Return to Index Page


The 'Beatitudes'

By Richard Gunther


  Matthew 5 begins with a list of eight “blesseds”. The first thing we must notice about these statements by Jesus is that they were addressed to the disciples, not to the crowds further down the hillside. These words are therefore exclusively for the followers of Jesus, not to the people of the world. 


   Since these “blessed” are for believers only, it would be logical to expect that, if we reversed them, we would find qualities which better match the world of unbelievers. The reversed ‘beatitudes’ therefore give us a fairly good description of the fallen human race, which also help us understand the true meaning of the beatitudes, because of the contrast between the two interpretations.


   Blessed are the:

1.                      poor in spirit

2.                      mourners

3.                      meek

4.                      hungry and thirsty

5.                      merciful

6.                      pure in heart

7.                      peacemakers

8.                      persecuted



    First of all the word “blessed” comes from the Greek ‘makarios’ meaning ‘happy’. This word is used seven times in Revelation 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7 and 14. It is used twice of God 1Tim.1:11, 6:15. It is important that we understand what ‘makarios’ means, because it is attached to all eight statements by Jesus.

   Vines says “In the beatitudes the Lord indicates with this word not only that the characters are blessed, but also the nature of that which is the highest good.” In other words, happiness is found when one finds these eight states of being.

   The Amp. NT says: “Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous, with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favour and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) . . .”


   Now compare the eight states of being with what ‘the world’ values in regard to happiness.

1.                      rich in spirit, full of self-importance

2.                      partying and festivals

3.                      strong, taking personal revenge

4.                      full and well fed

5.                      unmerciful, strong in judgment

6.                      worldy, full of the world’s knowledge and gossip

7.                      ready to strike back and destroy the enemy

8.                      persecuting those you disagree with


   Jesus deliberately set the eight ‘blesseds’ up as a standard by which his followers could measure themselves and others. In some ways they apply to him too, but there is a difference in each case between their application to him, and their application to his followers. For example, while Jesus was “poor in spirit” it was not because of his fallen state, but because of his choice to identify with fallen Man. He did “mourn” but not for himself because he was sinless. He was “meek” like a lamb led to the slaughter, but he was also the soon-coming King of kings, with a sword red with the blood of his enemies. He did not “hunger and thirst after righteousness” because he was perfectly righteous, but he did battle against temptation just as all his followers need to. He was merciful because he came as the Saviour and the Shepherd, but he also declared himself to be the Judge of the world (in the parable of the sheep and goats for example). He was pure in heart because he was God in the flesh, yet he also took our sins, and was acquainted with the human condition right to the point of death. He was a peacemaker, but he would not yield to sin or the enemy for any price. And he was persecuted because he was the Son of God, whereas his followers are persecuted simply because they are his followers.


   All the above points could be expanded into quite a sizeable book, but the purpose of this article is to present some brief, simple notes on the subject, not  produce a large book.


1.                      Blessed are the poor in spirit.

   The way to a “poor spirit” is through a series of deliberate choices and disciplines. It means that the Christian acknowledges himself to be but a fallen creature, totally dependent on God for life. The world’s man (meaning any non-Christian man or woman) does not like to think of himself as poor in spirit. He does not want to think of himself as helpless, or reliant on God for anything. Many people consider themselves ‘spiritual’ simply because they ‘feel good’ about themselves, or because they ‘feel one with Nature’. Many practice religious ceremonies. Many talk of New Age philosophies and beliefs as their path to spiritual power. Many even boast of their self-sufficiency, and dream of immortality through genetics, or some other branch of science.

   Someone once jeered ‘Jesus is your crutch! You’re always having to lean on him!” This is in fact quite true, and I would not have it any other way.

   I remember a story of a chief who built his house with a very low doorway. Whenever anyone entered they had to bow as they approached the chief. The ‘poor in spirit’ gladly bow as they approach God. They don’t need a low doorway to force them to their knees, but the world’s man will not approach God on his knees. His spirit, he believes, is not poor. As someone once said to me “If I became a Christian, what would I get out of it?” The ‘poor in spirit’ never dares to ask this kind of question.


2.                      Blessed are they that mourn.

   Does this mean that Jesus is saying it is good to be sad? Of course not. In the context, he is referring to the sorrow which true Christians feel because they know they are sinners, and because of the sin they see all around them in the world.

   The world’s man, on the other hand, hardly ever worries about sin – in fact he quite often revels in it. The newspapers print the daily toll of crimes, and most of the time these are seen as either entertainment, or the latest item to marvel at. Sometimes the ‘bad’ people are actually admired, such as bank robbers who pull off daring heists, or leaders who kill thousands in dramatic raids, or adulterers who manage to have many wives without being caught. The bad are the heroes in many movies, even though they usually end up dead or in prison. Bad people are portrayed as having the most exciting lives, while Christians are virtually never portrayed as much more than ‘party-poopers’ or spoilsports.

