Based on series of Messages preached in July-Sep 1999

"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matthew 5:10-12).

We are come now to the last of the Beatitudes. Verses 11 and 12 do not constitute another Beatitude, but is really a specific application of the 8th Beatitude.

We have been looking at the Beatitudes as describing the ‘marks’ of the work of grace in the heart of the regenerate believer. We have seen that the Christian: (1) is poor in spirit; (2) mourns for his sins; (3) is meek; (4) thirsts for righteousness; (5) is merciful; (6) is pure in heart; and (7) is a peacemaker. Now in the 8th Beatitude we see that the Christian will suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake.

At first sight, this Beatitude does not appear to be a description of disposition and nature of a Christian. Rather, it seems to describe what is likely to result because he is a Christian. But the Christian is persecuted only because he is a certain kind of person and because he behaves in a certain way. What kind of person is he? It is the kind described in the previous 7 Beatitudes. In other words, this beatitude may be said to be a sort of a summary for the rest of the Beatitudes.

It is probably for this reason that the promise attached to the first Beatitude and this last Beatitude is exactly the same, namely: "For theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (see v.3, 10). And so, as the 1st Beatitude begins with a clear indication that the Lord is teaching us the marks of a true believer, so this last Beatitude wraps up the eight Beatitudes with a reiteration of the purpose of the Lord.

"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven": It is as if the Lord is saying that the kind of person painted in these Beatitudes,—namely a genuine Christian,—will suffer persecution.

What is persecution? To persecute is to cause to suffer or to vex and harass. This can take the form of physical torment such as imprisonment, torture, financial losses, etc; or emotional torment such as slander, ridicule, misjudgement, scolding, etc. The Lord is teaching us that all true believers will suffer persecution. But it is a fact that we can be persecuted for many reasons, not all of which are commendable. Therefore, it is necessary for us to be clear in our mind what kind of persecution is being referred to by our Lord. At the same time, it is necessary for us, in order to cheerfully submit to the hand of the Lord, to understand why we will be persecuted and why we are blessed when we are persecuted.

Persecutions for Unworthy Causes

Notice that the Lord did not say "Blessed are they which are persecuted: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (cf. v. 10). And when the Lord explains the Beatitude, He does not only say "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you" (cf. v. 11). The Lord, in other words, is not saying that so long as we are persecuted, we are blessed.

In particular, our Lord would certainly not say: "Blessed are they who are persecuted because they are being difficult." There are some Christians who are extremely difficult people to get along with. I know of a few individuals, for example, who are known to be full of complaints in whichever church or fellowship they attend. They would make their complaints known in no uncertain terms. They complain the singing is dull, or that the church or fellowship is cold, that no one talks to them, that the refreshment is not delicious etc, etc. Because they are so critical, they become very unpopular with everyone else, and they are soon isolated by everyone. They feel persecuted. But is this Beatitude applicable to them? I am afraid not.

Neither would our Lord say: "Blessed are they who are persecuted on account of their fanaticism." In the history of the church, there are many who have been rather fanatical in their causes and have as a result been persecuted. When the Reformation broke out in 1517, three main groups of Protestants were distinguishable: Lutheran, Reformed and Anabaptists. The Anabaptists tended to be extreme in their opinions. They believed in a form of communism; and they opposed capital punishment, oaths in court, and the payment of taxes and interest amongst other things. These would not have been an issue in history had they kept their opinions to themselves or simply expressed them verbally. But this was not to be so, for they were known to disrupt not only Romish worship services, but even Protestant worship services to make their views known. Furthermore, in 1534, a group of Anabaptist gathered in Munster, believing that the millennium would come in power in Munster. This group also believed that the Old Testament civil codes were still applicable and even appointed a King David to head them. It was such fanaticism that made the Anabaptists rather unpopular with not only the Roman Catholics but also the Reformers. Anabaptism was frowned upon and persecuted everywhere and many were drowned or burnt at the stake. We must sympathise with them and condemn the action of their persecutors. But is the Beatitude applicable to them? I am afraid not necessarily.

Likewise, our Lord did not say: "Blessed are they who are persecutedfor false doctrine." Think of the cults which are zealously promoting their false doctrines. Jehovah Witnesses, for example, are taught right from the beginning that if they hold to the doctrines taught by the Watchtower Society they would face persecution. Well, yes, they do face some kind of persecutions indeed. But has the JW’s the right to apply the Beatitude to themselves? I am certain that they do not, for they teach another gospel in the guise of the Gospel of Christ.

