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Matthew 5:8-9 – “Blessed is the New Covenant”

Blessed are the clean in heart, because they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, because they will be called ‘sons of God.’


Having transitioned from the vertical dependence upon God (vv. 3-6) to the horizontal outworking of that dependence (vv. 7-10) it is time to notice how this second table of Jesus’ beatitudes relates to the first table. Each beatitude in this second table corresponds with its chiastic mate in the first table. This precedence was initiated in vv. 6&7 which served as the pivot point between humility before God and harmony with man.


The remaining beatitudes will generally maintain the patterns already begun. Therefore, we can expect (1) a meaning that makes sense within the context of kingdom teaching to those who believe and yet are not living in a present kingdom and (2) that Jesus’ teaching is steeped in an Old Testament context. To this pattern we should add a third: namely, that each blessed characteristic and the reason for their blessedness will correspond in turn to a previous beatitude.


A Heart to Believe (v. 8)


Immediately after highlighting those who do God’s will (v. 7) Jesus states that those who are pure of heart are also to be congratulated. Once again, we should remember that Jesus does not describe a new kind of individual who is blessed, but states that those who are contrite, conscience-stricken, controlled, and crave are also those who show mercy and are pure in heart.

Meaning


As before, this verse is divided into two natural parts: (1) Jesus’ pronouncement blessing/offer of congratulations and (2) the reason Jesus sees these people as blessed. It is also important to note that the way Jesus identifies them (i.e., as those who are pure in heart) is not the reason He congratulates them. But at the same time, there is the on-going assumption that these blessed individuals are already in a right relationship with God. We are speaking of redeemed individuals. For the first time in the beatitudes, there is no pressing or eternal need stated or implied within this verse.[1] Simply stated, the pure hearted will see God.


Jesus’ Congratulations (v. 8a) – “Blessed are the clean in heart”: The substantival adjective καθαρός usually communicates the idea of cleanliness, whether a literal cleanliness (Matt. 23:26; 27:59; Jn. 13:10) or a moral/ceremonial cleanliness (Lk. 11:41; Jn. 13:11; 15:3; Acts 18:6; 20:26; Rom. 14:20) only the context can determine. Of the 27x the adjective is used in the New Testament, only four speak of a clean or pure heart (Matt. 5:8; 1 Tim. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Pet. 1:22). The relative rarity of a pure heart may have something to do with the way Scripture speaks of the heart. In contrast to our modern idea of the heart being the seat of emotion and desire, the ancients viewed the heart more wholistically. The heart is the center of man, the place where decisions are made, thoughts are processed, and volition is realized.[2] Emotion has a part in this center, but only a part. Regarding this heart, Moses tells the nation of Israel that they do not possess one that knows Yhwh (Deut. 29:4) and thus they will not obey Him. Jeremiah states that the heart of man is so sick that not even its owner can understand the depth of its wickedness (Jer. 17:9). Jesus will later state that the heart of man is the source of all evil thoughts, speech, and deeds (Matt. 12:34; 15:15-20). If one has a clean/pure heart, then one has a heart different than the one he was born with. If Moses commented on the fact that Israel has not yet been given a heart to know God, then Jesus blesses those who have already received such a heart.


Jesus’ Rationale (v. 8b) – “because they will see God”: Under the condition of an old heart that does not know God (Deut. 29:4) none can see God and live (Ex. 33:20). Even Moses could not see the face of God but was only allowed to see His back (Ex. 33:21-23; 34:5-8). Yet the future holds promise of seeing God even as He is (1 Jn. 3:2) to mean His very face (Rev. 22:4). To see God is to know God. Those who are pure in heart are considered blessed now because the day will come in the future when they will know God as fully as a creature is able to know his Creator.


External Connections


If we have been expecting Jesus to allude to a significant Old Testament passage, we will not be disappointed. The connection to Psalm 24 is undeniable, but in doing so, Jesus begins pulling on a string that is connected to many more texts. We will content ourselves to explain the connection to Psalm 24 and then explore only a few of the major additional texts most important to the discussion.


Psalm 24:3-4 – “Who may ascend into the mountain of Yhwh? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to vanity nor swears to deceit.”: The fact that Jesus alludes to Psalm 24:3-4 is without dispute but what does this allusion imply? David, after establishing that the cosmos belongs to Yhwh (vv. 1-2) asks a rhetorical question. The holy mountain of Yhwh refers to Zion, the place of the future temple, where Yhwh is seated above the cherubim. David is asking who can approach God. The answer is a resounding nobody! There is none who does good, no not one (Ps. 14:1-3). Yet, David continues to speak as if such a one exists. This pure-hearted and clean-handed individual will receive a blessing and righteousness from Yhwh (v. 5) and will be sought by those who seek Yhwh (v. 6). It is imperative that the interpreter continue reading through vv. 7-10, for it is here that we fully understand who this One is that ascends to Yhwh’s mountain. The gates and ancient doors (vv. 7&9) here spoken of go to the temple. The One who comes through them is the king of glory. Who is the king of glory? Yhwh of hosts, Yhwh mighty in battle. In short, the only one who inherently has a pure heart and clean hands is Yhwh Himself. He is the One who is able to ascend Zion and be in Yhwh’s presence. Hence the need for the Messiah to be Yhwh!


