“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
Some people go door to door sharing their version of religion. Their reputation is not good; they sometimes are persistent to the point of rudeness. When people are rude to them in turn, the visitors congratulate themselves with the thought that they are being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. They therefore think that they are earning the blessing of the kingdom of heaven.
Compare this example to the Christians of the early Church who suffered and died for their faith in Jesus Christ. Church historians report that eleven of the twelve apostles were executed for preaching the Christian faith. Peter is said to have been crucified upside down; Paul, we are told, was beheaded. Only John lived to be an old man, and he spent time on Patmos, a prison island.
Persecution did not end with the Roman Empire. Even today some governments persecute their own citizens because they are Christians. Even today people risk persecution for doing no more than attending a Christian worship service. Some risk boldly; others meet secretly. They know that they could lose their jobs, the affection of their family and friends, their freedom, and even their lives because of their faith in Jesus. They continue believing, though. They continue meeting to worship and to pray and to study the Bible. Some of them even dare to share the Gospel with others. They do these things because Jesus gives them more than any earthly power can take away from them.
Being persecuted earns no rewards from God. Those of us who confront only feeble opposition—or no opposition at all—have not lost the blessing of the kingdom of heaven. This gift is ours through the persecution Jesus endured for us from the hands of his enemies: his suffering and death on the cross. He won a victory on that cross, and he shares that victory with us and with all who believe in him. His victory is powerful, so powerful that it helps those who are threatened by poverty or violence because of their faith in Jesus. Their sufferings remind them how Jesus suffered for them. The memory of his cross strengthens them so they can endure suffering and death in Jesus’ name.
Persecution in this world does not guarantee blessings from God. People have suffered and died for bad causes. It does not matter what the world does to us; what matters is what Jesus has done for us. He has blessed us with his kingdom. Nothing in this world can take that blessing from us. J.