The Beatitudes: Promises of blessing from Jesus
The Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount
Our Lord began his famous Sermon on the Mount with we now call the Beatitudes, some of the most beautiful words ever spoken. What are the Beatitudes? They are Jesus’ promises of blessing to God’s people. Let’s read in Matthew chapter 5:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Citizens of the kingdom of heaven
The Beatitudes are descriptions of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven, who accept God’s rule in their lives. “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” form two bookends at both the beginning and end of the Beatitudes. The kingdom of heaven then belongs to everyone described in this entire section.
Jesus was specifically addressing his disciples in the Beatitudes. Immediately after, Jesus tells them that they are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (verses 13-16). In other words, they are the people of God, who represent God and shine his light to the world. But Jesus didn’t speak the Beatitudes to just the 12 disciples, but to all of God’s people—those who love God and have a faith relationship with him.
Blessings by God
In addition, each Beatitude includes a promise of blessing to God’s people. Parents who bless their sons and daughters affirm their worth and identity as their children. A blessing by God is an affirmation of one’s value and identity as God’s child. It’s also God’s declaration of a great and special future prepared for them.
We find all of the blessings in the Beatitudes expressed in the Old Testament. Isaiah chapters 60 and 61 parallel the Beatitudes closely. Speaking of the people of God, Isaiah says:
Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed. (Isaiah 61:9)
Commandments or promises?
It’s a mistake to see the Beatitudes as commandments from God’s law. If they were, then they would be standards of behavior that God expects all people to conform to. The law that God gave through Moses brought both blessings and curses: blessings to those who obeyed, and curses to those who didn’t. And these are still valid today. Those who willingly disobey God’s laws generally live miserable lives, while those who follow his commands generally live happy, fruitful lives.
But the Beatitudes are promises to those who have already accepted God’s rule in their lives. Jesus gives them to those who have come to faith in God and have a living relationship with him. And as such, the promises bring only blessings. These blessings apply only to those who fit these descriptions: the people of God, the citizens of his kingdom. They don’t apply to the unrepentant and unbeliever. As explained later, Jesus addresses these people separately.
Expressions of God’s grace
The Beatitudes aren’t stated as an agreement, that if we keep these rules, then God will bless us. Instead, they’re expressions of God’s grace, given freely to those who trust him, who have faith in him. The apostle John wrote:
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
Having received God’s grace, his people then live it out. The Beatitudes describe how God displays his grace in the everyday lives of his people. They keep the heart of God’s law and not just the letter of the law. They demonstrate what God’s rule really looks like.
Let’s look at them one at a time.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The poor in spirit are those who see their spiritual poverty and brokenness before God. They have lost hope in everything else and found their hope in God. The poor in spirit come before God the Father in humility, praying for his mercy and forgiveness. Those who do so come into a love relationship with God and become his children. They become citizens of his kingdom and will live with him forever in heaven. The poor in spirit possess God’s kingdom now. But when the kingdom is fulfilled, they will reign with Christ in power.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
The word mourn speaks not just of sadness, but of repentance. Repentance involves lamenting and mourning over one’s own sins, the sins of others, and the effects of sin. It also means sharing in others’ grief and losses in life. Isaiah spoke of the time when the Messiah and his followers will heal the poor in spirit and comfort the brokenhearted:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
God’s people also experience sorrow and tragedy. But they have great hope. Now there’s good news for those who lament and mourn. There is freedom for the captives, release from darkness, comfort, beauty, joy, and praise. And in the age to come—when God’s kingdom is fulfilled—he will dry the tears of all who experienced pain and loss. God promises all these to those who love him.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth
Another word for meek is humble. The meek have a quiet trust in God and are not defensive or combative, but gentle. They use their strength and skills to serve others in humility.
“These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)
In the age to come—when God’s kingdom is fulfilled—those who before were powerful will be humbled, and the meek will be exalted. In Psalm 37 David contrasts the righteous with the wicked:
For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed; the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever. (Psalm 37:28-29)
The righteous will inherit the land because they are citizens of God’s kingdom. They are part of his plan to redeem the earth. Isaiah also spoke of God’s people who, although they mourn now, will rebuild and renew the land in God’s kingdom:
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations…. And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. (Isaiah 61:4,6)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled
Most people realize that the world in its present state is not what it should be. There are many things wrong with our present humanity. God created us for something better than difficulty, conflict, evil, sickness, despair, and finally death. Christians especially know the world is not the way God intended it to be and grieve when people disobey God. We long for the time when he fulfills his promises and makes the world right again. But we have the sure hope that God will someday make everything fit back into his plan. Isaiah spoke of the time when God’s righteousness will rule:
“Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: Instruction will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 51:4-5)
For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. (Isaiah 61:11)
When God’s kingdom comes in its fullness, God will satisfy the hunger of those who look for justice and righteousness. The innocent will never be mistreated again. The righteous will be vindicated, and the wicked will perish.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Many in this world seek vengeance for wrongs committed against them. But God’s people offer forgiveness. They are merciful because they’ve received God’s mercy themselves. They extend to others the love, kindness, patience, and forgiveness God has shown them.
Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55:7)
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Pure in heart means innocent, honest, and sincere, without malice, and truly wanting what pleases God. It means free of evil thoughts and desires and instead having thoughts that are pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy (Phil 4:8).
Pureness of heart is also seeking God in sincerity and rejecting false gods. David told of the privileges of those who keep themselves pure:
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. (Psalm 24:3-4)
In the age to come—when God’s kingdom is fulfilled—God’s people will see the Lord they loved and enjoy sweet communion with him.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
God’s children prefer peace over confrontation. They offer peace before conflict. And they bring the gospel of peace with gentleness and love, not harshness. Jesus’ words mirror those spoken by David:
Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace. (Psalm 37:37)
People of the world resolve conflict mostly by political power, forced conformity, or even brute force. Christ came first as God’s humble king. In God’s kingdom, conflict is resolved through love, wisdom, and patience, and in fact all the fruits of the Spirit. Many people in this world retaliate when hurt or wronged. But God’s people pursue forgiveness and peace. When God’s kingdom is fulfilled, his peace will reign, as written in Isaiah:
I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. (Isaiah 60:17-18)
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When God’s people do and say what is right and are willing to suffer for it, they are blessed. They share in the sufferings of Christ when they follow him in spite of ridicule and objections from others. In the age to come—when God’s kingdom is fulfilled—they will be rewarded. They will share in the glory God has prepared for those that love him.
Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours. (Isaiah 61:7)
God’s people living out the gospel
Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount reflects the truth that God’s people will display lives of humility and repentance before God and forgiveness before others. Good deeds and acts of kindness and compassion come, not out of a sense of obligation or a desire for reward or recognition, but naturally out of a love for God and others.
The Beatitudes put the gospel of grace into its proper context. Those who are saved by grace do not live ungodly lives. Instead, they display God’s character because they’ve been transformed. They are a people that God has blessed because they trust in the Lord—for both their earthly lives and their eternal salvation.
The kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world
The Beatitudes also contrast the success and power of earthly kingdoms with God’s kingdom. In earthly kingdoms, political, financial, and military power control. Those who attain to wealth and positions of power are respected and sometimes feared. Many earthly rulers lord their power over others and rule by force.
But in God’s kingdom, God’s authority rules. Christ and his way of life are the example. Love, mercy, and servanthood are rewarded and held in high esteem. God’s people who attain to earthly positions become servant leaders—they use their authority to serve others, not themselves. Jesus told his disciples:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them…… Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant… (Matthew 20:25-26)
God’s kingdom fulfilled
The Beatitudes demonstrate how God’s kingdom starts and ends. It starts as a spiritual kingdom, not seen by the world, but only to those who are looking for God’s rule. Its citizens reflect the character and glory of God, but don’t wield much earthly power at this time. They’re clearly at a disadvantage living amongst earthly kingdoms. Because of their meekness and poverty of spirit, they can’t compete with the overwhelming physical powers of this world. So, the world persecutes them for their faith. But their home is in heaven, and their reward and time of glory is in the future, not the present. Like the mustard seed, God’s kingdom starts small (Luke 13:19), but ends as something very large.
Jesus’ disciples possess God’s kingdom now. But the full blessings of the kingdom will be given when Christ comes again. At that time, God’s rule will come in its fullness—Christ will make his power known, right all wrongs, and punish evildoers. He will then reward his servants who had served him and suffered persecution for his name. Then God’s people will reign with Christ in his glorious kingdom.
Those who reject God’s rule
Luke chapter 6 has a shortened form of the Beatitudes. Immediately after, Luke includes these additional statements of Jesus:
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
Here Jesus characterizes the wicked, namely those who reject God’s rule over their lives and live selfishly and only for an earthly kingdom. For them, there are no blessings, but only curses. In the age to come, the rich and powerful who had no compassion on others will have nothing. Those who lived only for themselves and had no mercy on the helpless will not receive mercy from God. And those who were praised for their falsehoods, God will punish.
Those who have an authentic faith in Christ are his people. They are truly blessed and have a great and special future with God. But God has blessed us believers so we can be a blessing to others. So, we must live out the gospel and display the character of God in our daily lives, until God’s kingdom comes in its fulness. It’s then we’ll receive our full reward.
You may be a believer in Christ but feel convicted when reading the Beatitudes, that they don’t describe you very well. If so, then let God perform his sanctifying work in your life, so Christ’s words might find fulfillment in you.
To those who have no such faith, consider the words of Jesus the Savior in the Beatitudes. He spoke them to all who would follow after him. Consider his call and open your spiritual ears to hear his voice. Christ wants to bless you! If you come to him in repentance and faith, he will most certainly accept you into his eternal kingdom.
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