The Gemara says that difficulties come to the world because of evil people, yet the first people to be punished are the righteous. This needs explanation.
My first thought is that the evil people of the world are so lost that they are not even aware of the fact that they are doing evil. They have justified their ways for such a long time that they view themselves to be perfect. The righteous know the truth, and therefore when Hashem sends His warnings of impending difficulties, it is for those that know there is a message to take heed. When the great ones do not notice as well, their sin is much more severe, because they are the ones privy to the truth. Thus they are punished first.