An Examination of the Beatitudes, By Shaun Aisbitt
To me the beatitudes are one of the most important passages of teaching in the ministry of Jesus to his followers here on Earth, and it is as relevant today as it was when it was first taught nearly 2000 years ago. It is like a jeweled cave that sparkles when light is shone upon it, but you have to have the correct tools to dig in and get the precious stones. In this particular paper I shall examine Matthew’s Gospel from 5:1-12 and attempt to concentrate on his account alone except where clarification can be attained through the parallel passages in Luke’s Gospel.
BEATITUDES OF CHRIST,
Spiritual Mountain Climbing, Eight upward Steps in the Christians Life
1st Step, Humility (Conscious Need) Mt 5:3
2nd Step, Repentance (Mourning for Sin) Mt 5:4
3rd Step, Meekness (Marking the birth of a New Spirit) Mt 5:5
4th Step, Spiritual Hunger (Signifying Growth) Mt 5:6
5th Step, Mercifulness (an Attribute of God, indicating further Advance) Mt 5:7
6th Step, Heart Purity (displays attainment of Higher Altitudes, where comes the vision of God) Mt 5:8
7th Step, Peacemaking (a Christ like Influence, calming the Storms of Life) Mt 5:9
8th Step, The Summit, Suffering for Christ (standing beside the Prophets and Martyrs) Mt 5:10-12
Now when he saw the crowd he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach then, saying:( Mat 5:1-2)
The first thing I noticed while examining the parallel passage to this in Luke 6:17 is what may be interpreted as a mistake by some less than spiritual scholar, attempting to find fault. The parallel passage states that ‘Jesus stood on a level place’ , both are right!. If Jesus had stood IN a level place instead of ON a level place, then there would be a fault. But the word ON suggests that He was ON a mountain or ON a hill, it would be grammatically incorrect to say a person would stand IN a mountain, or IN a hill. The conclusion must therefore be that Jesus stood (or sat) on some kind of plateau, on the side of the mountain that allowed Him to see over all that He taught that day.
(Mat 5:3-12) The word ‘Blessed’ occurs nine times in this passage, it’s meaning from the Greek word Μακάριοι is both Blessed and Happy. This may seem strange to those who don’t know their Saviour, that the righteous are to be happy when they are persecuted!. The eight characteristics of kingdom citizens Jesus addresses in sequence are: the Poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted because of righteousness, all of whom receive a blessing, a reward from their heavenly Father, which Jesus announces. I shall now examine each one individually.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, not the poor in wealth, or who are so with respect to material wealth. Although God has chosen and called many, who are in such a condition of life, yet not all, the kingdom of heaven cannot be said to belong to them all, or only them but such as are poor in a spiritual sense. All mankind are spiritually poor, they have nothing to eat that is fit and proper, nor any clothes to wear, but rags, nor are they able to purchase either, they have no money to buy with, they are in debt, owe ten thousand talents, and have nothing to pay, and in such a condition, that they are not able to help themselves. The greater part of mankind are blind or ignorant of their condition, but think themselves rich, and increased with goods, there are some who are sensible of it, who see their poverty and want, freely acknowledge it, moan it, and mourn over it, are humbled for it, and are broken under a sense of it, entertain low and mean thoughts of themselves, seek after the true riches, both of grace and glory; and freely acknowledge, that all they have, or hope to have, is owing to the free grace of God. Now these are the persons intended in this place, who are not only “poor”, but are poor “in spirit”, in their own spirits, in their own sense, apprehension, and judgment, and may even be called “beggars”, as the word may be rendered for being, understanding their poverty, they place themselves at the door of mercy, and knock there, their language is, “God be merciful”; their posture is standing, watching, and waiting, at wisdom’s gates, and at the posts of her door; they are pressing, will have no denial, yet receive the least favor with thankfulness. Now these are pronounced “blessed”, for this reason, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, not only the Gospel, and the ministry of it, which belongs to them. “The poor have the Gospel preached”, it not only reaches their ears, but their hearts, it enters into them, is applied to them, they receive and embrace it with the utmost joy and gladness, but eternal glory, this is prepared for them, and given to them, they are born heirs of it, have a right to it, are suitable for it, and shall enjoy it.
