ExeGreeksis: “Your Blessed Life Now” – Matthew 4:23-5:12

This is a fairly long article so I’d recommend downloading the PDF version here (which also has nicer formatting) to read at your own leisure: ΕχεGrεεκsις – Your Blessed Life Now – A True Gospel of Prosperity – Matt 4–5 

You can read the previous entry in this series in Matthew here: Fishers of Men

            Some prosperity preachers try to sell a perversion of the Gospel that promises material blessings, health and favour for those who would ‘declare’ it over their life. However, this other ‘gospel’ is (as Paul said in Gal. 1:8) no gospel at all, nor is it biblical. They ignore context and the clear teaching of scripture to twist it into something that will tickle the ears of their congregations with promises that only appeal to the flesh and carnal desires. However, when we look at what Jesus himself said about the “blessed life” in the Beatitudes, we see a dramatically different picture, and one that is also infinitely more precious than mere temporal blessing.

            The Beatitudes are a loved and well known portion of Matthew’s Gospel, and for good reason! However, before we jump into the Beatitudes, I’ll spend some time looking at the context in which they were delivered in Matthew 4:23-5:2. However, the overall context is where it sits in the whole Gospel, so everything up to this point should be held in mind—but for now I’ll focus on the direct context. It gives us some important information about where, to whom, what, and why Jesus was preaching. This will hopefully give us some background information as to what situations and people Jesus was responding to and help us feel the weight of his opening words (the Beatitudes) in his “Sermon on the Mount.”

            The format as follows is similar to previous episodes of this ΕχεGrεεκsις series. First is the Greek text in bold, as from the NA28 Greek New Testament, followed by my translation in English, then an expansion on the meaning of the text and my choices in translating from the Greek. Additional commentary on the history, culture and meaning of the text will also be noted. These studies are meant for those who want to dig in deeper into the text beyond just a casual reading—so I have gone quite a bit more in depth than I would usually for a regular devotional. Hopefully this will help us to understand more fully the true meaning behind these texts. But more than this, I pray that the Lord would use this to stir up your affections for Jesus, love for His word, and inspiration to continue to study it and apply it to your life!

4:23 Καὶ περιῆγεν ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ διδάσκων ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν καὶ κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας καὶ θεραπεύων πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν ἐν τῷ λαῷ.

And he began to go around the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing every kind of sickness and physical ailment among the people.

Preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom

            This is one of the initiating moments of his ministry in Galilee. The word συναγωγή (synagogue) is normally thought of as a Jewish place of worship, though it simply could mean “a gathering place” which could be used for various purposes, in the Gospels it always refers to Jewish assemblies.[1] Something interesting about Matthew’s Gospel is that there are no recorded discourses by Jesus in a synagogue or even in a house. He may be drawing attention to the fact that Jesus’ essential message was given as he moved about in the countryside, seashore and other places to the common people and not just the spiritual elite.[2]

            The pairing of “preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom” and “teaching in their synagogues” is perhaps distinguishing between informal preaching to gathered crowds and perhaps more formal invitations to speak at a regular assembly.[3] “Preaching” is not the systemic instruction as implied by “teaching.” It is rather a direct proclamation of certain facts which illicit a response, whether or not people take notice of it.[4] Preaching heralds the message and demands a response. So, teaching is more directed to those who are already disciples, and preaching towards those who are perhaps not yet. It may be significant then that while the disciples are to “proclaim/preach” (κηρύσσω) also, Matthew never uses διδάσκω (teach) of them “until after Jesus (the “one teacher,” 23:8, 10) is no longer present (28:20).”[5] This is interesting since Matthew’s gospel centers around the teachings of Jesus laid out in 5 “lessons” or sermons which he delivered—this ‘Sermon on the Mount’ being the most well known. This is good for us to bear in mind as we study the Beatitudes—as they are Jesus’ teaching to His disciples—so, if we are counted among them, we should pay close attention.

            “The Gospel of the Kingdom” (τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας) is an expression only found in this Gospel (9:35; 24:14).[6] There is sometimes some misunderstanding about this phrase which is “fostered by the unfortunate English translation ‘kingdom’ instead of e.g. ‘reign,’ that basileia [βασιλεία] means a ‘thing’ called a ‘kingdom’ rather than being a verbal noun to describe God ruling.”[7] In other words, Matthew’s Gospel is concerned with God’s sovereign rule over all things and all of life, and that is what should be understood from this phrase. The Beatitudes which follow will describe and challenge some of the preconceptions of what this “Kingdom” the Gospel produces looks like. They describe what living under the rule of God looks like. So pay attention! God’s kingdom is unlike earthly kingdoms and rule.

