What Are the Beatitudes (And What Do They Mean)?
The Beatitudes, found at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, are Jesus’ kingdom manifesto. They describe the way His kingdom works and what it means to be one of His followers.
Even though their basic message is relatively simple, the concepts may seem a little backward to you.
Why does Jesus pronounce a blessing on the poor in spirit?
And how could mourning be a good thing?
The Beatitudes stood out to the people of Jesus’ day, too. This is because they show a shocking contrast between worldly values and heavenly behavior.1 While the world encourages people to pursue wealth and power, the Beatitudes encourage selfless love and humility.
In them, we see God’s will for us to adopt the character of Jesus Christ.
Find out more as we explain:
- What the Beatitudes are and why they matter
- The blessings to …
- Practical ways to embrace the Beatitudes in everyday life
Keep reading to get a deeper understanding of these life-changing and hope-giving promises.
What the Beatitudes are (and why they matter)
The Beatitudes are a list of eight blessings that describe what the kingdom of God is all about. It’s fitting that Jesus gave them during one of His first major sermons, His Sermon on the Mount. It’s recorded in the New Testament in Matthew 5:1–12 (a shorter list is also found in Luke 6:20–23).
On its own, the word beatitude means “a state of blessedness” or “a state of supreme happiness.”2
When you go through the eight Beatitudes, you might find this definition a little strange, considering the Beatitudes mention things like mourning and being poor in spirit.
In fact, the whole sermon likely sounded strange to Jesus’ original audience.
Like many people today, people back then were seeking worldly pursuits, honor, and self-glorification.3
And the Jews Jesus spoke to had a particular interest in power. As a people, they had been enslaved or dominated by other nations many times in their history.4 During Jesus’ time, the Romans ruled the Jewish nation, taxing them and mistreating them.5
As they suffered, the Jews clung to the Bible’s promise that the Messiah would come and deliver them. They focused on Scriptures that talked about Him being a powerful king and took this to mean He would defeat the Romans for them.6
What they failed to understand was that the Messiah wasn’t sent to save them from the Romans—but from their sins.
Jesus understood this mindset. He gave the message of the Beatitudes at the beginning of His ministry so people would know right away what it meant to follow Him.
He wasn’t trying to appeal to their earthly desires. He wanted to give them something greater. He wanted to challenge what they’d been taught and show them why seeking a selfless heart is better than having a selfish one:
- Instead of encouraging their pride, He showed them the blessing of meekness.
- Instead of encouraging them to seek revenge, He showed them the blessing of mercy.
- And instead of encouraging them to dominate others, He showed them the blessing of peace.
The truth is, we are happier when we treat others kindly than when we harbor hate and pride in our hearts.
That’s why the Beatitudes are so important—they teach people how to be true followers of Jesus and how having a Christ-like character will ultimately bless them.
Let’s see what Jesus meant by each one.
An in-depth look at each of the Beatitudes
To take a closer look at each of the Beatitudes and what they mean, we’ll divide them based on who they are addressed to:
- The poor in spirit
- Those who mourn
- The meek
- Those who hunger for righteousness
- The merciful
- The pure in heart
- The peacemakers
- The persecuted
Blessed are the poor in spirit
The first Beatitude says:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, NKJV).
Now, some people take this verse to mean that Jesus will bless those who live in poverty during their earthly lives.
But the fact that it mentions the word spirit suggests that Jesus was addressing a specific kind of poverty—namely, spiritual poverty.
What could spiritual poverty be referring to?
One Bible commentary suggests that it refers to people who are acutely aware of their poor spiritual condition.7 In other words, they realize that they are weak and sinful on their own. They’re aware they need Jesus to forgive their sins and empower them to live sin-free lives.
But this doesn’t mean Jesus wants us to dwell on our helplessness.
On the contrary, He wants us to find hope in the fact that He has given His life to save ours. Realizing our need for Jesus is simply the first step in accepting Him and obtaining the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn
The second Beatitude is:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, NKJV).
Like the first Beatitude, this one has two applications.
It can refer to literal mourning and explains the comfort that God gives us in the midst of our sorrow.
However, it can also refer to spiritual mourning.8 This condition ties into the previous Beatitude.
