Jesus teaches us
how to stake our lives on
God and the coming of his
reign on earth
From that time Jesus
began to preach, saying, "Repent, for
the kingdom of heaven is at hand"
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 this
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, and
wanted God to come and establish the kingdom.
So when Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at
hand,” he was announcing a piece of news that
people were interested in. It meant something
big was going to happen, and everything was
going to change as a result of it.
This was Jesus’ message and the background for
his teaching. If you believe my message, he
was saying, you should repent: you should
change your whole mentality. You should start
to live a different kind of life.
This sets the context for the beatitudes – in
fact, for the entire Sermon on the Mount. The
crowds had gathered around Jesus, and, “seeing
the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and
when he sat down his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them”
What we receive from Jesus in the beatitudes
is a teaching about how somebody who believes
that the kingdom is at hand, and who is
staking his life on the kingdom of God, should
Beatitudes in Matthew Chapter 5
Seeing the crowds,
he went up on the mountain, and
when he sat down the disciples
came to 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 those
who mourn, for they shall be
Blessed are the
meek, for they shall inherit the
Blessed are those
who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they shall be
Blessed are the
merciful, for they shall obtain
Blessed are the
pure in heart, for they shall
Blessed are the
peacemakers, for they shall be
called sons of God.
Blessed are those
who are persecuted for
righteousness' sake, for theirs
is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you
when men revile you and
persecute you and utter all
kinds of evil against you
falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be
glad, for your reward is great
in heaven, for so men persecuted
the prophets who were before
You are the salt
of the earth; but if salt has
lost its taste, how shall its
saltiness be restored? It is no
longer good for anything except
to be thrown out and trodden
under foot by men.
You are the light
of the world. A city set on a
hill cannot be hid.
do men light a lamp and put it
under a bushel, but on a
stand, and it gives light to
all in the house.
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
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
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
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.
Blessed are the poor in
spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed” means fortunate, one to whom
good things have been given. In this setting, we
might take it to mean “truly fortunate” or “most
fortunate of all.”
Truly fortunate, then, are the poor in spirit.
The term “poor” here probably does not mean just
materially poor; that is one reason why “in
spirit” is added.
In the Old Testament, “the poor” often refers to
people who rely on God to provide for them, who
are faithful to God. When Psalm 9 says, “The
needy shall not always be forgotten, and the
hope of the poor shall not perish,” its meaning
goes beyond simple lack of material goods. “The
poor” are people who lack means to provide for
themselves, so they rely on the Lord to provide
The spiritually poor – the poor in spirit – are
people who lack not so much material resources
but a certain type of self-reliance. They don’t
rely on their own gifts, skills, resources; they
look to the Lord.
Theirs, says Jesus, is the kingdom of heaven.
Note that the kingdom of heaven is the reward in
both the first and the eighth beatitudes. That
probably is meant to indicate that all the
rewards that are mentioned are really the
kingdom of heaven in one way or another. In
other words, the beatitudes tell what kind of
person we have to be in order to receive the
kingdom of heaven, to dwell under the reign of
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
The term “mourn” seems straightforward. But for
most of us it actually isn’t, because in
scripture mourning was not only something you
did when you were unhappy. To be sure, you did
mourn on certain occasions when you had been
deprived of something, as when somebody died.
But mourning customs were used in other ways as
For example, one of the ways of showing that you
were seeking pardon, or turning to a person for
help or direction, was to use the mourning
customs. That was a way of expressing
submission, and also a way of expressing
repentance. When you repented, you mourned. In
that way you showed sorrow for your past action,
but you also expressed that you were looking for
a new way of life.
Jesus, then, is saying, blessed are those who
submit their lives to God, who are repentant of
their past disobedience, who seek a new way of
Such people, he says, shall be comforted. The
word for comfort here is parakaleo. This
has the same root as the word parakletos,
or Paraclete, referring to the Holy Spirit. In
fact, the Spirit is sometimes called the
comforter. Parakaleo could also be
translated “strengthened”: The Holy Spirit, the
comforter, the strengthener, comes to provide
the strength, the assistance, the comfort
lacking to somebody on their own resources.
