In Matthew 5:3-10, Jesus Christ teaches His inner circle of 12 disciples the following beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
To obtain perspectives about the significance of these beatitudes, we will consider what several Bible commentaries say about each of them.
The Poor in Spirit
In regard to this beatitude, Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible states,
Blessed are the poor in spirit – The word “blessed” means “happy,” referring to that which produces felicity, from whatever quarter it may come.
Poor in spirit – . . . . To be poor in spirit is to have a humble opinion of ourselves; to be sensible that we are sinners, and have no righteousness of our own; to be willing to be saved only by the rich grace and mercy of God. . . .
Theirs is the kingdom of heaven – That is, either they have special facilities for entering the kingdom of heaven, and of becoming Christians here, or they shall enter heaven hereafter. Both these ideas are probably included.
John Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible declares in reference to this beatitude,
Happy are the poor in spirit. . . . Christ pronounces those to be happy who, chastened and subdued by afflictions, submit themselves wholly to God, and, with inward humility, betake themselves to him for protection. Others explain the poor in spirit to be those who claim nothing for themselves, and are even so completely emptied of confidence in the flesh, that they acknowledge their poverty. But . . . there can be no doubt that the appellation poor is here given to those who are pressed and afflicted by adversity.
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. We see that Christ does not swell the minds of his own people by any unfounded belief, or harden them by unfeeling obstinacy . . ., but leads them to entertain the hope of eternal life, and animates them to patience by assuring them, that in this way they will pass into the heavenly kingdom of God. It deserves our attention, that he only who is reduced to nothing in himself, and relies on the mercy of God, is poor in spirit. . . .
With regard to this beatitude, John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible says,
Blessed are the poor in spirit,…. Not the poor in purse, or who are so with respect to things temporal: for though God has chosen and called many, who are in such a condition of life, yet not all; the kingdom of heaven cannot be said to belong to them all, or only; but such as are poor in a spiritual sense. . . . [T]here are some [people] . . . who see their poverty and want, freely acknowledge it, bewail it, and mourn over it; are humbled for it, and are broken under a sense of it; entertain low and mean [i.e., poor] thoughts of themselves; seek after the true riches, both of grace and glory; and frankly acknowledge, that all they have, or hope to have, is owing to the free grace of God. Now these are the persons intended in this place; who are not only “poor”, but are poor “in spirit” . . . .
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; not only the Gospel, and the ministration of it, which belongs to them. “The poor have the Gospel preached”: it not only reaches their ears, but their hearts; it enters into them, is applied unto them, they receive and embrace it with the utmost joy and gladness; but eternal glory, this is prepared for them, and given to them; they are born heirs of it, have a right unto it, are making meet for it, and shall enjoy it.
Those Who Mourn
In reference to this beatitude, Calvin states,
Happy are they that mourn. This statement is closely connected with the preceding one, and is a sort of appendage or confirmation of it. The ordinary belief is, that calamities render a man unhappy. This arises from the consideration, that they constantly bring along with them mourning and grief. Now, nothing is supposed to be more inconsistent with happiness than mourning. But Christ does not merely affirm that mourners are not unhappy. He shows, that their very mourning contributes to a happy life, by preparing them to receive eternal joy, and by furnishing them with excitements to seek true comfort in God alone.
Gill declares in reference to the same beatitude,
Blessed are they that mourn,…. For sin, for their own sins; the sin of their nature, indwelling sin, which is always working in them, and is a continual grief of mind to them; the unbelief of their hearts, notwithstanding the many instances, declarations, promises, and discoveries of grace made unto them; their daily infirmities, and many sins of life, because they are committed against a God of love, grace, and mercy, grieve the Spirit, and dishonour the Gospel of Christ: who mourn also for the sins of others, for the sins of the world, the profaneness and wickedness that abound in it. . . .
for they shall be comforted: here in this life, by the God of all comfort, by Christ the comforter; by the Spirit of God, whose work and office it is to comfort; by the Scriptures of truth, which are written for their consolation; by the promises of the Gospel, through which the heirs of promise have strong consolation . . . and then are they comforted, when they have the discoveries of the love of God, manifestations of pardoning grace, through the blood of Christ, and enjoy the divine presence: and they shall be comforted hereafter; when freed from all the troubles of this life, they shall be blessed with uninterrupted communion with Father, Son, and Spirit, and with the happy society of angels and glorified saints.
With regard to the same beatitude, Barnes says,
Blessed are they that mourn – This is capable of two meanings: either, that those are blessed who are afflicted with the loss of friends or possessions, or that they who mourn over sin are blessed. As Christ came to preach repentance, to induce people to mourn over their sins and to forsake them, it is probable that he had the latter particularly in view. . . . [T]hose that grieve over sin; that sorrow that they have committed it, and are afflicted and wounded that they have offended God, shall find comfort in the gospel.
In reference to this beatitude, Gill states,
Blessed are the meek,…. Who are not easily provoked to anger; who patiently bear, and put up with injuries and affronts; carry themselves courteously, and affably to all; . . . quietly submit to the will of God, in adverse dispensations of providence; and ascribe all they have, and are, to the grace of God.
