Persecuted yet Happy
“Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake.”—MATTHEW 5:11.
1. What assurance did Jesus give his followers regarding happiness and persecution?
WHEN Jesus first sent out his apostles to preach the Kingdom, he warned them that they would encounter opposition. He told them: “You will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my name.” (Matthew 10:5-18, 22) Earlier, however, in his Sermon on the Mount, he gave his apostles and others the assurance that such opposition would not necessarily endanger their deep-felt happiness. In fact, Jesus even linked being happy with being persecuted as Christians! How could persecution bring happiness?
Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake
2. According to Jesus and the apostle Peter, what kind of suffering brings happiness?
2 The eighth happiness that Jesus stated is: “Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them.” (Matthew 5:10) Suffering in itself is not meritorious. The apostle Peter wrote: “What merit is there in it if, when you are sinning and being slapped, you endure it? But if, when you are doing good and you suffer, you endure it, this is a thing agreeable with God.” He further stated: “However, let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a busybody in other people’s matters. But if he suffers as a Christian, let him not feel shame, but let him keep on glorifying God in this name.” (1 Peter 2:20; 4:15, 16) According to Jesus’ words, suffering brings happiness when it is endured for righteousness’ sake.
3. (a) What does it mean to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake? (b) What effect did persecution have on the early Christians?
3 True righteousness is measured by conformity to God’s will and his commands. Suffering for righteousness’ sake, therefore, means suffering because one resists pressure to violate God’s standards or requirements. The apostles were persecuted by the Jewish leaders because of refusing to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-29, 40) Did this undermine their joy or halt their preaching? Far from it! “[They] went their way from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name. And every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.” (Acts 5:41, 42) This persecution brought them joy and renewed their zeal in the preaching work. Later, the early Christians were persecuted by the Romans because of refusing to practice emperor worship.
4. What are some reasons for the persecution of Christians?
4 In modern times, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been persecuted because they refuse to stop preaching “this good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 24:14) When their Christian meetings are banned, they are willing to suffer rather than stop gathering together as the Bible commands. (Hebrews 10:24, 25) They have been persecuted because of their Christian neutrality or their refusal to misuse blood. (John 17:14; Acts 15:28, 29) Nevertheless, this stand for righteousness brings God’s people today much inner peace and happiness.—1 Peter 3:14.
Reproached for the Sake of Christ
5. For what basic reason are Jehovah’s people persecuted today?
5 The ninth happiness that Jesus considered in his Sermon on the Mount also deals with the subject of persecution. He stated: “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake.” (Matthew 5:11) The basic reason why Jehovah’s people are persecuted is that they are no part of the present wicked system of things. Jesus told his disciples: “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.” (John 15:19) Similarly, the apostle Peter stated: “Because you do not continue running with them in this course to the same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of you.”—1 Peter 4:4.
6. (a) Why are the remnant and their companions reproached and persecuted? (b) Does such reproach diminish our happiness?
6 We have already seen that the early Christians were persecuted because they refused to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Christ commissioned his followers: “You will be witnesses of me . . . to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The faithful remnant of Christ’s anointed brothers, aided by their loyal companions of the “great crowd,” have zealously carried out that commission. (Revelation 7:9) Therefore, Satan wages war “with the remaining ones of her seed [the seed of the “woman,” the heavenly part of God’s organization], who observe the commandments of God and have the work of bearing witness to Jesus.” (Revelation 12:9, 17) As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we bear witness to Jesus, the now-reigning King of the Kingdom government, which will destroy human governments standing in the way of God’s righteous new world. (Daniel 2:44; 2 Peter 3:13) For this we are reproached and persecuted, but we count ourselves happy to suffer for the name of Christ.—1 Peter 4:14.
7, 8. What did opposers lyingly say against the early Christians?
