A unique look at the “Beatitudes” of Jesus

For many believers, the verses of Scripture we call the “Beatitudes,” which are found in Matthew 5:3-12, are among the most beautiful and inspiring words ever spoken by Jesus. They can also be some of His most perplexing words.

beatitudesJesus was not the first teacher to use “beatitudes.”  On the contrary, the beatitude was a common teaching and rhetorical tool used by the Greeks, Hebrews, and Christians to describe a state of happiness and fulfillment a person can attain after they achieve a certain level of success, wisdom, or virtue. The word “beatitude” comes from a Latin adjective that simply means something like happy, fortunate, content, or blessed. Beatitudes have also been called “makarisms,” from the Greek word makarios, which was used to describe what it means to be bless-ed. In Jesus teaching, the state of being bless-ed is not just about a person’s happiness and fulfillment, but also about God’s happiness with the person. Thus to be bless-ed is both a gift that is bestowed by God and an attitude by the one who receives the gift. Being bless-ed means experiencing fulfillment and joy now — but also a much fuller and more complete joy in the future when God brings His Kingdom to fruition.

You will find several translations and interpretations that use the word “happy” instead of “bless-ed”. This idea is not altogether incorrect, but I think it still falls short just a bit.

I love what John Stott says here:

All Christians can testify from experience that there is a close connection between holiness and happiness. Nevertheless, it is seriously misleading to render makarios as ‘happy’. For happiness is a subjective state, whereas Jesus is making an objective judgment about these people. He is declaring not what they may feel like (‘happy’), but what God thinks of them and what on that account they are: they are ‘blessed’. [1]

John Chrysostom, my favorite preacher of all-time, says further:

God has set his blessing upon these things (the Beatitudes) to keep us from expecting something that belongs to the material world. For if one wore the prize or garland for things that are to be dissolved together with this present life, things that flit away faster than a shadow, would that one truly be blessed? [2]

During a recent study at our church, a group was asked to try approaching and interpreting the Beatitudes by trying to imagine the many possible meanings Jesus may have intended. It was interesting to hear the myriad of ideas and suggestions that came from various members of the group, but I was left with a nagging question: What did Jesus really mean?

So I decided to experiment with trying to understand these words of Jesus from an internal, biblical, point of view — that is, by interpreting Scripture with Scripture. In my estimation, the Beatitudes were not “one-hit wonders”. They were based on things Jesus used to say all the time . . .

MY EXPERIMENT WITH THE BEATITUDES

Below you will find the Beatitudes listed one-by-one. Below each one you will find my interpretation  based on other words of Jesus or other Scriptures. I would love to know . . . do you find this helpful? Would you use other Scriptures to interpret them differently? Either way, ENJOY!

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

Blessed are those whose treasures are not on earth, for their treasures are in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-21)

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

Blessed are those who are hurting or grieving loss, for God is near to the brokenhearted. (Psalm 34:18)

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

Blessed are those who humble themselves, for someday they will be exalted. (Luke 14:11)

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

Blessed are those who seek first His kingdom and righteousness, for everything they need will be added unto them. (Matthew 6:33)

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

Blessed are those who forgive others, for the Father will also forgive them. (Matthew 6:14-15)

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

Blessed are those with clean hands and a pure heart, for they may ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place. (Psalm 24:3-4)

or

Blessed are those who cleanse their hands and purify their hearts, for when they draw near to God He will draw near to them. (James 4:8)

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

Blessed are those who love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them,that they may be children of their Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:44-45)

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

Blessed are those who are insulted because of the name of Christ, for they are blessed and the Spirit of glory and of God rests on them. (1 Peter 4:14). Remember, this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

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

Blessed are you if the world persecutes and hates you. Keep in mind that it persecuted and hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (John 15:18-21)

FOR THOSE  WHO LIKE A LITTLE EXTRA . . .

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LUKE’S VERSION OF THE BEATITUDES, LIKELY SPOKEN BY JESUS ON ANOTHER OCCASION

Luke 6:20-26

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.

25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.

