Blessed Are the Persecuted Prophets, Part 1: This Means You

Photo by Kris Abildgaard

The last of the Beatitude blessings is the longest and in some ways the most perplexing. To quote it in the beautiful King James:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Jesus turns in the midst of this final blessing and rather than repeating “Blessed are they,” looks his disciples in the eye and says “Blessed are you.”

In other words: This means you.


This blessing always strikes me as a double-edged sword: the promise of persecution is frightening, yet the rewards promised are apparently staggering. “Rejoice and be exceeding glad” is STRONG wording. Luke says it “Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23, KJV).

In our North American context, where few of us ever experience actual persecution (we live in a society that has been profoundly shaped by the gospel, whether we realize/admit it or not, and that kind of society tends to weigh against persecuting in general), this blessing can cause some consternation. We read it as “real Christians get persecuted,” and I think that kind of understanding sometimes has us manufacturing persecution so we can feel like real Christians.

But ultimately this blessing is not so much about circumstances as it is about a change in identity, and “persecution” is not the identity word here.

“Prophet” is.


In Numbers 11 we read about a day during the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings when Moses was instructed to call seventy elders together and impart the Spirit to them. When this happened, they began to prophesy; and Joshua, Moses’s personal attendant, friend, and eventual successor, was concerned. He went to Moses and urged him to stop them.

Here Moses reveals the heart of God for his people:

“Are you jealous on my account? If only all the LORD’s people were prophets and the LORD would place his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29)

That desire was largely thwarted in the Old Covenant era due to hardness of heart, but it was always God’s heartbeat: If only all the LORD’s people were prophets. If only all the LORD’s people were full of the Holy Spirit.

What would it mean to this world if all the Lord’s people heard from him? If all were capable of speaking his heart and mind into specific situations? If all had the power to release the Word of the Lord into culture, into circumstances, into lives?

During the age of the prophets, this desire took the crystallized form of a promise:

A new covenant would come in which, indeed, all the Lord’s people would be prophets.

Look, the days are comingthis is the Lord’s declarationwhen I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah . . . I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. (Jeremiah 31:31,33-34)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place My Spirit within you … you will be My people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:26-28)

After this
I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity;
then your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your old men will have dreams,
and your young men will see visions.
I will even pour out My Spirit
on the male and female slaves in those days.
(Joel 2:28-29)

You Are Greater than John the Baptist

The Beatitudes have enacted a transformation: through the gospel, the blessing of Jesus turns people who were poor in spirit–having nothing, entirely without spiritual resources, bereft and poverty-stricken,–into prophets.

Jesus once declared that among all the prophets known to history, none was greater than John the Baptist. John was greater than Elijah, greater than Elisha, greater even than Moses or Abraham. And then he says, “But the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).

This means you.

Prophets of a New Era

John’s greatness wasn’t so much about his personal qualities but about his position in history. Other prophets had spoken for God, but no other prophet directly heralded his coming.

John, in the womb, was the first to recognize the incarnate Creator in the earth. As a prophet, he literally prepared the way for God. He baptized him. John was the prophet who finally, after thousands of years, declared “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

What makes you greater than John the Baptist?

John lived in the era of the kingdom near. You live in the era of the kingdom come. And if you have received the blessings of Jesus, you have been given the kingdom. If you have received the Holy Spirit, you have become united to God in a way no one before John ever experienced.

Welcome to the REAL “New Age”–the age of the kingdom of God.

From Poor to Prophet

In the chiasm of the Beatitudes, this is where we see the transformation most starkly. Those who were spiritually poverty stricken have become prophets of God.

How? Simply by receiving the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ–and this is entirely a gift of grace.

The paupers become kings. The dumb sing the songs of God. The world is turned upside down.

As Mary sang, “He has toppled the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53).

Jesus is almost casual about it: “Rejoice and be glad when this happens to you, for the world treated the other prophets the same way.”

Your identity has changed. You are no longer a pauper, but one who lives on this earth in fellowship with God, able to speak to, with, and sometimes for God. You who were nothing but dust now hear the secrets of eternity whispered in your ear. You who were a mud hut have become a temple.

If, of course, you have received the kingdom–a gift only given by Jesus.

Elect Yourself

The Beatitudes are blessings, and the thing about blessings–gifts as they are–is that you have to receive them. When Jesus looked at his disciples and the crowd all around them and said “Blessed are YOU,” he knew not everyone would accept the blessing. Some would turn their backs; some would even end up opposing him. But others would step up, hold out their empty hands, and say “Yes, please.”

Do you want to be transformed?

To do you want to go from poor to prophet?

Do you want to live in fellowship and communication with the very Creator of the universe?

Then elect yourself.

Step up to the altar and say “I do.”


Since this post is already long, we’ll come back to this blessing next week for a look at good news, persecution, rewards in heaven, and our mission–should we choose to accept it–in the earth today.

(This is Part 30 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)



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