Blessed are those who are Persecuted

(pt. 2)

January 31, 2020

by Barry Fike

        In my last blog on Matthew 5:10-12 the discussion was upon the interpretation of what Jesus meant when he stated, “Blessed are those who are persecuted…”  To look again at the words and intent of what it meant to be a part of the kingdom of God did he mean that it was a blessing, as many interpret it today, to be persecuted?  In a word: No!  In Greek the word employed here for ‘persecute’ is “dioko” coming from the root dio meaning to flee.  “A. To impel, to set in rapid motion, to journey, to ride, to march, to row, or generally to hasten.  B.  To persecute, to expel.”  In the New Testament we find sense a. In Luke 17:23: “Do not run after them,” and Phil. 3:12, 14: “I hasten (towards the goal).”   Statistically, however, b. Is more common, always in the sense of religious persecution implying guilt on the part of the persecutors.”   A word that means pursue or chase gradually would be used for another concept that if a person is chasing someone else he would be persecuting him.   To pursue righteousness, then, means the same as hunger for righteousness in the fourth beatitude since one is running after it and not having someone running after him to persecute him. 

            If this is true what about the context found in verses 11 and 12?  When we look closely at the text, we notice a sudden shift in the pronoun from third person (they, theirs) to second person (you, yours).  This is a clear indication that these verses were not originally a part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but a part of another context or story.  They were probably placed after Matthew 5:10 by the editor of the topically arranged Greek text because of the word “persecution” which appeared in both passages.  However, in actuality, this word does not appear in Greek in other passages as they do not deal with the same theme.  It is possible that vs. 11, 12 were, no doubt, given in the context of Jesus’ post-resurrection teaching to his disciples.  During that forty day period, Jesus prepared and trained his disciples for what lay ahead.  He knew that because he was to die a criminal's death, his disciples would be treated with suspicion and contempt.  He knew they would face antagonism and ostracism.  Thus, in these two verses Jesus does not speak to his disciples about persecution, and he does not promise a reward to those who suffer merely because they are his disciples. 

            Yet, even here, Jesus was not urging his disciples to go looking for persecution or martyrdom to gain a heavenly reward.  He is speaking about what the attitude of the disciples should be when they were cursed and slandered by their fellow countrymen.  Normally none would enjoy being made fun of and laughed at. But Jesus calls his people to treat those that despise them as sources of joy if this is because they are associated with him.  "They are laughing at you.  Turn it all around, and laugh at yourself." They were not to be discouraged but were rather to rejoice in the realization that their predecessors, and prophets, faced the same kind of persecution. They had lots of troubles and so will you.  Victory lies in the lap of the persecuted not the persecutor. 

            The message is thus, “How blessed are those who pursue redemption, for of these is the Kingdom of God!  These are the people who make up the vibrant organism that is called the Kingdom of God in which God is ruling and reigning in the heart of the individual.  These people are happy because God is the very center and focus of their life!”  

            Notice that all these are progressive parallelisms: the poor in spirit, the meek, and the mourners, those who are hungering and thirsting.  They are all parallelisms building one on top of the other.  It’s getting us a picture of the actions of those who make up the kingdom.  This is the way that those who are a part of the kingdom act.  That’s why a good translation for the Beatitudes would be “Attitudes for Kingdom people to be in”.