Part II: The Beatitudes
This section of the Sermon on the Mount is called the Beatitudes. The word ‘beatitude’ comes from the Latin “beat”, which means blessing. This isn’t pronounced beat, as in beatnik; the ‘a’ should have a short ‘u’ sound. Interestingly enough, the term, “beatnik” was coined by an author who considered his generation “blessed.” This author had a Catholic background. He expected his readers to pronounce the word as “beutnik” phonetically, not beatnik! Since the word was written, then pronounced as ‘beat,’ it was applied to the Dobie Gillis bongo beating subculture!
These passages are called, “The Blessings,” because every paragraph or verse in it begins with the phrase, ‘blessed are…” Certainly that caught the ear of everyone within earshot of our Lord. After all, who doesn’t want to fall into the category of being “blessed?” Especially, if you have any control over it!
The Mosaic Law carried within it, a system of both blessings and cursing. To the person who fulfilled various aspects of the Law, God blessed; yet to those who failed, cursing was the order of the day. Every person in the Old Testament demonstrated that reality. The same principle applies today: every believer who fulfills God’s plan, He blesses while believers who fail are disciplined.
By His teaching, the Messiah, more clearly defined and interpreted those blessings in this passage. By His presence our Lord gave immediacy and great impact to these blessings. He was actually present and offering the kingdom to Israel. If Israel accepted Him by faith and He carried out His salvation work then ushered in the Millennial Kingdom, then these blessings would be fully imputed and realized. The reality of these blessings then was imminent.
We call this first section the Beatitudes after the Latin word, beat. The Latin beat came from the Greek word, MAKARIOS μακάριος, which, not unexpectedly, is most often translated as “blessed.” It’s a very old word, coming from Homer’s day. In that early day, it described the exalted state of the Greek pantheon of gods as being above the plight of suffering and laboring humanity. Its root, MAKAR referred primarily to the gods. When used of men, it denoted the state of possessing the exalted state of the gods; namely those prosperous and rich, being above earthly work and concerns! It came to describe the state of those who were prosperous, wealthy and seemingly favored by the various deities.
It is often translated “happy” in many New Testament verses. Specifically, in this series of passages, our Lord used it to describe the happiness and fulfillment resulting from one’s relationship with God and adhering to the divine plan. This happiness, as we have described in other studies is permanent and enduring inner happiness from the source of the Father, Himself. For you to gain the best understanding of this concept as it relates to your Church Age spiritual life, please refer to previous studies in happiness.
This sermon, at least many verses therein, appear in both Matthew and Luke. This begs the question, were both Matthew and Luke quoting our Lord to varying degrees of accuracy, from the same occasion? It is possible that our Lord taught these same things on a number of different occasions fulfilling the principle of inculcation. We really don’t know, nor is it an important issue. We know that our Lord taught these things and that under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit, both Matthew and Luke recorded what the Spirit led them to write. Because of this, whenever both apostles overlapped, I will list both verses then look at the syntactical issues of Matthew and if relevant, of Luke. We may gain some insight from the differences.
The Beatitude of Salvation
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3 NASB
And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 NASB
To insure that we correctly understand these verses, we need to look into their Greek construction. Note, at this point, before we delve into the construction of the Greek, that it’s not so important that we end out with a concise word for word translation, but that we understand the meaning of the words and their relationship to each other. Once the meanings are understood, then our understanding of their relationships can be translated in various ways. My goal is to insure that you understand the words and how they relate to each other so that you fully understand what our Lord meant.
We’ve already established the meaning of MAKARIOS, μακάριος as inner happiness from the source of God. Here, MAKARIOS, μακάριος, happiness, as well as the word, PTOCHOS, πτωχός, poor, appear as nominative plural adjectives. That they concur in number, person and case is important because it is the key to their grammatical relationship. The second adjective is used substantively, as the subject of the verse. The first adjective is in the second predicate position relative to the second adjective, which means that the subject is predicated or acted upon by the characteristic defined by that first adjective. So the poor are acted upon by happiness. The second adjective, used substantively, is preceded by the nominative masculine plural definite article HOI, οἱ. We, then arrive at the translation, “Blessed or filled with inner happiness, are the PTOCHOS, πτωχός. The substantival adjective, PTOCHOS, πτωχός, translated, “poor” needs some completion and clarification.
In Matthew, the subject, PTOCHOS, πτωχός, is followed by the noun in the neuter dative singular, PNEUMATI πνεύματι, which describes these poor. Luke doesn’t use this noun. So, who are these people, the PTOCHOS PNEUMATI? PNEUMATI, translated “in spirit” is a locative of sphere, defining these people as poor in the sphere of spirit. You’d think that the word, poor would be the central noun, while the others would appear as adjectives, describing the poor. Not so! These syntactical issues make exegesis a fun challenge! Though the NASB and other translators define PTOCHOS as poor, a more extreme translation works better. These people are spiritually destitute, having no spiritual assets at all.
Who are these without spiritual assets; those who are spiritually destitute? Every human being is born into this life spiritually dead, with an old sin nature, with no hope of gaining any spiritual assets. So we are all born spiritually destitute! No human can ever earn or deserve God’s greatest gift of salvation which is the only means of spirituality. This gift is accompanied by the potential of being spiritual; the potential of living the same spiritual life, lived by our Lord when He walked the earth. We gain this salvation and spiritual life only by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ! This spiritual life has three phases; entry into it by faith in Christ; secondly, spiritual growth, gained by assimilating our Lord’s thinking then, finally eternal life in Heaven. These “spiritually destitute” receive spiritual assets, to include salvation from condemnation to the Lake of Fire and the potential for a fantastic spiritual life at the moment they believe in Jesus Christ. There is no other spirituality in this life!
