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.
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 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.
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