“Blessed are the poor in spirit … those who mourn … the gentle … those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … the merciful … the pure in heart … the peacemakers … [and] those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness” (Matt. 5:3–10).
By the world’s standards, Christ’s definition of happiness is shocking and contradictory!
A quiz in a popular magazine characterized happy people as those who enjoy other people but aren’t self-sacrificing, who refuse to participate in negative feelings or emotions, and who have a sense of accomplishment based on their own self-sufficiency.
But Jesus described happy people quite differently. In fact, He characterized them as spiritual beggars who realize they have no resources in themselves. He said they are meek rather than proud, mournful over their sin, self-sacrificing, and willing to endure persecution to reconcile men to God.
By the world’s standards, that sounds more like misery than happiness! But the people of the world don’t understand that what is often thought of as misery is actually the key to happiness.
Follow the Lord’s progression of thought: true happiness begins with being “poor in spirit” (v. 3). That means you have a right attitude toward sin, which leads you to “mourn” over it (v. 4). Mourning over sin produces a meekness that leads to hungering and thirsting for righteousness (vv. 5–6), which results in mercy, purity of heart, and a peaceable spirit (vv. 7–9)—attitudes that bring true happiness.
When you display those attitudes, you can expect to be insulted, persecuted, and unjustly accused (vv. 10–11) because your life will be an irritating rebuke to worldly people. But despite the persecution, you can “rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (v. 12).
You are one of God’s lights in a sin-darkened world (v. 14), and while most people will reject Christ, others will be drawn to Him by the testimony of your life. Be faithful to Him today, so He can use you that way.
Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God for the grace He gives you, enabling you to have Beatitude attitudes. ✧ Ask Him to make you a bright light in someone’s life today.
For Further Study: Read 1 Peter 2:19–23. ✧ How did Jesus respond to persecution? ✧ How should you respond?
5:3–11 The first four Beatitudes, or “blessed sayings,” portray the ideal heart condition of kingdom citizens; the latter five present the actions resulting from this attitude of heart. Together they emphasize being and living rather than doing, so that the kingdom citizen responds instinctively to various situations as they arise. They revolutionize accepted priorities and the world’s standard of blessedness. The Beatitudes, so designated because of the form of the statement, “Blessed are,” describe the character traits of those accepted as citizens of the kingdom of God and set forth both the present and future blessings of those whose lives portray these virtues. They describe different experiences and attitudes of one person, rather than eight or nine different categories of people.
5:3 Blessed. This means more than the emotional state represented by the word “happy.” It includes spiritual well-being, having the approval of God, and thus a happier destiny (Ps. 1).
poor in spirit. Those with the greater spiritual need are more likely to perceive their need and depend on God alone and not their own goodness. Paul notes the same principle in Rom. 9:30, 31. The parallel in Luke 6:20 omits “in spirit.” This has led many to suppose Jesus primarily spoke of the materially poor. Material poverty and recognition of spiritual need often go together (Ps. 9:18 note), but the two kinds of poverty are not identical.
5:4 those who mourn. The context indicates that these are mourning over sin and evil, especially their own, and over the failure of mankind to give proper glory to God.
5:5 the meek. This beatitude resembles and is perhaps based on Ps. 37:11. The meekness in view is spiritual meekness, an attitude of humility and submission to God. Our pattern for meekness is Jesus (the same Greek word is translated “gentle” in 11:29), who submits to the will of His Father.
inherit the earth. The ultimate fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, whom Paul calls “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13; cf. Heb. 11:16).
5:6 hunger … for righteousness. Those who seek God’s righteousness receive what they desire, not those who are confident of their own righteousness.
5:8 they shall see God. Because God is a spirit, His divine essence is invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16). Nevertheless, believers will “see” God through the insight of faith, and Jesus assured His disciples that in seeing Him they had “seen the Father” (John 14:9). In the glorified state, God’s children will “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
5:9 peacemakers. Spiritual peace, not the cessation of physical violence between nations, is in view. Although the term is usually understood to mean those who help others find peace with God, this peace can also be understood as those who have made their own peace with God and are called His children. The principle is extended in vv. 44, 45—the children of God make peace, even with their enemies.
