Matthew does not give us strict chronology here. At this point Jesus was well into His Galilean ministry. The twelve disciples had already been chosen. At this point He was likely already at the height of His ministry. From 4:25 we know that on this occasion He had an audience from all parts of Palestine except Samaria! They were large crowds.
Jesus had spent the night in prayer on the mountain, Luke 6. In the morning He came down, sat on the hillside and preached this great sermon to the disciples (at least the twelve, if not more), in the hearing of the multitudes. That's a good lesson in evangelism. Preach to the very best of your ability, not only for Christians but also for the non-Christians who might be present. And, if you study carefully, this will affect your work as a pastor through the whole week. Furthermore, by preaching well a pastor makes evangelists of his hearers. That's what Jesus did.
Jesus obviously sat in an elevated position. Ancient teachers taught in a sitting position. People were attracted to Him because they knew from experience what His teaching was like. There were present at least twelve, if not more converts.
The Greek idiom used here is "after He opened His mouth." The expression is found again in Acts 8:35 and 10:34. These words were used in commencing narrations of great and deliberate affairs. Here the fountain began to pour forth water.
Here begin the beatitudes or macarisms, verses 3-11. We make several observations which pertain to all of them:
Now some comments on verse 3. "Poor" here clearly means poverty of contrition.
Apology: The poverty of the Gospel (Matthew 5:3) does not consist in the abandonment of property, but in the absence of greed and of trust in riches. Thus David was poor in a very rich kingdom.
It is described in Isaiah 66:2.
Lenski: The poverty here referred to is not one against which the will rebels but one under which the will bows in deep submission. . . . It is also an attitude of the soul over against God, the profound realization of utter helplessness and beggary as far as any ability or possession of self are concerned.
Like Paul, in Philippians 3:4-11, who considered his former prerogatives and legal righteousness as dung, manure, repulsive to God. Like David in Psalm 51. Like Daniel 9:4-19. Like the publican in Luke 18:13. Above all else, this poverty is no meritorious deed or attitude. It's an attitude which precedes absolution. They are indeed blessed BECAUSE the Gospel, forgiveness, heaven IS theirs, and none others.
Why do they mourn? Because of sin and its consequences, just consequences, both their own and that of others. Not the mourning of despair and rebellion but the honest recognition of things as they are. Read Isaiah 61:2-3.
Luther: Sorrow is no rare growth among the believers, even if it is not outwardly visible. When they contemplate the world, they see and experience so much that is evil in their daily life, so much wantonness, so much contempt for God and His Word, and so much misery and misfortune wrought by the devil in spiritual as well as in earthly affairs that there is little room for happy thoughts, and their spiritual joy is very weak. But they who thus repent and mourn for that which is of God shall be comforted.
The future tense of the verb indicates promises made in the Old Testament and now to be performed. The greatest of all comfort is the absolution pronounced upon every contrite mourning sinner.
All the commentaries suggest that Psalm 37 be read at this point. This is not the meekness of the worldling, cringing and cowardly. It is like that of Jesus in Matthew 11:29. It is a courageous meekness.
Ylvisaker: The meek remain calm and unruffled when others are easily aroused, they do not seek revenge, but forgive from a loving heart. They have learned of Jesus who was not merely humble but also meek, and who in his submissiveness did not revile when He was reviled, 1 Peter 2:23, Titus 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:25.
They will inherit the earth, Definitely a promise for this life.
Bengel: All the produce of the earth is ordered for the comfort of the meek. In all these sentences, blessedness in heaven and blessedness on earth mutually imply each other. See Psalm 37:3,9,22,29,34.
But this does not exclude the possibility that God sometimes withholds earthly goods from Christians lest they become proud. See Psalm 37:16.
Apology: God exercises his saints in different ways and often puts off the rewards for the righteousness of works. Thus they learn not to trust in their own righteousness, but to seek the will of God rather than the rewards, as is evident in Job, in Christ, and in other saints.
"Righteousness" must be treated with care. The whole Sermon on the Mount in the final analysis, is about this word. Its meaning is known only to the believer. We reject five translations: "to be just and good" LB; "to do what God requires" TEV; "for true goodness" Phillips; "for what is right" JB; "to see right prevail" NEB. The unbelievers do this too. AAT is recommended: "to be righteous", which is in the Biblical sense. The Christians, when he looks at the Law, sees that he is not righteous as God requires. Look at Philippians 2:9. What does he do? He looks to Christ who is his righteousness. Again look at Philippians 2:9.
