Jan 24, 2014
After choosing His twelve disciples, Jesus set forth His foundational teachings to them and to the rest of His disciples. Luke 6:17-19 says,
17 Jesus came down with them, and stood on a level [pedinos] place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear Him, and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured. 19 And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all.
This was the setting for the Sermon on the Mount. Luke says that it took place “on a level place,” after descending from the mountain. Matthew appears to contradict this, saying in Matthew 5:1, 2,
1 And when He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain [oros]; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying…
Because of the different wording, it is sometimes said that Matthew gives the Sermon on the Mount, while Luke gives the Sermon on the Plain.
How could Jesus be on a mountain and yet stand on a level place? First, there are level places even on mountains. Secondly, the word oros is often translated “hill.” The word does not necessarily imply a high mountain, but can indicate any rise in elevation. It is likely, then, that He stood on the highest point of the plain, which would act as a platform so that the people in the back could see Him. Or, if He did indeed go to a mountain, He did not go to its peak, but simply stood on level area toward the base of the mountain just high enough to see the crowd clearly.
Mark’s account seems to imply that Jesus was (or had been) in a house in Capernaum (Mark 9:33). In Mark 9:39-50 we are given a shortened version of the same teachings that He gave in the Sermon on the Mount. However, this may have been on a different occasion and in a different sermon. We would expect Jesus to repeat many of His teachings wherever He went, since the crowds always included different or new people.
The main thing is that it is highly unlikely that Jesus gave this “Sermon” on the Mount of Olives, as is often assumed. He had just chosen twelve men out of the crowd of His disciples. Four of these were fishermen living in Bethsaida on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called them. (Bethsaida is an Aramaic name that means “house of fish,” an appropriate place to begin teaching them to become “fishers of men.”) This was far from the Mount of Olives, which was located on the east side of Jerusalem.
If Mark 9:33 is relevant at all in determining the location of this “Sermon,” then it may have been preached on a hill or mountain near Capernaum, where He had spent most of His time ministering. This area was where most of His disciples lived, and the fact that He was speaking to a large crowd this early in His ministry would indicate that this teaching was given near Capernaum, rather than near Jerusalem.
As for the structure of the Beatitudes, Luke records them differently from Matthew’s account. While Matthew uses no particular structure, Luke puts the Beatitudes into a parallelism with four “Blesseds” followed by four opposite “Woes.” Separating the positives from the negatives is Luke 6:23 in the center of the parallelism, showing this to be the main focus of the message. The Beatitudes and Woes can be outlined as follows:
A1. Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
B1. Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you shall be satisfied.
C1.Blessed are you who weep now,
for you shall laugh.
D1.Blessed are you when men hate you and ostracize you, and cast insults at you and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.
Climax: Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.
A2. Woe to you who are rich,
for you are receiving your comfort in full.
B2. Woe to you who are well-fed now,
for you shall be hungry.
C2. Woe to you who laugh now;
for you shall mourn and weep.
D2. Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.
We can see the contrast as follows:
The poor vs. the rich
The hungry vs. the well-fed
The weepers vs. the laughers
The mistreated vs. the well-treated
The first thing we must establish is the meaning of “blessed.” It comes from the Greek word makarios. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), makarios is the first word of Psalm 1:1, which the NASB translates,
1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.
The Hebrew word asher (asir) was translated makarios, and so the Greek word should be understood as the nearest Greek equivalent to asher. It does not picture a man speaking blessings over a crowd of disciples, nor was David pronouncing a blessing upon the righteous. David was recognizing their blessed condition, as did Jesus. When Jesus blessed the food in Matthew 14:19, He used the term eulogio, as in a “eulogy.” But in the Sermon the Mount, Jesus was not blessing the people, but instead was telling them how blessed they were already—i.e., that they walk in a state of blessedness. More literally, asher is a condition of moving straight forward, prosperous, and happy.
It is not a future blessing, but a present spiritual joy and satisfaction that comes only from being at peace with God and in union with Him through a New Covenant relationship. It is probably the foundation of Paul’s concept of being “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In classical Greek, it is the word used to describe the blessedness of the gods.
Psalm 1 describes such a blessed man. He is one whose delight is in the law of the Lord. In Luke 6:20, a blessed man is one who is “poor,” because he is part of the Kingdom of God and can enjoy its blessings.