4:24 Καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἡ ἀκοὴ αὐτοῦ εἰς ὅλην τὴν Συρίαν· καὶ προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας ποικίλαις νόσοις καὶ βασάνοις συνεχομένους [καὶ] δαιμονιζομένους καὶ σεληνιαζομένους καὶ παραλυτικούς, καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν αὐτούς.

So news about him spread throughout the whole province of Syria, and they brought all the ill to him—those having various sicknesses and racked with pain, the demon possessed, the epileptics and paralytics—and he healed them.

The Scope of Jesus’ Ministry

            Syria in the New Testament usually denoted the Roman province which included Palestine (Lk. 2:2, Acts 15:23, 41; Gal. 1:21) and was a region north of Galilee. Here is it probably in reference to the area north of and bordering Galilee according to the Jewish usage, which did not include Phoenicia. Matthew’s use of “the whole of Syria” here “serves to indicate that Jesus’ reputation spread far beyond the area of his actual travels.”[8]

            The phrase πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας would be literally translated “all those having it badly,” which although I think it amusing—is probably not the most appropriate way to render it, so I render it as “all the ill.” It is a general term describing all kinds of physical maladies which he continues to elaborate on. The adjective ποικίλαις (various) means “many coloured,” but here has the sense of “manifold.” Matthew continues on to list demoniacs, epileptics and paralytics.[9]  The term σεληνιαζόμενοι, literally means “those affected by the moon.”[10] It has been rendered “lunatics” by some due to the close root meaning of this English gloss. However, it is well accepted that what is in mind is epileptics. Matthew distinguishes between demoniacs and epileptics, and paralytics would have been people for whom there was no cure in the first century. These three terms “which conclude the list will all be illustrated by specific cases in 8:28–34; 17:14–21 and 9:1–8 respectively.”[11]

4:25 καὶ ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοὶ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ Δεκαπόλεως καὶ Ἱεροσολύμων καὶ Ἰουδαίας καὶ πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου.

As a result, many crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem and Judea, and from the other side of the Jordan River.

            Regarding the cities listed, “Galilee and the Decapolis cover the northern area, on both sides of the Jordan valley, while the south is represented by Judea on the west bank of the Jordan and Perea on the east bank…”[12] Δεκαπόλεως means the “ten cities” which were east of the Jordan except Scythopolis. The vast distances of these cities in addition to Jerusalem, Judea, and the Transjordan “adds to the impression Matthew is conveying that people were attracted to Jesus from very great distances.”[13]

Followers and Disciples

            Here ἠκολούθησαν (followed) does not mean “became his disciples” but rather “went with him” or “went where he went.”[14] Clearly Jesus’ miraculous healings made a big impression for many crowds to follow him, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they were all “disciples” but most were probably curious seekers not wanting to miss the latest sensation.[15] Some in the crowd would undoubtedly become “full-time” recruits, but generally it seems that most were more sporadic and temporary followers. When Jesus heads to Jerusalem, it seems to only be the Twelve and the women (mentioned in 27:55-56) who leave Galilee to accompany him. The crowds don’t seem to be interested in going too far out of their way to follow Jesus, though some may have.

            Throughout the gospel, there is a distinction between “disciples” and “crowd” which is clearly maintained (5:1-2; 7:28-29, etc.) So, the verb ἀκολουθέω (follow) is not sufficient to indicate full-on discipleship.[16] This is important to note, since there are points in Jesus’ discourses which are addressed to the crowd, and more specific points which are addressed to his disciples. Also, just like today—not everyone who ‘follows’ Jesus or claims to be a Christian, truly is a disciple. Many, just like then, ‘follow’ Christ for other motives—bread and fish, miracles, healing, a spectacle, your best life now, etc. The Beatitudes help us see what are some of the true marks of a disciple of Christ. This is what we’ll be jumping to next as we’ve now established some context. Bear in mind that Jesus is talking to a crowd, of which not all are true ‘disciples.’ Some have been following him for the wrong reasons—something which some significant portion of his teaching now will be directed to address.

5:1-2 Ἰδὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος, καὶ καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ προσῆλθαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ· καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς λέγων·

But seeing the crowds, he went up on the hill and when he had sat down, his disciples came to him and he opened his mouth and began to teach them saying,

Comparison with Moses

            Something interesting to note: Matthew may have intended τὸ ὄρος (the hill/mountain) to suggest a typological parallel with Moses who went up Mount Sinai to receive the Law.[17] The phrase ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος occurs repeatedly in the LXX accounts of Moses at Sinai (Exod 19:3; 24:15, 18; 34:4; cf. 24:12, 13; 34:1, 2; Deut 9:9: 10:1, 3 for related verbal forms).”[18] Craig Blomberg takes the view:

“Jesus goes up onto a mountainside just as Moses did at Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. Many have seen Matthew’s portrait of Jesus, therefore, as one of a new Moses or new lawgiver. As subsequent exposition will make clear, however, Jesus is not proclaiming a new law but announcing what he believes is the legitimate interpretation of God’s will as contained in the already-existing Torah.”[19]