Those that decide to follow Jesus realize how harmful sin is and how much they need Him. They might start to mourn when they think about the ways sin has affected the world.9 They acknowledge it was sin that brought pain and suffering into the world in the first place.
Above all, they acknowledge that sin is what put their loving Savior to death on the cross.
Now when this verse talks about mourning, it doesn’t mean Jesus wants us to be depressed or hate ourselves for the sins we commit.
On the contrary, He wants us to find hope and joy in His promise to free us from our sins once and for all. He longs for us to be comforted. But He also wants us to be honest with ourselves about how terrible sin really is because it harms us and others.
Only then can we live a genuinely happy, victorious life.
Blessed are the meek
The third Beatitude is:
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5, NKJV).
The word meek simply means to be gentle.
While secular culture teaches us to be forceful, powerful, and demanding, Jesus asks us to be gentle, humble, and selfless (Matthew 11:23–30).
Christian author and Adventist pioneer Ellen White writes about this Beatitude in her book Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing. There, she describes the meek as those who are patient, gentle, and above all, self-denying.10
Many people might interpret being meek as a sign of weakness, but in reality, it takes a lot more patience and strength to be meek toward others.
And because the meek refuse to make the pursuit of power and possessions their goal, God promises to give them the new earth as their home. Not by their own efforts, but by daily trusting Him.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
The fourth Beatitude is:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6, NKJV).
This Beatitude tells us that those who desire righteousness won’t be left lacking.
Essentially, righteousness is living out God’s law of love (Psalm 119:172; Romans 13:10). And we do this not to earn salvation or to win favor with God but simply to love others as God has loved them.
Instead of trying to separate the concepts of law and love, the Bible talks about how the two ideas work in tandem. In response to God’s love, we obey His law (1 John 4:16), and the law gives us an outlet for spreading that love to others (Romans 13:10).
The desire for righteousness shows maturity in the life of a Christian, too. It demonstrates how we’re drawing closer to God and slowly departing from our old, sinful lives.
God knows we can’t be righteous on our own (and sometimes, we even have a hard time wanting to do the right thing!). But when we ask Him to help us, He will fulfill our longing (Isaiah 41:17–18)!
Through God’s power, we can pursue righteousness and claim all the blessings that come in its train—joy, purpose, peace, and harmony.
Blessed are the merciful
The fifth Beatitude is:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7, NKJV).
The merciful are people that show forgiveness and kindness even when it isn’t deserved. This means we don’t pursue revenge or try to “get even” when someone hurts us.
Rather, we recognize that God has shown great mercy to us by sending His Son to die in our place and forgiving us of our sins. And we extend that forgiveness to those around us.
In fact, the Bible tells us that we are forgiven as we forgive others (Matthew 6:14).
This passage isn’t encouraging reconciliation with an unsafe person or staying in a harmful relationship.
But by forgiving, we’ll find a burden lifted off of our hearts. We’ll be able to let go of our hate and move forward with the new life Jesus has given us.
Blessed are the pure in heart
The sixth Beatitude is:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8, NKJV).
This passage commends the pure—those who are uncorrupted, honest, and innocent.
All of these qualities begin in the heart and mind—the source of everything we do (Matthew 15:19).
Thus, the first step to seeking purity isn’t putting away bad influences or vices in our lives (although this is certainly part of the process). It’s about asking Jesus to change our hearts so we can better reflect Him.
Through His Word, He guides us to make better, purer choices. And every time we ask Him for forgiveness, He will remove the record of our sins and the power of sin over us—enabling us to live pure lives.
Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2), but with a pure character from Christ, we’ll be able to see Him!
Blessed are the peacemakers
The seventh Beatitude is:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9, NKJV).
This verse explains the value of being a peacemaker, or someone interested in maintaining peace, harmony, and unity. Peacemakers avoid unnecessary conflict and help others get along despite disagreements.
It isn’t necessarily referring to people that stop wars or grand-scale conflicts.
You can be a peacemaker within your family or group of friends.
One major way peacekeepers spread peace is by sharing the ultimate message of hope and mercy—the gospel of peace (Romans 10:15; Ephesians 6:15).
The blessing of the peacemaker is to be called a son (child) of God, which essentially means that peacemakers will be known as followers of Jesus. This is because Jesus Himself, the Son of God, was a peacemaker.
