By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Beatitudes, Biblical Teachings

  • Jesus speaks the beatitudes to his disciples on a mountaintop.
  • He “sits down and opens his mouth” indicating he’s about to say something very important.
  • He teaches them using a form of the word that means the teaching is ongoing.
  • The beatitudes are written without a verb meaning they describe present reality not a future time.
  • The word translated “Blessed or Happy” is markarios, a word describing complete happiness, the realm of the gods.

1. Oh the bliss of the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    • The Greek word used for poor is the strongest available word for social poverty.
    • The Hebrew understanding of this word pertains to an inner, spiritual poverty, the kind that is empty of oneself, that puts aside one’s own resources and determination, that turns away from one’s own will and pride.
    • This person stands before God with empty hands, spiritually bankrupt, yet secure in his trust and commitment to God, and relying upon God’s infinite resources.
    • Combining both aspects of “poor,” identifies someone who realizes his own spiritual inadequacy, his absolute need of God to the utmost degree.
    • Poor in spirit refers to those who are poor in self, poor in ego, the opposite of somebody who is self-satisfied, self-seeking, self-centered, and self-sufficient.
    • The poor in spirit are given a promise. The kingdom of heaven is theirs.
    • Because people never want to say the name of God in vain, they have other phrases to use in place of saying God’s name. One of these is to say the “kingdom of heaven” when they want to say the “kingdom of God.”
    • So how do we understand the kingdom of God? Is it a geographical place, a reign of God, His rule? What?
    • Further along in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will teach his disciples how to pray. In that prayer, which we have come to identify as the Lord’s prayer, he says, “Thy kingdom come,” meaning of course, God’s kingdom, and follows this with, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”
    • The kingdom of God is where God’s will is as perfectly done in earth as it is in heaven.
    • God’s will is always to bless, benefit, protect, and guide.
    • The poor in spirit enjoy these blessings; they are the recipients of His beneficence; they are protected and guided by His laws.
    • They live in the realm of His good will. Moreover, this kingdom is theirs. It is the natural result of their condition.
    • This promise is written in the present tense. This kingdom is theirs right now; they don’t have to wait.

2. Oh, the bliss of the one who mourns, for they will be comforted.

    • The particular word for “mourn” is associated with intense sorrow and grief, the kind that finds outward expression in some way, either through tears or laments.
    • This word reflects a powerful intensity, being the strongest word used for bereavement. But how can this be bliss?
    • The word is in participial form; this is mourning that’s going on right now.
    • There is nothing wonderful about being grief-stricken, devastated. However, when we find ourselves in this condition, something wonderful might just happen to us.
    • On what basis can we make such a claim? The word is “Com fort,” F O R T, “fort,” meaning strength, fortress. “Com” is from the Latin, meaning “with.” So we are really saying, “with fort, with strength, fortressed.”
    • Comfort also has the idea of exhorting, of encouraging, of filling up with new thoughts. This word is also in the passive. We don’t do this, God does.
    • God is with this devastated, grieving individual, imparting new thoughts, relieving the burden.

3. Oh the bliss of the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

    • Meek doesn’t mean wimpy or weak. In Greek the word has to do with the breaking-in of horses, the training of animals. The Greek understanding of meek carries with it the idea of taking all that fire and passion and putting it under control.
    • It includes the idea of self-restraint, strength with gentleness.
    • In Jewish history it means the humble, the lowly, the man who accepts God’s guidance, whatever God sends, who is dear to God and strengthened by God.
    • Combining them both means perfect control—a God-controlled life. This is a good description of spiritual poise.
    • There is a promise for the meek person too. They will inherit the earth. Earth means here. They are given the kingdom of God, which is where God’s will is as perfectly done in earth as it is in heaven.

4. Oh, the bliss of the one who hungers and thirsts after righteousness for they will be filled.

    • Well, there is hunger, and then there is hunger. Hunger is real in the New Testament. If a man doesn’t work, his family doesn’t eat.
    • Again, this word is the most extreme word for hunger.
    • The same is true for “thirsting.” In a world where water is scarce, people oftentimes have to scrounge for water.
    • Fighting over access to wells is commonplace.
    • The word for righteousness is dikaiosene. It can mean justice, justice for yourself as well as for society. It can also mean right living or justification.
    • The form of the word suggests all three meanings are in play.
    • The promise is that they will be filled; the same word is used for fattening cattle for sacrifice.
    • This beatitude is one of great extremes. It’s also written in the passive.
    • God is the one doing the filling.
    • And it’s for the journey; it’s not a reward for the achievement. One simply has to “hunger and thirst” to receive the blessing.