               If such a typology was in Matthew’s mind here, he would have intended his readers to also focus on the contrast between Moses—who spoke only the words he was given—and Jesus who simply declared “I say to you” (5:21–22 etc.). “Moses gave them the law; Jesus ‘fulfills’ it (5:17).”[20] Some make a connection between the five discourses or sermons of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s Gospel and the five books of the Law. They suggest that Matthew is depicting Jesus as the new Moses. Though this is interesting to contemplate, there are some problems with making this connection too dogmatically since Matthew is primarily concerned with the Gospel of the Kingdom, not Law (though this is not to pit them against one another either), Moses went up the mountain alone and Jesus had a crowd with him, the Law was given to the whole people and Jesus’ teachings were primarily addressed to his disciples.[21] However, it is helpful to see those parallels here—Jesus is that One greater than Moses and the Prophets who brings the words of life to His people.

The Discourse on Discipleship

            “The portrayal of Jesus as seated with ‘disciples’ gathered around him casts him in the role of a rabbinic teacher; sitting was the posture for authoritative teaching (cf. 13:2; 24:3; 26:55), as also in the synagogue (23:2; Luke 4:20).”[22] This model of authoritative teacher is also how Matthew concludes the discourse (7:28–29).[23] I have translated the imperfect form ἐδίδασκεν as “he began to teach,” and William Barclay takes it in the “sense ‘this is what He used to teach’ and sees evidence that this is not one sermon but a summary of what Jesus habitually taught.”[24] For a sermon of this length, it can hardly be assumed to be a verbatim report but rather a summary of an extended session of teaching given over a period of time.[25] Itinerant preachers repeatedly make use of the same material at various times, adapting it to suit the given moment. “That we find somewhat similar statements in other parts of the Gospels does not mean that Jesus did not use them on this occasion. We should be on our guard against thinking that it is Matthew’s sermon rather than that of Jesus.”[26] It presents Christians as being an alternative society, a “Christian counter-culture” and for this reason, R.T. France prefers to call it the “Discourse on Discipleship” rather than the “Sermon on the Mount.”[27]

THE BEATITUDES: Your Blessed Life Now!

Congrats! You made it through the introduction—now to dig into the Beatitudes themselves. Many of these Beatitudes are based in the Psalms, and I will point them out as we go on.

5:3 Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, because to them belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Good Life

            Some quick notes about the structure of the Beatitudes: The first and last of the Beatitudes have the same second clause, αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (to them belongs the Kingdom of Heaven) and form the framework which sets the tone for the promises which come between. The first four start with the Greek letter π (p), possibly as a mnemonic device. “The effect of this tightly-controlled structure is to produce an easily memorable unit of teaching, a pocket guide to life in the kingdom of heaven.”[28] These were meant to be memorized! Most of the Beatitudes are sharply paradoxical and reverse the conventional values of society by commending those whom the world may dismiss as losers. Unlike the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ of today, they turn the worldly values upside down. The Beatitudes therefore call God’s people to stand out as different with the promise that those who do so will not ultimately be losers.

            “Beatitudes are descriptions, and commendations, of the good life.”[29] The eight pronouncements follow a general epigrammatic form like this (with minor variations): “Blessed are those who …[a quality or activity in the present tense], Because they… [a future verb, except in vv. 3 and 10].” It is interesting that the sermon begins not with imperatives or demands, but rather with beatitudes. Jesus will later go on to make great demands of his disciples, however in true Gospel fashion, grace shown precedes obedience required.[30] The promises in verses 4-9 are said to use the “divine passive,” where even though God is not specifically stated as the subject, the passive verbs imply “that it is God who will comfort, give the inheritance, satisfy, show mercy and call them his children.”[31]

What does “Blessed” actually mean?

            The word μακάριος (blessed) has been a very difficult problem for translators. “Blessed” or “blessing” are not understood the same nor are they common events in all societies. The word μακάριος is used quite frequently in the Septuagint as a translation of a Hebrew word meaning something similar to, “Oh the happiness of…” It is often used in the Psalms and in the Wisdom literature.[32] The Hebrew equivalent of μακάριος is ʾašrê rather than the more theologically loaded bārûk, “blessed (by God).” R.T. France argues then that “blessed” has too heavy a theological a connotation in modern usage. The Greek word for “blessed (by God)” would instead be εὐλογητός. France prefers “happy” as it better conveys the sense of congratulation and commendation. However, this term’s psychological connotation is still not quite accurate, as μακάριος does not state that a person feels happy but that they are in a “happy” situation which others should also wish to share. He comments, “the Australian idiom ‘Good on yer’ is perhaps as close as any to the sense, but would not communicate in the rest of the English-speaking world!”[33] I know at this point this word seems a bit abstract, but it is important for us to tease out the right understanding of its meaning since it opens every one of the Beatitudes!

