Matthew 5:3 – 12; Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” – The “Beatitudes”

Why do so many preachers make Jesus’ “sermon on the mount” so difficult when it is so basic and simple. There are no hidden meanings among Christ’s statements of contrast between two aspects of things which characterised the culture and generation in which He spoke, and which continue to characterise our own, if we choose to pay attention.

The very first statement tends to elicit a lengthy, counter-textual explanation of what has no bearing on what Christ said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

All manner of linguistic contortions are used to explain what it means to be “poor in spirit”; in fact, some modern Bible renditions, and many modern teachers, rephrase this to read “happy are those who are spiritually poor …” Some take further license to render “Happy are those who know that they are spiritually poor.” But “spirit” is a noun, not an adjective, and “poor” (πτωχοι – pto-khoi’) is in the nominative case along with “blessed” and “the”, which means it serves as the subject of the sentence, rather than a simple adjective. The sentence could be correctly written: “The happy / blessed, poor in spirit; the kingdom of the heavens is of them (theirs).” So it is incorrect to rephrase this statement as “blessed are those who are spiritually poor”.

Paul uses the phrase “in spirit” several times. He admonishes the church to be “fervent in spirit…”, women to be “holy …. in spirit”, and Timothy to be an example to the believers “in spirit”, and told the Corinthians that he was “present in spirit” while being absent from them physically, and had no “rest in [his] spirit” when he did not find Titus where he had hoped.[1] Jesus was described by Luke as having become “strong in spirit”, and having “rejoiced in spirit”, while John said that Jesus became “troubled in spirit”. In each of these instances, it is clear that the context of the phrase was in each person’s inner person; their “self” as contrasted to simply their physical body. Clearly, Paul was not “spiritually present” with the Corinthians despite being physically apart from them; Paul was not omni-present and immanent throughout the region. The child Jesus grew strong in His inward person, rejoiced in His inward person, was troubled in His inward person, just as we all experience in our own situations at different times. So how does this fit with being “poor in spirit?”

If we are any way “in our spirit”, that is how we feel; it is our attitude toward the circumstance; it is our ‘frame of mind’. To be poor in spirit, then, is to have the attitude toward material things of disengagement. We may possess material wealth, but our point of reference is not that of money, luxury, or indulgence. Considering the contrast of Jesus’ first statement, this is a reasonable understanding that does not require a contortion of or addition to the text in order to understand it, allows for those who may possess material goods to be included in the inheritance, and most importantly, does not try to suggest spiritual poverty as a condition of that inheritance, since the only way we inherit the kingdom of God is by receiving His Christ, by Whom we receive the indwelling Holy Spirit, which is most emphatically not a condition of spiritual poverty!

Having addressed the problem with the common, modern approach to verse 3, let us look at the whole of Matthew 5, verses 3 to 12, to see how simple a message it contains for the Jewish men to whom Christ spoke that day. Let us not lose sight of the context; while all Scripture is eternal and eternally significant, if we want to understand its significance, we still must consider the original speaker, original audience, original circumstances, and original context, in order to know the intended message.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed the mourners, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for they shall be filled (satisfied)

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall have mercy.

Blessed are the pure-hearted (lit; clean-hearted) for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are the persecuted on account of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.

Blessed are you whenever they reproach you and persecute your and say every wicked thing against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and exult, for great is your reward in heaven; for thus they persecuted the prophets before you.

A beautiful passage, by which Christ encouraged His disciples who did not yet know the cost to them to follow Christ to His cross and into the world with His gospel. The Jews anticipated wealth, power, submission of their enemies, lands, goods houses, plentiful food, good health, prestige. Instead they were largely impoverished, oppressed, and driven both in and from their own land, and God’s voice to them had been silent over 400 years. They had not stopped believing in YHWH, but they had lost their way, no longer knowing Who was this God they worshipped or how He was to be worshipped.

Then came Jesus. Who did not consider it robbery to be equal to God yet to leave His heavenly dwelling and take to Himself a weak, human body so that He could teach the truth of the God mankind had lost sight of, and then He who knew no sin, to die the death of a traitor at the hands of evil Romans and wicked Jewish religious leaders in order to pay the just penalty for the sins of sinful mankind. [2] Jesus demonstrated the condition of “poor in spirit”; as Possessor of the heavens and earth, He divested Himself of His glory for a time, for the better end of redeeming the people He had created for Himself.[3]

The Jew longed to have his land, and his earthly inheritance, but he could not. Jesus assured them that those who emulate Christ, in considering themselves as though they were poor for the sake of God, will gain the greatest riches in eternity, having become possessors by inheritance of God’s eternal presence.

The nation of Israel was a nation of mourners; self-pity characterised their culture, and lamentation their national habit. But all who mourn for the loss of godliness shall be comforted in Christ.

Meekness is a character trait of being mild-tempered. the Jewish history was one of war: defend the nation; defeat the enemies. Enemies were many – and still are – and many sought to eradicate the tiny people. Despite millennia of battling, Israel has never had peace, nor possessed their entire country. But those who cease striving, but rest in Christ, allowing His patient and mild temper to condition theirs, will not lose everything, but gain everything when Christ returns to restore the earth according to His original purpose. Battle cannot win them their tiny country; peace in the Lord will win the whole earth.

All who long for righteousness, shall be satisfied. We shall be filled with Christ’s righteousness in ourselves, and we will live forever in a purged universe where righteousness is complete.

The Mosaic Law imposed prompt justice: punishment for each infraction was to be swift. But God desires mercy, and the merciful must understand mercy to exercise it. When we realize the mercy that God has extended to us, we recognize that we have no right to refuse mercy to others. When we realize God’s mercy, we will extend it to others, both receiving and performing God’s will.

The clean-hearted desires God. Who desires God shall see God.

Jesus Christ is the Prince of peace, and true peace is only achievable in Christ. When we carry the gospel into the world of sinners, we are acting as Christ Who is the chief peace-maker.[4] Christ made peace between man and God. He called His people to go and do likewise. Our position as adopted sons of God gives us the authority of the Father to follow our Brother in bringing peace to earth. When we love the lost enough to bring them God’s offer of forgiveness and reconciliation, we are doing what our Father in heaven has done.

Jesus told His followers that any who would persecute Him will persecute His followers.[5] If we are abused for the Lord’s sake, for the sake of what is right and true, we know that our home is in heaven, where our inheritance is secure in Christ Who purchased it for us, and keeps both it and us for that day when everything will be fulfilled. If we are hated by those who hate our Father and hate our Saviour, we must learn to be grieved, not for ourselves, but for them, because they are the ones who have lost. We have eternity, kept safe by the Creator Who holds all in His all-powerful hand.[6]


[1] Rom 12:11; 1 Cor 7:34; 1 Tim 4:12; 1 Cor 5:3; 2 Cor 2:13; Luk 1:80, 10:21; John 12:21

[2] Philippians 2:6-8; 2 Cor 5:21

[3] The entire book of Hebrews speaks of the better covenant, by the better sacrifice of Jesus Christ for His church. You are urged to meditate upon this wonderful book today.

[4] Isaiah 9:6; Rom 15:33; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thes 5:23; Heb 13:20; Luke 2:14; Col 1:20

[5] John 15:20

[6] Luke 12:33; 2 Cor 5:1