Watch / Visual Commentaries / Matthew 5:3-16: Beatitudes

Matthew 5:3-16: Beatitudes

Watch a short animated video commentary that explains the meaning of the Beatitudes in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount teachings in the Gospel of Matthew.

Visual Commentaries Mar 4, 2024


  1. For this section of Scripture, we have used the phrase “How good is life for” instead of the more common “Blessed are you when.” How does this change impact your understanding of Jesus’ words?
  2. According to Matthew 5:3-5, what reasons does Jesus give for concluding that the powerless, grieving, and unimportant are experiencing the good life?
  3. In Matthew 6:6-8, Jesus declares that the good life belongs to those who long for right relationships, are full of mercy, and have pure motives. What do these characteristics tell us about the way human beings will live in Jesus’ Kingdom?
  4. Why should peacemakers expect to be persecuted in this world?
  5. What would these images of salt, light, and a city on a hill have meant to Jesus and his listeners as ancient Israelites?
  6. How does the literary design of Matthew 5:3-16 as presented in this video help you understand its message?

Scripture References

Matthew 5-7 Matthew 5:3-16 Matthew 5:17-7:12 Matthew 7:13-27 Matthew 5:3 Matthew 5:4 Matthew 5:5 Psalms 37:11 Matthew 5:6 Matthew 5:7 Matthew 5:8 Psalms 24:4-6 Matthew 5:9 Matthew 5:10 Matthew 5:11-12 Matthew 5:13 Leviticus 2:13 Numbers 18:19 2 Chronicles 13:5 Matthew 5:14-16 Isaiah 2:1-5 Matthew 5:15-16 Matthew 5:3-12


Matthew 5:3-5: The Poor in Spirit, the Grieving, and the Unimportant [00:00-03:03]

Jon: The Sermon on the Mount is the largest collection of the teachings of Jesus, all about his good news that God’s heavenly Kingdom has touched down here on Earth.

Tim: The teachings are divided into three parts: an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion.

Jon: We’ll start with the introduction, where Jesus addresses the identity of his followers. And this section has … three parts!

Tim: Right. First come nine announcements, that are often called the Beatitudes. And they’re all about who is experiencing the good life. We’ll look at the first set of three, which claim that God’s heavenly Kingdom is coming to the least likely people. It begins like this:

Jon: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” 1

Tim: So that word “blessed” is makarios. It’s a word used to describe someone that you think is experiencing blessing, that is, God’s favor and abundance.

Jon: Look over there! That person’s living the good life!

Tim: Exactly. To see this point clearly, we could suggest the translation:

Jon: “How good is life for the poor in spirit.”

So what does that mean, to be “poor in spirit”?

Tim: Well, in the Bible, a person’s spirit is their life-breath, their inner vitality. 2 So if your inner spirit is poor, then you are lacking energy and power.

Jon: Like feeling downcast or discouraged?

Tim: Yes, but this phrase also can be used to describe those lacking external power, like those on the margins of a society.

Jon: Now, being powerless doesn’t seem like the good life.

Tim: And that’s the surprise that Jesus is going for here in this first line. And then the blessing that God has in store for them, that’s in the second line!

Jon: “Because theirs is the Kingdom of the skies.” 3

Okay, but what’s the Kingdom of the skies??

Tim: Well, the Kingdom of the skies is God’s heavenly reality, where everything is done according to God’s good will. And that’s what Jesus is bringing here to the land for people to experience now. Jesus is going first to the poor and the powerless, inviting them into God’s Kingdom. And so this is the blessing: instead of being last, Jesus offers God’s Kingdom to them first.

Jon: Cool. The next one is, “How good is life for those who grieve, because they will be comforted.” 4

Tim: People lacking power usually have to face a lot of hardship, loss, and grief. But Jesus announces that a time of comfort is coming.

