“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:9-12).
The disciples faced persecution. Peter and John were arrested and held in custody overnight before they were taken before the Sanhedrin because they were preaching about the resurrection (Acts 4).
In Acts 5, Peter and the other disciples were arrested and thrown into a common prison. An angel of the Lord released them and they returned to the temple to continue preaching. They were taken into custody again and brought before the council. The High Priest said to them, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”
Peter spoke up and said that they were going to obey God not men. The religious leaders plotted to kill them but one of the Pharisees intervened and offered these words of advice, “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.” The rest of the council agreed and after beating the apostles and commanding them not to speak in the name of Jesus, they let them go.
Jesus explains why His followers would face persecution and even death in some instances. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet 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 kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me (John 15:18-21).
Christians face persecution because they are the lights sent into the world as Jesus commissioned us to do but people love darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Nowadays Christians are deemed homophobic because they speak out against homosexuality. They are “weird” because they don’t drink, smoke, gamble, swear or do other things that the world consider to be normal or fun. But not adopting the ways of the world is exactly what God expects from His child, those who are pursuing righteousness. Peter says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9, 10). When we are called out of the world, we leave behind the habits we once had and we adopt new ways–ways that reflect that we now belong to Christ who called us to follow Him.
Jesus warned the disciples of what would happen to them. “…they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls.” (Luke 21:12-19). We might face trials and tribulations or even death in this world but as Jesus said, not a hair on our heads will be lost. As long as we remain steadfast and patient until Jesus’ appearing, no one will be able to take away our crowns.
Stephen was accused of blasphemy. They secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.” (Acts 6:11-14). Stephen was stoned to death.
Christians were persecuted by Paul before he was converted. He was present when the people ran Stephen out of the city to stone him. In fact, the witnesses laid down their clothes at his feet. He stood there and watched a man being stoned as he was calling on God (Acts 7:57-59).
Paul faced his share of persecution. He was arrested, almost killed on more than one occasion, beaten and finally put to death. He remained faithful to God in the face of adversity. He finished the race set before him and his reward is the kingdom of heaven. Let Paul, we must continue to run the race, not allowing adversity to throw us off our course because we have a heavenly reward to obtain.
Jesus offers us these words of encouragement, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will[d] have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) Be of good cheer for great is your reward in heaven.