(Mat 5:10-12 ESV) 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
These two Beatitudes are essentially one. Jesus promises the persecuted not only the kingdom of heaven but also great rewards in heaven. In fact, this is the first time Jesus promises more than the blessings available to all who are part of the Kingdom. The persecuted will be rewarded with an extra measure. Their suffering doesn’t earn them salvation, but it does earn them a greater reward in heaven.
I have no idea what this means in particular, but it’s clearly a part of Jesus’ teaching —
(Luk 6:35 ESV) 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
(Luk 12:42-44 NIV) 42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”
(Luk 19:16-17 ESV) 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’
It’s interesting that Jesus compares his disciples to the prophets of the OT. The prophets had a message from God they were to communicate even at the cost of their own lives. Jesus sees us Christians in the same light.
This is a map of the nations where it’s most dangerous to be a Christian.
According to Christianity Today,
Researchers calculate that 4,344 Christians were “killed for faith-related reasons” in 2014, which is “more than double the 2,123 killed in 2013, and more than triple the 1,201 killed the year before that,” reports World Watch Monitor (WWM). (Measuring martyrdoms has drawn debate in recent years, and Open Doors is usually on the conservative end of estimates.) By far the largest number of deaths occurred in Nigeria, where 2,484 Christians were killed; the next deadliest country for Christians was the Central African Republic (CAR), with 1,088 deaths. The remaining three deadliest countries were Syria (271 deaths), Kenya (119 deaths), and North Korea (100 deaths).
In addition, 1,062 churches were “attacked for faith-related reasons” in 2014. The majority of attacks took place in five countries: China (258 churches), Vietnam (116 churches), Nigeria (108 churches), Syria (107 churches), and the Central African Republic (100 churches). Last year’s highest-profile incident: a government campaign to “de-Christianize” the skyline of one of China’s most Christian cities. (The Pew Research Center also recently tallied the countries with the most government destruction of religious property.)
But it wasn’t increased violence that primarily drove persecution to record levels in 2014, but rather increased “cultural marginalization,” according to Open Doors. In other words, the “more subtle ‘squeeze’ dimensions of persecution” which make “daily life … harder and harder” for Christians. A substantial study by the Pew Research Center found that nearly 75 percent of the world’s population now lives in countries with high levels of social hostility involving religion. [CT compared how both groups rank the world’s worst persecutors.]
“Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination, and violence,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. “The 2015 World Watch List reveals that a staggering number of Christians are becoming victims of intolerance and violence because of their faith. They are being forced to be more secretive about their faith.”
And yet Christianity is growing in many of these countries.
Now, here in the United States, we suffer nothing like the kind of persecution as our brothers and sisters in the Eastern Hemisphere. It’s easy to forget. Prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters is not nearly as common as it should be. Moreover,
(1Co 12:26 ESV) 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
(Rom 12:14-15 ESV) Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
We are commanded weep for the persecuted among us, to feel the suffering of those who suffer. And that would seem to require us to pay attention, to keep up with the bad news. And we should be busy praying for an end to persecution. After all, not only is that often the best thing possible, it’s the best thing imaginable.