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The professor’s face was contorted with anger as he yelled and shook a fistful of torn paper in my face. He accused me of harassing and attacking university students. What egregious act had I committed? I had properly posted an approved sign on a bulletin board advertising a campuswide outreach that my student ministry was sponsoring. I was stunned. I had never been the recipient of such harsh accusations.
At first I wanted to hide. Then I remembered that this man’s contention was not ultimately with me, but with Christ. As I walked away, I felt a light joy because in a very small way I was able to rejoice in suffering on account of the One who suffered for me. Jesus’ final beatitude tells us that while being reviled is a difficult part of the faithful life, it is also reason for great rejoicing.
There is a subtle shift in focus in this last beatitude. All the previous beatitudes were addressed to people with certain traits: blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, or the peacemakers. But this final beatitude shifts to the second person: “Blessed are you.” Jesus is now telling His followers that this is what is going to happen to us. We will be reviled. We will be persecuted. We will have all manner of evil falsehoods spoken against us. We will be verbally assaulted, physically accosted, and defamed on account of Christ. And when this happens, we are blessed.
Being reviled, persecuted, or falsely accused may not seem like avenues for blessing, but there are at least three reasons to rejoice when we are persecuted. First, we should rejoice because we are given the privilege of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18–19). If we are reviled on account of Christ, then rejoice because it is a sign that we are in Christ.
Second, rejoice because faithfully enduring persecution gives us reason to be counted among the heroes of the faith who have gone before us. Jesus reminds His disciples that they are not the first to endure persecution: “They persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:12). Not only do we share as those who are in Christ, but we are counted in some way with the whole company of saints who have endured persecution for the sake of Christ. When we are reviled for proclaiming the truth of God, we are counted among that noble group. Our perspective is changed when we look at the lives of those who endured faithfully. We can give up the “light momentary affliction” in exchange for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). We can rejoice because the reviling of man becomes the praise of Christ. Dishonor becomes glory. Reproach becomes blessing.
Third, we can rejoice because in being reviled, we are promised a great reward in heaven. The details of that reward are not fully revealed, but we can be assured that God knows how to give good gifts (Matt. 7:11). While we may experience some blessing of God’s grace in this life, we are ultimately told to look to heaven for our reward. And we are to trust that the rewards of God will far surpass the persecution we endure here.