Last time we took a close look at the beginnings of a conflict between the Lord Jesus and the orthodox Jews of His days on earth over what works might lawfully be done on the Sabbath. We saw that Jesus proclaimed Himself to be Lord of the Sabbath, which served to even further exacerbate this conflict. Finally, we saw Him choose 12 men from among His disciples whom He also called apostles, meaning ones who are sent forth under orders.
So let’s move on now in Luke 6. We pick up the narrative in verse 17. After choosing the 12 apostles from among His disciples, Jesus returned with them back to the crowds…
Luke 6:17-19 (cf. Matt. 4:24, 25; Mark 3:7-12)17And He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and be healed of their diseases, 18as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits. And they were healed. 19And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.
We see from verse 17 that Jesus’ fame had by this time spread from its beginnings in Galilee and along the Jordan river, as far as the seaports of Tyre and Sidon located today in southern Lebanon. These cities are both mentioned frequently in the Old Testament. Ahab’s wicked wife, Jezebel, came from Sidon, as did Solomon’s ally Hiram. These cities were established by the Phoenicians and had never been taken during the conquest of the land by the children of Israel. By the time of this gospel account, they had been conquered and occupied by the Romans along with the rest of the land of Israel.
As we learned when we studied Jesus’ healing touch in Luke 5, Jesus had no need to physically touch someone, or even to be present in the same town in order to heal. We see the same concept reiterated here in verse 19, where we learn that power went out from Him and healed them all.
Having returned with His newly chosen apostles, Jesus then began to teach His most famous lessons. All of these teachings are gathered together in Matthew 5-7 known as the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s account of them is the most complete. Luke and Mark contain most of the same exhortations and parables, but only Matthew gathers them together in his narrative.
Many visitors to Israel today go to a place known as the Mount of the Beatitudes on the western bank of the Sea of Galilee, where a chapel has been built to commemorate this sermon, but no one really knows where this teaching took place, or even if all of the teachings gathered together as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew were really given by Jesus on the same day in the same location.
As in Matthew, Luke begins his account of this teaching with Jesus’ beatitudes (blessings). Matthew’s gospel contains eight beatitudes while Luke’s has only four. Since we’re studying Luke, we’ll stick with those that he recounts, but of course, the eight found in Matthew are wonderful encouragements from our Lord as well.
Luke 6:20-23 (Matt. 5:1-12)20Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said:“Blessed are you poor,For yours is the kingdom of God.21Blessed are you who hunger now,For you shall be filled.Blessed are you who weep now,For you shall laugh.22Blessed are you when men hate you,And when they exclude you,And revile you, and cast out your name as evil,For the Son of Man’s sake.23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!For indeed your reward is great in heaven,For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.
The Greek word translated as “blessed” is μακάριος makarios. It can mean blessed or happy. Indeed, when we consider the concept of happiness, we find that true happiness and peace of mind can come only as a blessing from God. This is the contentment with our lot to which Paul refers in…
Philippians 4:12-1312I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Notice that Jesus begins all of these with the reassurance itself – , “Blessed are…” then details particular conditions that we wouldn’t ordinarily consider as something good – e.g. being hungry. Then Jesus finishes each of the blessings by telling us how each seeming burden or curse will turn out well. This pattern immediately brings other familiar passages to mind.
Recall that Jacob’s son, Joseph, had been sold into slavery in Egypt by his own brothers who were jealous of him. Nevertheless, Joseph thrived with God’s blessing, becoming the de facto head of the household of his master Potiphar. But just as things were looking up for him, he was falsely accused of attempting to rape his master’s wife, and thrown in jail. Even in jail, God’s hand of blessing was upon Joseph, despite all appearances otherwise. Finally, by God’s provision, Joseph rose to be second only to Pharaoh himself in ruling over Egypt. But even this seeming blessing, turned out to be just the precursor to the blessing for all mankind that God was working through Joseph. After about 20 years in Egypt, God used Joseph’s position there to save his family from starvation during the famine. In reassuring his brothers afterward, Joseph told them…
Genesis 50:20“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
Joseph had no way of knowing the extent of the blessing God had worked through his own suffering. The preservation of the children of Israel would eventually lead to Jesus’ coming forth from the tribe of Judah to save all mankind from the wages of our sin – death. In the midst of our own suffering, we can rarely see what good can come of it, yet we have God’s assurance.