   But Jesus mourned. He burst into tears over Jerusalem. He prayed deeply for his disciples. He groaned in his spirit at the tomb of Lazarus. He actively shared in the world’s pain and sickness as he travelled from town to town, and on the cross he carried all the grief and suffering of the world on his own shoulders. Isaiah 53 tells us he was “acquainted with grief” (Is.53:3)

   While it is not seen as popular to be too bothered by the troubles of this world, Christians are people who feel for the oppressed people around them, who show empathy and sympathy, and who mourn in their spirits because of what they know.


3.                      Blessed are the meek.

   First of all, meekness is not the same as cowardice, or the habit of  never speaking out against wrong. Num.12:3 tells us that Moses was the meekest man in the world in his day, yet Moses was also a fiery judge at times. When he was attacked personally (for example in the accusations against his black wife which he brought from Egypt) Moses stepped aside and allowed God to defend him, but when Moses was called to stand up for someone else, he was a determined man.

   There are many promises to those who are meek – Ps.22:26, 25:9, 37:11, 76:9, 147:6, 149:4 etc.

   The Christian is not always meek, because of inherent personality traits but God values this quality. It means being gentle, and accepting a lowly position. The meek person is mild-mannered, non-confrontational in their own cause - but a lion in the Lord’s cause, and in defending others. Take Jesus for example, though he was the Son of God, yet he lived as an obedient son in Nazareth for nearly thirty years.

   Meekness is not valued by the world’s man. In the world people value the protester for one’s ‘rights’, the demander for this or that, the caller for what is wanted ‘now!’ It is this wanting things now that distinguishes people who are meek from those who aren’t, because God promises that “the meek shall inherit the earth”, whereas those who are not meek want to inherit it today. An inheritance is something to look forward to. It has been this promise of better things to come which has motivated many Christians to give up all they have to serve Christ, or to die for him. Why should a Christian see the loss of all things as a problem when they have been promised the whole planet? Why should we worry about a few ‘rights’ or possessions, when we will one day be co-owners of the entire universe?


4.                      Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

   There is no doubt in most people’s minds that the world is full of unrighteousness, although they might not call it by that word. The media is constantly informing us of the wars, crimes and troubles caused by sinful people. Thousands of movies and millions of TV series programs keep us up to date with the work of bad people – who are usually defeated either by the law or some character who overcomes them. It took many years and two world wars to defeat just a handful of nations intent on killing, stealing and plundering other nations. Since the end of the second WW more people have died from war than all the people who died in the two World Wars.

   Christians are to be distinguished by their inner desire to see sin eradicated from the world, and also from their own lives. “Fools make a mock at sin” (Prov.14:9) but Christians hunger after righteousness. This is a very challenging statement by Jesus because it cuts to the roots of the Christian life. It is undeniable that many Christians do NOT hunger after righteousness, to their shame, but instead indulge in many sinful pleasures when they ought to instead be condemning them.

   Righteousness means ‘a high moral standard’, which translates into speech, thoughts and actions. How Christians behave, how they dress, how they treat their bodies, what they watch, listen to and attend, who they associate with. If you meet a Christian who speeds or drives recklessly, smokes regularly and swears without conscience, you might conclude that that Christian is not hungering after righteousness.

   But Jesus promises that those who do hunger and thirst after righteousness will one day be satisfied – no doubt in the fully inaugurated kingdom of God, when it is set up on earth, with the King of kings on His Throne ruling all nations.


5.                      Blessed are the merciful.

   Keeping in mind that in this and in all the eight ‘beatitudes’ the sense is on the personal level, not the level of the state, or the military, or the office. In every case what Jesus is referring to is personal behaviour, personal qualities and personal character. To take these eight qualities anywhere else is to court disaster.

   Vines says the word “merciful” means ‘actively compassionate’. For example, when a Christian is beaten up by an intruder, but when the police ask if the offended party would like to prosecute, he declines, and instead prays for the intruder. This ability by Christians to forgive and show compassion actually empowers them, rather than makes them ‘pathetic punch-bag’s for the world, because it enables them to rise to a higher level of life, rather than move on the lower brute ‘animal’ level of the world.

   Again, one of the favourite devices in movies is for the offended party, usually the ‘hero’ to take revenge for personal wrongs, usually with spectacular fight scenes and wild pyrotechnics. It is doubtful whether many people would want to watch Clint Eastwood forgiving the baddies, or Bruce Willis on his knees praying for the highjackers. What most people want to see is revenge and payback.

