It's become a little bit of an internet gag... the quirky selfie with the hashtag "blessed" because of whatever good fortune someone has enjoyed. While this can often just be silly fun, it does point out that we all long for the "blessed life". But what does Jesus say the #Blessed life looks like? In this article we will briefly look at the famous and familiar text of the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12. In this passage, we hear Jesus declare what he says the “blessed” life looks like and it may be very different to what many have in mind. Jesus’s message is vastly different to what many TV evangelists and prosperity preachers on TBN may have you believe. So, let’s take a look and see from the text what this blessed life looks like...
Firstly, remember - context matters! One of the things that Prosperity Gospel preachers will do is take verses out of their original context to twist them to say what they want. But a verse out of context is a pretext for misunderstanding it.
Matthew’s Gospel is written to a primarily Jewish audience and presents Jesus as the Great Teacher of Israel. It contains the longest accounts of his teaching in any of the four Gospels. Thus, Jesus is shown as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 54:13 which says, “All your children shall be taught by the LORD…” In the chapter before our passage (4:17), Jesus began preaching, “Repent for the kingdom (reign) of heaven is at hand!” Indeed, the reigning LORD, Yahweh in the flesh, was at hand and instructing those who would follow him what citizens of His kingdom would look like. This is common throughout Matthew's Gospel for him to present parallels of Jesus with the familiar Old Testament narratives to point out that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that they foreshadowed.
The New and Greater Moses
In 5:1 we read,
“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.”
So, here is Jesus, Immanuel - God with us, who goes up to the top of the mountain to teach his people. This should bring us back to Exodus 19-20, where God was atop Mount Sinai giving the 10 commandments. Atop that mountain, the blazing presence of the LORD and terrifying thunder made the people tremble and they begged for Moses to go mediate between them and God. Here, Yahweh again comes to His people to teach them from atop a mountain. But unlike that first mountain top lesson, there is no fear, and no need for another mediator. Jesus Christ is the new and greater Moses (predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15) - the ultimate covenant mediator between God and man. The author of the book of Hebrews makes this connection as well in chapter 12, reminding us that we have not come to a mountain of “blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest” like Sinai, but “to Mount Zion” and “to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”
Reading the Beatitudes wrong
Don’t miss the connection Matthew is making in the Beatitudes!
Here, as at Mount Sinai, is God teaching his covenant people what should mark their lives. These aren’t instructions on how to become His people - just like the 10 commandments given at Sinai weren’t how they earned their salvation out of slavery in Egypt. God first redeems and saves His people, then gives them His Law to show them what should mark their lives as His covenant people.
If you miss this, you’ll read the Beatitudes wrong and think this is how you become a follower of Jesus - but that is legalism. That would be like the Israelites thinking that keeping the 10 commandments would have rescued them from slavery in Egypt. It’s getting the story backwards. God’s rescue comes before Law. Grace before Commandments. These are rather what should mark people who have already heard and responded to Christ’s command to repent and follow him from the preceding chapter.
The True #Blessed life
Verse 3 starts off describing what citizens of his kingdom look like:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
This word “blessed” - μακάριοι - has the sense of congratulation for the happy situation which others want to share in. So, what does Jesus say is this happy situation?
Poverty of spirit. This is to acknowledge one’s spiritual bankruptcy - that we cannot do anything for ourselves to pay off our debt that we owe for our sins. This is the product of genuine repentance. Note what Jesus says about these people, theirs IS the kingdom of heaven. Present tense promise - not future! All the other beatitudes except the last one are future promises. But for those who have come to recognize that they contribute nothing to their own salvation except for the sin that makes it necessary - they come poor and empty handed to the throne of grace and receive mercy now. Theirs IS the kingdom of heaven!
What else marks citizens of Jesus’s kingdom?
Verse 4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Those who mourn - who grieve over wickedness and the evils of life are promised comfort and consolation. Do you grieve over your sin?
Verse 5: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Meekness is not weakness but rather power under control. These are the ones who WILL inherit the earth - future promise - it’s not now, but to those whose lives are marked by meekness they will ultimately inherit the earth with Christ when he returns. Are you meek?
Verse 6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Hungering and thirsting in the Greek are present participles - implying a continuous and ongoing disposition of the heart to live the way God requires. Those two words “hungering” and “thirsting” connote a deep longing - as if your life depended on it like food and drink. When our bellies are hungry they grumble - does your soul grumble and ache for righteousness?
