Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [Matthew 5:10-12 ESV]
God declares a standard of righteousness in the ten commandments or statements found in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Like all “rules of conduct” posted in may public establishments the need for the rules is predicated upon the behavior of the public. Most of the public will keep the rules as a normal part of their behavior. But there are some who do not care for the rules and enter with the intent of breaking them, sometimes just to see if they can get away with violating “someone else’s rules.”
God’s moral standard is inherent in the image of God found in all people. While the vessel is corrupt because the person is bent by sin, the image of God in them is not. People know when they are wrong because of the war between their bent away from God and the image in them pulling them toward Him. Man is created for relationship and obedience but compelled to rebel because of the corrupted nature of sin. What agony we endure.
Where there is a need to post “rules of conduct” there is obvious rebellion and even criminal motivations. Rules are posted to give the authorities the right to impose necessary restrictions, and even sentence, to maintain an orderly environment. Even though God embedded His image in people He stated His “rules” so there would be absolutely no excuse for sinful motivations and actions.
Persecution happens not because of the person but for what the person represents. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven represent the King, the standard of the King, the rule and reign and authority of the King. Those who live in rebellion toward the King cannot abide the presence of any who, by their lives, reveal the evidence of rebellion.
Sin affects everyone. Some may outwardly keep the moral standards of God but their motivations show otherwise. When Adam fell from grace, all fell from grace and are separated from God. After the fall the thinking, feeling and motivation of all people was only evil, all of the time. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” [Genesis 6:5 ESV]. God wants a relationship with man but man wants nothing to do with God. God built us for relationship yet all refuse to know Him who created them.
God never asks anyone to do something. He tells, with every right and expectation of obedience. Remember, obedience carries no merit. It only takes one act of rebellion, one sin, to separate anyone from Him. Those who refuse the prompting of the Spirit, which is an expected command from God, continue in their rebellion and separation from Him.
One sin, the first sin of Adam, separated all from God. Jesus died for all sin. Now, one sin, a specific sin committed by the individual, separates each from God. He told Adam to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam did what he was told not to do. Now, He tells all to eat from the tree of life, which is Jesus. Many refuse.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” [John 6:53-56 ESV]
Those who have rejected and disobeyed His command are separated from Him and hate Him with a passion ranging from ambivalence to zeal. God’s statements measure, not man’s love for God but man’s hatred for Him who created them. Since they cannot touch God they turn their hatred on those who are His, whom they can touch.
Jesus tells us those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed. Jesus is speaking about living according to the moral character of God embodied in the ten statements and the words of Christ. Persecution comes because of God and the relationship the Christian has with God.