The Beatitudes: An Introduction
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 Sermon on the Mount begins with nine “Beatitudes” in which Jesus describes the present reality of the Kingdom in the midst of the people who were listening to this sermon. Notice how Matthew has connected the previous section with what is about to happen: Jesus had begun His ministry, He’s been preaching and healing and the crowds have grown and grown. He looks around and there is a big crowd, so He climbs up a hill, sits down and begins to speak to the people His opening is a series of nine Beatitudes that break nicely into two main sections. The first section, comprising the first four beatitudes, (5:3-6) focuses on our relationship with God, the second group of four (5:7-10) focus on horizontal relationships, with the ninth expanding upon the eighth. Each is comprised a statement identifying the character that is blessed by God (e.g., “blessed are the poor in spirit”) followed by a clause explaining the basis of their blessing (e.g., “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”). The section is bracketed by “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” in verses 3 and 7 which clearly define this introduction to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount discourse.
I’ve noticed over the years that people read these without an actual understanding of what the word “blessed” means. I did some research on the word to discover its meaning, and more often than I’d like to admit, people use the word in its own definition, even sometimes in dictionaries, which, when I was in school, was strictly frowned upon. One definition said that “blessed” means “blest”. Gee, thanks for clearing that up!
The Greek word used here is makarios, which means: “fortunate, well off:—blessed, happy”. Thus, when Jesus says “blessed is (or blessed are)” He means that they are fortunate, well off, happy. When we read through these beatitudes, we need to be asking questions like, “Why would being poor in spirit make me happy, and what is the alternative to being poor in spirit?”
When we approach the Beatitudes like that, we will very likely discover a mine of great wealth to be explored. Consequently, as we go through these one by one, we will be exploring with those types of questions in mind. The reason is more than just our getting some good teaching; Jesus isn’t just teaching here, He is telling the people about the present state of the kingdom. It wasn’t that God would change our earthly circumstances if we would follow Him, it was that God would be in a close and personal relationship with the people in this age, and ultimately change the paradigm in the next age, this passage, therefore is not only messianic, but apocalyptic as well, and most deserving of our careful attention. We will kick it off when we next get together; you won’t want to miss a single installment!