The Promise of Persecution

I’ve read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount more times than I can recall. Reading Matthew chapter five two nights ago, a particular passage began to disrupt my soul. Jesus said, “Blessed (Happy) are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

There have been many songs, messages, podcasts, and discussions on bringing the kingdom of Heaven to Earth over the past few decades. From themes like “Heaven invading earth” to “Kingdom Come” to “on Earth as it is Heaven,” I fully believe these messages are relevant to our time.

Through various studies, I learned to view God’s kingdom through the lens of “already present, but not yet.” This teaching holds that believers actively participate in the kingdom of God. Though our activity is vibrant and effective, it is only a shadow of the full expression of God’s kingdom to come. I was taught that believers are currently in the kingdom but do “not yet” see it in its glory. This belief is also termed “Kingdom Theology” or “Inaugurated eschatology.”

Bringing God’s rule to Earth and abolishing sin’s power in the culture of entire communities is a longing central to the gospel story. From Abraham’s foresight of a “city whose builder and maker is God” to John’s vision of “the kingdoms of this world” becoming the “kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ,” the Biblical storyline is woven throughout with this hope. In today’s context, many identify this hopeful coexistence of God’s manifest presence as revival. 

Some claim this realm of supernatural encounter results only from an act of God’s providence. They say God’s “showing up” is unaffected by human desire or pursuit. Others proclaim the singular purpose of the Church is to invoke this miracle throughout the world. They decree that the Church’s work of intercession instigates this miraculous phenomenon. From many historical accounts of revival, I’ve concluded that God’s providence and the Church’s activity work together to manifest His kingdom on Earth. 

However, Jesus throws a little monkey wrench into my theory. He says, “Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10).

Jesus didn’t promise the experience of God’s kingdom to those who are merely passionate in their worship experiences. He didn’t mention how hours of intercession can position one to be a recipient of His presence. No, he promised His kingdom’s access to those who endure persecution. That’s a problem. Why? Because I’ve never known persecution. I mean, yes, I’ve had a few social media critics and felt excluded by those who aren’t overtly excited about Jesus but to call my unpleasant experiences persecution undermines the real suffering many throughout history have faced. 

Jesus’ implication pushes the envelope further in that He says these persecuted people are “blessed” or happy in this seeming exchange of their pain for His kingdom. Maybe the medieval monks were not so ignorant in their ascetic lifestyles? They chose to abandon available comforts for seemingly unavailable spiritual experiences. Reading the Beatitudes in context, Jesus presented the lifestyle of an underdog as the pathway into a coveted in eternity.

So here are the questions that emerge as I consider this text. Do I begin to pray for persecution? Or are there daily choices that I can make that will induce internal and external tensions for the gospel’s sake? What is it about persecution that brings access to God’s kingdom? Doesn’t it seem a little psychotic and contrary to the nature of an emotionally healthy person to desire suffering? Maybe I could redefine persecution and the kingdom of God to fit my current lifestyle, but that only skirts the bigger issue.

The bigger issue is that I’ve bought into the lie that my comfort and success will usher me further into the kingdom to come. On the contrary, Jesus tells us that discomfort, struggle, humility, and persecution are the elements that will bring one closer to the actual presence of God. Could it be that my comfortable life is foolishly constructed by the avoidance of pain, pain which can lead one to inherit the Kingdom of God?

Maybe Jesus defines the “kingdom of God” owners as happy or blessed because they know pain is abundant, and they’re wisely allowing the brokenness of their lives to drive them to desperation. I can’t deny that when I get too comfortable with the here and now, there’s not a great aspiration to depart into a better eternity. Could it be that this is another underlying truth Jesus is communicating? 

Persecution is a fire that burns away the cardboard comforts of fake satisfaction. It may be time that we stop telling people that following Jesus will fulfill their desires. Rather, it’s more likely that following Him will redefine your perception of a good life. The goodness He offers is His closeness to us. He desires for us to be one with Him, and in this oneness, we will discover that our hope for living a good life may be far different from His offer of an eternal one.

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