The Beatitudes: The Sermon on the Mount

Lesson 2: The Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12)

The Sermon on the Mount

Part 1: The Subjects of the Kingdom (Mt 5:3-16)

The Character and Blessedness of Citizens of Christ’s Kingdom

The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes, statements Jesus made regarding the blessedness of the inhabitants of the kingdom.


  1. The Setting (Mt 5:1-2; Luke 6:17-19)

    1. The contents of Matthew’s record of the Sermon and Luke’s record of it are very similar.1 There is little doubt that the two writers are recording the same sermon. We can’t totally rule out the idea that Jesus preached the same sermon twice, but it seems unlikely.

    2. One problem in reconciling the two accounts is that Matthew says the Sermon occurred when Jesus went “up into a mountain” (5:1), while Luke says Jesus “came down with them, and stood in the plain” (6:17). Possible solutions:

      1. Jesus went into a mountain but found a level spot to speak from. The word “plain” literally means “level place,” which can be found even on mountains. And the mountains in that region are more like hills. However, this does not explain how Jesus “came down.”

      2. Perhaps Luke does not mention that Jesus went up into a mountain before giving the Sermon. Jesus “came down” (Luke) then “went up” (Mt) sometime later. The text doesn’t say that this occurred, but it could have.

  2. Theme and Background

    1. The Beatitudes are the collection of blessings Jesus spoke at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. There are other Beatitudes (“blessed be …”) but this is the most elaborate list in the Bible.

    2. These statements are called Beatitudes based on the Latin translation of the word “blessed” – be?tit?d?, meaning “perfect happiness.”2 However, the word “blessed” is not exactly synonymous with “happy.” Happiness is a feeling that comes and goes depending on one’s circumstances. The term “blessed” is a term of congratulation and recommendation. The blessing here is based on God’s approval, not on a temporary happy feeling. The word “refers overwhelmingly to the distinctive religious joy which accrues to man from his share in the salvation of the kingdom of God.”3 (Compare Ps 32:1.) MacArthur describes the blessed condition as “the divinely-bestowed well-being that belongs only to the faithful.”4

    3. These qualities are to be envied and emulated; they make up “the good life.” Each is followed by a reason, pointing out that no one will be the loser by following this way of life, however unpromising it may appear in the short term. The rewards are at the level of spiritual experience and relationship with God rather than of material recompense. The key phrase, which opens and concludes the series, is theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This refers to the people who acknowledge God as their King and who may, therefore, confidently look forward to the fulfillment of his purpose in their lives.5

    4. Note the paradoxical (seemingly illogical) nature of these statements, and how they contrast with the world’s view of happiness. In Jesus’ kingdom, it’s not the wealthy, powerful, and selfish who enjoy God’s approval, but the downcast, the meek, and the merciful. One’s inner attitude is much more important than his outer condition.

    5. The Beatitudes are more than just descriptive. They should motivate us to pursue the blessings associated with each statement. Also, the statements are more like exclamations than simple declarations of fact. “How blessed…!” is the idea.

    6. What kind of people enjoy God’s approval? What does God value in a person? What type of person pleases God? What characteristics describe those who inhabit Christ’s kingdom? What does God’s value in His people? The Beatitudes answer these questions.

  3. The Beatitudes—Characteristics and Blessedness of Citizens of Christ’s Kingdom (Mt 5:1-12)

Mt 5:1-2 Jesus sat down to teach. Rabbis in that age typically sat to teach while the audience stood to listen. There is no consensus regarding where this took place. It could be a mountain or just a small hill. There is a place on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee where tradition suggests the Sermon occurred, but this is uncertain.

The values reflected in the Beatitudes stand in stark contrast to those taught by the Jewish leaders of the day (scribes, Pharisees). They often focused on external standards and rule keeping, while Jesus here focuses on inner attitudes and commitments. The qualities that Jesus taught are not the product of external, formal religion, but of a genuine relationship with God.

    1. Blessed are the poor6 in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

      1. In the OT, the “poor” or “meek” are the oppressed people of God who, nonetheless, trust in him for deliverance.7 Thus, the poor in spirit are those who recognize that they have no innate ability to please God. The poor in spirit admit that they must depend fully on God, not on themselves. They see themselves as spiritually bankrupt, weak, and broken before God, having nothing to offer, claiming no merit.

