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:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:1–12
Jeffrey A. Gibbs writes:
Verses 9 and 10, the seventh and eighth Beatitudes, do go together, and the peace of the Good news in Jesus will not be welcome to many. Therefore, Jesus begins the eighth Beatitude with these words: “The ones who are persecuted because of righteousness are blessed” (5:10). “Righteousness” here in 5:10 could refer to the righteous behavior of those who follow Jesus in the way of discipleship. However, owing to the parallel between “because of righteousness” in 5:10 and Jesus’ words in 5:11, “You are blessed whenever people insult you … because of Me, it is much more likely that “righteousness” in 5:10 [means] God’s righteous saving deeds in Jesus.
In the eighth and ninth Beatitudes, then, Jesus completes His promise of blessing to His disciples. He describes them as those who are persecuted, insulted, the objects of slander. The dependent clause “whenever people insult you” in 5:11 makes it clear that, unlike the first seven Beatitudes, the final two Beatitudes will not always apply to every disciple, nor will all experience such reproach in the same way. Jesus’ disciples are at all times, in themselves, “poor in spirit,” “mourning,” “lowly,” and “hungering” for God’s victory. By the power of their union with Jesus, his disciples have all begun to be “merciful,” “pure in heart,” and “peacemakers.” It will not always be the case that all of Jesus’ disciples are persecuted at all times.
When persecution for the sake of Jesus, who enacts God’s saving righteousness, does happen, Jesus promises His blessing. The reign of heaven and its blessings already belong to believers in such difficult times, just as those blessings belong to all who have nothing to offer God, who are poor in spirit. Moreover, Jesus’ words in 5:11 invite a radical reinterpretation when His disciples are defamed and persecuted for His name’s sake. The final end-time reward that is stored up in heaven for such disciples is “great” indeed. They stand in line with God’s greatest servants of old, His “prophets.” They stand in line with Jesus, who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.
The final two Beatitudes prevent Jesus’ disciples, then and now, from adopting any triumphalistic ideas about the “advance of the reign of God.” The final day of victory does indeed belong to the Almighty and to His Christ. The present reign of God in Jesus, however, is a hidden reality that can only be known to those to whom it is revealed. Although power accompanies the ministry of Jesus and the Twelve in Israel, the goal of Jesus’ ministry will not come with power in the way that the world thinks of such things. The forerunner of the Coming One has been arrested (Matthew 4:12); he will die in the prison of the king. The disciples of the Coming One will at times be resisted and hated and persecuted. The Coming One Himself will reign as King of the Jews and the Son of God. He will so reign, however, from a cross.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 33
Q. 33. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.