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Matthew 5:3 meaning

The first statement (A) of Jesus’s chiasm focuses on having a realistic opinion of one’s self.

The first statement (A) of Jesus's chiasm focuses on having a realistic opinion of one's self.

The parallel account of this teaching is found in Luke 6:20.

Jesus's statement (A) Makarios are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, corresponds with (A') Makarios are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (vv 3, 10).

Jesus says Makarios (happy and fulfilled) are the poor in spirit (v 3). To be poor means to lack something. If we are poor, then we have need. We often use the word poor to describe someone who needs more money in order to have a sufficient livelihood.

The Bible uses the Greek word pneuma (G4151), translated here as spirit in many different ways. It can mean wind (John 3:8). It can mean the immaterial part of man that relates and interacts with God (Romans 8:16). It can mean a spiritual being such as an angel or demon (Matthew 12:43). It can mean the Third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit (Matthew 4:1). In this instance, spirit does not refer to any of these uses. Instead, spirit here describes what we might call "self-image." To be poor in spirit is to realize spiritual poverty, and therefore have a sense we have a great spiritual need. To be poor in spirit means to reject having a false opinion of self-sufficiency. To realize spiritual need is the opposite of self-sufficiency. It leads to spiritual dependence. To be filled with God's Spirit, we must first empty ourselves of "self."

Jesus teaches that the poor in spirit are Makarios because theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v 3). The kingdom of heaven refers to the new spiritual and political order that Jesus has come to bring. If we do not recognize our spiritual need, we will not seek the benefits of heaven. The benefits of heaven come through spiritual dependence. When we live in spiritual dependence we serve one another, which results in the principles of heaven reigning on earth.

The Kingdom of Heaven is unlike the kingdoms of this earth who are ruled by those rich in spirit and full of themselves. Those who seek power for themselves squabble and fight one another for the position to rule the kingdoms of the earth. The opposite of Jesus's statement would read "Wretched are the rich in spirit, for theirs are the fleeting kingdoms of the earth." Once attained, the earthly rulers exhaust their energy clinging to power or selfishly exerting their power at the expense of those beneath them. As Shakespeare says, "Uneasy lies the head that wears such a crown."

The kind of people most recognized as being poor in spirit, might have been slaves or servants. Servants had only the authority granted them. Servants were expected to quietly and simply do what they were asked without making a fuss. Jesus will use servants in many parables to describe how to live kingdom principles. Jesus teaches, paradoxically, that in the Kingdom of Heaven, the servants are the rulers.

Jesus is saying that those who serve others rather than demand of them, those who lay down their own claims for the sake of loving their neighbor, those who have an attitude of being poor in spirit have full reign in the kingdom of heaven. The servant-hearted are the rulers in God's Kingdom. It is these servant kings who are happy and fulfilled (Makarios) because God created mankind to rule with Him in harmony with others. It is Satan who embodies the spirit of tyranny.

It is interesting to note the present tense. When believers serve, they are ruling from the standpoint of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a matter of faith to have the eyes to see that true greatness lies in serving.

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Matthew 5:3-10 meaning

Jesus begins the "Sermon on the Mount" with a chiasm commonly known as the Beatitudes. To describe the citizens of His Kingdom, Jesus repeats the word "Blessed" (Makarios) - a total sense of fulfillment. The central characteristic of these citizens are righteousness (social harmony) and mercy (compassionate generosity).

The parallel account of this teaching is found in Luke 6:20-24.

Jesus begins speaking to His disciples with a series of statements describing the Good Life (Blessed Life) as it is understood in His Kingdom.

The statements are organized into a "chiasm." A chiasm is a poetic pattern of statements or ideas whose arrangement resembles the left half of the form of the Greek letter "Chi" which looks like the English letter "X." Chiasms are a mirrored pattern that follow an A-B-C…C'-B'-A' format. The main idea of chiasms is located in their center so that as they narrow, chiasms get closer in proximity and significance of their most important statement, before they unwind. Chiasms are found throughout scripture. They were a common thought form that Jews used to express their thoughts.

Jesus shares eight distinct ideas about the Blessed Life over the course of nine statements. The chiasm is expressed in the first eight "Beatitudes." (The ninth statement repeats and expands the eighth.)

The chiasm is as follows:

A. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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

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

D. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

D'. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

C'. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

B'. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

A'. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew's use of verb tense and voice throughout this chiasm suggests both a present and a future aspect within the Kingdom of Heaven.

  • A and A' use the present active verbs—for theirs is—to describe the present reality for those who are Blessed.
  • B and B' use the future passive tense—for they shall be—to describe what God will do one day for the Blessed.
  • C and C' use the future active tense—for they shall—to describe what the Blessed will one day have or do.
  • D and D' use the future passive tense—for they shall be/receive—to describe what God will one day give the Blessed.

The heart of Jesus's chiasm centers on righteousness (social harmony) and mercy (compassion) both of which are major themes throughout the Sermon on the Mount and all of Jesus's teaching. They are also the main point of the Jewish Law, and the covenant God made with Israel as reflected in Deuteronomy.

In English each statement of this chiasm begins with the word Blessed. The Greek word translated Blessed is Makarios (G3107). Makarios describes a complete and total fulfillment in life. It does not refer to a passing happiness or good fortune. It is an enduring state or condition that is unassailable.

Makarios is an interesting word choice to describe Christ's Kingdom amidst the multi-cultural setting of the Sea of Galilee. The world in which Jesus' disciples and Matthew's audience inhabited was predominantly a Jewish subculture within a Roman and Greek world. The Romans supplanted the Greeks, but absorbed substantial Greek influence. Judea was under Greek rule for over a century and a half, spanning from the time of Alexander the Great's conquests (332 B.C.) until the Maccabean revolt (167-160 B.C.) When the Roman general Pompey first incorporated Judea as a province of the Roman Empire in 63 B.C., he reintroduced the Greek culture and worldview that Rome had assimilated. A major figure with the Greek worldview was Alexander the Great's teacher—Aristotle.

Aristotle begins one of his most famous books, "Ethics," asking the question "Can virtue (good habits) make one happy?" In other words, "Does living a moral life and being morally good lead to the good life?" Aristotle concludes that virtue does make one happy (Greek word: Eudaimonia) but it cannot make one blessed (Makarios.) According to Aristotle, Makarios is only possible by the combination of one's virtue and circumstantial bliss. The worldview of Aristotle assumed Makarios was external. But in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says the opposite of Aristotle. Jesus taught that Makarios comes from the inside out. It cannot be extracted from earthly circumstances.

As we consider the assumptions of the different perspectives represented by the towns lining the Sea of Galilee, we find that they all aligned with Aristotle's position. The Herodians and Sadducees dining in the halls of Tiberias, on the western shore, would have said Makarios comes from enjoying the circumstances of luxury and power at the expense of others. The Roman soldiers garrisoned in the Decapolis on Galilee's eastern shore would have said the same thing.

The Zealots in Gamala, who bitterly hated those Romans with all their heart, would have said Makarios would come when they were in power and the Romans were no more, i.e. if their external circumstances were changed. And the Pharisees, teaching along the cities and towns of Galilee's northern shore would have believed Makarios was having a righteous reputation in the community, even as they lived like gluttonous Romans by devouring widows' houses (Matthew 23:14).

Jesus rejected the fake, earthly, and elusive Makarios assumed by Aristotle and many others. The Makarios that Jesus taught was real, heavenly, and available. The kingdoms of the earth had missed the good life in their efforts to rule or overthrow. Those who inhabit the Kingdom of Heaven would find the good life through humbly serving one another in love.

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