More on the Beatitudes

I have been interested in the Beatitudes since High School. Yet it never ceases to amaze me how God can reveal to you still more about an all-too-familiar passage. As I was doing an SMS series on the Beatitudes at roughly one verse per day, I realized that the beatitudes needed to be taken in as a whole for its message to be understood, so here is an attempt at studying it.

credits: 3minutetheologian.org.uk

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

He said:

“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 children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Context

The book of Matthew is often said to be written for a Jewish and/or Greek-speaking audience. The passage is set on a time near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, hence, most of things that Jesus taught were “new teachings” to his audience. It is therefore better for us to view it from the point of view of his initial audience, not from our tainted and biased 21st century view and foreknowledge. Jesus had just gathered a men to be his disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, and John), and has started preaching about repentance, and healing the sick. If you add to that the fact that John the Baptist has also been baptizing people and is pointing towards Jesus, then we might say that this was the start of Jesus’ popularity. People were following him, until they reached a mountainside, and there they sat and listened.

“Blessed”

Jesus uses the word “blessed” (Greek: makarios) 9 times in the passage to describe the state of the people who have certain characteristics (such as meekness), feel certain things (like those who mourn), or undergo certain things (like persecution). The word blessed is often used to denote someone who is happy, well-off or fortunate. It could therefore be used to describe what a person feels (emotion) or what a person is or is perceived to be (state).

We might, in a way, understand the statement “blessed are…” to mean:

 “you should be happy because these (characteristics/feelings/undergoings) are indications that you are well-off or fortunate in the spiritual sense.”

This therefore, should be the mindset of anyone who has faith in Jesus’ words: that seemingly negative or looked-down upon traits and happenings in a person’s life are considered as spiritual fortune, and, consequently, reasons to be happy.

“Kingdom of Heaven”

A phrase found exclusively in Matthew, used 33 times throughout the book, and for this passage, is used in the beginning and in the end. The word “heaven” is used in place of “God” in respect of Jewish readers who might find the flippant use of the word “God” offensive.

Though this phrase is often understood by 21st century readers to refer to a happy place in the afterlife that is often in contrast to “hell”, most of Jesus’ hearers might have understood it to mean something else. They were probably thinking of the emergence of a physical kingdom where the Messiah reigns as he liberates God’s people from their oppressors and colonizers (the Romans). What Jesus actually meant, however, aside from the 21st century definition, is that the Reign of God will be in the hearts and lives of those who will choose to follow him, and therefore become its citizens.

The beatitudes, therefore, gives light to three things regarding the Kingdom:

-What needs to be done to obtain/enter/be part of God’s kingdom

-What characterizes the lives of those who belong to God’s kingdom

-The state and corresponding attitude of those who are part of God’s kingdom

Sequence

The sequence of the beatitudes indicate, more or less, the sequence of events that were to be expected for those who will believe:

“poor in spirit” realization of one’s need for God
“mourning” feeling sorrow that would lead to repentance
“meekness” gaining a humble attitude of submission towards God’s will and patience towards men
“hunger and thirst for righteousness” having a growing longing to know and do the things of God
“mercy” reciprocating to other people the mercy that God has shown
“pure heart” seeks God without personal motives
“peace-making” agent of reconciliation, Just like Jesus
“persecuted because of righteousness” Ultimate consequence (and evidence) of following God
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