The Last Beatitude

I  hadn’t really intended to do a series on “Beatitudes,” but apparently the Lord had other ideas.  In my case, He often does.  When I began to think about this post, I thought this beatitude truly was the last in the Bible, but when I checked to make sure, it was only the second of seven promises of blessing in The Revelation.

So why did I keep the title?

In a sense, it is the last beatitude, because it speaks of death, which is the cessation of life.  There are a couple of others which may be taken to refer to events after death, but this beatitude lays the groundwork for those others.

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write:  ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on,'”  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” Revelation 14:13 (NKJV).

To be honest with the verse, though, this blessing seems to be limited to people who die “in the Lord” at or after a particular time: “from now on”.

What does this mean?

The Revelation is a difficult book to understand.  Without getting into all the viewpoints about what it says, this portion describes a time of great wickedness in which, it seems, the whole world is engulfed in the worship of Satan and those who refuse to do so are killed, 13:15.  Chapter 14 describes God’s message of judgment on those who follow this worldview.

Though these believers are judged and condemned by an ungodly world, God promises them the blessing in 14:13.  It follows v. 12, which says, Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”  In other words, though there may come a time when it seems like it’s impossible to serve the Lord without dying for it, though it seems like the world is completely saturated with evil, God says to be patient.  It isn’t over yet.  Judgment is coming and those who deny and rebel against God will get what’s coming to them.

So, are these verses saying that those who die in the Lord before this time aren’t blessed?

Of course not.

These verses are written for a specific time and to a specific people.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t blessings for those who die in the Lord – those who are saved – at other times.

Paul put it like this:

…we do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man in perishing – our body is aging and deteriorating – our inward man in being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.  For we know that if our earthly house, this tent – this body – is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this [body] we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven….  For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.  Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
     So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.  For we walk by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord, 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8.

Even Job, the first book in the Bible as far as the things it records – understanding Genesis records the very beginnings of this earth; Job likely lived before Abraham, there being no mention of him or his descendants, and certainly before Moses and the giving of the Law at Sinai – even Job said,  “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me! Job 19:25-27.  Love that last sentence!

So, from very early on, God’s people have known that this life isn’t all there is.  There has been hope and assurance that the grave isn’t the end.  If I were to be buried, I would like my tombstone to read:  “This, too, shall pass.”

But, isn’t everybody headed to “a better place”?

That’s a very popular and prevalent view, but, alas, it isn’t true.  The Lord Jesus clearly said so:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”  Matthew 7:21-23.

Not everyone who preaches is going to heaven.

Not everyone who casts out demons is going to heaven.

Not everyone who performs miracles is going to heaven.

These are terribly sobering words, especially in this day and time, when casting out demons and performing miracles seems to be the focus of many ministries, and is said to be the Lord’s blessing and a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.  All these things, highly esteemed among men, and sought after by them, – yet our Lord calls them “lawlessness,” or as the KJV has it: “iniquity.”

Iniquity.

Iniquity!

And these things were all done in “the name of the Lord!”  These weren’t atheists or members of some religion that denies the Lord Jesus.  These are professed believers in the Lord!  Yet, the Lord rejects them and their works and casts them out from His presence and from His blessing.

How can this be?

Our Lord taught fairly early in His ministry that there are tares among the wheat.  The modern translation of “weeds” is terrible.  It misses the point altogether.  Now, tares resemble wheat so closely that it’s very difficult to tell them apart.  In the parable, the Lord told the people to wait til the judgment, when angels would do the dividing.

Simply put, not everything in church is of God.  Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:12-14.  Paul, writing of those who opposed his ministry, wrote this: For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.  And no wonder!  For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.  Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. 

How can we tell the difference?  Everything must be measured by Scripture – not just a few favorite verses here or there, not just a couple of verses on some subject, or some collection of “proof texts,” but by the Scripture.  The Bible has clear teaching on salvation, on the church, on the future, on the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit.  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them, Isaiah 8:20.

But what about us?  What is our hope of heaven – yours and mine?  Are we looking to our works, our best, our whatever, to gain us entrance into heaven?

We do not want to be among those in Matthew 7:21-23.

There’s only been One who ever had a “Best.”  Who had works God would accept.  He is the only Way into heaven.  That’s not popular today.  “All roads lead to heaven” is a common thought, even those “roads” which completely deny or contradict Scripture.  Not so.  Not so.  The road is very narrow.  Only those who come through the Lord Jesus are on that way which leads to life.    And only the only way to come to Him is through repentance and faith.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.  God grant it to many today, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

To those, and those alone, is there “blessing” after death.

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The Ninth Beatitude

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).

I suppose there’s some reason why these verses aren’t included among those verses commonly called “The Beatitudes.”  We looked at them over a couple of posts.  I think, though, there’s a reason why the Lord in His wisdom said these words immediately after those words, or at least why He inspired Matthew to include them here.

