Blessed are the Persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12)

Translation & Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 03 Apr. 2011


10. Blessed are those who have been hunted down for the sake of righteousness,

            because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

11. Y’all are being blessed whenever liars

            reproach you

            and hunt [you] down

            and speak every evil against you for my sake.

12. Keep rejoicing and leaping for joy,

            because your reward is bountiful in heaven,

            for they hunted down the prophets before you in the same way.


Subsequent Bible quotes are from the NASB

Introduction: Chasing Dream

Have you ever had a chasing dream? I used to have them all the time, where I was being chased by some vague enemy through city streets and buildings – or through the woods, and I was desperately looking for hiding places and repeatedly being found out and full of fear that they – whoever they were – would get me.


Of course, in real life, we also experience times when other people are mad at us for no good reason, and they mistreat us and we feel harassed:


When these kind of things happen, it is my natural tendency to fall into self-pity and despair. The whole world is against me; everybody hates me. People ought to be nice to me and praise me instead. I can get easily caught up in spending hours figuring out how to defend myself: What can I say to turn their arguments against me upside down and put them in their place?


In the first seven beatitudes, we have seven characteristics of the followers of Christ, and Every follower of Christ who lives out these characteristics will experience backlash from the world which hates God and which hates God’s character reflected in us:


“…[T]he seven characters here described are all in the teeth of the spirit of the world…

1.      Poverty of spirit runs counter to the pride of men’s heart;

2.      a pensive disposition, in the view of one’s universal deficiencies before God, is ill relished by the callous, indifferent, laughing, self-satisfied world;

3.      a meek and quiet spirit, taking wrong, is regarded as pusillanimous, and rasps against the proud, resentful spirit of the world;

4.      that craving after spiritual blessings rebukes but too unpleasantly the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life;

5.      so does a merciful spirit the hard-heartedness of the world;

6.      purity of heart contrasts painfully with painted hypocrisy;

7.      and the peacemaker cannot easily be endured by the contentious, quarrelsome world.

Thus does righteousness come to be persecuted. But blessed are they who, in spite of this, dare to be righteous.” ~ A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown


Here in the 8th beatitude, Jesus tells us how to respond to this kind of persecution, and, let me tell you, it is not the way we naturally want to respond. It is counter-intuitive, but powerfully true.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness

Mat 5:10 μακαριοι  οι  δεδιωγμενοι  ενεκεν  δικαιοσυνης  

What it means to be persecuted

The Greek word in this verse for “persecuted” is δεδιωγμενοι, the perfect passive participle of διώκω – to pursue, to try to capture, chase down with the intent to take or keep for yourself.


In the O.T., this word is used to describe:


Also used of hunting after good things for good reasons:

However, in the New Testament, most of the occurrences of this word diwkw have to do with what we call persecution of Christians.


Jesus was persecuted by the Jews: John 5:16  (For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.) and He explained why in John 3:20 …everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed… 7:7 The world … hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.


And Jesus prepared his disciples to be persecuted as He had been:


And, sure enough, they were persecuted, first by Saul, and then by others:

What this blessed persecution does NOT mean

  1. Imagined offenses:
  1. Punishment for unrighteousness
  1. Christian friends speaking truth


So, what if you have been abused in the past because people hated your Christian faith?
(The Perfect tense of the verb for “persecuted” in v.10 indicates something that happened to you in the past that you still struggle with.)

And what will you do if you ever encounter persecution in the future?
(The occurrence of the word “persecute” in v.11 is in a future or Subjunctive sense – it may happen to you in the future.)

Four things to revolutionize your thinking about persecution

“The harder and more difficult it is for the flesh to accept, the more closely we must meditate upon it… [P]onder this teaching in the time of shade and ease, that we may be prepared whenever needs arise to go out into the arena; let us not meet our trial ill-equipped.” ~Jean Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels

1. “…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v.10) οτι αυτων εστιν η βασιλεια των ουρανων

“As this was the reward promised to the poor in spirit – the leading one of these seven beatitudes – of course it is the proper portion of such as are persecuted for exemplifying them.” ~J.F.B.