A sense of anguish for sin characterizes the believer. But genuine repentance will bring comfort to the believer, since Christ bore the sins of every man, the comfort of fill forgiveness is readily available. Just like another passage of scripture 1 John 1:9 says:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
(πενθοϋντες = Mourn, bewail). To feel regret for ones circumstances due to some sin, is not what is spoken about here, feeling sad for oneself is not even implied anywhere in the message of salvation. Judas was remorseful of himself, and so are so many others who don’t understand what Godly sorrow is. What this verse speaks of is those who have done wrong, and realize their sin is not only against themselves but against someone more important, God Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. 2Cointhians 7:10 Says:
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
It is actually comforting to know that when we have done wrong against God, and have a sorrowful desire to come back to Father God, he is ready to receive us, and give us a comforter. The author John Metcalfe speaks of this comforter in his discourse on the beatitudes, when he says:
“He manifests himself to them, and not to the world. Nor to the worldly in religion. But as united in one, the erstwhile mourners experience the Comforter in a way superior to any singular experience known heretofore. And so they walk together and are edified; walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit hand in hand, with their faces towards Zion. Though they have come from the valley of weeping. Now they go from strength to strength. Everyone of them in Zion appeared before God.”
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
(πρąείς = Meek) This form of the word only occurs 3 times in the New Testament, and only one other form of the word occurs when Jesus claims that He is meek and lowly (Mat 11:29). וינע is the Hebrew word for meek in the Old Testament where the word πρąείς comes from in the Septuagint translation of the passage in Psalms 37:11.
But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.
Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the Old Testament, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify believers, and that He will deliver the believers in His time. (Is. 41:17, Lu. 18:1-8) Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will. (Gal. 5:23) The Pharisees would have had difficulty with meekness being more given to open displays of their religion, though, meekness was in their vocabulary, but just in word, not in deed. One of their sayings was regarding two well known doctors of the time of Jesus called Hillell and Shammai, the one was meek, the other of an angry disposition:
“Let a man be always meek as HiIIell, and let him not be angry as Shammai.”
Here meekness is to be considered, not as a moral virtue, but as a Christian grace, a fruit of the spirit of God, which was eminently in Christ, and is very ornamental to believers, and of great advantage and use to them, in hearing and receiving the word, in giving an account of the reason of the hope that is in them, in instructing and restoring such, who have backslidden, either in principle or practice, and in the whole of their lives and conversations, and serves greatly to recommend Jesus to others. People who are possessed of meekness, and exercise it, are well pleasing to God, when downcast, he comforts them; when hungry, he satisfies them, when they want direction, he gives it to them, when wronged, he will do them right, he gives them more grace here, and glory hereafter. The blessing illustrated, in which they shall partake of, is they shall inherit the earth. Not the land of Canaan, though that may be alluded to, nor this world, at least in its present situation, for this is not the believers rest and inheritance, but rather, the “new earth”, which will be after this is burnt up, in which only such persons as are here described shall dwell, and who shall inherit it, by virtue of their being heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, whose is the earth, and the fullness thereof. Though some think heaven is here designed, and is so called, partly for the sake of variety of expression, partly in allusion to the land of Canaan, a type of it, and may be called an earth, or country, that is an heavenly one, in opposition to this earthly one, as the heavenly Jerusalem is opposed to the earthly one, and which will be a glorious inheritance.
What is the use of a Christian profession that leaves us without the taking on of the character of Christ? What is the worth of it?. A mere profession is like water off a ducks back and many people call themselves Christians, but have no desire to take on the meekness of
Christ’s character, instead they selfishly attempt to search out God’s promises in scripture, and demand them as if God is their servant at their beck and call or the genie of the lamp and they are realized supermen. They shall see God on the day of judgment and realize His majesty, then they shall understand meekness as they squeak their pleas to enter into His kingdom, to which He shall reply “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!” (Lk 13:27)
(πεινάω = Crave, Hunger, Famish)(διψάω=Thirst) These words are used figuratively, those who are said to hunger and thirst who painfully feel their want of, and eagerly long for, those things by which the soul is refreshed, supported, strengthened. Jesus gave a beautiful illustration of this teaching in His parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee in the temple. The Pharisee was full of himself, and didn’t hunger for righteousness, the tax collector in contrast was repentant, crying out for God, feeling a spiritual hunger because of the heaviness of condemnation. Donald Stamps in his comment on this parable says:
“The Pharisee was self-righteous. Self righteous people think of themselves because of their own efforts; they are not conscious of their sinful nature, their own unworthiness and their constant need for God’s help, mercy and grace. Because of their exceptional acts of piety and outward goodness they think they do not need God’s grace. The tax collector, on the other hand, was deeply conscious of his sin and guilt, and in true repentance turned from sin to God for forgiveness and mercy. He typifies the true child of God.”
