Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

8.3.1 Introduction

Jesus places the Beatitudes ahead of the announcement of the original will of God and thus gives the intensification of the Torah a totally different tone.  The Gospel comes before the law!

If one is even permitted to assign value here: the Beatitudes are even more revolutionary than the antitheses. They are the vision of an ethic of God’s Kingdom. However if the kingdom is not simply our biggest future hope but has already begun here and is already among us, then this ethic must also begin here as well. Though it cannot be expected to be fully implemented in this age, it gives a vision, in which direction ethics must go in order to eventually become simultaneously fulfilled and unnecessary in the Kingdom of God. (see epilog). 


To aid in the understanding the Beatitudes in general: 

Jesus’ Beatitudes have forerunners in the Old Testament. 

Jeremiah 17:7 originates in the legal sphere: the covenant with God must be kept. The blessing has a corresponding curse.

Most well known is Psalm 1 (in which only a faint hint of the curse remains). This Psalm was obviously added in front of Psalm 2 after the fact (see Codices on Acts 13:33) and thus precedes the entire Psalter like the Beatitudes. 

Perhaps Jesus purposefully left out the traditional curse aspect, just as he did in his abbreviated quotation of Isaiah 61:1 and following in his initial sermon in Luke 4:19. 

Psalm 1 “blessed is he” ((herbrew: hwrb) = Matt 5 “blessed are those” (Greek: μακαριοσ, makarios)) has been most beautifully translated with “congratulations to you.”

Even in the Old Testament there is praise for the poor, suffering, and the disenfranchised, not necessarily those of “correct” religion: For example Ps 73, Ps 24, Isa. 57:15

Beatitudes are present elsewhere in the New Testament as well, for example in 1 Pet 4:14. Spiritual poverty Matt 5:3


Psalm 9: poor is one who is entirely dependent on God’s legal redress

Yahweh is a God of the helpless, which is why the poor enjoy “unrivaled salvation privileges.” (von Rad).

yn[ (ani): initially a secular term meaning – poor, without means persistently; after the exile it became used increasingly in a spiritual context: humble, pious until Qumran; poverty as a religious title of honor! 

Poverty means both financially and spiritually poor (Luther also noted this).

  1. Socially poor: the Greek “πτωχοσ” meaning, “destitute” (for ex. Poor Lazarus Luke 16:19 – )
  2. Spiritually poor: poor in spirit, rich in God! For example the tax collector in the Temple (Luke 18:19-14). Or simply the tormented, worn down, oppressed people. 

The dative (tense) here is causative – those who, through the working of the Spirit, allowed themselves to be made poor (WuppSB). The path to wealth can only proceed through the recognition of one’s own neediness. 


Other possible meanings: 

  1. Following Paul (2 Cor 8:9) an interpretation pointing at Christ is also possible:

“though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

  1. Theresa of Avila in mystic-heroic emulation of Christ: “The true poverty of the Spirit consists of not seeking comfort or pleasure even in prayer, rather out of love of the one who lived in constant testing, being left in the dryness.” Grief

The Greek word πενθειν :penthein is one of the strongest words for grief, especially grief about those who have passed away. Our God is a “God of comfort” (2 Cor 1:3, Romans 15:5). Compare to Rev 21:4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” 

Possible other meanings:

  1. Individuals grieving over their own sins (WuppSB)

This is a common interpretation by the Desert Fathers: “cry daily concerning your sin.” Also Augustine: “I became ever more dejected the closer You came to me.”

  1. The necessity of suffering: suffering leads to (spiritual) growth. 


“Our life must be seasoned with a bit of the cross so that it does not spoil.” (Martin Luther)

“The way to God is the way of the broken heart.” (Barclay)

Edgar Elgar once said after the concert of a talented young opera singer: “One day she will be a truly great singer if she ever gets her heart broken.” 

  1. Especially lovely is the eucharistic statement: Greek: παρακαλειν (parakalein) means both to “comfort” and to “invite to a feast.” Gentleness Matt 5:5

Gentleness, in Greek, is the virtue of the ideal bureaucrat: he is equally sensitive, self-assured, and assertive

πραυσs: 1. Translated from anaw, Ps 9:13 among others: humbly following God’s leading (WuppSB)

2 Secular: the middle between anger and pliability: “the gentleness of the strong.” Gentleness (πραυτησ) according to Aristotle is the middle way between anger and laissez faire

Bauer’s Greek Dictionary: “bureaucratic virtue:” not to let oneself get provoked, to show empathy and still be able to assert oneself without bending

WuppSB: carrying one’s burdens lovingly and without bitterness but not accepting unfair burdens in silence. Addressing them with others but also offering them up to God and waiting


A nice German translation: gentleness is “angelic goodness.” Such people are the salt of the earth. 

They are not pathetically soft but do not feel anger on their own behalf. 


Possible concretions: not confronting your attacker but letting them trip over their own aggression. Hunger for Righteousness Matt 5:6

  1. Christians must be serious, not simply taking a casual interest from time to time. Hunger and thirst are life-threatening in the desert. 
  2. Even an apostle has not reached the goal: Phil 3:12-, Ps 42:1
  3. Justice 

– for myself

– for others (see Amos and Isaiah: Widows, orphans…)

Justice is the central focus in the legalistic thinking of the Old Testament and would probably be more equivalent with “faith” in our use of language today. Mercy Matt 5:7

  1. In the Old Testament: Hebrew dsh (chäsäd: 90% of the time in the Old Testament is attributed to God; almost represents a title for God and positively fulfilled: goodness, faithfulness to God’s covenant with Israel. 
  2. In the New Testament: Greek ελεοσ, eleos – mercy of humans (Matt 9:13 and 12:7, Hosea 6:6) and God’s background is the mercy-less heathen world 

In the ethics of the Middle Ages the seven works of mercy played a huge role: 

To feed the hungry

To give drink to the thirsty

To clothe the naked

To accept the stranger

To visit the sick

To visit the prisoner

To bury the dead Pure of Heart Matt 5:8

The word pure actually means not mixed or adulterated with any other substance. 

The context of this in Jesus’ time would have been the formalized and externalized Purity Laws. According to Jesus however, purity is a quality of the heart. Every sin however, leaves a stain on the shoulder. 

The view of God is the highest possible testimony to future blessedness. Peacemaker Matt 5:9

Shalom is a much more comprehensive term than the German or even the English word for peace. It means peace:

  • With oneself
  • With others
  • With God

Sons of God: this is actually a Messiah-title that we receive! 

(Sons and daughters is a much clearer term than the easy to misunderstand “children.”)

Making peace can be very dangerous when the squabblers unite against the peacemakers. But making peace can be successful. 


Making peach is decidedly more difficult than being partisan. This holds true for individuals as well as churches and communities. Being partisan is only necessary when it comes to faith:

I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Matt 10:34)

  • Persecution Matt 5;10

Reasons for persecution in the Roman Empire (according to Barclay pg 87 and following): Christians were outsiders of their time. Justification for persecution was otherness, the Lord’s Supper, morality, accusations of atheism, the cult of Caesar. Christians otherness was perceived as a constant reproach. 

Martyrdom creates a special relationship to Jesus: taking part in his suffering. According to Luther: suffering from blows and suffering from words are unavoidable for Christians.

Suffering is by no means contrary to the program. The rewards in heaven do not represent a salvation by works, rather it is the measure of a worthy life! 

Thielecke: No persuasion is possible without a thought to the rewards. Satisfaction and joy that one did something for its own sake. “The completed duty carries its own reward.” 

An unprecedented reward: suddenly being a member of Heaven!