Background to The Beatitudes
Jesus came preaching the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven/God in his own person. It is not a physical realm, but a spiritual reign where God rules first in human hearts, and then in communities where followers of Jesus come together to embody his presence. It is a reality—spiritual in nature—still present in this world, albeit hidden. It is an inaugurated Kingdom with its full visible expression to be revealed at his coming again.
The Sermon on the Mount is most likely a compilation of Jesus’ teaching on life in the Kingdom of God.
It seems that Matthew has gathered the teaching of Jesus into five blocks of material and inserted them into Mark’s outline of Jesus’ ministry. To recite Sermon on the Mount at normal conversational speed would take less than 12 minutes, so, we likely don’t have everything Jesus taught on the mountain that day.
But, what we do have is the core, the heart, of what Jesus taught on life in the Kingdom of God.
Life in the Kingdom of God
Herein we find a description of life in the Kingdom of God, what it means to follow Jesus as Lord.
The basic truths revealed in the Sermon on the Mount are…
- The righteousness that God is looking for is not a conformity of behavior to an outward standard of law, but an inward conformity of character to that life which is revealed in the person Jesus.
- Kingdom living is not about self-preservation or retaliation, but about loving people in our world well, even those who would choose to be our enemies. We are to treat others the way that we would long to be treated.
- Our practice of piety and devotion (giving, prayers, and fasting) is to be for an audience of one, God our Father, and not for the notice of others (to impress other people with our holiness).
- Life is to be lived in active dependence upon God with the priority of His Kingdom rather than a commitment to accumulating treasure on this earth. As we ask, seek, and knock, a loving heavenly Father can be trusted to respond to our needs appropriately.
- Passing judgment on others is forbidden in the Kingdom while the need for spiritual discernment is still affirmed by way of examining the fruit of one’s life.
- We are not to be alarmed by multitudes who choose another path, and we are not to be surprised that the path of the Kingdom in this present age is difficult.
- Ultimately it is not knowledge of Jesus’ words, but the practice of Jesus’ words, that will determine the outcome of our lives, and people who live this way will be light and salt in their world for the sake of God’s Kingdom!
The Beatitudes stand at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching on life in the Kingdom as the gateway to all that follows. They are not so much requirements for entry as they are descriptions of the posture in which we approach the King and enter into life in his Kingdom. They are not mastered once and forgotten. They become the ongoing approach to every new truth that we discover along the journey of following Jesus the king.
Structure of the Beatitudes
Scholars debate how the Beatitudes are organized, and how many we find (8 or 9). I see 9 beatitudes organized in the following way: first, four are vertical describing our posture before God. Second, four are horizontal describing our posture toward others in our world. The final one expresses something of the cumulative affect of the other eight over the course of time.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first post in a series exploring the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12, based on Dr. Bill Fowler’s Gilhousen Lecture given July 14, 2020 at YTI. Watch the entire lecture on Facebook here.