The translation of Matthew can loosely read, up this point, as “Blessed or filled with inner happiness are the spiritually destitute…” Again, understand that destitute is the subject of the sentence while blessed and spiritually modify that noun. While the verb of being, “are” does not appear in the Greek, in English we must insert some sort of verb there so that it reads smoothly. Don’t read a present reality for every human into this verb. Remember that it does not appear in the Greek. If you read into this a present reality that “are” infers then you would look for inner happiness in every human being who is poor or, in this context, spiritually dead! As a matter of fact, many have misinterpreted this passage because of its English translation. The translation using “are” is not erroneous, but it can be misleading, inferring a present reality. The spiritually destitute do not possess happiness or contentedness from the source of the Father! In that respect they are not happy! But, the fact is, salvation which leads to happiness is open to all the spiritually destitute! So many of them do not understand that they qualify for the greatest blessing God has ever bestowed upon the human race, that of eternal life with Him forever! That salvation is the blessing our Lord referred to here.
The next word, common to both Matthew and Luke, is the adverbial causal conjunction HOTI ὅτι, with the genitive third person personal pronoun which should be translated, “because of…” Luke made it very personal with, “because of you” whereas, Matthew records, “because of them.” The difference here leads me to believe that our Lord taught this on more than one occasion. Read “because of’ in the sense of “for them.” So, “because of” or “for” the spiritually destitute, God has provided a Kingdom. Kingdom, translated from the Greek BASILEIA βασιλεία, refers to a sphere of authority or dominion, not to a place or to a given amount of property. When you consider the word, kingdom, think of its source, our Lord. The word then refers to the dominion of a king, in this case, our Lord. It refers to everything He has dominion or power over.
Though that word offers no exegetical surprises, Matthew and Luke define this Kingdom differently! Matthew wrote, “Kingdom of Heaven.” while Luke recorded “Kingdom of God.” This begs the question, is there any difference between the two terms? Theologians differ on this issue. Whatever side you may take, remember that God the Holy supernaturally inspired these two men to write what they did. We are to learn, and gain from that knowledge, from the message that each one communicated. Matthew was also an eye witness to our Lord’s ministry whereas, Luke, by his own admission took as his resources from those who were eye witnesses to our Lord. Secondly, our Lord spoke Aramaic while both men wrote in Greek. No language ever translates exactly to another. Nuance is either discarded or gained.
We need to understand the Kingdom our Lord has prepared, because His unlimited work of atonement is for every member of the human race! We will be developing the meaning of this phrase as we move though this study of our Lord’s life because He used the term often. In this context, I treat the terms, Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven as synonymous terms. We define the Kingdom in very general terms because neither Jesus nor John the Baptist, who used the term as well, specifically defined it. They assumed, as did the disciples Jesus sent out, that the people knew what the Kingdom represented. John, when paving the way for our Lord, said, the Kingdom was, “at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) Our Lord used the same words when He said: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) He also charged the 80 with the words, “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 10:7) Again, the fact that they didn’t define it means that they presupposed their congregation’s knowledge of it. They were not the first to use the terms, the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom was taught over and over in the Old Testament, to the degree that all Israel waited for it, as their national and individual fulfillment:
In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Daniel 2:44
The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all. Psalm 103:19
Note that in no place do either John or Jesus encourage people to try to bring in the Kingdom. Every person in the human race is not only encouraged to but mandated to join the Kingdom. In no way is any human able to bring in the kingdom. That is absolute arrogance, whether it comes in the guise of Phariseeism, Zealotism or any modern misguided motivation for evangelization. Certainly, every believer is mandated to witness; furthermore, to evangelize. One of the most important spiritual gifts empowers the believer to evangelize. Yet, the fulfillment of that spiritual gift demands another motivation, an orientation to grace, not the attempt to “bring in the kingdom!”
When you believe in Jesus Christ, appropriating His salvation work, then you have joined, become one more person in the Kingdom of Heaven. Every human being has the potential of being a part of this Kingdom because Jesus Christ died for every human being since the first Adam to the last person born in the Millennium. This Kingdom is eternal. The short discussion presents a small glimpse of the kingdom. Jesus taught much more as did the Old Testament prophets. Our discussion will expand as we continue our study.
God, then, has provided something absolutely fantastic for every spiritually destitute human being if he will receive the gift of eternal life; becoming a resident of the Kingdom of Heaven. This fact, in itself, is a fantastic blessing that many never realize. How does salvation relate to happiness? Many believers in Jesus Christ suffer miserable lives! Just because you have salvation doesn’t mean that you are happy, though your understanding of your eternal life should certainly lend itself to the realization of your happiness. Everything in your temporal life should pale in importance compared to the fact of your salvation. Once you pass into the eternal life phase, having gone through the Evaluation Seat of Christ, you will have eternal happiness! Is temporal happiness available to you as well? Absolutely! But you must grow up spiritually, start thinking the way Jesus did, then the Father will share His very own happiness with you! An interpretive translation sounds like this:
Inner happiness to the spiritually destitute, for the Kingdom of Heaven is for them. Matthew 5:3
This first beatitude presents the reality of the availability of salvation and the potential of inner to happiness to everyone in the human race. The moment of your salvation is the first phase of your eternal spiritual life. The next beatitude applies to the second phase, your temporal life as a growing believer. You will face suffering, so these next words apply to you.