When we face the wounds of past persecution and the fires of future persecution, we must remember that we as God’s children possess the kingdom of heaven, both now in our life on this earth and in eternity after we die.


In the present, Jesus is our king, and He reigns over us. His spirit is with us to minister God’s word to us, and we are able to speak to God in prayer any time we want. We have God; “ours is the kingdom of heaven.” These wounds from the past and fires in the future are nothing compared to the fact that God has graciously grabbed hold of you and you have Him!


In the future, we have a “sure title” (in Matthew Henry’s words) to the glories of heaven where there will be no more brokenness or injustice or tears. “…out of sight; but well secured, out of the reach of chance, fraud, and violence.” The kingdom of heaven belongs to us! Our wounds from past persecution and any persecution to come in the future will be completely healed and more than made up for by the glories of heaven!

2. You are being blessed when they Reproach/Revile/Insult You (v.11)

μακαριοι εστεοταν  ονειδισωσιν  υμας  και  διωξωσιν


“As the religion of Christ gives no quarter to vice, so the vicious will give no quarter to this religion, or to its professors.” ~Adam Clarke

This word revile/reproach/insult[1] occurs in:

  1. 1 Sam. 17, describing Goliath’s taunts against God and the people of Israel
  2. 2 Sam. 21:21 describing the taunts of another giant killed by David’s nephew Jonathan
  3. 2 Kings 19 (|| Isa 37) describing the way the Assyrian warlords insulted God and Hezekiah in the presence of all the people at the wall of Jerusalem
  4. Nehemiah 6 of the intimidating letters that Sanballat and Tobias the Samaritans wrote to Nehemiah as he was trying to help the returning Jews rebuild Jerusalem.

Jesus was insulted[2]:

  1. John 8:48  The Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
  2. Mark 15:32  “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him. (|| Matt. 27:44, cf. Rom 15:3)


και  ειπωσιν  παν  πονηρον  καθ  υμων  ψευδομενοι ενεκεν  εμου  

And the insults are not all; v.11 goes on to talk of liars[3] who “falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me/for my sake/on my account.”  


How can we deal with such accusations and slander?

  1. When bad things happen to you and you have searched your heart and cannot see that it is due to your own sin, then hear this truth, you are being blessed by God with persecution – this is not a punishment from God! As the hateful words are spewed out against you, you are receiving a blessing, that’s what Jesus is saying.
  2. Recognize that the accusations made by the enemies of God against you are false. The Devil is the “accuser of the bretheren;” He specializes in false accusations. Don’t let this shake you; expect it and fill your heart with God’s truth from His word.
  3. Recognize that you have taken heat “for Christ's sake” - for his name's sake, for the sake of his Gospel and interest. They have not insulted you; they have insulted Christ, and God will take care of the situation.
  4. Use the Psalms as a pattern for prayer – many Psalms treat the problem of insults in depth:
    1. Psalm 42:10  (of the sons of Korah) As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"
    2. Psalm 69:7-14 (Messianic Psalm of David) …May those who seek You not be dishonored through me, O God of Israel, Because for Your sake I have borne reproach… I became a byword to them. Those who sit in the gate talk about me, And I am the song of the drunkards. But as for me, my prayer is to You, O LORD, at an acceptable time; O God, in the greatness of Your lovingkindness, Answer me with Your saving truth. Deliver me from the mire...
    3. Psalm 74  (of Asaph) …Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old… The enemy has damaged everything within the sanctuary… all its carved work They smash with hatchet and hammers. They have burned Your sanctuary to the ground... How long, O God, will the adversary revile, And the enemy spurn Your name forever? Why do You withdraw Your hand…Yet God is my king from of old, Who works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth. You divided the sea by Your strength… Do not deliver the soul of Your turtledove to the wild beast... Consider the covenant… Let the afflicted and needy praise Your name...
    4. (cf. Psalm 79 also by Asaph, and Psalm 89 & 102 by different authors)
    5. Psalm 119:41-42  May Your lovingkindnesses also come to me, O LORD, Your salvation according to Your word; So I will have an answer for him who reproaches me, For I trust in Your word.