Another way to state the second beatitude, then,
is, blessed are those who turn away from their
old ways and submit to God, for they shall be
given strength and comfort – quite likely by the
giving of the Holy Spirit.
Blessed are the meek, for they
shall inherit the earth.
Being meek does not mean getting pushed around.
Meekness means not always insisting on one’s own
way, not always belligerently fighting for what
one wants, but taking the attitude of a servant.
This beatitude is derived from Psalm 37: “Yet a
little while and the wicked will be no more;
though you look well at his place, he will not
be there. But the meek shall possess the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity”
(verses 10-1 1). The psalm is about people who
are not in a position to overcome the power of
the wicked and need to rely on God. It is a
promise that God will establish them such that
they will inherit the land. “The land” might
mean the earth, or perhaps the land of Israel,
but it at least means a place of resource and
Jesus is saying, blessed are those who don’t
rely on their own devices, who don’t take
matters into their own hands, but who rely on
the Lord to establish them, for they shall
inherit the land.
Blessed are those who
hunger and thirst for righteousness, for
they shall be satisfied.
probably means the righteousness that Jesus
is going to teach about in the course of the
Sermon on the Mount. It is those who want to
see this kind of righteousness in their own
lives, and in the lives of others, who will
“Satisfied” is a
word that occurs in other places in
Scripture. It commonly turns up in places
where God feeds people, for example, in the
account of the multiplication of the loaves
and fishes: “And they all ate and were
satisfied” (Matthew 14:20). As it was with
loaves and fishes, says the beatitude, so
will it be with righteousness. Those who
truly seek it will be granted it in full
Looking at the
first four beatitudes, we see that they all
refer to people who are deprived in some
way: the poor, those who mourn, the meek,
those who hunger and thirst. All these are
people who are in some way in need.
However, this has
mainly to do with a certain attitude, a
frame of mind they adopt voluntarily, not
just a condition they have fallen into. It
is an attitude of reliance on God. The poor,
those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger
and thirst – all
are people who don’t have what they want and
who look to God to provide it for them:
material resources, comfort and strength,
These first four
beatitudes say that those who look to God
for these things will be provided for. They
will be given the kingdom of heaven, they
will be given comfort and strength (perhaps
of the Holy Spirit), they will be given the
land (the inheritance that God has for
them), they will be satisfied with the
righteousness they hunger and thirst for.
Thus the first
four beatitudes deal primarily with how the
disciples of Jesus, living in the hope of
the kingdom of heaven, rely on the Lord for
their needs. The second four, as we will now
see in more detail, deal with how the
disciples are to relate to others in light
of this reliance on God.
Blessed are the merciful, for
they shall obtain mercy.
Another translation of this is, blessed are the
gracious, for they shall obtain grace, or favor.
Those who are gracious, in the scriptural use of
the term, are those who are generous, those who
pardon, those who do favors for people.
In this case, the most apt meaning is generous.
The Sermon on the Mount is very concerned about
alms-giving, and in the original Greek the word
for almsgiving is one of the words that can be
translated “generosity.” Those who freely give
what they have to other people not because it is
an obligation but because they are the kind of
people who want to give freely shall themselves
be treated with generosity, probably by God.
Once we understand this meaning for the word
merciful, that is, generous, we can see the
correspondence between that and being poor in
spirit. Those who lack resources look to God.
God gives to them freely, which allows them to
be generous; then, because of their generosity,
they receive freely.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
The term “heart” probably means “intention.” The
heart is the seat of the deepest thought and
decision. “Pure” is a term that means that there
is nothing that is incompatible with standing in
the presence of God. For instance, Psalm 24
says, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?” In other
words, who shall go to the temple and gain God’s
presence? “He who has clean hands and a pure
heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is
false, and does not swear deceitfully. He will
receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication
from the God of his salvation” (verses 3-5).
The beatitude then becomes, blessed are those
who do not do the things that are incompatible
with going to the temple and worshiping God,
whose lives are clean; they shall see God. They
will be able to come into God’s presence, stand
before him, see him.
Compare that with the second beatitude – blessed
are those who mourn, or repent, for they shall
be comforted, or strengthened. If they are
repentant, God will strengthen them and enable
them to be pure in heart. And if they are pure,
then they can stand before God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called the sons of God.
