What do the Beatitudes mean?


Everyone knows the beatitudes of the Lord Jesus, but what do they actually mean? According to some these beatitudes were Pharisaic, what would confirm that the Lord Jesus followed their way or was one of them. Others reject that and emphasize that the beatitudes were unique. What can be found about it in the Bible?

A beatitude is an announcement of a blessed state for a reason. Those of the Lord Jesus are aimed at the believers [1]. These therefore are meant for encouragement and warning. People are bent on speaking evil instead of good about their neighbors. However, God said to Abraham that whoever blessed him would be blessed by God (Gn 12:3). A beatitude thus is an announcement [2] of having God’s blessed state within oneself [3] (Jh 20:29; Rm 4:7; Rev 22:14). That is something different then when God blesses something that wasn’t blessed before. Also something else is asking for a blessing (Dt 33:11) or receiving the command to be a blessing (Gn 12:2). Different from a beatitude is also observing God’s commandments which results in His graceful blessing (Dt 11:27), since that blessing is conditional [4].

Word study
The word ‘blessed’ is the translation on the Hebrew word baroech, which comes from the root barach (to bless/kneel), or from words coming from the root ‘asjar (being happy/guided). In Greek texts it is the translation of the word makarios (blessed/happy).

Beatitudes are not unique. They are also found in the Old Testament (e.g. Ps 1:1; 2:12; Prov 8:32) and elsewhere in the New Testament (Rm 4:7-8; Rev 19:9; 22:14). These are articulated by spiritual leaders on behalf of God for believers. In Judaism most formal rabbinic prayers start with the remarkable beatitude of God: ‘Baroech haSjem … – Blessed [5] be the Name of God …’.

The beatitudes [6] of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 5:3-16

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

In the first beatitude the Lord Jesus He addresses ‘the poor in spirit’ (Greek ptoochoi tooi pneumatic). Who are those? This group is only mentioned here in the Bible. It seems that people are addressed who have an inability in spiritual capabilities [7]. In the parallel text in Luke (Lc 6:20) only ‘the poor’ are mentioned [8]. The emphasis seems to be on being poor. For those who are literally poor – those who long for God, but hardly manage it due to the fact that they lack all kinds of things – God has great interest. Repeatedly they are mentioned as representatives of God’s people (Lv 19:10; Dt 15:7; Ps 82:3; Is 25:4). So much so, that it seems that poverty is a typical characteristic of pious, true believers (Is 41:17; Rm 15:26; Js 2:6). Then it is not strange that the Lord Jesus addresses the poor first. In the Bible wealth is seen as a hindrance for spiritual growth. Even more so, in the Bible ‘rich’ people – they that have everything their heart desires – are or become the enemies of the believers and God [9]. Why are the poor blessed?

Because God will allow them entrance into the World to come [10]. This is a characteristic of the beatitudes:

  1. Being blessed today is derived from the future state one will receive.

With a beatitude the Lord Jesus announces something which is already realized, but not yet completely. That will only just happen in the future. Since it is announced by God it therefore is a (often invisible) fact. This is beneficial for believers today.

  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The Greek word penthoentes means the mourning or the wailing. This comes very close to the word klaiontes, meaning crying/mourning, used in Luke 6:21. The word ‘now’ (Blessed are those who mourn now) used in Luke also appears in some manuscripts of Matthew. These people are thus already blessed by the fact that their mourning of sorrow shall be surely comforted (Greek paraklethisontai). According to Luke they shall laugh (Greek gelasete).

Another characteristic of the beatitudes:

  1. Being blessed through comfort in the current humiliation.

This characteristic also applies for the poor (previous verse), but is mentioned here explicitly.

  • Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

The Greek word praeis means kindness/tranquility of mind. The earth (Greek gen) is used here as an alternative word for Kingdom of God. But the Greek word kleronmeo (acquiring the right to) also confirms kingship.

A next characteristic of the beatitudes thus is:

  • Blessed by the future right on ownership of land (and belonging to its people) in God’s Kingdom.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

The words “hunger and thirst” represent the basic needs of man. But here it is not about eating or drinking, but about the establishment of God’s justice (executing order and counsel according the commandments of God). Luke only mentions ‘to hunger’ and not ‘for righteousness’ (Lk 6:21). Therefore the emphasis falls on saturation of hunger. But this needs to be understood as spiritual hunger.

A next characteristic of the beatitudes is:

  1. Blessed by spiritual saturation by God.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

The Greek word that is used here stems from eleos (have pity for). Such believers shall receive compassion.

  1. Blessed by mutual compassion.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

The Greek word katharoi represents not only pureness, but also being free of evil and impurity. Only believers want that and yearn for what is religiously pure. Those are the believers according to God’s will. Maybe this promise announced to them also points to a future ministry as God’s priests (Hebrew: kohaniem; Is 66:21) who will stand in His Presence. Since that only seems to apply to a very small group of believers this beatitude seems to challenge others to become like that.

  1. Blessing of very pious believers through an extraordinary privilege.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

The Greek word eirenipoioi is a word combination meaning making peace, but not in the sense of being peaceful. The promise of the Lord Jesus in this beatitude shows that God wants His sons to make peace as a characteristic. They should not seek to quarrel, fight and engage in warfare [11].