            Sometimes this word can be taken to mean “a superficial happiness or good thing rather than to a right and harmonious relationship in which one party, usually the superior, does good to the other.” [34] “Happy” in English doesn’t quite do justice because it is primarily understood as an emotional state. “Fortunate” is understood too closely to “lucky.” While this brings out the joy that is conveyed by Jesus’ word, it perhaps misses the full religious content. This ‘blessedness’ is more than just mere happiness.[35] “One translation that has often worked is ‘to be in a good position,’ that is, ‘to be favourably placed to receive something good.'”[36] So, the word μακάριος refers to “those who are and/or will be happy, fortunate, or as those who are ‘to be congratulated’ because of God’s response to their behaviour or situation.”[37] Hopefully you’ve begun to understand how tricky it is to translate this word. I have chosen to go with “blessed” for my translation as it seems to be the best of the available choices to most closely communicate the same meaning of μακάριος without becoming too cumbersome. But just know that the word is not easily translated by a single English gloss.

Poorness of spirit

            The phrase πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι (poor in spirit) speaks of a person’s relationship with God. “It is a positive spiritual orientation, the converse of the arrogant self-confidence which not only rides roughshod over the interests of other people but more importantly causes a person to treat God as irrelevant.”[38] Jesus is not saying that material poverty is a blessing in itself, as if it is an automatic sign of closeness with God (though note that the Beatitude in Luke 6:20 does just say, ‘blessed are the poor,’ which is in regard to material poverty). True “blessedness” comes only as God’s Spirit is capable of leading the human spirit to trust absolutely in God.[39]

            To be “poor in spirit” is to acknowledge one’s spiritual bankruptcy apart from Christ.[40] It is to recognize that one is completely and utterly destitute in the spiritual realm, and therefore know their complete dependence on God. It is the opposite of pride in one’s own virtue. They humbly accept God’s rule and therefore benefit from His reign. “This is the man to whom I will look,” the Lord says, “he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2). These are the poor in spirit.[41] Poverty of spirit is therefore the product of repentance which is the appropriate response to the coming of God’s reign.[42] So how do we become poor in spirit? We recognize and confess our poor spiritual estate apart from Christ, acknowledge our complete dependence on God and repent and humbly accept God’s total rule in our lives. Obviously then, this level of brokenness is not something we can perfectly affect for ourselves—so even for this we must pray and depend on God to work in us what we cannot do for ourselves.

A Present Blessing

            The blessing here on this first Beatitude and also in verse 10—αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (to them belongs the Kingdom of Heaven)—is in the present tense, in contrast to the ones in between which are in future tense.[43] The Kingdom of Heaven is theirs HERE and NOW, not just some time in the future! It is a present blessing for the poor in spirit—and we may further say that for those who have been redeemed—they are already fellow-citizens of Heaven (Phil. 3:20). The use of present and future verbs in these Beatitudes avoids an explicit dichotomy between benefits as either only “in this age” or “in the age to come.” Such a simplistic dichotomy may miss the breath of the conception of the blessings of the Kingdom of Heaven which is in mind here.

“The kingdom of heaven has already arrived… and so these are people who are already under God’s beneficent rule. The advantages of being God’s people can then be expected to accrue already in this life, even though the full consummation of their blessedness remains for the future.” [44]

            This tension of living in the “already, but not yet” period of time is one which is familiar in much of the NT, and is also seen here. The blessing of God and living in His Kingdom are here and now for us to enjoy—and they are not like the cheap substitutes which certain smiling televangelists would try to entice us to ‘sow a seed’ into—but are far greater than we can imagine!

5:4        μακάριοι οἱ πενθοῦντες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ παρακληθήσονται.

Blessed are those who are mourning, because they will be comforted.

Blessed Mourners

            The word πενθοῦντες (mourners) is actually a Greek participle used substantively.[45] So it actually means, “blessed are the mourners.” This Beatitude is surely one of the most paradoxical—blessed mourners!? What does that even mean!? Louw-Nida comment that, “the reference in Mt 5:4 is not to grieving or mourning for the dead but rather sadness and grief because of wickedness and oppression.”[46] The echo of Isaiah 61:2-3 following that of Isaiah 61:1 in verse 3 (good news to the poor), indicates that this “mourning” is not primarily personal bereavement, but rather of those whose situation is wretched.[47] Leon Morris suggests also that it may be that Jesus is saying that it is those who mourn over the evils which are part of life, over the way God’s cause is often neglected and his people despised, who are the ones who are truly blessed. And in Psalm 119:136, the Psalter says that his “eyes shed streams of tears, because men do not keep thy law.” Is this the condition of our heart?