The Beatitudes are addressed, if you will, to “them”.  Now, those whom the Lord has called by His grace seldom think of themselves as “worthy” of such blessings as they have received and which are promised even to them.  They find it difficult to receive what God has promised as being to, and for, them.  They don’t deserve it.  And they are right.  We don’t deserve even the slightest blessing from our God.

And there is a point that we need to consider in all this.  The Old Testament, at least from the time of Abraham, and especially from the book of Exodus onward, was written to the nation of Israel.  I used to attend a church which would read a portion of the Old Testament, often Isaiah, as part of the service.  This is a great idea.  I wish more churches did it.  However, in this church, verses in these chapters which indicated that the contents of the chapters were to “Israel,” or “Judah and Jerusalem” were never read.  Now, I understand why they did that.  As far as the pastor of that church was concerned, God is done with Israel as a nation.  They have no promises left.  Further, according to him, all the OT promises are “fufilled in Jesus.”  So there was nothing wrong with appropriating those verses as being to and for Christians.  I cannot agree – if words have any meaning at all.

In spite of what the song says, “every promise in the book is” NOT “mine.”  There might be an application to us of promises made to Israel, but that doesn’t negate the primary message and interpretation as belonging to them.  There are plenty of promises made to and for Christians in the New Testament.  “The ninth beatitude” is one of them.

But we have trouble believing that such promises are for us.  This is why the Lord changed emphasis between the first eight beatitudes and this one.  The first eight are indeed to “them,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if He looked directly at His disciples when He said, Blessed are YOU….”  He wanted to make sure that they understood that this promise was for them, the disciples.

There are a couple of things to note in this beatitude.  Charges against believers are to be false, and they are to be for His sake.

If we have Christ, we have all we need in the area of “promises”.  In 2 Corinthians 1:20, Paul wrote, For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.  So we have nothing to worry about.  It’s a shame that doesn’t stop us.

Blessedness: The Beatitudes, concluded.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In our first post, we listed the first four Beatitudes.  Here are the other four, dealing with actions of the hand, or person, actions which arise from the attitudes of the heart, as we noted last week:

[These] “are the heart attitudes and characteristics of those who are blessed.  Acutely aware of their spiritual need, mourning over their faults, failures and shortcomings, yet not selfishly focusing on themselves, hungry and thirsty for only that which the Lord can provide, yet knowing that one day, if not now, they will be comforted and satisfied beyond this world’s ability to understand or provide.”

That is how the previous study ended, summarizing the heart attitudes of those who are blessed.

The last four beatitudes deal with the response of the heart as seen in outward actions.  What is in the heart cannot be hidden.  Those who are wicked and sinful do wicked and sinful things and those who are righteous do righteous things.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Someone has said that grace gives us what we do not deserve; mercy does not give us what we do deserve.

Our Lord expanded on this though a few sentences later when He said,“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you not to resist an evil person.  But whoever slaps you on your right cheek [an intolerable insult in that society], turn the other to him also.  If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  And whoever compels you to go one mile [Romans soldiers would commandeer the services of civilians to carry their heavy equipment], go with him two.  Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.  You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward is that?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if your greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the tax collectors do so?  Matthew 5:38-47.

The reference to tax collectors must have stung, for they were below the bottom in the society of that time.  “What do you do more than others?” must have stung as well, as it pointed out the worthlessness of actions aimed only at those we like.

Our Lord is the prime example of “doing more than others”.  Writing to those who were suffering unjustly, Peter wrote, For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in His steps:  “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; Who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body…, 1 Peter 2:21 – 24a.  Talk about suffering that wasn’t your own fault!  – the death of Christ is the prime example of that.  Yet He did that willingly, loving His enemies, doing good to those who hate Him, doing “more” than anyone else could ever do, because we certainly do not deserve it, and don’t get what we do deserve.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Does this mean “purity” in an absolute sense?  No, it doesn’t, because we’re not there yet and won’t be until eternity. What it refers to is a heart that has been cleansed according to His mercy [there’s that word, again] through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5.  It has been washed and renewed according to God, so that it desires the things God desires for it.  There is still, however, a battle “because we’re not there yet” as it comes to complete salvation.  Our bodies still have physical desires which in themselves may be perfectly all right, but too often we want to satisfy them in ways which are not all right.  It won’t be until the adoption, the redemption of our body, Romans 8:23, that the battle will finally be over.  Read Romans 8:1-27 for Paul’s teaching on this.

When the battle is over, believers – the “pure in heart” – will see God and fellowship with Him and worship and serve Him as He deserves.  They will finally and forever truly be “pure in heart.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. 