 “They are blessed; for it is an honour to them; it is an opportunity of glorifying Christ, of doing good, and of experiencing special comforts and visits of grace and tokens of his presence.” ~Matthew Henry


Not only do we possess the kingdom of heaven, and not only are we being blessed, we are also to:

3. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (v.12a)

χαιρετε This is the one and only time that Jesus commands His followers to rejoice.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.


The other command here is αγαλλιασθε = “jump for joy, be exuberant”

o       Psa 2:11 Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling.

o       Psa 32:11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.

o       Psa 33:1 Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright.

o       Psa 68:4 Sing to God, sing praises to His name; Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts, Whose name is the LORD, and exult before Him.

o       Psa 81:1 Sing for joy to God our strength; Shout joyfully to the God of Jacob.

o       Psa 98:4 Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; Break forth and sing for joy...

o       Isa 12:6 Cry aloud and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.


Note that both of these commands are in the present tense, which was a way in the Greek language of expressing continuous action instead of one-time action. So we are commanded to rejoice and take that joy to full expression not just on the occasion of our salvation, but throughout our lives and even during hardships.


Keep rejoicing and jumping for joy – WHY?

“for great is your reward in heavenοτι  ο  μισθος  υμων  πολυς  εν  τοις  ουρανοις


Finally we come to the fourth and last thing that Jesus taught to revolutionize our thinking regarding persecution. We are to realize that we possess the kingdom of heaven, realize that we are being blessed, we are to rejoice and leap with joy in anticipation of the glories of heaven, and we are to:

4. Remember that they persecuted the prophets before you (v.12b)

ουτως  γαρ  εδιωξαν  τους  προφητας  τους  προ  υμων


These words of Christ teach us to look at the history of our faith and realize that Christianity isn’t about wealth & public acclaim in this life; we too will have to sweat and fight just like other believers. 


It is good for Christians to know their history of persecution.


 “Therefore marvel not at it as a strange thing, murmur not at it as a hard thing; it is a comfort to see the way of suffering a beaten road, and an honour to follow such leaders. That grace which was sufficient for them, to carry them through their sufferings, shall not be deficient to you.~Matthew Henry


[1] This word is used both negatively in terms of enemies taunting other people, but also positively as when Jesus called down His disciples. Modern English translations tend to use two different words to translate the positive and negative aspects of this one Greek word, but it seems that the older English translation “reproach” could work as a single English word that could be used in all positive and negative cases to translate this Greek word.

[2] Note, however, that God doesn’t take taunts against Himself or His people too kindly: Gen 12:2 – “The one who curses you I will curse…” Zephaniah 2:8-11 “I have heard the taunting of Moab And the revilings of the sons of Ammon… Therefore, as I live,” declares the LORD of hosts, The God of Israel, “Surely Moab will be like Sodom And the sons of Ammon like Gomorrah-- A place possessed by nettles and salt pits, And a perpetual desolation... This they will have in return for their pride, because they have taunted and become arrogant against the people of the LORD of hosts. The LORD will be terrifying to them, for He will starve all the gods of the earth...” He doesn’t even take it from His own people: Isaiah 65:2-7  “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts,  A people who continually provoke Me to My face… I will not keep silent, but I will repay…” says the LORD. “Because they have burned incense on the mountains And scorned Me on the hills, Therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom.” (cf. Matthew 11:20, Mark 16:14 “He reproached them for their unbelief”)

[3] The word pseudomenoi is a nominative masculine plural participle which most English translations render as an adverb describing how they speak. That seems to be a stretch grammatically to me. Hendricksen renders it temporally but also as an adverb describing when they speak. It seems best to me to make it the subject, especially since the grammar cries out for an explicit subject: “liars speak…”