The Beatitudes Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

By Keith Sharp

The Blessedness of Righteousness

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (The Declaration of Independence).

All people desire to be happy. Our forefathers bequethed us a legacy of freedom which includes each man’s liberty to pursue his own peculiar ideas about how to be happy. Americans, with material means that are stupefying to other peoples, have expended enormous efforts in seeking the elusive goal of happiness. If our wealthy but miserable society, America, is among the world leaders in suicide rates, proves anything, it is that wealth and pleasures are not the sources of true happiness (cf. Eccl. 2:1-2; 5:10). flow, then, can we be happy?

In Matthew 5:3-12 the Master described certain people as “blessed” nine different times. Once He exhorted these same people to “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad” and promised them a “great . . . reward” (v. 12).

The word “blessed” — from the Latin form of which we obtain the title for this passage, the “the Beatitudes” – is difficult to render fully and accurately into English. The Greek term is makarios. In classical Greek this was the word which especially described the gods — those who possessed consummate bliss.

“The Greeks always called Cyprus he makaria . . . , which means The-Happy-Isle, and they did so because they believed Cyprus was so lovely, so rich, and so fertile an island that a man would never need to go beyond its coastline to find the perfectly happy life. . . . Makarios then describes that joy which has its secret within itself, that joy which is serene and untouchable, and self-contained, that joy which is completely independent of all the chances and changes of life. 1

In the Beatitudes Jesus explained to us how to obtain true inward joy which outward circumstances cannot defeat. In these two terms — “inward” and “outward” – is found the key. True blessedness does not lie in outward things, whether it be wealth, a fine house, a favorable climate, a change of scenery, pleasures, learning, power or whatever. Real, lasting joy is found in inward character. The righteous character of disciples of Christ is their source of true joy. This is the blessedness of citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.

Each Beatitude has three parts: an ascription of blessedness, a description of those who are so blessed and a statement of the reason for their blessedness.

These eight “Pentecost Pointers” (to quote Foy E. Wallace, Jr.) teach us the character we must possess in order to receive the real joy that is found in being a Christian. The eight Beatitudes do not describe eight classes of people but are different facets of the character of all true disciples of Christ. They show not only the character of Christians but the spiritual nature of the kingdom of Christ as well.

The people of the world, and many supposed Christians, seek happiness, peace and joy in outward circumstances such as wealth, pleasure, learning and power. But real joy is an inward quality which springs from strength of character. True blessedness, eternal, unshakeable, unaffected by worldly misfortune, is the result of being in Christ and having Jesus within, for the Lord is “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8).

Poor in Spirit

How utterly different is the word of Christ from the thinking men! Whereas men exalt those who are proud, independent and wealthy, those who recognize no need for any help from any one, the so-called “self-made men,” Jesus announced, “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .” (Mt. 5:3). In one simple, profound and sweeping statement He utterly destroyed the value systems of men to be replaced with that of His kingdom. Who are the “poor in spirit?”

There are two words in the Greek language for “poor.” One describes the man who serves his own needs with his own hands . . . the working man, the man who has nothing superfluous, the man who is not rich, but who is not destitute either.2

Usually, when people claim, “Oh, we’re just poor people,” this is what they mean. But this not the word employed by the Master. The word the Lord used is from a word meaning `to be thoroughly frightened, to cower down or hide one’s self in fear; hence … one who slinks and crouches, often involving the idea of roving about in wretchedness . . . . reduced to begarry, begging . . . destitute of wealth . . . lowly, afflicted…. 3

The blessedness Jesus pronounced was not upon a man who has just enough and no more, but was upon the man who has nothing at all, who is utterly destitute, a beggar!

Does this mean the Lord demands material poverty of us if we are to receive the blessings of the kingdom? Certainly there were patriarchs of old who were godly though wealthy (cf. Gen, 13:2-6; Job 1:1-3). We have not only the liberty, but the obligation to work for a living (Eph. 4:28; 2 Thess. 3:10-12; Tit. 3:14). While the Gospel warns against the danger of loving riches (1 Tim. 6:6-10), wealthy Christians of the First Century were not required to become impoverished (1 Tim. 6:17-19; 3 Jn. 2). Actually, it is good to be neither too poor nor too rich (Prov. 30:7-9).

This blessing of the Lord has no direct connection with outward circumstances. It is not just “Blessed are the poor,” but “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The “spirit” is the inward part of man (Job 32:8,18), made in God’s image (Gen. 1:2,6; Eccl. 12:7; Jn. 4:24; Heb. 12:9). “In spirit” is indicative of our minds, our attitudes, our way of thinking (cf. Jn. 4:24; Rom. 12:11).

The word poor is usually descriptive of what a man has, or does not have, but the expression poor in spirit refers to what a man is.4

The “poor in spirit” are those who realize they are utterly helpless spiritually and entirely dependent upon God for spiritual guidance and help. Only the man who is so humbled will completely sacrifice his own will to God’s will, obey God from the heart and enter the kingdom.

