His statement was in response to Peter’s question. Peter asked Jesus what would people who left all that they had get. Peter and other disciples of Jesus had left their jobs, belongings, families and even their community to follow Jesus. Jesus assured him that they will get everything back hundred-fold.
Peter’s question was in the context of the rich man who was not willing to leave what he had to gain eternal life (Mark 10:17-22). This young rich man was a gainer while Peter and his friends were losers at that moment. The rich young man retained what he had.
The word ‘left’ is important here. It is not merely losing what one have, though that also might have happened. Some followers of Christ had their property confiscated (Heb 10:34). In some places this word is used for giving up something voluntarily just as Jesus ‘yielded up’ his spirit on the cross (Matt 27:50). Many early disciples and some contemporary Christians had to let their belongings go for the sake of Christ. In some contexts it could mean ‘neglecting’ something, like the Pharisees neglected the commandment of God (Mark 7:8). Peter had to neglect his boat and nets because his eyes were solely on Jesus. In summary, ‘Leaving’ is to consider our earthly relationships and possessions of low priority for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel.
What did Jesus really mean? Did this really happen or was it a vain promise? Did Peter get 100 houses, mothers, brothers and sisters before he was martyred? One thing is sure, he or the other followers did not receive 100 houses like the one they left nor the siblings like the ones they had before following Jesus. In passing I also want to note that they are not promised fathers hundred fold.
By leaving one father, one mother and a few siblings (three or four) Peter received a greater father. It was God himself who is better than 100 earthly fathers, who he could call ‘heavenly father’ every time he prayed.
The word ‘receive’ also do not mean ‘owning’ or ‘possession.’ It is having or enjoying something even without owning. It is experiencing something without really owning it or having a claim on it. Such things are not owned by anyone but all of them had access to it. That is the nature of Christian blessings.
The early church was a community. There were younger followers of Jesus as well as older ones. They called each other brothers and sisters (Acts 1:16). The younger ones might have considered the older ones their mothers and fathers because they might have left their own parents (1 Tim 5:2). Back at home, before following Jesus they had only one pair of parents, but now there are hundreds. In return, the older ones considered the younger ones their sons and daughters.
In Jerusalem they were altogether. They shared their possessions in such a manner that there was none who was in need. The rich sold their possessions and shared it with the poor. It was a new family of God.
This new family of God had no geographical boundaries. People in Corinth were willing to share their wealth with their siblings in Jerusalem who were miles away. The siblings in the province of Macedonia shared their resources with other siblings like Paul and companions when they were in need. So, Jesus' promise was fulfilled in their own life. It was a larger family, greater bonding and superior caring.
But Jesus had also promised along with all these ‘persecutions’ as a reward for forsaking what they had to follow him. Though we may consider persecutions undesirable, the early Christians did not consider it so. They took pride in persecutions. Typical response to persecution in seen in what Paul wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:10). He wrote, ‘For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’
With persecutions promised, their reward is complete. They gained much more than they lost. Losers are gainers in God’s economy.