      2. The poor in spirit have become convinced of their spiritual poverty. They have been made conscious of their misery and want. Their old pride has been broken. They have begun to cry out, “O God, be thou merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13). They are of a contrite spirit and tremble at God’s word (Isa. 66:2; cf. 57:15).?? They realize their own utter helplessness (Rom. 7:24), expect nothing from self, everything from God.8

      3. Those who fit this description have (present tense) a place the kingdom of heaven. In order to be saved, one must recognize his own spiritual bankruptcy and failure.

      4. This statement prohibits that kind of self-confident pride that is so common in our culture. It runs contrary to what people today value—self-esteem, assertive self-promotion, and positive self-image.

    2. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

      1. The context here suggests that the mourning occurs as one acknowledges his poorness of spirit, i.e., his spiritual poverty and utter dependence upon God. The mourner is broken, downcast, and burdened. Any distressing situation in life may cause mourning, but the poor in spirit recognize that sin is the cause of most grief.

      2. Although Jesus doesn’t specify who is doing the comforting, it seems reasonable that God is the one bringing comfort to the mourner. God draws nigh to those who seek Him in their times of grief (read Ps 34:18; James 4:8-10).

      3. Jesus is the great high priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness, having experienced human sorrow himself (Heb 4:14-16).

    3. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

      1. This is perhaps the most quoted of the Beatitudes. It’s also an ironic statement—it doesn’t seem reasonable, strikes us as odd. Jesus seems to delight in turning the tables and upsetting the conventional wisdom of the time. This is an approximate quotation of Psalm 37:11.

      2. Meekness is humility or gentleness, the opposite of self-reliant pride. It is nearly synonymous with being poor in spirit.

      3. Meekness doesn’t imply that one never stands up for himself or that one allows others to abuse him. Meekness is the result of placing one’s confidence in God rather than in oneself.

      4. Meekness is not spinelessness, the characteristics of the person who is ready to bow before every breeze. It is submissiveness under provocation, the willingness rather to suffer than to inflict injury. The meek person leaves everything in the hand of him who loves and cares.9

      5. Jesus described himself as “meek and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29). Followers of Christ will also exhibit this characteristic.

      6. When will the meek inherit the earth? In a sense, they have it now (Mt 6:33; 1 Cor 3:21). But the full expression of this promise awaits the millennial reign of Christ and then the eternal state.

      7. Meekness is a very rare characteristic in our culture. We often value those who put themselves forward, who assert themselves. The world seems to belong to the proud, the ambitious. But in Christ’s kingdom, the meek inherit the earth.

    4. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

      1. God approves of those who have a deep spiritual appetite, who desire to live a righteous life. Life is full of injustice and unfairness, but God blesses those who have a strong personal desire for righteousness.

      2. The contrast with our world could hardly be more striking. Most people have little regard for personal righteousness, allowing themselves much moral flexibility. But God gives us an objective standard of righteousness—God himself and his word.

      3. Those who yearn for righteousness will be filled. That is, they will experience what they seek—true righteousness. This is the result of justification; God declares the guilty sinner to be righteous. Salvation yields full spiritual satisfaction.

      4. Righteous living is the natural and necessary result of a righteous standing before God. The two are inseparable.

    5. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

      1. Mercy is withholding deserved punishment (cf. Ps 103:10). Mercy is love for those in misery and a forgiving spirit toward the sinner. It embraces both the kindly feeling and the kindly act. We see it exemplified in the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10), and especially in Christ, the merciful High priest (Heb. 2:17).10 Every person has experienced God’s mercy.

      2. Merciful people extend mercy to others (cf. Mt 18:23-35). Anyone who has experienced God’s mercy must be merciful. Merciful people sympathize with those who fail and fall.

      3. It’s interesting that Jesus places mercy next to righteousness. Those who demand adherence to a righteous standard may become hard-nosed, inflexible, and demanding. But our desire for righteousness must be combined with merciful love and understanding.

