The kingdom of God manifests in two distinctive ways: both within and through believers. It starts with Holy Spirit bringing conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16: 8), thereby producing godly sorrow that leads to repentance required for the forgiveness of sins and salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). With repentance faith comes as a gift enabling one to believe: “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2: 9). Faith to believe is a gift received when hearts respond to the conviction of sin by turning from what offends God and turning to the ways of God (Acts 3:19). Thus it is sins are forgiven and man’s spirit is reborn of God (John 1:12,13).
It is often taught new birth comes by making a decision for Christ, leading many to believe they are reborn. But new birth is “not of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). To teach one is born again by making a decision (will of man) without repentance and receiving the gift of faith to trust in Jesus is a man-made “doctrine of devils” used by some to evangelize (1 Timothy 4:1). Peter preached what is biblical: “Repent therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ who was preached to you before” (Acts 3:19, 20). Ignoring God’s demand for true repentance is preaching a false gospel.
Failure to preach repentance and demand for conversion (turning away from the lordship of Satan to the lordship of Jesus) for sins to be blotted out and receive Jesus is the ‘cheap grace’ found in many churches. Seducing spirits have introduced doctrines about salvation without a cost and sanctification as fully complete on salvation. Were such true, churches wouldn’t so resemble the world in many works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). The apostle warns us to not fellowship with unbelievers so God might become our Father and we His sons and daughters (2 Corinthian 6: 14-18). It is one of many commandments completely ignored by many who profess the name of Jesus the Christ.
We are exhorted to “work out” salvation, a process only possible by the help of Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12). Continuing to live after ways of the flesh is to die, unlike false security known as eternal security (Romans 8:13). With sanctification one develops “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” which reflects the presence of God and existence of His kingdom (Romans 14:17). Believers are to increasingly reflect fruit of the Spirit: love, joy peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control (Galatians 5: 22,23). Paul challenges all who profess Christ to walk in the Spirit lest they prove to have received grace in vain. “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24,25).
It is relatively easy to identify those living in the kingdom of heaven by their attitudes and lifestyles. They are not self-promoting, self-indulgent, self-confident or very much ‘self’ of anything. Walking in Jesus’ footsteps, they’ve “crucified the flesh” and are denying self by taking up a cross daily to live in a way honoring the One they profess as Lord. On occasion, they find themselves asked by strangers, “You’re a Christian, aren’t you?” Their demeanor reflects the indwelling Christ without saying a single word. They have a compassion for the lost even as they themselves face rejection, suffering and persecution, having a “peace of God which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7,8).
Jesus gathered the Twelve on a hillside to teach attitudes reflecting the kingdom of heaven and what are called Beatitudes. They are the attitudes-to-be of all who are in the kingdom yet seldom receive their deserved emphasis, the first being, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). To be “poor in spirit” is to recognize total lack of self-sufficiency and in desperate need of the Holy Spirit’s life, power and sustaining grace to live in a manner that is acceptable in the eyes of God. Jesus says those are blessed who have no other real security other than that found in intimate relationship with God. It is those with such poverty that the kingdom of heaven belongs.
Any idea of ‘self-made man’ must be rejected. To turn from ways of the world is difficult in an age when personal accomplishment is admired. How often we hear of someone pulling himself up by his own bootstraps and being congratulated if not exalted. But nothing is as critical for entering into the kingdom of heaven as dependence on God in all aspects of life. It’s what Paul means in saying: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Only after entering into the kingdom of God can such words by genuinely repeated.
Next is the attitude “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). One mourns for several reasons. One is over not being in tune with the world and the separation it creates with others when we’ll no longer accommodate to their materialistic and pleasure-seeking standards. It not only makes us strangers but unwelcome guests and disturbers of the peace. As others keep holidays with song and drink, one mourns seeing their boats sink in seas of self-indulgence. While others dream of vacation plans, disciples meditate on the end of life and judgment, mourning over the lost. No one loves fellowmen more than those in the kingdom, yet it’s a love which causes one to mourn over the fate of those who reject the lordship of Jesus.