Again, our Lord did not say: "Blessed are they who are persecutedbecause they are doing something sinful or against the Law." Says the apostle Peter: "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters" (1 Pet 4:15). This is so obvious that we need hardly comment on it. Let none claim this Beatitude for himself when he is persecuted for wrong doing and for sin. Let him rather repent of his sin and profess that he does deserve the judgement, persecution or disciplinary actions against him.

Finally, our Lord did not say: "Blessed are they who are persecutedbecause of lack of prudence and gentleness." There are certain individuals who have their theology right and are genuine Christians, but because they lack prudence and gentleness, they are persecuted though they could have avoided it. When the Lord sent the 12 disciples out, he gave them specific instructions: "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Mt 12:16). But there are some who will insist on confronting bluntly and vehemently those whom they disagree with. And so they are persecuted. Does the 8th Beatitude apply to them? The answer should be quite obvious.

Persecutions Commended by our Lord

The Lord says, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake." Note carefully that it is not "Blessed are they which are persecuted for truth’s sake," nor "Blessed are they which are persecuted for principles’ sake," But "Blessed are they which arepersecuted for righteousness’ sake."

What does "persecuted for righteousness" mean?

The Scripture describes two kinds of righteousness, namely imputed righteousness which comes with justification (cf. Rom 3:22) and imparted righteousness which comes with sanctification (cf. Rom 6:16-18).

We can be quite sure that our Lord is referring to imparted righteousness because justification is a legal status that is not by itself discernable to the world (and therefore cannot result in persecution), whereas, the effects of sanctification is clearly visible to the world (and therefore can result in persecution).

This is clearly the kind of righteousness which our Lord is referring to a few verses down, in Matthew 5:20: "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."

Although it is true that unless one is justified or imputed with the righteousness of Christ, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, it is not what our Lord is referring to in this verse. Rather, He is saying that unless our imparted righteousness or actual righteousness exceeds the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.

But how does imparted righteousness become evident to the world? Matthew 5:19 makes it very clear:

"Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:19).

So, then imparted righteousness manifests itself in the keeping of the Laws of God. It involves a desire to please the Lord and to do what is right in His eyes. A person who practices righteousness is therefore one who is different from the world because he is in Christ. "He is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor 5:17).

We may conclude, then, that the Lord is commending the kind of persecution that comes with living righteously or with seeking to live an authentic Christian life.

There is, we must remember, such a thing as an authentic Christian life and a synthetic Christian life. The authentic Christian life conforms to Word of God in letter and spirit. It is pleasing in the eyes of God. The synthetic Christian life conforms to tradition and to the expectations of man. This kind of Christian life is pleasing to the world, but not to the Lord. The synthetic Christian faces no persecution, for he makes himself likable to the world. But the authentic Christian will face persecution.

Why Persecution?

Because being righteous and living the authentic Christian life immediately makes a person utterly different from the rest of the world. Such a person becomes one of the very few to be walking on the narrow road that leads to life. And not only that, such a person immediately testifies by his actions, attitudes, speech and priorities that the world is wrong. No one likes those who are different from them, and fewer still like to be told that there is something wrong with the way they live.

Thus, the Lord teaches us that the world hates Him, and so those who follow Him will be hated too:

"If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also" (Jn 15:18-20 18).

The world hated Christ because He is utterly different from the world. The world hates Him because His life and message testifies against them. The world hates Him because He is holy while the world revels in sin and wickedness. If you are like Christ, the world will hate you for the same reasons. The world will not hate you simply because you say that you believe Christ or that you are a follower of Christ. The world will hate you once it sees that you are different, and that your life and conversation testifies against the ungodliness of the world.

Thus the apostle Paul asserts in 2 Timothy 3:12,—"Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." Paul’s testimony is repeated over and over again in the Scripture and in the history of the church.

In the Old Testament Abel was murdered by Cain because he offered a more excellent sacrifice than his brother. Moses was slandered not only by the Jews but by his own brother and sister. David was persecuted by Saul, and Michal his first wife was offended by his expression of joy before the ark of God. Elijah was persecuted by Ahab and Jezebel. Jeremiah was so discouraged by the reproaches that he heard daily that he almost gave up preaching. Isaiah was, according to tradition, sawn in half because he had testified against the sin of the people. Daniel was thrown in the lion’s den because he prayed to the Lord.