5:3 Blessed The Greek word used here, makarios (meaning “happy” or “fortunate), often indicates someone who is favored by God.
poor in spirit Refers to those in Jesus’ day who recognize and bear their desperate plight, and who long for God’s restoration through the Messiah.
kingdom of heaven The crowd was already familiar with this terminology through John the Baptist’s proclamation; they anticipated a time of restoration. See note on Matt 3:2.
The Kingdom of God: Already but Not Yet
5:4 the ones who mourn Could refer to those who mourn for Israel and for their plight within its present conditions (e.g., Roman occupation, what seems like a lack of God’s presence, impoverishment). Alternatively, it could refer to those who mourn over their personal sin or are currently enduring difficult times.
because they will be comforted Those who mourn for the unfulfilled condition of Israel will be comforted when the kingdom is fulfilled. In the new kingdom, God’s new covenant will restore what had been lost due to violations of the old covenant.
5:5 the meek Refers to someone who is humble or gentle. The meek do not seek gain for themselves; instead, they hope in the Lord.
they will inherit the earth A reference to Psa 37:11, which foretells the destruction of evildoers (compare Rev 21), so that those who hope in Yahweh will live in peace.
5:6 ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness A metaphor for moral uprightness. This may be an allusion to Psa 37:12–17 (compare note on Matt 5:5), which speaks of a time when oppressors will be no more. This line expresses a deep desire both for personal righteousness and for a world characterized by God’s righteousness (or justice).
This phrase has no exact ot parallel, but Job 15:16 contains the reverse: “one who is abominable and corrupt, a man who drinks injustice like water.” It implies that those who observe God’s commandments should do so not out of resignation, but out of a fundamental desire. Due to widespread poverty, many of those listening to Jesus were probably hungry and thirsty in a literal sense.
5:7 Blessed are the merciful God rewards those who imitate His goodness and mercy. This beatitude has the same emphasis as the others: God’s kingdom is breaking in upon the world. When it does, God will show mercy to those who have been merciful to others.
5:8 pure in heart Possibly an allusion to Psa 18:26. This beatitude uses the terminology of ritual purity and cleanness, which would have been common in Judaism.
At this time, the law—with its ritual precepts—was still in effect. But Jesus’ original audience likely would have made no distinction between having a heart pure from sin and being a person who is ritually pure according to the law. This parallels Jesus’ emphasis on God being concerned about the spiritual state of a person, not just their outward, religious purity (compare Matt 15:11).
they will see God Likely an allusion to the temple entrance liturgy of Psa 24:3–4. The idea being that they will witness God’s entrance.
The law forbade anyone who was unclean from entering the holy place; in Exod 33:20, God declares that none shall see Him and live. Even the prophet Isaiah—calling himself a man of unclean lips—feared for his life when he saw only a vision of Yahweh (Isa 6). The law’s call for purity allowed Jews to hope that, if they could be wholly cleansed, they would finally be able to see God. Jesus here promises this outcome; He implies that God’s people will be able to attain it.
5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers Jewish literature of the time valued those who worked for peace. For instance, 2 Enoch reads “Blessed is one who gives peace and love” (52:11).
sons of God Those whose lives reflect the ethics of Jesus will be clearly identified as children of God (see Rom 8:14 and note).
|5:10–12 These three verses address persecution and likely reflect the situation of those who first read Matthew’s Gospel (which may explain why the theme receives such extensive treatment). Later in the narrative, Jesus encounters each form of persecution recorded here and suffers the same fate as many ot prophets (see Matt 23:29–37).|
5:3–12 The Beatitudes all begin with “Blessed are …” They are called “beatitudes” from Latin beatus, “blessed, happy” (but see note on v. 3). These short statements summarize the essence of the Sermon on the Mount.
5:3 Blessed. More than a temporary or circumstantial feeling of happiness, this is a state of well-being in relationship to God that belongs to those who respond to Jesus’ ministry. The poor in spirit are those who recognize they are in need of God’s help. theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It belongs to those who confess their spiritual bankruptcy. On a contrast with the first seven beatitudes, see note on 23:13–36.
Jesus’ Five Discourses
|The authoritative message of the Messiah (Sermon on the Mount)
|The authoritative mission of the Messiah’s messengers
|The mysteries of the messianic kingdom revealed in parables
|The community of the Messiah revealed
|The delay, return, and judgment of the Messiah (Olivet Discourse)
5:4 those who mourn. The spiritual, emotional, or financial loss resulting from sin should lead to mourning and a longing for God’s forgiveness and healing (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10).
