Kingdom Truth - What is the Kingdom of Heaven in the Bible?
Chapter 8, Part 8
Blessed are Those Who have been Persecuted
for the Sake of Righteousness
This blessing is the final exhortation and promise on the character of Kingdom personnel. This beatitude is a parallel to that mentioned at the end of Revelation about the martyrs who will "reign with Christ". The condition here seems to require substantial sacrifice but it is the path that must be traveled to receive the most glorious reward. The Scriptures clearly say, "If indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him." (Rom. 8:17) And again: "but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation." (1 Pet. 4:13) Praise the Lord, everything done for Him has never been wasted. For His name's sake, not even a cup of cold water will be wasted!
In the mind of most believers, the word "righteousness" is a vague concept that is neither intangible nor understandable. It is known that God has made Christ our righteousness, and that we have been made righteous and justified by Christ (1 Cor. 1:30 and Rom. 3:24, 26), but what is "righteousness" all about? Perhaps most are still lost in a deep fog and haven't got the faintest idea what righteousness is! In accordance to the progressive nature of God's revelation, we can provide the following explanations:
In the Scriptures, righteousness is first mentioned in the account on Noah's life: "Noah was a righteous man...” Why was Noah a righteous man and not contaminated by the world at that time? The reason is that Noah walked with God! To walk with God, one must agree with God in interests and standards. As the Scripture says, "Do two men walk together unless they have made an agreement?" (Amos 3:3) Noah did agree with God because the Scriptures clearly tell us that: "Noah did according to all that God has commanded him, so he did." In other words, Noah was able to use God's standard as his standard in living his life and this was his righteousness. Therefore, the Scriptures record: "And it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us." (Deut. 6:25) So, righteousness is none other than God's standard. No wonder the Scripture has this teaching: Do not be excessively righteous (Eccl. 7:16). When I was younger, I did not understand this commandment. I often thought that we should be more and more righteous, so what is wrong with being excessively righteous? Until I understood the true meaning of "righteousness", then I knew that anything not according to God's standard such as being excessive is transgression and falling short is sin (missing the target). Since "Christ Jesus...was not yes and no, but is yes..." His word cannot be added to or deleted from. Praise the Lord! The meanings of words generally increase with the progress of time. As an illustration, take the Chinese word "God". According to its etymology, the left radical (side) of the word "God" is an abbreviation of "reveal" and the right radical is a verb "to extend" or "stretch". Therefore, the Chinese ancient dictionary Shuowen Jiezi (100 AD) explained the word God as "The God of heaven caused and extended all things". This clearly states that everything in the universe is created by God. But as the culture and civilization developed, other meanings such as: "Holy and incomprehensible is god", "As sincere as god", "Ying and Yang are impossible to predict as god" were added to the meaning of God. The words in the Scriptures developed in the same manner. Since the Scriptures were written in the East, after the meaning of "righteous" was defined, it took on other meanings such as: compassion, pity and good works (Deut. 24:13). This is exactly what is recorded in the psalm, "He has given freely to the poor; His righteousness (same word) endures forever.!" (Pss. 112:9) Since righteousness is equivalent to doing good works, no wonder the word "good works" is "righteousness" in Matthew 6:1 in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus (The recent Greek text and modern English versions have it as "righteousness"). In the Old Testament days of Isaiah, the word "righteousness" became a synonym for "salvation" (Isa. 51:5, 6, 8; 61:10 and 62:1). In Jeremiah's days, "Jehovah our righteousness" simply became another name for the Messiah. After Christ was born, this name became a person -- Christ. The reason is that He accomplished the standard of righteousness on behalf of those who could never reach it. After He had accomplished this, all those who believe in Him or receive Him will have the righteousness He accomplished enter into their hearts. As a result, they can reach spiritually the standard God has required for salvation. This is what the Scriptures say, "I will put my Laws into their minds (minds refers to the function of the nous) and I will write them upon their hearts." (Heb. 8:10) Therefore, we no longer need to (nor are able to) follow what is written on the stone tablets. The only requirement is to accept Jesus into our heart. Automatically, God's requirement will be accomplished and God's standard will be achieved by a willing and able heart! Great is the righteousness that Christ has accomplished! In this manner, "persecuted for righteousness sake" refers to all kinds of persecution, mistreatment, insults and injuries suffered in the process of accomplishing God's standard, doing good works or in declaring the gospel and the glory of Christ. In reality, suffering is directly proportional to spiritual growth. The Scriptures clearly tell us, "For to you it has been granted for Christ sake, not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake." (Phil. 1:29). Confucius also discoursed on the three ways of learning: some know naturally, some know by learning and some know through hardship. There is much spiritual enlightenment that cannot be truly understood except through trials and tribulations. Even the truth of eternity is so often not fully grasped until our dearest one leaves this world. At the same time, let us remember that we are living in the enemy's world because the whole world is in the hand of the wicked one. Therefore it is not avoidable that you will be oppressed for the sake of the truth and ridiculed for doing what is right in God's eyes. This is just as the Scriptures say: "And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Tim. 3:12) Unless we are ungodly, persecution and ridicule are unavoidable. These sufferings are not only the signposts of godliness but are also tests of our faithfulness towards the Lord. Those who can endure testing will not only possess the Kingdom of God, there will also be exceedingly great rewards! So, for those who are persecuted, ridiculed, insulted and even martyred for the Lord's sake, rejoice and be glad (original meaning is to dance with joy). Why?