Jon: “How good is life for the unimportant, because they will inherit the land.” 5

Tim: That word “unimportant” is the Greek word praus, which is often translated “the meek.” But this isn’t just about being humble. This word also refers to people who have no influence in society, those who are looked down on and discarded.

Jon: And Jesus says that they will inherit the land?!

Tim: Yes! He’s quoting from Psalm 37, a poem about God’s plan to elevate the poor and oppressed to inherit the land, while those who do evil lose everything. 6 This recalls the beginning of the Bible’s story, where God gives the land to all humanity to oversee it on God’s behalf—not just some people but everyone. 7

Jon: So the first three announcements are about God’s Kingdom coming to the powerless, the grieving, and the unimportant.

Tim: And that’s the surprising good news that Jesus has to offer.

Matthew 5:6-8: Right Relationships, Mercy, and Pure Hearts [03:03-05:13]

Tim: And in the next three sayings, Jesus describes the character of those who will be most at home in God’s Kingdom. Let’s look at these.

Jon: “How good is life for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be satisfied.” 8

Tim: “Righteousness,” or in Greek, dikaiosune, means living in right relationship with God and others, treating people with fairness and justice. So it’s helpful to render this word as “right-relationships.”

Jon: Now, if I’m hungry and thirsty for it, that means there is a desire that hasn’t been met.

Tim: Right, so apparently, the good life includes being unsatisfied with the disorder in our world and the broken relationships between people.

Jon: Yeah, like a holy discontent, a longing to see relationships made right all over. And those who long for this will find it?

Tim: Well, when people treat each other the way Jesus taught, it leads to healthy, satisfying relationships, where things are made right. And that’s what God’s Kingdom is all about.

Jon: “How good is life for those who show mercy, because they will be shown mercy.” 9

Tim: Mercy is a step beyond doing what is simply right or fair—mercy is generosity. It is extravagant kindness that goes beyond what is required. And the degree to which we show mercy is connected to how much mercy we’ll receive.

Jon: “How good is life for the pure in heart, because they will see God.” 10

Tim: Here, Jesus adopts a phrase from his Bible, in Psalm 24, where only the pure of heart can ascend the mountain of the Lord and stand in his holy place. 11

Jon: Okay, but what does that mean, to be pure of heart?

Tim: Well, in the Bible, it means living from pure motives. You can be nice to people but still have contempt for them. You can be devoted to God but do it for public praise. So being pure of heart is about having your desires align with God’s desires in all of your actions. 12

Jon: I mean, this is a high calling—right relationships, a life of mercy, and pure motives.

Tim: Yes, it is a high bar. But for Jesus, this is what humans are made for: to desire what is good and beautiful and just, and above all, to desire God, who alone can satisfy our deepest longings.

Matthew 5:9-12: The Hard Path of Peacemaking [05:13-06:55]

Tim: The last three announcements are about the difficult path ahead for those who choose to follow Jesus and enter into God’s Kingdom. And here they are.

Jon: “How good is life for the peacemakers, because they will be called children of God.” 13

Tim: When God’s Kingdom arrives in full one day, it will bring peace between all people. 14 And so anyone entering God’s Kingdom now is called to work as a peacemaker. That means entering into conflicts and working creatively to open up a just and generous path forward for others. And that may sound nice, but it can be dangerous, as Jesus goes on to say.

Jon: “How good is life for those who have been persecuted on account of doing-what-is-right, because theirs is the Kingdom of the skies.” 15

Tim: Very often, wading into conflicts and pursuing peace and reconciliation will mean pushing against the status quo. And that will likely result in resistance, getting fired at from all sides. But if this peacemaking reflects the loving way of Jesus and is done for his reputation, it’s worth it.

Jon: “How good is life for you when people insult you and persecute and spread evil lies against you on account of me. Celebrate and shout for joy, because your reward is great in the skies, for this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.” 16

Tim: Be prepared to be misunderstood, Jesus says. You could be made fun of, treated unfairly, or labeled.