5:5 The meek are the “gentle” (cf. 11:29), those who do not assert themselves over others in order to further their own agendas in their own strength, but who will nonetheless inherit the earth because they trust in God to direct the outcome of events. Cf. Ps. 37:11.
5:6 Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness recognize that God is the ultimate source of real righteousness, so they long for his righteous character to be evident in people’s lives on earth. They shall be satisfied by responding to his invitation to be in relationship with him.
5:7 The kindness and forgiveness that the merciful show to others will also be shown to them.
5:8 The pure in heart are those whose pursuit of purity and uprightness affects every area of life. they shall see God. Note the ultimate fulfillment in Rev. 22:4; cf. note on John 1:18. In contrast to Jewish traditions that overemphasized external ritual purity, Jesus taught that purity of heart was most important (cf. note on Matt. 5:28).
5:9 peacemakers. Those who promote God’s messianic peace (Hb. shalom, total well-being both personally and communally) will receive the ultimate reward of being called sons of God (see note on Gal. 3:26) as they reflect the character of their heavenly Father.
5:10 Those who are persecuted are those who have been wrongly treated because of their faith. God is pleased when his people show that they value him above everything in the world, and this happens when they courageously remain faithful amid opposition for righteousness’ sake.
5:3 Blessed. The word lit. means “happy, fortunate, blissful.” Here it speaks of more than a surface emotion. Jesus was describing the divinely-bestowed well-being that belongs only to the faithful. The Beatitudes demonstrate that the way to heavenly blessedness is antithetical to the worldly path normally followed in pursuit of happiness. The worldly idea is that happiness is found in riches, merriment, abundance, leisure, and such things. The real truth is the very opposite. The Beatitudes give Jesus’ description of the character of true faith. poor in spirit. The opposite of self-sufficiency. This speaks of the deep humility of recognizing one’s utter spiritual bankruptcy apart from God. It describes those who are acutely conscious of their own lostness and hopelessness apart from divine grace (cf. 9:12; Lk 18:13). See note on 19:17. theirs is the kingdom of heaven. See note on 3:2. Notice that the truth of salvation by grace is clearly presupposed in this opening verse of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was teaching that the kingdom is a gracious gift to those who sense their own poverty of spirit.
5:4 those who mourn. This speaks of mourning over sin, the godly sorrow that produces repentance leading to salvation without regret (2Co 7:10). The “comfort” is the comfort of forgiveness and salvation (cf. Is 40:1, 2).
5:5 the gentle. Gentleness or meekness is the opposite of being out of control. It is not weakness, but supreme self-control empowered by the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:23). The statement that the meek “shall inherit the earth” is quoted from Ps 37:11.
5:6 hunger and thirst for righteousness. This is the opposite of the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. It speaks of those who seek God’s righteousness rather than attempting to establish a righteousness of their own (Ro 10:3; Php 3:9). What they seek will fill them, i.e., it will satisfy their hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God.
5:7 they shall receive mercy. The converse is also true. Cf. Jas 2:13.
5:8 see God. Not only with the perception of faith, but in the glory of heaven. Cf. Heb 12:14; Rev 22:3, 4.
5:9 peacemakers. See vv. 44, 45 for more on this quality.
5:10 persecuted. Cf. Jas 5:10, 11; 1Pe 4:12–14. See note on Lk 6:22.
5:3–10 The good life (cf. Lk. 6:20–22). The discourse begins with a rounded portrait of the true disciple in the form of eight ‘beatitudes’. Neither blessed nor ‘happy’ adequately translates makarios, which is rather a term of congratulation and recommendation. These qualities are to be envied and emulated; they make up ‘the good life’. Each is followed by a reason, pointing out that no-one will be the loser by following this way of life, however unpromising it may appear in the short term. The rewards are at the level of spiritual experience and relationship with God rather than of material recompense. The key phrase, which opens and concludes the series, is theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This refers to the people who acknowledge God as their King and who may, therefore, confidently look forward to the fulfilment of his purpose in their lives.
Lk. 6:20–22 offers only four beatitudes, balanced by four ‘woes’. They are phrased in the second person and focus on the material and social condition of the disciples, rather than on the spiritual qualities set out here.