Here meekness is to be considered, not as a moral virtue, but as a Christian grace, a fruit of the Spirit of God.
they shall inherit the earth; not the land of Canaan, though that may be alluded to; nor this world, at least in its present situation; for this is not the saints’ rest and inheritance: but rather, the “new earth”, which will be after this is burnt up. . .
Barnes says with regard to this beatitude,
The meek – Meekness is patience in the reception of injuries. It is neither meanness [i.e., feelings of inferiority] nor a surrender of our rights, nor cowardice; but it is the opposite of sudden anger, of malice, of long-harbored vengeance.
Meekness is the reception of injuries with a belief that God will vindicate us. “Vengeance is his; he will repay,” Romans 12:19.
They shall inherit the earth – This might have been translated “the land.” It is probable that here is a reference to the manner in which the Jews commonly expressed themselves to denote any great blessing. It was promised to them that they should inherit the land of Canaan. . . . Our Saviour . . . meant to say, not that the meek would own great property or have many lands, but that they would possess special blessings. The Jews also considered the land of Canaan as a type of heaven, and of the blessings under the Messiah. To inherit the land became, therefore, an expression denoting those blessings. When our Saviour uses this language here, he means that the meek shall be received into his kingdom, and partake of its blessings here, and of the glories of the heavenly Canaan hereafter.
And, according to Calvin,
Happy are the meek. By the meek he means persons of mild and gentle dispositions, who are not easily provoked by injuries, who are not ready to take offense, but are prepared to endure anything rather than do the like actions to wicked men. . . . Christ places his own protection, and that of the Father, . . . and declares . . . that the meek will be the lords and heirs of the earth.
Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
Barnes says in regard to this beatitude,
Blessed are they which do hunger … – Hunger and thirst, here, are expressive of strong desire. Nothing would better express the strong desire which we ought to feel to obtain righteousness than hunger and thirst.
They shall be filled – They shall be satisfied as a hungry man is when supplied with food, or a thirsty man when supplied with drink. Those who are perishing for want of righteousness; those who feel that they are lost sinners and strongly desire to be holy, shall be thus satisfied.
With regard to the same beatitude, Calvin declares,
Happy are they who hunger. To hunger and thirst is here . . . used as a figurative expression, and means to suffer poverty, to want the necessaries of life, and even to be defrauded of one’s right. Matthew says, who thirst after righteousness. . . . He represents more strongly the unworthy treatment which they have received, when he says that, though they are anxious, though they groan, they desire nothing but what is proper. “Happy are they who, though their wishes are so moderate, that they desire nothing to be granted to them but what is reasonable, are yet in a languishing condition, like persons who are famishing with hunger.”
Gill declares in reference to this beatitude,
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst,…. Not after the riches, honours, and pleasures of this world . . .
after righteousness; by which is meant, not justice and equity, as persons oppressed and injured; nor a moral, legal righteousness, which the generality of the Jewish nation were eagerly pursuing; but the justifying righteousness of Christ, which is imputed by God the Father, and received by faith. To “hunger and thirst” after this, supposes a want of righteousness. . . .
for they shall be filled: with that righteousness, and with all other good things, in consequence of it; and particularly with joy and peace, which are the certain effects of it: or, “they shall be satisfied”. . . .
With regard to this beatitude, Calvin says,
Happy are the merciful. . . . Christ says that those are happy who are not only prepared to endure their own afflictions, but to take a share in the afflictions of others — who assist the wretched — who willingly take part with those who are in distress — who clothe themselves . . . with the same affections, that they may be more readily disposed to render them assistance. He adds, for they shall obtain mercy, — not only with God, but also among men, whose minds God will dispose to the exercise of humanity.
This beatitude is explained by Gill, as follows:
Blessed are the merciful,…. Who show mercy to the bodies of men, to those that are poor, indigent, and miserable, in their outward circumstances; by both sympathizing with them, and distributing unto them; not only making use of expressions of pity and concern; but communicating with readiness and cheerfulness, with affection and tenderness, and with a view to the glory of God: who also show mercy to the souls of men, by instructing such as are ignorant, giving them good counsel and advice: reproving them for sin, praying for them, forgiving injuries done by them, and by comforting those that are cast down.
they shall obtain mercy; from man, whenever they are attended with any uncomfortable circumstances of life . . . and from God, through Christ; which is free, sovereign, abundant, and eternal. Men are said to obtain this, when they are regenerated, and called by grace; and when they have a discovery, and an application, of the forgiveness of their sins: but here, it seems to design those supplies of grace and mercy, which merciful persons may expect to find and obtain, at the throne of grace, to help them in time of need; and who shall not only obtain mercy of God in this life, but in the world to come. . . .
In reference to the same beatitude, Barnes states,
Blessed are the merciful – That is, those who are so affected by the sufferings of others as to be disposed to alleviate them. This is given as an evidence of piety, and it is said that they who show mercy to others shall obtain it. . . . This should be done with a wish to glorify God; that is, in obedience to his commandments, and with a desire that he should be honored, and with a feeling that we are benefiting one of his creatures. Then he will regard it as done to him, and will reward us.
