Inflammatory Word: Jesus’ listeners fail to hear

Verse: Matthew 5

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

One emotionally charged word, kingdom, makes images dance in the minds of Jesus’ audience: bright banners, glittering armies, the gold and ivory of Solomon’s day, the nation of Israel restored to glory. Yet Jesus often uses this word that quickens the Jewish pulse, starting with his very first message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17).

Winds of change are blowing through Israel as Jesus speaks. Guerrilla fighters called Zealots hang on the edges of the crowds, awaiting the signal. Armed and well organized, they are spoiling for a fight against oppressive Rome. The signal for revolt, however, never comes. To their dismay, it gradually becomes clear that Jesus is not talking about a political or military kingdom.

The expectations raised by Jesus’ statements lead to confusion and, ultimately, to angry rejection. Initial excitement over Jesus’ miracles sours into disappointment when he fails to restore the long-awaited kingdom. As it turns out, the word kingdom means one thing to the crowd and quite another to Jesus.

Two Kinds of History

Jesus indicates that two kinds of history are going on simultaneously. We live in a visible world of families and people and cities and nations—“the kingdom of this world.” But Jesus calls for people to commit their lives to an invisible kingdom, the “kingdom of heaven,” a kingdom more important and more valuable than anything in the visible world. It is like the finest pearl in the world, he says—worth selling everything you have to invest in it.

Success in the kingdom of heaven involves a complete reversal of values, as seen in this major address, the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says, and also those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and the persecuted—“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Status in this world does not guarantee status in the kingdom of heaven.

Life Questions

Are you focused on achieving success in the kingdom of this world or in the kingdom of heaven?

This devotion is from the NIV Student Bible by Zondervan. Used with permission.