In the New Testament it is no different. Just read of the persecutions that Paul endured after he became a believer. He was literally persecuted every where he went. John was imprisoned in the Isle of Patmos for preaching the truth. Peter was, according to tradition, crucified upside down.

Similarly, in the history of the church, the same pattern of persecution of the righteous continued. Indeed, the early Christians suffered tremendous persecutions. Many were burned at the stakes. Many were forced to wear animal skins so that they would be torn asunder by dogs, others were made to wear coats of tar and set aflame to become human torches. Others were thrown alive into molten lead, or had their hands and lips cut off. Even when official persecution of Christians ceased in AD 313, the persecution of the righteous did not cease. It was simply replaced by a persecution by apostate elements within the visible church. The Roman Catholic Inquisition of the Pope, ensured that for 600 years, from 1233, no one who was truly biblical was spared persecution. The Albegenses, the Waldenses, the Hugenots, the Hussites, the Lollards were persecuted greatly for their faith. Luther was in such mortal danger that he had to disguise as a knight while hiding in the castle of Frederick the Wise. Calvin and Farel were forced to leave Geneva because they had insisted on certain godly standards. Latimer and Ridley among thousands of others were martyred during the Marian persecutions. Jonathan Edwards, was dismissed from his congregation in Northampton because he had insisted that only those who demonstrate a credible profession of faith might partake of the Lord’s supper. Greshem Machen was defrocked because he had spoken out against liberalism which was creeping into the PCUSA. We can multiply the examples and fill volumes of books on the lives of Christians who suffered for righteousness.

In our own days, we hear of many Christians being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. We think of Christians in Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Indonesian, Iran, Israel, etc. We think of the many Chinese Christians who were imprisoned and tortured for their faith. We hear of how those who try to evangelise Muslims in such countries are often thrown into prison. One man, who converted from Islam, came to Singapore to study theology, but when he went back to Malaysia, he was betrayed by his own relatives and detained without trial. One Egyptian theological student I met in the Evangelical Theological College testified that in Egypt Christians are identified and discriminated against by all government agencies. Then we hear of the hundreds of churches that have been looted and burned in Indonesia although the country has an official policy of religious freedom. And have we not heard in recent days how in the Philippines, those who are convinced of the Reformed Faith are persecuted even by so-called, evangelical Christians.

But thank God, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." But…

Why Blessedness?

The function of the Beatitudes, you must remember, is to paint a portrait of a believer. And this last Beatitude is no different. If you look at it this way, you will realise quickly that implied in our Lord’s statement is that anyone who does not face persecution at all, but is well-liked by everyone may either be not living Christ-liked or perhaps may not even be born again.

Indeed, dear friend, if you are a genuine Christian and you are living in a Christ-like manner, you can expect persecution. You can expect persecution from the world, because the world blinded by Satan hates all that is pleasing to God because godly behaviour testifies against them. This is why Christians in communistic countries and Muslim countries are frequently persecuted.

But, realise that persecution will not only come from the world. Indeed, persecution for righteousness often comes from those who claim also to be Christians and those closest to us. The Lord Jesus encouraged the Church of Smyrna with these words:

"I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan" (Rev 2:9).

Those who claim to be Jews are those who claim to be true believers of God. We cannot see the hearts of men as the Lord can, but we can see that Christians who are pursuing righteousness are frequently persecuted by those who also profess to be Christians.

Edwards was persecuted by his own beloved congregation. Machen was persecuted by the leaders of his own denomination; and so were James Begg and John Kennedy. And how many others in recent days face the same kind of persecution.

It is a fact confirmed by experience: If you live by godly, righteous principles, you will be hated by those who have a different or lower principle. And you will be persecuted in all sorts of ways. But what a joy and privilege it is to be persecuted on account of righteousness.

The apostle Peter probably had in mind the 8th Beatitude when he encouraged his readers concerning the persecution that they would face:

"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified" (1 Pet 4:12-14).

