Matthew 5:12 (ESV) … “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus clearly described the way the disciples should respond to this kind of treatment: Rejoice and be glad. The word translated “be glad,” agalliasthe (also translated “exult”), refers to deep, spiritual joy (see Luke 1:46–47; Acts 16:34; 1 Peter 4:13). This type of rejoicing is eternal—unhindered and unchanged by what happens in this present life.
How can anyone rejoice when being insulted, persecuted, or slandered? While that would not be the first and most natural response, a person with righteous character can rejoice and be glad because of the promise: Your reward is great in heaven. When God judges the world, the persecution will pale in comparison to the great reward that awaits. The reward is heaven itself. See 16:24–27 and 19:28–30 for more on rewards.
Besides that, the disciples had good company. The Old Testament described many prophets who had come with God’s message and had faced persecution, rejection, and even death (see 21:33–46). Jesus placed his disciples in a long line of God’s followers who lived righteously and spoke truthfully—only to suffer for it. The Jews held the ancient prophets of God in high esteem; to be placed among them was a great honor. Jesus explained that to live and speak for God in the face of unjust persecution, as did the ancient prophets, would bring great reward in heaven.
Jesus said to rejoice when we’re persecuted. There are four reasons that persecution can be good: (1) It can take our eyes off earthly rewards, (2) it can strip away superficial belief, (3) it can strengthen the faith of those who endure, and (4) our attitude through it can serve as an example to others who follow. We can take comfort in knowing that God’s greatest prophets endured persecution (Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel). Persecution proves that we have been faithful; faithless people would be unnoticed. In the future, God will reward the faithful by receiving them into his eternal kingdom, where there is no more persecution. No matter what you face today, if you remain faithful to Christ, one day you will receive a joyful reward.