The mourning at times can be how Luther translates the Greek word as sorrow-bearing. Those in the kingdom do not shake off sorrow as if it were of no concern but bear a sorrow, knowing they belong to humanity. They cannot escape a mourning over what grieves God, moved by sin, greed, immorality and cruelty in the world and even in the church. They also bear the suffering which comes their way in the form of rejection and persecution, yet find themselves comforted by “peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). This is only possible because of seeing one’s true home as existing with their crucified Lord, both now while on earth as well as in eternity future.
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (5:5). In this age, independence is seen admirable and people are driven by doing as seems right in their own eyes. There’s so little eagerness to view life from the perspective of God. Instead it’s “Get all you can as you only pass this way once.” But the “meek” are more concerned about others, especially their brothers and sisters in Christ, and about advancing the kingdom of heaven instead of what happens to themselves. The meek see themselves as retaining no rights of their own, their lives committed to the purposes of God on a continual basis. Renouncing all rights of their own, they hold their peace when reproached, endure patiently when mistreated and do not resist but peacefully yield whenever driven away.
Being meek is not the same as being ‘weak.’ Yet people in the kingdom will not go to court to defend their rights or make a scene if suffering injustice. One is determined to leave his rights to God, as difficult as that may be at times. The meek find their rights in the will of God, showing by word and deed that one does not belong to earth. Still Jesus says, “They shall inherit the earth.” It is the meek who are not absorbed with self who will inherit the earth in the age to come, not the aggressive in getting their own way and what belongs to others at times. It is not the strong in the eyes of the world who shall someday inherit the earth, but the meek who willingly share in the sufferings of Christ.
The next attitude: “Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (5:6). Jesus says seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness above everything else (6:33) and not be concerned as to cost or sacrifice even though the cost is eventually nothing less than self. Not only do the followers of Jesus renounce their rights, they renounce their own righteousness. They get no praise for sacrifices, but look only to the righteousness of Jesus. Those who follow Jesus grow hungry and thirsty on their way, longing for renewal of the earth and the establishment of God’s law. But satisfaction of the hunger for others to know Christ often finds itself delayed.
Hunger and thirst for righteousness is easily destroyed by deceitfulness of wealth (13:22), desire for things of the world (1 John 2:15) and for the pleasures of life (Luke 8:14). One is never filled with righteousness if covetous for that which is worldly. Power of the kingdom is manifested in those who avoid serving anyone or anything other than Jesus or the least of His brothers and sisters whom we’re always to serve without expecting thanks in return. So hungering and thirsting after righteousness is the condition for being blessed by filling with the Holy Spirit and the most precious of satisfactions, namely a righteousness found only in Christ as our own righteousness is as filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6).
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Those merciful have love for the down-trodden, outcast, sick, and those tortured by anxiety, and they will seek those enmeshed in sin and guilt. If someone falls into disgrace, the merciful will shield him and take his shame on themselves. They’ll consort with publicans and sinners, not caring if it brings reproach on themselves. To be merciful, they discard their own dignity and honor because the only dignity and honor they know is the Lord’s mercy to which they owe their lives. Because the merciful know they owe their lives to Jesus’ mercy, it makes them forget their worldly reputation and seek a society of sinners, not to fellowship but to manifest the love and grace of a God from whom they themselves received love and mercy.
In showing mercy to others, the merciful obtain mercy. It’s with a measure of mercy shown others that the merciful know they will be judged (7:1,2). This does not negate a discerning of good and evil, or exposing false doctrine. It just calls for caution in judging, not trying to remove the speck from another’s eye while having a plank in one’s own eye (7:3-5). We are to hold fast to the words of Jesus on the Cross as He said of those crucifying Him, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We dare not neglect being forgiven for participating in Satan’s ways and fail to show mercy to others not yet brought to repentance by the office of Holy Spirit, forgetting that we ourselves have been brought out of darkness into the redeeming light of Christ.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”85 (5:8). The only way to have pure instead of divided hearts and to love righteousness and hate evil is by submitting to divine influence on the heart called grace. It requires our surrender to Jesus in a most childlike way, allowing Him to reign so one is not double-minded. Those born again remain free to choose serving sin, and must humble themselves to the guidance of Holy Spirit as well as resisting the devil for him to flee (James 4:7,8). This requires us to renounce any goodness and rely solely on Jesus the author of truth by allowing His word to daily wash and purify our hearts, and then put into practice His teachings so as to build our lives on rock which will withstand the storms of life.
