From my curriculum written for my church: Congratulations!

February 9                      Matthew 5:2-12             Congratulations!

Literary Context

In the first four chapters of Matthew, Jesus’s identity as “Son of God” is established. His royal pedigree (genealogy), divine office (baptism and temptations), and authority over evil and sickness is emphasized. Matthew then shifts the focus to Jesus’s authority as teacher of God’s will and righteousness. Matthew 5-7 (and Lk 6), often called the “Sermon on the Mount” (SOM),[1] offers a well-crafted, composite collection of lessons concerning what a citizen of the Kingdom of God should be, and how a citizen should behave.

Interpretative Issues

Congratulations to. . .(3-11). Other viable translations for “blessed are” would include, “congratulations to!” or “happy are!” With rare exception, when a blessing is attributed to someone in the OT, it is concerning God’s blessing in this life because one trusts and obeys God. During the time immediately before Jesus, Jews began emphasizing the blessings one would receive in the future World to Come because of their loyalty to God. Here, Jesus is assuming that the future blessings in the World to Come are available now because the Kingdom of Heaven has arrived in His ministry.[2] (Analogy: This is like yelling, “congratulations!” to a person who is beginning a race because you already know she will win.)

Discussion: (1) Are you just waiting for Heaven or are you availing yourself of the blessings of the kingdom now? (2) If you were in a race, would it affect your attitude if you knew you would win?

The Beatitudes (from Latin, beatus, “happy, fortunate”) can be grouped into two halves: (1) 3-6 have to do with a disciple’s disposition toward God (and in Greek, all have the same “p” sound); (2) 7-11 have to do with a disciple’s disposition toward other humans. The ninth, final beatitude switches from the generic third person plural (= those) to the specific second person plural (= y’all). The Beatitudes assume Jesus’s authority at the final judgment.

Congratulations to the poor in spirit. . .Congratulations to those who mourn. . .Congratulations to the meek. . .Congratulations to those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. . .(3-6) All four of these have in common a disciple’s demeanor toward God.
It was widely assumed that the rich could easily have, and often held, an attitude of entitlement because of their status in society and their independence (e.g., Prov 28:11; James 1:10). “Poor in spirit” means to behave like those who are poor: (1) they have no entitlement (because they have no status) and are completely dependent upon God’s provision in His kingdom (cf. James 2:5). Jesus says that the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such disciples; and it is impossible to enter into the kingdom of Heaven without this attitude (cf. Matt 19:22-24). For those who maintain allegiance to their wealth, Jesus’s call of discipleship will remain unheeded (Matt 19:21-22).
In this context, to “mourn” probably means to feel contrition for sin (cf. Joel 2:12; Matt 24:30); not simply to be sad. This is why God will “comfort” (= bring salvation) all those who mourn in contrition (cf. Isaiah 66:2, 13).
The “meek” (Gk = “gentle, compassionate”) refers to those who are submissive and powerless, just like the poor (e.g., Numb 12:3; Ps 24:9; 37:11; Zeph 3:11-12; Matt 18:4; 23:12). Those who are submissive and powerless in this age will inherit the World to Come because they do not seek for power in this life (or seek to force the Romans out via violence).
Those who are “hungering and thirsting for righteousness” are those who are constantly seeking to do the will of God (e.g., 6:33; 25:37-40). Of course, Jesus assumes that obeying His message is the only way to do the will of God to the degree that is necessary in order to gain access to the kingdom of Heaven (5:20ff; 6:1).

Discussion: (1) What in your life needs to be changed in order to receive Jesus’s “congratulations” on these issues? Who in your life will hold you accountable? (2) What are some practical steps you can take to be “poor in spirit,” “meek,” “mourn [your sin],” and to “hunger and thirst” for God’s will? (3) Do you praise people according to these verses? Or do you praise people just for superficial or “worldly” things?

Congratulations to the merciful. . .Congratulations to the pure in heart. . .Congratulations to the peacemakers. . .Congratulations to those who are persecuted for righteousness. . .Congratulations to y’all when people insult y’all and persecute y’all. . . (7-11). All five of these have in common a disciple’s demeanor toward other humans.
Acting mercifully toward others is crucial to the ethics of Jesus, and certain Jewish leaders failed (9:13; 12:7; 18:23-35; 23:23; 25:31-46). In return for being merciful, that disciple “will receive mercy” by God at judgment.
To the ancient person, the “heart” is the center of volition, attitude, and character (what we call “mind”). To possess a “pure heart” is to be single minded (toward God). Jesus constantly emphasizes how the condition of a person’s heart determines behavior and character (e.g., what we treasure in 6:21, type of speech in 12:34, purity in 15:18-20, forgiveness in 18:35, et al.). The reward to “see God” refers the reward of being in the presence of God, i.e., experiencing salvation (cf. Job 19:26-27).
Those who “make peace” actively seek out reconciliation with other humans (as in 5:23-24). To seek reconciliation is to be a “child of God” since God is our model, actively seeking out reconciliation with us.
To those who seek the will of God (= “righteousness”) even in the face of persecution, God will grant the kingdom of Heaven.
The final beatitude addresses the disciples of Jesus specifically: all who endure persecution “on account of [Jesus]” are congratulated. It was generally believed that God’s prophets were often not received well and were hurt or killed (e.g., 2 Chron 36:16; Matt 23:30-31; 1Thess 2:14-16; Heb 11:37). Jesus is declaring that when His disciples are persecuted for obeying Him, it is just like being an ancient prophet obeying the message of Yahweh. To them, Jesus says, rejoice because your reward in Heaven is great.

Discussion: (1) What in your life needs to be changed in order to receive Jesus’s “congratulations” on these issues? Who in your life will hold you accountable? (2) What are some practical steps you can take to be more “merciful,” “pure in heart,” a “peacemaker,” or more bold when doing God’s will? (3) Are you ashamed of the gospel? What prohibits you from talking to more people each day about Jesus? (4) We can’t make a person be at peace with us (Rom 12:18), but we must certainly try when we’re the ones who have offended. With whom do you need to make peace?

[1] Augustine was (apparently) first to call Matt 5-7, “The Sermon on the Mount.” See Augustine, De Sermone Domini in Monte secundum Matthaeum, NPNF (V1-06).
[2] For more, see David E. Garland, Reading Matthew (Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 53-55.