“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:12 (NRS)
Disciples of Jesus Christ are to “rejoice and be glad” when they are persecuted. This doesn’t appear to be a “realistic response”, whether living in the first or the twenty-first century, especially for those who live under the influence of Satan and the world (Ep. 6:12). It is, however, both realistic and reasonable, for those who are in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:12). Kingdom living does not look like the world—it is radically different! Believers are to adhere to the truth of God’s Word, living holy and righteous lives, with no expectation of acceptance or support by this fallen world. It is God who is the rewarder and sustainer of those who are called to His purpose and who find their meaning in Him (Ep. 2:10; Acts 17:28).
The Disciples were to “rejoice and be glad” during persecution because their focus was to be on the future—the kingdom of heaven yet to come. The Apostle Paul described the trials and persecutions that the Disciples would experience as “light afflictions lasting only for a moment in comparison with eternity.” And what would be the reward for such suffering? An exceeding and eternal weight of glory! J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase expresses Paul’s thought more succinctly:
These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain, For we are looking all the time not at the visible things but at the invisible. The visible things are transitory: it is the invisible things that are really permanent. 2 Cor. 4:17-18
Rather than looking at their external circumstances, the Disciples were re-directed by Jesus to focus on what couldn’t be seen with the “physical eye”—the spiritual reward awaiting them in heaven.
This final beatitude offered comfort to the Disciples by comparing them with another group of highly esteemed, holy men who experienced persecution for righteous living—the Old Testament prophets. The prophets were commissioned to present “thus says the Lord”; calling for repentance and return to God (Is. 30:15). The Disciples were called to continue the ministry that Jesus began. They were to present the gospel of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19) and through the Holy Spirit, men would be drawn to repentance and to the knowledge of Jesus the Christ (2 Pet.3:9). Both groups faced persecution on earth for “righteousness’ sake” yet they looked forward to their promised reward from God (Dan. 7:18, 22, 27; Matt. 5:12).
Like the Disciples, believers today are to “rejoice and be glad” when faced with persecution. We are to keep our “eye on the prize”—eternal reward in heaven versus the momentary enticement of this world. This is a difficult concept for 21st century man to embrace; it is contradictory to a world that demands “instant gratification” and trusts only in what it can see. To persevere during persecution, believers must continually remind themselves who they are (Rom. 8:17; Col. 3:12), why they are here (Ep. 2:10; Matt. 28:19-20) and where they are ultimately going (1 Pet. 2:11; 2 Cor. 5:1).
As believers, we must accept the reality that if we truly live for Christ, we will suffer persecution. However, we are confident and find comfort in knowing that God is sovereign and has already obtained victory over Satan and the world (Matt. 28:18; Col. 2:15). God will sustain and deliver us, just as He did for the Prophets and for the Disciples who preceded us (Ps. 27:1). We rejoice and are glad, for our reward is in heaven.
“Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life,
and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Revelation 22:14
Good to the Last Byte…
Although the Prophets never witnessed the fulfillment of the Messiah in their life time, they anticipated “future glory” as reward for their faithfulness to God (Is. 35:2).