By Julia Wallace
Here we reach the eighth and final blessing Jesus offers in the Beatitudes. As we have mentioned over the past few months, the Beatitudes paint a rich picture of what life with Christ will look like. Throughout these blessings, Jesus reminds us of the paradoxical truths of our faith—that those who are weak are strong; those who hunger and thirst will be filled; those who mourn will be comforted. Jesus repetitively “flips the script” on notions of power, blessing and possession.
And while most blessings bring a sense of comfort, an honest reader might admit some level of discomfort at arriving at the eighth blessing. As if persecution weren’t discomforting enough, Jesus goes on to add: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”
In one sense, this offers a sense of comfort to those already persecuted for his sake. It is a reminder that ours is a God who stands with us in our suffering—a God who sees, hears, and is concerned about our plight, and who actively seeks to liberate and renew us (Exodus 3:7). But for those not in the throes of persecution—or for those living within it and finding it hard to cope—this passage is a sobering reminder of a key truth: our bodies and souls are caught in the tension between two kingdoms, the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God.
At times these kingdoms may not conflict, but throughout his ministry Jesus showed that the Kingdom of God calls us to live in a radically different way that may be offensive to the ways of the world. It is a call to live in opposition to the status quo as we follow a new way of thinking and acting. It is important to note that in this eighth blessing Jesus does not promise freedom from persecution. As many believers have discovered, following Jesus’ way is costly. It may cost us our reputation, our relationships, our livelihood, or our safety. It may even cost us our lives. Following Jesus is not a guarantee of health and safety or an earthly sense of well-being.
Yet Jesus ends with this promise: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Our modern minds—which have been conditioned to think of heaven as an other-worldly, ethereal place in the sky—miss the profundity in this. We have often assumed this means that God has prepared a place in His presence for the persecuted after their time on this earth has ended. Yet Jesus’, throughout his ministry on earth, taught that God’s kingdom was a promise of His presence here and now. As author and theologian Skye Jethani summarized, “Jesus uses ‘the kingdom’ to speak of God’s own presence. It is the domain where He reigns and where His will is always done.” Jesus was promising that even through persecution his followers would be part of this new Kingdom—a kingdom in which God is eternally present with us.