Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “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 who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12 (NKJV)
Jesus ends this section of the Sermon on the Mount in what seems to be an odd way. The first 7 things He lays are attitudes we are supposed to have and exhibit. These last few verses though deal with things that happen to us. One of the greatest things about Jesus is His brutal honesty. What He is describing in these verses is what will happen to those who follow Him. He was explaining to His disciples, then and now, what would happen to them if they chose to follow Him. Jesus describes what would happen in two ways.
The first thing He mentions is being persecuted. The persecution the early church endured took many different forms. Many times men who became Christians lost their jobs. Since paganism was so entrenched in society at this time, those who wouldn’t serve the pagan temples and priests were fired or not hired to begin with. Many who became Christians found that doing so made them social lepers as their friends would no longer have anything to do with them after they began following Christ. At times this persecution even came into the home as husbands divorced wives, wives divorced husbands, parents disowned children and children abandoned their parents.
Jesus also mentions being reviled and having all kinds of evil things said about them. This was also certainly the case. The early Christians called their meetings agape, or love, feasts. This was based off of Jesus saying that His disciples were to agape, love, one another in the way that He had loved them. This was twisted to say that Christian meetings were wicked sex parties.
Christians were called and considered to be atheists because they wouldn’t worship the Greek or Roman gods. Their faith in Christ led them to affirm that there was only one God and His name wasn’t Zeus or Jupiter. Christians were also accused of being home wreckers. As I mentioned families did split over Christianity. Slanderers used this to accuse Christians of seeking to wreck homes and destroy families. Christians were even accused of setting fire to Rome.
They were accused of being traitors because they wouldn’t worship Caesar. Emperor worship was the national religion of Rome and regardless of what other god you may worshiped, you were expected to worship the emperor as well. Once a year every Roman citizen was expected to go and burn a pinch of incense to an image of Cesar and say, “Cesar is Lord.” Christians could not do this because Jesus is Lord and no one else deserves that title.
As you can imagine these things had a terrible impact on the lives of the Christians. What caused all of this? What brought these hardships and even death into their lives? Was it because the stories were true? Was it because they were criminals that deserved such awful fates? No it wasn’t. As one of the poets of the day said they were a, “…panting, huddled flock whose crime was Christ.” The only crime the Christians were guilty of was that they were devoted to Christ above everything and everyone else and it cost them. For this devotion they died by the thousands. They faced torture for the sake of the supremacy of Christ.
Here is the kicker to all of this. They could have stopped all of this at any time. All they would have had to do was renounce Christ. If they had only said they no longer believed in or would no longer worship Christ then their fortunes would have been restored and their lives would have been spared. They honestly wouldn’t have even had to mean it. They could have said it and then secretly continued to worship Christ. But they didn’t do this. They willingly chose to lose everything and to die horrible, torturous deaths rather than to deny their Savior. That’s devotion. This kind of devotion is the attitude we are all to have.
This attitude is unique in that it has two promises associated with it. The first is that theirs is the Kingdom of God. When you look you recognize that this promise is exactly the same as the first promise given to those who are poor in spirit (verse 3). Jesus isn’t saying that we become part of the Kingdom of God through our devotion to Him. Instead what He is saying is that our devotion to Him demonstrates that we are already a part of the Kingdom of God. A devotion that brings persecution and keeps on being devoted is a characteristic of someone that has been born again and is now a part of the Kingdom of God.
The second promise is that those who are devoted to Him despite the cost will have a great reward in heaven. There isn’t time to go into the whole rewards in heaven thing. To be honest I really don’t completely understand the whole rewards in heaven thing. Based on what I read in Scripture I think I can safely say that a major part of the idea here is that what Jesus gives us in heaven because of our devotion to Him is better than what our devotion to Him will cost us here on the earth.
 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew volume 1, p. 132