This was a favorite verse of the anti-war activists during the Vietnam conflict.  However, as with other verses taken out of context – e.g., “judge not” – and used as “slogans,” the meaning was completely missed.  The verse was used as if it said, “Blessed are the peacelovers….”  That’s NOT what it says.  It’s not enough just to “love” peace; there are many people and things who and which disturb and destroy peace.  Sometimes you have to “make” peace, and the only way to do that is to battle and defeat the enemies of peace.

This is a much needed message in this day of tolerance of everything, it seems, but the truths of God’s Word.  Moral declension and religious error must be battled, even if it seems impossible that they could ever be defeated.  It’s not over, yet.  Sometimes, it seems like it will never be over.  However, our Lord anticipated this reaction (cf.John 15:18-25), and has one more “blessing” for His people.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Do we expect that those whose sins and error we oppose will be happy about it?  Of course not; any more than the leaders of His time were happy about the Lord Jesus.  But we have to be careful that their hatred is “for righteousness’ sake” and not just because of how we act.  An example of this is the “church” which pickets the funerals of soldiers, trying to get across their message.  The sins this church opposes, and others, were prevalent among Roman society at the time of Jesus and Paul, yet there is not a single verse of the New Testament telling us simply to oppose such sins.  We’re to preach the Gospel and the Gospel will take care of the sins – if preached in the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit – which is so much more than just about experience and excitement and emotion. 

Those whose heart attitudes are described in the first four Beatitudes act to one degree or another according to the last four Beatitudes:  changed lives, aiming at purity and holy living, treating others as they themselves would like to be treated and not necessarily as they “deserve,”  as much as possible living in peace with others, and yet expecting that our efforts and lives will not always get a warm reception.  We live in enemy territory, an enemy who isn’t willing peacefully to “co-exist”.

Nevertheless, the promise to believers is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessedness: The Beatitudes – Attitude for Blessing

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Matthew 5:3-6 (NKJV).

As you see, we’ve only listed the first four beatitudes.  That’s because we believe they can be divided into two groups.  In the first four, our Lord describes the attitude required for blessedness.  Indeed, some have called the Beatitudes, “Be-atitudes.”  The second group refers to the activities resulting from the blessings brought by the attitude.

We’ll only look at the first four because of the length of the posts about them.  We’ll look at the other four, Lord willing, in a later post.

Just a couple of things before we get into the study itself.  First, the word translated “blessed” is plural: “makarioi” instead of “makarios,” which is the singular form.  Some have translated it “oh, the blessedness of….”  I think it speaks of abundance, of the lavish blessings God pours out on those our Lord describes in these eight verses.

Second, some translate this “Happy are the….”  One author even titled his book on the Beatitudes, “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  I think this is inadequate, and he himself said that “happy” doesn’t translate the word accurately.  “Happy” is related to words like “hap” – an obsolete word, I grant, but it means “that which comes suddenly or unexpectedly; chance; fortune; accident; casual event.”  (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, unabridged, p. 824.)  I don’t think these words are what the Lord had in mind here.  “Happy” depends on our circumstances, our situation, what “happens” around us.  If they go well, we’re “happy,” if they’re not, we’re not.  To the ancient Greeks, the word was used to describe their gods, who were unaffected by the goings on in the mortal world.

The Lord was teaching that true blessedness is not dependent on things outside of ourselves: our wealth, our health, our families, our job, our house, etc.  Indeed, the worldling may have these things, but they are not blessings to him, cf.Luke 16:25.  True blessedness from God comes from things on the inside, which then affect things on the outside.

Having said that, the beatitudes seem to divide themselves into two sections, as we noted above: the first four, which describes attitudes of the heart, and the second four, coming from the first, which describe activities of the hand.

Attitudes of the heart, vs. 3-6

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I think this attitude was supposed to be the result of centuries of the Mosaic Law.  Looking at his nation and himself, the wise Jew would say, “Who can do that?  Who can do those things the Law requires?”  The sacrificial system itself was designed to teach them that, that no one kept the Law perfectly and only through the sacrifice of an innocent substitute were they able to be forgiven of a particular sin and to continue to live.  It was designed to show them their need of a Savior.

“The poor in spirit” literally means “those who are spiritually bankrupt.”  Such know that they have nothing to offer to God, that they are unable to do even one thing He requires perfectly – and imperfectly won’t do.  They’re like the tax-collector in Luke 18:33 who standing afar off [as if he weren’t fit to approach], would not so much as lift his eyes toward heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”  I wonder if there isn’t something here in the word translated merciful.  It means “propitious” and was the word (“hilasmos”) used to describe the mercy seat above the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle and then in Solomon’s Temple.  The mercy seat was where, once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice.  The tax-collector wasn’t pleading for mercy because of anything he was or could do, indeed those things brought him under judgment.  He was pleading for mercy on the basis of that sacrifice.

On the other hand, the Pharisee in the story was proud of himself and his accomplishments.  Just listen to him, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax-collector.  [Here I think there was a derisive gesture toward him].  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess,” Luke 18:11, 12.  Yes, sir, he was something – and not slow to tell you and God all about it.

The Apostle Paul had been like that.  Before his conversion, he himself said that he must do many things contrary to name of Jesus of Nazareth, Acts 26:9.  He had a whole list of things he thought were on the positive side of the ledger, so to speak, 1 Philippians 3:5, 6.

A strange thing happened to him.  Though he doesn’t specifically say when it happened, something happened to him.  In Romans 7:9, he wrote, I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.

I died.

What does that mean? Certainly, it doesn’t mean physically.  I think it means that he began to understand the comprehensive nature of the Law, that it requires more than just form and ritual and habit; he also began to understand that all those things he thought were good were of no use at all in giving him the righteousness he thought he had.  Like Nicodemus before him, he learned that he needed something he didn’t have and couldn’t produce.  He was bankrupt.  And he was dead, spiritually.

There are many descendants of the Pharisee and Saul today.  Their hope of heaven is based entirely on their belief that they have done something which will get them there.  The list of such things is endless.  They’ve never seen that, like Paul, they have absolutely nothing to commend themselves to God.  They haven’t yet declared spiritual bankruptcy.  And they don’t understand that they are “dead” as far as God is concerned, cf. Ephesians 2:1.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

This is the result of the realization of our sinfulness before a holy and righteous God.  Instead of being so proud of our religious accomplishments, so ready to list them on the credit side of the ledger, we see them for what they are in God’s sight: filthy rags, Isaiah 64:6.  That word translated “filthy rags” refer to a menstrual cloth or to a rag that a leper might use to wipe his sores.  Not a pretty picture, but graphic, demonstrating what “our righteousnesses,” those religious acts, that we’re so proud of, are like in the sight of God.  Our very best, religiously and apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, is as offensive to God as those rags would be to us.  And these are “our righteousnesses.”  When it comes right down to it, we have to admit that we really have very few of those, and a lot more of the other kind.  If our very best is offensive to God, then what must these other acts, the ones which aren’t so “righteous,” be like in His sight?!

Perhaps even more offensive to God is the idea that we CAN do something to get to heaven; that we can work up some sort of righteousness which will get us into the pearly gates, because God has already provided a righteousness, the only righteousness He will accept: the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus.  Besides that, there is no other righteousness, period.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 

Meekness.  It is not the same as weakness.  Our Lord referred to Himself as meek and lowly of heart in Matthew 11:29 (KJV).  Other translations say, “gentle and lowly of heart.”  The Lord was anything but weak.  He was humble and gentle, but never “weak.”  Read His scathing denunciations of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, His throwing out of the Temple those who had turned it into a kind of WalMart, John 2:13-17.  The word is the opposite of those who are always demanding their “rights.”  Such people will never understand the saying by one of the Puritans that anything outside of hell is better than we deserve.  Meekness will defend other people’s rights, but isn’t so concerned about securing her own, or about herself.  Meekness isn’t “MEekness.”

What does being “meek” have to do with “inheriting the earth?”

Simply this.  Those who are “meek” are the ones likely to be taken advantage of, cheated, by those are not meek, not selfless.  Our Lord is just assuring such that they will not be the losers in the long run.  After all, this life isn’t all there is to “life.”

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. 

This is the other side of being poor in spirit, being hungry for that which we lack and can’t provide for ourselves.  It’s instructive that our Lord uses these figures of speech.  Hunger and thirst are characteristics of life; the dead never hunger and thirst.  That’s why there is so little, or no, desire for the things of God in the world.  Religion, yes; the true God, no.  It is dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1. But there are those in whom the Spirit of God operates, which is evident in their hunger and thirst after righteousness.

In the words of the hymn:  “O to be like Thee! blessed Redeemer, This is my constant longing and prayer….”  This is the longing of every true believer: to be more and more like the Savior.  And the Lord promises they will be filled; they will be satisfied.  Not the “foretaste of glory divine” that we have now, but satisfied, full to the brim.  Though true believers are truly saved, they are not yet “entirely sanctified,” as some put it.  John put it like this: Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be [we’re not there, yet], but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Such are the heart attitudes and characteristics of those who are blessed.  Acutely aware of their spiritual need, mourning over their spiritual faults, failures and shortcomings, yet not selfishly focusing on themselves, hungry and thirsty for that which only the Lord God can provide, yet knowing that one day, if not now, they will be comforted and satisfied beyond this world’s ability of understand or provide.

Such are the blessed.