And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matt. 5:1–12)
Our Lord, seeing the multitudes, went up into the mountain; this mountain is not identified for us, but our Lord’s act does give us an identification. God gave the law through Moses on Mount Sinai (Exod. 19); from Mount Ebal, the curse of God upon disobedience to His law was pronounced; and, from Mount Gerizim, His blessing upon faithfulness was declared (Deut. 27:11–28:68). All three mountains are recalled in the Sermon on the Mount, which begins with the blessings of the Beatitudes, and ends with the judgment and curse upon the house not built upon the Rock, Jesus Christ (Matt. 7:26–27). That accursed and fallen house is unbelieving Judah and Israel.
Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). He gathered to Himself almost at once twelve disciples; many more followed Him, but He singled out twelve for the inner company. Even as Moses delivered the law to the twelve tribes of Israel, so our Lord renews the law, and develops its inward implications (Matt. 5:21–48) in speaking to the twelve. However, while this renewed covenant, with its renewed affirmation of the law (Matt. 5:17–20) is with the twelve, the multitudes of Judea heard Him at the same time (Matt. 7:28–29). The covenant made by Jesus Christ is new, because it is with a new people, the new church or assembly of God’s firstborn (Heb. 12:22–24), but it is the same covenant with Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Israel; the same tree of life is the life of the covenant, but new branches are grafted into it, and the dead branches are pruned out (Rom. 11:17–24). The tree of life, Jesus Christ, is the center and life of the New Jerusalem, God’s Kingdom and city, in every age (Rev. 22:1–2).
This new covenant thus renews the law, because a covenant is a law-treaty, but, at the same time, an act of grace from the superior to the lesser. Because the triune God gives His covenant law to man, an act of grace, man must in gratitude and faithfulness keep that law. To depart from the covenant law and grace is to be accursed.
Our Lord in the Beatitudes therefore describes the covenant man, the man of grace who is therefore the man of law. These are the blessed.
The blessed are first of all defined as “the poor in spirit.” Edgar J. Goodspeed very ably paraphrases this as “those who feel their spiritual need.” These are they who know that they are not autonomous men, not gods (Gen. 3:5), but sinners. It is not the Kingdom of Men they want, but God’s reign and Kingdom. They reject man’s way and the tempter’s plan (Gen. 3:1–5) and want in all of their being the Lord’s reign in their lives, and the triumph of His law-word.
These too are they who mourn (pentheo) as they see their sin and the world’s apostasy. They rejoice in the Lord’s salvation, but the world’s rebellion against Christ the King is a manifest grief to them. The Kingdom of God or Heaven belongs to all such, and the Lord is their comfort. (Because of the Hebraic fearfulness of any vain use of God’s Name, Matthew substitutes “Heaven” for “God” in speaking of the Kingdom.)
Covenant men are God’s blessed meek (praos). In origin, meek referred to a gentled horse, one broken to harness or saddle and made useful. Emphatically, the word meek does not mean mousy or timid before men, but useful to the Lord, and harnessed to His service and law-word. If the word and Spirit of God bind us and guide us, we are the blessed meek. It is the blessed meek who shall inherit the earth (Ps. 37:11, 22) and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. For covenant men to conquer the world for Christ (Matt. 28:18–20), it requires of them this kind of character, meekness, being harnessed to the word of God and tamed and gentled by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for meek was seen by Pindar as a royal virtue.1 As against the servile virtues the world requires, the covenant man is marked by royal virtues. The slave has certain virtues which are a product of his servility, whereas covenant man, who is a prophet, priest, and king, has royal virtues.
Covenant men, as kings in Christ, are concerned with righteousness or justice; more, they hunger and thirst for it. These are the men who shall inherit the earth; their hunger and thirst after righteousness is not the desire of a slave for justice, but the active work of a king to establish it. Hence, they shall be filled or satisfied. The word translated as filled is chortazo, to feed to satiation; it comes from chortos, a garden or pasture. There is thus a hint here of entering a garden of satisfaction, a new Garden of Eden, the new creation.
Covenant men, the blessed, are also described as merciful, eleos. Mercy is God’s prerogative and power, a royal and divine virtue, and we exercise it in faithfulness to His law-word as kings in Christ. Those who proclaim and manifest the grace and mercy of God also receive His mercy. All such are the pure in heart. The word pure is katharos, as in the English catharsis. They are pure because they have been cleansed by the blood of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Their purity is not of themselves: it is Christ’s work. By their sanctification, or growth in holiness, covenant men “put off” the old man, and “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:22–24; Col. 3:9–10).“They shall see God.” This is the ultimate joy and privilege: it is to see and know the triune God. “[H]e that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” our Lord declares (John 14:9).
These are the peacemakers; they are called the children of God. To be God’s children is to be princes, royalty, by the adoption of grace. Peacemaking in antiquity was a royal act of power. The peace of the land depended upon the king. So too the peace of the earth depends upon God’s princes of grace. If they are faithful to their royal calling, they proclaim and bring in the King, Jesus Christ, for “this man shall be the peace” (Micah 5:5). By His atonement, He makes peace between God and man, and by His law-word, He sets forth the life of peace in Him.
Covenant man has a reward here and now in Christ, and in the inheritance of the earth, and in heaven (Matt. 5:12). He is also a part of the wars of the Lord, not as the Lord’s enemy, but as the Lord’s man. As a result, he will be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. He may be killed for the Lord’s sake (Rom. 8:36). His enemies, however, earn hell for their works, but covenant man gains heaven and the new creation.
He may be reviled or abused, and spoken falsely of, for Christ’s sake, but he will gain from his Lord the joyful word, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant … enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21). Therefore, even under persecution, he must “[r]ejoice, and be exceeding glad” (Matt. 5:12).
Not every believer is persecuted, but every true believer is blessed. Our Lord does not conceal the fact of the battle, nor the cost thereof, but the overriding and dominating pronouncement is summed up in the word blessed.
To depart from God’s covenant grace and law is to be accursed; to be faithful is to be blessed. Hence, these verses are called the Beatitudes. A beatitude is supreme blessedness, felicity, or happiness. Failure to stress this fact is to pervert Scripture. The covenant is a blessing; the law is a blessing; grace is a blessing; the Lord’s salvation is a blessing. True, in a world of sin, the bearers of God’s grace will suffer from the hostilities of the world against God, but our Lord declares plainly: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).