This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.
Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted
Jesus himself was mocked and beaten. He suffered and died on behalf of sinners and calls blessed those that follow in his steps for his name’s sake. Be encouraged how God sustains sufferers and brings glory to himself through his persecuted ones with passages and commentary from the ESV Study Bible.
2 Timothy 3:11–12
my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Jesus Christ will be persecuted . . . .
Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra are cities Paul visited on his first missionary journey (Acts 13–14), prior to Timothy joining him during his second journey (Acts 16:1). Since Lystra was Timothy’s hometown (Acts 16:1–2), he was probably aware of what happened to Paul on this first journey. Thus Timothy would have known from his earliest awareness of Paul that suffering had been a central part of Paul’s work. “From them all the Lord rescued me” does not mean that God kept Paul from experiencing any harm in these instances, for in Lystra he was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19–20), and it is possible that Timothy even witnessed this. Instead, Paul is probably referring both to the fact that the Lord preserved him from death so that he could continue preaching, and to the Lord’s work in Paul’s heart to keep him faithful even in suffering. See 2 Timothy 4:18.
Suffering is an expected element in Christian living (see 2 Tim. 2:3; see also John 15:18–21; 16:33). The actual “persecution” may be less when there has been more Christian influence on the laws and cultural values of a society, but the unbelieving world will always remain deeply hostile to the gospel.
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they keep my word, they will also keep yours.
Christians should not be surprised that unbelievers in the world hate them. It follows a pattern seen in the world since Cain murdered Abel (see Gen. 4:8; Heb. 11:4; 1 John 3:12), and it is seen in the world’s reactions to Christ himself (see John 15:18).
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.
Those who are persecuted are those who have been wrongly treated because of their faith. God is pleased when his people show that they value him above everything in the world, for this happens when they courageously remain faithful amid opposition for righteousness’ sake.
Just as Jesus experienced opposition and persecution, his disciples can expect the same. Their reward may not come on earth, but it surely will be theirs in heaven. Throughout history, beginning with Cain’s murder of Abel (Gen. 4:8; cf. 1 John 3:12), there have been those who oppose God’s people.
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”
The person who leaves house, lands, and family for Jesus’ sake (cf. Mark 8:35, 38; Matt. 5:11; Luke 12:8-9; 18:29) and for the gospel can expect in this life (now in this time) to enjoy fellowship with other believers and to find a welcome in the houses and lands of other believers. But in this life these blessings will also be mixed with persecutions (cf. Mark 8:34-38). The future will yield an even better reward: eternal life. By answering in this way, Jesus assures the disciples that they have answered the call and are blessed.
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.
The tribulation for Smyrnan Christians will be brief (cf. Dan. 1:12–16), yet it may end not in discharge from prison but in martyrdom, an even better release (Rev. 7:14–17). The crown of life (i.e., eternal life) is the laurel wreath of victory that God promises to those who love him (1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 4:6–8; James 1:12). The one who conquers by faithfulness in the face of death is immune from the second death (see Rev. 20:4–6).
2 Corinthians 12:9–10
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul says that God’s grace “is sufficient” (in the present tense), underscoring the ever-present availability and sufficiency of God’s grace, for Paul and for every believer, regardless of how critical one’s circumstances may be (cf. Rom 8:31–39). Paul was not allowed to speak about his heavenly revelations (2 Cor. 12:4, 6) but he quotes Christ’s declaration (“My grace is sufficient”) to underscore that his earthly weaknesses (not his revelations) would be the platform for perfecting and demonstrating the Lord’s power. This is the main point of 2 Corinthians 12:1–13 and the foundation of Paul’s self-defense throughout 2 Corinthians.
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.
In a way analogous to Isaac’s miraculous birth, the Galatians have become God’s children by an act of God’s gracious and miraculous power, not by human effort. Just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac (not explicitly mentioned in the Old Testament, but suggested by Gen. 21:9), so now the Jews who seek justification by human effort are persecuting Christians who trust God’s promise of justification by faith. In Genesis 16:4, when Hagar conceived, “she looked with contempt on her mistress.” This too is mirrored in the fact that now non-Christian and pseudo-Christian Jews are persecuting Christians like Paul (as seen in Gal. 6:17). History is repeating itself.
1 Thessalonians 3:3–4
that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass and just as you know.
Paul’s motive for sending Timothy was to strengthen the persecuted Thessalonians (cf. 2 Thess. 1:5-7). Christians are destined to suffer tribulation for their faith (Rom. 8:17-18; 2 Tim. 3:12; also Mark 10:30; 1 Pet. 4:12-13). Apparently the Thessalonians had been taken aback by the unrelenting persecution.
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.
Jesus warns the disciples about the persecution that missionary disciples will endure. The serpent was the symbol of shrewdness and intellectual cunning (Gen. 3:1; Ps. 58:4–5), while the dove was emblematic of simple innocence (Hos. 7:11).
Synagogues were not only places of worship but also places where discipline was carried out (flog). As Jesus foretold the early church leaders would be called before Jewish officials (Acts 4:1–22), the secular authorities of Israel (Acts 12:1–4), and Rome (Acts 14:5).
1 Peter 4:12–14
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
“Beloved” marks the beginning of a new section of the letter (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11). Suffering is the norm for Christians, not a surprising exception. To suffer as a Christian is a call to rejoice as a disciple of Christ, and such joy is the prelude to the joy that is to come at the return of Christ (when his glory is revealed).
To be insulted because one belongs to Christ is to be blessed by God, because in such times the Spirit of glory, the Holy Spirit, rests upon believers in an especially powerful way. Further, it is the same Spirit that rested on Jesus (Isa. 11:2; cf. Matthew 3:16) who now rests upon the believer.
All commentary sections adapted from the ESV Study Bible.
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