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Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Matthew 5:1–16 are known as the Beatitudes, which stems from the Latin term used in the translation of these verses. A beatitude is a declaration of blessing and a statement about why that type of person will be blessed. Blessing here is a covenantal rather than a subjective emotional idea. It’s the bestowal of God’s favor—enjoying his presence. There are nine beatitudes between verses 3 and 10. These verses indicate who the kingdom people are and how they are blessed. As we consider the first of the Beatitudes, we learn that they are the poor in spirit and theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

God’s blessing comes upon those who are spiritually poor. The poor in spirit recognize their great need, and they turn to the Lord for his grace. If you are spiritually poor, you turn to the Lord in complete dependence. We shouldn’t get this backwards. Jesus isn’t saying, if you work at becoming spiritually poor, then you will receive the kingdom of heaven. He’s describing the character of those who seek him.

The Bible does speak about people who became so destitute that the only thing they had left was their relationship to God.[1] Perhaps there was a death in the family or a severe physical debilitation. Other times it was the result of war or social injustice. Dark times like these often open people’s eyes to their spiritual poverty.

This is why Jesus says it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 19:23–24). If you have great material wealth, you often are under the assumption that you don’t need anything. You can take care of yourself. Such people are not poor in spirit; they’re rich in self-confidence. In Scripture, the poor are typically the pious and the persecuted.

Isaiah 61:1–2—1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

Jesus has come to save the poor in spirit. Through his death and resurrection, we enter the kingdom. However, the transition into the kingdom isn’t always pleasant, because the Christian life is a life of suffering.

2 Corinthians 4:7–12—7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Kingdom citizens are poor in spirit. We are crushed, but not destroyed. Jesus’s life is at work in us as we inherit the kingdom.

What is the kingdom like? Isaiah 65:17–25 describe the New Heavens and New Earth. It’s a realm characterized by blessing and fruitfulness rather than curses and futility. It’s a reversal of the covenant curses described in Deuteronomy 28. When will the poor in spirit receive it? The New Heavens and New Earth have not yet come. Jesus’s kingdom is not consummated. Nevertheless, this is a present reality. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven is a present tense verb. I believe the most natural way to interpret this sentence in light of the biblical witness is that believers experience the kingdom right now.

Ephesians 2:4–7—4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

As Jesus teaches his kingdom ethic here on the mount, it is a foretaste of the eternal setting of God’s kingdom people. Matthew describes the word going forth from the mouth of Jesus on a mountain. This is the great vision of the prophets Isaiah and Micah.

Isaiah 2:2–4—2 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, 3 and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

All you poor in spirit: Jesus calls you to come unto him.

Matthew 11:28–30—28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus gives you the kingdom.

[1] Turner, Matthew (ECNT), 149–150.


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