Peter’s message is relevant to us too. Let us not be surprised if we suffer persecution on account of our Christianity and our desire to be righteous. In this day of moral and theological decadence, if we are not persecuted for righteousness’ sake it is likely that we are simply flowing with the tide—with the world and with mere professors of Christianity. And that would be evident either of a stunted Christianity or self-deluded profession of faith. But conversely, if you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings. When Christ met Saul who was persecuting the Church, He said to him "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" When you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, Christ accounts the persecution to be upon Himself. What a tremendous privilege—that we can be counted one with him!


Are you yet an unbeliever or living like an unbeliever? You attend church, but you have no love for Christ, nor any desire to please Him. You know it yourself. You face no persecution from the world, because there is nothing to persecute you for. Apart from being in church on Sunday, you are no different from the world. You have a worldly attitude towards your life, you thrive on worldly principles of money- making and you live pretty much like the world. The world loves you. Satan loves you. He loves you especially because you claim to bear the name of Christ. O friend, unless you repent, you will perish in your sin. Now is the time to awake out of your slumber. Now is the time to turn to Christ. Tomorrow may not come.

Do you prefer peace to persecution, and therefore feel that you must not speak against error so as to preserve peace, or feel that you should drift along with the rest of Christianity in order that there can be unity in the church? Listen to what Robert Candlish (1806-1873), one of the leading figures in the establishment of the Scottish Free Church in her heyday, has to say:

"Especially when there comes to be a heavy strain upon us as God’s children; and a strong case is made out for some concession; and we begin to doubt if we have not been too stiff and strict in refusing this or that compliance, or condemning this or that liberty; and ask if we might not perhaps do more good, and better serve the cause of righteousness and a righteous God, by being a little less precise and more accommodating. Yes; we might in that way disarm somewhat the world’s hostility, and win a character for amiable courtesy and a liberal spirit. The world might come to us, so as to like us better than it does now; better than it likes our more scrupulous brethren. But would not its knowing us in that way be just in proportion to our ceasing so far practically to be God’s children, "doing righteousness as he is righteous?""

O friends, do you get the gist of what he is saying? When you accommodate to the world and be less strict in your Christian conviction and life, you will have many friends both in the world and among professing Christians. But the more such friends you have, the more indication there is that you have ceased to live as the children of God, doing righteousness as He is righteousness. Guard fervently against this danger O friend. Guard it in your lives and guard it in this church. Pray O friends, that the Lord will convict us of the need to please Him above men, and so have a more earnest desire to live holy and righteous lives, pleasing to Him.

But if you are living a godly and righteous life, I am confident that God has begun a work of grace, and will perfect it unto the day of Jesus Christ. I know also that you must be in some ways facing persecution for righteousness’ sake. You are slandered and maligned. I want to encourage you that the persecution that you are facing is a mark that Christ has placed on you. Look unto Christ as you persevere on with your race toward the celestial city.

Are you poor because you would not violate the Sabbath day or because you will not succumb to unethical schemes? So was your Lord poor: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Lk 9:58).

Have you been slandered because you are strictly observing the Law of God? So too, your Lord was slandered. The Jews slandered the Lord by saying that He performed miracles by the power of the devil.

Have you suffered unjustly because you seek to please God rather than men? So too, your Lord did suffer. He was judged to have committed no crimes by Pilate and yet was sent to be whipped and crucified.

Are you ridiculed for your faith? So was your Lord ridiculed, for, "they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!" (Matt 27:29b)

Have you been mistreated or considered to be silly on account of your faith in Christ? So was your Lord. He was treated inhumanely, beaten and crucified.

Have you been betrayed by your friends because your righteousness is an embarrassment to them? So too, was your Lord betrayed. He was betrayed not only by Judas Iscariot but denied by Peter.

Will your faith mean death for you? Christ died to secure faith for you.

O friend, do not give in at times of persecution. Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, who was burned at the stake in AD 155, was given the opportunity to live if only he would deny Christ and swear by the emperor. He said "Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he has not hurt me once, and shall I deny him now?" John Huss who was martyred in AD 1415 was made to wear a triple crown of paper painted with red devils before he was led to the stake. He said "My Lord Jesus Christ wore a crown of thorns for me, why then shall I not wear this crown, how ignominious soever?" May such beautiful words of faith be found in your hearts and on your lips too when you are faced with persecution for righteousness.

Blessed are you who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for your Lord’s sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they your brethren in the faith who were before you. For so persecuted they our Lord Jesus Christ who gave us the Beatitudes. Amen.

—JJ Lim