David’s point is to anticipate righteous Messiah who will stand before Yhwh as Yhwh on behalf of the people. Yet Jesus is not pronouncing congratulations upon Himself. He has real people in mind. So, who are these that have pure hearts, even if they are not inherently possessed?


Jeremiah 31:31-34 – “’Behold, days are coming,’ declares Yhwh, ‘when I will cut a covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Not like the covenant which I cut with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to lead them from the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke; yet I was a husband to them’ declares Yhwh. ‘For this covenant which I will cut with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares Yhwh, ‘I will give my instruction within them, and upon their hearts I will write it, and I will be their God and they will be My people. And they will never again teach each man his neighbor and each man his brother saying, ‘Know Yhwh’ because they will all know Me from the smallest of them to the greatest of them, declares Yhwh. ‘For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will never remember again.”


This prophecy of a New Covenant anticipates a day when God’s will is inherently written on the hearts of His people to the point where they simply do it without any need for previous instruction. Because it is popular to incorrectly attribute this text to the church, it becomes necessary to state over and over that the church is by no means a fulfillment of the New Covenant.[3] The fact that these verses require explanation is proof enough that we are not currently living in their fulfillment (v. 33). The point is that Jeremiah anticipates a day when God does something to Israel’s heart. But is it enough that God simply reprogram Israel’s old heart?


Ezekiel 36:22-27 – “Therefore, say to the house of Israel: ‘Thus says the Lord Yhwh, “It is not because of you that I am about to act, O house of Israel, but for My holy name which you profaned among the nations where you have come. I will consecrate My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you profaned in their midst. So that the nations will know that I am Yhwh,” declares the Lord Yhwh, “when I consecrate Myself among you in their sight. And I will take you from the nations and gather you from the lands and bring you to your own land. And I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you will be clean; from all your uncleanliness and from your idols I will cleanse you. I will also give you a new heart and give you a new spirit within you and remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give to you a heart of flesh. I will give My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you will carefully keep My judgments.”


Here the prophet Ezekiel makes it clear that God has no intention of simply reprograming Israel’s heart but plans to give them an altogether new heart. This explains why none may enter Yhwh’s holy mountain while at the same time maintaining an anticipation of Yhwh’s people knowing Him intimately. The heart to know Yhwh (Deut. 29:4) will be given to them.


Jesus’ words of blessing are New Covenant language. Those whom He congratulates are those who have been given the heart promised in the New Covenant, those who trust in the One who ascends Yhwh’s holy mountain (i.e., the King of Glory/Yhwh of hosts). There is none that have a pure heart unless it be Yhwh who has given it to him. In such a case, it is easy to call these ones blessed. Yet Jesus makes clear that their blessed state has everything to do with the future rather than their present condition. How does their present state and future condition align with the others whom Jesus considers to be blessed?


Internal Connections


It is not only that those who are pure/clean in heart are similar to those who are gentle but also that the grammar and word choice of these verses mirrors each other as well as the fact that the reasons provided for their being blessed complement one another.


Grammatical Mirroring: Both vv. 5&8 describe the blessed ones with articular substantival adjectives (οἱ πραεῖς/οἱ καραροὶ τῇ καρδίᾷ) and explain their blessed state with future, active ideas (ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν/ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται). While it is true that ὄψονται (they will see) appears to be in the middle voice, ὁράω (to see) is an irregular verb where the future aspect appears in the middle form (ὄψομαι) apart from any middle nuance. For this reason, it is understood functionally as an active verb. These (κληρονομήσουσιν and ὄψονται) are the only active verbs used in these eight beatitudes.


Pure of Heart vs. Gentle: While the verbs in the explanations are active, there remains a passive idea in both those who are meek/gentle (οἱ πραεῖς) and those who are pure of heart. As already stated, there is none who are pure in heart unless it is God who has made them so. Likewise, to be meek/gentle is to be under control. This anticipates the question: who is holding the reins? God is the One who controls the gentle just as He is the One who has provided a new heart for the pure in heart.


