“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because in the same way they persecuted the Prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)
Who would 'insult' Jesus' followers?In this statement, Jesus is discussing with his disciples and students the challenges of their commitment to following his teachings, and the sacrifices that may arise from that commitment.
Should we put God in the center of our lives, we find others will become envious. Why? Because they are alone and afraid. They do not have the comfort of knowing that they have a Best Friend and Companion in God.
A person who is sincerely seeking to achieve love for God and loving service to God will rejoice when they see another person trying to grow spiritually and helping others grow spiritually. But a person who is not sincere will attempt to reduce those who are.
Why are so many people like this in this world? Because most of us are primarily self-centered rather than God-centered. In this physical world, self-centeredness tends to prevail. And self-centeredness naturally leads to enviousness and self-righteousness.
All of these faults in others are to be forgiven, just as we want to be forgiven for our many faults. Most of us can relate to this. How many of us have not criticized another person? For those who criticize us, we should be merciful. We should be understanding. After all, Jesus came to help us grow out of our self-centeredness.
This is precisely why Jesus and many of the Prophets before Jesus have been persecuted for their acts of mercy in trying to save us from our self-centeredness.
Jesus is reminding his students that they are in good company as they receive the insults and persecution of others, "in the same way they persecuted the Prophets who were before you."
Why does Jesus say 'Prophets who were before you'?Is Jesus comparing his followers to the Prophets?
Certainly he is. Why else would he compare their situation to that of the Prophets?
While some teachers might dismiss the word prophet as a title primarily belonging to people like Moses and Abraham, in reality, Jesus is using the word “prophet” - from the Greek word προφήτης (prophētēs) meaning one who teaches "by the Spirit of God" - to describe one who teaches on behalf of God. He is referring to God's representative.
And Jesus was expecting his students to teach on behalf of God by passing on his teachings:
"Therefore go and make disciples..." (Matt. 28:19)And he told 72 of his students to go out to every town and:
"Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’" (Luke 10:9)Jesus also accepted that his own teacher, John the Baptist, was not just any prophet:
"But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet." (Luke 7:26)While many believe being a “prophet” means to “prophesize” about some future event, we know that the kind of “prophet” Jesus references are those who have been empowered by the Supreme Being to speak on God's behalf - to introduce people to God. To teach people to love and serve God.
Is this about prophecy?Some interpret being a prophet as having the ability to predict the future. But is predicting the future really an essential part of Jesus' teachings? Jesus himself taught:
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" (Matthew 7:22-23)Thus, Jesus taught that even though "many" will predict the future in Jesus' name, they won't necessarily be welcomed by Jesus. Jesus' criteria is quite simple:
“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)Certainly, some great teachers can have the ability to predict certain future events. But often this is about understanding the realities of this world.
But our individual future is quite easy to predict. Each of us is wearing a physical body and that body is destined to die. At that time each of us will leave our physical body.
Yes, this is the future that many a prophet has predicted, yet most of us have misunderstood. The fact that the end of the world is coming for each of us - each of our physical bodies will die within a short period. It may be in 40 years. It may be in 20 years. It may be in a year. Or it may be tomorrow.
We don't know the exact date our body will die -and the world will end for us - but we surely know it will be relatively soon. The question is whether we have adequately prepared for that day, as the Prophets have taught us to do.
While we can certainly accept Moses, David, Abraham, Solomon, and others as Prophets, we must also accept that there have been many others who have represented God and His Teachings through the ages who have not been mentioned in the Bible. The lineages of these Prophets all originate ultimately from God Himself, yet we can know and understand a true lineage of Prophets by seeing that each taught a consistent message of love for God.
The fact that many of the Prophets were persecuted for their dedication to their teachings is being confirmed by Jesus. Not only did Jesus and Peter and other students get persecuted for their dedication to the Supreme Being, but Jesus' own teacher John the Baptist was persecuted for his loving service and commitment to God.
And we know that Jesus also passed on the core teachings taught by Moses through John as Jesus quoted Moses' message word-for-word in his most important teaching:
"‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38 and Deut. 6:5)