There are many reasons I could think of why we need to invest some time to study the Beatitudes. First is that more often than not we give more emphasis on how to enter the kingdom of heaven than how to live in it. And rightly so, because it is Christ’s commission for the church, to bring people into God’s kingdom through the proclamation of the gospel. But we want to balance it with an equal emphasis on how to live as subjects of the King with a knowledge that in some measure His kingdom is already here. Second is that there’s a lot of confusion as to what the beatitudes are all about. Is it, as a whole just a mere ethical standard that everyone should follow? Is it talking about different types of people. How can believers and unbelievers alike relate to it? Does it have implications as to how and who can enter God’s kingdom? So that’s what we will try to answer today before dealing with each beatitude in the following weeks. First we must look at it as a whole. We need to scout the surrounding perimeters of the forest by using a wide lens, then we will use a narrow lens for each tree of the beatitudes.
When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them by saying: “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 satisfied. “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 the sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [That is,] “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you [falsely] because of Me. [Therefore] Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
First we must look at where in the gospel of Matthew we will find this sermon structurally. Take note of Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 9:35. Both of these verses give a summary of the earthly ministry of Jesus. He came preaching about the kingdom of God, teaching the way of the kingdom, and demonstrated a foretaste of the kingdom. Then sandwiched between the two summary statements are two major sections. Chapters 5-7 contain the teachings of Christ called the Sermon on the Mount; and chapters 8 and 9 are mainly about his miracle works. Now when you see something like this in Scripture, we need to stop and ask why does an author like Matthew structured what he wrote this way. What is the big main point? I think Matthew’s main agenda is to give his readers a glimpse of what it’s like to live in the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. Where the foretaste was much stronger. And he’s telling us that we too can in some measure experience the life of the kingdom that is still yet to come.
Now the benefit of reading Matthew this way is that it warns us not to treat its details in isolation from the whole. This will help us not to lose the forest for the trees. This also warns us not to chop this gospel into two different Jesus’s. The historical Jesus and the Mythical Jesus. Many scholars today say that they want Jesus as the teacher of ethics but not as the supernatural miracle worker. But Matthew is telling us by writing his gospel this way, that the Jesus who taught ethics is the same Jesus who healed the sick supernaturally. You can’t have the one without the other. The Sermon on the mount, most specifically the beatitudes is admired by many as one of the greatest sermon ever, but many have failed to see that the Jesus who preached the ethics of the kingdom is the divine and supernatural king who demands full allegiance.
So “The Beatitudes” as a unit is part of a collection of teachings about the kingdom in the Sermon on the mount. Jesus came not only to provide an entrance into God’s kingdom, but also to instruct us how to live now as citizens and experience the power of the kingdom.
The audience of Christ is more likely two groups. The inner group of the disciples, and the outer group of the crowds. Notice verse 1. It says “seeing the crowds” and in Matthew 7:28, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching..” This sermon was primarily addressed to professing disciples, but the crowds were not left out. By encouraging the disciples to enjoy the blessings of the kingdom, Jesus invites the onlookers to join and enter into it. Now there’s a massive implication here on how should we design our worship service. The aim first and foremost is to equip and edify the church, and it doesn’t have to be designed as an evangelistic event before it can benefit spectators. The invitation doesn’t have to be always an explicit gospel call, but an implicit call by teasing them on how satisfying to be in the presence of the King. How blessed are we to have the kingdom reigning in us.
Beatitude is from latin which simply means happy or blessedness. It is based on the first word of each pronouncements made by Jesus. So we can say then that the main idea here has to do with blessedness, happiness. This is Christ’s way of using bold letters to put emphasis on how blessed a person is if he is in possession of the kingdom. It is also Christ’s way of making his kinsmen the Jews jealous to enter His kingdom. Remember how the Israelites asked God to give them a human king and Samuel replied that it’s not good for them(1 Samuel 8:10-18). And that is what we saw in Israel’s history. They’ve been under the rule of human kings yet not one of them brought eternal blessings to their subjects. If not all, most of the kings brought curses from God because of their sinfulness. But not King Jesus. This king came to serve and not to be served. He came with the blessings of the kingdom. This is way different from what they experienced from the earlier kings, so we can only imagine how astonished they were when Jesus preached these sayings.
