Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blessed Are They Who Are Persecuted – SOMT #12

Some debate whether verses 10 – 12 of Matthew, chapter 5, should be treated as a single beatitude dealing with persecution in general or if they contain two beatitudes, one dealing with physical persecution and bearing the promise, for those thus persecuted, that they are a part of the kingdom of God, and a second one dealing with verbal abuse, bearing the promise of great reward in heaven. I will be treating them as a single beatitude, elaborated more fully than the others in Sermon on the Mount.

All of the beatitudes, and indeed all of the Sermon on the Mount, contain ideas that are counterintuitive, even contradictory, to the secular mind. They are, after all, kingdom ideas, descriptive of the values and ways of the kingdom of heaven. But none is more so than the teaching in Matthew 5:10-12 in which Jesus is quoted as saying:

Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.

It is important to note that Jesus did not promise the kingdom of heaven to all who are persecuted; only to those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Some would even argue that persecution for righteousness’ sake is not, in itself, an indication that the persecuted one is in the kingdom of heaven. God will have to sort out those finer theological points. It is agreed here that being “hounded” – which, after all, is the sense of the word used in Matthew’s Gospel for “persecuted” – is no sign of the rightness of one’s cause. Even strong belief that one’s cause is righteous is not enough. The kingdom of this world is rife with persecution of all kinds of people, especially any whose thoughts or conduct are a threat to those in power.

Here Jesus is speaking, not of a persecution that puts one into the kingdom of heaven, but rather of a persecution that stems from being part of a kingdom, not of this world; being hounded because one is seen as an alien in the kingdom of this world.

All of us have a natural desire to fit in, to be accepted in the kingdom of this world, but there is no “blessing” in that. There is no privileged “circle” in the kingdom of this world that will “bless” its members with contentment, happiness, or security. Only the kingdom of heaven offers those benefits to its inhabitants.

Persecution for the sake of righteousness does not confer the kingdom of heaven upon one, it confirms that one is a member of it, and that confirmation is the blessing – God’s spirit bearing witness with the believer’s spirit that he or she is a child of God.

Jesus went on to expand his description of the persecution that members of the kingdom of heaven will endure while living in a kingdom within a kingdom. It will involve verbal abuse, misrepresentation, name calling, and rejection. Again, the refuge from such treatment is an extreme joy that comes from knowing one is a part of the kingdom of heaven.
But there is a promise of an even greater, more eternal reward to come in heaven. Residents of God’s kingdom within a kingdom have the hope and the promise that beyond this life the kingdom of God goes on. They will be a part of it, enjoying great rewards for all that they have endured for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. Like all those persecuted for righteousness in the centuries before – the prophets of Yahweh – they will enter into an eternal kingdom, the characteristics of which have not been fully revealed. One thing is for certain though; it will be a kingdom of righteousness, and those in that kingdom will be blessed.

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