By Peter Amsterdam
August 25, 2015
(You can read about the intent for and overview of this series in this introductory article.)
Having covered the first three Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, we now move on to the remaining five.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.1
A key to understanding this Beatitude is the meaning of the word righteousness as used here. The Greek word dikaiosynē, translated in the New Testament as righteousness, is often used in reference to our being in right standing with or declared righteous before God due to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—especially when it’s used in Paul’s epistles. However, in the context of this Beatitude, as well as throughout the Gospel of Matthew, it is used in reference to behavior which conforms to God’s will.2 The righteousness spoken of here is best understood as being eager to live as God desires, having the attitude that Jesus expressed: My food is to do the will of him who sent me.3
To hunger and thirst is used metaphorically and means to seek with eager desire, to ardently crave. It mirrors Jesus’ response to Satan when He said: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”4 Those who deeply desire to live in accordance with God’s will shall be satisfied.
Satisfied, sometimes translated as filled, means “sated,” “slaked,” “bloated,” “filled to overflowing.” Those who hunger and thirst for living as God desires, who live in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, will be filled with God’s presence in their lives.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.5
Who are the merciful that are blessed? The Greek word translated as merciful derives from the root word eleos, which means kindness or good will toward the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them. Mercy is compassion for people in need. It’s not just pity for the needy and miserable—it’s pity plus action, endeavoring to do something to relieve a need. A good example of mercy is seen in the action of the Samaritan in the parable of the good Samaritan.6
Throughout the Old Testament, we read that God is merciful.
The Lord is gracious and merciful.7 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.8
The Hebrew word used for merciful in these verses is defined as compassionate. We see an example of God’s mercy and compassion in His sending Jesus to die for our sins. Our God is a merciful God and shows mercy continuously, and as citizens of His kingdom we are to show mercy too.9 We are to be merciful, because we have been shown His mercy. He reached out to us in our miserable state, forgave our sins, and brought us into a relationship with Him.
The merciful who are blessed are those who are compassionate at heart, who have an attitude of mercy which moves them to act for the benefit of those in need. The actions stem from a heart filled with the love of God. Because they have received God’s mercy, they are transformed into people who do to others as they would have others do to them. They have experienced God’s merciful love and are moved by God’s Spirit to empathize with and show compassion to others.10
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.11
Today we see the heart as a physical organ, as well as a way of referring to emotions. In the Jewish understanding of Jesus’ day, it was considered even more—the center of one’s inner state, one’s thoughts and will, as well as emotions. It was the seat of their decision-making, their moral choices, their feelings; the center of their personality. So Jesus speaking of being “pure in heart” is speaking about having purity at the center of our being.
Jesus spoke of the condition of our inner being when He said:
What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.12
These words show the state of the heart of all humans, as due to sin, we all are impure. Yet drawing near to God through faith and salvation cleanses our heart.
God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.13 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts.14
Purity of heart in the context of this Beatitude also has to do with our relationship with God and others. As David wrote in the Psalms:
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.15
The person who keeps focused on God, who doesn’t lift up his soul to things which are false (idols—anything that takes the place of God in one’s life), who is single-minded toward God, is the one who stands in the holy place. He does not swear deceitfully; he is free from falsehood in his relations with God and others. The Hebrew word for clean used in this Psalm is also translated as innocent, so those with clean hands are those who have acted innocently toward others. Likewise, the pure heart is one that is cleansed of all unworthy motives toward other people.16
Those with a pure heart are those who will see God. We see Him now with the eyes of faith, and in the future we will see Him face to face. Exactly how is not fully explained in Scripture. However, we see Him now in a variety of ways—in the beauty of His creation, in His answers to our prayers, in the guidance He gives us, in the love we have in our lives, in our family and friends, in our many blessings. The pure of heart, those who have entered the kingdom of God, who are living under His reign, see God participate in their lives. This seeing, though, is only a foretaste of our seeing God in heaven.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.17
Peacemakers bring reconciliation between those who are in conflict. God is the author of peace and reconciliation, as He has made reconciliation possible between Himself and humanity through the sacrifice of His Son.
For in him [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.18
When Christians are peacemakers, they are the “sons of God,” as they reflect the attribute of God’s reconciliation.