These are the ones Jesus says will be satisfied. That term used for satisfied is often used for fattening animals - it implies being fully satisfied, stuffed! It is a future passive verb - passive meaning that it is not something you do, but that is done to you. They don’t fill themselves, God fills them.
Do you want to be satisfied like that by God? Then do you hunger and thirst for righteousness?
Verse 7: Verse 7: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Mercy connotes a generous attitude willing to see the other perspective and set aside vengeance. Merciful people don’t point out the failings of others and are not quickly offended. Instead, they show mercy because they have received great mercy from the Lord. As Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The merciful are the ones who have received mercy from God through Christ and will receive ultimate mercy from God on that Day of Judgment.
Verse 8: Verse 8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Citizens of his kingdom should have untainted inner motives and honest devotion. These are the ones who shall see God!
Verse 9: Verse 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Notice it says peacemaker not peacekeeper. This implies an ACTIVE role. Any passive person can keep the peace by keeping quiet. But a peacemaker goes and seeks out reconciliation of their horizontal relationships because the ultimate reconciliation of their vertical relationship with God has been made in Christ! They are called sons of God - because they bear the resemblance of their Heavenly Father, the Ultimate Peacemaker, who, as Colossians 1:20 says, through Christ reconciled “to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Do you have peace with God through Christ your peacemaker? Then be a peacemaker. If he went to such lengths to make peace, how can we not do the same?
After talking about peacemaking, it is not a coincidence that Jesus moves on to talk about persecution next.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Verse 10)
Though Jesus is the ultimate peacemaker between us and God, it can put us at enmity with the world. Later, in Matthew 10, Jesus says he did not come to bring peace but a sword and that following him would even divide households. Peace with God does not guarantee peace with the world. In fact, just the opposite. Jesus promises in John 15:18 that the world will hate you because it hated him first. The apostle Paul also gave us a promise in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “ALL who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus WILL be persecuted.” But also notice that those who are persecuted are persecuted for righteousness sake (not because of their own foolishness). Also, here again there is a PRESENT TENSE promise - it says, “theirs IS the kingdom of heaven.”
Rejoice in Persecution?
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Verses 11-12)
Here the Greek text moves from a plural address to singular - it gets personal here. He’s speaking to you. Rejoice and be glad? Are you crazy? Why? Because persecution for the sake of Christ confirms that we are not of this world, if we were, this world would love its own (John 15:19). Jesus here says that we rejoice even in the face of persecution - not because of some sadistic enjoyment of persecution but rather because it confirms that “your reward is great in heaven” and that you’re in good company because “so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” This is why in Luke 9:23-27, Jesus tells those who desire to follow him to "count the cost." Following Jesus to the truly blessed life means self-denial of pursuing our own versions and ideas of the blessed life now. However, in the end, Jesus promises that whatever losses we suffer today will not be worth comparing to the gain we will receive in the age to come.
Not the Jesus we create, but the Jesus who created everything
To the ones who are not followers of Christ who might be reading this, you may be wondering - who can make such radical claims to follow him and promise persecution because of it? It is only the Sovereign Lord of all - Jesus Christ - who is coming back to judge the world in righteousness and is bringing his reward with him for those who count the cost to follow him today. He is the Jesus of John 1 who was in the beginning with God, is One with God and who created and sustains all things. This is not the Jesus some people have in their mind of a hip mystic who spouts trendy bumper-sticker sayings and wants to be your personal cheerleader to your best life now. That’s a false Jesus!
You must realize, this is the one who claimed to be the same Sovereign Lord who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) and who right now holds your every breath. That Jesus, the incarnate Yahweh who burned upon Mount Sinai, who called out in the chapter before, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, now, here in Matthew 5 sits atop a new mountain to tell his people whom he has redeemed and belong to his kingdom what should mark their lives. It is only by repenting (turning away) from our sins and trusting in this Jesus Christ alone for salvation that we find the blessed like he speaks about.
This is the way to your blessed life now.
So the only question is - will you willingly bow your knee to this LORD now and be part of His blessed kingdom, or wait until that day when EVERY knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD?
Don’t wait. Today if you hear His voice - do not harden your heart.
If you're interested in a deeper exposition of the Beatitudes from the Greek text, please check out my article: ΕχεGrεεκsις | "Your Blessed Life Now" – Matthew 4:23-5:12