October 2008 - Vol. 23

The Life of 
a Disciple

commentary on 
the beatitudes

by Steve Clark



From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt: 4:17). At the time in Jewish history when Jesus spoke these words, one of the things that people were most concerned about was God's coming to reign. About 20 years before Jesus began to preach, the rule of the last Jewish king in Palestine had ended, and Judea and Samaria were now under Roman government under pagan rule. Jews believed that pagan rule in the land of Israel was an abomination. God was the one who was supposed to reign. The Jews at this time were looking for the rule or reign of God.

What we receive from Jesus in the beatitudes is a teaching about how somebody should live who believes that the kingdom of God is at hand, and who is staking his life on that kingdom.

 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 
 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
 4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 
 5 "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 
 6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 
 7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 
 8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 
 9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 
10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. 
13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. 
14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. 
15 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. 
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  (Matthew 5:2-16).
Verses 3 through 12 are the beatitudes. The term comes from the Latin beatus, 'blessed'. The beatitudes portray the character of a disciple of Jesus. Verses 13 to 16 describe the effect the disciple is supposed to have on the world around him, if his life conforms to the beatitudes.

There are eight beatitudes (taking verses 10 and 11 as one beatitude), and they can be grouped into two sets of four. The first set is concerned with the way the disciple relies on the Lord. The second set focuses on the disciple's relationship to other people as a result of his reliance on the Lord. There is even a one-to-one correspondence between respective beatitudes in the two sets: verse three corresponds to verse seven, verse four corresponds to verse eight, and so on.

This is easier to see if we examine the meanings of some of the words and phrases involved. For example, 'poor' in verse three corresponds to 'merciful' in verse seven. The relationship may not seem obvious; however, 'merciful' can also be translated 'generous', which fits with 'poor'.

Again, 'those who mourn' in verse four probably means 'those who repent'. This fits well with the 'pure in heart' in verse eight. It is easier to recognize the correspondence between 'the meek' (verse five) and 'the peacemakers' (verse nine), and between 'those who hunger and thirst for righteousness' (verse six) and 'those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake' (verses 10 and 11).

Putting all this together, the beatitudes match up like this:

    Blessed are the poor in spirit...Blessed are the [generous].

    Blessed are [the repentant]...Blessed are the pure in heart.

    Blessed are the meek...Blessed are the peacemakers.

    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.

Now let us look at each beatitude in greater detail in order to grasp the meaning of each one and relate it to the overall picture.
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