20Looking at his disciples, he said:
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
23"Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.
24"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets. (NIV)
1. Christ is the One to be heard from as well as healed by (vv. 17-19).
The wisdom of his followers can be seen in the fact that they found power in his words as well as his works ("who had come to hear him and to be healed", v. 18.) Here, they distinguish themselves from those who only seek for miraculous signs from Christ (Mt 12:39; 16:4).
2. The blessing of having God's favour is the only blessing that matters (vv. 20-26).
a) Some interpret the statements of "blessedness" to simply be Luke's version of Matthew's account in Mt 5:3-10 (popularly known as the "Beatitudes"). This interpretation is unconvincing, because where Matthew is focusing on the character qualities that Jesus desires his followers to have, Luke is paying attention to the actual difficulties encountered by Jesus' disciples (Lk 6:20-22).
b) What is the meaning of "poor" (v. 20)? - some Christians take this to mean any of the world's poor, regardless of their beliefs; whereas others take it to mean all Christians who know their spiritual poverty (i.e., their sense of helplessness and hopelessness apart from God). The latter view would interpret verse 20 in light of Mt 5:3. Both interpretations are not quite right; a more likely conclusion to draw is that "poor" in this context refers to all materially poor followers of Christ who either 1) have been made that way out of devotion to Christ; or 2) have come to see their spiritual poverty as a result of their material poverty. (This is not to say that there aren't other passages of Scripture that give promises to the "spiritually poor", regardless of their material standing - see, for example, Isa 57:15, 66:1-2, and of course, Mt 5:3 - it is just to say that Luke is likely not meaning this.) We should also keep in mind that, of all of the Gospel account writers, Luke gives the most attention to the materially poor or disenfranchised. Note from what we have seen in this study already how God favoured Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, the shepherds, a tax collector, the leper, the paralytic, and, of course, a carpenter's son - who is Jesus himself).
c) it is important to understand, regarding vv. 20-22, that Christ is not asking his followers to take joy in being materially poor, hungry, sad or persecuted; this is the idea of masochism, and it is unbiblical. Rather, he is saying that, despite these things (or even because of these things, especially if they are suffering because of their devotion to Christ), God looks upon them with great pleasure and favour, and will grant them limitless, unending joy - without any pain or suffering - in the new heavens and new earth (I believe that verse 23, "in that day", refers to Christ's second coming - see also 1 Pet 1:13; 2 Thes 1:3-7; Jas 5:7-8; and Rev 21:1-4).
d) concerning the "woes" (i.e., statements of judgment) concerning those who are rich, well-fed, well-reputed and full of laughter - these statements are also given to serious misinterpretation. On the surface of reading them, it appears that God looks upon any human pleasure as evil (undoubtedly this is how many who oppose Christianity have chosen to interpret it). But this idea doesn't hold any water in the light of passages like Pr 5:18-19; Ecc 2:24-25; and especially 1 Tim 6:17. What Jesus is speaking against is the idolatry of these things; or, put another way, the inclination to put one's security in them (Lk 12:13-21; 1 Ti 6:9-10; Jas 4:1-9).
Questions for discussion
1. Why must we never separate the works of Jesus from the words of Jesus, and vice versa?
2. Why should we never fear, even during those times when God will bring poverty, hunger, sadness or persecution into our lives?
3. Jesus directs his words in verses 23 to 26 to those who put their trust in earthly pleasures. But why is it important for professing Christians to hear these words too?