|Volume 23 Number 4 April 2021
The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Premillennialists have taken Matthew 5:5 as a proof text that they will live and reign on the earth for a thousand years. Also, those who are advocating for a “renewed earth” take it to say that they will live on the earth forever. It is like a millennial reign that never ends.
Many of the Jews in the days of Jesus expected the kingdom of God to come as an earthly kingdom. They thought Jews would displace the Romans as rulers of the world. Matthew wrote with these Jews in mind. He frequently called the kingdom of God, “the kingdom of heaven.” He is the only writer that did this. He knew his audience. The kingdom is “of heaven” because it is not “of earth.” It is a spiritual kingdom – not another earthly one. Worldly-minded Jews, premillennialists and renewed earth advocates of today all have a worldly view with an earthly hope.
Context is a fundamental rule of hermeneutics. Matthew 5:5 is part of the Sermon on the Mount. John and Jesus were preaching, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). Those who heard Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount recognized that it was “his doctrine” (Matthew 7:25). The Sermon on the Mount is a sermon on the kingdom. It is the doctrine of Christ about the kingdom of heaven. It begins, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). That is the first of eight introductory beatitudes. In the last beatitude he said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). The beatitudes begin and end with a promise of the kingdom that was “at hand.”
The blessings of these beatitudes would come when the kingdom came. The mourners would be comforted; the spiritually hungry would be filled; the merciful would obtain mercy; the pure in heart would see God; the peacemakers would be called the children of God. All the blessings of the beatitudes are spiritual, and they are all realized in the Lord’s church. It is in this context that Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Jesus did not promise a spiritual blessing for the poor in spirit and slight the meek with an earthly one. In the context of Matthew 5:5, “the earth” is a metaphor. Jesus used the language of Psalm 37:11. “The earth” is a metaphor there as well. Understanding the metaphor in the Psalm will help us appreciate the metaphor in the Lord’s Sermon.
In the 37th Psalm, the land that God had promised to the children of Abraham was overrun with evil. In response, the psalmist admonished the children of Israel to be meek. The psalm explains the meaning of meekness: “Fret not… neither be thou envious…” (v.1). “Trust in the LORD, and do good…” (v.3). “Delight thyself also in the LORD…” (v.4). “Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him…” (v.5). “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself…” (v.7). “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any way to do evil” (v.8).
Meekness is not weakness. The meek “trust in the Lord,” “fret not” and “wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:3, 1, 7). God assured the meek that they would dwell in the land and receive their inheritance. “So shall thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed” (v.3). The promise is repeated throughout the psalm: “He shall give thee the desires of thy heart…” (v.4). “He shall bring it to pass…” (v. 5). “Evildoers shall be cut off, but they that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth” (v. 9). “The meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (v. 11). “The LORD knoweth the upright, and their inheritance shall be forever” (v. 18). “For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth” (v. 22). “The righteous shall inherit the land, and shall dwell therein forever” (v. 29). “Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land” (v. 34).
When David sang, “The meek shall inherit the earth” (Psalm 37:11), he was not telling the Jews that they would rule the whole world. God is not giving them the globe. David used “the earth” as a metaphor to assure them that they would have all the promises God had made to them through Abraham, including their land.
God did not promise to give the land of Israel to His church. Jesus used the same “inherit the earth” metaphor to assure His disciples that they would enjoy all the spiritual blessing they were promised. Jesus was not affirming a “renewed earth” in the beatitudes.
Before we give up our hope of Heaven for an eternal earth, we ought to read the rest of the sermon. In the Sermon on the Mount, Heaven is always greater than the earth. Immediately after the beatitudes Jesus said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). He did not say, “Great will be your reward on the earth.” The reward of the prophets was in Heaven, and our reward will be there too. Jesus said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth… but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-21). Hear it, “…not on earth,” but “…in heaven.” Jesus did not teach Heaven on earth. We cannot lay earthly treasures up for ourselves in Heaven.
Jesus does not want us focused on earthly blessings like those promised to earthly Israel. Jesus said heaven and earth would “pass.” He said, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). The law that gave the Jews their earthly inheritance would be fulfilled. The fulfilled law would pass and with it all the earthly hopes under that law. The heavens and the earth, too, will someday pass, but the spiritual blessings of the spiritual kingdom will endure. In the next verse Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
Greatness in the spiritual kingdom of Heaven is not for those who keep the Law of Moses, but it is for those who keep the commandments of Jesus. Their righteousness would “exceed” the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, not because they would be stricter in keeping the old commandments, but because they would keep exceeding commandments of an exceeding law of an exceeding kingdom. Without this exceeding righteousness, they would “in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Renewed earth advocates renew the old premillennial assertion that the will of God will be done on the earth after the Lord returns, but in this sermon, Jesus spoke of the kingdom that was “at hand” (Matthew 4:17). When this kingdom came, the Father’s will for its establishment was “done in earth” as it was conceived “in heaven,” but that did not make the earth Heaven.
Our Father is in Heaven. We are to glorify the “Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). In behavior, we are to be “children of our Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45) and “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:7). We hope for a reward of our “Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). We pray to “Our Father which art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). He is our “heavenly Father” (Matthew 7:32). Heaven is “God’s throne” (Matthew 5:34); earth is “his footstool” (Matthew 5:35). We do not expect God to leave His throne in Heaven and sit with us forever on His footstool.
At the end of the sermon Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). There is a sense in which we “enter the kingdom of heaven” when we obey the Gospel, because that is when we are added to the church, but in the immediate context of this passage there are eternal consequences in view. In the next verse Jesus said, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22-23).
Jesus did not advocate an earthly hope in the Sermon on the Mount. In the context of spiritual blessings, the “meek” would “inherit the earth” in “the kingdom of heaven” that was “at hand.”
Boyd, Bill. “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth.” Seek the Old Paths Sep 2018, 65, 71.