With God’s help, you too can become patient, tactful, and kind—a peacemaker who spreads harmony and unselfish love.
Blessed are those who are persecuted
Here’s the eighth and final Beatitude:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10, NKJV).
God promises a blessing on those who suffer for their belief in Him.
Now, don’t misunderstand—it’s not that God wants us to suffer. And being persecuted isn’t a sign you’re a better Christian.
Persecution is simply the result of following a pure, honest, and selfless God in a corrupt world.
God understands that following Jesus can bring hardship into our lives. Having gone through persecution Himself, Jesus longs to comfort and reward those who suffer in His name.
The persecuted are blessed for the stand they take for righteousness while they’re alive on earth. More specifically, as the following verse explains, they are blessed for standing up for their faith in Jesus:
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12, NKJV).
And this persecution isn’t limited to life-threatening situations, either.
Sometimes we can experience persecution in everyday life: A time when others make you feel uncomfortable to share your faith. Or a time when people at work, home, or school directly challenge your religious liberty.
Even in low-stakes situations, it can be difficult to stand up for our faith. We might fear sticking out or being ridiculed by others.
But God calls us to be true to our faith—even when it’s hard.
And He gives us the assurance that Jesus will soon bring us to heaven where we will never be persecuted again.
Practical ways to embrace the Beatitudes in everyday life
Jesus didn’t just leave us the Beatitudes for encouragement; He left them to help us understand what it means to follow Him. In living out the Beatitudes now, we’re preparing ourselves to live in His heavenly kingdom.
The Beatitudes invite us to:
- Realize our need for God
- Participate in genuine repentance
- Adopt a meek character
- Pursue righteousness
- Have mercy on others
- Avoid corruption, seeking what is good, pure, and true
- Be peaceful and help others find harmony and unity amid conflict
- Stand up for our beliefs in the face of persecution
Overall, the message that Jesus wants us to come away with is that in order to be prepared for our lives in heaven, we must adopt the characteristics of heavenly citizens while we’re here on earth.
Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us to strive after these characteristics on our own.
He gives us several tools to help us better pursue the Beatitudes:
Here are some other ideas for growing into this identity:
- Think about ways to incorporate the Beatitudes into your life. (For example, if you struggle with meekness, ask God to give you ways to develop it by serving others.)
- Pray for God to show you sinful behavior and motivations in your life and lean on Him to change your heart. Remember that you can only be changed through His power.
- Find an accountability partner who you can practice the Beatitudes with.
- Recognize that adopting the Beatitudes is a lifelong process.
- Thank God for His great blessings.
In the end, adopting the Beatitudes in everyday life is all about allowing God to renew our minds with His truth (Romans 12:1–2).
It can be difficult, especially given the fact that it goes against our selfish instincts as well as what society teaches us. The Beatitudes challenge us to think about what we can do for others rather than just thinking about ourselves.
But despite the difficulty, this way of thinking will ultimately lead to a better life. The Beatitudes are blessings that lead to receiving:
- The kingdom of heaven
- Inheritance of the earth
- A righteous heart and mind
- The honor of seeing God
- The title of children of God
Overall, these blessings reassure us that even if we’re suffering, or struggling to live a Christ-like life, God will help us overcome. And while not all the blessings of the Beatitudes are immediate, they do remind us that our struggle against sin isn’t for nothing.
God guarantees that we can someday experience the “supreme happiness” of the Beatitudes in Jesus’ kingdom untainted by sin (Revelation 21:4).
Interested in learning more about this kingdom through the teachings of Jesus?
- Stefanovic, Ranko, “The Meaning and Message of the Beatitudes,” Perspective Digest. [↵]
- “Beatitude,” https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/beatitude. [↵]
- White, Ellen G., Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (Pacific Press Publishing Association), p. 6. [↵]
- Schochet, Dovie, “Discover the Four Exiles of the Jewish People,” Chabad.org. [↵]
- Ibid. [↵]
- “The Identity of Jesus,” BBC. [↵]
- “The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1–12),” The Theology of Work Bible Commentary. [↵]
- Ibid. [↵]
- Ibid. [↵]
- White, Ellen G., Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (Pacific Press Publishing Association), pp.13–17 [↵]
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