verse IX – the beatitudes – matthew 5:1-12
What are you willing to endure for who or what you love? That is the question before us. What emotional experience does this endurance create?
As mentioned previously, followers of Messiah have been entrusted with the “word of reconciliation;” to proclaim the message of Yeshua/Jesus and the peace that comes by faith in Him. Nevertheless, it is this truth, this message and this faith in Yeshua that ushers us into the condition that we will discuss in this article: persecution.
Messiah said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” The Hebrew of Professor Franz Delitzsch’s translation may be rendered in this way, “O, the gladness of those who are pursued on account of righteousness. For to them is the kingdom of heaven.”
We find considerable discussion in theological literature about Matthew 5:10-12. Are these verses meant to be understood as one beatitude or are they two separate beatitudes? It is this authors opinion that they constitute one beatitude: v.10 giving the general principle, vs.11-12 are an elaboration of the meaning of the beatitude itself.
What it’s not.
My thinking is this, people can be troublemakers and feel that they are being persecuted for righteousness sake; or they can adopt a heretical pseudo-religion with cultic overtones, and find persecution to be a validation for their beliefs. So Yeshua, knowing the human heart, qualifies the nature of the persecution. This persecution is for the righteousness of Messiah Himself.
What it is.
The New Covenant continually points us to the righteousness embodied in the person of Yeshua – His life and His teaching. As a general rule, the Bible is not flattering with regard to our own righteousness – comparing it to “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). All too often, our version of righteousness becomes moralistic: rooted in legalistic observance of strict dress codes, hair length, diet and church attendance. In these cases, we are flattered when people acknowledge our oddities. Righteousness from the beginning of the Bible to its conclusion is reckoned by faith, specifically whom we are faithing on.
When we are persecuted for Messiah, it should be the result of a pure presentation of who He is, what He taught, what He did and what that means for humanity.
In today’s American society, Yeshua is being redefined – according to contemporary sensibilities. We have Hollywood starlets and television personalities making bold claims about the person and the teaching of Yeshua that contradict the biblical record. We have organizations chastising those who believe in the biblical Messiah for not following “Christian” teaching – including historic denominational bodies. Those who trust in the righteousness of Messiah find themselves ostracized for their faith – quite often by those claiming, in name, the same faith.
The Greek word for “persecuted” means “to pursue or to follow.” The message of this beatitude is that Messianic faith will cause some to be so upset that they “pursue” or “chase” you – either with verbal or physical assault.
In Hebrew the verb רָדַף (radaf) means “to pursue, chase and persecute.” Perhaps the most familiar example of this verb usage is found in Psalm 23:6:
יְמֵ֣י-כָּל יִ֭רְדְּפוּנִי וָחֶ֣סֶד ט֤וֹב
“All my days, loving-kindness and goodness will chase after me” (translation mine).
It would seem that Yeshua has Psalm 23:6 in mind here. When we are persecuted for righteousness sake, we must remember the good that the Lord has for us is also pursuing us – not just the wickedness of men (Ro. 8:28-29). Yet, Yeshua gives further encouragement, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn. 15:18). And He continues, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).
The bottom line.
Following Messiah is a persecuted life. Persecution comes from those who do not believe, and sadly, those who do believe – even believers can fall prey to their weaker tendencies. It is easy for us settle in the safe harbor of self-righteousness, expecting some grand acknowledgment other than persecution: If we do this or that perfectly, not only will God applaud us, but others will applaud our righteousness and leave us alone. We never outgrow persecution (II Tim. 3:12). If somehow we discover that we have outgrown persecution, our resemblance to Messiah has probably faded.
Yet, it’s not…
The righteousness of Messiah does not give us license, however, to go out and agitate in order to claim persecution. Persecution comes when we will not be moved by public opinion, fads or cultural and moral change from the truth of God in Yeshua. Yeshua tells us to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad,” when we face persecution. The apostle James tells us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (Jas. 1:2-3).
Persecution, testing, trial provides the opportunity for faith to mature in Messiah – absent the testing, faith will be fading. Persecution challenges the entirety of who you are and upon whom your faith claim rests. The apostle Paul exhort us to “fight the good fight,” and to “run the race.” Therefore, we can expect challenges in the form of persecution. We can expect resistance to our forward motion.
Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, a believing Jew who suffered at the hands of the communists in Romania, wrote in his powerful book Tortured for Christ, “It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their [the communists’ ] terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.”
Wurmbrand confirms the words of Yeshua, “blessed,” “happy,” are you when they revile and persecute you. Logically, the question is, “Why?”
When we are challenged or pursued for our faith, the greatest of blessings follow us – the Kingdom of Heaven. We find in persecution the present experience of the future inheritance – the closeness of the Living God. We have been made priests (servants/ministers) in His Kingdom, and while we are here on this earth, at times, we will endure as suffering servants for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of Messiah’s righteousness. The apostles left the presence of the Sanhedrin rejoicing for being counted worthy to suffer – be persecuted – for the name of Yeshua (Acts 5:41). As difficult as it is for us to embrace, it should be the aim of our attitude as well – but often, we would rather just fit in and not stand out.
Contrary to the rhetoric of our age, standing upon your faith in Messiah does not mean that you are unloving, unkind, or hard-hearted – but that you are committed to something and someone greater than yourself; and because of that unwavering commitment to Messiah, you will be committed to the human other, regardless of where they may find themselves in this life.
At the end of the age, when we then see Yeshua face to face, I pray that we hear His words so sweet, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Shalom. Be well.