“Peacemaker” here probably means either those
who try to make peace with those around them,
that is, who try to live in such a way that they
will be in a good relationship with other
people, or those who try to make peace between
people who are fighting. In this case it is more
likely the former. As it says in Romans, “So far
as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all”
(12:18). Peace means more than just not
fighting; it means good relationships. Jesus is
saying, blessed are those who live in such a way
that they are at peace with all men.
They shall be called sons of God. When scripture
calls someone a “son” of something or someone,
frequently it means the two have the same
character or nature. So those who are sons of
God act like God. God seeks to be at peace with
all men, with everything. He is a God who
establishes peace; if you are a peacemaker, you
are like your heavenly Father.
We can see the parallel with the third
beatitude, blessed are the meek. If you are
someone who does not insist on his own way, who
does not use his own strength to get things to
go the way he wants, you are in a good position
to be a peacemaker, who establishes good
relationships with those around you, and you
share in God’s nature.
Blessed are those who are
persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs
is the kingdom of heaven.
Righteousness is what Jesus teaches about. If
you are really committed to live a life of
righteousness, you are going to be persecuted.
And that, he says, is a good sign that you will
deserve to be in the future kingdom of God.
It is common to hear Christians say, “I’m a nice
guy. Why would people persecute me for being
Christian? Why would they talk against me?”
Jesus is saying that that is exactly what we
should expect. It’s normal. He is also saying,
don’t complain about it. It’s a sign that you
are fortunate, because your reward is great for
suffering for the kingdom of heaven.
Note the comparison with the fourth beatitude.
If you hunger and thirst for righteousness, and
you are satisfied, you will then have
righteousness in your life. That will lead to
your being persecuted, which in turn will
qualify you for the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men
revile you and persecute you and utter all
kinds of evil against you falsely on my
account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward
is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the
prophets who were before you.
None of the beatitudes before this have
mentioned Jesus himself. They refer to God the
Father or to righteousness. But as Jesus expands
on the last beatitude, it becomes clear that the
issue is he himself, as the one who is bringing
the kingdom of heaven, the one who is
representing God the Father.
Verses 13 to 16 are about the effects of living
the life of the disciple. It forms a conclusion
to the beatitudes.
You are the salt of the earth.
There are a couple of possible meanings here.
Salt does give taste to things, so Jesus could
be saying, the earth doesn’t taste very good to
God without Christians in it. A somewhat more
likely possibility is that salt is seen as a
preservative. Meat, for example, is salted to
keep it from spoiling. The passage might then
mean that Christians are the ones who keep the
earth from spoiling.
An even better possibility derives from
Leviticus, chapter 2: “You shall season all your
cereal offerings with salt; you shall not let
the salt of the covenant with your God be
lacking from your cereal offering; with all your
offerings you shall offer salt” (verse 13). Salt
there is seen as an indication of the covenant
Any of these three could be a reasonable
interpretation of the passage. But what Jesus is
basically saying is that if you don’t live the
kind of life that you’re supposed to live,
you’ll be like salt that has lost its flavor and
can no longer do what salt does. Should that be
the case, you would be totally worthless. It is
very important for us to live the kind of life
that Jesus has called us to.
You are the light of the
We are to let our light so shine before men that
they may see our good works and give glory to
our Father who is in heaven. If we live the life
of a disciple, the kind of life Jesus has
portrayed, we will be a beacon, a revelation of
the reality of God and his coming kingdom, and
we will lead men to give glory to God the Father
in heaven. That is what we are supposed to be.
Steve Clark has been a
founding leader, author, and teacher for
the Catholic charismatic renewal since its
inception in 1967. Steve
is past president of the Sword of the Spirit,
an international ecumenical association
of charismatic covenant communities
worldwide. He is the founder of the Servants
of the Word, an
ecumenical international missionary
brotherhood of men living single for the
Clark has authored a number of
books, including Baptized
in the Spirit and Spiritual Gifts,
Finding New Life in the Spirit,
Growing in Faith, and Knowing
God’s Will, Building Christian
Communities, Man and Woman in Christ,
The Old Testament in Light of the New.
Painting above: Thomas the Doubrting
Apostle Meets the Risen