And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20 ESV)
Therefore, “Blessed!” Jesus is speaking to the disciples (cf. Luke 6:20ff). He is speaking to those who are already under the power of his call. That call has made them poor, tempted, and hungry. He calls them blessed, not because of their want or renunciation. Neither want nor renunciation are in themselves any reason to be called blessed. The only adequate reason is the call and the promise, for whose sake those following him live in want and renunciation. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
There are many ways to interpret the beatitudes. Bonhoeffer’s approach is to look at the beatitudes through the relationships between three parties present at this teaching. There is the crowd, the disciples, and Jesus.
Jesus experiences everything He expresses in the beatitudes. Jesus is not sad or discouraged. He does not think of Himself as unfortunate or cursed. Instead, He knows He is blessed. He understands what it means to be full of joy amid difficult circumstances. His desire is for us to experience what He is experiencing and will experience at the cross. So, Bonhoeffer see each of the beatitudes as a call with a promise. As He speaks them to the disciples there are some that they have already experienced. There are others that they will experience as identify more with life in Christ.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12 ESV)
“On my account”—the disciples are reviled, but it actually hurts Jesus. Everything falls on him, for they are reviled on his account. He bears the guilt. The reviling word, the deadly persecution, and the evil slander seal the blessedness of the disciples in their communion with Jesus. Things cannot go any other way than that the world unleashes it fury in word, violence, and defamation at those meek strangers. The voice of these poor and meek is too threatening, too loud. Their suffering is too patient and quiet. In their poverty and suffering, this group of Jesus’ followers gives too strong a witness to the injustice of the world. That is fatal. While Jesus calls, “blessed, blessed,” the world shrieks, “Away, away with them!” Yes away! But where will they go? Into the kingdom of heaven. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Where will we go? Will we pursue life in Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to grow in us the characteristics described in the beatitudes? Or, will we shrink back from the separation from the world around us that occurs when we are different? How we respond will certainly impact how we read the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Even if Jesus is only addressing His disciples when He speaks the beatitudes, it seems clear from His final words that His intent is for the crowd to experience what the disciples are experiencing. His desire is for everyone to be blessed, and that can only happen by following Jesus and identifying with Him.
To help you and your family explore the beatitudes in more depth we have created a series of lessons for small groups and families that you can find here.