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst, Not after the riches, honors, and pleasures of this world, but after righteousness; by which is meant, not justice and equity, as persons oppressed and injured. It is not a moral, legal righteousness, which the Pharisees were eagerly pursuing; but the justifying righteousness of Christ, which is imputed by God the Father, and received by faith. To “hunger and thirst” after this, supposes a want of righteousness, which is the case of all believers a sense of want of it, which is only perceived by persons spiritually enlightened, a discovery of the righteousness of Christ to them, which is made in the Gospel, and by the spirit of God, a value for it, and a preference of it to all other righteousness, and an earnest desire after it, to be possessed of it, and found in it, and that nothing can be more grateful than that, because of its perfection, purity, suitableness, and use, joyous are the believers, for they shall be filled, with that righteousness, and with all other good things, in consequence of it, and particularly with joy and peace, which are the certain fruits of it, or, “they shall be satisfied”, that they have an interest in it, and so satisfied with it, that they shall never seek for any other righteousness, as a justifying one, in the sight of God; this being full, perfect, sufficient, and entirely complete. It is quite amusing the Greek word for filled that is used here, it is χορτάζω a term for fattening cattle, maybe this implies that many of Jesus’ audience were shepherds or farmers?.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy
(έλεήμων =[Active] Compassionate, Merciful) Those who put pity into action can expect similar mercy both from God and man. Pity isn’t enough, being active on that pity is what is being spoken about here. There is nothing on which God more takes His stand (as the active principle of His being in a world of sin) than his mercy. The only possibility of salvation to a single soul is that there is mercy in God; that He is rich in mercy; that there is no bound to His mercy. It is not only a question of forgiveness of sins, but of mercy in everything. The effect of mercy is not a compromising of the holiness of God, but a larger and deeper standard of it.
Proverbs 3:3-4 in the Authorized Version of the Bible says:
Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write then; upon the table of thine heart: So shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man.
Also Psalms 37:25-26 in the Authorized Version of the Bible says:
I have been young, and [now] am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread [He 4/ ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed [is] blessed
Indeed mercy appears to be one of the most important attributes that is present and active in the life of the believer, and he and his children appear to get blessed because of it.
(καθαρός = Pure, free from corrupt desire, from sin and guilt free from every fusion of what is false. Being sincere genuine blameless, innocent unstained with the guilt of anything.)
The pure in heart are those who have been delivered from sin’s power by God’s grace and now strive without deceit to please and glorify God and to be like Him. They seek to have the same attitude of heart as God has, a love of righteous and a hatred of evil. Their heart (καρδία) the seat of mind, will and emotions is in tune with the Father Heart of God. Purity, it is exactly what is proper to God, for He alone is pure absolutely. Consequently also He was perfectly reflected in Jesus Christ His Son. For not a single thought or feeling ever defiled divine perfection in the heart of Jesus. Those who’s moral being is free from contamination with sin, without divided interests or loyalties. To them, as possessors of God’s pure nature, belongs the unclouded vision of God, which will reach consummation when Christ returns. This thought is reflected in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapter 13 verse 12 where it says:
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
But how can our hearts become pure?, here again is a great theme that has occupied attention throughout the centuries. There are two great ideas . First there are those who say there is only one thing to do, that we must become like monks or hermits and segregate ourselves from the world!. It is a full time job trying to avoid bad thoughts and bad deeds, so why not remove oneself from the world and live in a monastery, cave or up a pole, where you are so occupied that you don’t have time to do or think evil. Wrong again!, the human heart is wicked and evil above all things, who can trust it? as the scripture says. As soon as the opportunity would arise, the enemy would point out ways of avoiding hard work and skiving off duties, and pointing at others who don’t work as hard as you do, thus making you proud e.t.c.!. The second idea is this, basically all we can do is realize the dreadful wickedness in our hearts as they are by nature, and as we do so we should join with the great psalmist David in his prayer “Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Only the blood that Jesus Christ shed on Calvary can and will cleanse us and purify us from all sin.
(εỉρηνοποιός =Peacemaker, lover of peace, pacifist) The peacemakers are those who have been reconciled to God through the cross. They strive by their witness and life to bring others, including their enemies, to peace with God. The Jews had a saying from the Misnah which goes like this:
These are the things, the fruit of which a man enjoys in this world, and his lot or portion remains for him in the world to come; honoring father and mother, liberality,( האבו וריבחל סרא ךיב םךלש) and making peace between a man and his neighbor.”
Another saying of the doctor and scholar Hiliell:
“Be thou one of the disciples of Aaron, who loved peace, and followed after it; he loved men, and brought them to the law.”