26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

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SOME BEATITUDES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

SOME ‘BEATITUDES’ OF THE OLD TESTAMENT:

Psalm 112

1 Praise the Lord.

Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
who find great delight in his commands.

Proverbs 8:32-35

32 “Now then, my children, listen to me;
blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Listen to my instruction and be wise;
do not disregard it.
34 Blessed are those who listen to me,
watching daily at my doors,
waiting at my doorway.
35 For those who find me find life
and receive favor from the Lord.

Psalm 1:1-3

1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Psalm 128:1-3

1 Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
who walk in obedience to him.
2 You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

REFERENCES

-All Scripture quoted here is from the most recent New International Version.

[1] Stott, John. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. IVP, 1985, p. 33.

[2] John Chrysostom, On Matthew, 15.5.

4 thoughts on “A unique look at the “Beatitudes” of Jesus

  1. don says:

    1 Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
    or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
    2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
    3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
    and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.
    4 Not so with the sinner like chaff
    which the wind drives away.
    5 The ungodly will not stand in judgement,
    nor will the evil join in the congregation of
    the righteous.

    Guess what, Eric. By coincidence Psalm One is a scripture to memory I worked on last week. I decided to learn it because it’s been some time since I memorized a scripture a week for each week of the year. I wanted to test memory capacity against age, but more so, to thank God for His glory and for being my heavenly Father; our heavenly Father.

    Don

  2. donshank1@cox.net says:

    Eric,

    An interesting study (Psalms 78 and 79) is learning why God chose Judah over Ephraim and Jerusalem over Shiloh to foster His people and bring them forward (David to Jesus). Have you ever taught or preached on that?

    Don

  3. Me says:

    Hi Eric, I found your thoughts entertaining here, and wanted to share my thoughts, if that’s okay.

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

    I believe the poor in spirit refers to those who lack Wisdom (knowledge and understanding) and Matthew defines the kingdom of heaven as being Wisdom (or as the gospel of John calls it, the Word). It’s clear to me when Christ speaks of treasures, he is not referring to any physical treasure nor emotional treasure, for, it is by Wisdom, he saves (Isaiah 53:11). The book of Proverbs and Psalms stresses how Wisdom is the Savior and those who lack knowledge and understanding, perish.

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

    I believe that this also refers to how those who are ignorant will be comforted by the Truth (Wisdom). It’s parallel with the first beatitude. How Christ says that the Truth will set people free. I believe joy comes from having been educated about God’s ways, which was revealed through the Christ (Psalm 19:8).

    ————————————————

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

    The humble in heart are like people who humble themselves like little children in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). Therefore, I believe the second verse may have been mistranslated. The humble in heart does not inherit the earth, they inherit the kingdom (unless this verse is to intentionally let us know that the earth as God’s kingdom, which we all know isn’t so).
    ————————————————
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.

    Again, these beatitudes all interpret as meaning the same thing. For, Christ’s main focus was that mankind gain Wisdom and the gospel of John stresses this as the sole importance of Christ’s purpose – to educate, or to ‘feed’ mankind. For, God causes mankind to hunger because He was trying to teach them that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3).

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

    I believe that the merciful are those who possess understanding that enables them to forgive their fellow man. For, by mankind possessing understanding, they are able to forgive each other and God spares them from death. As ignorance is the ultimate sin that leads to death (Isaiah 6:10) (Proverbs 10:21).

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

    I believe the pure in heart, again, is supposed to be in uniform with the former beatitudes. In order to be pure, one must cleanse themselves of sin with God’s word. Proverbs and Psalms also talks about this. Purity is to be cleansed with the Word, because Wisdom is pure. For example: the fear of the Lord is pure (Psalms 19:9), it is also defined as being the beginning of knowledge/Wisdom (Psalms 111:10, Proverbs 1:7). Therefore, the pure in heart are those who have God’s laws in their hearts. (Psalm 18:20, 18:24, 18:26, 19:9, 51:2, Proverbs 15:26, 20:9).

