1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Jesus’s conception of what it means to be blessed is an affront to our natural inclinations. In this passage, Jesus explained that his followers are blessed no matter their present reality because of the sure future hope that is stored up for them in and by God through Christ.
1. Be Aware
2. Be Conformed
3. Be Encouraged
The beatitudes hinge upon the theological concepts of justification, sanctification, and perseverance. Only those who have been justified can be in a state of blessedness. Those who are justified are sanctified, which is why they are humble, repentant, meek, righteous, merciful, and pure. Finally, the follower of Christ looks to a secure future hope because they will endure because God the Father will not lose any of his own.
These theological concepts are founded and rooted in Jesus’s finished work on the cross. There is no justification, sanctification, or perseverance without our Savior and Mediator, Jesus Christ.
The most loving, kind, and compassionate actions that a Christian can show toward someone is both praying that God would open their hearts to the gospel and, then, opening their mouth in their hearing and humbly explaining the gospel message to them. A person cannot be truly blessed unless they are in Christ. Neither can they look toward a secure future hope apart from the saving work of Christ wrought in their hearts.
Superstars want the ball when the clock is running out and someone has to score. When the players huddle up to receive instructions from the coach, everyone already knows who the ball is going to. The pressure is there, the task seems impossible, and the hopes of winning seem slim. Yet, this person wants the ball. They want to take the shot. They are relaxed and focused. They are confident. Why? Because they believe in their ability, trust in their training, and have confidence in their skill. They are calm under fire because they believe that the thing in which they have confidence (themselves) is greater than the challenge that lies ahead.
Followers of Christ have even greater confidence, but it isn’t because they are superstars and can rely on anything within themselves. Christians have peace, joy, and hope in the midst of the fiercest storms of life because they are moored to an unshakable anchor. Jesus Christ lived a perfect life in their place and then died a sinner’s death in their place. Now, he intercedes for them before God the Father. Those that are in Christ rest in the grace, mercy, power, and promises of their Savior. They know that he will not fail or falter.
Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:1–12 are meant to remind Christians that their hope isn’t in themselves but in what their great God has done and will do.
The beatitudes introduce Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is the longest continual teaching of Christ recorded in the gospels. The beatitudes are short statements that summarize the essence of the sermon. The essence is this: those who are in Christ are characterized by a state of blessedness in this fallen world, a life that is humbly submitted to God’s word, and a confident hope of eternal life with God.
One pitfall that we must be careful not to tumble into while reading the Sermon on the Mount is to see Jesus’s words from a gospel of works framework. We naturally tend to understand the world in terms of merit, self-reliance, and achievement. The gospel of works says that if I will discipline myself and do what I ought to do then all will go well with me, God will approve of me, and I will go to heaven one day. But, that point-of-view is dead wrong. It’s a false gospel. It’s isn’t the gospel of Jesus (though it very much is the message of every other religious system in the world).
In the beatitudes (and the Sermon on the Mount) Jesus directly addressed his disciples. He described what a life devoted to him looks like (humble, meek, peaceable, pure, etc). Notice what he was not saying. He did not say that people should make themselves to be more humble, meek, pure, etc. Nor did he say that those things qualify them for eternal life. Rather, Jesus simply said that those who exhibit those qualities (Christians) will receive eternal life. Not as a result of exhibiting those qualities, but because of their position in Christ. It isn’t a cause and effect relationship, but simply a correlation. This is an incredibly important distinction. If we don’t get this, then we will badly misunderstand and misapply what Jesus says in the beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount as a whole.
Think of it this way. In the beatitudes, Jesus addressed born-again believers (they will have those qualities) to assure them of and comfort them with their future hope of eternal life with God.
1. Be Aware (Matthew 5:1–12)
Each beatitude begins with the word blessed. Jesus began with this word in every formulation of his introductory statement because it is the main thrust of his thesis. (As a side note, we should remember that when we are reading Scripture and we see a word repeated more than once, then we should take note. In this instance, the word “blessed” is repeated nine times.)
What does “blessed” mean?