7 Jesus stated that his followers should consider themselves happy even when people “lyingly say every sort of wicked thing” against them for his sake. (Matthew 5:11) This was certainly true of the early Christians. When the apostle Paul was detained in Rome, about 59-61 C.E., Jewish leaders there said of Christians: “Truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:22) Paul and Silas were accused of having “overturned the inhabited earth,” acting “in opposition to the decrees of Caesar.”—Acts 17:6, 7.
8 Writing of Christians at the time of the Roman Empire, historian K. S. Latourette stated: “The accusations varied. Because they refused to participate in pagan ceremonies the Christians were dubbed atheists. Through their abstention from much of the community life—the pagan festivals, the public amusements . . .—they were derided as haters of the human race. . . . It was said that both sexes met together at night . . . and that promiscuous intercourse followed. . . . The fact that [the Memorial of Christ’s death] was celebrated only in the presence of believers fed the rumours that Christians regularly sacrificed an infant and consumed its blood and flesh.” In addition, because the early Christians refused to practice emperor worship, they were accused of being enemies of the State.
9. How did the first-century Christians respond to false accusations made against them, and what is the situation today?
9 Those false accusations did not prevent the early Christians from carrying out their commission to preach the good news of the Kingdom. In 60-61 C.E., Paul was able to speak of the “good news” that was “bearing fruit and increasing in all the world” and that had been “preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Colossians 1:5, 6, 23) The same occurs today. Jehovah’s Witnesses are being falsely accused, even as the first-century Christians were. Yet, today the work of preaching the Kingdom message prospers and brings those who share in it much happiness.
Happy to Be Persecuted Like the Prophets
10, 11. (a) How did Jesus end his consideration of the ninth happiness? (b) Why were the prophets persecuted? Give examples.
10 Jesus ended his consideration of the ninth happiness by saying: “Rejoice . . . , for in that way they persecuted the prophets prior to you.” (Matthew 5:12) The prophets whom Jehovah sent to warn unfaithful Israel were badly received and often persecuted. (Jeremiah 7:25, 26) The apostle Paul testified to this fact, writing: “What more shall I say? For the time will fail me if I go on to relate about . . . the other prophets, who through faith . . . received their trial by mockings and scourgings, indeed, more than that, by bonds and prisons.”—Hebrews 11:32-38.
11 During the reign of wicked King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, many of Jehovah’s prophets were killed with the sword. (1 Kings 18:4, 13; 19:10) The prophet Jeremiah was put into stocks and later thrown into a miry cistern. (Jeremiah 20:1, 2; 38:6) The prophet Daniel was cast into the lions’ den. (Daniel 6:16, 17) All these pre-Christian prophets were persecuted because they defended the pure worship of Jehovah. Many prophets were persecuted by the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus called the scribes and the Pharisees “sons of those who murdered the prophets.”—Matthew 23:31.
12. Why do we as Jehovah’s Witnesses count it a privilege to be persecuted like the prophets of old?
12 Today, we as Jehovah’s Witnesses are often persecuted because we are zealous in preaching the good news of the Kingdom. Our enemies accuse us of “aggressive proselytizing,” but we know that faithful worshipers of Jehovah before us faced similar criticism. (Jeremiah 11:21; 20:8, 11) We count it a privilege to suffer for the same reason that the faithful prophets of old suffered. The disciple James wrote: “Brothers, take as a pattern of the suffering of evil and the exercising of patience the prophets, who spoke in the name of Jehovah. Look! We pronounce happy those who have endured.”—James 5:10, 11.
Profound Reasons for Being Happy
13. (a) Why are we not discouraged by persecution? (b) What enables us to stand firm, and what does this prove?
13 Far from being discouraged by persecution, we are comforted by the thought that we are following in the footsteps of the prophets, the early Christians, and Christ Jesus himself. (1 Peter 2:21) We draw deep satisfaction from the Scriptures, such as the following words of the apostle Peter: “Beloved ones, do not be puzzled at the burning among you, which is happening to you for a trial, as though a strange thing were befalling you. If you are being reproached for the name of Christ, you are happy, because the spirit of glory, even the spirit of God, is resting upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12, 14) We know from experience that we are able to stand firm under persecution only because Jehovah’s spirit rests upon us and strengthens us. The support of the holy spirit is proof that Jehovah’s blessing is upon us, and this brings us great happiness.—Psalm 5:12; Philippians 1:27-29.
