Beatitudes Definition

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What are the beatitudes (beattitudes) in the Bible? When, where and to whom did Jesus preach them? What does each of them mean?

It was shortly after Pentecost in 27 A.D., roughly nine months after his ministry began in the fall of 26, that Jesus gave the beatitudes along with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. The message was likely given on Mount Eremos that is located on the northwestern shore of Galilee's sea.

´╗┐The Lord gave the beatitudes not only to his disciples but also to a large crowd that had gathered to hear him speak (Matthew 5:1). The mount was chosen because it would facilitate his voice reaching the large audience to hear his words. The beatitudes, recorded in Matthew 5:3 - 12 and Luke 6:20 - 26, are part of Jesus' introduction to the New Covenant.

Each of the beatitudes has a simple structure. Each one mentions a behavior or attitude that, if manifested in this life, will bring a reward (blessing) from God the Father.

The poor in spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3, HBFV throughout).

Those who are poor in spirit (attitude) are humble and contrite toward God. Like Jesus they are lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29). They understand they cannot rely on themselves but must depend on the Lord for everything including salvation. This attitude is epitomized by the sin-laden tax collector in one of Jesus' parable (Luke 18:10 - 14).

Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus
Sermon on the Mountain
Karoly Ferenczy, 1896

The mourners

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

The mourning in this second of eight beatitudes is not referring to the sorrow all humans sometimes experience. It is referencing, rather, a character trait that hates to see other people sinning and bringing its negative consequences upon themselves and others. It is those who "sigh and cry" for the evil they witness (see Ezekiel 9:3 - 4) who will be comforted when God's kingdom comes to the earth.

The meek

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

This third of eight beatitudes repeats the teaching found in Psalm 37:11. The meek are those who have a humble, gentle heart. They do not demand their own way or are arrogant and vain, but rather quietly seek to live a righteous life (Titus 3:1 - 2).


Longing for righteousness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled (Matthew 5:6).

Hunger and thirst are a poetic way of stating a person strongly longs for God's righteousness to be manifested (Psalm 42:1, 42:2, Psalm 63:1 - 4).

The merciful

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy (Matthew 5:7).

The fifth of eight beatitudes revolves around mercy. Mercy means to show pity, favor, compassion or kindness to others even when they otherwise would not deserve it. This beatitude is based on the principle of the golden rule, which states we should do to others what we would like done to us (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31). God has made clear that how we ultimately treat others is how he will treat us (Matthew 6:14 - 15, Luke 6:35 - 37).

The pure in heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).

A pure heart means having a clean conscience toward God. It additionally entails possessing pure and holy motives that are free from ulterior motives. A pure heart is one of the most valuable character traits a Christian can possess in their relationship with their Creator (Psalm 24:4, 73:1).

The peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9).

Peacemakers, in this next to last of the beatitudes, are those who seek to encourage peace with and among others. This includes promoting peace and friendship among fellow believers (Romans 14:19, Hebrews 12:14, James 2:16). Peace is one of the fruits of God's spirit (Galatians 5:22) and is a critical component of his righteous character (1Thessalonians 5:23).


The persecuted

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they shall reproach you . . .

Rejoice and be filled with joy, for great is your reward in heaven . . . (Matthew 5:10 - 12).

The beatitudes close by mentioning one of the greatest costs of obeying God in this life. It is a cost Jesus would discuss on several other occasions (Matthew 10:22, 24:9, John 15:18, 17:14).

Persecution, rejection, discrimination and so on come to Christians because the world is heavily influenced by its temporary ruler Satan the devil (John 12:31, 2Corinthians 4:3 - 4). God promises, however, through the beatitudes, to reward those who keep the faith in spite of adversities.

The eight beatitudes recorded in the Bible delineate God's promises to reward those who believe and obey him. Eight is the Biblical number of new beginnings or a new creation. Believers can stand strong in the faith knowing that their trust in God will be richly rewarded when they are given a new beginning in the resurrection of the righteous.

List of terms in
Dictionary of Biblical Words

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