  • God’s children are blessed by the fact that they seek to end (violent) conflicts [12].
  • Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Greek word dedioogmenoi represents the persecution or banishment of believers. That happens to them because of the dikaiosunis (the way of living) that pleases God. Just as in Matthew 6:3 it is announced to these persecuted that they will therefore receive access to the world to come, since someone who is persecuted obviously often is righteous from God’s perspective.

  • Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad , for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This concludes the beatitudes. This final beatitude seems the same as the previous one, but that is not so since it is missing in Luke. The word “people” in Italic is only mentioned in some manuscripts. According to the Greek text the unbelievers make accusations (oneidisoosin) against the believers which escalates in maltreatment (dioodzoosin) and speaking all kinds of evil (eipoosin pan poneron) about them in connection with the Lord Jesus. Luke uses in the parallel beatitude (Lk 6:22) other words, like hating the disciples and separating them. This is similar to the words that Matthew uses. Remarkable difference with Luke is the explicit use of the words “Son of man” and the remark that their forefathers did the same with the prophets. That is an explicit reference to the unbelieving Israelites. This beatitude looks forward to what will happen with the disciples. Jews persecuting and killing Jews, like Christians did that with their fellow Christians. The First to which this happened was the Lord Jesus Himself. When does it end?

It points to another characteristic of the beatitude:

  • The state of being blessed will be revealed.

Similar text in Luke 6:20-26
Above the differences with the same verses in Luke have been mentioned. However, in Luke four [13] beatitudes of Matthew are set in contrast to four woe’s (Lk 6:24-26). Namely woe’s about the rich [14] (Greek ploesiois), the self satisfiers [15] (Greek empeplesmenoi), the laughing [16] (Greek geloontes) and those over which well is spoken [17] (Greek kaloos eipoosin). This contrast emphasis that believers distinguish themselves from the pagan majority in the fact that they are blessed by God.

This points to the fact that this beatitude discloses another characteristic:

  1. Blessedness announces woe [18] over the enemies of God [19].

The beatitudes prove to be directed towards all believers. The nine ‘groups’ that are addressed are not so much meant to be seen as separate from each other [20]. Any believer can obviously be or undergo what is mentioned in the beatitudes. However, it is sad that (religious) authorities hardly bless the believers under their responsibility like that, but mostly refrain from it. As a consequence many have spiritual doubts and fall away from faith.

  1. Beatitudes do justice to believers.

[1] A beatitude is not a general announcement meant for all people. It is exclusively meant for believers. Still, the unbelievers will take part in God’s blessing through the believers that are among them. Being blessed thus is also an attractive state.

[2] The blessed state thus comes from God, The Giver of Blessings.

[3] But this doesn’t mean that this is already revealed unto the world.

[4] In the first place the command needs to be remembered and done. Then the blessing depends on whether it is done wholeheartedly.

[5] So, it’s believers that bless God. Something Christians also should do above all else.

[6] In the New King James Version.

[7] Lack of understanding of God’s Word and/or how to bring it into practice. It is not about the handicapped.

[8] Some manuscripts of Luke also have the words ‘of the Spirit’ added to it.

[9] Wealth is a way of ruling over Creation and this puts it in direct relation with satan. That doesn’t mean that there are of course some exceptions (rich people who are and stay pious and true believers).

[10] In Matthew ‘the Kingdom of heaven’ is mentioned and in Luke ‘the Kingdom of God’. The word ‘heaven’ (Greek toon oeranoon) must be understood as the place where God resides until now and not as the place where the Kingdom eventually will be. Since according to the Bible God will return to the earth.

[11] Striving to quarrel with man is a sin or it originates from all kinds of sinful impulses.

[12] Believing is not a cloak for pacifism or cowardness. Believers are called to stand for their faith if necessary (if it serves God). Even if that results in struggling with spiritual powers and man. In the Bible numerous examples of that are given (Mt 23:13-16, 23-29; Acts 23:6-10; Gal 2:14-21).

[13] The first, second, fourth and ninth.

[14] A contrast with the first beatitude. The wealth of the rich is in the Bible brought in connection with poverty in God (Rev 3:17). Likewise in Luke the relativity of ‘blessing’ of the four adversaries is mentioned. Even in such a way that this ‘blessing’ eventually will work out against them and thus will prove not to be a blessing at all.

[15] A contrast with the satisfaction that God will give to the believers (4th beatitude).

[16] Also to be seen as laughingly mocking the believers. This is also a contrast with Luke 6:21 that mentions believers who today mourn but in the end shall laugh.

[17] A contrast with the ninth beatitude.

[18] A woe is a typical announcement of God’s condemnation (the opposite of being blessed) pronounced by prophets, like Moses (Nm 21:29), Isaiah (1:4) and Jeremiah (22:13) did. Since prophecy is first of all announcing God’s condemnation on His enemies as warning.

[19] Beatitudes are also meant to create jealousy (in a positive sense; mission).

[20] Except perhaps the pure in heart, but still it is aimed at all believers.