Matthew addressed Jewish Christians from their perspective in his gospel. He wrote it during a time of great conflict over their identity after the second temple destruction. Even though they accepted Jesus as the Messiah, they still lived within the Jewish community and followed its traditions while different from Israel. The gospel author sought to reframe their new identity within the Christ community aligned to the nature and character of Jesus, King of Israel. This new identity pertains to contemporary Christians as well.–As Card wrote for this purpose “Jesus, tell me who you are, so I know who I am” (2013, Chapter 1, Section 2, para 8). Since Christ Himself embodied each trait, so too must His servants reflect His identity through their nature as salt of the earth and light to the world. These traits embody servant citizenship in the Kingdom of heaven in their fellowship with God (vertical relationship) and all people (horizontal relationship) they encounter. To lead as servants of the Lord they must surrender their former membership and take on the nature of the new.
Jan Paron/November 10, 2014
Kingdom Citizenship: Ideal Heart Character
The Beatitudes describe the ideal heart character for every citizen in the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus taught eight beatitudes (5:3-10) as part of His Sermon on the Mount, with the ninth explaining the one prior to it (vv. 10-11): Poor in spirit (v. 3); mourners (v. 4); meek (v. 5); hungry (v. 6); merciful (v. 7); pure (v. 8); peacemakers (v. 9); and persecuted (v. 10). Each beatitude functions in an if…then format based on the Old Testament (Ps 1:1) and Greek literary forms (Keener, p. 165). In Matt 6:33, Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you” (KJV). Thus, if believers seek His Kingdom and righteous first, then they receive His spiritual provisions. Thus, a blessing accompanies each beatitude Jesus pronounced for people who display it.
The biblical definition of the blessed (Greek: makários) does not connect to any worldly means or sense rather to God’s favor and salvation from His approval (Matt 5:3 AMP). In other words, the blessed receive God’s provisions (favor) and grace (benefits) because they obeyed the “Lord’s inbirthings of faith” (Strong, 2011). Jesus taught a new type of blessing that ran contrary to ancient Middle Eastern culture. Society in His day believed that makários came to elite, wealthy, and powerful.–People whose riches and power raised them above worldly associated with the lower class. Jesus proposed a new standard for living with received blessings only found in His Kingdom. Consider this story to understand Beatitude blessings. A rabbi told his pupil, ‘In olden days there were men who saw the face of God.’ His student asked, “Why don’t they any more?” The rabbi replied, “Because, nowadays no one stoops so low.'” (Stoffregen, n.d.). God gives His blessings to those who stoop low to seek Him, as opposed those who desire gain through their own might and wealth. In Rom 12:2, Scripture directs believers not to be “conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. With a renewed mind and inbirthings of faith, the Holy Spirit transforms the believer’s character to live out Kingdom actions: poor in spirit, mourners, meek, hungry and thirsty after righteousness, merciful, poor, peacemaker, and persecuted.
Jesus conveyed the Beatitudes in passive grammatical construction, a Semitic-fashioned Greek tense, indicating a divinely completed action. Only God delivers these blessings as rewards in the new heaven. Jesus gave nine “Blessed are” promises (Matt 5:3a-11a) originating from God through Christ as Kingdom in cause and effect terms. For every mentioned action (vv. 3-11) that a disciple of Christ takes, God fulfills it with an eschatological promise. Jesus bookended the Beatitudes in verses three and ten with the overarching now promise (present passive tense) of “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (NIV)–as Keener called them, kingdom-time blessings (Keener, p. 165). Then, He followed the Beatitudes in verses four through nine with the specific then promises (future passive tense): “they will be comforted” (5:4 NIV); “they will inherit the earth” (5:5); “they will be filled” (5:6); “they will be mercied” (5:7); “they will see God” (5:8); and “they will be called sons of God” (5:9).
The Beatitudes relate to relationship within the fellowship of believers, directly linking to God’s Kingdom. They build upon each other: vertically in a relationship between the disciples and their Master Jesus–poor in spirit to mourner to meek to hungry and thirsty (vv. 3-6)–and horizontally between the disciples and other people–merciful to pure to peacemaker to persecuted (vv. 7-10). The virtue of humility undergirds the Beatitudes.
A Closer Look: Journeying Through the Beatitudes
To understand the Beatitudes requires one not only to learn their meaning, but also to reach deep inside introspectively.–Studying Matt 5, meditating on each scripture passage, and listening for the voice of God for direction. This writer did just that in journal form in a very personal manner to look at the very nature and character of salt of the earth and light to the world.
“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:” (Matt 5:1 KJV). Will you come to Jesus and learn of Him? Each week you can read about the Beatitudes in a mixed media format that combines scripture art journaling and narrative. Please join this devotional series called Journeying Through the Beatitudes: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3,10).
- Beale, G. K. & Carson, D. A. (Eds.). (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
- Card, M. (2013). Matthew: The Gospel of Identity. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.
- Evans, C. Matthew. New Cambridge Bible Contemporary. Cambridge, MA: New Cambridge Bible Commentary.
- Forest, J. (1999). The ladder of the Beatitudes. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
- Harrington, D. (2007). Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Matthew. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.
- Keener, C. (1999). A commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Cambridge, MA: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
- Segraves, D. (2007). The Messiah in the Psalms. Hazelwood, MO: WA Press.
- Stoffregen, B. (n.d.) Matthew 5:1-12 Exegetical Notes. Cross Marks Christian Resources.