“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” A consummate communicator, Jesus began His sermon with a sentence that certainly must have riveted His audience. Probably most of them were poor. Their lives were far from easy; their rough, worn hands attested to that fact. The difficulties and hardships of their lives drove them to travel the hot and dusty roads of Judea to listen to this prophet Jesus. Perhaps He would tell them more about the kingdom of God. Most of them had placed their hopes on the coming of this glorious kingdom. They longed for the day when the righteous Messiah, not the cruel Roman governor, would rule their lives.
Jesus began His sermon with an attention-grabbing, irony-filled series of blessings that have intrigued and puzzled Bible scholars and laymen for centuries. Often referred to as the Beatitudes, these statements contrast worldly goods and values with a heavenly estimation of people’s affairs. The Beatitudes provide us with a heavenly perspective, evaluating the present in the light of eternity. They remind us that things are not always what they seem, and certainly not what they will one day be.
At face value, it appears that Jesus was making a blanket promise of salvation and blessing to anyone and everyone below the poverty line (Luke 6:20). Some have adopted just such an interpretation and have felt a special call to aim their ministries at the downtrodden. In this view, the poor are seen as God’s chosen people. Though they suffer in this world, and perhaps because they suffer now, they can expect glorious blessing in the world to come. And the adherents of this view believe that while in this world the people of God should do everything possible to alleviate the suffering of the poor. In this way the kingdom of God is extended.
Many interpret the word poor as referring to the “poverty of spirit” that Jesus talks about in a very similar sermon, the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:3). In other words, Jesus was offering hope and joy to those who freely recognize their spiritual poverty before God. These individuals are blessed because they come to God with nothing to offer Him except their great need. Thus Christ’s offer of the kingdom of God is not a promise to every poor person. Rather it is a statement about the future condition of those who humbly choose to follow Him. When a person rejects worldly values and embraces the godly teachings of Jesus, then that individual begins to experience the reign of Christ in his or her life. This is how we enjoy the kingdom of God now in this fallen world. One day we will experience the joys of this kingdom in a fuller, more glorious way.
To summarize, anyone, rich or poor (and in a spiritual sense we are all poor), can taste the deep joy of God’s rule and the blessing of His kingdom. But doing so requires that we renounce the ways of the world and humbly submit our ways to God (Isaiah 66:2). This kind of poverty, an emptying of ourselves of our self-centered desires, is what God expects from everyone.