The beatitudes – What are they?

The beatitudes refer to the eight (depending on how you count them) "blessed are" statements in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. They are recorded in Matthew 5:2–12. The Sermon on the Mount is spoken to Jesus' disciples and to the crowds. In many ways, it can be seen as a juxtaposition of Moses' giving of the Law from Mt. Sinai. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discusses the Old Testament Law and brings in a new law. Rather than be about the letter of the law, Jesus here highlights the spirit of what God desires from His people. In giving the beatitudes, specifically, Jesus describes a character trait or action that, in human terms, is often not associated with blessedness. He then describes the reward or inheritance of such people. He highlights what it really means to be part of the kingdom of heaven, to follow God's ways. It isn't about religiosity or legalism, but about the heart. Let's study a bit further.

First, what does it mean to be "blessed"? The term means "supremely happy" or "consecrated." Who does Jesus say is blessed?

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Those who recognize their own spiritual poverty, their complete lack of spiritual resources apart from God, are made complete and holy. They see their utter need for God, the impossibility of salvation apart from Him. As a result, God can truly reign in their lives.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). Mourning here is believed to refer to godly mourning over our sinfulness and our lost state apart from God. James 4:7–10 says, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." Mourning is part of repentance. And repentance leads us to leave sinfulness and experience the fullness of life in Christ. Sin leads only to death, but in Christ we have true life (Romans 6:23; John 10:10). We know that God is faithful to forgive sin (Romans 5:6–11; 2 Corinthians 5:16–21; Ephesians 2:1–10; 1 John 1:8–9). Thus we can mourn over our sin and receive His forgiveness and comfort.

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). To be "meek" has been described as having power yet restraining it. A person who is meek is not weak; rather, they have a gentle and humble spirit. It is not by chasing after worldly illusions of grandeur or power that one will inherit the earth, but by having a gentle spirit that recognizes Jesus as Lord. The meek have an accurate estimation of themselves before God and choose to submit to Him, setting aside their own will for His purposes. It is these people, who are seeking after God, who will ultimately inherit the earth.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). It stands to reason that those who recognize their spiritual poverty, mourn their sin, and submit to God will desire righteousness. They want to be right and justifiable before God. Like Paul in Romans 7—8, they have a desire to be holy. Jesus says these people will be satisfied. He has justified us by the cross and is in the process of sanctifying us so that we are made more and more like Him (Colossians 3; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 5:1–21).

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matthew 5:7). When we recognize our need for God, our position before Him, and His great gift in being merciful toward us, we will be merciful toward others. To be merciful is to show compassion toward those who have offended you. We are merciful because we have already received mercy. And, in human terms, often those who are merciful towards others will receive human mercy in exchange.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). To be pure in heart means to be without guilt, stainless, clean. Obviously no one on earth is without sin; we will only be sinless once we are glorified in heaven. However, in Christ we are counted righteous and He is refining us. A person who is pure in heart is counted as clean before God and seeking after the things of God. We know that "no one has ever seen God" (1 John 4:12), but we do see glimpses of God. He has revealed Himself to us and He reveals Himself through us. And one day we will be with Him in heaven.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9). Peacemakers seek reconciliation between humans. God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gives us not only the mission to tell others about this reconciliation, but to attempt to live at peace with all (2 Corinthians 5:18–21; Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14). It is important to recognize that being a peacemaker is different from being a peacekeeper. We are not called to settle for the status quo, but to actively bring about peace and reconciliation. Doing so is one way in which people will recognize that we belong to the family of God.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10). Part of being a peacemaker is sharing the message of peace that can be made between man and God. When we share the gospel with others, we may be persecuted. Also, those who seek to live righteously and honor the ways of God in a fallen world are often met with persecution. Jesus said in John 15:18–19, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." The kingdom of God is God's rule and reign in our world and ultimately complete in heaven. We can know that when we are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, ultimately "our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Philippians 3:20–21).

"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 11–12). Some include Matthew 5:10–11 as one beatitude, others exclude this from the list, and others include it as a separate beatitude. It seems to be essentially an emphasis of the beatitude above. This statement also serves as a transition into Jesus' next point about being the salt and light of the earth. Followers of Jesus are meant to make a difference in this world. Doing so may be met with opposition, but that has always been the case for followers of God. We can rejoice, knowing that God is for us and our reward is in Him, not in worldly acceptance.

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