Yet, if we must suffer, we still might question the teaching of the Beatitude. Sure, we might be persecuted. But will we really be blessed through suffering? Such a proposition begs a closer examination.
The Big Because
Jesus’ final subject of persecution, addressed through His last two Beatitudes, is the only one that offers to answer “cause.” The other Beatitudes give us a reason for pursuing such things as mercy and righteousness, but we are left to surmise the conditions under which they are important. For example, we know we will be called to show mercy when we meet those who need to see God’s grace, and we are compelled to live righteous lives because we want our walk with God to be pure and filled with joy. But it is our job to connect these theological points.
The subject of persecution is different, perhaps because it is harder to understand how one might be blessed when he is under attack for his faith. This is where the “big because” comes in. Jesus wants His listeners to know the source of persecution so they are not surprised when they suffer for doing what is right.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
There are at least three causes of persecution referenced here. Jesus followers will be mistreated, 1) for their emphasis on a personal walk with God apart from legalistic bondage (“righteousness”), 2) for their association with Jesus (“because of me”), and 3) because those who reject truth have a history of shooting the messenger (“persecuted the prophets”). We find all of these challenges in the history of the church, from its birth to present.
What is most interesting is, the first and last of these three causes come from within the faith community. Legalists are believers, as are those who reject prophets who tell them things they don’t want to hear. One might argue these are not true believers, or they would receive God’s truth with gladness. While we can assume there are those who call themselves Christians but are not, I feel certain many who persecute their own brothers and sisters in Christ do so because they think they are protecting the kingdom from falsehood. After all, the Sanhedrin’s used the charge of blaspheme against God’s own Son. We shouldn’t be surprised when godly people do the same to others.