 5. Oh, the bliss of the one who is merciful for they shall obtain mercy.

    • The word for mercy in the Old Testament is hesed. In the Jewish tradition, kindness would be a closer rendition. Often it is connected with truth, so it developed a sense of steadfastness, a fidelity.
    • Eventually, hesed becomes connected to the covenant, to God’s people. So one way to think about hesed, about this idea of mercy, would be to think about it as the “outgoing, loyal love of God to His own people.”
    • Jesus says that to be merciful is to have the same attitude toward others as God has. He is telling them to have a heart. They are to think, feel, and act toward others as God would.
    • This is an out-going that derives from out-looking. We can’t see ourselves as the center of the universe if we are going to do this. It is going beyond the demands of fairness.
    • Their promise is that they shall obtain mercy. Now some people see this as an if-then relationship. If you do it, then you get it.
    • However, mercy is not a reward for good behavior. God is merciful. The person who is merciful, who is full of mercy, who has been filled up by God, who has been given to in abundance now exists to pass it on, to deliver it to others.
    • In so doing, they become more like God, closer to Him, united with Him. And if they don’t do this, if they are unmerciful, they are separated from and apart from God.

6. Oh the bliss of the pure in heart for they shall see God.

    • The word for purity is very, very common in the Old Testament. The Hebrew people practice ritual and ceremonial purity. But it could also mean a moral and a spiritual purity.
    • In the Greek, purity also begins with a purely physical meaning. It means things without blemish, things that are unmixed.
    • At the time of Jesus, purity is quite externalized. The Pharisees are notorious and renowned for all their laws of observances.
    • So Jesus puts in a new twist. He says, “pure in heart.” Put it inside. It’s an inward thing. There is often a contradiction between the outward and the inward.
    • These people also have a promise; what do they get? They get to see God.
    • Seeing God is to emphasize the certainty of the ability to know Him, to appear in His presence, to enjoy unbroken communion with Him, and to experience Him.
    • One whose heart is pure, unmixed, will be given nothing less than the vision of God. God will be real and close to that person.

7. Oh, the bliss of the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.

    • The word for “peace” in the Greek is eirene. It is a direct translation of the Hebrew word shalom.
    • It can mean perfect welfare, serenity, prosperity, happiness. It wishes everything good, not just the absence of bad, but all the good that is possible. But it can also mean right relationships, well-being.
    • This beatitude says “peacemakers.” It doesn’t say peacekeepers, or peace lovers. It says peacemakers.
    • To make peace is to be a creator of positive good will. It requires resourcefulness, imagination, Christ-likeness. Exertion is required to make peace.
    • Peacemakers have a promise too. They will be called the sons of God. Once again, this is in the passive.
    • God is doing the calling; He is naming these people.
    • If God names us, He is identifying us. In a very true sense, that is what we are. We are to be that something.
    • To be a “son of God” means one who is godlike. And surely, there is no more godlike activity than making peace.

8. Oh, the bliss of the one who is persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    • By the end of the first century, the word for witness and martyr is the same. It reflects reality.
    • This persecution is for righteousness’ sake. In this passage, “righteousness” is written in a specific way so it has to mean righteous conduct.
    • The beatitude speaks to being able to feel joy and happiness in spite of the persecutions, not because of them. What is important is the good that is accomplished, not the opposition that’s invoked.
    • What do these people get? They get the kingdom of heaven.
    • The first beatitude starts with the promise that the kingdom of heaven is theirs and the last one ends with the same promise forming an inclusio – a beginning and an ending to the content. This section is over.
    • There are remaining words: Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers. Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven. This is how the prophets who lived before you were persecuted.
    • Many scholars argue that this is actually a commentary on what has just been said. It essentially says that persecution is inevitable for those who follow Jesus.
    • The beatitudes are structured in that the first two are states of being. No one prays to be poor in spirit or in mourning. They are conditions.
    • The promises are total gift and all encompassing.
    • One might pray for meekness; one should pray for righteousness. So there is some movement here.
    • But look how it goes. The Sermon begins with states of being which indicate helplessness. Help is needed not because we meet certain qualifications, or have accomplished certain deeds.
    • Rather, these are conditions of our experience.
    • But there is movement to moral responsibility.
    • The hungering and thirsting is to be a doer of the will of God. It is a desire, not an accomplishment.
    • These first four are “need” beatitudes; think of them being on a vertical plane illustrating our relation to God.
    • One begins by relying helplessly upon God, then progressing toward being deeply engaged with God.
    • The next four are “help” or “helping” beatitudes. They focus on moral responsibilities.
    • They are rooted in the divine gifts of the first four. They are like channels.
    • When one is given to, it is time to give.
    • One goes from helplessness to helpfulness. Think of these being on a horizontal plane illustrating our relation to each other.
    • The very last one, the little commentary about persecution, also serves as a bridge into the next section; it provides a transition to what is coming.
    • Hereafter the Sermon focuses on commands, but the beatitudes come first.
    • First, people are blessed; then they can be a blessing to others.
    • The order is critical.

Bible Characters