Jesus pronounced those “fortunate” or “happy” who would usually not be considered such. The Greek term makários is descriptive of a privileged, enviable, or desirable state. In this context, the fortunate aspect involves a person’s having a yearning for a right relationship with God and for his guidance, help, and blessing.
The “poor in spirit” are persons who recognize their dire impoverished state. “In spirit” or in attitude, they see themselves as helpless. Their disposition is the opposite of those who are arrogantly self-reliant and consider themselves as needing nothing. (Compare Revelation 3:17.) Despite their trials and suffering, the “poor in spirit” cling to their faith in God. They are not like persons who fail to use good judgment, engage in risky behavior, or take needless chances and then blame God for their suffering or misfortune. (Compare Proverbs 19:3.) The “poor in spirit” are fortunate, “because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” Their disposition is such that they perceive their need for God, wanting to be part of his realm. Therefore, they willingly subject themselves to his guidance and direction. As persons whom God approves and who accept him as their Sovereign, they are, in fact, in his realm and so his kingdom or the “kingdom of the heavens” is theirs. (Matthew 5:3)
Not all persons who mourn may be considered fortunate, but those who mourn for the right reasons do find themselves in a desirable state. Whenever persons mourn in a godly way about their own flawed or sinful condition and the injustices and oppression existing in the world, they will, as Jesus said, “be comforted.” Their comfort would include being forgiven of their sins, having the inner assurance of God’s abiding love, and possessing the trust or faith that his coming day of judgment or reckoning will rectify all matters. (Matthew 5:4)
The “meek,” “humble,” “gentle,” or “considerate” are persons who do not have an exalted opinion of themselves. They are not impressed by their own importance and do not look down upon others with disdain nor treat them in a harsh or hateful manner. Unlike oppressors who seem to have power on their side, the “meek” or “gentle” appear to be at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, it is the meek who “will inherit the earth” or the land. In Psalm 37:10, 11, where the same thought is expressed, the contrast is drawn between the short time the evil oppressor is able to exercise control and the continuance of the meek on the land and their enjoyment of its fruitage. Likely many, if not all, who heard Jesus would have been reminded of the psalmist’s words and would have understood Jesus’ comments accordingly. While corrupt oppressors may dominate for a period, they are not the owners of the earth or land. The ones to whom God grants the inheritance will come to enjoy everything it embraces, and they are the meek or gentle who will continue to live after the oppressors are no more. (Matthew 5:5)
A hungering and thirsting for righteousness would denote an intense yearning to be righteous or upright from God’s standpoint. Such hunger and thirst would stem from an individual’s recognition of personal shortcomings in attitude, word, and action, and from an ardent desire to be a better person. The filling of this hunger and thirst would include coming into possession of the assurance of God’s forgiveness and the conviction that, in the future, one will experience complete deliverance from the sinful condition. (Matthew 5:6)
The merciful treat others in a compassionate manner, responding lovingly to their needs and showing consideration for the weaknesses associated with the flawed human condition. Those who deal compassionately with fellow humans are more likely to prompt a kindly response from others in their own time of need than are persons who have been harsh and demanding. The Most High also deals with individuals according to the way in which they have treated fellow humans. (Compare Matthew 18:35.) As Jesus said, “Fortunate are the merciful, because they will be granted mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)
Persons who are “clean in heart” are pure, not defiled or corrupt, in their inmost selves. They are not unduly suspicious and quick to ascribe bad motives to others. Their inner life is upright, and this makes it possible for them to have a clear vision of God as the Holy One. (Matthew 5:8) When Job, for example, came to recognize the greatness of his lack of knowledge in relation to his God, he was able to say, “Now my eye sees you.” (Job 42:5, NRSV) Those whose inner life is corrupt cannot see God, but their expressions about him will reflect the darkness of their inmost selves. (Compare Titus 1:15.)
“Peacemakers” are persons who promote good relationships with and among others. They do not incite quarrels, strife, and disputes but seek to effect reconciliation, using their influence to resolve differences and to further a better understanding with and among individuals. Peacemakers do not insist on the letter of the law but look at matters humanely. Jesus said that they would be called “sons of God.” His Father is the “God of peace” (Romans 15:13), and peacemakers, therefore, are like he is. (Matthew 5:9)
Those who find themselves among the persecuted for righteousness’ sake are in a desirable state, “because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” Their suffering is for the right reason, and God acknowledges them as his approved servants in his realm. He is their Sovereign. (Matthew 5:10)
It is not pleasant for a person to be misrepresented, persecuted, and spoken against in abusive terms. When, however, individuals are reviled, persecuted, and maligned for the sake of God’s Son, they are fortunate, as what they are facing is because of their being divinely approved. They have reason to rejoice, for their reward is great “in the heavens,” indicating that God will abundantly reward them. Further assuring them of their approved standing before the heavenly Father is the fact that formerly the Hebrew prophets also experienced persecution. (Matthew 5:11, 12)
In Luke’s account, there are fewer clarifying terms, and the list of those who can be considered as being in a fortunate state is shorter. The fortunate include those who were then “poor,” “hungry,” and weeping, and those who would be hated, excluded, and reviled, and have their name cast out as wicked “for the sake of the Son of Man.” (Luke 6:20-23)
Instead of referring to the comfort those who “weep” or mourn would experience, Luke 6:21 says, “you will laugh.” This indicates a complete reversal, their weeping for the right reason would be transformed to rejoicing.
The words “cast out your name as wicked” may denote being expelled from the synagogue and thus represented as an evil person before others. (Luke 6:22) Perhaps being excluded (in a more limited way than by expulsion) and reviled preceded this severe measure. It may be noted that, before expelling the cured blind man, those who took this action reviled him. (John 9:34)
The “leaping” (Luke 6:23) would be a leaping for joy. Numerous translations make this explicit.
Luke 6:24-26 describes those who appear to be in a favorable situation but are not. The expression ouaí, commonly rendered “woe,” conveys the sense of “too bad” or “how terrible.”
Those who were then rich, regarding themselves as not being in need of anything, had all they would ever get. Their present state and the value they attached to it would be their only consolation or comfort. (Luke 6:24)
Persons who then thought of themselves as filled would experience a reversal, becoming painfully aware of their emptiness. They would hunger. As individuals possessing everything they deemed important and enjoying their status and belongings, they then did laugh. Faced with the loss of everything, however, they would end up weeping and mourning. (Luke 6:25)
It might appear that being spoken of in glowing terms by all would be desirable. Israelite history, though, confirmed that this was not the case. It was the false prophets concerning whom the Israelite “fathers” or ancestors spoke well. (Luke 6:26)