"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10).
The eighth of Christ's "beatitudes" is perhaps the most difficult of all to understand and accept. How can persecution possibly be a blessing? "Rejoice," He said, "for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matthew 5:12). The first prophet was Abel, and he was murdered by Cain. Moses was reviled, David was hounded by Saul, Elijah was pursued by Ahab and Jezebel, Jeremiah was imprisoned, Daniel was thrown in a den of lions, and Nehemiah was opposed and defamed. John the Baptist was beheaded, and later, all the apostles were bitterly persecuted with all except John dying as martyrs.
The Lord did not promise a blessing to all those suffering persecution, of course, but specifically to those persecuted for righteousness' sake. "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ," Paul said, "not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29).
Persecution of true Christians has continued through all the years since. It is more severe in some times and places than others, but it is always there to some degree. As Jesus said: "Because ye are not of the world, . . . therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19). Furthermore, persecution will be more intense than ever in the last days. "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (II Timothy 3:12-13).
There is a divine purpose in all this, however, and this turns the suffering into a blessing. When His life truly becomes our life, He promises that we shall, indeed, possess the kingdom of heaven. "It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him" (II Timothy 2:11-12). HMM