            These are the ones who will be consoled, the ones who are grieved over evil will be comforted in God’s ultimate triumph.[48] Ecclesiastes 7:3 says, Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” There, the Preacher is commending how good it is to go into the house of mourning, to contemplate our mortality (Ecc. 7:2) and so the wise do so (Ecc. 7:4). There is value to taking time to mourn, to contemplate the brevity of our years. Though for some, the reversal of their misfortunes may not be seen in this life, however there is still the promise of better times ahead.[49] So the question is, are we mourners? Do we grieve along with the Spirit when God’s truth is denied and reviled? Do we hurt when thousands perish to a Christ-less eternity on a daily basis? Do we shed tears over the injustices of our world? Can we empathize with and plead the case of the widow, the abused, the sex trafficked, the orphan? Or have our hearts grown cold—too busy with the trivial pursuits of this life and the endless distraction our cyber-generation consumes in gluttonous proportions? Blessed are those who mourn… who mourn this world’s sad state—for they will be comforted.

5:5        μακάριοι οἱ πραεῖς, ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν.

Blessed are the meek, because they will inherit the earth.

The Inheritance of the Meek

            “Meek” is to be understood as those who do not throw their weight around with others. The term οἱ πραεῖς (the meek) is used to translate anāwîm in the Psalms, where the emphasis is on their relationship with God. They are those who wait for the Lord. It is these who will inherit the earth according to Psalm 37:7-11.[50] The saying ‘meekness  doesn’t equal weakness, it is power under control’ probably rings true. In fact, “whatever strength or weakness the meek person has is accompanied by humility and a genuine dependence on God. True meekness may be a quality of the strong, those who could assert themselves but choose not to do so.” [51] It is an attitude of lowly service which refuses to seek to advance one’s own personal aims. Some popular English cognates are “gentle,” “humble” or “nonaggressive.” One possible translation is those “who don’t trust in their own power.”[52] So we can see how this turns on its head what the world values in a modern society who’s mantra is to ‘trust in yourself’ and inflate our egos under the guise of ‘self-esteem’ and the assertion of our ‘rights.’

            The phrase ἡ γῆ can mean either “the land” or “the earth” in the broader sense, and it is the context which must decide. Though in Psalm 37:11 it probably means “the land” as in Israel, here it is more likely that Matthew has in mind a less territorial sense and more of an eschatological thrust—so I have opted to translate it “the earth.”[53] The overall tone of the Beatitudes don’t necessarily encourage us to interpret it so literally, as the promises in the first two apply to the Kingdom of Heaven—so also it would be likely in regards to their inheritance. “There is a general tendency in the NT to treat OT promises about ‘the land’ as finding fulfillment in non-territorial ways, and such an orientation seems required here too.”[54] Our hope ultimately is not in inhabiting a particular piece of geography or country, but rather to rule with Christ over the whole globe and enjoy in new creation (Rev 20–22).[55]

5:6 μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην, ὅτι αὐτοὶ χορτασθήσονται.

Blessed are those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, because they will be satisfied.

The Fattened Hungry and Quenched Thirsty

            The words “those who are hungering and thirsting” imply a continued lifestyle of deeply desiring righteousness. It is not here an understanding of “righteousness” as used in a Pauline sense—as in, right standing before God because of Christ’s atonement.[56] Matthew uses δικαιοσύνη (righteousness) as concerned with right conduct and living the way God requires (3:15, 5:20). It is best understood here as those who say, with Jesus in John 4:34 that, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me.” Hunger and thirst are two experiences of longing which we are well acquainted with, however, think of how intense these are in situations of famine or drought. There is a level of desperation which is produced as these desires increase. This metaphor of hungering and thirsting brings us back to 4:4, with the idea of living not by bread alone, but by every word from God. “It is a matter of priorities. Such hunger and thirst will be fully satisfied: chortazomai, a graphic word used also for fattening animals, implies being well filled, as in 14:20, colloquially being ‘stuffed.'”[57]

            This satisfaction of their deep hunger and thirst for righteousness is not just placated with a little paltry ‘snack’—no—they are abundantly gorged with the righteousness God gives! It is important to note the future passive χορτασθήσονται (will be satisfied) here. He is not suggesting that people on their own can achieve this “righteousness” but rather they hunger and thirst for it, and will be satisfied by God with His righteousness.[58] There is obviously an eschatological thrust in the complete fulfilment of this promise, however, there is also a degree of this satisfaction even in this life for those who pursue righteousness.[59]

5:7 μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται.

Blessed are the merciful, because they will be shown mercy.

