it would happen to His followers as well.


The Book of Acts and all of church history since then verify our Lord’s predictions.  In an earlier lesson, I mentioned a number of Christians who were persecuted, and even gave their life in horrible deaths, .defending their Lord and the Word of God.



People like:


            •  Stephen

            •  250-261 AD                                    Decade of Horror

            •  Peter Waldo                         - Pre-reformer – 1200’s – driven into the French Alps

            •  John Wycliffe                                  - totally ostracized

            •  John Huss                                        - burned alive in 1414

            •  Martin Luther                                  - was hidden to save his life – early 1500’s

            •  William Tyndale                  - strangled and burned alive for smuggling Bibles into England – 1536

            •  Thomas Cranmer                 - 1st Archbishop of Canterbury of the Church of England - burned alive for preaching justification by faith in Christ alone.


                                    The same is happening in many places around the world today.