The Beatitudes Explained

The Beatitudes Explained

The word ‘beatitudes’ comes from the Latin word ‘beatus’ which translates to ‘blessed,’ and that’s the focus of this important part of the bible. 

The beatitudes are blessings to live by, eight direct teachings that help to shape our character, our morality, our understanding of God, and the world around us. These blessings are one of the many gifts Jesus left for us during his lifetime. They were first recorded in Matthew, spoken during the Sermon on the Mount:

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”  (Matthew 5:1)

This sermon is one of the most important in the new testament and introduces the beatitudes – a collection of eight important teachings meant to guide followers in both moral actions as well as perspective. In modern-day Israel, there is a hill named ‘Mount Beatitudes’ in the Korazim Plateau which is believed to be the location of the sermon.

The Beatitudes Explained

The teachings of Christ are often multilayered and stacked with meaning, and although there are only eight beatitudes, each one has a lot to unpack and consider. We’ve written this article to explain each of the beatitudes in order, with reference to how they can help you in daily life. 

Note: To explore these, we’ll mostly be looking at the beatitudes from Matthew5:3-12. The Beatitudes are also mentioned in Luke 6:20-22, and although they are similar the best-remembered version comes from Matthew. We’ll explore the version written in Luke in an extra section near the end of the article. 

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit, For Theirs Is The Kingdom Of Heaven

This first beatitude can be a little difficult to understand because of its use of the word ‘spirit.’ On first reading, it seems as if Jesus is referencing those who are poor in terms of wealth – charity, after all, is an important part of Christianity – the modern interpretation of this quote is that ‘spirit’ is directly referencing the human soul.

In this quote, Jesus is saying that those who understand they are poor in spirit are ready to accept God into their hearts and be with him.

This is central to the teachings of Jesus – the idea that if you are lost in life then you are most ready to accept God into your heart and follow him. Jesus also said that ‘the Kingdom of God is within you,’ (Luke 17:21) – this beatitude follows this same message. 

If you are lost don’t fear, for this is the time for you to open your spirit and mind to God. 

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn, For They Shall Be Comforted

Of all the beatitudes, this might be the most beautiful. In this quote, Jesus is saying that those who are in sorrow, mourning for their loved ones are blessed by God – that God is here to comfort them.

Loss is something we all must deal with in life, but God is there to comfort us, and to help us through it. Jesus died and suffered for the sins of humanity so that God could show he understands our loss – so that he can comfort us when we are in mourning. 

Loss is an important theme of the new testament, and the experience of mourning and then being comforted is acted out after the crucifixion of Jesus when his disciples find themselves lost, only to meet him again when he rises from the grave.

None of his disciples expected him to rise again – just as we do not expect to meet our loved ones. But not only does Jesus rise, but he rises and comforts his disciples. 

“And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.” (Matthew 28:9)

This is God’s promise to mankind, that no matter the mourning, no matter the suffering we may endure in our lifetime – that one day we will be able to live for eternity in heaven and to be with God. In many ways God is comfort – and he made this promise to us by giving his only son. 

Blessed Are The Meek, For They Shall Inherit The Earth

Another difficult term is the word ‘meek.’ What exactly does Jesus mean by ‘meek’ here? Sometimes meek is instead translated to ‘gentle,’ which might help you to understand this. To be gentle or to be meek, means that you are calm, quiet, reflective, and mild of temper.

These are favorable attributes, for those who are calm and difficult to rile are more understanding of others and the world around them. 

Those who are meek are also more likely to understand the teachings of Christ, for they will be more open to new ideas. This beatitude suggests that you should drop your ego and learn to be gentle in your treatment of others. If you do this, you’ll be able to understand the world better, to inherit it as God would have wanted you to. 

But what if you’re not a meek person? This doesn’t matter. It’s not that Jesus is telling you to change your unique personality, it’s more that he’s asking you to be meek in your treatment of others and yourself.

This is a trait that no matter your personality is something you can adopt and your life will be better for it! 

Man worshipping the Lord

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness, For They Shall Be Filled

This is one of the longer beatitudes, but it is important to understand. Righteousness is a hard concept to grasp sometimes, because how do you as a human know what righteousness really is?

