The Beatitudes (Part 3)
Matthew 5: 1 – 12
The advent of Jesus Christ inaugurated His Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and it is imperative to grasp that these 8 Beatitudes describe a foretaste of the Kingdom’s eternal power available to all believers. For this reason, the Beatitudes’ high moral and ethical foundations unremittingly challenge our innate human attitudes, and probably more so in these last two attributes in our chaotic world, viz., being peacemakers and being persecuted for righteousness sake (Matt 5:9-10).
Being a peacemaker, with its Messianic overtones (i.e., Jesus as the Prince of Peace; Is 9:6), implies going beyond our mere peaceful disposition to an active attempt at not only seeking reconciliation with one’s enemies, but also by bringing together people who had been estranged from each other. However, bearing in mind the Beatitudes’ Kingdom focus and the natural human desire for advantage and/or retribution in any oppositional issue (much like the Zealots who exhorted to violence to forcefully bring about the Kingdom of God), the emphasis extends well beyond inter-personal relationships to being peace-seeking in faithfulness to God’s cause in the face of any hostility. Jesus Christ is the epitome of a peacemaker (Luke 2:14; Acts 10:36; Rom 5:1), the very representation of His Father, who is the God of peace (Rom 16:20; Phil 4:9; Heb 13:20), and anyone who reflects this trait shall be called His sons or children; with a degree of intimacy with God that is to be fully experienced in the future. This is especially pertinent given our present environment, not unlike those in the first century, where war, persecution and injustice prevail in our fallen world, and where peacemakers struggle powerlessly against all odds, attempting to demonstrate the conviction that in the end God’s kingdom will prevail. Jesus’ reminder that peacemakers have God’s approval is sorely needed.
The verb ‘to persecute’ refers to physical violence and/or intense verbal abuse or defamation. ‘Righteousness’ has to do with God’s demands or righteous conduct in obedience to God’s commands. As subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven, the pursuit of Godly righteousness in any society has its cost, as it can arouse opposition from those whose interests or self-respect may be threatened by it, with its predictable persecutory consequence (2 Tim 3:12; 1 Peter 3:14). Like the first Beatitude, they will surely enjoy the full benefits as obedient subjects of God’s Kingdom in the present life. Astounding! Following the Gospel writer’s sudden change in the pronouns from the third to the second person in the next two verses (Matt 5:11-12), some commentators interpret this as a new segment tied into subsequent verses, and others classified them as the 9th Beatitude. However, the context itself indicate that Jesus began to address directly His immediate followers in these verses, by assuring them that they are blessed despite their trials as they stood out in society by following Him in their submission to His authority and radical demands (1 Peter 2:12; 3:13-17; 4:3-5, 13-16). In suffering, the disciples’ eschatological rewards are explicit, but what form it would take is not mentioned. Like the prophets who were persecuted, the eye of faith sees beyond worldly losses to the eternal gains in the Kingdom of Heaven, which was what transformed the Apostle Paul’s perception of his goal in life when he uttered with an irrepressible and demonstrative gladness, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have countered as loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil 3:7-10).
The Beatitudes’ otherworldly characterizations are indicative of our living in the present by the values of the future Kingdom, marking us, His disciples, as being out of step with our contemporaries but in step with the Holy Spirit. “In a world that values pride over humility and aggression over mercy, Jesus’ disciples are the Christian counter-culture” (John Stott).