It was among the highest attributes of a Jew to be known as a peacemaker. It showed great wisdom and an understanding of the Law. The title “Sons of God” was in Jewish tradition a God given blessing of knowing all, and being a Rabbi, this developed from the Old Testament idea that the Sons of God (angels) instructed men. When Jesus was saying to the Jews that peacemakers will be called “Sons of God”, he wasn’t saying they would get great wisdom, become rabbis or become angels, he was saying that they would be as adopted children. In the traditional sense sons were held in high esteem and the father was usually proud of them, especially their firstborn. O. Michel, a German scholar in his commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans with special regard to the passage (Rom 8:14) says:
Sonship expresses the freedom of the baptized Christian, who needs to recognize no other tie but the will of God; it expresses the realization that God has committed Himself to man; and it expresses the trust which grows out of His Fatherhood
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The last and most important blessing, and a warning that those who are followers of Christ, the righteous ones, they will not have an easy time. This thought is seen throughout history from what could be deemed the earliest written book of the Bible Job, to the present day where Christians are being killed in Islamic nations for preaching the gospel. It is a frightening thing to think, but if a person like the apostle Paul, were to walk into Christian gatherings today, he would probably be sneered at, spoken bad of; and generally disliked because of his righteousness. His righteousness would show up other Christians and he would be called an extremist, a fundamentalist or a legalist!, even though he wrote against and fought against legalism. This does not mean that the church is in a bad way!, it just means that we should beware of relaxed standards becoming the norm.
In my own personal experience, I was once invited to a friends house to watch a video of a American preacher (Benny Hinn). I was very young in the Lord, but I could see that what the guy on the video was saying was very wrong after a short while. I questioned the teachings on the video, and was met with a barrage of excuses and rebukes for questioning the Lord’s anointed. I still maintained that the teachings were false and pointed out in scripture where the person on the video was twisting scripture to suit their own purposes. I was actually told by someone that they doubted my Christianity, and would I like to pray with them to receive the Lord. We agreed to disagree about the video and left it at that. I was treated very differently by that person and their friends afterwards, there was a lot of talking behind their hands, and I found myself a few friends shorter. The guy on the video has since supposedly repented of his false teachings, then “unrepented” (if I can say that?!) and has become even worse saying he is in contact with the dead and receiving an anointing from a dead faith healer. The person who argued with me regarding the video hasn’t approached me or mentioned the video since, but continues to follow after false teachers and their ‘Hyper faith’ doctrines. I am not considering myself righteous here, my experience was mild in comparison but I can see how prophets, apostles and those who try to live in harmony with the Word of God will suffer, even at the hands or mouths of their own spiritual brothers. I worry that in the last days as spoken of in Matthew chapter 24:9-13 that those who stand firm in God’s word, and faith in Him, will be persecuted by lapsed Christians without a good foundation for their faith. We can see the parallels in this piece of scripture in comparison to Matthew 5:10-12
Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:9-13)
But look at the promise to those who are tortured for their righteousness, for standing firm on the Word of God, great is the reward in heaven. This speaks of the world to come, not the present kingdom of believers. Even if the heavenly incentive wasn’t there, I would still stand firm in my love of Christ, and not tolerate any falsehood or insult of Him, for He has given me a new life where death reigned, joy in my heart where sadness dwelt, a boldness where fear controlled, and a robe of righteousness where my nakedness was clothed in garments of filthy rags.
Here is m bibliography for your further study:
Lloyd-Jones, Dr Martin: Studies in Sermon on the Mount: (Eerdmans ! Michigan, USA) 1991
Metcalfe, John: The Beatitudes: (Publishing Trust! Buckinghamshire, UK) 1993
Green, Jay,P: The Interlinear Bible: (Hendrickson Publishers! Massachusetts, USA) 1985
Strong, James: The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: (World Bible Publishers! Iowa)
Angus, Joseph: The Bible Handbook: (Religious Tract Society! London, UK) 1916
Thayer, Joseph: Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament:
(Broadman Press ! Nashville, USA) nd.
Stamps, Donald: The Full Life Study Bible (NIVV (Zondervan ! Michigan, USA) 1992
Brown, Cohn (ED): Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol 1:
(Regency / Michigan, USA) 1986
Pfeiffer, Charles / Harrison, Everett (Eds): The Wycliffe Bible Commentary:
(Moody Press! Chicago, USA) 1990
Misnah Peah.Chapter 1. section 1.
T. Bab :Sabbat. folio, 127. 1 ( Kiddushin. folio. 40. 1
O.Michel: Der Brief an Die Römer: (KEK ! Munchen, GDR) 1910
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