Many people recognized Jesus as a great teacher in the early days of His earthly ministry. Teachers were highly respected and considered authorities on many subjects. So, it is not surprising that He attracted large crowds who wanted to hear what He had to say. What we call The Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7) is most likely a synopsis of all of Jesus’ teachings as He traveled around the Galilee region. The setting that we often associate it with was a place where Jesus did teach- right near Capernaum, awesome acoustics, and lots of room for people to sit. Jesus’ teachings can be divided into lessons concerning personal attitudes, practices and purpose. “The Beatitudes” (Mt. 5:1-12) kick off Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel of Matthew after Matthew has established the main thrust of both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ message, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2 4:17). Throughout the course of the next three chapters, Matthew will record for us how Jesus answered three important questions: What do Kingdom people look like? How does the Kingdom work? And how do Kingdom people live?
Curiously, the word “beatitude” does not appear in the English Bible. It actually comes from a Latin word that was later associated with this passage in regards to the Greek “markarioi”, which sometimes gets mistranslated as “happy” but should be literally translated as “Oh the blessedness of…”. In other words, what Jesus is doing here in these verses is making a “declaration of blessedness”. These types of declarations occur frequently in the Old Testament (Ps. 32:1-2; 41:1; 65:4 for example) and the New Testament also contains isolated beatitudes (Mt. 11:6; 13:16; 16:17; 24:46; Lk 6:20-23; Jn. 13:17; 20:29; Rom. 4:7-8; Js. 1:12). But the word is most commonly used of the declarations of blessedness made by Jesus in the discourse recorded in Mt. 5:1-12 (as well as Luke’s acct. in Lk. 6:20-23) respectively called the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain. One in the same? Or 2 different deliveries of the same material? It doesn’t matter! But the content does.
The Beatitudes should not be isolated, verse by verse, but understood as a whole. And it is important to note that Jesus qualifies these attributes with the phrase “on account of Me.” Blessedness, therefore, is an attribute that can only be associated with God and being a member of His Kingdom. When one is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, God’s nature is in him/her and so is the Kingdom (Lk. 17:21). “Blessed” also means to be fully satisfied. This satisfaction, however, is not due to the circumstances of life nor the fulfillment of the conditions prescribed in these Beatitudes, but due to Christ’s indwelling. Therefore, it is wrong to translate “markarioi” as “happy” because happy is connected with happenstance; hap as in the word “happen”. People can be happy because of favorable circumstances, but they can only be blessed because of Christ (Phil. 4:11-13 is Paul’s take on this kind of living). Blessedness then is that basic condition created by Christ’s indwelling in our heart which brings a fundamental satisfaction in the life of a believer. Jesus says this is what Kingdom people look like. This is how Kingdom people live. Is this what people see in your life? Do they know you are part of the Kingdom?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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