The Eight Beatitudes
Matthew 5: 1 — 12
Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in St Matthew's Gospel, 5:
1 to 7: 29.
Introduction to the Eight Beatitudes
The following notes are taken from the One Volume Bible
Commentary, Editor J. R. Dummelow, 1946.
The great interest of the sermon is that it is a more less
full revelation of Christ's own character, a kind of autobiography. Every
syllable of it He had already written down in deeds; He had only to translate
His life into language. With it we may compare the wonderful self-revelation
in John 17, but there is an important difference. There we have His
self-revelation as Son of God, holding communion with the Father in a manner
impossible to us; here we have Him pictured in His perfect humanity as Son of
man, offering us an example, to which, if we cannot in this life completely
attain, we can at least approximate through union with Him. In this sermon
Christ is very near to us. The blessedness which He offers to the humble and
meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the seekers after
righteousness, and the persecuted for righteousness' sake, He first
experienced Himself, and then commended to others. And the power by which He
lived this life is the very power by which we also must live it — the power of
secret prayer. St. Luke tells us that the night before this sermon was
delivered was spent entirely in private prayer (Luke 6: 12).
The sermon is very important for a right understanding of
Christ's conception of "the kingdom": It is "the kingdom of the
heavens". It exists most perfectly in heaven itself, where angels and
glorified saints live the ideal life of love and service, finding their whole
pleasure in doing God's will and imitating His adorable perfections. This
blessed life of sinless perfection Christ brings down to earth in His own
person, and makes available for man.
Every baptised Christian is taught to pray, "Thy
kingdom come," and that is interpreted to mean, Let Thy will be done by
men on earth as it is done by angels and saints in heaven. The kingdom, then,
is just the heavenly life brought down to earth, and its aim and standard is
nothing short of the perfection of God Himself, 'Be ye therefore perfect -
especially be ye perfect in love — even as your Father which is in heaven is
(5: 45). Of this kingdom God the Father is King (c.p. the phrase
'kingdom of God,' used by the other evangelists, and the ancient Doxology to
the Lord's prayer), but Jesus Himself exercises the immediate sovereignty,
being the Father's full representative and endowed with all His powers. He is
expressly called King only in Mt 25: 34 — 40, but His regal authority is
sufficiently implied in the Sermon on the Mount, where He appears in the
character of a divine legislator (521 f.), as the judge of quick and dead (7:
21 — 23), and as the sole revealer of absolute truth (7: 24 — 26)
The inward and spiritual view of the kingdom, which is
prominent in the Sermon on the Mount, is not inconsistent with its
identification elsewhere with the visible Church of Christ (l6: 18 — 19),
which includes both worthy and unworthy members (13 — 47). Our Lord identifies
His Church with the kingdom of heaven (16 — 19), because it is the divinely
appointed means of establishing it. To it is entrusted the awful
responsibility of implanting and nourishing the spiritual life of God's
children. As to unworthy members of the Church, although they are 'in' the
kingdom, they are not 'of' it.
The profound impression which the Sermon made at the time
has been surpassed by the impression which it made on subsequent generations.
The Mount of Beatitudes has become to all the chief nations of the world what
Sinai was to Israel, the place where an authoritative moral code, and what is
more than a code, an authoritative moral ideal, was promulgated. Not even the
most sceptical deny that it shows originality and genius of the highest order,
and reveals a character of unequalled moral sublimity. The many parallels and
resemblances to this sermon adduced from rabbinical writings, some of which
are quoted in the commentary, rather enhance than detract from its unique
character. Its use of current rabbinical phraseology only throws into greater
prominence its matchless originality and independence. But what struck the
hearers even more than its moral splendor and originality, was the tone of
authority with which it was delivered (7: 29).
Jesus spoke, not as a scribe dependent on tradition, nor
even as a prophet prefacing His words with a 'Thus saith the Lord,' but as one
possessed of an inherent and personal claim upon the allegiance and obedience
of His hearers. In His own name and by His own authority He revised the
Decalogue spoken by God Himself on Sinai, and declared Himself the Lord and
Judge of the human race, before whom, in the last great day, every child of
man will stand suppliant-wise to receive his eternal recompense. It is
sometimes said that the Sermon on the Mount contains little Theology and no
Christology. In reality it expresses or implies every claim to supernatural
dignity, which Jesus ever made for Himself, or His followers have ever made
Analysis of the Sermon.
1. The Beatitudes. What kind of persons are really
blessed or happy (5: 3 — 12).
2. The relation of Christ's disciples to the world as its
salt and light (5: 13 — 16.)
3. The relation of the New Teaching to the Law and the
prophets as their fulfilment. It repeals ancient ordinances which were
imperfect and transitory, expands the moral and spiritual principles of the
OT. to their full development, and in so doing enables Judaism to become the
religion of the human race (5: 17 — 48).
