Matthew 5:10-12

Setting and Overview
Matthew 5:10 gives us the final Beatitude, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness.” The promise at the end, that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to them,” mirrors the first and serves as bookends to open and close the Beatitudes. Not only does it serve as a fitting conclusion to the Beatitudes, but it also ties effectively into the previous Beatitude on being peacemakers. While the two may seem to reflect opposite circumstances, when we remember how being a peacemaker calls us to reconcile, disciple, and evangelize, then we can recognize that those who are most consistent in heeding that call will also be the most likely to face persecution. Verses 11 and 12 follow along with verse 10 and provide additional context for the forms that persecution can take.

Righteousness is a rich and broad concept in both the Old and New Testaments, but at its core, it is about being “right.” Certainly that includes not breaking laws, but also a commitment to pursuing what is right and just, an entire relationship with God that is focused on obedience (Ezekiel 18:5-9.) It reflects activity and outward evidence of one’s commitment to God, even without trying to make such acts obvious (Matt 6:1, 33.) Persecution may take the form of imprisonment, financial loss, legal mistreatment, or even death, but it also includes insults and slander (Matt 5:11a, I Peter 3:14), and exclusion and rejection (Luke 6:22, I Peter 4:14.) When we are committed to reconciling, discipling, and evangelizing, that will mean saying things that people don’t always want to hear, even if they need to hear it. So, those acts of peacemaking will often lead to suffering for the peacemaker.
We must be careful, however, to not confuse this kind of persecution with the consequences that we might face for sinning. If mistreat others in response to our own mistreatment (I Peter 2:18-23), lack gentleness and return evil for evil in our responses (I Peter 3:13-17), or break the law or meddle unnecessarily in others affairs (I Peter 4:12-16), then the consequences that we suffer should be lessons to us. If the persecution comes only from our obedience, then verse 12 challenges us to rejoice and be glad when we experience it. This is hardly an isolated statement in the Bible (see also Acts 5:41, I Peter 1:6, James 1:2, and Luke 6:23.) This may seem impossible, but the Bible also shows us that by recognizing that our suffering identifies us with Jesus (Acts 5:41, Phil 3:10, Matt 5:12), by remembering that God promises us His blessing and future reward (Luke 6:23, Matt 5:12, I Peter 1:20, 3:9, and 4:13-14), and by changing the way that we view our persecutors (Romans 12:14, Luke 6:27-28, I Cor 4:12-13, I Pet 3:9, Matt 5:44-45), that rejoicing is indeed possible.

Examination and Application
We may never face the persecution that many in the early church, and many face today around the world, but Scripture does tell us that we should expect persecution (II Timothy 3:10-13.) If we are obeying the Beatitudes, especially by being peacemakers, then opposition will come. Our human nature may be to resent and dread such persecution, to fight back against and attack those who attack us, but Jesus exhorts us to respond with joy and gladness. Such gladness may not be possible with the world’s perspective, but it is possible with the perspective of the Christian. Christ suffered and called us to suffer like Him (I Peter 2:21-23.) He forgave and prayed for His attackers (Luke 23:34.) He endured unimaginable suffering as He looked to the joy before Him (Hebrews 12:2.) The persecution that we encounter may be different for each of us, but the call is ultimately the same: setting our eyes on Jesus, and running the race set out before us (Hebrews 12:1), looking past our current sufferings to the joy of eternity.
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