How can we know what the right action is, in any given situation? Here Jesus uses the metaphor of hunger and thirst to describe those who long to understand morality.  

Righteousness means justice and fairness. Only God knows what is truly fair and right and we all do our best to understand this by following his teachings. In this beatitude, Jesus is telling us that those who long for righteousness – for fairness, for justice – will not be disappointed.

Although life may not always be fair, and although sometimes it may seem that righteousness does not always win, it’s important to remember that once your spirit passes on to the next life God will judge those who do wrong. 

Righteousness will prevail, for in heaven all things are righteous because all things are with God. It’s also important to note that although there are natural things in life that may not seem fair – that everything that happens in life happens for a reason, in accordance with God’s plan.

Eventually, those who long for righteousness will be granted it for eternity. 

Blessed Are The Merciful, For They Will Be Shown Mercy

God is described as merciful many times in scripture. Because of this, mercy is important for all of us to consider. Those who can be merciful in their lives are bound to be given that same mercy back. 

Mercy does not just mean forgiveness for a crime here, but also compassion, empathy, and kindness. Acts of mercy are a sure way of making the world a better place. One kind act can lead to another, and eventually, they will be reflected back to you. 

‘For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.’ (Matthew 6:14)

More than this, it is important to understand mercy when it comes to forgiveness within the bible. God sent his only son to die for the sins of all humanity. Instead of judging humanity for our sins, God has given us an escape route – rather than demanding punishment out of anger, God instead chose to be merciful.

The idea of mercy is central to the story of Jesus, so it makes sense that this would be one of the central beatitudes. 

Blessed Are The Pure In Heart, For They Will See God

What does ‘pure of heart’ mean, in this instance? To be pure of heart is to have honest intentions within every aspect of your being. Purity is to be cleansed – so here is referring to a pure spirit or heart. 

The purity of one’s heart is not something that you can see externally, though you may glimpse it with acts of kindness, or love. Purity of heart is something that is between you and God, for only he can tell.

This beatitude is telling you that the more you do to cleanse your heart – to keep your mind, body, and spirit open and kind and loving – the closer you will be to God.

Jesus was perfect, so he was able to be with God in his lifetime in a way that no other human will ever be able to – but that’s not to say we can’t get close. This is the point of this beatitude – it implores you to cleanse your heart, to work on yourself to make sure you have good intentions, and do your best to treat those around you well. 

Blessed Are The Peacemakers, For They Will Be Called Children Of God

Just as it is good to be merciful in the fallout of any act or conflict, it is even better than to stop conflict before it begins. Through the course of history it has been a tradition for Christians to be peacemakers anytime they can be. 

Peacemaking is central to Christianity. An old attitude to conflict, or what to do when somebody wrongs you has been ‘an eye for an eye,’ but during the Sermon on the Mount Jesus offers us an alternative:

“You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38)

Turning the other cheek is the action of peacemaking, no matter what the other person has done to you. Jesus taught pacifism, the act of not resisting physical or verbal violence, to create peace. This can also be seen during his arrest at the Garden of Gethsemene where he tells his disciples not to fight his captors:

“‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him. ‘For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’ “ (Matthew 26:52)

Peacemaking even in the most terrible of circumstances is central to his teachings, and there are many more occasions within the gospels where we see Jesus preaching peace. 

It is also peace when it comes to your connection with Jesus. Those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour are making peace with their humanity – with their sin. And only then will they be able to be called children of God. 

Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted Because Of Righteousness, For Theirs Is The Kingdom Of Heaven

Christians have been persecuted since the very beginning – this beatitude is a reference to this. Jesus himself was persecuted by his own people and put to death under Roman law. In the centuries that followed, many of his followers suffered similar fates.

But the important thing to notice here is that these Christians died as a result of their faith – as a result of openly discussing their faith and sharing it with others. 

The idea of not only staying faithful during dire times but staying openly faithful even when your life is threatened is an important part of Christianity. Just as Jesus was persecuted, ridiculed, and eventually killed for his teachings, so many other Christians in the future. 

