A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 5: 10-12
Blessed are those who are persecuted for
righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and
persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you
falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your
reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the
prophets who were before you.
It may seem strange that Jesus should pass from peacemaking to persecution, from the work of reconciliation to the experience of hostility. Yet however hard we may try to make peace with some people, they refuse to live at peace with us. Not all attempts at reconciliation succeed. Indeed, some take the initiative to oppose us, and in particular to ‘revile’ or slander us. This is not because of our foibles or idiosyncrasies, but ‘for righteousness’ sake’ (10) and on ‘my account’ (11), that is, because they find distasteful the righteousness for which we hunger and thirst (6), and because they have rejected the Christ we seek to follow. Persecution is simply the clash between two irreconcilable value-systems.
How did Jesus expect his disciples to react under persecution? Verse 12: *Rejoice and be glad!* We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor to sulk like a child, nor to lick our wounds in self pity like a dog, nor just to grin and bear it like a Stoic, still less to pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should rejoice and even ‘leap for joy’. (Lk 6:23) Why so? Partly because, Jesus added, *your reward is great in heaven* (12a). We may lose everything on earth, but shall inherit everything in heaven – not as a reward for merit, however, because ‘the promise of the reward is free’. Partly because persecution is a token of genuineness, a certificate of Christian authenticity, *for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you* (12b). If we are persecuted today, we belong to a noble succession. But the major reason why we should rejoice is because we are suffering, he said, *on my account* (11), on account of our loyalty to him and to his standards of truth and righteousness. Certainly the apostles learnt this lesson well for, having been beaten and threatened by the Sanhedrin, ‘they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name’ (Acts 5:41). They knew, as we should, that ‘wounds and hurts are medals of honour’.
It is important to notice that this reference to persecution is a beatitude like the rest. Indeed, it has the distinction of being a double beatitude, for Jesus first stated it in the third person like the other seven *Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness* sake, 10) and then repeated it in the direct speech of the second person *Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you* …,11). Since all the beatitudes describe what every Christian disciple is intended to be, we conclude that the condition of being despised and rejected, slandered and persecuted, is as much a normal mark of Christian discipleship as being pure in heart or merciful. Every Christian is to be a peacemaker, and every Christian is to expect opposition. Those who hunger for righteousness will suffer for the righteousness they crave. Jesus said so both here and elsewhere. So did his apostles Peter and Paul (E.g. Jn.15:18-25; 1 Pet.4:13, 14; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim.3:12). It has been so in every age. We should not be surprised if anti-Christian hostility increases, but rather be surprised if it does not. We need to remember the complementary woe which Luke records: ‘Woe to you, when all men speak well of you.’ (Lk.6:26) Universal popularity was as much the lot of false prophets as persecution was of the true.
Tomorrow: Matthew 5:1-12. Summing up the beatitudes.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.