The Merciful

            Mercy is often defined as empathizing and feeling sorrow over someone’s misfortunes and trying to do something about it.[60] “Mercy” here is to be understood as a generous attitude which is willing to see things from the other person’s perspective and not quickly take offence or point out the failings of others. It is broader than just forgiveness. “Mercy sets aside society’s assumption that it is honourable to demand revenge. The passive verb here (as in vv. 4b, 6b and 9b) speaks primarily not of how other people will respond to the merciful person, but of how God will deal with those who live by his standards.”[61] The UBS handbook suggests that it may even be necessary to make this explicitly clear by saying “on the Day when He judges the world, God will be merciful to them.”[62] In light of our own sinfulness, mercy is exactly what we need. Those who have received God’s mercy towards them will also extend mercy to others. How can we give what we have never received!?

5:8 μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται.

Blessed are the pure in heart, because they will see God.

Purity of Heart

            The first four Beatitudes are about our dependence on God, the following three take into consideration the outworking of that dependence.[63] The “heart” psychologically is, “the seat of man’s collective energies, the focus of personal life, the seat of the rational as well as the emotional and volitional elements in human life, hence that wherein lies the moral and religious condition of the man” (AS).[64] According to BAGD, χαρδία (heart) is used “as center and source of the whole inner life, with its thinking, feeling, and volition … in the case of the natural man as well as the redeemed man.” This is what needs to be pure. It is used of thought, will, moral decisions, emotions and one’s disposition. So, “The purity referred to means singleness of motive and of devotion, as opposed to a divided motive, without specific reference to either moral perfection or sexual purity.”[65]

            Psalm 24:3-6 is echoed here. The ones who can “ascend the hill of the Lord” and “stand in His holy place” are those who have “clean hands and a pure heart” defined by truthfulness and seeking God actively. Thus it follows closely with verse 6’s longing to live the way God requires. “In the context of first-century Judaism, with its strong emphasis on ritual ‘purity,’ the phrase ‘pure in heart’ might also be understood to imply a contrast with the meticulous preservation of outward purity which will be condemned in 23:25–28 as having missed the point of godliness.”[66] In Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” we see the use of the Hebrew verb בְּרָא־ [bara]—which is an activity only God can do. Only God can “bara” (create) a pure heart in us. This level of purity of heart is not something we can produce in ourselves! Again we are brought to radical dependence on God.

            The promise of seeing God is one which will be fulfilled in the New Jerusalem (Rev 22:4; cf. 1 Cor 13:12; 1 John 3:2). “Here on earth the people of God may find strength ‘as if seeing him who is invisible,’ (Heb 11:27) but such ‘seeing’ remains only a foretaste of the true vision of God in heaven.”[67] It harkens us to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:12, For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” And it is this longing of the believer to see their Beloved Saviour one day which we all eagerly await, and which is the reward for those who are pure in heart. This is true reward! Not the “health and wealth gospel” which can only perhaps offer empty promises of possible temporal satisfaction of carnal desires.

5:9        μακάριοι οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί, ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ θεοῦ κληθήσονται.

Blessed are the peacemakers, because they will be called sons of God.

Peace MAKERS, not peace KEEPERS

            This word εἰρηνοποιοί (peacemakers) is only found here in the NT.[68] It is important to note these are not “peace keepers” but rather “peacemakers.” One of the characteristics of God’s people is to “seek peace and pursue it.” (Ps 34:14) This is not just a merely peaceful disposition, but rather an active attempt to make peace by seeking reconciliation and bringing together those who are estranged from each other. “Such costly ‘peace-making,’ which involves overcoming the natural desire for advantage and/or retribution, will be illustrated in the extraordinary demands of 5:39–42 which overturn the natural human principle of the lex talionis.”[69]

Sons of God

            Again, the divine passive here implying that it is God who will call them His children “on the basis that God’s children reflect God’s character (5:44–45), and God is the ultimate peace-maker.”[70] I’ve chosen to translate υἱοὶ θεοῦ literally as “sons of God”  rather than the more gender neutral “children of God” (though it is not limited to males) to retain some of what the idea of “sonship” from the First Century and Jewish culture would connote of inheritance and other things.

“The Semitic idiom ‘sons of …’ often indicates those who share a certain character or status; for varied examples in Matthew see 8:12, ‘sons of the kingdom;’ 9:15, ‘sons of the wedding-hall;’ 13:38, ‘sons of the evil one;’ 23:31, ‘sons of those who killed the prophets.’ Here and in 5:45 ‘sons of God’ similarly expresses the idea of sharing God’s character, but a more relational sense…”[71]

Sons of God are what we will be called, because it is what describes us as reflecting God’s character of being a peacemaker—Who made peace with Himself for us through the blood of His Son (Rom. 5:1, Col. 1:20).

5:10     μακάριοι οἱ δεδιωγμένοι ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, because to them belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Blessed Life is to be Persecuted?