The Pure in Heart
In reference to this beatitude, Gill states,
Blessed are the pure in heart,…. Not in the head; for men may have pure notions and impure hearts; not in the hand, or action, or in outward conversation only; so the Pharisees were outwardly righteous before men, but inwardly full of impurity; but “in heart”.
for they shall see God; in this life, enjoying communion with him, both in private and public, in the several duties of religion, in the house and ordinances of God; . . . and in the other world, where they shall see God in Christ. . . .
Barnes provides the following explanation of the same beatitude:
Blessed are the pure in heart – That is, whose minds, motives, and principles are pure; who seek not only to have the external actions correct, but who desire to be holy in heart, and who are so.
They shall see God – There is a sense in which all will see God, Revelation 1:7. That is, they will behold him as a Judge, not as a Friend. In this place it is spoken of as a special favor. . . . “Those that stood in the king’s presence;” in the Hebrew, those that saw the face of the king; that is, who were his favorites and friends. So here, to see God, means to be his friends and favorites, and to dwell with him in his kingdom.
And, according to Calvin,
Happy are they who are of a pure heart. . . . Purity of heart is universally acknowledged to be the mother of all virtues. And yet there is hardly one person in a hundred, who does not put craftiness in the place of the greatest virtue. . . . . Christ does not at all agree with carnal reason, when he pronounces those to be happy who take no delight in cunning, but converse sincerely with men, and express nothing, by word or look, which they do not feel in their heart.
Barnes says with regard to this beatitude,
Blessed are the peacemakers – Those who strive to prevent contention, strife, and war; who use their influence to reconcile opposing parties, and to prevent lawsuits and hostilities in families and neighborhoods.
Children of God – . . . . Those who resemble God, or who manifest a spirit like his. . . . . [A]ll those who endeavor to promote peace are like him, and are worthy to be called his children.
In reference to this beatitude, Calvin states,
Happy are the peacemakers. By peacemakers he means those who not only seek peace and avoid quarrels, as far as lies in their power, but who also labor to settle differences among others, who advise all men to live at peace, and take away every occasion of hatred and strife. . . .
Gill declares with regard to the same beatitude,,
Blessed are the peace makers,…. Not between God and man, for no man can make his own peace with God; nor can any mere creature, angels, or men, make it for him; Christ, in this sense, is the only peace maker: but between men and men; and such are they, who are of peaceable dispositions themselves; live peaceably with all men. . . .
they shall be called the children of God; that is, they are the children of God by adopting grace, which is made manifest in their regeneration; and that is evidenced by the fruits of it, of which this is one; they not only shall be, and more manifestly appear to be, the sons of God hereafter; but they are, and are known to be so now, by their peaceable disposition, which is wrought in them by the Spirit of God; whereby they become like to the God of peace, and to Christ, the great and only peacemaker, and so are truly sons of peace.
Those Who Are Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake
Calvin states with regard to this beatitude,
Happy are they who suffer persecution. We cannot be Christ’s soldiers on any other condition than to have the greater part of the world rising in hostility against us, and pursuing us even to death.
Who suffer on account of righteousness. This is descriptive of those who inflame the hatred, and provoke the rage, of wicked men against them, because, through an earnest desire to do what is good and right, they oppose bad causes and defend good ones, as far as lies in their power.
In reference to the same beatitude, Gill says,
Blessed are they which are persecuted,…. Not for any crimes they have done, for unrighteousness and iniquity. . .
for righteousness sake: on account of their righteous and godly conversation, which brings upon them the hatred and enmity of the men of the world: for saints, by living righteously, separate themselves from them , . . or by “righteousness” may be meant, a righteous cause, the cause of Christ and his Gospel; for by making a profession of Christ, showing a concern for his interest, and by engaging in a vindication of his person and truths, saints expose themselves to the rage and persecution of men: and particularly, they are persecuted for preaching, maintaining, or embracing, the doctrine of justification by the righteousness of Christ. . . .
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven: the same blessedness is predicated of these as of the poor in spirit. . . .
And, Barnes declares with regard to this beatitude,
Blessed are they which are persecuted – To persecute means literally to pursue; follow after, as one does a fleeing enemy. Here it means to vex, or oppress one, on account of his religion.
For righteousness’ sake – Because they are righteous, or are the friends of God. We are not to seek persecution. We are not to provoke it by strange sentiments or conduct; by violating the laws of civil society, or by modes of speech that are unnecessarily offensive to others. But if, in the honest effort to be Christians, and to live the life of Christians, others persecute and revile us, we are to consider this as a blessing.
Theirs is the kingdom of heaven – They have evidence that they are Christians, and that they will be brought to heaven.
On the basis of the preceding discussion, we believe that the beatitudes pertain to various temporal and/or eternal blessings that God will bestow on people who suffer adversities because of their righteousness. We do not think the beatitudes also indicate that God will bestow the same (or similar) temporal and/or eternal blessings on people who suffer adversities that are not a result of their righteousness (i.e., if instead the adversities are the result of natural circumstances that may be experienced by anyone, regardless of whether or not they are righteous).