Rejoicing in Reviling
To his believers Jesus always promised trouble. This is the striking way in which Christ ends his Beatitudes, with the reality of persecution in Matthew 5:10,
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus himself was often oppressed, and He makes clear that any enemy of his will be an enemy of the church. As He says in John 15:20, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” It is a sure thing for the people of Christ. Taking his path of righteousness means we should count on verbal harassment, forms of discrimination, even physical suffering.
If you think about it, this was a strange message for Jesus to bring. He speaks this Beatitude at the beginning of his ministry, when He is just starting to train his disciples and preach to the crowds. So far everything looks promising, for we hear that “great multitudes followed him” (Matt 4:25).
But now this: no sooner has Jesus built some forward momentum than He hits his disciples with a cold splash of reality. “You are going to be reviled for my sake. Don’t walk with me if you’re looking for easy street.” He certainly wasn’t marketing himself very well, yet history has always proved Christ right. Satan raises up many to harass the followers of Jesus.
How do you react when you meet with conflict or opposition? Most of us prefer the strategy of avoidance. If our words or conduct are going to bring trouble, then the solution is simple: stop talking or quit offending. That has always been the escape route for God’s people: stay silent and survive.
Yet in another place Christ says: “Whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 10:32). When we follow Christ, we might face tough questions, even get laughed at or shouted down, but we are called to stand fast and to confess. Christ asks for a whole-hearted commitment and promises to reward the same.
Jesus gives colour to the idea of persecution in the next verse: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake” (Matt 5:11). He puts the emphasis on the words that get thrown at his believers. This can be where persecution begins: with insults, public ridicule, and mockery.
We like to say that words don’t hurt us, that we can weather a bit of verbal abuse. But anyone who has faced a taunting word knows how much it can hurt. And so for a Christian being reviled, this can be a real test. If you’re willing to put your faith into the open at university or in the workplace, you might be laughed at. If you speak up for Christ and his truth, you might get sidelined or cancelled.
Some of this evil speaking reaches believers directly, like when someone throws an insult into your face or leaves a nasty comment for you to read. But often it is indirect, like through the reviling we hear in the culture around us.
Followers of Christ are said to be on the wrong side of practically every current issue today: marriage, abortion, assisted dying, race relations, homosexuality, gender identity, and more. We face relentless pressure to subscribe to this unbelieving agenda. And if you don’t agree, you can be quickly thrust out, either online or in the real world, or both.
What always causes Christ’s people to be opposed? Christians are different—at the Lord’s command, we are holy, set apart from sin and for the Lord. And isn’t it true that people will always seek to remove that which condemns them? If a child of God is leading a faith-filled and obedient life (albeit with much inconsistency), then it is like an uncomfortable rebuke to those around us.
A Christian is opposed too, for being exclusive in his beliefs. The absolute demand of Christ—the only name under heaven by which people can be saved—and the stark good-and-evil of Scriptural ethics are hard for an unbelieving world to accept. If you accept Christ and his Word, this means that every other god and life of faith is wrong. This is an intolerable intolerance in a time when we are expected to keep our beliefs to ourselves.
Jesus speaks of this in Luke 6:26, where He presents the flipside to this Beatitude on persecution. He declares,
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.
Christ condemns those who opt for the easy way. He pronounces judgment on those who are always agreeable. So do all people ‘speak well of us’? Do we avoid being challenged for Jesus’ sake? Christ’s followers will not be unfailingly inoffensive. Nobody notices a person who keeps his faith to himself. But a true disciple will stand out, and be hated for standing out.
So if you were mocked and insulted for your faith six days per week, wouldn’t you get tired of it? It would surely be demoralizing to be always pushed to one side. No one welcomes hostility. But are persecuted Christians miserable? Should they be?
Jesus’s words are startling. To the persecuted believer He says, “You are blessed with the Kingdom!” (Matt 5:10). And again He says, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad!” (v. 12). Each of the previous Beatitudes has turned human values upside down, but this one does even more. Jesus says we can actually rejoice in our sufferings for his sake.
If our vision was limited to this life, this command would make no sense. But with the eyes of faith we see the certainty of the final victory. For the one who was reviled and mocked and persecuted—the one who was even killed by wicked men—He was able to gain the victory, for himself and everyone in his kingdom. The powers of darkness could not destroy Christ, but He secured the gift of salvation for all who believe.
Through Christ, our reward is sure. As Jesus says later to his persecuted believers, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10). Living in a world with strong currents of hostility, we joyfully cling to his promise.
And we pray for courage, strength, vision:
courage to suffer,
strength to endure,
and vision to see the coming of Christ’s kingdom.