LET THE MISTREATED REJOICE
Deuteronomy 30:1-7 NET
1 “When you have experienced all these things, both the blessings and the curses I have set before you, you will reflect upon them in all the nations where the LORD your God has banished you. 2 Then if you and your descendants turn to the LORD your God and obey him with your whole mind and being just as I am commanding you today, 3 the LORD your God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you. 4 Even if your exiles are in the most distant land, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 Then he will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you also will possess it; he will do better for you and multiply you more than he did your ancestors. 6 The LORD your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being and so that you may live. 7 Then the LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies, on those who hate you and persecute you.
In this passage, Moses predicted unconditionally that the nation of Israel would rebel against the covenant and experience all its curses (1).
Payne describes what happened: “The path of disobedience could bring curses down on the nation, while loyalty and obedience would mean blessing in the years ahead. Of course, real history is not so black and white as this challenging picture might suggest, and verse 1 realistically envisages both “the blessing and the curse” as Israel’s experience- to-be as the generations come and go. As a whole, however, this section is discussing just one option: supposing the worst happens, and Israel is so disobedient that many of the disasters foreseen in chapter 28 actually happen—what then? Must that be the end of the story? Is cursing God’s last word? The historical books that follow Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, from Joshua to 2 Kings, in themselves paint just such a picture, for the story ends with Jerusalem in ruins, the Temple destroyed, the monarchy swept away, hundreds and thousands of casualties, and the cream of the survivors exiled to far-away Babylon” (164).
But Moses promises conditionally that the Israelites could return to the land and experience his blessings (2-5).
As Clements puts it: “All forms of blessing and curse have been set squarely under the umbrella of the known law of God, and all life’s experiences are to be understood in the light of this law” (45). The Israelites got into the mess they were in by idolatry and disobedience. They could return if they repented and submitted themselves to God’s rule.
Moses indicates that the return would be accompanied by a spiritual renewal (6)
He said that the LORD their God would cleanse their heart and the hearts of their descendants so that they may love him with all their minds and being and so that they may live. There was always hope of a return — even from the disaster of the exile.
The audience that Jesus spoke to when he preached his sermon on the mount knew that the nation as a whole needed this spiritual renewal.
Moses also indicates that the return would result in the curses being put on the nations that hated and persecuted them (7).
The audience that Jesus spoke to understood what it meant to be persecuted and mistreated. They longed for national restoration and wanted God to judge their captors.
Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 30 serve as a backdrop to the sermon on the mount.
Matthew 5:10-12 NET
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.
Jesus in his sermon is publically declaring himself the king, and offering the whole nation an opportunity to repent (10).
Hare says that the sermon on the mount “not only tells Christians how to live but emphasizes the importance of Jesus. He is not simply “one of the prophets” … but is the Messiah. He sits like a king on his throne, his disciples approach him like subjects in a royal court, and the king delivers his inaugural address, in which he lays out in considerable detail what life in his kingdom will be like” (34-35).
Jesus declares that his followers would be mistreated for seeking righteousness (10).
He looks to these twelve men who are serving as visual aids to the gospel message that he has preached. He tells them that they are going to be mistreated, but that does not mean that they are cursed. He is turning that curse around and making it a blessing.
Turner says that the “radical spirituality of the Beatitudes directly confronts several cultural views of God’s approval. One of these is that popularity with one’s peers indicates divine approval, but this is plainly contradicted by the statement that those who are persecuted by their peers have God’s approval” (147).
Jesus predicted that the mistreatment would include insults, persecutions, and false accusations (11).
Lawson asks what it is that Christians do that seems to invite trouble. One of his answers is that “Christians invite persecution by their advocacy of strange values. They are not only opposed to current trends but are strong for opposing ones” (64).
Throughout history, Christians have been behind the moral revolutions that sought a change in the status quo. We have not always had the backing of our respective governments. Sometimes it has been our governments who doled out the insults, persecutions, and false accusations. Even the organized church has often taken its place as the antagonist against Christians seeking change. But we keep on sticking out like a sore thumb in a world of sameness.
Garland says the “switch from the third to the second person directly addresses a Christian community that has been the target of harassment, public scorn, and libel” (58-59). But in fact, that is not the case. Jesus’ direct address is to the apostles, but he knows that they and their followers will experience these things. He is looking into the future — the whole future, from his ascension to his return. He knows what kind of lives his followers will live. He sees more about that than they do.
Jesus would bring up this fact of their being persecuted in his sermon about his second coming:
“Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name. Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold. But the person who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:9-14 NET).
Jesus commanded them to rejoice because their reward is great in heaven (12).
He said that they should rejoice and be glad because their reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before them in the same way. Remember, he is not saying that heaven is their reward. He said it is in heaven, and it is going to come down to earth for them. The reason they can rejoice is that they know the end of the story.
We can rejoice for the same reason. We know that the persecutors will not succeed. We can listen to the insults and patiently endure them because they are just words. And even if the persecutors do more than just talk, we can still endure it because our eternal destiny is sure. Our king is coming back, and he is going to set things right.
Jesus gave the prophets as an example of those who endured persecution but stayed faithful. They will live again, and all those who criticized their words, ridiculed their ministries, and falsely accused them will face God’s wrath. All believers can rejoice because we will be vindicated just like those prophets will.
N. T. Wright calls these beatitudes “a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future” (38). The solution to being mistreated today is the absolute assurance that it will not continue forever. God’s rule will return. The king will return and destroy all his enemies — even death itself.
So, our Lord’s command to REJOICE (as we have seen) is his one size fits all instruction for all of the believers characterized by the beatitudes. He calls on all his subjects to rejoice, not because everything will be wonderful now, but because everything will be made wonderful when he returns.
Clements, R E. Deuteronomy. England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel. New York: Crossroad, 1993.
Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew: Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993.
Lawson, E L. R. Matthew. Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Pub, 1986.
Payne, David F. Deuteronomy: The Daily Study Bible Series. , 1985
Turner, David L. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.
Wright, N T. Matthew for Everyone: Chapters 1-15. London: SPCK, 2004.