Romans 8:28-3028And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Ephesians 3:20-2120Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Now, having considered the general nature of each of these blessings, let’s examine each of them in turn.
Luke 6:20b“Blessed are you poor,For yours is the kingdom of God.
The Greek word πτωχός ptōchos used in this verse, can mean not only “poor” in the monetary sense, but also lowly, afflicted, helpless or powerless. In Matthew, Jesus alludes specifically to spiritual poverty.
Matthew 5:3a“Blessed are the poor in spirit,…
Just as the poor Jesus blesses in this beatitude are those who are spiritually impoverished, not merely (or even necessarily) lacking in material possessions, so the kingdom of God which Jesus promises as their inheritance never refers in the Bible to an earthly, physical kingdom, but rather to a spiritual one. Recall Jesus’ answer to Pilate when asked whether He is a king…
John 18:36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
The phrase “kingdom of God” is found only in the New Testament. Jesus frequently used this phrase to describe the future spiritual state of those who earnestly seek after it. Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God only in parables as a spiritual state, and not as a tangible event or place…
Luke 17:20-2120Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Beware. This statement of Jesus’ does not imply the pantheistic idea of God pervading all things and all people. The spiritual state Jesus calls the kingdom of God can never exist apart from the person of God who is the creator of the universe, holy and apart. God does not dwell within sinful mankind, nor within animals, plants, or any other created thing. God will indeed inhabit by His Spirit the believer who calls upon the Name of Jesus for salvation, but He is not built into the unconverted man. Recall Jesus’ words to Nicodemus regarding the kingdom of God…
John 3:3Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
…and Jesus admonition against worry over earthly provision…
Matthew 6:31-3431“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
In His blessing pronounced upon the poor, Jesus isn’t implying that those who have no earthly riches, will inherit the kingdom of God as some sort of birthright. Instead, He is saying that the poor in spirit will surely seek earnestly after the kingdom of God, and in so doing will receive it.
Conversely, consider Jesus’ lament following the rich young man’s rejection of the Gospel Jesus had proclaimed to him…
Mark 10:23-2523Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
This does not imply that God is somehow unwilling or unable to offer a place in His kingdom for those rich in earthly possessions, but rather that, being rich, and trusting in their riches for their well-being, they are consequently less likely to seek diligently after the kingdom of God as those poor in spirit might, and are therefore less likely to inherit the kingdom of God for themselves.
Luke 6:21aBlessed are you who hunger now,For you shall be filled.
Once again, Jesus uses hunger to refer not only to physical deprivation, but to spiritual hunger and thirst. The corresponding beatitude in Matthew makes this clear…
Matthew 5:6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,For they shall be filled.
Mankind has a universal desire for justice. We have an in-born knowledge of what is right, and desire to see it fulfilled. God built this characteristic of Himself into us from the beginning…
Genesis 1:27So God created man in His ownimage; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
This desire to see justice fulfilled, and wickedness punished that is part of our very nature is the hunger and thirst for righteousness about which Jesus speaks in this blessing. But in our sin and rebellion against God, mankind has broken the perfect creation that God Himself observed as “very good” when He rested from His creative labor (Genesis 1:31). In this fallen world, righteousness is scarce, and is getting scarcer. We cry out in despair when the wicked prevail in this kingdom of the evil one, just as the prophet did…
Habakkuk 1:2-42O LORD, how long shall I cry,And You will not hear?Even cry out to You, “Violence!”And You will not save.3Why do You show me iniquity,And cause me to see trouble?For plundering and violence are before me;There is strife, and contention arises.4Therefore the law is powerless,And justice never goes forth.For the wicked surround the righteous;Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.
Jesus answers our cry in this blessing, reassuring us that His righteousness will, indeed triumph, and our hunger for it will be filled.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I heard the bells on Christmas DayTheir old, familiar carols play,and wild and sweetThe words repeatOf peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,The belfries of all ChristendomHad rolled alongThe unbroken songOf peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,The world revolved from night to day,A voice, a chime,A chant sublimeOf peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouthThe cannon thundered in the South,And with the soundThe carols drownedOf peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rentThe hearth-stones of a continent,And made forlornThe households bornOf peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;“There is no peace on earth,” I said;“For hate is strong,And mocks the songOf peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;The Wrong shall fail,The Right prevail,With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Luke 6:21bBlessed are you who weep now,For you shall laugh.
