And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed [are] the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed [are] they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed [are] the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed [are] they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed [are] the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed [are] the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed [are] the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed [are] they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, 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 which were before you.Matt. 5:1-12
The last two verses in the blessed series will be combined with this Bible Study given their similarities on the subject of persecution and their subsequent heavenly rewards. This study does come with a more serious overtone than previous ones but it merits that respect based on scriptural interpretation. With that opening, let us embark on the study of blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake.
Persecution toward people of faith has prevailed for several millennia with many suffering death for their belief and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. At present day, there are close to fifty nations* worldwide where Christians suffer countless persecutions for their faith. Listed below in the Notes section are two books for those readers desiring to learn more of the many noble individuals throughout history who have suffered persecution as martyrs. In the New Testament, the first martyr to suffer for his faith was John the Baptist, who was beheaded by the beguiled Roman ruler Herod. * (ref. christianitytoday.com)
Persecution of Jesus
Following this, Jesus Christ was persecuted relentlessly while on earth as documented in this passage, “And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.” [John 5:16] Jesus was not deterred though in his preaching, teaching and healing ministry. He continued in this regard and this further incensed the Jews, “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” [John 5:18] Given the importance of Jesus as the central figure to Christianity, the remainder of this study will detail the persecution he experienced as the savior of the world to atone for the sins of mankind.
Jesus suffered further verbal persecution, taunts and blasphemous insults as described here, “Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” [John 8:48] To think that the corrupt religious leaders attributed his miraculous works to demons was incomprehensible. Jesus was also physically assaulted during his ministry, “And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so? ” [John 18:22]
This persecution continued with accusations that he was a malefactor [John 18:30] and as his sentence of death drew near the persecution intensified, “Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged [him.] And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put [it] on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.” [John 19:13]
The process of scourging is usually performed with a multi-thonged type of whip to inflict the greatest amount of pain and punishment on its victim. The primary recorded use of the word scourged in the New Testament is in reference to the scourging Jesus received as recorded by the apostles Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Sadly, even despite the pain inflicted upon Jesus during scourging and placement of a crown of thorns upon his head, both resulting in a visibly bruised and bloodied physical appearance, this was nevertheless all met with further hardened hearts by the religious leaders of that day, “When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify [him,] crucify [him.].” [John 19:6]
The culminating event that took place from there was his crucifixion upon a cross as recorded in John 19:17, “And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called [the place] of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two others with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.” [John 19:17]
As if everything thus far was not enough persecution against Jesus, people filled with evil hearts continued in their taunts against him, “And the rulers also with them derided [him,] saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. ” [Luke 23:35-37]
Each documented account within the gospels helps to shed further light upon the persecution Jesus faced as recorded in this passage, “And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing [their] knees worshipped him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.” [Mark 15:18-20]
Perhaps the centurion standing by the cross was one of the few people during that fateful moment who saw Jesus for who he really was, “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.” [Matt. 27:54]
All too often, the recorded events pertaining to Jesus’ persecution, the mockery of a trial and his horrific crucifixion are glossed over in a matter of fact manner and artistry over time has somewhat glamorized the appearance of him upon the cross. The harsh reality however was an infliction of the utmost physical pain and anguish upon him, quite beyond comprehension that fulfilled the prophetic writings as noted here,
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he [was] wounded for our transgressions, [he was] bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”
The persecution of Jesus is a subject that should bear great somber and sorrow when truly comprehended, for it was the immense burden and weight of our sins that placed him on the cross as the atoning sacrifice. As Paul wrote, this was clearly the pinnacle of punishment upon Jesus, “For he hath made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” [2 Cor. 5:21]
To close off this first section on Blessed are they which are Persecuted for Righteousness Sake, Jesus spoke with his disciples on the trials and tribulation that would follow them in their godly pursuits, “…If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” [John 15:20b] As it held true through scripture and secular records, all but one of the apostles, John, was put to death, many in less than pleasant methods for their preaching and teaching of the gospel.
Paul also echoed the same thematic comments of Jesus in his letters to early believers in the churches, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” [2 Tim. 3:12] He was quick to note however the Christian character that should prevail even in the worst of circumstances, “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.” [Rom. 12:14]
The apostle Peter provided a most eloquent summary of encouraging words for believers in this regard by saying, “And who [is] he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy [are ye:] and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For [it is] better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” [1 Pet. 3:13-18]
Persecution’s Heavenly Reward
The second part of this Bible Study reflects the reward that awaits people in Christ who suffer persecution. Their faith and hope awaits them knowing that great is their reward in heaven. There is little elaboration upon these rewards in scripture but to think that they rest over and above heaven itself is something that comes with great anticipation. This is why Paul wrote to believers with words of encouragement, “And whatsoever ye do, do [it] heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” [Col. 3:23-24]
In closing of this Bible study, readers are encouraged to contemplate on the sufferings incurred by the Lord Jesus Christ. These sufferings after all, were on your behalf as he fulfilled the atoning sacrifice for your sins, worthy of God [Is. 53:10]. This is truly something to put your faith in as spoken by Jesus, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” [John 5:24] Will you make this decision to believe in Jesus today? As Paul wrote, “…now [is] the accepted time; behold, now [is] the day of salvation.” [2 Cor. 6:2b]
For further reading on blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake, there are two notable books that document Christian martyrs throughout history, martyrs being those who were persecuted to the point of death for their faith. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe and the Cross and Crown by James D. McCabe Jr., available at most online booksellers.
Bible Study Questions
- In this study on blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake, why do you think Christians face persecution in the world?
- Who was the first recorded believer that was persecuted to the point of death in the New Testament?
- Why do you think the religious rulers of the Jews were so intent on persecuting Jesus?
- Can you list at least three ways Jesus was persecuted during his earthly life? Hint, there are at least ten noted.
- What was the name of the prophet from the Old Testament who prophesied the persecution of Jesus?
- Aside from the physical persecution Jesus faced, what was really the pivotal persecution he endured for all of us?
- How could you encourage someone who is facing persecution for the faith in Jesus today based on Blessed are they which are Persecuted for Righteousness?
WORD GUIDE – * (slay – to kill violently) * (sabbath – a religious day of rest) * (Samaritan – someone from Samaria, despised by the Jews) * (malefactor – criminal) * ( scourged – to inflict punishment or torture by whipping) * (smote – strike or hit hard) * ( crucified – a slow and torturous death from having hands and feet nailed to a cross with spikes, usually resulting in asphyxiation from the inability to hold up your body) * (deride – to mock with scorn and contempt) * (centurion – a commander in the Roman army) * (smitten – struck hard as with a blow) * ( chastisement – severe criticism or rebuke) * (iniquity – sin) * (quickened – become alive)