The Beatitudes (Parts 1-4)
Matthew 5 (NKJV) 5 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
To be poor in spirit is to recognize your utter spiritual bankruptcy before God. It is understanding that you have absolutely nothing of worth to offer God. Being poor in spirit is admitting that, because of your sin, you are completely destitute spiritually and can do nothing to deliver yourself from your dire situation.
Jesus is saying that, no matter your status in life, you must recognize your spiritual poverty before you can come to God in faith to receive the salvation He offers.
Why and how does being poor in spirit result in the kingdom of heaven? While the phrase can be broad in meaning, “kingdom of heaven” essentially refers to salvation. The kingdom of heaven is both eternity in heaven with God after death (Romans 6:23) and the eternal quality of life with God before death (John 10:10). God offers us salvation as a gift, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, the full payment for sin’s penalty. Before we can receive this gift, we must understand that we cannot make ourselves worthy of it. Salvation is by grace through faith, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9). We must recognize our sinfulness before we can understand our need for a Savior. We must admit our spiritual poverty before we can receive the spiritual riches God offers (Ephesians 1:3). We must, in short, be “poor in spirit.”
4 Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
Mourn means “to experience deep grief.” In keeping with His theme of spiritual blessedness, Jesus seems to indicate that this mourning is due to grief over sin.
The people who agree with God about the evil of their own hearts can attain an "enviable state of blessedness," due to the comfort they receive from communion with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Comforter (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 2 Corinthians 1:4). The Spirit comforts those who are honest about their own sin and humble enough to ask for forgiveness and healing.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus reminds His disciples that they cannot seek happiness the way the world does. True joy is not found in selfish ambition, excuses, or self-justification. An enviable state of blessedness comes to those who mourn over their own sin.
"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). When we agree with God about how bad our sin is, repent of it, and seek His power to walk away from it, Jesus promises comfort from the Holy Spirit. The kind of "mourning" that leads to repentance is truly blessed (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance results in forgiveness and cleansing from God (Psalm 30:5). When we have trusted in Jesus as our personal substitute for sin, we no longer stand condemned (Romans 8:1). Rather than wallow in guilt and shame, we realize that we stand justified before God (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:24). Those who learn to mourn over their own sin find the heart of God. And intimate fellowship with God is the very foundation of true happiness.
5 Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
Meekness models the humility of Jesus Christ. As Philippians 2:6–8 says, “[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Being “in the very nature God,” Jesus had the right to do whatever He wanted, but, for our sake, He submitted to “death on a cross.” That is the ultimate in meekness.
Believers are called to share the gospel message in gentleness and meekness. First Peter 3:15 instructs, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
The KJV translates the word for “gentleness” here as “meekness.”
Someone who knows Christ as personal Savior will be growing in meekness. It may seem counterintuitive, but Jesus’ promise stands—a meek person will be happy or blessed. Living in humility and being willing to forego one’s rights for the benefit of someone else models the attitude of Jesus Christ. Meekness also helps us to more effectively share the gospel message with others. Striving for power and prestige is not the path to blessedness. Meekness is.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
Before we can pursue righteousness, we need to define it. The word most often translated “righteousness” can also mean “justice, justness, or divine holiness.” In the broadest sense, righteousness can be defined as “the condition of being acceptable to God as made possible by God.” God’s standard is what defines true righteousness; His power is what enables it. Unless God is its author, we will never possess righteousness. No amount of man-made effort will result in righteousness. To be righteous is to be right with God. A heart that is right with God results in a life that bears “fruit” (John 15:1–2; Mark 4:20). Galatians 5:22-23 lists some of that fruit.
A common substitute for true righteousness is self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is the opposite of what God desires. Self-righteousness makes a list of rules and checks them off, congratulating itself on how well it is doing compared to others. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were masters of self-righteousness, but Jesus had harsh words for them: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!
You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27–28).
To pursue righteousness means we must recognize that we cannot please God in our sinful state (Romans 8:8). We turn from trying to justify ourselves by our good deeds and instead seek the mercy of God. We desire that He transform our minds (Romans 12:2) and conform us “to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). In the Old Testament, men were declared righteous when they believed God and acted on it (Genesis 15:7; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). Before Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4), people pursued righteousness by keeping God’s Law, seeking holiness, and “walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). No one was justified by rule-keeping but by the faith that enabled them to obey God (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16).
7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
First, the word translated “blessed” is one that has the general meaning of “happy” or “joyful.” It is a spiritual blessedness, a divine satisfaction that comes from a right relationship with God.
To be merciful is to show forgiveness and compassion to those in need. Jesus frequently spoke of this trait. In the Lord’s Prayer, He says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). In Matthew 9:13 Jesus instructs the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
We are blessed if we are merciful because mercy is something God Himself displays. God’s mercy is the withholding of a just punishment; it is His compassion on the miserable. Deuteronomy 30:3 says, “The LORD your God will restore your fortunes. He will have mercy on you” (NLT).