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

    The peacemakers, again, are parallel with the beatitude of the merciful. No man can know the way to obtain peace without Wisdom. For turning to folly leads to trouble. (Psalm 85:8). Psalms 34:14 tells us the way to find peace, by turning away from doing bad things. (Psalm 119:165). Psalm 85:10 tells us that righteousness is peace and peace is righteousness – they are one and the same. Therefore, I believe by understanding what it means to be ‘righteous’, those who use righteousness to battle against others or to stir up an argument, or to start wars, are not of peace and they are not righteous, but only self righteous. And I guess it was important for the prophets to make a specific distinction here.

    ————————————————
    Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    I believe that because the beatitudes are uniform, it is of no surprise that Christ again, would reward the righteous who are persecuted, with more Wisdom because it protects them in time of trouble. King David, when he was being pursued by his enemies spent waking hours, day and night, seeking God’s word, begging God to fill him with His precepts, as he suffered in pain and anguist (Psalm 69:29). (Psalm 25:21, 116:16, 140:10, John 17:11) These verses tell us that we are not exempt from persecution, but it is during persecution, God protects us with His Word (kingdom of heaven).

    ————————————————

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

    I believe that this beatitude is slightly parallel to the above, however, the above refers to the followers of Christ and this beatitude refers solely to servants of Christ. Many are called to follow Christ, but only the chosen few are made to serve him. And we all know those who serve God, has only one reward – God Himself. Prophets, disciples, priests – anyone who serves God share in the same reward. (Genesis 15:1, Joshua 13:33).

    So, I believe that this sums up both the responsibilities of those who serve God and those who follow God. And that, not many who are called by God, are called to serve but to simply, follow Him – because for most people, that’s all that God requires of them. Preachers today, make it so difficult for the world to believe that many people can be saved, which isn’t true. So, for most people, why bother? Rather, I believe that God will indeed save a countless multitude, even though, very few among them were also called to serve – I think that’s the difference.

    I don’t believe that God would place such responsibility of SERVICE, to ALL those who are called, because most of those who are called, were perhaps, only called to be saved. Instead, I believe that it is more important that God picks and chooses who can serve because not everyone knows how to deliver the word effectively. Some people deliver it with ‘honey’ but most people who were not chosen to serve, delivers God’s Word with ‘vinegar’ and hostility – even though they honestly believe that’s what they were told to do – which is inaccurate.

    I see this everyday with Christians who were not called to serve, beating the bible over other people’s heads and trying to insinuate a promise of materialistic wealth and riches and physical healing, which are temporary rewards and have no reflection on the true reward – eternal life. It’s no different than Muslim activists promising their followers with countless virgins in heaven – which is materialistic and worldly and is not the type of treasures that God rewards people in heaven…

    But people should know to decipher the difference between those who were only called to be saved and those who were called to serve. Because those who were chosen, will not argue, but just simply, wipe their feet and move on to the next town to spread God’s salvation – which is Wisdom. They know they have done their jobs by planting the seed, which may eventually, serve as a dividing sword within an individual, to motivate them to repent and heed to God’s word. It is the Word’s responsibility alone, to battle inside a person’s heart. The servant’s job is to plant the seed there, and walk away. Sometimes, mankind longs for a transformation to occur right away, that, they will stay and argue and try to beat the Word over and over into stubborn people’s hearts and minds and it only results in anger, affliction and pain. This is not the servant’s responsibility to cause pain, but the responsibility of the Word to convict that individual’s heart – only God can do that. For, Christ knew there was a process – to everything, including salvation. Matthew 23:23, says that the pharisees do this all the time. They do not follow the process of God’s salvation because as he states, “My time hasn’t come, but for you, any time is right.” (John 7:6). It seems that mankind’s lack of patience and longing to see results right away is also what causes them to stumble and overlook God’s process. But Christ, from beginning to end, knew the process, as even he said to John the Baptist, let it be so now, in order to fulfill all righteousness. (Matthew 3:15). Therefore, the concept of righteousness is not only gaining God’s Wisdom, but that, there is a process or the order in which it must be received. As God always taught me, “First is first, and next is next.”

    That’s my thought on this.

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