Kingdom: Possessing the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3, 10)
When considering a “Kingdom” of heaven, it’s natural at some point along the way to wonder how one is able to enter this Kingdom, how a person becomes a citizen of it.
Though the verses before us today don’t exactly answer that question, they do tell us what KIND of people populate the Kingdom of heaven.
We get a description of TWO kinds of people, in fact.
CONTEXT OF THE PASSAGE
I’m dealing with these two verses together (Matthew 5:3 & 10) since they are both part of what we’ve come to call “The Beatitudes” of Jesus. These “blessed are” statements serve as the beginning of the extended passage we ironically refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount” – it continues through Matthew 7:27. I say “ironically” because it doesn’t appear to be a true sermon at all.
If you read the passage carefully (as we always should) the teaching appears to be private, given directly to Jesus’ 12 disciples as He sat viewing the crowds from the side of a Galilean mountain (Matthew 5:1). This makes it seem that His experience with the crowds prompted Him to sit his disciples down for a little talk, and that He used the presence of the crowd as a visual from which He could draw examples, and with which He could make points for the disciples’ benefit.
We must remember, Jesus’ public ministry has just gotten started. If I may use a modern anology, He and his disciples are on the first big climb of the roller coaster, rising higher and higher on the expectations and enthusiasm of the crowds. There’s a growing aprehension in some quarters (among the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities), but overall there is a great deal of excitement and hope. The thrill of the ride is about to begin and nobody knows exactly what to expect. His disciples were among those who were hoping for big things, their zeal being encouraged by well-known, unfulfilled Messianic prophecies.
So, I picture this as Jesus’ attempt at resetting or expanding the expectations of his hand picked 12. They needed a better picture of what things were going to be like in the days ahead, including a clearer vision of the ultimate end of everything that was happening.
The first verse before us, Matthew 5:3, records the first words out of Jesus’ mouth when He began this extended teaching.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
WHAT KIND OF KINGDOM CITIZENS?
Imagine the crowds stretched out before Jesus and His disciples. They had come because they knew Jesus to be a healer and that He was performing all manner of miracles, even authoritiatively freeing people from the power and influence of evil spirits. Those gathered around the mountain were either there to see the show, or there in hopes of receiving the blessing of a miracle for themselves or someone they brought with them.
For this reason, a high percentage of those in the crowd could be described as “poor in spirit.”
With that as a backdrop, it seems that Jesus is addressing a false assumption that could have been rising up in the minds of his 12 already. A “Kingdom” is a reign, a rule, an establishment of power, so the disciples (and others) could have been understandably assuming that since they were in close proximity to the one who would be King, they were to become great in their own way, right alongside Him. It would have been natural for the 12 hand-picked disciples of Jesus to see themselves in a better light than they ought, to put themselves above the crowd in terms of importance, status, and power.
While it’s true that the Kingdom of heaven would eventually require certain organized positions of authority (Apostles, Elders, Deacons), the power inherent in these positions would not be characterized in ways these 12 Jewish men would be accustomed to. In the same way, the people they would be “over” were not to be looked down upon. In fact, the Kingdom was to BE theirs.
Of course, Jesus could have meant more than simply this, but I picture the crowd gathered at the mountain as being representative of the kind of people who inhabit and characterize the Kingdom of heaven. It’s not necessarily made up of the wealthy, the powerful, or the influential (though these are not excluded), it’s populated by those who are in need, who recognize and admit their need, and who come to their King for those needs to be met. The Kingdom of heaven is populated by a humble people. They are the “poor in spirit.”
If I put myself in the sandals of the disciples, I’m not sure I would have understood this.
In fact, it would have been so opposite what I expected, it would likely have created a dissonance in my mind. I say that because in my younger years as a believer, these beatitudes did exactly that. It’s taken me a while to get my mind around the importance of what Jesus was saying, to get my pride and self-interest out of the way enough that I can see that Jesus was not and is not building His kingdom through the typical methods human rulers use.
There’s no politicking, no savvy alliances with those in power or in positions of influence. There is not a focus on attracting those who have influence with the people so that their influence can then be exploited to win more eyes and favor and acclaim. No, Jesus was going directly TO the people in need, directly INTO the place of pain and hurt and desperation to come alongside those who were humble enough to ask for help.
The Kingdom of heaven is a different kind of kingdom than any earthly leader has ever aspired to build and rule over.
The statements Jesus makes between the first verse we considered and this next verse, express more of the blessings that come to various sorts of people, and few of the descriptions there match anything we’d expect.
He doesn’t mention the hard-working, the industrious or innovative, or the educated people as those who are blessed. It’s those we might consider down-and-out, lowly, or pious who He profiles as the “blessed.”
So, by the time we get to Matthew 5:10, we shouldn’t be surpised to read…
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Those persecuted for righteousness’ sake have themselves been engaged in righteous behavior, or the support of it. Don’t miss that.
There is a righteous quality to their lives that is absent from those who are doing the persecuting. Jesus is profiling another characteristic of the people who inhabit the Kingdom He’s building. Righteousness is a core conviction, a key ingredient that produces the flavor and aroma of the Kingdom of heaven and its citizenry.
Since we’ve jumped from verse three to verse 10, we could understandably reason that Kingdom citizens work hard at being righteous, that they possess a self-effort sort of righteousness from following rules and carefully adhering to the laws of the Kingdom.
But we would be wrong to understand it that way. Verse 6, clarifies what Jesus means.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
So verse 10 is not a description of those persecuted for the hard work they’ve done to become and maintain righteousness (though some of that will undoubtely have its place). Verse 10 is describing people who have, like all Kingdom citizens, recognized their need (for righteousness, in this case), and sought to have it supplied from the King. He has satisfied their desire to be righteous and like Him, they have been persecuted by the unrighteous for being righteous.
Without the help of the Holy Spirit, I am not drawn to the proposition being made in verse 10. I hear the word “persecuted” and find myself pulling back to reevaluate my options. But the Spirit of God is faithful to help me see the values represented in verse 10. True righteousness is a quality worth having, even at the cost of persecution.
That’s what Jesus means when He says those persecuted for righteousness’ sake are “blessed.” They are blessed more than they would be if they were not persecuted (but were also not righteous).
Said another way, it is better to be truly righteous and persecuted for it, than to experience no persecution and be unrighteous.
So the Kingdom of heaven is populated by citizens who bear the scars of battles fought and eventaully won, for the sake of righteousness. They stand with their King, partaking in His righteousness, confident that the One who has made them righteous is also able to keep them righteous, no matter the opposition they experience. They are confident that the gift of righteousness they’ve received from their King is a treasure beyond this world’s value scale, incomaprable and worthy of their very lives, should it come to that.
Believing this, they rely on their King to be the continual source of their righteousness and their constant, unending supply of integrity, morality, and virtue.
NOW OR NOT YET?
There has been a decent amount of talk regarding the Kingdom of heaven/God over the years where it’s been described as something that is “now and not yet” at the same time. It’s an attempt at reconciling Jesus’ various teachings with each other.
Some statements seem to be made in reference to the things happening at the time Jesus spoke them (present day and ongoing from there), while other things He said seem to point to a time in the future.
My understanding of the beatitudes at first, fell into the “not yet” category. Here’s how my thinking went…
Jesus said, “Kingdom of HEAVEN,” so I thought, “Heaven… that’s the place I’ll be with Him in the future… so this statement must be about what things will be like in that place sometime in the future.”
But what if He doesn’t mean for us to take the label “Kingdom of heaven” as a description of its location or time in history, but as a description of WHAT it is… a Kingdom that in its essence is OF heaven, one that pursues heavenly things, builds a heavenly culture, and is operated according to heavenly values?
I’ve come to believe this is exactly what Jesus as talking about.
The study I’m walking you through now will increasingly demonstrate the reasons WHY I’ve come to that conclusion. But so that I don’t leave you entirely hanging, here’s one of the more convincing things in my opinion…
Jesus uses the phrases “Kingdom of heaven” and “Kingdom of God” (used in parallel passages) interchangeably. So, different labels are used to describe the same thing.
I don’t naturally read “Kingdom of GOD” the same way I do “Kingdom of HEAVEN.” I don’t pour all that future/someday meaning into it when I hear it said that way. I do quite the opposite. I read it more as a description of WHAT KIND of Kingdom He’s talking about.
Coupling that possibility with the meaning I derive from understanding these “Kingdom-focused” beatitudes (and other things we’ll get to), it seems more and more clear to me that Jesus isn’t describing the timing of the Kingdom of heaven, He’s describing its character, the KIND of Kingdom it is.
If that’s the case, and I’m convinced it is, we’ll have to wait for Jesus to give us explicit time-based descriptions to make up our minds about that issue.
APPLYING THE KINGDOM-FOCUSED BEATITUDES
After considering these two Kingdom-focused beatitudes, two works jump out at me. They are…
In my view, they are stated in the beatitudes in the exact order in which they must happen.
Humility leads us to dependence on our King, who is the only One who CAN make us righteous. The beautiful cycle begins there… “humble dependence receives righteousnes from our King, which makes us humbly thankful and leads us to again depend on our King to provide His righteousness to us…”
This is where I find my eyes drawn.
This is what my prayers become focused upon.
Would you join me in this prayer?
Jesus, open our eyes to see that WE are the poor in spirit, the ones who are continually in a state of great need that only You can meet.
Grant us humility so that we will look to You for our righteousness and in so doing, represent Your Kingdom accurately to those who notice it invading their world.
Help us to be poor in spirit, so You, who are rich in mercy can shine as You ought.
Give us a clear and constant view of the value of Your gift of righteousness so that we will joyfully endure any opposition or persecution. In so doing, receive glory from our lives.