God promises "filling" or "satisfaction." The word used here is used for the satisfying of the voracious appetite, especially of animals.
Ylvisaker: It is a source of distress to the child of God that his measure of service is so imperfect. Everyone who now really hungers and thirsts after this righteousness of faith and of life 'shall be filled,' here on earth through the putting on of Christ and through the power of God which shall be perfected in our weakness.
This covers both the righteousness of faith, which is imputed, and the righteousness of life. Look at Galatians 2:20.
Verses 7-9 describe the Christians primarily in his attitudes and dealings with other people. TEV reads "who are merciful to others" and NEB "who show mercy." Look at Luke 6:36. They are merciful towards others as God has been merciful to them.
Ylvisaker: Mercy is an act of sympathetic love toward those who are in need of assistance in a temporal or spiritual way. Mercy is the natural outgrowth of clemency received from God. Only he that can say with Paul 'I obtained mercy' (1 Timothy 1;16), may truly dispense mercy to others.
Lenski: God first makes us merciful and then even blesses us for being merciful.
Lenski: Purity in heart must denote a single virtue. A glance into the Old Testament shows us the exact counterpart to this in Psalm 24:4; 73:1; Genesis 20:5-6; and then 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Peter 1:22. 'Pure in heart' is sinceritas, singleness of heart, the honesty which has no hidden motive, no selfish interest, and is true and open in all things.
Ylvisaker: Jesus has in mind the contrast to hypocrisy, lies and deceit. . . . In the Old Testament there is frequent reference to pure hearts, with the emphasis on pure, Psalm 73:1; 32:2; 51:12; 24:3-4.
They shall see God. Even in this life the believers, by faith, experience God, enjoy Him and perceive that He is truly good. But, in eternity we shall behold Him face to face, 1 Corinthians 13:12; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:4.
Most translations have "peacemakers." LB has "who strive for peace", TEV has "word for peace among men", and ATT "who make peace." God has established peace with man in Christ Jesus, Luke 2:14; John 14:27. As a result of this, Christians live peaceably with all people, as they are able, Romans 12:18, without giving up principle.
Lenski: The followers of Christ work for peace in the spirit of their Master.
This is difficult to do even among Christians. On the night when He was betrayed, Luke 22:24, when His disciples were arguing among themselves, He brought peace among them without giving up principle, verses 25-30.
God is the agent in this verse. God will bring it about that they appear and will be recognized by people as God's children. That is a promise for this life, a wonderful promise.
Verses 10 and 11 form a unit. "For the sake of righteousness" is synonymous with "for My sake" in verse 11.
Lenski: They suffered for the divine approval that rested upon them. God adjudged them righteous, the world, in flagrant opposition to God, adjudged them abominable.
Ylvisaker: The Esau-nature of the world will break out, Genesis 4:29.
Fahling: Because they confess Christ the world hates them as it did their Savior and persecutes or at least ridicules their faith.
Look at John 15:18-19. The comfort in this verse is the very same as in verse 3. The cure and comfort for contrition over sin and persecution for Jesus' sake is that heaven is ours now. In Christ, God is mine and I am His.
"Whenever" is the meaning, it may happen again and again. Of this verse compare what happened to Jesus on the cross: Matthew 27:39-44; Mark 15:27-32; Luke 23:35-39. The vocabulary is similar. No wonder He says: "For My sake." What happened to Him can happen to me, but it's done "in a lying fashion" translated "falsely."
Is this limited to the twelve disciples? No. It has happened many times since, and, sadly enough, even at the hand of fellow Christians.
Truly a paradox! "Be rejoicing and exulting!" A remarkable statement mid such adverse circumstances.
Bengel: Joy is not only a feeling, but also a duty of the Christians. See Philippians 4:4. And even in adversity, the highest grade and very nerve of patience. 'Be exceeding glad' so that others also may perceive your joy.
See how the songs of Paul and Silas in prison impressed the jailor, Acts 16:25-32, as well as the other prisoners.
The "great reward in heaven" is not simply the promise of everlasting life. That the Christian has already by faith.
Bengel: The word 'reward' implies something further beyond the beatitudes, which spring from the very disposition of the righteous.
God graciously reward obedience just as parents reward obedience in their children. The child's obedience does not make the child a child of the parents. Just what this "great reward" is we know not now. But we shall know when we arrive there.
The final sentence is introduced by an explanatory "for." It contains an argument from the greater to the lesser. If they persecuted the prophets like this, can I expect anything else? It also contains a comforting thought: if God preserved them in the faith, He can and will preserve me too. See Philippians 1:6.