Unfortunately, the word blessed has been redefined and watered-down by current usage to such a degree that we may not understand what Jesus meant here. Let’s try to recapture the essence of this word. “Blessed” in the biblical sense refers to a state of well-being in relation to God that is secure now and forever. On the other hand, current usage of the word generally refers to material or circumstantial prosperity. The oft-trending #blessed is very rarely applied to statements of the assurance of eternal life with God in heaven or a deep abiding peace in the midst of unbearable pain or unjust persecution.
We would be more likely to find references to a job promotion, the purchase of a new car, a bathroom remodel, or someone’s child receiving accolades for sports or grades if we searched for posts that are tagged with #blessed. The term “blessed” has been gutted of its power and has become a bumper sticker to slap on to anything that makes us proud or happy in the moment.
Could Jesus have meant that Christians will be blessed with material things?
No. Not in these verses. In fact, a straightforward reading of the beatitudes leaves Christians with more assurance of hardship, struggle, and loss than it does material blessing here on earth. Jesus said that Christians are blessed when they are persecuted, mourn for sin, and hunger and thirst for righteousness. He didn’t mean that in the midst of their persecution he was going to make a way for them to build the deck with the jacuzzi that they had always wanted. He said, “your reward is great in heaven.” People who say they are Christians and think they are going to gain materially because of their allegiance to Christ have received a false gospel and need correction in their understanding of the nature of Christ’s work.
Which “blessed” is better? Why?
True Christians cling to and rejoice in their blessed state of being reconciled to God. Those that have tasted the goodness of the biblical gospel wouldn’t trade their blessed state with all the material blessings on earth. A Christian’s treasure in heaven isn’t riches or fame, it is God himself who is their Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and Provider. The promise of this blessing isn’t tied to their ability to be worthy of it. Christians are blessed because of their position before God which is secured through Jesus’s work on the cross. Christians depend completely on Jesus Christ to be and remain blessed. Christians will persevere in their state of blessedness before God the Father because the gift of salvation that God has given them in Christ Jesus is irrevocable.
Application Question: Has your understanding of “blessed” been wrong? Why or why not? How does the biblical view of “blessed” change the way you think about your circumstances?
2. Be Conformed (Matthew 5:1–12)
Let’s not lose sight of our framework as we continue our study of the beatitudes. Jesus addressed primarily his disciples (though there were certainly others who were hearing as well). Just a few verses before Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount Matthew gives an account of Jesus’s calling of the disciples (4:18–22). Then, to introduce the Sermon, Matthew describes it this way, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying…” (v. 1–2). Jesus addressed all who would listen, but he is directly speaking to his disciples and, by extension, all who would hear today.
How do we know that Jesus was describing true Christians in the beatitudes?
We know Jesus was talking about those who have been born again for three reasons. First, the context of the passage tells us that Jesus was speaking directly to his disciples. It’s true that they weren’t called Christians yet and Jesus had not completed his mission to save sinners through his substitutionary sacrifice yet. However, his disciples were those that were being drawn by God to the Son (John 6:44). They were those who would believe in Christ’s gospel first. Second, we know Jesus was talking about Christians because the descriptions he uses are consistent with what a Christian life looks like. Christians are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, etc. Finally, we know Jesus was talking about Christians because he described a future hope that is only promised to Christians in the rest of the New Testament. Only Christians inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. If we take all the beatitudes together we get a description of what Christians should expect as they follow Christ.
Are the good works that Jesus used to describe Christians (pure in heart, merciful, etc.) what qualifies them for the reward?
No. This is probably the most common and most dangerous mistake people make when they read the beatitudes. They read the words “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (v. 8) and they think, “OK. Well, if I ever want to see God I better keep my heart pure.” Or they read, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God” (v. 9), and they think, “Well, if I want to be a child of God, I should try to make peace.” That interpretation of the beatitudes is a fruit of the influence of the world and a trap of Satan. It’s wrong. It may be helpful to read through the beatitudes and replace all the descriptions with the word “Christian” to help you see this more clearly.
