Matthew 5:11-12, rejoicing in persecution
5:11 “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake.(Matt 5:11-12 WEB)
5:12 Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
A prophet’s reward
The earlier beatitudes spoke about the actions of generic people-groups, but in this ninth beatitude Jesus brings the message home, changing his focus to ‘you’. Having introduced the rewards that others will gain as a result of their blessedness, he now applies this teaching specifically to his disciples (and us).
In the centuries that preceded Jesus, the Jewish prophets followed the way of righteousness and were frequently persecuted for doing so. For example:
- Elijah was driven into exile;
- Jeremiah was imprisoned in a cistern;
- Zechariah was stoned to death in the court of the Lord.
Shortly before Jesus delivered these words, the disciples of John the Baptist suffered the arrest and subsequent murder of their leader. Jesus’ own disciples would go on to know similar suffering. The history of the Church glistens with the diadems of martyrdom, men and women who have repeatedly made the ultimate sacrifice for their Lord. However, such persecution is by no means a thing of the past, for it can be very costly to follow Jesus and even today his disciples are suffering persecution in many parts of the world.
Here, Jesus encourages his disciples to see their current suffering as an honourable tradition. They are following in the prophets’ footsteps and if they share the prophets’ experience of persecution, they can expect to share their transcendent reward in Heaven.