These verses lead to the first long discourse given by Jesus that Luke records. Luke wrote that a great multitude came from all over Judea, including Jerusalem. They even came from Tyre and Sidon. Those were probably Gentiles. Tyre and Sidon were north of Israel in what is now Lebanon. They were ancient cities Sidon was the son Canaan, grand son of Ham and great grand son of Noah. (Genesis 10:15)
Before preaching, Jesus ministered to the crowd. He healed all that were brought to him (19) He cast out demons. (18) Certainly Jesus proved his deity with these miracles, but he could have done that with one healing in front of the crowd. But Jesus had compassion on those who suffered illness and who were oppressed by demons.
Jesus also showed what his kingdom will ultimately be like. There will be no suffering from illness and no presence of demons. He will have cured all illness and cast all demons into hell. Life in the kingdom will one day be perfect. John wrote “no longer will there be anything accursed”. (Revelation 22:3) Here, as Luke recorded, Jesus gave them, and now us, a glimpse of it.
The Blessings (Beatitudes)
Jesus’ sermon in this chapter is sometimes called “the sermon on the plain” in comparison to the “sermon on the mount” recorded in Matthew 6. It gets its name from verse 17, where Luke wrote that Jesus came down from the mountain to a level place.
Because the sermons are similar, some critics conclude that Luke made a mistake in saying in happened on “a level place” rather than the side of the mountain. However, anyone who has been in the same church for a period of time knows it is not uncommon for a preacher to preach the same sermon, or parts of it, on different occasions. Certainly it is true if they audience is different. That is likely what happened here.
In this sermon, Jesus referred to four blessings and 4 woes. These blessings were historically called the “beatitudes”. The Latin word translated “beatitude” means “happiness”. But in this context it more than what we call happy, which is an emotion. “Blessed” means to experience the Lord’s favor.
The first blessing is “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”. (20) Luke recorded much concern for the poor on the part of Jesus. Many people in Israel were poor. But Jesus primarily addressed those who were poor because of their faith in him. The poor are less likely to feel self sufficient. They are more likely to know they have a need and are interested in the gospel. Anyone who is poor in the sense of knowing their need for Christ is blessed with the kingdom of God. Those who look to Jesus for salvation are brought into his kingdom. Those who look to themselves are excluded from the kingdom. This is the opposite of the health and wealth “gospel”.
The second blessing is to those who are hungry now. (21) They will be satisfied. All needs will be satisfied in eternity with Jesus. The new earth is pictured as having a “tree of life” with 12 kinds of fruit, one for each month of the year. There may be a particular spiritual meaning here, as in hungry for a deeper relationship with Jesus.
The third blessing is for those who weep. This is weeping as one suffers persecution because of their faith in Jesus. In the future they will laugh. In eternity there will be no tears, only laughter and joy. Revelation 21:4 says “God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes…”.
The fourth blessing is for those who are hated, reviled and spurned because of their faith in Christ. (22) They can rejoice because the will have great reward in heaven. Bonhoeffer said suffering is the badge of discipleship. (The Cost of Discipleship)
There is a particularly Jewish context here, for Jesus said those who persecute the disciples had fathers who persecuted the prophets. (23) Yet the blessing is for all who suffer persecution. For example, those who refused to recant their faith in Iraq and were beheaded by ISIS are blessed, they have the favor of the Lord.
The woes are brief compared to the blessings. But each woe is a counterpart to one of the blessings. A woe is a great sorrow. Jesus thought it tragic that people would live only for this life. By giving the woes to counter balance the blessings, Jesus contrasted two ways of life, one of godliness and one of worldliness.
We see here that the sermon was preached primarily to believers. He began the sermon by lifting up his eyes on his disciples. (20)
The first woe is to the rich who seek their happiness primarily in material things. (24) Those who do not realize their need for Jesus and rely on themselves will have distress in eternity, for their consolation occurred on earth.
The second woe is to those who are full, for they shall be hungry. (25) Again, those who sought only comfort on earth will have sorrow in eternity. Those who had appetite only for food and drink and not God will find themselves eternally unsatisfied, for they will be without God in eternity.
The third woe is for those who laugh for they will mourn and weep. Those who have had it good on earth and as a result did not seek Christ will mourn in eternity. This is in contrast to those who are serious about spiritual things.
The fourth and final woe is for those of which all people speak well. Again Jesus pointed to the Old Testament to say those in rebellion against God spoke well of the false prophets. (26) False prophets today who change their message to the approval of the culture are popular and praised. Those who oppose cultural norms for the standards of the Bible are often reviled.
What is the sum of Jesus’ message to his disciples? It is that the disciple is to follow Christ and stay true to him despite the consequences. And there will be consequences. Often disciples are reviled, sometimes persecuted and even killed. But those who experience hardship and persecution for Christ will be rewarded in eternity. Those who reject Christ to follow the world will have the sorrow and suffering in eternity.