               The word δεδιωγμένοι is a perfect passive participle which may be possibly translated “those having been persecuted.” However, it is denoting a state of affairs which may be better conveyed as “are persecuted” as it is suggested that as Matthew writes, the church of his day is suffering persecution.[72] The perfect form can also be taken as presenting a state of affairs produced by persecution for righteousness without specifically indicating whether or not persecution is ongoing. The pursuit of righteousness from verse 6 can spark opposition from those who are threatened by it. The true disciple is not a hermit who pursues solitary holiness but rather one who is engaged in society as seen from the previous Beatitudes about the merciful and peacemakers.

            Note there is nowhere any imperative for Christians to seek out persecution as if it was in itself what we seek after! As subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven, we are set against the rest of society which may oppose its values. The result of this may, and as suggested by this Beatitude—will be—persecution for the sake of that stance. 1 Peter 3:14, echoes this Beatitude, and in Matthew’s Gospel, he talks about the likelihood of persecution for God’s people in 10:16–39; 22:6; 23:29–36; 24:9–13.[73] This promise of persecution is echoed by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12 that, indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” However, for those who are persecuted not for any fault of their own receive a blessing equal to that of the “poor in spirit,” and there is possibly a connection of the same underlying attitude and ultimate reward.[74] The attitude of the poor in spirit is the same as those who are persecuted for righteousness sake—and thus their reward is the same. Notice here also, the promised reward is in the present tense—theirs IS the Kingdom of Heaven NOW.

            A gospel encounter with a culture that is set against a Christian worldview and message will inevitably produce opposition—and if our lives are way too easy, we should stop and reassess if we have become compromised or softened in our resolve to live sold out for the gospel or not. Do we shrink back when asked about what we believe? Do we avoid gospel opportunities? Do we falter from speaking about sin or topics which our culture may deem socially acceptable but which the Bible clearly defines as sinful? Do we water down the gospel to nothing more than another good message, or steps to self-improvement? Let us pray with Paul in Ephesians 6:19 for boldness to unapologetically proclaim the gospel, and with the believers in Acts 4:31 that the Holy Spirit would shake us up to preach the word with boldness!

5:11-12 μακάριοί ἐστε ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ διώξωσιν καὶ εἴπωσιν πᾶν πονηρὸν καθ᾿ ὑμῶν [ψευδόμενοι] ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ. χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, ὅτι ὁ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολὺς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς· οὕτως γὰρ ἐδίωξαν τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν.

Blessed are you when they insult and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad! Because your reward is great in the heavens, for in this way they persecuted the prophets before you.

            This “ninth Beatitude” is actually a repetition and expansion of verse 10.[75] The change to second person form link it with the following verses as a lead into the discussion on being “salt and light.” Note also, Jesus’ analogy of being salt and light flow directly out of this last beatitude of being persecuted for righteousness sake—the two are intimately connected. Like verses 13-16, it speaks of the sharp contrast between the true disciple and others. So it is probably better to treat verses 11-12 as an introduction linking the following section which comments on the effects on the rest of the society of true believers living the “blessed life” which was previously explained.[76]

            This address changes to the second person plural is because it is the corporate impact of the disciple community which is in view, (not just single individuals but the corporate Church) they are an alternative society. They are “a city set on a hill” spoken about later in verse 14 which is a symbol of the collective impact of a community and not just a solitary individual. “Modern Western individualism is such that we easily think of the light of the world as a variety of little candles shining ‘you in your small corner and I in mine,’ but it is the collective light of a whole community which draws the attention of the watching world.”[77]

             It is important to note, in comparison with the preceding verse, persecution is not simply a result of “righteousness” alone, but more specifically “on account of me.” This makes it clear that this discourse is not simply a call to moral conduct but rather is grounded in the radical demands and authority of Jesus himself.[78]

Excessive Celebration

            The imperative commands χαίρετε (rejoice) and ἀγαλλιᾶσθε (be glad) are in the present tense to encourage us to be happy and continue being joyful in the face of difficult circumstances.[79] The second word ἀγαλλιᾶσθε is one which some commentators differ on the meaning.

“For example, one commentator notes that it is a ‘strong word of Hellenistic coinage’ which means ‘to leap much, signifying irrepressible demonstrative gladness.’ On the other hand, another commentator affirms: ‘Matthew’s word for ‘be glad’ … does not contain the idea of the physical expression of joy, such as is contained in Luke’s ‘leap for joy.’ However, it seems to express extreme joy, especially as it is used in the Septuagint (in particular see Isa 12:6; 25:9; 29:19; 35:1, 2; 41:17; 49:13; 61:10; 65:14, 19). One of the standard lexicons gives the following definitions: ‘exult, be glad, overjoyed.'”[80]

            What is clear though by the pairing of these two words, our reaction to persecution and insult is not what would be commonly expected. We can look to the example in Acts 5:41 when the apostles were beaten by the Sanhedrin and they left rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name.” Amazing! Why is this though? The second part of the reward brings some explanation for us.

