The Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount

 In Earl McClure, Preaching & Teaching

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is an extraordinary block of Jesus’ teaching that touched on so many issues that were important in His day. In fact, they are just as relevant to us today as they were to those who sat on the hillside and listened to Him teach. The Sermon opens with a powerful set of blessings called the Beatitudes which set the tone for the Sermon at large. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-10 NIV)

(While verse 11 begins “Blessed are”, a trademark of the previous eight verses, verses 11-12 merely expand on the eighth Beatitude and so do not pronounce a ninth Beatitude.) The teachings of the Sermon that follow the Beatitudes identify attitudes and behaviors the Christian exhibits that indicate citizenship in the kingdom of heaven/God. Remember that salvation comes from belief in Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb who took the penalty for our sins so that we can be viewed by God as righteous and holy people. Once that relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is in place the attitudes and behaviors called for by the Sermon are developed in us by the Holy Spirit and the blessings can begin. Let’s look at some of the similarities and differences among the Beatitudes.

All eight references to “Blessed” translate the Greek word makarios which means “blessed”, “happy”, “fortunate”. I generally think of happiness as a conditional feeling that depends upon a person’s circumstances, but here Jesus teaches that even in a broad scope of circumstances, some positive and some negative, a person can indeed be blessed and happy and fortunate. 

All eight Beatitudes follow the same format:

Blessed are [some group of people] for theirs is / they will [obtain some benefit].

The first and eighth Beatitudes form an inclusio around the other six, identified by the clause “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, to set apart the Beatitudes as the introduction for Jesus’ teaching that follows. The Synoptic Gospels use the phrases “kingdom of heaven” (32 times in Matthew) and “kingdom of God” (5 times in Matthew, 14 times in Mark, and 32 times in Luke) as synonymous terms to refer to the glorious state of existence that believers in Christ experience living in the realm of King Jesus, first imperfectly here on earth and then perfectly in Heaven.

The first seven Beatitudes list attributes of the Christian character, the first three showing the humble and emptying response of the Christian to the revelation of God in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the next four showing the filling of the Christian’s character by the Holy Spirit. The eighth Beatitude (with the supplemental information provided by verses 11-12) gives the unbelieving world’s response to the character of the Christian, which allows the believer to exhibit perseverance.

A contrasting theme in the Beatitudes is the reversal of fortunes for those who are blessed; the first, second, third, fourth, and eighth Beatitudes follow this theme in that those who suffer now will be relieved of their burdens later. A complementary theme is the return of goodness to those who have exhibited goodness to others; the fifth, sixth, and seventh Beatitudes follow this theme in that those who treat others with dignity and courtesy and respect now will be treated in these ways in the future.

The blessedness Jesus proclaims in the Beatitudes is a paradox in that the benefit obtained already exists (“theirs is”, verses 3 and 10, present tense), yet it is still to come (“they will”, verses 4-9, future tense). 

All the Beatitudes are spoken by Jesus; other “Blessed are/is” statements in Scripture are spoken by a variety of people. 

The large crowd around Jesus that day was from “Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan” (Matthew 4:25), but Jesus was primarily teaching “His disciples” (Matthew 5:1-2) and therefore us. Much has been written about the Beatitudes and what it means to be “poor in spirit” or to “inherit the earth” or to “see God,” but know that as a Christian these blessings are for you. Meditate on the Beatitudes to “taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8 NIV).


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