The Doctrinal Nature of the Beatitudes
Asheville, North Carolina
The eight statements of our Lord beginning with the word "blessed" which occur in Matthew 5:3-10 are commonly known as "the beatitudes," from "beatus," the Latin word for "blessed." These declarations describe qualifications that one must possess in order to enter into and remain a faithful citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. They deal with religion, or man's relationship with God, more than with pure ethics. In fact some of the statements make little or no sense when regarded simply as moral laws intended to bring happiness on earth. The principles taught here must be understood as pointing toward the coming Gospel Dispensation to be ushered in on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (See Acts 2 for fulfillment.)
Verse 3 says, "Blessed are the poor. in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Here is a realization of one's lost condition. One who is rich in spirit has a haughty attitude and believes himself to be in need of nothing. He trusts in his own righteousness. In order to convert anyone, it is first necessary to convince the person of his lost and hopeless condition outside of Christ. He must be made to see that he has no spiritual resources of his own. He must see himself as a little child totally dependent on the heavenly Father. (Mk. 10:15).
Verse 4 states, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." Here is the attitude that leads to repentance. The mourning is sorrow over one's sin. "Godly sorrow worketh repentance." (2 Cor. 7:10). One must realize that his sinful life has offended an almighty and a loving God. The tragedy of sin must be clearly seen before one can make a decision to turn from it utterly.
Verse 5 reads, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." Here is the state of humble submission to God's will. Meekness is opposed to arrogance or self-seeking. Let no one suppose that the meek individual is a milquetoast. Moses, the mighty general and statesman, is described in Num. 12:3 as being meek above all men on the earth. Moses was humble in God's sight and sought to do His will without question or dispute. The meek person will accept the Gospel terms of pardon without rebelling against any of them. He will then continue to do "all things according to the pattern." (Heb. 8:5).
Verse 6 declares, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." Here is a recognition of need for spiritual blessings which only God can provide. One must not only recognize his own spiritual destitution, but must also have a burning desire to be justified in God's sight, to be reconciled to Him, to experience the blessings He has reserved for His children. All spiritual blessings are to be found in Christ. (Eph. 1:3). In obedience to the gospel we are baptized into Christ and into His body, the church. (Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 1:18).
Verse 7 affirms, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." Here is the knowledge that our own salvation depends entirely upon God's mercy in forgiving our sins, and we must extend this forgiving spirit to others. If we had earned or deserved our own salvation, then we could be harsh and unforgiving with others who transgress. But since salvation was offered to us purely through grace and mercy, we must, in order to be followers of Christ, be merciful to others even when they have done us great harm. If we reject the principle of mercy, then God will reject its application to us (Matt. 18:23-34).
Verse 8 teaches, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." Here is the emphasis upon the change of heart brought about by conversion, as opposed to the outward formalism of the Jews' religion. 1 Pet. 1:22 teaches that we purify our souls in obeying the truth. When we are converted we are born again and are then new creatures, freed from the old corruption. (1 Pet. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus taught that evil deeds proceed from evil hearts. Conversely, a pure heart leads to a pure life. Christians are warned to keep themselves unspotted from the world. (Jas. 1:27).
Verse 9 tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." Here we see the peace that comes through the spreading of the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel is called the "gospel of peace." (Eph. 6:15). This does not refer to a political or civil peace. The purpose of the Gospel is to reconcile men to God, thus making peace. (Eph. 2:15,16). A result of this first peace is a second peace which will be found to exist among those who share salvation in Christ, since they are taught to love one another and to keep unity. (Eph. 4:2,3). There is also the mental peace known to the individual Christian. (Phil. 4:7). It is not right to attempt to bring peace between Christians and the enemies of Christ by compromise. After all the Prince of Peace is the one who announced, "I came not to send peace, but a sword." (Matt. 10:34).
Verse 10 comforts with these words, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Here is encouragement to help Christians endure inevitable persecution by the forces of this world. 2 Tim. 3:12 says, "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." This is true in every age. Matt. 5:12 teaches that the righteous of the Old Testamen were persecuted in their time, and we are their spiritual descendants. Methods of persecution vary, but persecution never ceases. Even today it is common for faithful soldiers of the cross to have "all manner of evil" spoken against them falsely. Verses 11 and 12 are merely enlargements upon this last beatitude. We are told to rejoice in the face of such persecution, knowing that our reward in heaven will greatly outweigh any suffering that we may experience here.
Truth Magazine XVIII: 2, p. 18