This is the eighth beatitude. One major observation to be made is it is not a characteristic of the believer but describes how others react to the believer. That is why I place this verse as a transition from the first section – the believer’s character – to the second – the believer’s influence. How others react is something quite out of your control, though there are some Christians who make up for that by being deliberately offensive. So, the qualifier in this verse is important: persecuted for righteousness’ sake. It does not refer to being persecution for being bizarre, or being belligerent, or being insulting even if you convince yourself that you are doing such things in the Name of the Lord. Being offensive is not the same thing as causing offense. It is Righteousness that causes offense. Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12)
Also lending itself to the idea that this is a transition verse is, uniquely this Beatitude gets elaborated on. Verse 11 elaborates on the persecution and verse 12, the blessedness. Once again, there are qualifiers. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. (Matthew 5:11) The persecution is undeserved but because of your relationship with Jesus. As Peter puts it, For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. (1 Peter 2:20)
What is it about righteousness that people might persecute you for? Looking back at the Beatitudes, what is the offense? Jesus said this to his brothers, The world … hates me, because I am testifying about it that its deeds are evil. (John 7:7) Jesus’ life testified that the world is evil. Believers who imitate Christ also testify to the world If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. (John 15:18) True righteousness exposes the selfishness and hypocrisy of the world as well as the futility of their lives.
Paul uses a great picture in 2 Corinthians, But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of him in every place. For we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing —to the latter an odor from death to death, but to the former a fragrance from life to life. (2 Corinthians 2:14-16) When a Roman general was sent out to conquer, he would return to a great parade. He and his soldiers paraded with the spoils of the war and lastly, prisoners taken in the war destined for execution, the Colosseum or enslavement. The same celebration meant very different things to those on parade. The burning incense was a smell of victory and celebration to the soldiers and to the citizens, but to the prisoners, it smelled of defeat and death. The one who follows Christ and lives out His righteousness marches as proof of the victory of God. Their lives are noted by those around them. To fellow believers, they are a cause for celebration, but to those who are perishing, believers represent their defeat. And they hate them as much as they hate God who will crush their rebellion.
Jesus says to rejoice in persecution. This is possible because our eyes are on the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of this world. Jesus (and the rest of Scripture) says that persecution results in great reward (see also Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17). Our persecution shows that the world identifies us with Jesus (Acts 5:40,41). It is a means by which the believer is perfected (James 1:2,3; 1 Peter 5:10) and through which others are saved (2 Timothy 2:10).