Does Persecution and Suffering Turn Your Thoughts Toward Heaven?
According to Jesus, it should.
Jesus reminded His followers that their thoughts should turn toward their reward in heaven when they face persecution.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12)
The Christian’s outlook on life should revolve around three things (Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount):
- Who you are.
- Where you are going.
- What awaits you when you get there.
Who you are
When you suffer for “righteousness’ sake,” it demonstrates that you have become like Jesus Christ.
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed. (1 Peter 2:21–24)
The disciple has become like the Master by patiently enduring suffering and persecution.
Where you are going
The Christian who faces and endures suffering like the Master can (and should) look forward to the reward in heaven. Near the end of his life, which was full of suffering for “righteousness’ sake,” the apostle Paul was looking forward to his reward.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6–8)
This crown refers to a prize — or a reward. As Paul neared the finish line of life, he looked ahead to the reward the Lord would give him.
What awaits you when you get there
While God doesn’t tell us much about heaven, He tells us enough to know that it is a beautiful place.
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3–4)
What awaits the Christian in heaven is God Himself — and comfort beyond anything we have ever experienced. We will never grow sick or old again (1 Corinthians 15:52–53). We will never die because death will be the final enemy destroyed by Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 20:14). There will be no sin there (Revelation 21:27). It will truly be the perfect place — and the faithful will live there eternally.
So when you face suffering and persecution, remember who you are, where you are going, and what awaits you when you get there.
Even Jesus faced the cross by looking ahead to what was coming.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)