Something very interesting about Luke’s version of the Beatitudes stuck out to me today. It is the little word, “now”. It helped me to see so clearly the contrast between the present condition of many believers and the glorious future state that is promised in the gospel message.
Here’s the passage…
Luke 6:20–26 (ESV)
20And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
22“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!
23Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
26“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
You can see this little word, “now” in both the blessings (verses 21-22) as well as the woes (verse 25). And do you see the contrast? On the one hand, those who are blessed don’t look to be very blessed at the moment! They are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, reviled and spurned as evil. On the other hand, those who are not blessed (“woe to you” is hardly a good thing to hear) are rich, full, laughing and spoken well of.
This is the current condition of these two groups, but then look at the contrast in the future. On the one hand, those who are blessed will in the future receive the kingdom of God, satisfaction, laughter, and a great reward in heaven. While those who are not blessed will be hungry, mourning, and weeping as they face the awful reality that their “blessings” were nothing more than temporary.
How can a “prosperity gospel” which teaches health and wealth to all Jesus’ disciples now, explain away Jesus’ teaching here? The implications of the passage are obvious. Our present circumstances do not indicate at all the blessing that comes from being a disciple of Jesus.
And, even more importantly, let me point out here that being a disciple of Jesus is what makes the difference between these two groups. Jesus is not saying that all poor people now will receive the kingdom of God. Verse 29 is explicit: He is speaking to his disciples. And v. 22 also shows that these disciples are hated and reviled “on account of the Son of Man.” Jesus is talking to those who identify themselves with him, who are his followers, who name him as their Lord, and who are willing to suffer now because of their great confidence in Jesus.
The beatitudes, whether the Matthew version or the list here in Luke are not necessarily meant to be a list of virtues that we aspire to (although there are some virtues mentioned in Matthew) but rather are a description of the current state in which Jesus’ followers find themselves. The heart of the gospel is not that we attain to a list of virtues and thus become “blessed.” Rather the gospel (i.e. the good news of the Bible from beginning to end) is God’s grace extended to us through a promise. That promise, which was the first promise ever given on planet earth (Genesis 3.15) is that through Jesus’ death on the cross the sins of all those who trust in Jesus to save them are fully and completely punished. Jesus’ disciples then are blessed with a future great reward in heaven (v. 23).
On the other hand, those who do not trust in Jesus to save them will themselves suffer the punishment of their sins. The truth of coming judgment for those who do not follow Jesus, which is clearly taught in many places throughout the Bible is implicit in the word “woe” in verses 24-26.
Being rich now; being full now; laughing now and being spoken well of now is not necessarily evil in and of itself (see 1 Timothy 6:17-19), but it should never be taken as an indication of future eternal spiritual blessing–the blessing of forgiveness of sins and eternity in the presence of Holy God. Such temporal, transient blessings are God’s kindness “to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35).
But the day will come when those in this group will have to give an account for failing to see God’s kindness to them in these temporal blessings. Thus the “woe” spoken to Jesus’ disciples here is a warning to them to make sure that they come to him daily by grace, with their eyes on the Son of Man, Jesus, and the promise of eternal reward in heaven (v. 23) that he offers through his death and resurrection.
There is a very real “woe” that is coming for those who fail to follow Jesus now and trust him now, regardless of the suffering that may involve (whether it be poverty, hunger, weeping or scorn). If we make our gods the gods of comfort, wealth, and status, we risk losing our souls. Woe to us if we don’t leave everything to have only Jesus. But blessing is ours when we look to Jesus alone and as true disciples trust him to keep his promise, even when it appears that we have nothing to show for it!