Otherwise we will simply be inclined toward outward purity with high intentions, and not pay attention to little foxes which kill the vine bearing fruit. To “see God” is not only to see Him in a future kingdom, but dwell in His kingdom during life on earth. We are not going to be coerced to take thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). It’s a matter involving practice, constantly recalling what Jesus told the disciples at Gethsemane just prior to His arrest and crucifixion: “Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Just as those disciples had difficulties putting this into consistent practice, let us recognize that we ourselves are prone to stumble with the same inconsistency!
Next is the teaching, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Peacemakers are those reconciled with the Father by the shed blood of Jesus, who having come to peace with God are now told to make peace! This is twofold in nature. One side is renouncing all turmoil and argument. Nothing is ever gained using such methods. The kingdom of God is one of peace and we must keep peace by enduring suffering instead of inflicting it. We must also strive to maintain fellowship when others are inclined to break it for some reason. This requires dismissing self-assertion in order to overcome that which tends toward evil with love and patience.
The second side is striving to bring others including enemies to peace with God. Such isn’t going to take place unless conflict is avoided. It is love that overcomes, not confrontation. We are to correct and rebuke gently lest we cause an offence which puts up walls instead of breaking them down. Often those delivered from bondage are sensitive to circumstances of the lost and are filled with desire to bring others to peace with the Father. “All things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and has given to us a ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Every believer is given a ministry of reconciliation to the unsaved. If carried out faithfully, we find ourselves called the children of God.
The last beatitude applies especially as Holy Spirit works through believers to advance the kingdom and continue Jesus’ ministry of destroying works of the devil: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:10). Jesus tells, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15: 20). Those who uphold God’s standards by refusing to compromise and are used to heal the sick and expel demons will experience persecution from the world as well as the Church as Satan plants weeds among the wheat (see Matthew 13:24-30). It is those who stand firm and enduring persecution that will someday find themselves told, “Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (5:12).
Those who renounce the love of possessions including their personal rights and their own righteousness in following Christ find themselves clearly distinguished from the world. If used to destroy works of the devil, it is certain the enemy, the world, and the established Church at times will be offended, not to mention one’s own family. Rejection, not applause or recognition, will be the reward one often receives for works done in the name of Jesus through the power of the Spirit. Like other beatitudes, however, this finds one in a place of intimate fellowship with the Crucified from whom will someday come the gracious words “Blessed are you” even as the world is screaming “Away with you!” For the blessings and treasures so important to unregenerate man will have been safely stored in heaven.
After teaching these attitudes-to-be, Jesus continued teaching in Matthew’s gospel about the do-attitudes related to the kingdom (chapters 5-7). These concern a kingdom working through believers in the power of the Spirit while living in a world full of challenges. First is Jesis telling us, “You are the salt of the earth” (5:13). With its preserving qualities, salt refers to believers being entrusted with a mission of continuing the work for which Jesus came to earth apart from His atoning sacrifice. Kingdom life is to be salt flavoring one’s life so that others are blessed by and develop a thirst for godliness. And one dare never lose his saltiness lest life no longer act as seasoning for those intended to receive the gospel of the kingdom through the witness of a believer as their only hope for eternal life.
As well as being salt, disciples are also told “You are the light of the world” (5:14). Activity as witnesses to Christ such as deeds are never to be hidden. It is a property of light to shine like a city set on a hill for all to see, Disciples must act upon what they are called to be and do lest they fail to be followers of Christ. Jesus uses the analogy of lighting a lamp and not placing it under a basket to hide its light and, in so doing, deny the call on their lives. The basket referred to can be any number of things like fear of men, leading one to continue conforming to the ways of the world, or doing humanitarian deeds apart from any witness to Jesus Christ. For those not acknowledging Jesus on the earth will not be acknowledged by Him before the Father in heaven (Matthew 10:32,33).
Jesus reminded the disciples that He had not come to abolish the law but fulfill it, saying not the least part of the law would pass away until all had been fulfilled. He is warning of dismissing obedience to commands in the law such as loving God and loving others as one would himself like to be treated and loved. And whenever break in relationship with others has taken place, reconciliation is to be attempted to whatever degree possible. Great stress is being placed on heart attitudes in relationships, not simply on the outward actions. And every effort is to be made to demolish strongholds which hinder Christ-likeness so that the agape love of God can flow through believers to the glory of the Father in heaven. The idea is to always consider others as better than oneself (Philippians 2:3).
