The Sermon on the Mount
Blessings Upon The Remnant of Israel
The opening words to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-12 are a portion of the Bible that most people are familiar with. Commonly called the Beatitudes, they are a series of declarations in which the Lord pronounces blessings upon individuals in various states. There are nine Beatitudes, or pronouncements of happiness, together with the various reasons that the Lord gives for pronouncing them. To have the Lord pronounce a ‘blessing’ upon you, especially when you don’t feel particularly happy, would certainly be a wonderful thing. For this reason the Beatitudes are very attractive and hold a special place in the hearts of many Christians.
However, since the Beatitudes are part of the Sermon on the Mount in truth they pertain to God’s program and dealings with Israel, and are not about us in this present dispensation of God’s grace. Indeed, our Lord’s entire earthly ministry as set forth in the Gospel accounts, along with the ministry of the 12 apostles in the opening of the book of Acts, pertain to God’s program with Israel. God did not begin the dispensation of His grace to us today until the Lord unexpectedly returned from heaven and raised up the apostle Paul as a brand new apostle, as described in Acts 9. Before this the Lord was “a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.” (Rom. 15:8) As that “minister of the circumcision” the Lord ministered unto Israel. He dealt with the issues that pertained to God’s program with them. In particular, in the Sermon on the Mount the Lord provided corrective doctrine to the believing remnant in Israel. He exposed the corruptions and hypocrisies of the nation’s apostate and vain religious system, and He made it so that the remnant could be ‘doers of the law in truth.’ [Note: See the author’s previous articles in this series for a further examination of these issues.]
The Lord, therefore, spoke the Beatitudes to the believing remnant of Israel. They pertain to their situation in God’s program and dealings with Israel, and not to us in this present dispensation. They were wonderful words in the ears of the remnant of Israel, (and will yet be again when God resumes His program with His nation), and they need to be understood and appreciated as such.
THE PURPOSE OF THE BEATITUDES
When the prophets foretold about the ministry of the Messiah they described how that He would deal with Israel’s vain religious system, and that He would “magnify the law and make it honorable” again. (Isa. 42:21) They also told how He would “seal the law among (His) disciples.” (Isa. 8:16) This is exactly what the Sermon on the Mount does. Along with this, though, the prophets also set forth how that Christ would preach great comforting words to His disciples in view of the fulfillment of Israel’s program being “at hand,” and in view of how they were suffering under Israel’s apostate system. This is what the Beatitudes are all about.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
When God had John the Baptist preach to Israel that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” He began to comfort His people with the good news of their kingdom coming, just as He had said He would do. (See Isaiah 40:1-11) But to those in the nation who responded to that “gospel of the kingdom” there would be even more comforting news given. As ones who were “meek” in the face of Israel’s apostasy, or were “broken-hearted,” or “captives,” or were “mourning,” the Messiah would further comfort them with “good tidings” proclaimed to them in their situations. According to Isaiah 61:1-3, Christ would specifically address His disciples in view of how they were being affected both by Israel’s vain religious system and the oppression of the nations. He would speak comfortably unto them in view of these things, and He would give them reasons for possessing happiness and joy instead of grief. This He would do to them not only because they believed that “gospel of the kingdom,” but especially because Israel’s kingdom of God was “at hand.” The “acceptable year of the LORD” had come and “the day of vengeance of our God” was right around the corner. Therefore, Israel’s apostate system would soon be destroyed, along with the oppression of the nations. The believing remnant would soon be called the “trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.” They would soon possess the glory of the fulfillment of God’s plan and purpose with them, just as Isaiah 61:4-11 goes on to describe. They would truly have much to be happy about, even though they suffered at that time.
This, once again, is what the Beatitudes are all about. The “meek,” whom the Lord says are “blessed” in Matthew 5:5, are the “meek” in Zion spoken of in Isaiah 61:1. The “broken-hearted” in Isaiah 61:1 are the “poor in spirit” in Matthew 5:3. Those that “mourn in Zion” in Isaiah 61:3 are the ones that “mourn” in Matthew 5:4. Though this was the remnant’s situation, in view of the “kingdom of heaven” being “at hand” they had every reason for being comforted and being happy instead of grieving.