Don’t worry – that’s not to say you’ll be put to death for your faith – but the idea of keeping faith even when others criticize or make fun of you is the central lesson here. Those who keep faith even when they are persecuted are promised the Kingdom of Heaven by Jesus in this beatitude. 

Praise the Lord

The Beatitudes in Luke

In the Gospel of Luke, there are four Beatitudes contained within the Sermon on the Plain. Here is the quote as it is written: 

“Looking at his disciples, he said:

Blessed are you who are poor,

For yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,

For you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

For you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you,

When they exclude you and insult you

And reject your name as evil,

Because of the son of man.” (Luke 6:20)

As you can see, it’s a little different from the eight beatitudes written in Matthew, but there are certain similarities. The blessings are mostly the same, though there are words removed or rephrasing. 

For example ‘blessed are you who are poor’ is different from Matthew as it does not contain the word ‘spirit.’ The missing word could change the meaning from those who are poor of spirit to those who are poor in terms of wealth, though it could also mean both.

As with all of Jesus’ teachings, the meanings of his words are multi-layered and ambiguous. This challenges those who read and try to understand to think deeply about the lessons contained within them. 

The version of the beatitudes in Luke is more simplistic in nature. For example the fourth ‘blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the son of man,’ is a longer, but more explained version of the 8th beatitude in Matthew.

Instead of using the word persecute – in Luke the words describe something more personal. In some ways, this is more relatable, particularly for modern Christians – who may have at times been insulted, or rejected because of their beliefs.

As with the gospels, there are differences between the scriptures, but that’s not to say the original message is different. When it comes to the beatitudes, it really comes down to which version you relate to more. That said, the more widely remembered and interpreted version does tend to be from Matthew. 

The Importance Of The Sermon Of The Mount 

To properly understand the beatitudes, we must understand the context as to when the lessons were taught in real life. The Sermon on the Mount is covered in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew.

It takes place early shortly after Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist after Jesus returns from the desert where he fasted and contemplated his future as a teacher and lamb of God. 

The Sermon of the Mount contains some of the most important teachings we have in Christianity, from the Beatitudes, The Mote and the Beam, Light of the World, Wise and Foolish Builders, and Lamp under a bushel.

All of these are integral parts of the gospels that have been quoted and used for guidance ever since Jesus’ life. These lessons all complement one another. We remember the Mote in the Beam just as well as we remember the beatitudes. 

The Sermon of the Mount is one of the most impressive examples of Jesus teaching, as it is written in Matthew that once Jesus finished his Sermon he “came down from the mountain followed by great multitudes” (Matthew 8:1)

This gives us as modern readers/followers of his teachings an understanding of quite how large a following he was gathering at this time, as well as how many people there were who listened to him for quite some time. 

Structure Of The Beatitudes 

As with all of Jesus’ teachings, the Beatitudes were clearly spoken to be remembered. Here we can see the genius of Jesus as a teacher, in the way these words have been constructed. Each Beatitude begins the same – ‘blessed are the…’

This has meaning not only because of the blessing, but it also makes it memorable to those who were listening, and to us who read it in scripture today. Each beatitude follows a pattern – blessed are those, or the, for they will… 

Each beatitude tells you how to act, and then the reward of acting this way. In some ways, it is a simple list, which links back to teachings from the old testament such as the Ten Commandments.

These follow a similar pattern – each beatitude like each commandment, short but full of meaning and vitally important. 

It’s worth noting that many of Jesus’ other teachings take the form of stories, parables that are used to illustrate to the listener or reader messages hidden within.

The beatitudes are not told like this. Instead, they are direct and short. It’s probably the reason why they are so well remembered and widely quoted.

Summary

We hope that our article on these beatitudes has given you a good understanding of not only the context around them but also their meaning.

Before finishing, we would like to note that like with many parts of the bible, these teachings are filled with meaning and supposed to be investigated and interpreted by you the listener/reader.

If you feel as if there’s something you still don’t understand – then don’t worry! Jesus was a genius in his teachings – they’re supposed to be read multiple times and used as a guide throughout your life!

The more you engage with them the more you can understand yourself as well as God. We recommend your own research and readings of the bible if you’d like to know more about the Sermon of the Mount and the Beatitudes. 

Robert Merchfield
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