(Mt 5.1-7.29; Mk 3.13-19; Lk 6.12-49)
The Beatitudes (Mt 5.3-12; Lk 6.20-26)
The beatitudes depict the character and blessedness of true believers, especially in view of their future rewards, which are recorded and securely prepared for them in heaven (Mt 5.12). In harmony with many Old Testament promises, these rewards will be enjoyed during Messiah's reign. While Christ's Kingdom will be on earth, it is termed "the Kingdom of the heavens" because of its heavenly character. Even though the beatitudes will find full expression in tribulation saints, Christian believers (who will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ) should aspire to these excellent qualities. It should be obvious, of course, that such living will not achieve current greatness – the meek and the poor in spirit do not excel in this present age.
The poor in spirit are not arrogant or self-confident. And, although they are not high achievers as far as this world is concerned, they gain heaven's respect (Ps 138.6; Is 66.2) and experience the companionship of "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity" (Is 57.15). Downcast and persecuted, hounded and hated, tribulation saints can be confident that they will enter the millennial Kingdom (Mt 5.3). Mourning, because of their own suffering, as well as the proliferation of iniquity, corruption and lawlessness (cp. Ps 119.136), they will finally be comforted at Messiah's coming (Mt 5.4; Is 40.1; 61.2-3; 66.13).
True meekness is a gentle disposition in the face of severe provocation (Mt 5.5; see Num 12.3). It is not weakness, but rather a manifestation of divine power (Gal 5.23), as was perfectly seen in the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 10.1; Heb 7.26), "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not" (1 Pet 2.23). What will happen to this kind of person during the tribulation? Many will be slain (Rev 7.14). To others, Jehovah will "be unto them as a sanctuary for the little while" (Ezek 11.16, Spurrell), ensuring their safety. Martyred tribulation saints, together with Old Testament believers, will be resurrected to enter the Kingdom with those who have survived the tribulation (Dan 12.13). Together, in accord with Old Testament expectation, they will inherit the earth (Mt 5.5; Ps 37.11).
Witnessing moral degradation everywhere, and seeing the man of sin holding the reins of power, godly believers will "hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Mt 5.6). And their desire will be satisfied with the coming of a righteous king (Jer 23.5-6; 33.15), who will "reign in righteousness" (Is 32.1) from a city which will be characterised by righteousness (Is 62.1-2; Jer 33.16), in a world filled with God's righteousness (Is 45.8; Dan 9.24).
The harsh tribulation conditions will not embitter true believers, who will continue to be merciful (Mt 5.7). And despite the attendant dangers, believing Gentiles will shelter persecuted Jews, showing them mercy in the time of Jacob's trouble. And in the millennial Kingdom, merciful Jews, together with merciful Gentiles, will enjoy the mercy of God (Is 49.7-13; 54.8-10; 60.10; Zech 10.6).
As is true of believers in all dispensations, those who live during the tribulation will be "pure in heart" (Mt 5.8), having been cleansed by the precious blood of Christ (Rev 7.14; 14.1-5). In fulfilment of additional Old Testament predictions, at the glorious appearing of Israel's Messiah, "they shall see God" (Is 33.15-17; 35.2; 40.5).
Surrounded by violence and bloodshed, the tribulation saints will crave peace, do all they can to achieve it in their own small spheres of service, and will eventually see it established on earth at the return of "the Prince of Peace" (Is 9.6). At that time, the nations "shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Is 2.4). Of course, this sincere desire for peace is a reflection of God's own character in those who, having been touched by His grace, have become "the sons of God" (Mt 5.9).
Persecuted because of their righteousness, hated, shunned, and falsely slandered because of their link with Christ, believers will, in effect, have fellowship with Israel's persecuted prophets of the past. Knowing that they will enter the Kingdom and that their reward is presently being prepared for them in heaven, they are to "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad…and leap for joy." At Christ's coming the tables will be turned. Impoverished saints, who have hungered and wept, will enter the Kingdom, be filled and laugh, while their rich persecutors, who lived in plenty and enjoyed pleasure and received the empty praises of men, will hunger, mourn, and weep (Mt 5.10-12; Lk 6.20-26). The principle – that future reward is based on current suffering "for righteousness' sake" – also applies to Christians (2 Tim 2.12; 1 Pet 3.14-17).
Salt and Light (Mt 5.13-16)
True disciples, like salt, add flavour and, in measure, stem the corruption of a society. False disciples, on the other hand, have no function to play in God's service and will eventually be cast into hell, just as salt that has lost its savour is "good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men" (v.13).
While the Jews applied the title "light of the world" to highly esteemed Rabbis, the Lord Jesus called His disciples, many of whom were poor and despised, "the light of the world" (v.14). As "a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid" and like a lamp, which is not covered over with a "meal-tub" (NEB), but lifted high on a lamp stand to lighten a house, Christ's disciples shine brightly for God in a spiritually dark world. Even though some of their good works will be seen of men, their ultimate goal is the glory of their heavenly Father, not men's empty praise.
The Supremacy of Scripture (Mt 5.17-19)
Over the years the traditional interpretation of the Law, as taught by the scribes and the Pharisees, had gained an authority which rivalled that of the Scriptures themselves. Scribes and Pharisees focused on external minutiae at the expense of inner reality and "the weightier matters of the law" (Mt 23.23). And, by adding extra details to the Law of Moses, they often ended up breaking the Law and teaching others to do the same. Although these men were highly regarded in Israel, the Lord Jesus, with the authority of the King, taught that they would not even enter the Kingdom, in which they would be least esteemed (v.19). It is only those whose hearts have been changed by the new birth, and as a result exceed the false eternal righteousness taught by the scribes and the Pharisees, who will enter the Kingdom.
As "The Coming One" – a messianic term¹ – who fully understood that His teaching undermined the widely accepted teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees, the Lord Jesus assured His hearers that He had not "come to destroy the law, or the prophets [the entire Old Testament]…but to fulfil" (v.17). This He did in several ways. At his first coming He fulfilled every Old Testament prediction concerning His suffering, just as His second coming will fulfil every Old Testament prophecy relating to His glory (Acts 3.18-21). Second, appreciating the full intention of the Law of Moses, He unfolded its true meaning, showing that when it forbade external acts (e.g. murder, adultery) it meant men to avoid even the internal hatred and lust from which these sins spring. The Saviour showed that in the area of divorce, the Law of Moses was more lenient than God's ideal. And, while the Law permitted oath taking – something which the scribes and Pharisees distorted – Christ taught that it was better to avoid oaths altogether. The Lord Jesus summed up the essence of the Law with the words, "all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (7.12). Third, in His flawless life the Lord Jesus Christ was the living embodiment of what the Law was meant to produce in men. Fourth, by filling up the divine revelation, the Lord Jesus added to the Old Testament, being God's final word (Heb 1.1-2).
Believing that the Word of God is utterly reliable and more durable than the physical universe, the Saviour stated that "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot [iōta, 'the smallest Hebrew letter'] or one title [keraia, 'a little horn…the small stroke distinguishing one Hebrew letter from another']² shall in no wise pass…till all be fulfilled" (v.18).
To be continued.
¹ Toussaint, S D. Behold the King. A Study of Matthew.
² Vine, W E. Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.