The Sermon on the Mount—The First Three “Happinesses”
JESUS opened his Sermon on the Mount with a series of nine statements that describe persons who are truly happy. In the first of these “happinesses,” Jesus said: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them.”—Matt. 5:3, NW; An American Translation.
“Those conscious of their spiritual need” are, according to the literal Greek of Matthew, persons “poor [as] to the spirit.” Luke’s parallel account reports Jesus as saying: “Happy are you poor, because yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20) Jesus pointed out that an important reason for his coming as Messiah was “to declare good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18) This does not indicate any special merit in being poor or that the poor automatically have God’s favor. But, primarily, those who followed Jesus and had been given the hope of sharing in the blessings of God’s kingdom were drawn from among the poor or common people. (1 Cor. 1:26-29; Jas. 2:5) Those downtrodden ones knew themselves to be poor “as to spirit” (spiritually) too. Rather than succumbing to bitterness due to external circumstances, they became “conscious of their spiritual need,” more fully aware of their dependence on God.
In contrast, Jesus declared: “But woe to you rich persons, because you are having your consolation in full.” (Luke 6:24) Material wealth often dulls consciousness of spiritual need. An example can be seen in Jesus’ words of rebuke to certain Christians at Laodicea, Asia Minor: “You say: ‘I am rich and have acquired riches and do not need anything at all,’ but you do not know [that is, are not conscious that spiritually] you are miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked.”—Rev. 3:17.
The reason for happiness on the part of those conscious of their spiritual need is that “the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them.” They accepted Jesus as Messiah, and this opened up opportunities for them to rule with him in God’s heavenly kingdom by Christ. (Luke 22:30; John 14:1-4) How it must have warmed the hearts of humble “commoners” to learn that they could be in line for the kingdom of God, whereas rich and highly educated persons who trusted in their wealth and viewed the common people as “accursed” were not! (John 7:49) Of course, wealthy persons could manifest the same spirit of humility and a spiritual appreciation that would gain happiness for them as well.—1 Tim. 6:17-19; Jas. 1:9, 10.
WHICH MOURNERS COMFORTED?
As the second “happiness,” Jesus stated: Happy are those who mourn, since they will be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4) The parallel account by Luke reads: “Happy are you who weep now, because you will laugh.”—Luke 6:21.
“Those who mourn” are not all persons who express sadness. Rather, they are the same kind of persons as “those conscious of their spiritual need” mentioned in the previous statement of Jesus. Their mourning is a “godly sorrow” over their own sinful state and the distressing circumstances that have resulted from human sinfulness. (1 Cor. 5:2; 2 Cor. 7:10) They heed the counsel of Bible writer James: “Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you indecisive ones. Give way to misery and mourn and weep.”—Jas. 4:8, 9.
These godly mourners “will be comforted.” (Compare Luke 2:25.) Among the comforts forthcoming through Jesus Christ are forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.
The mourners to whom Jesus referred can be called “happy” both now and in the future. Because of exercising faith in Jesus, they enjoy the well-being that stems from a favorable relationship with Jehovah God. (John 3:36) And as for future happiness, those who now mourn because of the unrighteousness of humankind can look forward to ‘relief at the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.’—2 Thess. 1:7, 8.
In contrast to the happiness pronounced upon those who mourn, Jesus declared: “Woe, you who are laughing now, because you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:25) This does not condemn laughing and having a good time. Jesus was evidently referring to pleasure seekers whose lives are dedicated to their own comforts. They neither mourn over their inherited sinful state nor feel sorry for the suffering of fellow humans. Such individuals seek their own “comforts” in a self-satisfying course of life and the fleeting pleasures that it can bring.
Jesus emphasized that their frivolous laughter is only for “now.” Such individuals will “mourn and weep” when God brings an end to the present system of things that has provided the occasions for their hilarity and merriment. (Matt. 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30) In harmony with Jesus’ words, James admonishes: “Let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves in the eyes of Jehovah, and he will exalt you.”—Jas. 4:9, 10; 5:1-6.
HAPPINESS FOR THE “MILD-TEMPERED ONES”
Next, Jesus said: “Happy are the mild-tempered ones, since they will inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5) To what type of persons did he refer?
In the Scriptures the term for ‘mildness of temper,’ or “meekness,” does not suggest cowardice, weakness or a veneer of condescending, hypocritical gentleness. On the contrary, meekness is an inward quality of mildness and peaceableness that people exercise first of all in their relation to God, in their response to his will and guidance. Rather than becoming embittered at widespread oppression and injustice on earth, truly meek individuals discern that these woes are due largely to human imperfection. Toward God they feel, not bitterness, but a keen sense of dependence. This frame of mind, in turn, reflects itself in conduct toward fellow humans that harmonizes with the counsel: “Return evil for evil to no one. . . . If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.”—Rom. 12:17-19; Titus 3:1, 2.
The happiness of these mild-tempered ones is because “they will inherit the earth.” How does that come about? Jesus, who in a perfect sense was “mild-tempered and lowly in heart,” is the principal Inheritor of the earth. (Ps. 2:8; Matt. 11:29; 28:18; Heb. 1:2; 2:5-9) The Hebrew Scriptures foretold that the “son of man” would have associate rulers in his heavenly kingdom. (Dan. 7:13, 14, 22, 27) As “joint heirs with Christ,” the mild-tempered ones will share in Jesus’ inheritance of the earth. (Rom. 8:17) Additionally, in the earthly realm of Jesus’ kingdom, many other ‘sheeplike’ persons will enter into everlasting life. (Matt. 25:33, 34, 46) A happy prospect indeed!
[Picture on page 27]
Jesus’ words caused people really to think about their relationship with God