Discipleship, Persecution


To follow Jesus means self-denial and the willingness to suffer for him. For the disciple, persecution is the highest honor Matthew 5:10-12.

For disciples of Jesus, retaliation and violence are NOT appropriate reactions when they are persecuted. Rather than respond-in-kind, they must meet threats with humility, mercy, even love. That is what it means to “deny oneself” and to “take up his cross.” Praying for one’s “enemies” is contrary to the “wisdom of this age,” but it epitomizes the paradigm of Christ crucified.

In stark contrast to the ways of the fallen-world order, Jesus instructed his disciples to “rejoice and leap for joy” whenever “men hate you, and ostracize you, and profane you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.” The persecuted disciple is especially “blessed” and should “exult greatly” because “great his reward in heaven” – (Matthew 5:10-12).

The original disciples took this teaching to heart, though not until after his resurrection.  When Peter was hauled before the Sanhedrin, beaten, and ordered to desist from preaching, rather than respond in anger, he went their way “rejoicing that he was counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” On another occasion, after being abused and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, Paul and Silas spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God” from their prison cell – (Acts 5:41, 16:23-25).

The book of Isaiah prophesied that the “Suffering Servant of Yahweh” would be “oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.” The Messiah of Israel would not “wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; he will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick” – (Isaiah 53:7).

Jesus exhorted us to “love our enemies, and to pray for them who persecute us, and to extend mercy to them Doing so is the precise way by which we emulate our Heavenly Father and become “perfect” just as He is. “Perfection” is achieved not through self-discipline and moral purity, but instead, through acts of mercy to the very ones that malign and abuse us. The “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” desires “mercy, not sacrifice” – (Matthew 5:38-48).

Since the creation, Jesus is the only truly righteous man who has ever lived. If anyone deserved honor and respect for his “rights,” he did. Yet rather than be served, the one destined to reign from the messianic throne came “to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” This he did by suffering a horrific and undeserved death on behalf of others, for he chose to die for us when we were “yet enemies of God” alienated from Him. Conforming to this pattern is how the disciple becomes “great in the kingdom of God” – (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:10).

Betrayed by Judas - clipart.christiansunite.com

When an armed mob arrested Jesus, Peter drew his sword and “smote the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.” But Jesus did the unexpected. Rather than join Peter in defending his person and individual “rights,” he rebuked the hot-tempered disciple, commanding him to sheathe his sword. Then, he healed the wounded man who had come with the others to arrest the Messiah, the “king of Israel” – (John 18:10-12).

Interrogated, beaten, and reviled before the High Priest, Jesus reviled not in return. While in his death throes on the cross, he prayed for his Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do” – (Matthew 27:39, Mark 15:32, Luke 23:34).

In Scripture, persecution is something disciples should expect and endure faithfully for the sake of the gospel.  Not only so, to suffer for Jesus is a great privilege and honor, a matter for rejoicing, not anger. Today, through loud protests and legal machinations, we may avoid persecution, but in doing so, we may unwittingly rob ourselves of something of infinitely greater value than a comfortable life in the here-and-now.

Our modern tendency to insist on our inviolate civil “rights” that must be defended at all costs flies in the face of New Testament teachings on discipleship, mercy, suffering, and the forgiveness of enemies.  The man or woman who would be his disciple must daily “take up his cross and follow after” the path already trod by Jesus. Failure to do so makes one unworthy of the “Kingdom of God,” and to become “greatest” in His realm, one must first become the slave of all.

The disciple must “deny himself, take up his cross,” and daily follow the “Lamb wherever he goes,” regardless of where he leads. And genuine self-denial means to deny yourself that which is yours by right.

For example, Paul gave up his “right” to take a wife for the sake of the ministry. Likewise, though he had the right to expect financial support, he often abstained from exercising it and supported himself through manual labor, all for the furtherance of the gospel – (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).

In his parable of the Unprofitable Servant, Jesus asked:

  • Who from among you, having a slave plowing or keeping sheep, when he has come in out of the field will say to him, ‘come and recline?’  On the contrary, will he not say to him, ‘Make something ready that I may dine and gird yourself to serve me until I have eaten and drunk…Does he offer thanks to the slave because he has done the things enjoined? So, also, when you have done all the things enjoined upon you, say, ‘we are unprofitable slaves; we have only done what we were obligated to do” (Luke 17:7-10).

In contrast to the political ideologies and systems of the present age, the kingdom represented by Jesus offers its citizens the far greater privilege of self-sacrificing service for his realm, and the high honor of enduring insults, hatred, and persecution on behalf of its king. The rewards for doing so in the “age to come” will far outweigh any losses suffered in this present life.

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