Seeing God vs. Inheriting the Land: As the grammar would suggest, the tightest connection rests in the reason that these two characteristics belong to those who are blessed. It is impossible not to understand both reasons eschatologically. If one does not see God now (Ex. 33:20) but will see Him in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 22:4), then the reason provided in v. 8 is exclusively eschatological. Likewise, any inheritance of the land is joined to the establishment of the kingdom and is thus also exclusively eschatological. Jesus uses the future aspect for a reason. Sooner or later exegetes need to begin taking the grammar of Scripture seriously. The sense is that both reasons for blessing are joined in that the land will be inherited when the king of glory appears in His temple. The blessing of inheritance is linked with the blessing of being in God’s presence and thus seeing Him as He is.


A Life that Hopes (v. 9)


Now Jesus offers congratulations to those called peacemakers. Our process will maintain the same method of first examining the terms that are used within the context to establish the general meaning and then refine our understanding by examining both external and internal connections.


Meaning


The pattern of blessing followed by the reason for blessing continues unbroken. We must continually remind ourselves that (1) the peacemakers are not blessed because of their peacekeeping but because of what they will be called, and (2) this is not a new group of blessed people but a seventh characteristic of those who are blessed.


Jesus’ Congratulations (v. 9a) – “Blessed are the peacemakers”: It is generally pointed out that Jesus here congratulates those who make peace rather than those who are peaceful. The indication seems to be more than those who avoid trouble by passively living peacefully among men or even those who actively work to maintain or keep the peace. To make peace is to bring peace to a conflict zone.[4] But what does this mean? Is Jesus calling for social activism whereby His followers wave white flags between warring parties or seek political compromises between bickering factions? Is this a call for disciples of Jesus to become third party arbiters to settle all the world’s woes? Two words of caution and common sense are needed.


First, before jumping the rails in favor of the postmillennial heresy known as social justice it would behoove us to consider how the concept of peace is used in the Bible and thus discover Jesus’ meaning via the scriptures. This is the only place in the New Testament where the noun εἰρηνοποιός (peacemaker) is used. The verbal cognate εἰρηνοποιέω (to cause/make peace) also appears only once in Col. 1:20: “And through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, having made peace by means of the blood of His cross, through Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” The New Testament seems to focus on the peace that is necessary between God and man more so than between man and man. Solving conflict between man and man is a complete waste of time and energy if the conflict between man and God remains unaddressed. It is akin to splinting the broken leg of a corpse. All the social, political, and economic activism in the world cannot bring life to a corpse and is thus of little to no eternal value. It should be noted that peace (εἰρήνη) is not a description of the cessation of hostility. That is not peace, but a cease-fire. Peace marks a state of total tranquility and harmony in which life can not only survive but thrive. This is the picture presented to us in the Old Testament of Messiah and His reign. Messiah is called the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6), who will reign in the city of Peace (Jerusalem), and this message is called the gospel of Peace (Is. 52:7). Neither the Old nor the New Testaments advocate social activism. In fact, Christians are commanded to lead quiet lives and mind their own business (1 Thess. 4:11-12). To be a peacemaker then is to proclaim the good news of Messiah, Jesus Christ, who is the embodiment of our peace (Eph. 2:14).


Secondly, perhaps we should consider the previous beatitudes and their nature to see if our interpretation of the present congratulatory statement is consistent. The poor in spirit (v. 3) describe the contrite and humble before God, not the socially or economically destitute. Those who mourn (v. 4) describe those whose conscience is pricked over personal and global sin, not those who have been wronged by society. The gentle (v. 5) describe those who are under God’s control and influence rather than their own, not powerless who are abused by the powerful. Those who hunger and thirst (v. 6) do so for righteousness, not for sustenance. The merciful (v. 7) are those who have been shown mercy from God primarily in the sense that they have been forgiven of their iniquity, not that they have been granted social or economic prosperity. As for the pure in heart (v. 8) it is difficult to imagine how this beatitude could be twisted to advocate social justice as opposed to eternal regeneration. The point then is this: if the entire list of beatitudes up to this point emphasize the spiritual and eschatological realities of the redeemed, why would this beatitude emphasize the physical and temporal?[5] After all, it is the peacemakers who will one day be called the sons of God.


Jesus’ Rationale (v. 9b) – “because they will be called ‘sons of God.’”: Peacemakers are not congratulated for their peacemaking but because they will be called the sons of God. If the future indicative indicated an eschatological vision of God in v. 8, it is difficult to imagine why the other future indicatives (this one included) would be different. The future aspect does not mean that believers will not be considered to be sons of the Father until the last day, for this great love from the Father to us has already been made manifest (1 Jn. 3:1). Rather, it is on the last day when the only begotten Son will take possession of His inheritance and thus His many brethren (Rom. 8:29-30) will receive theirs as well. The peacemakers are considered blessed because they will reign with the Prince of Peace as joint heirs of His kingdom (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 4:7; Jam. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:7).


External Connections


The expression “sons(s) of God” is more specific than one might think. As argued before, this expression was first used of the nation Israel (Ex. 4:22) but also came to carry strong Messianic implications (Psalm 2:7). Both ideas are present in that the corporate head (Messiah) stands in solidarity with the people. As such, there are two main texts that we must turn to.


2 Samuel 7:14a – “…I Myself will be a Father to him and he will certainly be a son to Me…”: This is part of Yhwh’s promise to David and the seed to come from him in the distant future (7:19). For the first time, Yhwh has explicitly connected the nation of Israel and her Messiah through the concept of sonship. The corporate head will be a Son of God, through whose solidarity with the people will make them sons as well.


Hosea 1:10-11 – “Yet the number of the sons of Israel are like the sands of the sea which will never be measured nor counted. And it will be in the place where it was said to them, “You are not My people” it will be said to them, “You are sons of the living God.” And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together and set for themselves one head and then go up from the land, for great is the day of Jezreel.”: This text assumes the corporate solidarity of 2 Sam. 7. The one leader that will be appointed over the divided kingdom is none other than Messiah, the Davidic heir, and Son of God. Under His unifying rule will the sons of the divided kingdom again be referred to as sons of the living God.


The sense of these texts combined with Jesus’ seventh beatitude is very simple: The reason peacemakers are blessed is because they are those who submit to the rule of this Davidic and Messianic king. Speaking to an exclusively Jewish audience regarding the things of the kingdom, Jesus makes it clear that those who make peace are in fact following the Prince of peace. Subsequently, they will be called God’s sons rather than His enemies on the last day.


Internal Connections


The internal connections continue between vv. 4&9 to link those who mourn with those who make peace. These connections are more than conceptual but continue to be found in the precise language used by Jesus and recorded by Matthew.


Grammatical Mirroring: A return to the passive voice in both ὅτι (causal) clauses is to be expected. After all, half of the eight verbs are in the passive voice. However, it is not only that both verbs share the passive voice that is of interest but the verbs themselves. Those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted (παρακληθήσονται). Meanwhile, the peacemakers are blessed because they will be called (κληθήσονται) sons of God. If we recall that this is a sermon, meaning that these words were spoken out loud, it is impossible to think that Jesus’ audience did not hear the connection between will be comforted (παρακληθήσονται) and will be called (κληθήσονται), for they share the same root (καλέω).


Peacemaking vs. Mourning: As already stated, those who mourn do so because of personal and global sin. They mourn over their own sin and the fact that the world is a thoroughly sinful place. They are not comfortable with sin and lament the fact that it disrupts unity with God and impugns His character. Peacemaking, on the other hand, is the right response for the mourner. Because this peacemaking is defined as active reconciliation between God and man, the peacemaker proclaims repentance from the very sin that causes such lamentation. The world is at war with God, which causes the blessed much grief. But rather than wail in the dust, those who mourn also make peace by proclaiming the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus Christ. The hope of His return is a comfort to these mourners until the day comes when He will personally comfort them by giving them the inheritance of fellow heirs and sons of God.


Called ‘Sons of God’ vs. Being Comforted: The Greek term καλἐω (to call) is every bit as broad as the English. To call someone can mean to summon them, to name them, or to invite them. The understanding of comfort (παρακαλέω) literally means to call alongside. One comforts/encourages/exhorts (all valid translations of παρακαλέω) by calling the suffering, erring, disheartened person to a standard of truth. One is called a son of God when the title is made official or recognized as valid. In a very real sense, the comfort to those who mourn is the objective truth that they will be called God’s sons.


Regarding the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers, the glue that binds them together is the expectation of the New Covenant. These beatitudes describe those who have been shown great mercy, given a new heart, and actively proclaim the peace of the coming kingdom. It is interesting that the reasons explaining why these New Covenant saints are to be congratulated are presented in the future tense just as the kingdom is spoken as a future reality. Just as Abraham trusted in and was under the covenant that bears his name even though it was not fulfilled in his lifetime, so too New Covenant saints trust in and are under a covenant that has not yet come to fulfillment. But the first fruits will give way to the fulfilled harvest. It is because of that day that these saints are to be congratulated and considered blessed indeed.

[1] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), p. 204.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), p. 100.

[3] First fruits ≠ fulfillment.

[4] David Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), p. 152.

[5] All eight beatitudes have physical and present implications, but the emphasis of each is primarily spiritual and eschatological.

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