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 before you.
(Matt. 5:11-12, NKJV)
The Beatitudes are full of irony. The poor become rich, the sad find comfort, those willing to be ruled become rulers, and the hungry are filled – while the rich become poor, the full become hungry, and the happy become full of sorrow.
But perhaps the greatest irony is found in the very last Beatitude: “Blessed are the persecuted.”
Picture yourself around a Thanksgiving table, naming the things you are thankful for. One person is thankful for family and friends. Another for food and warm shelter. Another for his good job. And perhaps another, thinking of the lot of our fellow Christians around the world, expresses gratitude for the freedom to worship as we choose.
Love. Health and wealth. Freedom. These are “typical” blessings that we are grateful for.
How often does that make it onto our list of “I thank Thee for’s”?
Let’s look at the verse again. Why does Jesus say persecution is a blessing?
“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 before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
And look now at the contrasting woe found in Luke:
“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).
Of course there is the “great is your reward in heaven” part, which sounds like a very nice blessing. But the parts that are sticking out to me right now are the parts dealing with the prophets of old.
“for so they persecuted the prophets before you.”
“for so did their fathers to the false prophets.”
Lately I have been reading through the Old Testament prophetic books, and if you are well-familiar with them, you understand exactly what reference Jesus is making. The true prophets, like Elijah and Jeremiah, spoke the truth, but were rejected. Many times, their lives were in danger. Some did lose their lives.
On the other hand, the false prophets spoke what the people wanted to hear, and so they were welcomed, rather than excluded. Never mind that the false prophecies never actually came true. False hope was preferable over no hope.
The truth is that truth is truth. Sometimes that truth is hard to hear, and sometimes people don’t want to hear it. So if you’re walking in the way of truth, don’t be surprised when the “Father of Lies” comes out against you.
I’m reminded of a story my former pastor told once, which I will try to repeat here:
A young man came to his Christian professor and said, “Things have been going great for me lately! When I first came to college, I felt like I was under constant spiritual attack. But lately, the attacks have stopped, and I’m not being tempted anymore.”
The professor looked at him sadly, “You are mistaken, son. If Satan is no longer bothering to attack you, it’s because you are no longer a threat to his kingdom.”
Blessed are you when you are attacked for the sake of Christ, because such hostility demonstrates you are a threat to Satan’s kingdom.
Blessed are you when you are reviled for the sake of Christ, because it shows that you are living your life in such a way that you can be recognized as belonging to Him.
Blessed are you when the darkness rejects the light it sees in you and tries to quench it, and yet you continue to shine – and your light shines all the brighter against the increasing darkness around it.
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own . . . Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20).
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23).
“. . . Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. . .” (1 Cor. 4:12).
“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Cor. 4:9).
“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).