Sorrow, mourning, and oppression are part and parcel of the sinful world in which we are sojourners. But, here in this blessing, Jesus reminds us that this world is not our home.
John 16:32-33 (Jesus warning His disciples of His coming betrayal and sacrifice)32Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. 33These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
We normally think of the tribulation Jesus speaks of here in terms of persecution of believers by non-believers, but the original word θλῖψις thlipsis used here means more than that. Literally, it means pressure or pressing together – e.g. in a concentration camp! Figuratively, though, it means oppression, affliction, tribulation, or distress. It is the same word used for narrow straits through which a ship might pass.
Indeed, we may often weep due to the pressures and oppression of this world. We must certainly mourn for our loved ones who have passed away before us. But as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians…
1 Thessalonians 4:13-1813But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.15For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18Therefore comfort one another with these words.
With this promise to those who weep, Jesus reminds us that He will restore all things as He revealed to John in his vision.
Revelation 21:1-71Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”5Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”6And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.
Luke 6:22-2322Blessed are you when men hate you,And when they exclude you,And revile you, and cast out your name as evil,For the Son of Man’s sake.23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!For indeed your reward is great in heaven,For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.
Jesus wraps this final blessing inside a warning. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say His disciples are blessed if men hate us, exclude us, revile us, and call us evil, but rather when they do so. These persecutions are certain to come, even in the good ol’ enlightened and tolerant USA.
John 15:18-2118“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.
But we need to beware of the temptation to self-righteousness. Notice that Jesus pronounces this blessing upon those who are persecuted “For the Son of Man’s sake.”
1 Peter 2:19-2119For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
1 Peter 3:14-1714But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” 15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
The reward Jesus speaks of as the blessing which will come out of persecution for His Name’s sake, isn’t some merit badge we can sew on our Christ Follower uniform. He first speaks of it to Abram.
Recall that Abram had taken his family to Egypt (always a type of the world and the flesh in Scripture), to escape a famine. Upon his return to the land of promise, Abram and his nephew, Lot, had separated, with Abram settling in the mountains of Judea, and Lot in the plain near Sodom. Lot was then taken captive in a great war, and Abram had rescued him along with the king of Sodom. Returning from that operation, Abram had been blessed and given bread by Melchizedek, called king of Salem and priest of God Most High, who was probably a pre-incarnate manifestation of Jesus Himself.
Genesis 15:1After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
When Abram complained in response about having no heir, God gave him the magnificent promise of a son, Isaac, in whom all the nations would be blessed. We know in retrospect, that God would use the line of Abram and Isaac to bring forth His Messiah – Jesus – in whom all the world would be given the promise of salvation from sin. Abram couldn’t have known this, but had to simply rest in the promise of the reward from God.
So it is with the blessing of Jesus in Luke 6:23. In the midst of persecution, we can’t see God’s intent and plan which is being fulfilled in our suffering. We must simply trust, as Abram did, that God’s will is perfect…
Jeremiah 29:11For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says theLORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
With our limited capacities, we can’t even conceive of the greatness of God’s reward for those who persevere in His name through persecution…
1 Corinthians 2:9But as it is written:“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,Nor have entered into the heart of manThe things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
In speaking of this reward, though, Jesus is not referring to our salvation. We are assured of our salvation, not through our own suffering, but through His on the cross of Calvary. Yet even while we rest in the promise of salvation through faith alone, we also know from the Word that our works as His followers will nevertheless be judged…
2 Corinthians 5:10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
1 Corinthians 3:11-1511For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Finally, Jesus reassures us that if we do suffer persecution for the sake of His Gospel, it is nothing new, and that we are in good company…
Luke 6:23cFor in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.
Throughout the history of God’s people, they (we) have shamefully mistreated those whom God has placed in our midst to honor His Name and proclaim His coming judgment…
Matthew 23:29-3929“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’31“Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.37“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'”
As it was in Jesus’ time and throughout the history of sinful man, so it continues even until our own time. In this final blessing, Jesus foretells with certainty that those who stand firm in proclaiming His Gospel, and His condemnation of sin will, indeed, take the same path of suffering and persecution followed by those who went before us. Nevertheless, our reward will be great, even beyond what we can imagine.