CONTEXT: Large crowds have been following Jesus all day and He leads them to a hillside to teach. Here is the beginning of the what we call the Sermon on the Mount.
Our text above is part of the Sermon that has become know as the Beatitudes. It really begin in v.10 with Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… and carries through to v.12.
There are two major themes found here in these verses:
The first is that Christian suffering can and should be expected. Note that Jesus describes three types of suffering: Reviling, Persecution, and Ill Speaking or False Accusations. No one should minimize any of these types of suffering, yet we must be clear there is a grave difference between Reveling, False accusations and Strict Persecution (that likely ends in death or dismemberment).
The second theme that Jesus puts forth is that of Christian Rejoicing. You may ask how can it be that one can rejoice in suffering, after all it hurts! Jesus gives us two reasons, first many [prophets] have suffered before us, so we are not alone. Second, Jesus says: for your reward in heaven is great [absolutely inexhaustible]; reminding us we live not for worldly things but heavenly.
O Lord, Thou hast brought me within two hours of eternity, and this is no matter of terror to me, more than if I were to lie down in a bed of roses; nay, through grace to Thy praise, I may say I never had the fear of death since I came to this prison; but from the place where I was taken, I could have gone very composedly to the scaffold. O! how can I contain this, to be within two hours of the crown of glory! –James Renwick, Scottish Covenanter and martyr for the Lord Jesus Christ, on the day of his martyrdom, from Biographia Scoticana or Scot’s Worthies on the Puritan Hard Drive
It is that desire for heaven, that Love for Christ that allows the true believer to rejoice in suffering. Again Quoting Renwick: