Author: Dr Dewi Hughes, Theological Advisor for Tearfund.
The Character of the Blessed Community of the Kingdom – the Beatitudes
It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the kingdom of God is the central theme of the sermon. The Beatitudes are a sort of prologue describing the characteristics of kingdom people with the first and final Beatitude eliciting the promise that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.1
The main block of the sermon is introduced by the section on Jesus’ relationship to the Law and the Prophets that ends with the statement that a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law is needed for entrance into the kingdom of heaven.2 In the section on prayer we are instructed to pray for the coming of the kingdom and in the section on our attitude towards material things to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness before anything else.3
Then in the concluding section Jesus says that entrance into the kingdom is conditional on doing the will of the Father, which is explained as putting the words of the Sermon on the Mount into practice.4 This final reference is conclusive proof that the Sermon on the Mount was meant to be an ethic by which kingdom people are expected to live in their everyday lives.
It may be stating the obvious but we need to be reminded that kingdom language is political language. What is in view in the Sermon on the Mount is a method of government that is characteristic of the “realm” of God.
It is also interesting that the best known statement of the ethics of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish begins with a declaration of blessing just as the establishment of the old covenant with Abraham was also steeped in “blessing”.5 Blessedness is promised to those that have a number of inward dispositions that are worked out in specific actions.
Before turning to the individual beatitudes, it is important to emphasise that the various dispositions and actions that lead to blessedness do not describe different individuals but the rounded character of kingdom people.
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