Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The first verse in our passage today is the eighth and final Beatitude that Jesus gave in His Sermon on the Mount. The following two verses are Jesus’ commentary on it. The word “beatitude” refers to a state of being abundantly blessed and extremely happy. The Beatitudes are declarations of blessedness over those who embody what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
The eighth Beatitude says that disciples who are “persecuted because of righteousness” are blessed. What does it mean to be persecuted because of righteousness? It means that one is treated badly for accepting the righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22) and for living the Christian life. The Christian life can lead to persecution because it is a threat to other ways of life. Those who are persecuted because of righteousness are willing to endure the bad treatment in order to stay faithful to Jesus.
The reason why disciples who are persecuted because of righteousness are blessed is that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The “kingdom of heaven” as used by the Apostle Matthew is a virtual synonym for the “kingdom of God.” Those who have the Kingdom of God are blessed because they are citizens of the kingdom and have all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of citizenship as a result.
The persecuted also have a great reward waiting for them in heaven when they die and, we may presume, in the new heaven and new earth yet to come. The reward is not specified, but it must be great because the recipients are likened to the great prophets of old who were persecuted.
It seems counterintuitive for Jesus to say that the persecuted are blessed. The Apostle Paul, however, said that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18) and “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
If you are enduring persecution today, be strengthened and encouraged by the great reward and the eternal glory it is achieving for you.