4. Practical instructions in righteousness for the citizens
of the kingdom, forming a striking contrast to the ideas of righteousness
current among the Scribes and Pharisees. Alms, prayer, forgiveness, fasting,
wealth, freedom from anxiety, rash judgments, reserve in communicating sacred
knowledge, persistence in prayer, the two ways, the necessity of good works,
stability of character (6: 7 — 27).
Introduction to Matthew 5: 1 — 12
The eight beatitudes are an official statement by our Lord of
the qualities he requires in the members of his kingdom; he reverses completely
the standards of happiness accepted by the world. He was speaking primarily to
the men he had just chosen, but also to the crowd gathered about him eagerly
awaiting the realisation of the kingdom. The fundamental in their lives must be
what was fundamental in his: the love of God and man. He wanted men who were
willing to imitate and become like him; he asked nothing of them that he himself
did not practise.
They were expecting a kingdom to destroy the domination of
Rome by force of arms; he had come to destroy sin. He did not want soldiers for
his kingdom, he wanted saints. The conquest of self, and false human standards,
was the training required for membership. They must be prepared to follow him in
poverty, in patience under affliction and persecution; not retaliating but
forgiving, merciful and peace-loving; clean of heart i.e. not satisfied with
outward observance, but completely given up to the pursuit of personal holiness,
the Union of mind and will with God.
They will find happiness ('blessed') in the kingdom, because
he has guaranteed it, and he is God. The kingdom, while primarily the church on
earth, is to last forever; final happiness is to live with Christ eternally.
(The second part of each beatitude is a synonym for either the church militant
The eighth beatitude is developed especially for his
disciples, who are addressed as 'you'; the cross is to be their special badge;
it will identify them with him.
Some Notes on the Text
On examining different Gospel commentaries, it soon becomes
clear that there are several ways of numbering them. Arrangements vary from
seven to ten beatitudes.
There are many ways on interpreting them. Our notes are
intended to highlight a number of points to help you in your meditation on this
wonderful passage. We draw heavily on "The One Volume Bible
Commentary" Ed. By J. R. Dummelow. Macmillan 1946.
Verses 1 and 2
Jesus sees the crowds he had previously been working among,
seeking him out. Far from trying to avoid them, he makes preparation to take
them into his closest confidence. He finds a place to sit ready to share some
concentrated teaching, and sits down. His close disciples take that as a signal
that they may approach, that the master is ready. We do not know what mountain
or hillside Jesus went up, and we do not need to. He is already being seen as
the new Moses, and, as expected, he therefore gives his teaching on a mountain.
Our Lord proclaims his first beatitude:
"Blessed (i.e. Fortunate,
in a truly good state, well off) are the poor in spirit — those who know
they are spiritually poor; who know their need for God. They are already
citizens of God's Kingdom, and enjoy the benefits of being ruled by
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be
Our Lord is referring here to those who experience sorrow of
acutest kind. Four categories of sorrow are incorporated in this saying:
a) The sorrows that God sends or permits, if received with
humility and submission ever refine and ennoble the character, and elevate it
into closer union with the Father who created it with that capacity.
b) Those who mourn for the sorrows of others out of caring
sympathy, are rewarded by the very exercise of that kind act of compassion,
and find many comforters in their own real sorrows.
c) Those who mourn for sin, acknowledging its ugly presence
in their own thoughts and actions.
d) Those who mourn for the sins of others, who pray
earnestly for their conversion in God's own good time.
Our Lord says they will be comforted, which in this case also
means strengthened. The faculty, which is exercised by the true mourner, is
strengthened by use. Those who bear their sorrows patiently grow in patience.
Those who sorrow for others grow in sympathy. Those who sorrow for their own sin
deepen their penitence. Those who intercede for the sins of the world grow in
the likeness of the Lord himself.
The comfort comes from God through the exercise of the
(This section based on Dummelow)
And now the third beatitude:
"Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the
The word meek is one Christians often avoid using due to
ridicule from non-religious people. It does not matter what word or phrase we
use instead. It will in turn be rubbished by those who do not share our faith.
We should cling proudly to this tenet of our faith. The words
are a prophecy that meekness will prove a greater power in the world than pride
and aggressive force. Meekness would therefore outmatch any forces pitched
against it, whether arising from pride of race, and privilege, learning,
imperial power, culture, intellect, or external magnificence. The first three
centuries of the Church's history of suffering and Rome's attempt to exterminate
it, demonstrated this truth: that the meek exercise a wider spiritual influence
than any other type of character.
The fourth beatitude:
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they will be filled."
What could be more demanding than to receive adequate food and
drink! Blessed are those who give righteousness an even higher priority.
Biblical righteousness, of course, always refers to "Torah": God's
holy will made known to us. Blessed are those whose primary food is to
feed on his Holy Word, seeking to unlock its vast treasures, and trying to
manifest them in holy living and conversation.
The fifth beatitude:
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive
Jesus declares unequivocally that our salvation is made
dependant upon our showing mercy to every creature that can feel. This
has been largely sidelined by some sectors within Christianity.