The Reward of the Faithful

            Matthew uses the word μισθὸς (reward) again in 5:46; 6:1, 2, 5, 16; 10:41, 42, and “the concept of a heavenly recompense is built into several of his parables (notably 20:1–15; 24:45–47; 25:20–23) as well as more broadly into the teaching of Jesus (6:4, 6, 18; 19:27–29; 25:34–40).”[81] However, the parable of 20:1–15 warns us against a simple “tit-for-tat” sort of reward system; God’s “reward” is far more generous than that. The source of this exuberant celebration is the realization that the reward promised far surpasses and outweighs the present bad they experience now.[82] For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Cor. 4:17)

            Furthermore, verse 12 associates those who receive this sort of persecution with the prophets of old. This was an established concept, as seen generally in 2 Chronicles 36:16; Nehemiah 9:26 and illustrated throughout the OT, especially in Jeremiah (Jer 20:10; 26:10–19; 36–38 etc.) and Amos 7:10–12. It is further alluded to in Hebrews 11:36–38.[83] Those who have been God’s mouthpiece and spoken out on His behalf have always been subject to violent reaction from the ungodly. In light of this truth, to be counted among them and persecuted for the sake of Jesus is a badge of honour and assurance that you are in good company! The phrase “the prophets who came before you” maybe suggests that the disciples of Jesus are now God’s “prophetic voice” on earth (cf. 10:41; 23:34).[84] This says much about the true disciple’s calling, role and destiny in speaking out as ambassadors of Christ in our culture. What an honour for us to be counted worthy of suffering for the name, and to be among that ‘hall of faith’ in Hebrews 11!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:1-4)


            This is the picture that Jesus himself paints of what “your blessed life now” truly looks like! It is one which is radically different to what our world offers us—or wolves posing as ‘ministers’ of a false gospel. The prosperity gospel fails on many levels, but one mainly so, in that it offers to people the very things which the sinful man already desires! Unregenerate and sinful people already want health and wealth, they already want to be told they can be everything they want to be, and that God is a genie in the sky who they can manipulate to satisfy their own desires. There is no necessity for repentance for such a “gospel”—in fact, there is no “gospel” in that message because there is no Good News there. They are ships with no sail, clouds without water, empty vases unable to quench our real thirst.

            The blessed life which the Beatitudes present to us is one of those who recognize their poverty of spirit, who mourn over the things which grieve the heart of God, the meek, the ones who are desperate to see and do justice, the ones who are merciful and compassionate, who are pure in heart and make peace. These will likely be persecuted—but they are also the ones to whom the promise of the Kingdom pertains. Their reward is great! For it is Christ himself—the eternal God—who shall satisfy them. This is your blessed life now.

Click here to continue on to the next article in this exegesis series in Matthew.


[1] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 87.
[2] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 87–88.
[3] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 150.
[4] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 88.
[5] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 150.
[6] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 88.
[7] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 151.
[8] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 151.
[9] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 89–90.
[10] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 151.
[11] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 151.
[12] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 152.
[13] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 91.
[14] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 101.
[15] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 91.
[16] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 152.
[17] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 157.
[18] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 157.
[19] Blomberg, Matthew, 96–97.
[20] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 157.
[21] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 93–94.
[22] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 157–158.
[23] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 157–158.
[24] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 94.
[25] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 92–93.
[26] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 92.
[27] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 153.
[28] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 161–162.
[29] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 161.
[30] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 95.
[31] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 159.
[32] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 106.
[33] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 160–161.
[34] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 107.
[35] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 95.
[36] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 107.
[37] Blomberg, Matthew, 97.
[38] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 165.
[39] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 108 and Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 96.
[40] Blomberg, Matthew, 98.
[41] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 95.
[42] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 165.
[43] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 97.
[44] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 164.
[45] Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 108.
[46] Louw, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament304.
[47] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 165.
[48] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 97–98.
[49] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 166.
[50] France, The Gospel of Matthew. 166.
[51] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 98.
[52] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 110.
[53] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 166.
[54] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 166–167.
[55] Blomberg, Matthew, 99.
[56] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 99.
[57] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 167–168.
[58] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 99.
[59] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 168.
[60] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 112.
[61] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 168.
[62] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 112.
[63] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 100.
[64] G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh, 1954) quoted in Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 100.
[65] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 112.
[66] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 168.
[67] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 169.
[68] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 100.
[69] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 169.
[70] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 169.
[71] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 169.
[72] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 114.
[73] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 169–170.
[74] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 102.
[75] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 171.
[76] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 171.
[77] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 171.
[78] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 172.
[79] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 116.
[80] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 116.
[81] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 172–173.
[82] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 172–173.
[83] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 173.
[84] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 173.


Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI;  Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009.

Kittel, Gerhard, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–.

Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992.

Newman, Barclay Moon, and Philip C. Stine. A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies, 1992.

Porter, Stanley E. Idioms of the Greek New Testament. Sheffield: JSOT, 1999.



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