Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad …
Whereas the first four beatitudes strikingly describe the Christian as being powerless, the next three beatitudes just as strikingly have us triumphantly going out into the world as a merciful, pure and peacemaking people. The eighth beatitude brings us back down to the miserable circumstances coinciding with the first four. The eighth and final beatitude is perhaps the most surprising as it rewards this group of humble, meek, merciful, pure, peacemakers with something most unexpected – persecution. Believers who are living as Christians ought to live, are at times going to have to resist this angry and impure world; there are times when we must speak up for righteousness when it is unpopular to do so; and as a result we will find ourselves hated by the world which first hated Jesus.
Jesus pronounces that this persecuted people are blessed (happy), if their persecution is the result of righteousness and His name. The persecuted person is only blessed when his words and life conform to the standards of Christ. Persecution brought on by individual pride or tactlessness may indeed be warranted and has no guarantee of Christ’s promised blessing.
No people in the history of the world have been more persecuted and hated than true Christians. Here in the west we do not feel the force of this because Christianity has been largely embraced by our culture for 1500 years. But suffering has always been a distinctive of God’s people. Suffering is not novel to the Christian faith; in fact the Old and New Testaments bear witness of the persistence of human opposition to God’s people. The prophet Jeremiah, who provides the classic example, and the history of early Christianity, demonstrate that God’s prophets have always been hated. Let us not be fooled, just because the cultural climate in the west has warmed to Christianity, we cannot expect that it will always remain so.
Despite all of this, we are commanded to rejoice, in fact to “leap for joy,” because we are counted worthy to be the successors of the prophets. Rather than retaliate or feel resentment toward our persecutors, we are to rejoice, as persecution is proof that we are heirs of the prophets and thus true Christians. Further we can rejoice because persecution identifies us with Christ. We can also rejoice because the glorious reward that awaits us is not worthy to be compared to the suffering of this life.