Every kind of cruel amusement or cruel punishment, as well as
every wanton act of cruelty, is strictly forbidden. The followers of Christ will
treat all creatures as does their creator. This demand applies equally to our
speech. Words can lacerate more deeply than stripes.
Action taken to alleviate undeserved suffering in any creature
will be seen by our Lord as an act of mercy close to his own heart. If we cannot
be merciful we will starve our own capacity to receive God's mercy.
The sixth beatitude:
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see
The 'heart' both in the OT and NT., stands for a man's
inmost soul, and so the purity here required is not the ceremonial cleanness
of the Levitical law, nor even the blamelessness of outwardly correct conduct,
but complete purity of inward thought and desire. A thing is pure when it
contains no admixture of other substances. Benevolence is pure when it
contains no admixture of self-seeking; justice is pure when it contains no
admixture of partiality; love is pure when it contains no admixture of lust. A
man's heart, is pure when it loves only the good, when all its motives are
right, and when all its aspirations are after the noble and true. Purity here
is not synonymous with chastity, but includes it.
Just as the liar does not understand truthfulness, and does
not recognise it when he encounters it, so the unholy person does not
understand sanctity, and cannot understand the all-holy God. But those who
cleanse their hearts understand God in proportion to their purity and one day,
when they are cleansed from all sin, will see Him face to face (Heb 12: 14; 1
Jn 3: 2 - 3; Rev 22: 4).
The seventh beatitude:
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called
children of God."
Peacemakers are, (1) those who reconcile men at variance,
whether individuals, or classes of men (e.g. employers and employed), or
nations; (2) those who work earnestly to prevent disputes arising or to settle
them peaceably (e.g. by arbitration;(3) those who strive to reconcile men to
God and so to bring peace to their souls. They shall be called the children of
God because in this aspect they are especially like their heavenly Father, who
has sent peace and goodwill down to earth in the person of His dear Son, who
is charged with a message of reconciliation.
As a technical note of interest, some scholars label the above
as the 7 beatitudes and verses 10 — 12 as an appendix.
The eighth beatitude.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of
right, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Here our Lord is affirming those who take him at his word, and
seek to live their lives entirely under God's rule. They will later realise that
to do so will often cause the deviant and power seeking to oppress them, in some
cases even to the point of death. To stand for the cause of true justice for all
is very likely to attract the ire of those whose self-serving schemes will
thereby be threatened.
Verses 11 and 12
Our Lord now speaks specifically to his close followers and,
indeed to all who would follow in their footsteps in the life of the Church.
This short addendum to his main address is modelled on a
beatitude but the formal structure now subsides, and Jesus speaks more
intimately to those he trusts most. It is not so much "if" persecution
will come, but "when" it comes! Jesus confides that those who make it
their pursuit to live according to his teaching and try to pass it on, must be
prepared for the most bigoted opposition and horrific suffering. To accept this
fact in one's heart and to carry on regardless will bring a great blessing.
As if to crown this very special intimation, spoken only to
his own, but which included those who followed after them, Jesus then adds that
those who, in these circumstances, find it within their hearts to be able to
rejoice greatly and celebrate they will be still even more blessed.
This is indeed a privilege for those called to stand before
God in the company of the Great Prophets and Martyrs.
The beatitudes express, (1) the qualifications necessary for
admission into Christ's kingdom; (2) the blessedness or happiness of those who
possess those qualifications; (3) in St. Luke expressly, and in St. Matthew by
implication, the misery of those who do not. Observe that the qualifications
of the citizens of the kingdom are not the performance of certain legal acts,
but the possession of a certain character, and that the 'sanctions' or
promised rewards, unlike those of the Decalogue, are of a spiritual nature.
The beatitudes must have been a painful disillusionment to those who believed
that the coming kingdom of the Messiah would be a temporal empire like that of
Solomon, only differing from it in the universal extension and unending
The virtues here regarded as essential, humility, meekness,
poverty of spirit, are the very opposite of those ambitions, self-assertive
qualities, which the carnal multitude admired. We cannot doubt that Jesus
intended the beatitudes, and indeed the sermon generally, to act like Gideon's
test, and to sift out those who had no real sympathy with His aims.
And so begins the great Sermon On the Mount, which will
continue through to the end of chapter 7. In the ten sayings we have reflected
on above (Matt. 5: 3 — 12) we have a kind of charter, the kernel of a
constitution of the Kingdom over which he will reign. But before he allows
himself to be seen in such an august position, he sets about modelling the
attitudes and behaviour he will require of every person who enlists as one of
his followers. Even more wonderfully he will not let us despair that we cannot
possibly reach such high standards: he will, through his teaching, and his own
actions, provide the Way, impart the Truth, and lead us into the Life for which
he is really preparing us. His whole demeanour and teaching style are designed
to help us place our total confidence in him as he shepherds us to our true
Further Reading: Practical Religion: