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The Blessing of Sharing Jesus’ Righteousness

In Matthew 5:6 Jesus adds another blessing of his kingdom: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” The kingdoms of earth consider themselves blessed when they prosper, for example, enjoying plenty of (the “best”) food and drink. In fact, the kingdom of Israel had a special covenant from God that promised prosperity in their promised land if they faithfully kept the covenant laws God gave them (through Moses).

Thus, many prospering religious people thank their God for the many blessings God has given them. This includes Christians who especially live in richer nations, saying mealtime prayers thanking God for all the blessings they have received. But Jesus pointed to different blessings for his kingdom.

It is the poor in the Spirit who are blessed with the kingly power of God (Matthew 5:3). It is those who mourn the plight of the poor in the kingdoms of earth that will be blessed with comfort now and, in the end, from becoming part of Jesus’ new kingdom (Mt. 5:4). And it is the patient gentle followers of Jesus who will in the end inherit the whole earth from their heavenly Father (Mt. 5:5). These are now the truly blessed by God; these are now part of Jesus’ new kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of Israel has run its (mostly unfaithful) course and will be overthrown by Rome, losing its promised land and the prosperity promised in that land. Jesus has come to this final generation of Israel to warn them of God’s imminent judgment and to announce God’s new kingdom, and covenant, and blessings.

In this new kingdom of followers of Jesus, they must not be hungering and thirsting for the “better” food or drink that is part of becoming successful and prosperous. For Jesus’ lowly, humble life was one of remaining content with his poverty, since that was part of his Spirit-led mission of being a servant king. At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended on him from heaven and God spoke words from heaven affirming that Jesus was God’s beloved son, alluding to Psalm 2 (where God’s anointed king faces rejection from all the kings of the earth, but will prevail over them). But God also adds the words “with whom I am well pleased,” alluding to Isaiah 42:1 and God’s faithful suffering servant. This combination of a lowly servant with the powerful king was unprecedented, difficult for people to imagine (including his disciples until after his death and resurrection).

Right after his baptism, Jesus is led by the Spirit not into Jerusalem to take over as the new powerful king, but into the desert to be tempted, and tested, by the great evil spirit Satan. His first test was Satan wanting him to focus on God’s words about Jesus being the Son of God (the new powerful king). The kings of the earth do not hunger and thirst in the desert; they are not lowly, humble servants of God or the poor. If Jesus is the son of God, as God has said, he should satisfy his hunger by turning the stones of the wilderness into plentiful bread. But Jesus remembers his mission is to include suffering the poverty of a servant, a servant of God, who through the power of the Spirit refuses the high life of other kings and submits to his Father, pleasing God. Jesus is remembering every word from the mouth of God.

Jesus will remain focused on God’s words to him, seeking the new righteousness for those “in the Spirit.” This will be a blessing for him and for all who join him in seeking first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness. They will all be blessed with this righteousness.

The Gentle Kingdom

Another blessing (beatitude) for Jesus’ new kingdom of poor, persecuted followers is that those who remain patiently gentle will inherit the earth in the end (Matthew 5:5). Many translations use the word “meek,” but the Greek word is better translated as gentle.

While mourning is appropriate for their lowly status and treatment by others, angry thoughts, words, or acts of revenge or violence must be replaced by patient gentleness. Even if there is pressure from their kings (rulers)–and the majority in their kingdom of earth–to hate, slander, and fight against rival kings and kingdoms, disciples of Jesus should remain true to their king from heaven. Instead of “God and country,” Jesus says the kingdom of heaven or the kingdoms of earth; it’s either/or, not both/and.

When Jesus faces the anger and plots against him by the Jewish rulers, he does not ask his followers to fight back (although many of them were wanting to do that, since they imagined this new king would become the new ruler over Israel). Jesus remains patiently gentle–even with the earthly imaginations of his followers. After the soldiers and police of the Jewish rulers come to arrest him, he shows gentleness in how he treats one of his twelve disciples, the one who betrayed him by taking money from the Jewish rulers. And, besides Judas, Jesus also shows patience toward Peter, after he grabs his sword and cuts off the ear of one of the high priest’s slaves (see Matthew 26:51 and John 18:10).

At this time, Jesus’ followers still lack understanding; they continue to see Jesus’ new kingdom as simply a renewed kingdom of Israel with Jesus as king. Only after Jesus has died and risen, and gives them his Spirit from heaven, do they see the truth and become empowered to become humble servants of the servant king Jesus, remaining patiently gentle as they face the rejection of those same Jewish rulers that killed Jesus (see the book of Acts). And they now obey Jesus’ words to announce this new kingdom among all the kingdoms of earth.

They will be blessed for their patient gentleness when their new Father (from heaven) gives them the earth in the end. At that time, these gentle peacemakers will be called children of God (see Matthew 5:9); as their new Father’s children they will inherit the whole earth. Those from all over the world who become followers of Jesus, enlightened and empowered by the Spirit, mourn now since most around them reject this new servant king and kingdom. But in the end, all those who reject the new king and kingdom, will not inherit the earth, for they have not been God’s children.

The kingdom of heaven will thus include both a new heaven and new earth, with no evil spiritual powers in heaven and no evil human powers on earth. And this new heaven and new earth will continue forever.

The Mourning of the New Kingdom

One of the blessings of Jesus’ new kingdom is the future hope of his followers (Matthew 5:4). For the present mourning on earth of his disciples will be comforted in the future.

This mourning refers to the unique trials of the servant king, Jesus, and his servant kingdom of followers. Just as the poverty of Matthew 5:3 is being “poor in the Spirit,” so the mourning of 5:4 is especially about the lowly servant life of Jesus and his disciples. This kingdom of those in the Spirit will be led to a more humble lifestyle that includes different levels of poverty; and it will include various levels of rejection from others around them.

The last “beatitudes” in Mt. 5 are about disciples who are persecuted for the righteousness of the servant life of Jesus and his followers (Mt. 5:10-12). Such servant righteousness includes being reviled and persecuted and slandered because of living out the righteousness of Jesus. While this causes mourning on earth, they can at the same time rejoice due to their future in heaven; this future will be their great reward for having suffered the rejection of others on earth.

Jesus compares his kingdom of followers with the prophets of the kingdom of Israel (5:12). So part of Jesus’ servant righteousness includes prophetic words that call the unrighteous kingdom of Israel, especially their leaders, as well as the other unrighteous kingdoms of the world, to repent–that is, to turn to God and his new king. And because most of those in the kingdoms of earth will reject this new king and kingdom–and even persecute it with angry words and violent actions–Jesus and his new kingdom will mourn. Yet they are also blessed, for they will be comforted with a great future in heaven.

The Kingdom and the Spirit

Jesus’ new kingdom of heaven focuses on the kingly power from heaven, beginning at his baptism. There the Holy Spirit “like a dove” descends on Jesus from heaven, and the heavenly Father affirms Jesus as “the beloved son with whom he is pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). The Spirit and the Father are the kingly powers from heaven that now are at work in Jesus, empowering him to be the new servant king on earth of a new servant kingdom of people–people in whom the presence and power of the Father and Spirit will work in new, special ways.

John the Baptist contrasted his baptism with water and a more powerful one to come after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mt. 3:11). After his baptism, the newly anointed king is led by the Spirit. But rather than the Spirit empowering him to go boldly to Jerusalem as the all-conquering king, the Spirit empowers him to go further into the desolate wilderness as the servant king who pleases the Spirit and the heavenly Father (Mt. 4:1). Even when Satan, the great unholy spirit, says he should be feasting and ruling in Jerusalem, or even ruling the whole world, Jesus continues to listen to the Holy Spirit and remembers the words of his Father.

After hungering in the wilderness for forty days, Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested, so Jesus then returns to his home province of Galilee, but not to his former home town of Nazareth. Instead, he goes to the city of Capernaum, where he begins to announce the presence of the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 4:12-17). And he calls four fishermen, who had been disciples of John (see the Gospel of John 1:32-42)–and were present at Jesus’ baptism–to now follow him (Mt. 4:18-22). So they leave their good livelihood and fathers and family to follow him.

Jesus focuses his teaching on his disciples, for they will be his new kingdom. In Mt. 5:3, Jesus tells them that even though they have left “good” lives, “blessed” with families and a good fishing business, that the true blessing of the presence of the kingdom of heaven–the presence and power of the heavenly Father and Holy Spirit–is found in the “poor in the Spirit.”

Most bible translations translate Jesus’ words here as the “poor in spirit.” So most interpret this as being humble and lowly in spirit. But the Greek text includes the Greek word “the” before Spirit; so translating this phrase in a more literal way, it would be the “poor in the Spirit.”

The context before Mt. 5:3 has already introduced “the Holy Spirit” as part of the kingly power of heaven, as noted above. And it has shown that Jesus has led the way in how this power from heaven will now be working, and so is truly “blessed” despite being literally poor. Likewise in the future, as John the Baptist had emphasized, Jesus would baptize his people with the Holy Spirit. So these first disciples, who had left the “blessings” of family and fruitful work to follow Jesus, would receive the true special blessing from God: the Holy Spirit. Then they would also–like Jesus–be the poor in the Spirit. With Jesus as their servant king, they will become the forefront of Jesus’ servant kingdom. They also will have the presence and power of the kingly power from heaven. Thus, blessed are the poor in the Spirit, for theirs is the kingly power of heaven.

The special sacrifices that the poor Jesus and his first disciples make, empowered by the Spirit, will lead others to make sacrifices, some more “special” than others. But to various degrees, all true disciples will be “the poor in the Spirit.” Jesus will warn all in his kingdom not to be seeking treasures on earth as well as being courageous in listening and doing what their heavenly Father wants more than their earthly fathers or families. The turning away from treasuring what the unholy spirit wants and choosing a more lowly servant path, will result in conflicts, especially with the most domineering fathers of the families and kingdoms of earth. Yet the blessing of having the Spirit, the presence of this kingly power from heaven, and the Spirit’s empowerment of Jesus’ special servant kingdom, will be an eternal blessing.

Jesus rejects the kings of earth and remains the king from heaven

Satan has questioned Jesus’ presence in the desolate wilderness, hungering and thirsting. If he is truly the son (king) of God–as God announced to him at his baptism–he should be in Jerusalem feasting with the powers that be (Matthew 4:4). Jesus replies that he accepts God’s word; what comes from the mouth of God is much more important than what goes into his own mouth. For his kingly power is from heaven–from his heavenly Father and from the Holy Spirit (Mt. 3:16-17). The powerful kings of earth are empowered by a different spirit, the unholy spirit known as Satan.

Satan tries again to get Jesus to prefer the kingship of earth, now focusing on Jerusalem, the center of power for the kingdom of Israel (Mt. 4:5-6). He tells Jesus that if he is truly the son (king) of God, he should be doing a great sign by jumping off the temple, knowing God and his angels would come to the rescue. This would impress the highest powers there and lead the way to his kingship over Israel. Jesus replies that this would again be testing God’s word that he is the beloved son (king) from heaven; he would only be serving himself by doing such a miracle in Jerusalem.

So Satan decides that if Jerusalem is not a big enough prize to sway Jesus, he will offer all the kingdoms of the earth. He takes Jesus to a very high mountain where he can see all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Satan says he can give all these to Jesus if he will just submit to Satan and serve him (4:8-9).

The highest mountain by far in that part of the world is Mt. Hermon, about forty miles from Galilee, towering above the Gentile city of Caesarea Philippi. On this mountain one could see the great Gentile cities of Damascus, Tyre, and Sidon. Impressive ships of the great kingdoms of the world (Rome, Greece, and Egypt) stopped at the harbors of Tyre and Sidon along the Mediterranean coast. One could also see major trade routes on land that went through Damascus and near Mt. Hermon, routes that connected kingdoms like Babylonia, Arabia, and Egypt. All of this showed the glory (wealth, prosperity) of the great kingdoms of earth.

But rather than become the imperial king of a world empire (like Rome), Jesus remains true to the voice from heaven (in 3:17); he will be a servant king who pleases God, not himself. Kings of the earth gain and maintain power and glory by cooperating with Satan and his means to power. Like the ruling serpent, they deceive, seduce, and dominate in order to magnify themselves and their kingdoms–by whatever means necessary.

Heaven’s new king commands Satan to leave; the devil obeys the royal son of God and leaves (4:10-11).

The Servant King

At Jesus’ baptism, in Matthew 3:16-17, the Spirit descends on him like a dove and a voice from heaven (God) announces, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am pleased.” These words are similar to Psalm 2; there, the kings of the earth are against the Lord and his anointed one (king), but the Lord from heaven decrees to his new anointed king: “you are my son; today I have begotten you” (2:2-7).

Other words at his baptism are similar to Isaiah 42:1; there the servant of God is the one with whom God is pleased. Later in Matthew (12:17-21), Jesus says he fulfills Isaiah’s words: he is the heavenly anointed king, the beloved son, who will rule by serving and pleasing his heavenly Father.

If Jesus was simply the newest, greatest king he would have gone straight to Jerusalem in the power of the Spirit and taken over his rightful throne on earth. Instead, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness (away from Jerusalem) to be tested by the devil, the most powerful evil spirit (Matthew 4:1).

Rather than feasting in Jerusalem as the new king, Jesus fasts forty days and nights; he is famished. In this weakened state, the devil sees an opportunity to test him, by raising questions about what God has said. God has said that Jesus is the beloved son (king). So Satan subtly suggests that if Jesus is now the (royal) son of God (as God claims), he should not be suffering such hunger (4:3). Real rulers are feasting; the lords of the earth live in luxury and surrounded by servants.

Jesus responds by quoting from Deuteronomy. In Deut. 8:2 God said he humbled Israel for forty years in the wilderness by letting them hunger, testing them to see if they would obey God’s commands. God knew they would prefer the former rich food they enjoyed in Egypt; but God wanted to teach them that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut 8:3, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 4:4).

Even though he is the new king, he will be different from all the kings of the earth. He is listening to his Father in heaven and will be a servant on earth, a servant who hungers and suffers as part of his royal mission from God. The greatest king will also be the humblest servant,

The New King from Heaven and his New Kingdom

In the early chapters of Matthew’s Gospel he begins his contrast between the kingdoms of earth and the kingdom of heaven. The genealogy of 1:2-16 climaxes in the birth of Jesus, who is called Christ (the promised anointed king). The summary of the genealogy in 1:17 also emphasizes a former great king, David. The kingdom of Israel ruled by David and the thirteen other fathers listed after him (1:6-11), however, ends up in exile in Babylon. The exile was God’s judgment against the kingdom of Israel.

When the Christ is born, it is not an earthly father who begets the new king, unlike the earlier fathers and sons of the kingdom of Israel in Matthew’s genealogy. The Christ is begotten by the heavenly Spirit (1:18-20). Even the infant Christ is a threat to the ruling fathers in Jerusalem: namely, king Herod, the chief priests, and the scribes (rabbis). Even all Jerusalem is upset when they hear the wise men speak of a newly born king (2:1-4; it is the rulers of the kingdom of Israel versus heaven’s king.

Some thirty years later, John the Baptist announces the impending arrival of the kingdom of heaven (3:2), and its king (3:11-12). John contrasts this coming king and kingdom with the kingdom of Israel led by Pharisees (especially their rabbis) and Sadducees (the chief priests) (3:7-10).

After John baptizes him, Jesus is anointed (as king) by the dove (Spirit) from heaven, and announced (as son) by the voice (of his Father) from heaven (3:16-17). The Greek phrase for “kingdom of heaven” can also be translated as the “kingdom from heaven.) The kingdom of heaven begins when the new king who was begotten by the heavenly Spirit is anointed by this Spirit and announced by his heavenly Father. The “kingly power from heaven” is yet another way to translate “kingdom of heaven.”

John contrasts his baptism of water with the baptism of the Spirit by the coming king–who is mightier than John (3:11). The powerful new king, with kingly power from heaven, will begin the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven in Matthew

The kingdom of heaven is a special phrase found only in the Gospel of Matthew, and it is found often: 32 times. The other three Gospels have the more common phrase, the kingdom of God. This kingdom is the focus of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But why does Matthew emphasize the kingdom of heaven?

Did Matthew simply have a Jewish hesitancy (in the first century) to write the name of God and thus substitute the word heaven? Probably not, because Matthew uses the name of God over 50 times and uses the phrase kingdom of God 4 times.

Maybe there is a contrast between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God, involving two different periods of history or two different locations. Definitely not, for Matthew uses its special phrase in the same teachings of Jesus where Mark and Luke have the kingdom of God (for example, compare Mt. 13:10-13; Mk. 4:10-12; and Lk. 8:9-10).

I think Matthew does use its special phrase as a contrast, but the contrast is between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of earth. In Matthew’s story, the plot is full of conflict between Jesus and Jewish leaders. Jesus’ new kingdom of heaven is clearly different from all the kingdoms of earth, including the kingdom of Israel.

How often are you listening to Jesus?

In Mark 4:21 Jesus asks if the lamp is coming to be put under a bushel basket instead of on the lampstand. Translating this verse as “the” lamp (the Greek article “the” comes before lamp) that “is coming” (literal translation of the Greek word) point to Jesus himself (as “the” lamp) who is coming to give light. But he warns that some prefer to keep his light restricted (under a measuring container, a bushel basket). They only want a certain limited amount of Jesus’ light.

In 4:23-24 Jesus says the one who has ears to hear, let that one hear. He adds that people need to pay attention to what they hear. Then he mentions measures again, saying that the measure you measure will be measured to you; and even more will be given to you. But if you want a smaller measure (of light), even the little you have will be taken away from you (4:25).

The larger context of this passage is about Jesus teaching the crowds in parables; these crowds are attracted to Jesus because of the miracles he is doing. But only his closer disciples, who remain with him and are focused also on his teaching, receive Jesus’ explanation of the meaning of the parables. The crowds have a lesser agenda for Jesus–watching him heal and also cast out demons from many. They do not have much of an ear for Jesus’ teaching. So when they hear Jesus’ parables, they need Jesus to explain what it means. But they don’t bother, so even the little light they have is taken away; they are clueless.

Christians who focus on what Jesus is (supposedly) doing in their lives, and on what Jesus did in the Gospels, need ears to hear what Jesus is saying to them. But little time is spent listening to Jesus, reading what Jesus taught in the Gospels, wanting a full measure of the light Jesus gives, keeping this light under a smaller (bushel) measure, content with remembering a few things we like about what Jesus said. But that means missing the main things Jesus said. So even the light you have will be lost because the main focus of Jesus has been ignored.

The Lord’s Supper and Jesus’ New Covenant

When Jesus shared his last supper with his disciples, he said the cup that all of them were to drink was (symbolic of) the blood of the covenant (Matthew 26:27-28). The phrase “the blood of the covenant” recalls Exodus 24:8, where Moses sprinkled blood (from sacrificed cattle) on the people (Israel) and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you.” That covenant was the book (words) of the covenant Moses had just read to the people, who promised to obey (the commands in) it (Ex. 24:7-8). The blood there concluded the making of the covenant, ratifying or inaugurating the whole covenant for all the people of Israel.

Now Jesus tells all his disciples to drink the wine/blood of the covenant he has introduced. In Luke 22:21, the cup is the new covenant in his blood. His blood (death) will ratify or seal the whole new covenant of his words/teaching for all his disciples. In Mat. 26:28, Jesus says his blood is for “many” for the forgiveness of sins.

Earlier in Matthew, the word “many” has especially been used for the many multitudes (sometimes translated “the great crowds”). In Mat. 4:24-25 many multitudes from not only Israel but also (Gentile) Syria, the Decapolis, and elsewhere beyond the Jordan (river) gather to hear Jesus’ words/teaching on the mountain (recalling Moses on Mount Sinai receiving the words of God in Exodus 19-24). Unlike Moses, Jesus’ words are for Gentiles as well as Jews; the new covenant is for the many.

Before Jesus gives his disciples the cup, he takes the bread, blesses (God), breaks it, and gives it to the disciples, saying “this is my body” (Mat. 26:26). Again, earlier in Matthew (14:14 and 14:19), when a great crowd (a “many” multitude) gathers around Jesus, he has compassion on this multitude of Jews and Gentiles by taking bread, blessing (God), breaking it, and giving it to the disciples (to give to the many multitude). Then, in Mat. 15:30, another great crowd (many multitude) gathers around Jesus, who again has compassion and gives them bread (15:35-36). After that, Jewish leaders come to challenge Jesus, so he warns his disciples about the “leaven” (yeast) of the leaders (16:1-6). He then tells his confused disciples that the “leaven” is not about literal leaven/bread, and asks if they didn’t understand the meaning of the five loaves for the 5,000 and the seven loaves for the 4,000 (16:7-11). Then they come to understand that the “leaven” (bread) of the leaders was their teaching (16:12). And that was also the symbolic meaning of the bread Jesus gave the disciples and many multitudes.

So the bread of the Lord’s Supper is symbolic of his body, all the deeds–the words and actions–of Jesus, now coming to an end, as his blood signifies. His body of teaching is the new covenant and his blood of death is the seal for its ratification and inauguration. This means the old covenant given to Moses for Israel has now been surpassed by the new covenant of Jesus for the many, all the future disciples all over the world. And just as Jesus is now showing compassion and offering his new covenant teaching to Gentiles as well as Jews, this covenant is leading to the forgiveness of sins. This means not only that new disciples will enjoy forgiveness from their new heavenly Father (God), but they will themselves become children of God, who show compassion and make peace by forgiving others in the wide world who were their former enemies. In this new covenant, their bodies–their words and actions–will receive (“eat) Jesus’ body of teaching and compassion, and give it to the many. And in this covenant, Jesus warns them that if they do not forgive their enemies and those who sin against them, then their heavenly Father will not forgive them (Mat. 6:12-15).