The best way to understand Jesus

To understand what Jesus meant, check out what he did. His life is the best hermeneutic for his words.

Open Matthew 5:3-12.

People understand what Jesus said in different ways, but there’s one foolproof explanation of his teaching we often miss: his life. Jesus’ words interpret his actions; Jesus’ actions interpret his words.

That’s how we understand people anyway. If you suggest something and your friend says, “Oh, sure!” you look at what they’re doing to see what they mean. If they grimace and roll their eyes you interpret it differently than if they nod enthusiastically. Sometimes what we do and what we say doesn’t add up, but that complication doesn’t arise with Jesus.

The Beatitudes are Jesus’ description of the people to whom the heavenly sovereign gives his kingdom. But actually, the kingdom is given to Jesus. He is the Good News for all the communities of the earth. That’s how Matthew’s Gospel ends (28:18-20).

By the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we see Jesus embodying the Beatitudes. He will be the blessing on the poor, the grieving, the powerless, those who receive no justice. He will be divine mercy, the pure vision of God, the peacemaker, the persecuted one. The great reversal — the kingdom — arrives in him.

Our king becomes:

  • Poor in spirit (rejected), establishing God’s kingdom where no one misses out (5:3).
  • Mourning (our grief), so the source of our comfort and deliverance (5:4).
  • Meek (led to a cross), so inheriting the whole earth on our behalf (5:5).
  • Hungering for God’s justice (unjustly crucified), yet satisfying it for us (5:6).
  • Merciful, so receiving mercy for us (5:7).
  • Pure of heart (rejecting violence and abusive power), so seeing God raise him up to reign (5:8).
  • The peacemaker, the Son in whom we see the Father (5:9).
  • Persecuted, and by his death introducing God’s reign (4:10).

So what did he mean when he said, “Follow me” (4:19)?


What others are saying

Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (London: SPCK, 2004), 38 (emphasis original):

The life of heaven — the life of the realm where God is already king — is to become the life of the world, transforming the present ‘earth’ into the place of beauty and delight that God always intended. And those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now. That’s the point of the Sermon on the Mount, and these ‘beatitudes’ in particular. They are a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because that future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth. It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up. Try it and see.

Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 172:

The Gospel portrays Jesus as meek and lowly in heart (11:29), as mourning over the unrepentant cities of the land (11:20–24), as showing mercy (9:13, 27; 12:7; 20:30), as being a peacemaker (5:43–45; 26:52), and as being ridiculed as a false prophet (26:68). If Jesus the supreme teacher is meek and lowly, how much more must be his disciples who are to imitate his ways (10:24–25; 23:8–12)—in contrast to worldly paradigms for religious celebrities (23:5–7). By living this lifestyle of humble nonresistance and trust in God (5:38–44), disciples show themselves to be children of the Father (5:45).

[previous: How does he kingdom come?]

[next: Humanity untwisted: the joy of the Beatitudes]

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

One thought on “The best way to understand Jesus”

  1. Great view point, I hadn’t considersed the sermon on the mount from this perspective before. He really did love out what he taught.

    Liked by 1 person

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