Now let’s look at the beatitudes a bit closer. But not too close. We still need to look at it as a whole. So if you ask how many beatitudes are there, most people would count how many times the word “blessed” was mentioned. So they might say nine. But there are only eight. Verses 11-12 is just a restatement of the eighth beatitude. Notice how the eight beatitudes are worded the same way. They start with “blessed are those”. It’s in the third person, while verse 11 is in the second person, that is “blessed are you”. Jesus just gave them a specific instance of the persecution mentioned in verse 10. Another reason I think that it’s just eight is because verse 3 and verse 10 forms an inclusio. Both verses mentioned the promise of having the kingdom as their own, and sandwiched between them are the six beatitudes. This means that verses 3-10 is a single unit.
Also take note of the present tense verbs in verse 3 and verse 10(theirs is the kingdom), and the future tense verbs in verses 4-9(will be comforted, will inherit, will be satisfied, will see, will be called). So there’s a present motivation and future promises. But what does this pattern means?
First implication of sandwiching the six blessings with the assurance of having the kingdom now is that everyone who belongs to the kingdom will have it all. It is not saying that some from the kingdom of God will be comforted, nor some will inherit the earth, nor some will be satisfied nor some will receive mercy, nor some will see God, or that some will be called sons of God. It is not talking about eight kinds of people, not even eighth different kinds of Christians. Rather, it’s just one kind. Namely the citizens of God’s kingdom, the elect, all true Christians. They will be comforted because they mourn over their sins. They will inherit the earth because they are the despised and meek in this world. They will be satisfied because they are the ones who hunger for righteousness. They will see God because they have a new and therefore pure heart. And they will be called sons of God because like His Son they too will bring the good news of joy and peace. You don’t have to pick and choose between these promises. You can have it all if you are a citizen of the kingdom.
Second implication of the way Matthew sandwiched the six future promises with present motivations of possessing the kingdom now is that in a very real sense the kingdom of God is already here, because of the in breaking of God’s kingdom through Christ’s first advent in human history. But on the other hand it is still future. Or to put it in different way, we can now experience or have a foretaste of the blessings of the kingdom in some measure but the full benefits of it will have to wait until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Take for example the first promise, comfort(vv. 4). Revelations 21:4 says that the wiping away of tears is kept from us until Christ returns, nevertheless Matthew tells us in verse 12 that we are to rejoice and be glad now. Isn’t it that this rejoicing is a foretaste of eternal comfort? We are rejoicing because we are comforted by the fact that all of our sufferings will be rewarded. Notice that in verse 11 people will revile you. That’s not comfortable. No one wants to be reviled, to be slandered. But we are called to rejoice and be glad for great is our reward in heaven because of that same suffering.
Or take mercy(vv. 7). We can’t say that we will receive mercy only after we become merciful. Isn’t it that the very reason we show mercy to others is because we experienced God’s mercy first? We were born into His kingdom because of His sovereign mercy and grace. At this very moment God’s mercy is at work dragging dead people into God’s life giving and saving irresistible grace. So yes you can be merciful now, and yes you can experience his mercy now.
Or perhaps take the last future promise of being called sons of God(vv. 9). Romans 8:23 says that we eagerly wait for the adoption as sons, but John 1:12 tells us that those who received Christ, those who believed in his name, were given the right to become children of God. We can now call God, Abba, Father, but the full benefit of sonship is the resurrection of our bodies like that of God’s Son Jesus Christ.
So the only way to make sense of this verses is to understand the gospel of the kingdom. That is, the kingdom of God has already come. Not in a consummated way, but there’s a real breaking forth of the kingdom where we can have a foretaste of the greater things to come. Therefore let this be a celebration to all who were born of God by the power of the age to come for ours is the kingdom. And therefore live as citizens of the kingdom. Yes, not yet as the church triumphant but as the church militant awaiting the return of our King. And let this be an invitation to those who have yet to possess the kingdom. Ask God to give you a foretaste of this blessedness so that the pleasures of the world would become sour to you.