Community Group Study Guide — The Beatitudes: Blessed Are The Persecuted
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (ESV)
Jesus concludes his statements on what a “blessed life” looks like by telling his followers that life in his kingdom will lead to suffering. If Jesus was trying to gain followers then this certainly would not help his chances. No influencer, CEO or politician today would say to you “Follow me! It will lead towards persecution”. We typically think that the “happy life” is one free from friction, resistance and persecution. However, Jesus tell his disciples that following him will lead towards righteousness, and that righteousness will be met with opposition; yet at the end of the day “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”
Just to remind you, “blessed” here communicates the idea “happy” or “flourishing”. Jesus is giving his disciples statements about what a life in his kingdom looks like and how it leads to joy and satisfaction in a way that they’d otherwise not experience. Many in our culture would see these statements as setbacks or “woes”, but Jesus calls them blessed because they lead to a greater reward.
What is Matthew 5:10-12 communicating to us about the happy and flourishing life?
First, Jesus tells his followers they will be persecuted for their faithfulness, not for their foolishness. Opposition will come to the people of God based on their righteousness. This righteousness is not a proud or arrogant “holier than thou” sort of action, but is instead because of being like Jesus. This persecution was not because they were simply “different”, it is because they were different in a specific sort of way. They worshipped Jesus as the Messiah and called Lord. Persecution came because they took seriously putting into practice the teachings of Jesus. The early disciples claimed there was no other name under heaven by which they were saved. Likewise, they gathered together around the teaching of the apostles, breaking bread, fellowship and prayer. They followed Jesus commands to love their neighbor, help the poor, pursue internal righteousness and to follow him. Jesus told his disciples on the night he was betrayed to expect to be hated because the world hated him and if they were of the world then the world wouldn’t hate them (John 15:18-19). This may be shocking to some of us, because there were people in the world who admired Jesus, just like there are people today who do not follow Jesus but “admire” him. However that admiration for Jesus goes away when it comes down to things like salvation in Jesus alone, living out the ways of Jesus when they conflict with culture and other areas that go against the world.
This does not give us permission to be purposefully abrasive or foolish. Paul tells us to “walk in wisdom towards outsiders” specifically in how we speak (Colossians 4:5-6). We should be gracious and choose our words carefully when discussing critical issues. We should not be careless or “loud” in a way that belittles others because that is not the way of Jesus handled opposition. Likewise, when being persecuted or opposed, we should examine ourselves and see if it is because of righteousness sake or because of some other thing that is not necessarily connected to the gospel. Jesus did not return reviling with reviling, but faithfully entrusted himself to God while suffering (1 Peter 3:23). Our temptation will be to sink to the level of the world when being persecuted, but that is not faithfulness, it is foolishness.
Second, being persecuted, reviled and having evil spoken against us is a “blessed” life because we get to experience what Jesus experienced. There has been no one more righteous, loving and faithful on earth than Jesus and yet people still called him a liar, demon possessed, glutton and drunkard. Jesus was rejected and hated by the people he came to save and ultimately a lie led to his execution. We know that Jesus laid down his life so that our sin may be forgiven and death destroyed once and for all, but from the perspective of the world, he was betrayed by his own. In many ways we should remember that it is “blessed” to be persecuted and reviled for Jesus’ sake because in it we experience what he did and are thus drawn a little bit closer to Jesus each time. In Philippians 3:10 Paul shockingly asks to know Christ more and the power of his resurrection… why? So that he may share in his suffering and become like Jesus in his death. What is that all about? Paul realizes that to walk with Jesus means opposition, but in that we experience Christlikeness in a new way. We should not go out looking for persecution, but be aware that living out the gospel will lead to it and that helps us know Christ in a deeper way.
Finally, Jesus directs our eyes to the prize. Matthew 5:12 commands us to rejoice and be glad but why? We have a great reward in heaven. Each of these beatitude statements direct us to a reward despite the challenge we may face as we follow Jesus. Here we are reminded that our life on this earth matters, but there is a greater reward in heaven. This truth will give us boldness and courage to face persecution. When reviled, we can be reminded of God’s love, encouragement and acceptance of us in Christ. When someone speaks evil of us we can look to the word of God and remember how God has spoken good over a holy life united to Jesus. For these reasons, even though it is unpleasant “happy are you” when persecuted, reviled, and have evil spoken against you on Jesus’ account. God is with you in it and promises to use it for your good and growth and for that reason we can rejoice and be glad.
Jesus tells his followers that as they live out their Christian life they will meet strong resistance based on their faithfulness. This will take the form of reviling, persecution and false accusations of evil. Yet, Jesus calls this “blessed” because the same thing happened to the prophets of old, and Jesus’ followers know that the same thing happened to Jesus. In this aspect of suffering we are given an opportunity to be like Jesus and find our hope and rest in his kingdom alone.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Matthew 5:10-12
How does this Beatitude go against what the world would say a “blessed life” is?
What is the reason for the persecution and opposition? After discussing that question, read 1 Peter 2:18-25. How does 1 Peter expand on what Jesus is telling us in the Beatitudes?
How do we know if we are being persecuted for righteousness sake or because of some other reason?
Why would God tell us to rejoice and be glad? Does this kind of suffering do something in our lives as followers of Jesus? Look at Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4 and Philippians 3:10-11 for insight.