This section begins with the setting for the Sermon on the Mount, followed by the beatitudes.
Matthew 5:1-2Seeing the multitudes, he went up onto the mountain. When he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 2He opened his mouth and taught them, saying,
Jesus sat to teach. The phrase "opened his mouth" signals he was about to say something important, not that he was merely about to speak.
The word "beatitude" is derived from the Latin "beatus," which means blessed or happy. This designation is appropriate because each teaching begins with the word "blessed."
3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
10Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness'sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
11Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Dual meanings can often be found in the teachings of Christ. A surface (earthly) meaning may be supported by a deeper spiritual (heavenly) meaning. Some of the beatitudes can be interpreted in this manner.
In a sermon with strong parallels to this, Jesus said, "Blessed are you who are poor, God's Kingdom is yours" (Luke 6:20). The surface meaning is that those who are materially poor are happy. This statement is unexpected, since we naturally assume the poor are unhappy. Interpreters who take this more literal view propose that the rich are unhappy because wealth produces anxiety, distractions, and worry.
The deeper spiritual meaning is expressed in this translation (WEB) in verse 3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Being poor in spirit, is a personal recognition of spiritual poverty. All who come to Jesus admit they have nothing to offer.
Ladder of righteousness
In this light, one can view the beatitudes as a ladder or sequence of character shifts that followers of Christ must adopt.
The natural response of those who become convinced of their spiritual poverty is to "mourn" over their lost spiritual condition. Consequently in the second beatitude Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." The Apostle Paul called this mourning "godly sorrow."
2 Corinthians 7:9a-10I now rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that you were made sorry to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly way, that you might suffer loss by us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, which brings no regret. But the sorrow of the world produces death.
God is the source of comfort for this mourning, because he offers forgiveness. David, in Psalm 32:4-5 claimed that his silence for sin impacted him physically. But when he confessed God forgave him. Likewise, John the Apostle wrote that God is faithful to forgive those who confess sin.
1 John 1:8-9If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The first beatitude is recognizing sin in our lives. The second is mourning for that sin. The third beatitude, "Blessed are the gentle," is also translated meek. Meekness is power under control. According to Albert Barnes, "Meekness is the reception of injuries with a belief that God will vindicate us."1 People who are meek have peace because their trust rests in God, not in themselves. Meekness is not spineless weakness. It's a confident recognition that God will remedy injustice.
The phrase "Kingdom of Heaven" appears in verses 3 and 10. In scripture, this pattern of writing is called an "inclusio." An inclusio is a literary envelope that wraps related information.
Light of the World
Jesus used word pictures to show the impact he expected Christians to have on the world.
Matthew 5:13-16You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its flavor, with what will it be salted? It is then good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men.
- Barnes, Albert, Barnes' Notes: Notes on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Books, 1998, 44.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.