As noted in the first part of this article, Christ taught His original followers that persecution would continue on account of Him (Mat 5:10-12). We have seen that the presence of Christ provokes persecution now just as it did when Christ walked the streets of Jerusalem (and was eventually nailed to a cross). What we shall consider further in this article is what the presence of Christ means.
At minimum, the presence of Christ means that Christ is present with His people in the fullness of His identity. He is not present as we want Him to be. He is present as the true person He is. Christ exists as the Son of God without reference to our preferences. He is who He is. He will not be someone He is not.
Returning to Matthew, we see that Christ is present in the gospel as Himself—namely, as the king of heaven and earth. In preparing their readers for studying Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, well-respected New Testament Scholars Davies and Allison explain it this way:
Before Jesus utters his commands, the reader has been informed—by OT prophecy, by John the Baptist, by God, and by the devil—who he is: the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God . . . . This Jesus, therefore, by virtue of his identity, must speak with authority and make sovereign demands. The obligation to obey the commands of Mt 5-7 is grounded in Christology, in the person of Jesus. Matthew sets up his gospel so that one may first recognize Jesus’ unique status and then heed his commandments.
Jesus is King of heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18-20). So, when we say that Jesus is present in the church, we say that the sovereign Jesus is present with claims of kingdom authority and demands for obedience.
The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus saying that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. No one overrules Jesus Christ. And, in fact, Jesus gives His followers the commission to make disciples of all peoples, and part of the disciple-making process is teaching people to obey everything Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). Such authority means that Jesus is king.
True to being a king in the God-intended sense (see Deuteronomy 17), Jesus established the righteousness of God on earth. Jesus the King still demands all men everywhere uphold the righteousness of God. So, where Jesus is present, there is also a demand to uphold the righteousness of God. It isn’t simply a demand to obey; it is a demand to obey which is backed with authority from God.
Indeed, this startling dynamic is the thing which surprised people in Jesus’s day. At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, the people were amazed that Jesus spoke with such authority, rather than speaking as merely “a good teacher” (Matthew 7:28-30).
The presence of Jesus is the presence of a sovereign king making sovereign demands. His is not the presence of merely a good moral teacher. When preachers preach Christ, they present before their hearers a king making sovereign demands with implications for eternity. The stakes could not be higher, and the claims could not be greater.
The point is that Christ has come as a king establishing the righteousness of God. There is no other Christ. Such a Christ is offensive to fleshly indulgence. He sounds restrictive, audacious, and even oppressive. His claims of eternal reward or damnation—all or nothing depending on relation to Him—are simply unbearable apart from faith. On occasion, the weight of the matter will so overwhelm the unbeliever that he will seek to silence the man or woman who carries the message. That is preaching and persecution simply explained.
Davies and Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Commentary, 64.
- The Dark Side of Preaching (gregoryccochran.com)
- More Persecution in America (gregoryccochran.com)
- Christians Worldwide to Observe International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (shanemark71.wordpress.com)