Jon: And Jesus says that’s not only worth it, it’s actually a cause for celebration?

Tim: Right! Jesus says look to Israel’s past prophets as an example. When you are misunderstood for peacemaking, you stand in a long line of God’s people who spoke up for righteousness, justice, and mercy. 17 It is both the cost and the reward for bearing witness to God’s Kingdom.

Matthew 5:13: Salt of the Land [06:55-08:19]

Tim: Next, Jesus describes his followers with a new image, comparing them to salt. Here is how he puts it.

Jon: “You are the salt of the land.” 18

So why is Jesus calling his followers salt?

Tim: In the ancient world, salt had an important function—to preserve food and make it last a really long time. This is why, in the Hebrew Bible, salt is associated with God’s long-lasting covenant promises to Israel. 19

Jon: Right, so in that covenant, God chose Israel from among the nations to be his partners. He would bless them so that they could, together, spread life to the world around them. 20

Tim: Right! And just like salt preserves food, the role of God’s partners is to preserve the life of creation by preserving the covenant. And this partnership is a choice, which is why Jesus says:

Jon: “But if the salt becomes unsalty, with what can it be made salty again? It’s useful for nothing, except to be thrown out and stepped on by humans.” 21

Tim: According to Israel’s prophets, Israel violated their covenant with God, that is, they became unsalty. So God allowed enemy nations to conquer and exile them from their land and stomp all over them. 22 But here, Jesus is announcing something bold to his followers. God is renewing his “salty crew” within Israel. Through Jesus, they can experience God’s covenant blessings and recover Israel’s calling to preserve the life of the world.

Matthew 5:14-16: Light of the World [08:19-09:51]

Tim: Jesus then concludes with one final image, which goes like this:

Jon: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set up on a mountain isn’t able to be hidden;” 23

Tim: Jesus is taking this image from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, who said that one day, God’s heavenly reign will touch down on Earth in Jerusalem, high on a hill. This is a heavenly city, and its light will be like the dawn of a new creation.

Jon: So Jesus takes an ancient promise about Jerusalem and applies it to himself and his followers. They are the light? They are the city?

Tim: Exactly. God is beginning his new city, the new creation, right here and right now.

Jon: And in this city, the whole world gets to experience the goodness of God.

Tim: Right, which is what he says next.

Jon: “And they don’t light a candle and place it under a basket. Rather, upon a candle-stand, and it will shine on everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people so that they can see your good works, and so they can give honor to your Father who is in the skies.” 24

So what does Jesus mean by “good works”?

Tim: Well, elsewhere Jesus and his apostles describe “good works” as acts of service for people in need and generosity to the poor. 25 And this links back to the nine announcements where Jesus describes the character of those who are most at home in God’s Kingdom. They hunger for right relationships, and they work for peace in the world. And as they do so, they bring more and more of the light of God’s Kingdom from Heaven down to Earth.

1. Matt. 5:3
2. Gen. 2:7; Gen. 41:8; 1 Sam. 1:15; Job 6:4
3. Matt. 5:3
4. Matt. 5:4
5. Matt. 5:4
6. Ps. 37:11
7. Gen. 1:26-30
8. Matt. 5:6
9. Matt. 5:7
10. Matt. 5:8
11. Ps. 24:4-6
12. Ps. 51:10,16-17; Heb. 10:5-7
13. Matt. 5:9
14. Mic. 4:3-4
15. Matt. 5:10
16. Matt. 5:11-12
17. Isa. 1:10-23; Jer. 21:11; Hos. 6:1-6
18. Matt. 5:13
19. Lev. 2:13; Num. 18:19; 2 Chron. 13:5
20. Gen. 12:1-3
21. Matt. 5:13
22. 2 Chron. 36:14-20
23. Matt. 5:14
24. Matt. 5:15-16
25. Matt. 5:14-16; Matt. 25:34-40; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:12; Jas. 2:14-24
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