What Do the 8 Beatitudes in the Bible Mean?
“Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
Soon after Jesus began His ministry, He gathered His disciples for in-depth teaching about what it means to be a Christian. We know this teaching as the Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 5:3–11, Jesus begins His teaching with a series of eight blessings known as the Beatitudes. Each one has special significance explaining how a believer can experience pure, divinely given joy or heavenly blessedness.
The Beatitudes illustrate how the ways of the world are at complete odds with God. Though the world says we find happiness when we have the newest, biggest, shiniest, most advanced fill-in-the-blank thing on the market, Jesus says we find it when we demonstrate the true characteristics of Christian faith.
The Blessings and Promises of the Beatitudes
It’s important to note a few things about the Beatitudes.
First, each one begins with, “Blessed are.” The word blessed means “happy, fortunate, blissful,” which means each Beatitude translates roughly as “happy are those who are.” Each Beatitude begins with a blessing and ends with a reason for that blessing.
It’s also interesting to note Jesus presents the Beatitudes all in the future tense except for the first and last ones. “For they shall be…” implies something yet to come while the first and last Beatitudes (“For theirs is the kingdom of heaven”) are in the present tense. The kingdom is here, but it is yet to be found by those who haven’t experienced salvation.
By bookending the Beatitudes this way, Jesus is emphasizing that each one is a characteristic of the coming kingdom where Jesus will reign, and His name will be exalted.
In Part One, let’s look at the first four Beatitudes in order.
The Building Blocks of the Beatitudes
The first three Beatitudes are the building blocks of Christian faith. Jesus addresses the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and those who are meek. The fourth Beatitude shows what comes next for a Christian after they experience Beatitudes 1–3.
Beatitude #1 — Poor in Spirit
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (v3)
To be poor in spirit means to realize we are spiritually bankrupt and lost without God. We understand our need for Him because we can’t navigate life on our own. This realization leads us to salvation and the promise of eternal life, which is why Jesus says those who understand this foundational truth will inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Some Bible teachers say this Beatitude means we are to be humble and realize all our blessings come from God. If we are humble, then we are open to repentance and more willing to respond to the Holy Spirit. This teaching is true, but that’s not what Jesus was trying to say here.
Humility before God is important, but it’s more important you realize your need for Him and understand that heaven is a gracious gift through salvation.
Beatitude #2 — Mourning Sin
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (v4)
This Beatitude isn’t about comforting those who feel sad. Yes, Jesus does that, but here He’s talking about those who mourn over their sin and the sins of the world. When we mourn sin, we seek repentance, salvation, and life without regret.
The comforting occurs when we repent and receive God’s grace. He removes our burden of sin, and we are comforted and free in Christ. God promises that He is the God of all comfort in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort [El Nehkumah], who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (my addition)
Beatitude #3 — The Meek
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (v5)
In the Greek language, one word for meek is praus (prah-ooce), which can also mean “humble” or “gentle.” This translation is the one most commonly used. However, another word for meek is prautes (prah-oo-tace), and it has a slightly different and deeper meaning.
Prautes has little to do with someone’s outward behaviors or relationships. Rather, it has deep-seated grace where you center your actions around God.
With prautes, we always accept God’s actions toward us as something good. We also accept that even when people (even evil people) misbehave, the injuries they cause are permitted by God to discipline and refine His children.
Meekness is Not Weakness
In today’s culture, meekness often is interpreted as a weakness. But since its true meaning has more to do with both the body and mind, we understand that it is more correctly a source of power.
Jesus is a perfect example. He was meek, but He wasn’t weak. As He hung on the cross, He had all the power of heaven at His disposal, but He never used it. So, we cannot interpret meekness as lacking assertiveness or self-interest simply because the original meaning has nothing to do with the self at all.
If being meek then means total acceptance of God’s decisions believing everything He does is for our good, and if it is a source of power in producing good fruit in our hearts, then we can better understand Jesus’ promise in this verse — we will inherit the earth.
To understand “inherit the earth” better, we go back to Psalm 37 from which Jesus was quoting this Beatitude.
“For evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more. Indeed, you will look carefully for his place, but it shall be no more. But the meek shall inherit the earth and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” Psalm 37:9–11
To inherit the earth then means to delight in “the abundance of peace” that will only come from God and the establishment of His eternal kingdom one day both in heaven and on the earth.
Beatitude #4- Hunger and Thirst
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (v6)
In this Scripture, Jesus is directly referring to the Pharisees. He’s pointing out the importance of seeking God’s righteousness (His justice) and not our own, as the Pharisees tended to do. We should desire His justice, above all else.
The apostle Paul wrote in both Romans and Philippians about seeking God’s righteousness.
“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Romans 10:3–4
Paul is mainly referring to the Jewish people who became either ignorant of God’s law or conformed only to the parts they liked. But Paul is saying the Jews and all people should understand that righteousness comes from God alone by faith and not by anything we can say or do. We can’t earn His righteousness.
Paul repeats this teaching in Philippians 3:8–9.
“…That I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”
To have faith in Christ is to have continuous dependence and trust in Jesus knowing it is only through Him we can enter the kingdom of heaven, which requires the righteousness He gave us through His work on the cross.
Jesus finishes this Beatitude with another promise that anyone who seeks the Lord’s righteousness will be filled. Jesus is saying our hunger and thirst for a right relationship with Him will finally be satisfied when we seek Him.
Recognizing sin in our lives and mourning it ought to lead us to salvation and a life of humility as we seek God’s righteousness every day. If we can do that, we are ready to apply the next four Beatitudes to our daily living and take the next step of building up our Christian character.
We’ll explore those Beatitudes in Part Two. I hope to see you here next time.