Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20b)
Jesus had been healing multitudes of people, and then He turned His attention to His disciples as He began to speak what we call the Beatitudes. In this first verse of the Beatitudes, there can be a few ways to interpret what “poor” means, but we know that whomever Jesus is referring, theirs is the kingdom of God. In Matthew 5, when Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount, He says something very similar - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
The Greek Foundation
In the Greek, the word “blessed” (makarios) means to be well off and happier, and the word “kingdom” (basileia) refers to royalty, rule, or realm: kingdom. So then the one who is blessed, is well off and happier, while the kingdom of God refers to our standing within Him as a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). But what does it mean to be poor or poor in spirit, and why would that make a person well off or happier?
When we look at the word for “poor” (ptōchos) in the Greek, it means to be brought low, fearful, reduced to begging, destitute of influence/wealth/honor, helpless and powerless to accomplish an end. This gives a little more insight when we realize that Jesus is not only speaking about our outward circumstance of being poor, but our inward perspective of being sinners in need of a Savior.
The people He was talking to would have been the poorer of the time. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the influencers of the time, and they didn’t care to listen to Him, they only sought to kill Him. While this would have had a big impact on those who were circumstantially poor, it also should have a big impact on us when we realize our state of spiritual poorness.
Our Spiritual State
We see even further explanation that Jesus is also speaking of our spiritual state in Revelation when Jesus spoke to the church in Laodicea saying, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (Revelation 3:15-18). In and of ourselves, we are poor and even our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), and we are helpless and powerless to accomplish anything if we’re not abiding in Him (John 15:5).
This isn’t something that is only meant for non-believers to hear, as Jesus said this to the very disciples who were following Him and counseled the church in Laodicea. This statement is in line with the gospel message of repentance and is just as much for believers as it is for non-believers.
If we do not realize our state of being poor, we won’t go to Jesus to be rich in Him, in which is the only way we can inherit the kingdom of God.
The good news is, Jesus tells us plainly that we will be well off and happier if we realize our state of being poor, and being humbled before Him, because it’s then that we’ll come to Jesus and be blessed.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
Ultimately, the message of this Beatitude is: you must be poor in spirit in order to be rich in Christ.