Why the Beatitudes Are Not Commands

Simon Matzinger / unsplash

The series of blessings traditionally called the “Beatitudes” mark the beginning of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. It is easy to take these beautiful sayings as exhortations to exhibit certain traits. However, the list is odd if taken like commandments. Should we go out and look for persecution? Should we purposefully mourn? How can we be pure in heart if our hearts are corrupted by sin?

While this sermon has many commands from Jesus, they come after Jesus pronounces the blessings. The blessings do not contain any imperative verb forms but use indicative statement verbs. As such, the Beatitudes come to God’s people as divine promises showcasing Jesus’ authority and the nature of the kingdom of God. While describing characteristics of God’s people to show them what they will experience in this life, Christ is also pronouncing God’s favor upon his people, the citizens of his kingdom. So what are the blessings of God’s favor?

1. The Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3, 10)

Jesus blesses the “poor in spirit” with the grandest inheritance anyone can have: their very own kingdom. To be poor in spirit does not mean “to be downcast and depressed all the time” but rather “to be dependent upon God for salvation.” To all who realize their poverty and come in humility to him he grants the kingdom as an inheritance (Jm. 2:5). This is not a work of man but a work of God, for only God can give life to people dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1-2). Jesus also tells us that in this life we will have persecution for following Jesus, but the kingdom of God and eternal life is the reward for persevering through the battles of this life, for the battle is not with flesh and blood but with spiritual forces of evil (Rom.8:17; Eph. 6:12; Jn. 16:33; 1 Jn. 4:4).

2. Comfort (Matthew 5:4)

Unfortunately, mourning and grief are staples of this life; however, Jesus grants to his people a future of eternal joy and comfort where mourning and grief will not exist (Rev. 21:4). While Christ gives us much comfort and peace even here in this life, we will be ultimately comforted in the new heavens and the new earth where sin, death, and evil has been cast out forever.

3. A Home (Matthew 5:5)

While here on earth, Christians are described as sojourners away from home. As such, the success and power of this world do not belong to us. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a home. While we are ordinary humble servants in this life, in the next life we will rule with Christ over a new land (2 Tim. 2:12).

4. Satisfaction (Matthew 5:6)

Citizens of God’s kingdom delight in God’s law because they know the law is good. As Paul cried, “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Rom. 7:18). When Christ brings in the new creation, we will finally be cleansed from sin and able to live in perfection. Not only that, but we will never again experience and the pain and corruption of sin (1 Cor. 15).

5. Mercy (Matthew 5:7)

Receiving mercy from God is only possible because of Christ’s sacrifice. In the Old Testament, there was a seat in the Tabernacle called the “mercy seat,” which represented the throne of God. In the heavenly temple there is also a mercy seat—the throne of God who gives mercy abundantly through his Son Christ Jesus. This mercy is ultimately given in the new heavens and new earth.

6. See God (Matthew 5:8)

Another promise is that the pure in heart shall see God. United with Christ in his righteousness, believers are told that they are now holy. In the Old Testament, only the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies to be in the very presence of God. Believers have an even better promise, for one day they shall see God face to face (Rev. 21:3). Sin will no longer separate us from God, but we will dwell in his very presence.

7. Become Sons of God (Matthew 5:9)

United to Christ, believers are united with Christ’s sonship and given a spirit of adoption. All who receive God’s peace in Christ will be adopted into God’s family and made heirs (Rom. 8:12-17). “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev. 21:7). Believers know that “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jm. 3:17-18). This wisdom runs in the family, for it comes from the wisdom of the Christian’s heavenly Father. When a sinner is saved, he or she is made a son of God, and as a son, then an heir of the kingdom, bestowed with God’s favor and able to call upon God as his own Father (Rom. 8:15).

 

Become a fan of Discover on Facebook, and follow Discover on Twitter and Instagram.