“Your Word Is Truth”
‘Happy Those Persecuted for My Sake’
THE teachings and principles that Jesus gave in his Sermon on the Mount have been criticized by many as being unrealistic and impractical. But such critics overlook the fact that this sermon was not directed to pagans or other unbelievers but to the disciples of Jesus, although there were other Jews, also believers in God, who were listening in. This is quite apparent from the way the last happiness or ‘beatitude’ he gave on that occasion reads:
“Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake. Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens; for in that way they persecuted the prophets prior to you.”—Matt. 5:11, 12.
Only Jesus’ true followers could be said to be persecuted for his sake. And persecuted they have been. That is why the early Christians were told: “We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.” And again, “All those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.”—Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12.
That the world persecutes Christians should not in the least surprise them. Why not? Because of what Jesus told his apostles: “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.” “They will do all these things against you on account of my name, because they do not know him that sent me.”—John 15:19, 21.
What does the world have against Jesus’ followers? One of the chief things it has against them is their following Jesus’ example and obeying his commands: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” “You will be witnesses of me . . . to the most distant part of the earth.” “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.”—Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8; Matt. 24:14.
Indeed, it was the preaching done on the basis of Jesus’ name that so irked the religious leaders in apostolic times, even as we read: “They called them and charged them, nowhere to make any utterance or to teach upon the basis of the name of Jesus.” And when the apostles refused to keep silent they were summoned before the Sanhedrin where they were flogged and ordered “to stop speaking upon the basis of Jesus’ name.”—Acts 4:18; 5:40.
How did the apostles react to this persecution? The way Jesus said they should, for we read that after they had been flogged they “went their way from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name.”—Acts 5:41.
Then there were Paul and Silas who were preaching in Philippi, and who caused a demon to come out of a young fortune-teller. This so enraged her owners who were making a profit from demon-inspired activities, that they caused a mob to be formed and haled Paul and Silas before the civil magistrates. These, “after tearing the outer garments off them, gave the command to beat them with rods. After they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison.” While in prison what did Paul and Silas do? Bemoan or bewail their lot? By no means! “But about the middle of the night Paul and Silas were praying and praising God with song; yes, the prisoners were hearing them.”—Acts 16:22, 23, 25.
Most fittingly, Peter, who himself heeded Jesus’ words in this regard, wrote: “Go on rejoicing forasmuch as you are sharers in the sufferings of the Christ, that you may rejoice and be overjoyed also during the revelation of his glory.”—1 Pet. 4:13.
In modern times true Christians have done the same. When the president of the Watch Tower Society, J. F. Rutherford, and seven of his companions were sentenced to long years in the Atlanta penitentiary because of their Christian stand, he said: “This is the happiest day of my life.” Thus also the 1971 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses tells that when some Cuban Witnesses were sentenced to prison for holding Christian meetings they were not at all discouraged. “On the contrary they felt it was a privilege from Jehovah for them and they showed this by preaching and meeting together while in prison. In fact, they had the joy of helping many of the prisoners to know the truth, and by their conduct they set a good example as Christian witnesses of Jehovah.”
Then there was the Negro teen-age Witness who for refusing to join in racial violence with other Negroes in his school was punched, kicked and beaten repeatedly. Then he was dragged to a fire escape and pushed outside. Fortunately this took place on the first floor so his fall was of no great distance. He said of his experience: “Through all that I suffered I was very glad Jehovah had aided me to take a firm stand till the end of the persecution.”
Why can those who are being persecuted for Jesus’ sake rejoice? “For in that way they persecuted the prophets prior to you.” It is indeed cause for rejoicing to be in the company of Jehovah’s ancient faithful prophets. Concerning them we read that they “stopped the mouths of lions [as did Daniel], stayed the force of fire [as did Daniel’s three friends], escaped the edge of the sword [as did Elijah], from a weak state were made powerful [as was Samson], . . . were tortured.” Yes, to be associated with servants of Jehovah God who proved faithful under such conditions is in itself a great reward and cause for rejoicing.—Heb. 11:33-37; Judg. 16:18-30; 1 Ki. 19:1-8; 2 Chron. 36:16; Dan. 3:1-29; 6:1-27; Jas. 5:10, 11.
Another reason that Jesus gave why those who were persecuted for his name should rejoice was that their reward would be great in the heavens. Clearly these words that assure Jesus’ anointed footstep followers of a heavenly reward are cause for rejoicing. But his promise is not limited to these. Those who suffer for Jesus’ sake but who do not have the hope of a heavenly reward can nevertheless be said to have a great reward in the heavens in that Jehovah God, who is in the heavens, will give them their reward. Their reward will descend from heaven in the blessings of God’s kingdom. By their course of faithfulness they can be said to lay up treasures in heaven, even as did the faithful patriarchs of old.—Matt. 6:19-21; Heb. 11:10, 16.
Yes, the happiness that Jesus promised his followers if they were persecuted for his sake has proved true and has given them cause for rejoicing. It will yet prove true when they receive their reward in the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness is to dwell.—2 Pet. 3:13.