by Dempsey Collins
The first part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-12) deals entirely with the citizens of the kingdom, their blessedness because of their character. This section is usually referred to as the Beatitudes (the English form of the Latin word beatus, meaning blessed or blessings) because each verse begins with the word “blessed”. Hence, it is a declaration of blessings.
Characteristics of the Beatitudes
The word “blessed” occurs nine times in the text; however, only seven characteristics or types of attitudes are given. In verses 10, 11 Jesus says that these things may occur to those disciples who exercise the preceding seven qualities (cf. 2 Tim. 3:12).
The first four Beatitudes look toward man and his relation to God; the last three look toward man and his relation to his fellowman.
Not completely new or revolutionary, these basic principles are found in the Old Testament (cf. Psa. 18:25-27; 37:11). However, compared to the empty, formalistic religion that prevailed among the Jews at that time, the Beatitudes did seem strange and unusual.
New significance is given to the spiritual truths placed in the context of the kingdom of heaven.
A description of the character of the citizens of the kingdom.
A description of each disciple, not just some. There is no “laity” or “clergy” concept. The Beatitudes describe character, not an office. All Christians are saints in the Biblical sense (Phil. 2:21; II Thess. 1:10).
The Beatitudes present an idea of what all disciples are to display at all times. Not a description of seven classes of people (one is mourning, another displays meekness, etc.), but seven characteristics to be exercised by all disciples at all times.
The Beatitudes make a clear distinction between a disciple and a non-disciple. The distinction is blurred today. The kingdom attracts only when it is different. We are to be:
Different in what we admire; i.e., poor of spirit in contrast to self-confidence.
Different in what we seek; i.e., righteousness in contrast to status, money, etc.
Different in what we do (I Peter 2:11-12).
The Beatitudes are a strong attack against Jewish legalism and any activity done without a pure heart.
Blessedness in Christ.
Each verse begins with the word “blessed”. The Greek makarios was originally used to describe the blessed happy state of the gods as opposed to the state of mortal man. Among the Greeks of Jesus’ day, only the gods were truly hoi makarioi, or “The Blessed Ones”. Later, it became a description of the “blessed dead” (makaron nesoi). Finally, it came to mean the supremely blessed, the fortunate, prosperous and wealthy in this world.
As used in the Beatitudes, “blessed” conveys the highest form of spiritual and moral prosperity. It is possible because lives are truly committed to the one who is supremely blessed (I Tim. 1:15).
“Blessed” was at first connected with outward prosperity and therefore synonymous with “rich” or “happy”. In the text of the Sermon on the Mount, it is the express symbol of happiness which stems from moral character.
True happiness is not found in circumstances, but in the proper reaction to circumstances. It is found in a standard of character, not in a standard of living. It is found in total surrender to Christ, not in the seeking of self.
Apart from Christ, all that man acquires to bring happiness can only bring a temporary state of well-being that will eventually add to one’s misery and problems (cf. Heb. 11:24-26). These things are but voluntary distractions to keep one from facing up to the guilt of his sin.
CONCLUSION: It is only by turning to Christ and following such teaching as given in the Beatitudes that we can hope to enjoy true and lasting happiness while living on this earth. Only by the molding of our character to the will of Christ can we be free from the guilt of our sin and enjoy the resulting peace of mind.