The Beatitudes are part of Jesus’ sermon on the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ sermon is about the lifestyle of the righteous in the Kingdom. Thus, the Beatitudes are not requirements to become righteous. Rather, the Beatitudes are rewards for the righteous of the Kingdom.
Beatitude No. 8 is in Matt. 5:10. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (ESV). Literally, it reads, “persecuted because of (heneken) righteousness.” They suffer persecution precisely because of righteousness.
Some suffer persecution today because of their own sin. When you ask them why, they tell you that they insulted someone. They did not pay their debt. They stole money. They suffer persecution because of unrighteousness.
Yet the blessing here is only for those who suffer for righteousness. What kind of righteousness is it? It is the righteousness that characterizes those loyal to God. In the Beatitudes, those loyal to God are poor in spirit. They mourn for their sin. They are meek before evildoers, trusting in God’s vengeance. They hunger for God’s righteousness against oppression. They are merciful to the poor. They are pure in heart, seeking God while snubbing sin. They make peace between clashing people for God’s glory. These qualities mark the righteous in the kingdom. Because of their loyalty to God, they suffer persecution.
Now this loyalty to God is actually loyalty to Christ. Look at Matt. 5:11. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Note the words, “on my account,” heneken emou. It is the same word in v. 10, heneken, “because of.” Thus, to suffer persecution because of righteousness is to suffer because of Christ. It is the same as suffering persecution because of obedience to Christ.
You live for Christ. You hold to His values. You follow His standards. Because you live for Christ, you will suffer persecution. For that, Jesus said, you are blessed. Most probably, Matthew wrote to a Christian church that was suffering persecution from the Jews. In Matt. 5:44, they are to pray for those who persecute them. In Matt. 10:23, they are to flee from persecution in the city. All these words are found only in the Gospel of Matthew. With this Beatitude, Matthew is encouraging suffering believers.
Warren Wiersbe writes about how the Devil fights the church when the church is on the move. “In Acts 2 we read that 3000 people were converted. Then what happened? According to Acts 4, Satan came like a lion and had the apostles threatened.
In chapter 5, Satan came like a serpent, influencing Ananias and Sapphira to infect the church with their lying and hypocrisy. If Satan can’t win by persecution from the outside, he will try pollution on the inside. Then Satan came as the accuser in Acts 6. One group of widows accused the other group of widows of taking over. We are being neglected, they said. Satan likes to get the saints to accuse one another.
Then according to Acts 12, Satan came as a murderer. James was killed, and Peter was put into prison to be kept for execution.
Do you follow Christ today? Then expect to suffer persecution because of Christ. Paul said, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29, NKJV). “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12, NKJV).