Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit — Matthew 5:3

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This article explains what "blessed" and "poor in spirit" means.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit — Matthew 5:3
Photo by Shail Sharma / Unsplash


Matthew 5:3–12 is often referred to as the beatitudes. While at first glance, the beatitudes may appear to be a secret recipe that brings true happiness, but that is not the meaning and purpose for Jesus' teaching.

Rather, the beatitudes is a description of the marks of all disciples of Christ, not just a few exceptional one. All followers of Christ are to display all of these characteristics.

Yet at the same time, none of these descriptions and characteristics are what we call natural tendencies. It's not natural or instinctive for Christians to cloth himself with these character qualities. Therefore, the beatitudes help Christians identify the true fruits of their salvation, and it encourages them to pursue these character traits as they continue their Christian walk.

Note also that the order of the Beatitudes are not random but purposeful. And so, Jesus begins with the first beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there's is the kingdom of heaven."

1. What Does "Blessed" Mean?

Moses used a similar word in his blessing on Israel

Blessed are you, O Israel; Who is like you, a people saved by Yahweh? Who is the shield of your help and the sword of your majesty! (Deut 33:29a)

When Jesus uses the word "blessed", he means more than just being happy. This is not just a temporary feeling of happiness based on favorable circumstances.

  • "Blessed" means spiritual “bliss.”
  • "Blessed" refers to a spiritual well-being
  • "Blessed" means approved by God and belonging to God.
  • "Blessed" is having a destiny of delight in communion with the Creator.[1]

Jesus later used the same word in reference to Peter after his profession of faith.

Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 16:17)

2. What Does "Poor in Spirit" Mean?

    • Everyone is spiritually destitute, but "poor in spirit" refers to those who recognize their bankrupt state and their need for God's help.
  • This is the first beatitude because there is no entry into the kingdom of heaven apart from it.
  • The fall comes before the rising again. There must be emptying before the filling. Conviction must always precede conversion. This is the foundation of everything.

What "Poor in Spirit" Does Not Mean?

  • Not referring to poverty.
    • The poor man is no nearer to the kingdom of heaven than the rich man.
    • There is no merit or advantage in being poor.
    • Financial want does not necessarily produce humility and dependence that receives God's grace and favor.
  • Not referring to being nervous or lacking courage.
  • Not referring to lacking drive or enthusiasm for life.
  • Not referring to glorifying in his poverty of spirit.
  • Not referring to looking casual or disheveled.

Who then is “poor in spirit?”

  • Those poor in spirit
  • It’s in the presence of God, Isaiah stating, "I am a man of unclean lips."
  • It means a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance. It means a consciousness that we are nothing in the presence of God. It is nothing, then, that we can produce; it is nothing that we can do in ourselves. It is just this tremendous awareness of our utter nothingness as we come face to face with God. That is to be ‘poor in spirit’[2]
  • Being poor in spirit is to be spiritually bankrupt before God. It is the mental state of the man who has recognized something of the righteousness and holiness of God, who has seen into the sin and corruption of his own heart, and has acknowledged his inability to please God. Such a person is poor in spirit. It is to such a person, Jesus said, that the kingdom of heaven belongs. Seen in this way, the first of the eight Beatitudes is one of the strongest statements in the Bible of the great doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone, for it is a statement of a person’s complete inability to please God by any human effort.[3]

3. Kingdom of heaven

  • The verb in the clause "theirs is the kingdom of heaven" is in the present tense. The verbs used in the blessings of the subsequent beatitudes are in the future tense.
  • Therefore, there is an emphasis that those that are "poor in spirit" have current ongoing possession of the kingdom of heaven.
  • "kingdom of heaven" is repeated again in Matt 5:10 which brackets verses 4–9. This strongly suggests that the promises in the middle verses are only given to those who belong to the kingdom of heaven.

4. Conclusion

One important application for Christians is this: Look to God.

  • The way to be poor in spirit is to look to God.
  • You cannot truly look at God without feeling your absolute poverty and emptiness.

Rock of Ages (verse 3)

Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

  1. Reformation Study Bible, Matt 5:3 ↩︎

  2. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Second edition. (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1976), 54. ↩︎

  3. James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 20–21. ↩︎