Some have translated it as “happy,” but this does not do the word justice. It is far more than a state of happiness, though obviously to be blessed is to be truly happy, even in the midst of hardship or pain. In my view, “joy” is a more accurate description than “happy.”
Luke 6:20 says,
20 And turning His gaze on His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
The blessed ones were “His disciples,” who were blessed on account of their faith that He was truly sent by God and spoke by revelation from God. While most of the people in Judea would have claimed to have faith in the true God, not all of them were so blessed, because “faith comes from hearing” (Romans 10:17), and not all of them had ears to hear. Those who stood before Him were called disciples because they followed Him and put His teachings into practice.
Why, then, are the “poor” so blessed? Must one be in poverty to enjoy such blessings? No, that misses the point. In Hebrew thought, “poor” was much more than an economic condition. It referred to the lower class that had no political power and also meant “the humble or the afflicted.” It should be understood also by its contrast, for the rich in those days were usually examples of pride and oppression.
Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” showing that the “poverty” was not about money. No doubt Jesus had in mind Isaiah 66:2, “But to this one I will look: to him who is humble [aniy, “poor”] and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” Even the word “tremble,” as used here, was not literal, but speaks of one who took the word of God very seriously. Kenneth Bailey comments on this, saying,
“On rare occasions the word “poor” in Isaiah does refer to people who do not have enough to eat (Is. 58:7). But in the majority of cases, it describes the humble and pious who know that they need God’s grace and ‘tremble’ at His word” (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 69).
Jesus said that these humble ones who seek God already possess the Kingdom of God. What did He mean?
The majority of the people in that day had been taught that the Kingdom of God was a Jewish kingdom, ruled by God through the Messiah. Being in captivity to Rome, they longed for a great general to rise up, full of the power of God, which He would use to overthrow the Roman armies, even calling down fire from heaven to destroy their enemies. This messiah, they believed, would reverse the captivity and put all other nations into slavery to the Jews, even as the Jews had been enslaved by other nations. Their view was nationalistic and controlled by self-interest. Few thought in terms of receiving divine power in order to bring creation into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:21). Few understood the law of Jubilee or its prophetic implications.
However, Jesus told them that even while they were currently oppressed and enslaved by Rome, they were already living in that blessed state, and the Kingdom of God was theirs. The implication of this was to say that they did not need a messiah to overthrow the Romans before they could live in that blessed state. The state of blessedness was independent of the political situation, their economic or social condition, or any external factor that controlled their lives.
Though God had brought judgment upon Judah, removing from them the Dominion Mandate and enslaving them to beast empires, the Kingdom of God on this level had never been taken away. Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and many others had enjoyed the Kingdom of God even after Judah and Jerusalem had been destroyed. So also could Jesus’ disciples enjoy the Kingdom as its citizens, even apart from independent nation.
The Kingdom of God was the primary message that Jesus preached. When we read through the rest of the gospel accounts, we find that Jesus spoke of the present Kingdom as well as a future Kingdom. The Beatitudes focus upon the present Kingdom, by which the people already might live in that blessed state. Likewise, Jesus said in Luke 11:20,
20 But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
The King was present among the citizens of the Kingdom. The people could also live by the laws of the Kingdom, written in Scripture. The only thing that was lacking to be a complete kingdom was territory.
In other words, the “Kingdom” is synonymous with the blessings that it bestows upon its citizens. Men may enjoy its blessings today, without having to wait for the end of history when all things have been put under His feet. With the appearance of the King, the Kingdom had been inaugurated. Yet Jesus also spoke of the Kingdom as something that was yet to come. In The Lord’s Prayer, we read in Luke 11:2, “Thy kingdom come.”
We also know from Daniel 2:35 that the “stone” grows until it fills the whole earth. That growth period takes time. It grows not only by converting more people as citizens, but also gains territory until His glory covers the earth. His Kingdom includes all that He created in Genesis 1:1. Both heaven and earth is His Kingdom, for He owns all that He created. God created more than just people.
Therefore, in the end, the Kingdom of God will include the earth as a territory. And when “the times of the Gentiles” comes to a close, wherein the beast nations have ruled by the Dominion Mandate since the rise of Babylon, the political structure too will change. Jesus Christ will be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, taking the throne that has been rightfully His since the beginning of time.
This is part 1 of a mini-series titled "The Beatitudes." To view all parts, click the link below.
This is part 24 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones