Before we delve into the Beatitudes we are confronted with the first two verses, which establish the background for the Beatitudes.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Mountain and Mouth
There are two words that need to be stressed in these verses, and they are mountain and mouth. First, the gospel of Matthew is full of mountains. In fact, the first mountain we see is in Matthew four where Satan takes Jesus up on the mountain and offers him all authority if He only bows down and worships him. The last mountain is in Matthew 28 where Jesus gives forth his Commission to his disciples on a mountain. Jesus begins on a mountain in Matthew four being offered all authority and he ends in Matthew 28 with all authority in heaven and earth not because He submitted to the devil, but because He conquered the devil by giving His life through death.
And why are there so many allusions to mountains in the gospel? The simple answer is that Matthew is drawing our attention to that great mountain in the Old Covenant where Moses received the laws of Yahweh and instructed the people how to live and how to be a different people from the nations around them. Jesus is the greater/better Moses. Just as Moses gave Yahweh’s law to the people, so now Jesus, as the Law-giver, instructs his people how to live and consequently how to become a different people, a kingdom people different from all the other earthly kingdoms. The Sermon on the Mount is an extension of the laws of Moses; it was what Moses’ law always intended, but in Christ these laws are lived out in fullness, loyalty, and righteousness. The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of harsh, moralistic, legalistic rules to live by, they are life-transforming, grace-giving instructions from on high.
The second word to consider is the word mouth. It is important to see that these words are proceeding from the mouth of Jesus. In Deuteronomy 8 the people are told to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus rebukes Satan by pointing back to Deuteronomy, and now in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is the one who speaks authoritatively. Jesus is affirming that He is Yahweh in the flesh. Just as Israel needed to live by the words of Yahweh, this new Israel—composed of Jews and Gentiles—need to live from the words that proceed out of the mouth of Jesus, the Christ. These words in verses 3-12 are the words of a new world order given by a new Moses to a new people.
An Honorable People
There are eight beatitudes in this sermon. Some have translated the word beatitude as happy or blessed, but a more accurate way of understanding this term is by translating it as honorable. These are value statements. The Beatitudes are not characteristics of a pitiful/shameful people, but these are characteristics of an honorable people; a people who have been exalted because of their dependence on God. Saint Peter says that if we humble ourselves before the Lord He will exalt us in due time.a The people of the kingdom are being honored and exalted when they live according to the laws of the kingdom.b These beatitudes are set against the shameful characteristics of those outside the kingdom. Jesus is saying, “How honorable are those who live under these gracious laws!”
Another element concerning the beatitudes is their poetic naturec. The first section, the first four beatitudes, contains 36 words; and the second section, the last four, also contains 36 words c forming a perfect poem. We are considering a piece of poetry as we look at the Beatitudes.
One final observation and a crucial one before we look in great detail in the next few posts. As we apply these beatitudes we must remember that these are not intended for those who want to be in the kingdom or as a way of getting in the kingdom, no; these are for those who are already in the kingdom seeking to expand and live out the ethic of the kingdom. We are not to see these as ways of getting in the kingdom, but as ways of living the kingdom out.