    6. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

      1. Read Psalm 24:3-4. Pure in heart suggests authenticity, not putting on a show, not living a lie, not hypocritical, but genuine and sincere. It also implies a single-minded devotion to God. One’s motives are pure and genuine, not put-on.

      2. Further, pure in heart suggests inward cleansing from sin through faith in God’s provision and a continual desire to keep one’s “account” clean.

      3. One’s heart must be clean in order to “see God.” Cleansing from sin comes only through the application of the blood of Christ. Only those who experience Christ’s cleansing power will be welcomed into God’s presence.

      4. Again we see the importance of a true, inner, personal relationship with God. We should regularly be asking God to search our hearts and cleanse us from sin (Ps 139:23-24; 1 John 1:9). Also, when the inside is clean, outer purity will not be far behind (Mt 23:26). It’s a mistake to expect external purity from those whose hearts have not been cleansed from sin.

    7. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

      1. Peacemakers attempt to bring calm and order to a chaotic situation. Peacemakers have an inner peace with God and desire to be instruments of God’s peace. Having experienced the peace of God through faith in Christ (Rom 5:1), peacemakers seek to help others know God’s peace.

      2. Such people reflect the characteristics of the Father. God made peace with us through Christ. God is the ultimate peace maker. In this way we resemble God, showing our relationship to him (Gal 3:26, 4:6-7).

      3. Some initiate trouble and conflict—we call them troublemakers. Peacemakers do just the opposite—they initiate peace and order.

      4. Jesus is not advocating a peace-at-any-price attitude. Jesus said that following him may result in conflict and persecution (Mt 10:34-36).

    8. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

      1. Jesus is the ultimate example of one who was persecuted for righteousness sake. Those who follow the core values that Jesus advocated can expect persecution.

      2. People displaying these qualities will naturally stand out in a wicked culture and would become the targets of criticism and abuse.

    9. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

      1. Note the change from “they” to “you.” This becomes more personal. One is persecuted “for righteousness sake” and “for my sake,” not for political or social reasons (Mt 10:22).

      2. It was a rather common idea among the Jews that all suffering, including persecution (see Luke 13:1–5), was an indication of God’s displeasure and of the special wickedness of the one thus afflicted. Christ here reverses this view, but only with respect to those who endured persecution for the sake of righteousness and for the cause of Christ.11

      3. The proper response to persecution—rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven. You’re in good company—that’s how they treated the prophets (e.g., Jeremiah, Daniel and friends, Amos, etc.). Read Acts 5:41.

      4. When you live the way Jesus describes here, the unsaved world will not appreciate it. But God does appreciate it, and those who suffer in this way can be confident of a great reward.

We must value what God values. If you want to enjoy God’s blessing, these attitudes and behaviors must exist in our lives. All citizens of Jesus’ kingdom should be striving to apply this teaching.

Note well Jesus’ emphasis on the inner qualities of the heart—dependency, meekness, yearning for righteousness, mercifulness, authenticity, and purity. These are not things that can be merely put-on. They are inner qualities, not external traditions. Jesus no doubt is taking aim at the externalism and ritualism so common among the Pharisees, which is also very common among religious people today.

1 Luke omits various matters of special interest to Matthew’s Jewish readers (e.g. Matt. 5:17-42), and other matters that he himself will give elsewhere (e.g. Luke 11:1-4; 12:22-31); while Luke has a few sentences (as ver. 24-26, 38-40), which are not given by Matthew. Robertson, Harmony of the Gospels.

2 Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1).

3Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin.; ed. Gerhard Kittel et al.;, electronic ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976), 4:367.

4John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Mt 5:3.

5D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970, 4th ed.; Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Mt 5:3.

6 The primary sense of the word “poor” (??????) implies one who is completely destitute, deprived of every means of self-support, one reduced to begging; helpless and powerless.

7D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary.

8William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, vol. 9, New Testament Commentary.

9William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, vol. 9, New Testament Commentary.

10William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, vol. 9, New Testament Commentary.

11William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, vol. 9, New Testament Commentary.

Comments

  1. Good stuff, thanks for sharing.
    GOD BLESS YOU

  2. I love the valuable info you supply in your posts. A hard-hitting post.

  3. creekwalker says:

    What a truly wonderful place the world could be if we all followed just these 9 blessings!

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