“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Suffering for Me?
Jesus warns his followers that they will be persecuted because they are not of the world, but have been chosen out of the world, and therefore the world hates them just as it has hated Christ (John 15:18-21). This is precisely why Jesus exhorts his would-be followers to first count the cost. For anyone who is unprepared or unwilling to bear a cross and follow Christ, (whose path to glory went via Calvary) simply cannot be his disciple (Luke 14:25-33).
But just because persecution is inevitable doesn’t mean it is acceptable. Persecution is wicked. It involves harassment, oppression, cruelty, betrayal, dictatorship, violence, injustice — all that is contrary to God’s law of love (Matt 22:36-40). Through persecution, Christ’s enemies make costly that which Christ offers freely (Isaiah 55:1-2;Matt 10:7-8;Romans 3:24). This is a vile sin of profound spiritual rebellion for which persecutors will give an account.
The question remains though: how can victims of persecution be “blessed”? Well firstly, those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake are NOT victims. Avoiding persecution is the easiest thing in the world — just deny Christ! Nothing sorts out true disciples from false like persecution. Through persecution the church is sifted (Isaiah 30:28), refined (Isaiah 48:10), winnowed (Matt 3:12). Those who consent to suffer persecution rather than avoid it are those who, in love and trust, choose faithfulness over temporal self-preservation — thus proving their faith.
Those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake are blessed on account of their spiritual reality: that regardless of circumstances we have a king who loves us with an everlasting love (Romans 8:31-39); a king who hears our prayers (Psalm 116:1-2); who never leaves us (Matt 28:20b), who can be trusted (Psalm 117:1-2), and who has already brought us into a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Isaiah 26:1-3) — unlike the world which is, even now, passing away under judgement (Hebrews 12:27-29).
Blessed indeed! (Rev 21:1-4)
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate based in Melbourne.
See also “Do Christians in the West suffer persecution?” (Persecution – whatever that is.)