All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves. Quoted by John Piper in Desiring God, 19.
Similarly, the late 19th Century American pastor, J. R. Miller has written that:
The quest of happiness is universal. Men’s conceptions of happiness differ and they seek it along widely divergent paths: yet in every heart the desire is for the same end. J. R. Miller The Master’s Blesseds, 17
In Matthew 5:1:12, Jesus provides the definition and source of true happiness.
There were two kinds of oracles by the Old Testament prophets: Words of Cursing (woe) and Words of Blessing. This is carried over from the language of the Old Covenant in which curses are pronounced upon those who break the Covenant and blessings pronounced upon those who keep it. Jehovah God says in Deuteronomy 11:26-28 regarding the Old Covenant,
Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known.
Jesus here begins with words of blessing, not cursing because by His sacrificial death He will provide the ability to keep the demands of His New Covenant.
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then 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 filled. 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 they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:1-12
I. The Meaning of “Blessed”.
The word translated “blessed” in these verses can also be translated “happy.” Thus, some have translated the beatitudes “Oh, how very happy is the man . . .” But, there is an important reason to use the word “blessed” as opposed to happy. Happiness, to our ears, denotes our positive response of good feeling to a particular circumstance in our life. Happiness, then, depends on “happenings.” But the happiness which Jesus pronounces in these verses is not subjective, but objective. In other words, those described in these verses are “blessed” or happy in the eyes of God. They have been declared to be “blessed” by God.
This blessedness does not depend upon circumstances. Despite outward appearance and how those described may feel, these are blessed by God.
This should not surprise us, since the nature of the Christian life. As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Things are not always as they appear to the natural eye.
Among these poor, meek, despised, persecuted Galilean fishermen are heirs to the Kingdom that will never end!
The same is true today! You may not feel “happy” this morning, but if you are a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ then you are truly blessed. As I look at you, I don’t see much. When you look at me, you don’t see much. But with the eye of faith, we are heirs of a Kingdom that will never end! We may be poor in spirit, mournful, meek, and persecuted, but we have been declared by our King to be “Blessed.”
We often focus on our physical blessings, because as 21st Century Americans we are prosperous! But most Christians throughout the ages and around the world have not been able to sing, “I have shoes on my feet and I have plenty to eat.” They’ve not been able to sing, “I’ve got a roof above me and a good place to sleep. There’s food on my table and shoes on my feet. . . . Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me!” But they were blessed.
To people like these, the blessings of the King in these Beatitudes mean something. While we’re singing about cars in our driveway, food on our table, roofs over our head, shoes on our feet, and clothes on our back; they’re rejoicing in their place in the Kingdom of Heaven. They’re rejoicing in the hope of seeing God. This is true happiness, which doesn’t depend upon our current happenings.
II. The Identity of those “Blessed”.
Just as Galatians 5:22-23 describes 9 different characteristics of the one “fruit of the Spirit,” I believe that the Beatitudes provide eight different characteristics of one group of people. In other words, Jesus was not talking about eight different groups who had only one of each of these characteristics and received a completely different blessing. Instead, Jesus is describing one group of people, His true disciples which belong to His Kingdom. All those in Christ’s Kingdom demonstrate the characteristics listed.
They are the poor in spirit, they are the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the persecuted for righteousness sake. This is the profile of the recipients of the “Kingdom of Heaven”. These are the recipients of the blessings of the New Covenant outlined in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-28.
It is in this description of the truly happy, or blessed that the standards of the world are turned upside down. Instead of the rich, it is the poor. Instead of the slap-happy, it is the mourners. Instead of the mighty, it is the meek. Instead of the hungry for success, it is those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Instead of the mercenary, it is the merciful. Instead of the calculating head, it is the pure heart. Instead of the power-brokers, it is the peacemakers. Instead of the powerful, it is the persecuted which are the ones whom Christ has declared to be blessed!
There are parallels in the first three beatitudes to the prophesied ministry of the Messianic King found in Isaiah 61:1-4.
The blessing upon the meek that they will inherit the earth is ultimately fulfilled in Christ. God promised Abraham that he and his seed would inherit the land of Canaan. Paul expands upon that promise in Romans 4:13 to include the world. Jesus is the Seed of Abraham who receives the inheritance of the entire earth. Those who are united to Christ by faith are also recipients, by virtue of our union with Christ, of the inheritance of the blessing of Abraham. Christ was “meek and lowly” and calls upon us to take His yoke upon us in order to find rest for our souls (Matt. 11:29). His triumphal entry as King was meek, as He rode in on a donkey in fulfillment of prophecy.
Additionally, meekness is a fruit of the Spirit which helps us to understand that the description given in Matthew 5:3-10 is not one which we must produce in order to receive these blessings, but a product of the King’s rule in our hearts through His Spirit.
Persecution was not merely hypothetical for those who Jesus words of blessing upon those persecuted for righteousness sake. Note the shift from the 3rd person to the 2nd person. “You” will experience persecution, but when you do leap for joy! For your reward in heaven is great.
I don’t believe it will be very long until persecution ceases to be theoretical for the church in America! If we continue to proclaim that Jesus is the only way of salvation, that homosexuality is a sin against God, and the biblical roles of male and females in the church and home; we can expect to be persecuted in the near future. But when it happens, rejoice, you’re in good company!
III. The Nature of the Blessing.
The blessings described in these verses appear to be diverse, but I believe they describe the same blessing in seven different ways. This one blessing is in essence the Kingdom of Heaven. We can tell this by the fact that the first Beatitude and the last Beatitude give the same blessing: the Kingdom of Heaven. By using the inclusio literary device, Jesus indicates that everything in between the first and last beatitudes has to do with the Kingdom of Heaven. This indicates that Jesus meant for the entirety of these blessings to be understood as related to the theme of the Kingdom. Note the interrelatedness of the blessings in verses 3-10.
Since the Kingdom is both a present and a future reality (already/not yet), the blessings of the beatitudes are both already true of believers today, and yet they await their full consummation in Christ’s eternal earthly Kingdom. These blessings can be claimed right now by those who are true disciples of Jesus, but their ultimate fulfillment is yet to come. We can see most, if not all, of the blessings of Matthew 5:3-10 fulfilled in the New Heaven and Earth described in Revelation 21:1-7:
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” 5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” 6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”
- Would you enter the Kingdom of Heaven?
- Would you be comforted?
- Would you inherit the earth?
- Would you be satisfied?
- Would you obtain mercy?
- Would you see God?
- Would you be called a son of God?
- Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s Wonderful Pow’r in the Blood!
Bow your heart to King Jesus! Acknowledge Him as your Lord and Savior! Trust in His sacrificial death for you! The characteristics of the “blessed” of Matthew 5:3-10 will become true of you through the Spirit. You will be blessed! Receive the blessing of the King! Become truly happy! Become blessed by the King of Kings!