“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” Matthew 5:10-12 (see also Luke 21:12; Mark 10:29-30).
Persecution is part of the heritage of the believer (2 Timothy 3:12; 1:8; Philippians 1:29; 1 Thess.3:2-4). Down through the ages, in every generation, Christians have experienced persecution (Hebrews 11:35-38). This is because of the opposition between God and the system of this world. The Cross of Christ is an offense to many people (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). This is why Christians are persecuted (Galatians 5:11; 6:12).
“If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” 1 Peter 4:15 (see also 2:19-20; Acts 5:41; John 15:20).
The early Church experienced much persecution (Acts 14:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5), but it only served to spread the word of the Gospel (Acts 8:1-8; 11:19-21; Philippians 1:12-14).
“Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” Hebrews 10:33-34 (see also verse 35; 1 Corinthians 4:11-13).
Promises in Persecution
The Lord gives many promises to those who endure persecution for His name’s sake:
- A crown of life (Revelation 2:10; 2 Timothy 4:8).
- A better resurrection (Hebrews 11:35).
- The strength of God (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
- The joy of the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:41).
- The comfort of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:5-9).
- Great reward in heaven (Matthew 5:10-12).
- Judgment against our persecutors (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7; Romans 12:19).
Fellowship of His Sufferings
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” Philippians 3:10 (see also 1 Peter 4:12-14; Romans 8:17).
We need to understand that it is not us that people are persecuting. They are, in fact, persecuting Jesus (Acts 22:4-8; Matt.24:9; John 15:20). When we are persecuted for the name of Jesus, we participate in the sufferings of Jesus Himself (2 Cor.1:5). Paul knew what it was to enter into the sufferings of Christ (2 Cor.11:23-28) and he called these sufferings the “marks” or “branding” of Jesus (Gal.6:17). The experience of suffering for Jesus’ sake produces endurance (Rom.5:3; 2 Cor.1:6), obedience (Heb.5:8-9), joy (1 Peter 4:13; James 1:2), fellowship (1 Cor.12:26), power (2 Cor.4:7-9; Rom. 8:11), victory over sin (1 Peter 4:1), and ultimately glory (Rom.8:17-18).
Victory in Persecution
No matter what we face, God’s plan is that we experience victory. The victory we have in persecution is of two kinds:
Delivered from persecution
“Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us” 2 Corinthians 1:9-10 (see also 2 Timothy 3:10-11; 4:16-18).
God is more than able to deliver His children from trouble. But even when He doesn’t, there is another kind of victory at work.
Victory within persecution
“…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” 1 John 5:4.
We need never fear persecution, because the One living in us is greater than any persecution the world can bring.
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” 1 John 4:4.
Dead to the World
“…the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” John 17:14 (see also verse 15; 1 John 3:13).
The world persecutes us because we do not belong to the world. It is because we are already dead to the world that we can stand up under persecution.
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” Galatians 6:14.
Being a Witness
“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” 1 Peter 3:14-15.
Persecution is not just a matter between us and God. The world is watching to see how we will respond. If we curse back, we are no different from anyone who faces suffering. Instead, Jesus tells us: “Bless those who persecute you” (Romans 12:14; Matthew 5:44-48; 1 Peter 2:21-23; 3:9). When we bless those who persecute us, God can use our witness to bring even our persecutors to salvation (read Acts 7:54-60; 8:1-3; 9:1-20). We are able to bless our persecutors because we recognize that they are not our real enemy. Behind every persecution of Jesus is Satan himself (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8-10). Indeed, even in persecution we are “more than conquerors.”
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” Romans 8:35,37 (read also verses 31-39).