If abused by another, we are not to resist evil but be ready to turn the other cheek and to “love enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44,45). Instructions are also given as to how to give charitably in a way which is acceptable to God, not seeking any kind of recognition for oneself; and how to pray so as to avoid being like the hypocrites with their vain repetitions; and emphasis is given to the manner in which one is to fast so the Father who sees in secret will be able to reward a person openly. Yet these spiritual disciplines are ignored in great part by a great many today or are obeyed in only a token of ways.
Warning is given as to storing treasures on earth. God knows where we keep our treasures and reminds us that where our treasures are, the heart will likewise be. Trying to serve two masters at the same time (God and fleshly appetites) will never succeed, nor will worry as to what to eat, drink or wear as such are what unbelievers concern themselves over. One is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, trusting God to provide all that is needed. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow” (6:34). As Jesus closes teaching on the mount, He acknowledges that “difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (7:14). Let us appreciate the Greek translated “few” in this passage is a word oligos that literally means extremely few, lest we become deceived that the “broad” way of the world will reward one with eternity in heaven.
Jesus expressly warns us, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (7:15,16). The fruits are the character of those who sit under their teaching. They live exactly the same as do those who are mockers of God. As prophesied by Paul, latter times will find the people turning ears from sound doctrine and gathering around teachers who say what itching ears like to hear (2 Timothy 4:3,4). Knowing such will be true, Jesus ends His teaching on the mountainside by saying those who not only hear His words but put them into practice are like a wise man who built his house on rock so that it would stand in the storms to come. In contrast, those failing to practice His teachings will ultimately have their lives fall apart with a great crash in the coming storms of life.
Questioned by a Pharisee who was a lawyer, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law,” Jesus said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40). There is a portion of this reply not always receiving sufficient attention. It has to do with loving one’s neighbor as oneself. I can speak from experience in this regard and it is true for countless others. The fact is that many are unable to love even the members of their own families because they have not come to love themselves. It was a great issue in my life for many years before I learned to bask in the love of my heavenly Father. That one does not personally feel is very difficult to extend to others.
Because of hurts and hangups, iniquities passed down through generations and a number of believers have wounded spirits with feelings of rejection and being unloved. Studies in recent years called epigenetics have demonstrated the existence of specific chromosomal abnormalities in successive generations which correlate directly to a variety of emotional as well as physical illnesses. One example which is passed through mothers on the 2nd x-chromosomes correlates with depression in successive generations. And due to traumatic experiences in life, it is possible for feelings of unloved or rejected to become manifest in a person’s genetics so that an identical predisposition is transferred to the next generation. This field of epigenetics is rapidly advancing, yet rejected by many evangelical leaders.
It likely will take a new generation for many believers to understand why it was that Ezra, Nehemiah and others read from the Book of the Law to people for seven days on the feast of Tabernacles. And then on the eighth day, they assembled together with fasting and in sackcloth with dust upon their heads: “And they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers” (Nehemiah 9:2). There was a recognition that the sins of their forefathers were having impact upon their lives. It was awareness also needed in our day because of false notions that generatioinal curses do not apply to believers because of what Jesus accomplished at Calvary. Yet those trained in the study of human behavior have long been aware of character traits passing from generation to generation, assuming the cause was environmental rather than having spiritual roots.
The next lesson on the parables of Jesus complement His teachings on the mountainside in BE-attitudes and DO-attitudes describing the kingdom of heaven. Taken together, they comprise the gospel of the kingdom of heaven Jesus preached and sent disciples to preach along with destroying the works of the devil by the power of the Holy Spirit. The teachings found in Matthew 5-7 and parables warrant priority very seldom seen in our pulpits today. One might suspect there is correlation with a fact that supernatural signs and wonders are seldom seen confirming the preaching of God’s Word in our churches. Subject matter for preaching is usually taken from NT books that did not exist in the early years of the church instead of being taken from OT scripture as did Jesus Himself.