Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Rejoice, and be exceeding glad.—The second word implies a glorious and exulting joy. The same combination is found, possibly as an actual echo of its use here, in 1Peter 1:8; 1Peter 4:13; Revelation 19:7.
Your reward.—The teaching of Luke 17:10 shows that even here the reward is not “of debt, but of grace” (Romans 4:4). It may be added that the temper to which the “reward” is promised practically excludes the possibility of such claim as of right. The reward is for those only who suffer “for righteousness, for Christ,” not for those who are calculating on a future compensation.
In heaven.—Literally, in the heavens, as in the phrase, the “kingdom of heaven.” the plural being used possibly with reference to the Jewish belief in three (2Corinthians 12:2) or seven heavens, more probably as implying, in its grand vagueness (like the “many mansions” of John 14:2), the absence of any space limits to the promised reward. As with the “kingdom of heaven,” so here, the word is not to be thrown forward into the far-off future, but points to the unseen eternal world which is even now present to us, and of which all true disciples of Christ are citizens (Philippians 3:20).
So persecuted they the prophets.—Zechariah the son of Jehoiada (2Chronicles 24:21), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 11:21; Jeremiah 20:2), and the sufferers in the reign of Ahab (1Kings 18:4), are the great historical instances. Isaiah may be added from tradition. But the words were, we can hardly doubt, true of the prophetic order as a whole. The witnesses for unwelcome truths have never had, anywhere or at any time, a light or easy task. In the words “the prophets which were before you” there is a tacit assumption that the disciples also to whom He spake were called to a prophetic work. There was to be, in part at least, a fulfilment of the old grand wish, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets!” (Numbers 11:29). The Church of Christ, endowed with the Pentecostal gift, was to be as a prophet to the nations.
For great is your reward in heaven - That is, your reward will be great in the future world. To those who suffer most, God imparts the highest rewards. Hence, the crown of martyrdom has been thought to be the brightest that any of the redeemed shall wear; and hence many of the early Christians sought to become martyrs, and threw themselves in the way of their persecutors, that they might be put to death. They literally rejoiced, and leaped for joy, at the prospect of death for the sake of Jesus. Though God does not require us to seek persecution, yet all this shows that there is something in religion to sustain the soul which the world does not possess. Nothing but the consciousness of innocence, and the presence of God, could bear up the sufferers in the midst of these trials; and the flame, therefore, kindled to consume the martyr, has also been a bright light, showing the truth and power of the gospel of Jesus.
The prophets ... - The holy men who came to predict future events, and who were the religious teachers of the Jews. For an account of their persecution, see Hebrews 11.
for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you:—that is, "You do but serve yourselves heirs to their character and sufferings, and the reward will be common."Jam 1:2. Let it be music in your ears to hear that the drunkards make you their song. Rejoice in your hearts, express it in your lips and behaviour,
for great is your reward, not of debt, but of grace; for our light and momentary afflictions are not worthy to be compared with an eternal and exceeding weight of glory; where there is no proportion, there can be no merit: especially, when it is given to us on the behalf of Christ to suffer, Philippians 1:29. Peter upon this argument saith, The spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you, 1 Peter 4:14. Our Saviour adds,
for so persecuted they the prophets before you. The magistrates, and the rulers of the Jews, persecuted Elijah, Micaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and the rest of the prophets, whom you succeed, not in time only, but in the same office of revealing the mind of God to the people.
for great is your reward in heaven; not of debt, but of grace; for there is no proportion or comparison between what the saints suffer for Christ, and the glory that shall be revealed in them by him; not in earth, but in heaven. Saints must not expect their reward here, but hereafter, when God himself will be their reward; he will be all in all; Christ and all his glory, glory and all the riches of it will be the reward of the inheritance, and which must needs be a "great" one. And the more to animate them to suffer with joyfulness, and to support them under all their reproaches and persecutions, it is added;
for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you; as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and others; which shows, that what should befall them was no new and strange thing, but what had been the lot of the most eminent servants of God in former ages.Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 5:12. Ὁ μισθός] comp. κατεργάζεται, 2 Corinthians 4:17, and remarks thereon. The article denotes: the reward which is destined, kept in readiness for you (Matthew 25:34; Colossians 1:5), and that for the indignities, persecutions, and lies borne through faith in me.
ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς] is great in heaven. A reference to the book of life (Fritzsche, Gratz), Php 4:3, Revelation 3:5; Revelation 20:15; Revelation 21:27, Daniel 12:1, is not yielded by the text, which only presents the idea that the reward is laid, up in heaven until the future communication of it, which begins with the establishment of the kingdom, and therefore not ἔσται, but ἐστί, is to be supplied; and this is to be taken not as irrespective of time (de Wette), but as present.
γάρ] assigns the reason from the recognised certainty (Matthew 10:41) that to the prophets, who formerly were persecuted in like manner (Matthew 23:29 ff.), great reward is reserved in heaven for future communication in the kingdom of the Messiah.