Notes. 3 Poor in spirit suggests the OT theme of the ‘poor’ or ‘meek’, the oppressed people of God who, nonetheless, trust in him for deliverance. This and the next verse echo Is. 61:1–2, while v 5 draws on Ps. 37:11, another passage which contrasts the ‘meek’ with the ‘wicked’.
5:3 This first blessing is pronounced on the poor in spirit. This does not refer to natural disposition, but to one’s deliberate choice and discipline. The poor in spirit are those who acknowledge their own helplessness and rely on God’s omnipotence. They sense their spiritual need and find it supplied in the Lord. The kingdom of heaven, where self-sufficiency is no virtue and self-exaltation is a vice, belongs to such people.
5:4 Those who mourn are blessed; a day of comfort awaits them. This does not refer to mourning because of the vicissitudes of life. It is the sorrow which one experiences because of fellowship with the Lord Jesus. It is an active sharing of the world’s hurt and sin with Jesus. Therefore, it includes, not only sorrow for one’s own sin, but also sorrow because of the world’s appalling condition, it’s rejection of the Savior, and the doom of those who refuse His mercy. These mourners shall be comforted in the coming day when “God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 21:4). Believers do all their mourning in this life; for unbelievers, today’s grief is only a foretaste of eternal sorrow.
5:5 A third blessing is pronounced on the meek: they shall inherit the earth. By nature these people might be volatile, temperamental, and gruff. But by purposefully taking Christ’s spirit on them, they become meek or gentle (compare Matthew 11:29). Meekness implies acceptance of one’s lowly position. The meek person is gentle and mild in his own cause, though he may be a lion in God’s cause or in defending others.
The meek do not now inherit the earth; rather they inherit abuse and dispossession. But they will literally inherit the earth when Christ, the King, reigns for a thousand years in peace and prosperity.
5:6 Next, a blessing is pronounced on those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: they are promised satisfaction. These people have a passion for righteousness in their own lives; they long to see honesty, integrity, and justice in society; they look for practical holiness in the church. Like the people of whom Gamaliel Bradford wrote, they have “a thirst no earthly stream can satisfy, a hunger that must feed on Christ or die.” These people will be abundantly satisfied in Christ’s coming kingdom: they shall be filled, for righteousness will reign and corruption will give way to the highest moral standards.
5:7 In our Lord’s kingdom, the merciful are blessed … for they shall obtain mercy. To be merciful means to be actively compassionate. In one sense it means to withhold punishment from offenders who deserve it. In a wider sense it means to help others in need who cannot help themselves. God showed mercy in sparing us from the judgment which our sins deserved and in demonstrating kindness to us through the saving work of Christ. We imitate God when we have compassion.
The merciful shall obtain mercy. Here, Jesus is not referring to the mercy of salvation which God gives to a believing sinner; that mercy is not dependent on a person’s being merciful—it is a free, unconditional gift. Rather the Lord is speaking of the daily mercy needed for Christian living and of mercy in that future day when one’s works will be reviewed (1 Cor. 3:12–15). If one has not been merciful, that person will not receive mercy; that is, one’s rewards will decrease accordingly.
5:8 The pure in heart are given the assurance that they shall see God. A pure-hearted person is one whose motives are unmixed, whose thoughts are holy, whose conscience is clean. The expression they shall see God may be understood in several ways. First, the pure in heart see God now through fellowship in the Word and the Spirit. Second, they sometimes have a supernatural appearance, or vision, of the Lord presented to them. Third, they shall see God in the Person of Jesus when He comes again. Fourth, they shall see God in eternity.
5:9 A blessing is pronounced on the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God. Notice that the Lord is not speaking about people with a peaceful disposition or those who love peace. He is referring to those who actively intervene to make peace. The natural approach is to watch strife from the sidelines. The divine approach is to take positive action toward creating peace, even if it means taking abuse and invective.
Peacemakers are called sons of God. This is not how they become sons of God—that can only happen by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior (John 1:12). By making peace, believers manifest themselves as sons of God, and God will one day acknowledge them as people who bear the family likeness.
5:10 The next beatitude deals with those who are persecuted, not for their own wrongdoings, but for righteousness’ sake. The kingdom of heaven is promised to those believers who suffer for doing right. Their integrity condemns the ungodly world and brings out its hostility. People hate a righteous life because it exposes their own unrighteousness.
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