10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.”
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.
The paradox of righteousness
The more we are persecuted for our commitment to Jesus, the higher we rise in his kingdom. Contrary to the ways of this world, we fall to rise. That is paradoxical, is it not?
We have already learned that Matthew uses the word righteousness to refer to behavior that pleases God and keeps his commandments. It is perverse that righteousness provokes opposition, but we must recall that Jesus is the ultimate example of living for God and being crucified for it. Turner says of 5:10 that Jesus warns his followers that their upright behavior will fare no better.
Further, R.T. France says, “Already in the commendation of the merciful and the peacemakers these beatitudes have marked out the true disciple not as a hermit engaged in the solitary pursuit of holiness but as one engaged in society, and such engagement has its cost.” In light of this fact, it is strange that Christians have at times locked themselves away in monasteries with alleged spiritual motives. The fact that society does not share our values is no excuse for retreat!
Jesus makes the matter more personal in 5:11 when he shifts from third-person plural (“they”) to second-person plural (“you”). NT Greek has a way of speaking to each individual in a crowd, but that is not used here; instead, R.T. France tells us, “It is the corporate impact of the disciple community, as an alternate society, which is here in view.” So Jesus makes the blessing more personal and yet stresses the corporate witness of the group. We all do this together!
Note that Jesus declares us blessed for evil things said against us falsely (5:11). We receive no blessing if the evil allegations are true. In a similar way, the evil things said about us must be on account of me [Jesus] (5:11). As a friend of mine once taught, God does not bless us for being a jerk!
Irony predominates in 5:12. When we are reviled, insulted and persecuted for righteousness and allegiance to Jesus, we are to rejoice and be glad (5:12)! But Jesus does not ask us to like persecution; instead, he calls on us to consider the great reward to come in heaven. R.T. France aptly points out that, unlike many Christians, Jesus has no hesitation about speaking of the reward God will provide to believers who maintain their witness and godly behavior.
When we experience opposition and persecution in living for Christ, we are getting the same treatment given to the prophets (5:12). It is an amazing thing to think my behavior can make me have something in common with Isaiah or Jeremiah; the same applies to you. If that does not amaze you, then check your pulse. :)
A final word
Jesus said: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48b). But the leverage we get from Jesus makes the heavenly rewards very great!
But Jesus does not ask us to do these things without help. He has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us to do all he wants from us. That is a great reason to rejoice!
Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 153.
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 170.
 France, Matthew, 171.
 France, Matthew, 172.