...For Your Reward in Heaven is Great
Whenever important truths are brought up in the Scriptures, they are frequently underscored from the positive, the negative or from both aspects. One such example can be found in the Lord's Prayer (Matt 6:12, 14, and 15): "forgive our debts as we have forgiven our debtors". Our gracious Lord first used verse 14 as the positive encouragement and then verse 15 as the negative reinforcement to emphasize the importance of forgiving one another. But the Scriptures sometimes emphasize a truth through an expansion and repetition format. This blessing follows this format. The Holy Spirit uses a simple to complicated style to describe that this blessing is reserved eternally in "heaven". So it is imperishable, undefiled and will not fade away (1 Pet. 1:4). This blessing is a kind of "reward" which the Lord spoke of: "it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father." (Matt. 20:23) This blessing is also "great" because "Things eyes have not seen and ears have not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9). This blessing is to be enjoyed with the prophets of old just as the Scriptures said: "Because God had prepared something better for us, so that apart from us, they (prophets) should not be made perfect." (Heb. 11:40) This is God's "premium grade" grace prepared only for those who are worthy to enjoy. Only the overcomers can enjoy that promise "I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne" (Rev. 3:21). Dear readers, please allow the author to re-emphasize this theology of suffering. Suffering for the Lord and even martyrdom are special graces from God. It is not something that every believer can enjoy. Mencius also knew a little of this and he said, "When Heaven is about to bestow a great responsibility onto a person, Heaven will bitterly test his will, strain his sinew and starve his body"! Stephen in the New Testament is a good example. Throughout church history, there are many great martyrs that bear this testimony. For those brothers and sisters who are living daily in the refining fire, be strong and courageous. Please realize that momentary light afflictions is producing an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17)! When Christ ascended into heaven, He sat down at the Father's right hand. But when Stephen was martyred, He rose up to welcome Him. What an honor this is! (Acts 7:55) These eight beatitudes are eight character traits and promises. As a whole, these are character traits that must be possessed by those who desire to reign with Christ and inherit the Kingdom that God has been prepared from the foundation of the world and to realize the promise of eternal life that God has promised since days of old. Character is not developed in one day. Tough training is unavoidable. Dear readers, salvation is free for the taking: once you accept Jesus, your life will be changed. However, to enter God's Kingdom, one has to meet certain qualifications. These qualifications are established through training. Some go through training and fail but others pass. This is what the gracious Lord said, "Many are called, few are chosen!" Dear readers, have you accepted Jesus? If not, please open the door to your heart and invite Jesus to come in. If you are saved, please do not disappoint the Lord. Strive to enter the narrow gate and walk on the narrow way. In everything, do not act until you pray first. Because of your love for the Lord, be willing to live the life of a "mourner". Do all things for the Lord and the Truth. Be willing to give up what is rightfully yours. Put emphasis on your responsibility and not on your rights. Desire earnestly that God's will be done. When there is opportunity, do good to all but especially to the household of the believers. Maintain a pure conscience in all behavior. Accomplish the commission of peacemaking between God and man. Suffer for the Lord without self pity. Fill up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions with a joyful heart, even to the point of death! The God who gives peace will keep your spirit, soul and body so that when He returns, you will be blameless. Faithful is He who calls you, He will bring it to pass. Praise the Lord!