Appearing twice in Matthew’s Beatitudes is the phrase, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Respectively this phrase is applied to “the poor in Spirit” and “those persecuted on account of righteousness.” If they receive the same blessing, is there a connection between the two groups? Maybe the experience of persecution causes a person to become poor in spirit? Or perhaps the answer is found in viewing the Beatitudes as a unified whole rather than as blessings to separate group:
Looking at the literary structure of the passage, the same blessing is given in the first beatitude as the last. There are eight blessings given in the third person:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
- Blessed are those who show mercy, for they will be shown mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
- Blessed are those who make peace, for they will be called sons of God.
- Blessed are those who have been persecuted on account of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These blessings don’t form a chiasm, at least none that I can decipher. But they are hemmed in the beginning and end by “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” as an inclusio of sorts, indicating the norms of the kingdom. The norms of this sinful world will be turned on its head.
And how does one get into this wonderful kingdom? It isn’t easy, that’s for sure. Obedience is absolutely required. For, “anyone who breaks the least of one of these commands and teaches men [to do] likewise, he will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19). This is a direct slight to those regarded in that day as the authorities on righteousness – the scribes and Pharisees. For, as Jesus continues, “If your righteousness does not greatly exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20).
So, if the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are poor in spirit, the pure in heart, the mournful, meek, and merciful, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, those who are persecuted on account of it, and those who make peace instead of war, then it is definitely not for those who operate out of greed and hostility and selfish ambition and hate.
That’s quite the list to live up to. The Lord has given us quite the standard to adhere to, and thankfully, sufficient grace to see use through. At any rate, knowing that he will return soon makes me just as nervous as it makes me glad.