Christians are called to be peacemakers. While we are meant to live peaceably with all,19 that isn’t the same as being a peacemaker. Peacemaking is an active involvement with conflicting parties for the purpose of creating reconciliation and peace.20 It’s not taking one party’s side over another, but being willing to recognize their differences and attempting to bring reconciliation between them. It may be a husband and wife who are struggling in their relationship, or parents and children who don’t trust one another, or coworkers at strife. Being a peacemaker can also mean taking the first step in overcoming any conflicts you may have with others.
As believers, we are also involved in the process of bringing peace between humanity and God, as we make efforts to bring others into reconciliation with their Creator through sharing the message of the gospel with them.
In Scripture, the phrase “the son(s) of” is sometimes used to connect a person with an attribute. For example, in the parable of the wheat and the weeds,21 the weeds are called “the sons of the evil one,” meaning they have the attributes of the Devil. Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells His disciples:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.22 In loving our enemies, Christians reflect an attribute of God, who is love.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.23
These two Beatitudes are combined as one, since they both deal with the same subject. Having expressed the attributes and attitudes that the disciples, as participants in the kingdom of God, were to have, Jesus then spoke of the cost of living in God’s kingdom. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be persecuted because of that. Disciples are engaged within society; however, their center, worldview, and ultimate purpose are aligned with God and His ways, which puts them at odds with society at large. When one adopts the values of the kingdom, one will stand out. This difference can, and often does, result in persecution. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes this very clear.
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. … Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.24
While persecution doesn’t necessarily result in physical suffering or death, it can be manifested in harassment, mistreatment, and hostility. Jesus spoke of verbal abuse, of others “reviling you,” railing at you, taunting you. He also spoke of disciples being lied about and falsely accused of things they didn’t do.
Jesus said that such persecution will occur not only because of righteousness, the distinctive lifestyle of the disciples, but more specifically “because of me.”25 Disciples who live the teachings of Jesus will pay a price in this life. However, Jesus said that those who experience persecution, who are railed against, are blessed. They can rejoice and be glad for two reasons. The first is that your reward is great in heaven. Those who suffer persecution are promised good things hereafter. The blessing is not in the suffering in itself, but in its promised outcome. The source of the disciples’ celebration is the recognition that the good which is promised to them far outweighs the bad that they may experience now.26
The second reason to rejoice is that being persecuted for the sake of Jesus is a badge of honor. In saying rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you, Jesus was putting those who are persecuted in the same category as the Old Testament prophets who were also persecuted in their day.
Believers are called to follow Jesus’ teachings, to enter the kingdom of God. Doing so means giving our allegiance to God and His truth and adopting His set of values. The result is the blessings of God’s reign in our lives. At the same time, living in alignment with God’s Word opens us up to various levels of harassment and suffering. When it does, we are called to rejoice and be glad, for our reward will be great.
This brings us to the end of the Beatitudes, the opening section of the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes are a general picture of what all Christians are supposed to be like as we endeavor to pattern our life after Jesus.
As we compare the Beatitudes with Jesus’ life, we see that He set the example we are to follow. We read that Jesus was meek and lowly in heart: Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.27 He mourned over Jerusalem and the unrepentant cities of the land: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!28 He showed mercy: As Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”29 He was a peacemaker: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”30He was ridiculed as a false prophet: They spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”31
The Beatitudes give us the general overview of how we are to live our faith. The rest of the Sermon on the Mount, which we will look at in upcoming articles, gives us further principles and more detailed descriptions of life as it is to be lived in God’s kingdom.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew 5:6.
2 McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, 44.
3 John 4:34.
5 Matthew 5:7.
7 Psalm 111:4.
8 Psalm 103:8.
9 Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 47.
10 McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, 44.
11 Matthew 5:8.
12 Matthew 15:18–20.
13 Acts 15:8–9.
14 James 4:8.
15 Psalm 24:3–4.
16 The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 967.
17 Matthew 5:9.
18 Colossians 1:19–20.
19 Romans 12:18.
20 McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, 47.
21 Matthew 13:24–30, 38.
22 Matthew 5:44–45.
23 Matthew 5:10–12.
24 Matthew 10:16–18; 21–22, 24–25.
25 As translated in the NIV and NAU.
26 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 172.
27 Matthew 11:29.
28 Matthew 23:37. See also Matthew 11:20–24.
29 Matthew 9:27, 29. See also Matthew 9:13; 20:30–34; 17:14–18; Luke 17:12–14; 18:38–43.
30 Matthew 5:43–44. See also Matthew 26:50.
31 Matthew 26:67–68.