The eight statements at the beginning of the sermon are called “beatitudes.” This is an apt designation, for the word comes from the Latin, meaning “blessedness.” The kingdom is primarily characterized by blessedness (i.e., profound joy and self-fulfillment).
Each beatitude contains a statement of blessedness, followed by the reason for this blessedness in terms of the action of God. In other words, Christians experience joy and self-fulfillment as they contemplate what God is now doing and what he will do when he fully establishes his kingdom at the second coming of Christ.
The poor in spirit (5:3) are those who recognize their moral and spiritual poverty before the holy God and hence cast themselves entirely upon his mercy and grace. Such persons are blessed because they experience the rule of God in their own lives now (cf. 4:17; 12:28) and are assured of participating in the future kingdom God will establish at the end of history (cf. 25:31-46).
Those who mourn (5:4) realize the awfulness of their past sins and are deeply sorry for them. They know there is no relief from their grief outside of God. Consequently, they place their hope in God. He forgives their sins, erases their guilt, and assures them of vindication at the Final Judgment (cf. 3:11-12; 26:28).
Jesus continues the theme of dependence on God in the next beatitude, which has to do with the meek (5:5; cf. Ps 37:11). Meekness involves the rejection of all forms of worldly power, such as violence, manipulation, or cunning, to achieve one's ends. It may seem that those who employ such devices have their way on the earth. But the person who views life from God's perspective knows that in the end the heavenly Father will give the earth to those who submit humbly to his methods and rule.
The fourth beatitude describes those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, i.e., those who experience a craving for the total elimination of evil and oppression from the earth. These persons promote justice and the liberation of all the exploited. Wesley reflected the spirit of this beatitude when he declared, “There is no holiness without social holiness.” Such persons are blessed because they know that God has committed himself to the ultimate reign of righteousness on the earth.
Jesus declares that the merciful are also blessed (5:7). The gospel of Matthew indicates elsewhere that only those who forgive wrongdoers freely will experience forgiveness and mercy from God at the Last Judgment (6:14; 18:21-35).
The pure in heart are those who are completely undivided in their loyalty toward God and his will (5:8; cf. Ps 24:4). No alloy will prevent them from seeing God, i.e., enjoying intimate fellowship with him, when they come into his presence on the Last Day (cf. 6:22-23).
The reference to the peacemakers involves more than simply avoiding conflict or even attempting to reconcile warring parties (5:9). It stems from the OT understanding of peace (shalom) as comprehensive wholeness and well-being. Those who pursue this kind of peace do all they can to promote the welfare of others (cf. 5:38-48). Since God actively desires wholeness for all persons, he gladly will claim as his own sons those who share in this enterprise.
Jesus recognizes that one who lives according to the principles set forth in 5:3-9 will encounter opposition from those outside the kingdom. He therefore closes the beatitudes with an assurance of blessing for those who are persecuted because of righteousness (vv. 10-12). Such persons should consider themselves fortunate, since (1) hostility from the enemies of God demonstrates to disciples that they are on God's side and will receive reward from God on the Last Day; and (2) disciples who are persecuted share in the grand fellowship of the prophets, who experienced God's peace through persecution and finally were vindicated by God.
Starting your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus is easy. You’re already logged in with your Bible Gateway account. The next step is to choose a monthly or yearly subscription, and then enter your payment information. Your credit card won’t be charged until the trial period is over. You can cancel anytime during the trial period.
Click the button below to continue.
You’ve already claimed your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus. To subscribe at our regular subscription rate, click the button below.
It looks like you’re already subscribed to Bible Gateway Plus! To manage your subscription, visit your Bible Gateway account settings.
Upgrade, and get the most out of your new account. An integrated digital Bible study library - including complete notes from the NIV Study Bible and the NKJV MacArthur Study Bible - is just a step away! Try it free for 30 days.
Three easy steps to start your free trial subscription to Bible Gateway Plus.