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Blessed when reviled or persecuted for Jesus

Matthew 5:11 (ESV) … “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

Such a commitment to righteousness, God’s and their own, and to the person and gospel of Christ (see Mark 8:35) will lead to their being ‘persecuted because of righteousness’ (5:10), or ‘because of me’ (5:11), like ‘the prophets who were before’ them (5:12). Jesus was warning them of the consequences of being his disciples: ‘People [will] insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.’ This is still true. Those who believe in Christ and serve him in this world will have to endure slander and even physical persecution such as many of the prophets experienced. But we, like the disciples, must remember that we possess the kingdom of heaven and so, even now, rejoice and be glad. Peter reminds his readers of the possibility of grief and joy at the same time, because they focus on different matters: grief because of persecution; joy because of eternal life (1 Peter 1:6). Later on he also points out that the future joy will be greater and unmixed with sorrow: ‘Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed’ (1 Peter 4:13).

The ‘reward in heaven’ (5:12), as we have seen already, is not some extra element of blessing, but reaching what we have aimed at. The true believer wants Christ to be glorified. He believes and proclaims his word and longs for the day when ‘every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’, whether willingly or unwillingly (Phil. 2:11). How great a reward it will be for him to see Christ in his glory’ on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed’! (2 Thess. 1:10).

As with many of the apparently poetic and beautiful passages of Scripture, such as 1 Corinthians 13 or Galatians 5:22–23, the reality is both harsher and greater. This passage is startlingly relevant to the future of the disciples. Jesus is not setting forth beautiful ideals, but spiritual realities. The characteristics of those who are truly blessed are radically different from those of the world around them. They are poor in spirit, instead of self-satisfied and self-sufficient. They mourn in meekness over the state of affairs, rather than engaging in triumphalism or selfish anger. They long for righteousness, mercy, purity and genuine peace, not profit, revenge, self-indulgence and success. They belong to Christ, proclaim his gospel and teach his word, rather than following the spirit of the age and the way of the world.

This is not a blueprint for us to put into practice, but a description of what is true already of the Christian. Nevertheless, it is necessary to realize that this is what we are, so that we may live consistently with it. This will mean rejection and suffering for the present, but we shall press on, because, as Christ assures the disciples, we shall benefit in the end. So, when trials and sufferings burden us most fiercely, we must remember the Beatitudes. Then we must say with the apostle Paul, ‘Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ (2 Cor. 4:16–18).

Most of all, we must remember, when we are rejected and persecuted as aliens in an ungodly world, that this was how they treated our Saviour himself. And when he finally enters into his kingdom, we shall be there to share his glory. We are truly blessed. [1]

[1] Legg, J. (2004). The King and His Kingdom: The Gospel of Matthew Simply Explained (pp. 67–68). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.

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