Persecution’s Rewards (Matthew 5:11-12)
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. ¹²Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. —Matthew 5:11-12
Who were the prophets who endured reviling, persecution, and false accusations when they spoke the word of the Lord? In Jeremiah 20, we read about the persecution he endured when he opened his mouth with prophetic words:
Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the LORD. (Jeremiah 20:1-2)
This was not a stand-alone incident. Later in the chapter, Jeremiah says his own friends were against him:
“Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
say all my close friends,
watching for my fall.
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
then we can overcome him
and take our revenge on him.” (v. 10)
It was so severe that Jeremiah wondered if it would have been better if he’d never been born (vv. 14-18). He wasn’t the only one who suffered thus. Hebrews 11 recounts the exploits of Old Testament heroes, but also the many who endured untold suffering for their faith. It is no light matter to follow the risen Christ. Glorious—and costly—is this life He’s called us to.
Consider John the Baptist who, in the spirit of Elijah (Matthew 11:12-13), spoke prophetic truth to King Herod. John called him to account for breaking God’s commands when he took his brother’s wife as his own (Matthew 14:3-4). Though Herod wanted to put John to death, “he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet” (Matthew 14:5). Herod spared John’s life, until fear of embarrassment and loss of reputation loomed large. In the end, he had John beheaded.
It is far better to live in the fear of God and die, like John (and to be born and suffer for God like Jeremiah) than to live in fear of man like Herod, and be struck dead by God. Both feared something, and both died. But they will not have the same end. Herod lived according to his fear of man; John feared God and was executed for speaking prophetically. John’s death was his entrance into eternal life, great reward, and pleasures forevermore. Herod’s disturbing end (Acts 12:23) was his entrance into conscious suffering forever.
We must fix our eyes on things above if we are to have the right perspective on suffering for righteousness’ sake in this life. When we believe Jesus, when we stand for truth and live not by lies, we will suffer. Such are the fiery trials Peter and James talked about (1 Peter 4:12, James 1:2).
Jesus says those who suffer on His account are blessed. Let us encourage one another not to grow weary, but to persevere. For those who suffer in this way have the Spirit of glory and of God resting upon them (1 Peter 4:14), and they will have great reward in heaven.
John defended the biblical sexual ethic and lost his life for it. How might we be called to take a similarly unpopular stance in our day?
How might meditating on future, eternal rewards increase our courage in the face of persecution on Jesus’ account?
Ask God to convince you of the preciousness and certainty of these promises.
Candice Watters is the Fighter Verses editor. She is married to Steve Watters, Truth78's director of marketing and resource development. Together they wrote Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. The Watterses are members, with their four children, of Clifton Baptist Church, in Louisville, KY.