Another way to think of it is like this. A man who has a son might say, “I love that little blue-eyed boy. He will inherit my estate one day.” Now, we would never say that the boy will inherit the estate on account of his blue eyes. His inheritance is secured because of his relationship to his father. He has blue eyes because he is his father’s son (the father also has blue eyes), but those blue eyes are the result of his sonship not the cause of it.
Are the descriptions Jesus used to name Christians the cause of their blessed position before the Father or the result of it?
People are humble, meek, merciful, pure, peaceable, etc because they are Christians, not the other way around. A person doesn’t make themselves a Christian by being those things. They are made to be those things as a result of being saved by God the Father through Jesus Christ. This is known as sanctification.
What is the definition of sanctification?
Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Jesus. It commences after a person is born again, not before. Sanctification is progressive. It does not happen all at once. Also, like justification, it is the work of God. God does this work in Christians. Those who are united to Christ and saved have a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6:5-6).
Christians are ongoingly and personally sanctified by the work of the Spirit dwelling in them and the application of God’s Word to their lives. Christians are freed from slavery to sin and the various desires that are rooted in their old nature are more and more weakened as the Christian grows in faith and grace. Further, their desire to be obedient to God’s word increases more and more. That’s why Jesus addressed Christians by using the characteristics that true Christians exhibit. Their increasing presence in the lives of Christians is sure because he who accomplished this work never fails.
Application Question: In what specific areas is the Lord sanctifying you?
3. Be Encouraged (Matthew 5:1-12)
Let’s turn our attention to the final element of Jesus’s statements. First, he noted what is experienced (blessed state). Then he described by whom it will be experienced (followers of Jesus). And finally, he explained why they are blessed.
What promises did Jesus make to Christians in the beatitudes?
The promises that Jesus gave to those who are in Christ are astounding:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven
they shall be comforted
they shall inherit the earth
they shall be satisfied
they shall receive mercy
they shall see God
they shall be called sons of God
theirs is the kingdom of heaven
It’s easy to see why we must conclude that Jesus is talking about those who have been born again. If we survey the rest of the Scriptures, it is clear that only those who are saved can hope for such promises as these. Remember, the standard rule for interpreting the Bible is that Scripture interprets Scripture. When we find something that is not altogether clear and we have a question concerning the full and right meaning of any part of Scripture, it must be understood in the light of those passages that are more clear. Each passage has only one meaning, not many.
What is Jesus’s purpose for expressing these great promises to Christians?
A Christian’s future hope that is secured by Jesus’s work on the cross is a great encouragement to them to stay faithful to God’s Word, continue in faith, and keep repenting. In fact, God’s promises to his beloved are one of the mechanisms that God uses to keep his children from falling away.
Application Question: In what areas of your life do you need encouragement? How does the assurance of eternal life in heaven with your good Father help you?
The Sermon on the Mount is unique because it is such a long, uninterrupted teaching of Jesus. While he was probably speaking to a large crowd, the fact that he had just called his disciples and they gathered around him as he began this teaching indicates to us that this message was specially directed to those whom the Father was drawing to Christ.
One way to think about the beatitudes is to notice that Jesus was giving the same general message worded in nine different ways. He is essentially saying that Christians are blessed because of the great and precious promises that have been secured for them. They are statements to help Christians remain faithful and joyful as they walk in obedience and submission to their Lord.
- What is the difference between the world’s version of “blessed” and Jesus’s version of it? Which version do you subscribe to?
- In what ways is the Spirit of God conforming you to the image of Christ?
- Do promises of heaven encourage you? How can you let those precious promises of God have more influence over the way you see the world?
Prayer of Response
Take time to pray with thanksgiving and praise. Give thanks to God for drawing you to Jesus and exchanging your heart of stone with a new heart of flesh. Thank God for the blessed state in which you live no matter what is happening in your life, good and bad. Ask God to continue the good work that he started in you by continuing to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ. Finally, praise God for the good future that he has promised you and ask him to continually remind you of it as you seek his face.