This blessed quality of character is demonstrated innumerable times in the Scriptures. God dwells “with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isa. 57:15). He promises: ” . . . but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa. 66:2). Jeremiah confessed: “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). To enter the kingdom of Heaven, we must humble ourselves as little children (Mt. 18:1-4; 19:14). Children recognize their need of instruction, are eager to learn and are not offended when one points out their mistakes. Not the man who exults, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are,” but the man who prays, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” is justified (Lk. 18:9-14). God chose not to save by the wisdom, wealth or power of this world, but by what is in men’s eyes foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18-30). If any desires to be wise, “let him become a fool, that he may be wise” (1 Cor. 3:18). Until you realize you do not know, you will never turn to God’s word to find the answer.

Theirs Is the Kingdom of Heaven

Of all the fond and ardent desires of the heart of a faithful Jew, the one that thrilled him the most was the longing to see the kingdom of the Messiah come and to rejoice in the blessings of that rule. In pronouncing the highest joy imaginable, one Pharisee, announced, “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 1’7:20), and the Master’s own disciples urgently inquired, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

Jesus promised this grandest of all blessings, possession of the heavenly kingdom, to “the poor in spirit.” How do they possess the kingdom of Heaven? To answer this, we must know what the kingdom of Heaven is. ‘The term “kingdom” means primarily ” . . . royal power, kingship, dominion, .rule. . . .” 5 Thus, the word

. . . is primarily an abstract noun, denoting sovereignty, royal power, dominion. . . ; then, by metonymy, a concrete noun, denoting the territory or people over whom a king rules…. 6

This word “kingdom” is used in the New Testament to denote the nations of the earth (Lk. 21:10), the rule or sovereignty of God (Lk. 17:21), the “everlasting kingdom,” Heaven itself, as the abode of the saved (Acts 14:22; 2 Pet. 1:11) and the kingdom promised and prophesied. in the Old Testament (Lk. 1:33; cf. Isa. 9:67). It was this kingdom before promised that the Jews anxiously awaited and about which Jesus preached (Mk. 1:14-15; Mt. 4:17,23).

What is the kingdom of Old Testament promise and prophecy? Several terms are used interchangeably to describe different aspects of the same divine institution. The words “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” refer to the same thing (cf. Mt. 13:11; Mk. 4:11; Lk. 8:10). Furthermore, the “kingdom of Christ” is identical to the “kingdom of God” (Eph. 5:5), since all who belong to Christ are possessed also of God (Jn. 17:10). This means that the kingdom of Heaven can also be called the kingdom of Christ. Finally, the kingdom of Heaven and the church of Christ are one and the selfsame divine institution (Mt. 16:18-19; Acts 20:28; cf. Rev. 5:9-10; Heb. 12:22-2.3, 28). The kingdom prophesied of old is the church of the Lord.

The appellation “kingdom” describes the Lord’s church from the standpoint of its rule. It is the “kingdom of heaven” in that its nature is of Heaven, not as the nations of this earth (Jn. 18:36). The church is described as “the kingdom of God” because He has all ultimate authority over His people (1 Cor. 15:24-28). It is called “the kingdom of Christ” in that Jesus Christ is its King (1 Tim. 6:14-16), having been given from God all authority to rule His people (Mt. 28:18).

What is the nature of this kingdom? It is within the hearts of those who obey the Lord, and thus has no physical territorial limits as do the nations of this earth (Lk. 17:20-21), It, being so radically different from the governments of men, is not defended or extended by the power of armed might (Jn. 18:36). The benefits of this kingdom consist, not in material goods, but in spiritual blessings (Rom. 14:17). The kingdom. of Heaven is spiritual in its nature.

This kingdom was established on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of the Lord from the dead (cf. Dan. 2:31-45; Lk. ,3:1-2; Mt. 3:1-2; Mk. 1:14-15; 9:1; Acts 1:6-8; 2:1-4,47; 1 Thess. 2:12; Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:9). On that day the rule of Christ began, and His law became effective.

One becomes a citizen of the kingdom of Heaven by being born again (Jn. 3:3), by allowing the Spirit, through faith in the word He revealed, to lead him to be baptized in water into Christ (Jn. 3:5; Tit. 3:5; Rom. 8:14; 1 Pet. 1:22-23; Gal. 3:26-27).

The poor in spirit are willing to, in submission to their King, be born again that they might enter His kingdom. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven” in that they received the blessings of citizenship therein, i.e., “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).


The “poor in spirit” are those who humble themselves as little children, recognizing their own need for divine guidance. They are the ones who receive the kingdom because they are the ones whose attitude is such that they will heed the commands of the Father, which are the conditions upon which one enters the kingdom. You can never enjoy the blessings of citizenship in the kingdom of Heaven until you realize your own utter unworthiness, helplessness and need for divine guidance and turn to God for the help that He alone can give through His inspired word. Are you “poor in spirit”?


1. William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia, 1956).1, 84.

2. Ibid., p. 85

3. J. H. Thayer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, 1889), p. 557.

4. Foy E. Wallace, Jr., The Sermon on the Mount and the Civil State (Nashville, 1967), p. 12.

5. Thayer. p. 96

6. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, New Jersey, 1940), II, 294.

Truth Magazine, XX:23, p. 12-14
June 3, 1976