The prophets (comp. Matthew 7:12) are a typical example for the disciples. On the conception of μισθός, which κατὰ χάριν λογίζεται (Romans 4:4), comp. Matthew 20:1 ff.; Luke 17:10; see generally Weiss in d. Deutsch. Zeitschr. 1853, p. 40 ff.; Bibl. Theol. p. 104 ff.Matthew 5:12. χαίρετε καὶ ἀγ. In spite of all, joy, exultation is possible—nay, inevitable. I not only exhort you to it, but I tell you, you cannot help being in this mood, if once you throw yourselves enthusiastically into the warfare of God. Ἀγαλλιάω is a strong word of Hellenistic coinage, from ἄγαν and ἅλλομαι, to leap much, signifying irrepressible demonstrative gladness. This joy is inseparable from the heroic temper. It is the joy of the Alpine climber standing on the top of a snowclad mountain. But the Teacher gives two reasons to help inexperienced disciples to rise to that moral elevation.—ὅτι ὁ μισθὸς … οὐρανοῖς. For evil treatment on earth there is a compensating reward in heaven. This hope, weak now, was strong in primitive Christianity, and greatly helped martyrs and confessors.—οὔτως γὰρ γὰρ ἐ. τοὺς προφήτας. If we take the γὰρ as giving a reason for the previous statement the sense will be: you cannot doubt that the prophets who suffered likewise have received an eternal reward (so Bengel, Fritzsche, Schanz, Meyer, Weiss). But we may take it as giving a co-ordinate reason for joy = ye are in good company. There is inspiration in the “goodly fellowship of the prophets,” quite as much as in thought of their posthumous reward. It is to be noted that the prophets themselves did not get much comfort from such thoughts, and more generally that they did not rise to the joyous mood commended to His disciples by Jesus; but were desponding and querulous. On that side, therefore, there was no inspiration to be got from thinking of them. But they were thoroughly loyal to righteousness at all hazards, and reflection on their noble career was fitted to infect disciples with their spirit.—τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν: words skilfully chosen to raise the spirit. Before you not only in time but in vocation and destiny. Your predecessors in function and suffering; take up the prophetic succession and along with it, cheerfully, its tribulations.12. so persecuted they the prophets …] Persecution is a test and token of true discipleship, that which naturally brings distress and despair to men will bring delight in the kingdom of God. The passion and death of Christ gave a fresh force to these words, see 1 Peter 4:13-14.Matthew 5:12. Χαίρετε, rejoice) Joy is not only a feeling, but also a duty of the Christian (see Php 4:4); and in adversity, the highest grade and very nerve of patience.—ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, be exceeding glad) so that others also may perceive your joy.—ὅτι, κ.τ.λ, because, etc.) You may therefore rejoice on account of your reward.—ὁ μισθὸς, the reward) sc. of grace. The word Reward implies something further beyond the beatitudes, which spring from the very disposition of the righteous. Therefore it is said, Rejoice.—τοὺς προφήτας, the prophets) who, by bearing witness to Christ, have encountered hatred (see Acts 7:52), whose reward you know to be great. Persecution has not occurred only in the case of barbarous nations whilst they were being converted to the Gospel, but always in the times of both the Old and New Testament: see 1 John 3:12-13.Verse 12. - Rejoice, and be exceeding glad (χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε). Our Lord uses no weaker expressions than those which describe the joy of the saints over the marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7). The first word expresses joy as such, the second its effect in stirring the emotions; this thought St. Luke carries still further in σκιρτήσατε. (For joy felt under persecution, cf. Acts 5:41.) For great. The order of the Greek, ὅτι ὀ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολύς, does not bear out the emphatic position assigned to "great" in the English Versions from Tyndale downwards (except Rheims), including Revised Version. Is your reward. The doctrine of recompense, which has so large a place in Jewish thought (for a not often-sire example, cf. 'Ab.,' 2:19, Taylor) comes also in Christ's teaching. In Matthew 20:1-16 reward is expressly divested of its merely legal side, and exhibited as ultimately dependent on the will of the great Householder. But here it is mentioned without reference to the difficulties involved in the conception. These difficulties centre round the thought of obligation from God to man. But it may be doubted whether these difficulties are not caused by too exclusively regarding the metaphor of contracting, instead of considering the fact indicated by the metaphor. In God's kingdom every action has a corresponding effect, and this effect is the more certain in proportion as the action is in the sphere of morality. The idea of "quantity" hardly enters into the relation of such cause and effect. It is a question of moral correspondence. But such effect may not unfitly be called by the metaphors "hire," "reward," because, on the one hand, it is the result of conditions of moral service, and, on the other, such terms imply a Personal Will at the back of the effect, as well as a will on the part of the human "servant." (For the subject in other connexions, cf. Weiss, 'Bibl. Theol.,' § 32; cf. also ver. 46; Matthew 6:1, 2, 4, 5, 6.) In heaven. Our Lord says, "your reward is great," because the effect of your exercise of moral powers will be received in a sphere where the accidents of the surroundings will entirely correspond to moral influences. The effect of your present faithfulness, etc., will be seen in the reception Of powers of work and usefulness and enjoyment, beside which those possessed on earth will appear small. On earth the opportunities, etc., are but "few things;" hereafter they will be "many things" (Matthew 25:21). For. Not as giving a reason for the assurance of reward (apparently Meyer and Weiss), but for the command, "rejoice," and be exceeding glad, and perhaps also for the predicate "blessed." Rejoice if persecuted, for such persecutions prove you to be the true successors of the prophets, your predecessors in like faithfulness (cf. James 5:10). So. By reproach, e.g. Elijah (1 Kings 18:17), Amos (Amos 7:12, 13); by persecution, e.g. Hanani (2 Chronicles 16:10), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:15); by saying all manner of evil, e.g. Amos (Amos 7:10), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:13), Daniel (Daniel 6:13). Which were before you. Added, surely, not as a mere temporal fact, but to indicate spiritual relationship (vide supra).
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