   On the other hand, Jesus offered compassion to all his enemies. He taught them, healed them, and gave them his very life. On the cross he prayed for their forgiveness, and he would not call on the legions of angels ready to attack and destroy the Jewish leaders at a moment’s notice.

   Many missionaries have shown similar compassion when they have returned to the very people who have tried to kill them, many Christians have turned the other cheek in their homes, schools and workplaces. Mercy is a quality which God delights in. He judges only as a last resort, and judgment is His domain, not ours.


6.                      Blessed are the pure in heart.

      Pureness of heart is a rare quality, especially today when the world seems to want to bombard us with its advertising, immoral images and corrupt entertainment. One can hardly watch TV for an hour without seeing and hearing many offensive words and pictures. Pop songs glorify sensual pleasures and sex. Many novels and magazines do much the same. Right from childhood’s earliest days, adults seem to want to corrupt the minds and hearts of children through various forms of entertainment, dirtying their consciences and dragging them down with toilet humour, foul language and dirty jokes.

   But Jesus wants Christians to have unmixed motives, pure hearts, clean thoughts, and clear consciences.

   How can this be? There are several ways by which a Christian may obtain a pure heart. 1. By constantly reading the Bible, which can wash away the dirt of sin from one’s thoughts. (Heb.10:22, 1Cor.6:11, Prov.30:12, Lev.8:21), 2. By allowing the Holy Spirit to dwell within (1John 4:4), and 3. By actively choosing good things and actively refusing bad (Phil.4:8)


7.                      Blessed are the peacemakers.

   This verse has often been misquoted. What it does NOT mean is the people who are either of a quiet disposition, who don’t like confrontations, or arguments, or the people who are against war. Marching for ‘peace on earth’ is not what Jesus is talking about, because the cause of war is sin and sin cannot be eradicated simply by signing peace deals. Peace is not the absence of war either, because many ‘peaceful’ nations are full of unsaved sinners who are still at war with God.

   On a personal level, a Christian is a ‘peacemaker’ when he actively promotes peace around him. It is on the personal level that peace must come, through salvation, but also through settling disputes and resolving conflict. Jesus said those who live in this way will be “sons (children) of God”. In other words they will have the family likeness. Like Jesus they will have a good effect on the people they live close to. On a personal level they will be like perfume to those who have contact with them, at home, at work, or wherever they move about day by day. (See Prov.27:7, Phil.4:18 and 2Cor.2:15,16)


8.                      Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

   These days it is actually a put-down to call someone a ‘do-gooder’, or a ‘goody-goody’! This is surprising because the world needs as many ‘do-gooders’ as it can get. It is the ‘good’ people who keep the world from falling into crime, anarchy and chaos. Perhaps those who use this expression as an insult have never really thought it through – and perhaps they are opposed to righteousness?

   Jesus expects his followers to always do what is right. This means keeping the principles inherent in the Ten Commandments. Righteous people are honest, clean-minded, reliable, faithful to their family or spouse, self-controlled, self-disciplined, hard-working, and helpful. In some situations the presence of a Christian can be an extreme irritant to the ungodly, because even though the Christian does not condemn or criticize those around him, his very lifestyle witness to the ungodly and leaves them feeling condemned. In some cases this is unavoidable – for example Joseph and Daniel, and of course Jesus.

   “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2Tim.3:12) and we are told in Titus 2:12 that we ought to be  denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world”.


   The ninth ‘beatitude’.

   Having covered all eight ‘beatitudes’ briefly we come to what could be called ‘beatitude’ number nine, because Jesus extends number eight from persecution for righteousness, to persecution for His sake. History attests to this. Millions have died or been tortured, hounded, rejected and mistreated because of the name of Christ. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a testimony to persecution of Christians, so is the History of the reformation. The Inquisition and other arms of the Roman Church have the blood of many true saints spattered on their sleeves, as do the Roman Emperors, and many other leaders throughout history. Christian missionaries are frequently killed or driven out, and today the fact that a person is or isn’t a Christian may mean the difference between their gaining a position in a university or not.

   But suffering for Christ’s sake, although painful and miserable, is also an occasion for great joy, because it places an ordinary Christian in the same company as the great prophets of the Bible. If we stand with them, we shall also receive rewards with them.



   When Christians practice all of the qualities listed above, they represent to the world the very best possible demonstration of God’s Kingdom in action in this age. They also form the ‘beachhead’ for God’s coming Kingdom. It is as if the future glories of God’s coming reign have intruded from the future and started to operate in the present. Eventually the qualities seen in the small minority of believers, i.e. Church, will become the universal standard for all people everywhere. When the meek inherit the earth, the whole earth will be full of meek people.

Back to Index Page