14. What reasons do we have to rejoice at being persecuted for righteousness’ sake?
14 Another reason why opposition and persecution for righteousness’ sake makes us happy is that it proves that we are living as true Christians with godly devotion. The apostle Paul wrote: “All those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) We are supremely happy at the thought that our keeping integrity under trial provides a further answer to Satan’s challenge that all of Jehovah’s creatures serve Him out of selfish interest. (Job 1:9-11; 2:3, 4) We rejoice that we have a share, be it ever so small, in the vindication of Jehovah’s righteous sovereignty.—Proverbs 27:11.
Leap for Joy at the Reward
15, 16. (a) What reason did Jesus give for us to “rejoice and leap for joy”? (b) What reward is stored up in the heavens for anointed Christians, and how will their “other sheep” companions also be rewarded?
15 Jesus gave an added reason for joy at being maligned and persecuted like the prophets of old. Toward the end of the ninth happiness, he stated: “Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens.” (Matthew 5:12) The apostle Paul wrote: “The wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Yes, the ‘great reward’ is life, and it is not a wage that we can earn. It is a free gift. Jesus said that the reward is “in the heavens” because it comes from Jehovah.
16 The anointed receive “the crown of life,” that is, in their case, immortal life with Christ in heaven. (James 1:12, 17) Those with an earthly hope, the “other sheep,” look forward to inheriting everlasting life in an earthly paradise. (John 10:16; Revelation 21:3-5) For both classes, the “reward” is unearned. Both the anointed and the “other sheep” receive their reward by Jehovah’s “surpassing undeserved kindness,” which moved the apostle Paul to say: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable free gift.”—2 Corinthians 9:14, 15.
17. Why can we be happy when persecuted and figuratively “leap for joy”?
17 To Christians, some of whom were soon to be cruelly persecuted by Emperor Nero, the apostle Paul wrote: “Let us exult while in tribulations, since we know that tribulation produces endurance; endurance, in turn, an approved condition; the approved condition, in turn, hope, and the hope does not lead to disappointment.” He also said: “Rejoice in the hope. Endure under tribulation.” (Romans 5:3-5; 12:12) Whether our hope is heavenly or earthly, our reward for faithfulness under trial is immeasurably greater than anything we deserve. Our joy at the prospect of living forever to serve and praise our loving Father, Jehovah, under our King Jesus Christ is unbounded. We figuratively “leap for joy.”
18. What can be expected of the nations as the end draws near, and what will Jehovah do?
18 In some lands, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been and still are persecuted. In his prophecy about the conclusion of the system of things, Jesus warned true Christians: “You will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.” (Matthew 24:9) As we near the end, Satan will cause the nations to manifest their hatred against Jehovah’s people. (Ezekiel 38:10-12, 14-16) This will signal Jehovah’s time to act. “I shall certainly magnify myself and sanctify myself and make myself known before the eyes of many nations; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah.” (Ezekiel 38:23) Jehovah will thus sanctify his great name and deliver his people from persecution. Therefore, “happy is the man that keeps on enduring.”—James 1:12.
19. While awaiting the great “day of Jehovah,” what should we do?
19 As that great “day of Jehovah” draws ever nearer, let us rejoice because we are “counted worthy to be dishonored” for Jesus’ name. (2 Peter 3:10-13; Acts 5:41) Like the early Christians, may we continue “without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ” and his Kingdom government while awaiting our reward in Jehovah’s righteous new world.—Acts 5:42; James 5:11.
By Way of Review
• What does it mean to suffer for righteousness’ sake?
• What effect did persecution have on the early Christians?
• Why can it be said that Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted like the prophets of old?
• Why can we “rejoice and leap for joy” at being persecuted?
[Pictures on page 16, 17]
“Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you”
Group in prison: Chicago Herald-American