Saturday, March 6, 2010

On Hope: The Beatitudes

Thought I'd share some reflections from an Exegetical paper on the Beatitudes.

I came to them thinking they would give a picture of Christian discipleship. I discovered that they rather give a picture of Israel in exile reflected spiritually (the 'poor in Spirit'). The context is Jesus preaching the gospel into the land of darkness (Matt 4:16-17).

The structure of the beatitudes I decided on was:
A - the spiritually poor recieve the kingdom of heaven
B --- the mourners are comforted
C ------ the meek inherit the land
B' --- those craving righteousness are satisfied
D --- those acting mercifully are shown mercy
E ------ those maintaining purity of heart see God
D' --- those who act as peacemakers are sons of God
A' - the persecuted for righteousness recieve the kingdom of God.

So whether this is definately the structure or not, I like it so I'll give some observation from it.
  1. Both A and A' promise the kingdom of heaven now. They function as introduction and conclusion to the beatitudes (both in present tense while the six in the middle are future tense). A summarises BCB' and A' summarises DED'. A' also connects the beatitudes to 5:11-12.
  2. The six in the middle are really two groups of three. In each the central promise has a active verb and the other two are passive. This focuses us on the central beatitudes.
  3. C, inheriting the land and E, seeing God both follow desciption of Jesus at his birth, saviour (1:21) and Immanuel (1:23). They also fit the context of the kingdom of God preached to Zebulun and Naphtali, the first tribes to have been taken into exile.

Key issue: Is the kingdom of God a present reality or only partially present and fully experienced future?

Given my analysis I take the kingdom of God to mean the
life, preaching, death and ressurection of Jesus. So yes, the kingdom is a present reality for the disciples - in Jesus Christ. The future tense verbs function to show the full picture of the kingdom which is now offered in Christ.

My second conclusion is that spiritual povery, mourning, meekness, craving righteousness, merifulness, purity of heart, peacemaking, and persecution HERE are primarily about the experience of those awaiting the Messiah in exile. Christians are not seeking to go back to an exilic experience but to follow Jesus, who embodies Israel in exile (himself taking on these characteristics).

The beatitudes primarily bring relief for those awaiting God’s salvation. They introduce the Sermon on the Mount.

This means that they model discipleship only because as disciples we follow Jesus. We have the fullness of spiritual blessing and those who seek first God's kingdom and righteousness recieve all other blessings.

To answer a now well-worn question on this blog: What may a Christian hope for in this life?
The full kingdom of heaven now in Jesus Christ.

The corrective to over-realised eschatology comes from Jesus taking the way of the cross to glory. Not from downgrading what is promised. Following Jesus does not preclude suffering!

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