A SURVEY OF THE BEATITUDES
It is evident from Isaiah 61:1-3 that the Lord did not have just any kind of ‘meekness’ or ‘mourning’ in mind when He said, “Blessed are the meek” etc. Rather, He referred to the specific grievances and difficulties that the remnant of Israel was experiencing as they were distressed by Israel’s apostasy and Gentile oppression.
Because of this distress many were “poor in spirit.” They were “broken-hearted,” as Isaiah said, at seeing Israel oppressed so and suffering at the hands of Satan’s policy of evil. (See Isa. 29:18-21) But with the Lord’s day of vengeance and the kingdom of heaven “at hand,” they should be comforted, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Likewise was there reason for happiness with those that “mourn.” As per Isaiah 61:1-3, there were many that “mourn in Zion” because of the wicked ones that ruled in Israel. But that would all change when the kingdom of heaven was established. They would be comforted in that day when they were called “trees of righteousness” and rejoiced in the glory of the Lord.
In similar manner both the “meek” among the remnant and those that “hunger and thirst after righteousness” have reason for being happy. The “meek” were not resisting the abuses heaped upon them by Israel’s wicked rulers. They were the victims of fraud, seizure, corruption, and the like. But when the kingdom was established they would “inherit the earth.” At the same time those that longed for righteousness to rule in Israel, in view of all the injustices they saw going on, would be satisfied in that day. For the kingdom of God in Zion would be a perfectly righteous kingdom.
The Lord also pronounced to the remnant reasons for happiness when it came to their own righteous conduct being criticized, mocked, denounced, or persecuted by others in Israel. In view of the Lord’s corrective doctrine and the exposing of the hypocrisy of Israel’s religious leaders, the truly righteous conduct of the remnant would end up standing in sharp contrast to the pseudo-righteousness of the rest. Because of this they would suffer for being “merciful,” “pure in heart,” “peacemakers,” and following the Lord’s teaching about “righteousness.” But though they would suffer and be persecuted for it now, they would have reason to be happy instead of depressed. For they would be greatly rewarded with honor and privilege in the kingdom when it was established.
As the remnant of Israel the ones the Lord was speaking to would be in for great persecution in Israel “for His name’s sake.” The prophets described how that the remnant would be afflicted by the stubborn rebellious element in Israel. The religious leaders’ hatred for the Messiah would be taken out upon His disciples. (See, for example, Isaiah 65:1-66:5) The Lord also prepared His disciples for this throughout His ministry among them. In view of this He ends the series of Beatitudes by saying,…
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12)
THE IMPACT OF THE BEATITUDES
The Beatitudes are designed to be an important part in the edification of the remnant of Israel. According to the prophets, when these believed the “gospel of the kingdom” they became part of the remnant. But as that remnant they were to be the Lord’s disciples. With them He would “bind up the testimony,” and He would “seal the law among my disciples.” (Isa. 8:16) This, once again, meant that they would be set at odds against Israel’s vain religious system and leaders, who had “cast away the law of the LORD of hosts” and taught for doctrine the “precept of men.” Therefore, the remnant not only needed comfort at the present time, they especially needed sustaining comfort for the time of persecution that lay ahead. This is what the Lord provided for with the Beatitudes, and He did so in fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-3.
OUR BLESSINGS TODAY
We today live in the dispensation of God’s grace. In this dispensation God has temporarily suspended His program and dealings with Israel, and He has brought in a new program in which He is forming the “new creation,” the church the body of Christ. This God is doing in accordance with the “mystery of Christ,” as He revealed to the apostle Paul when He raised him up as a brand new apostle. (See, for example, Eph. 3:1-12)
In this dispensation, and in perfect accordance with His new and different program with us, God has ‘blessed us’ and given us reasons for happiness and joyfulness in our lives. As Paul says to us,…
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:” (Eph. 1:3)
God has blessed us exceedingly with “spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” They are blessings that range from the glorious matters pertaining to our position in Christ, to the grandeur of “our blessed hope” and our vocation in the purpose of “the blessed God.” We are taught about these ‘blessings in Christ’ in Paul’s epistles to us today. They are our reasons for happiness today, and as such they are the blessings that ought to be attractive to us and ought to hold a special place in our hearts. The Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, on the other hand, pertain to God’s program with Israel, and will yet be fully revelled in by the remnant of Israel when God resumes and fulfills His program with His nation after this present dispensation. _ K.R> Blades