The psalmist writes, “Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy” (Psalm 28:6). Jesus Himself often showed mercy, as we see in His healing of the man freed from demons: “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
The Greek word for “pure” in Matthew 5:8 is "katharos." It means to be “clean, blameless, unstained from guilt.” Interestingly, the word can refer specifically to that which is purified by fire or by pruning. John the Baptist told people that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). Malachi speaks of the Messiah as being like a “refiner’s fire” (Malachi 3:2). Jesus refers to believers as being the branches and to Himself as being the vine (John 15:1-17). For a vine to produce fruit, it must be pruned. Those who are truly “pure,” then, are those who have been declared innocent because of the work of Jesus and who are being sanctified by His refining fire and His pruning.
The Greek word for “heart” in Matthew 5:8 is "kardeeah." This can be applied to the physical heart. But it also refers to the spiritual center of life. It is where thoughts, desires, sense of purpose, will, understanding, and character reside. So, to be pure in heart means to be blameless in who we actually are.
Being pure in heart involves having a singleness of heart toward God. A pure heart has no hypocrisy, no guile, no hidden motives. The pure heart is marked by transparency and an uncompromising desire to please God in all things. It is more than an external purity of behavior; it is an internal purity of soul.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:9 is part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in which He says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." The Greek word translated "peacemaker" is used in only one other place in the New Testament, in a slightly different form. Colossians 1:20 says, "For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross."
Jesus laid down His life to make peace between God and sinners, and when we can carry that message of peace to others, we are peacemakers.
God delights in those who reconcile others to Himself—those who bring the gospel are “beautiful” (Isaiah 52:7). God “reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Those who bring reconciliation to broken relationships are carrying on the work of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Those who give of themselves as Jesus did in order that others may know God are called "blessed." There is no real peace apart from a relationship with God (Romans 5:1). What may masquerade as worldly peace is merely a temporary lull in chaos (John 14:27). True peace is found only in a restored relationship with God. “‘There is no peace,’ says the LORD, ‘for the wicked’” (Isaiah 48:22).
Only children of God can bring the peace of knowing God to others. A person must have a real relationship with God before he or she can help someone else know God. Those who witness for Christ, share their faith with their friends, and serve others in the name of Christ are the ambassadors for peace this verse identifies (see also Matthew 10:41-42). Those who bring the wonderful message of God's peace to the world are "peacemakers," and Jesus calls them the "children of God."
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uttered these words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This comes at the end of the section of the sermon where Jesus corrects His listeners’ misunderstanding of the Law. In Matthew 5:20, Jesus says that, if His hearers want to enter into the kingdom of heaven, their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, who were the experts in the Law.
Then, in Matthew 5:21–48, He proceeds to radically redefine the law from mere outward conformity, which characterized the “righteousness” of the Pharisees, to an obedience of both outward and inward conformity. He says, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you” to differentiate between the way people heard the law taught from how Jesus is reinterpreting it.
Obeying the law is more than simply abstaining from killing, committing adultery, and breaking oaths. It’s also not getting angry with your brother, not lusting in your heart, and not making insincere oaths. At the end of all this, we learn that we must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, and that comes from being perfect.
At this point, the natural response is “But I can’t be perfect,” which is absolutely true. In another place in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus summarizes the Law of God with two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40). This is certainly an admirable goal, but has anyone ever loved the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength and his neighbor as himself? Everything we do, say, and think has to be done, said, and thought from love for God and love for neighbor. If we are completely honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we have never achieved this level of spirituality.
The truth of the matter is that, on our own and by our own efforts, we can’t possibly be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. We don’t love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We don’t love our neighbors as ourselves. We have a problem, and it’s called sin. We are born with it, and we cannot overcome the effects of it on our own. Sin radically affects us to our core. Sin affects what we do, say, and think. In other words, it taints everything about us. Therefore, no matter how good we try to be, we will never meet God’s standard of perfection. The Bible says that all of our righteous deeds are like a “polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). Our own righteousness is simply not good enough and never will be, no matter how hard we try.
That’s why Jesus lived a perfect life in full obedience to the law of God in thought, word, and deed. Jesus’ mission wasn’t simply to die on the cross for our sins but also to live a life of perfect righteousness. Theologians refer to this as the “active and passive obedience of Christ.” Active obedience refers to Christ’s life of sinless perfection. Everything He did was perfect.
Passive obedience refers to Christ’s submission to the crucifixion. He went willingly to the cross and allowed Himself to be crucified without resisting (Isaiah 53:7). His passive obedience pays our sin debt before God, but it is the active obedience that gives us the perfection God requires.
The apostle Paul writes, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21–22). Through our faith in Christ, the righteousness of God is given to us. This is called “imputed” righteousness. To impute something is to ascribe or attribute something to someone. When we place our faith in Christ, God ascribes the perfect righteousness of Christ to our account so that we become perfect in His sight. “For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Not only is Christ’s righteousness imputed to us through faith, but our sin is imputed to Christ. That is how Christ paid our sin debt to God. He had no sin in Himself, but our sin is imputed to Him so, as He suffers on the cross, He is suffering the just penalty that our sin deserves. That is why Paul can say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
By having the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, we can be seen as sinless, as Jesus is sinless. It is not, therefore, our perfection, but His. When God looks at the Christian, He sees the holiness, perfection, and righteousness of Christ. Therefore, we can say with confidence, “I am sinless, as Jesus is sinless.”