The Beatitudes For Kids
The Beatitudes, found in Matthew 5:1-12, are a familiar text and part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. As with everything Jesus said, there have been volumes written about the Beatitudes and much of it is “heavy” stuff that has been written for pastors and academics. Parents and teachers of children, however, also need to understand and have the tools and wisdom to communicate and teach the Beatitudes for kids in a way that is appropriate for their level of learning. The best place to start, however, is to understand the Beatitudes as best you can for yourself.
The Beatitudes for The Teacher and Parent
The Beatitudes come at the beginning of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” as recorded by Matthew. This sermon comes essentially at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It is likely that Jesus preached this sermon (or something like it) more than once in different places as He traveled from town to town and encountered new audiences. His core message wouldn’t have changed.
After the story of Jesus’ temptation in chapter 4, Matthew tells us that “Jesus began to preach, “repent, because the kingdom of heaven* has come near!” (Matt. 4:17). Jesus then called some of His earliest disciples (4:18-22) and “was going all over Galilee, teaching in there synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom… (4:23). These verses toward the end of chapter 4 are, therefore, an introduction to Jesus’ ministry and message. It’s also clear from these verses that Jesus wasn’t just preaching the same messages the people had heard before. His preaching was an announcement of the arrival of God’s Kingdom!
We should not be surprised then, that Matthew records the “Sermon on the Mount” at this strategic point in order to give us the basic content of Jesus’ “Kingdom Announcement.” The Beatitudes are, therefore, part of the announcement that “the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17). He is saying, in effect, “the Kingdom of God has arrived and this is what it looks like, and, by the way, it doesn’t look like the kingdoms of this world. It doesn’t look like what you’ve been expecting!”
A Closer Look at The Beatitudes
Most people of Jesus’ day (including the Jews) believed that the way to usher in any kingdom was with military and political power. Those with position and power were “the blessed.” According to Jesus, however, the “kingdom of heaven” belongs to “the poor in spirit.” (Verse 3.)
Most of the Jews of Jesus’ day were grieving and mourning over their national circumstance. Comfort would come, they believed, once they overthrew the Roman occupying army. Jesus declared that it was the present arrival of the Kingdom of God that would cause “those who mourn” to be “comforted.” (Verse 4.)
Israel had long believed they would someday “inherit the earth,” but they expected it to come through military conquest. Jesus taught that, because of His kingdom, “the gentle” would, in fact, be the ones to “inherit the earth.” (Verse 5.)
The People of Israel desired “righteousness” (justice), but for them that meant turning the tables on the Romans and doing to the Romans what the Romans had done to them. This, however, is not true “righteousness” or justice in God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom that Jesus is saying, “has come near” does not return evil for evil. (Verse 6.)
The Jews longed to “be shown mercy” from the Romans, but they were not prepared to be “merciful.” (Verse 7.)
Many of the Jews of Jesus’ day were “pure” at a behavioral level, but were not “pure in heart.” (Verse 8.)
As long as Rome ruled over them, many were eager to go to war. Many of them did, in fact, take up arms against Rome in the war leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. They believed that because they were the “sons of God,” they could defeat Rome. Jesus, by contrast, tells His listeners that the true “sons of God” are the “peacemakers.” (Verses 9-10.)
Many of those listening to Jesus would surely think, “no one can live this way!” This new, arriving “Kingdom” that Jesus was announcing would turn things upside down! Those who live this way will surely be “persecuted!” Yes, Jesus says. But, “you are blessed when they insult and persecute you.” That’s part of what it means to live according to this new Kingdom. Those who live according to the Kingdom of heaven will receive a great “reward” in that Kingdom. This is, in fact, how God’s Kingdom has always been, as demonstrated by “the prophets” who were also “persecuted.” (Verses 11-12.)
The Beatitudes are, then, intended to reveal the underlying character of the person who lives according to the “kingdom of heaven” that has “come near.” This person sees a different kind of Kingdom than what the world pursues. It is a kingdom of the heart, characterized by love, gentleness, mercy and peacemaking. This is the way of Jesus’ new Kingdom! But how do we communicate this to children?
The Beatitudes for Kids
There are two fundamental, but simple truths that need to be taught to children when you’re preparing to teach the Beatitudes for kids…
1) The Beatitudes are part of Jesus’ announcement that the Kingdom of God had arrived in Him and His ministry. Jesus’ life and ministry ushered in the Kingdom of God. It is already here! Don’t try to separate these verses from the context of Jesus’ teaching and preaching about the Kingdom of God.
2) The Beatitudes are not “rules” about religious behavior. The Beatitudes describe what it looks like to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God. These are matters of the heart, not external behavior.
As you prepare to teach the Beatitudes for kids, please keep these things in mind. Then make appropriate use of the following teaching helps we have on Sunday School Zone…
– Teaching Picture: Two versions of this teaching picture (11X17 and 8.5X11) will help your kids “see” Jesus as He taught the Beatitudes.
– The Beatitudes Jigsaw Puzzle: This puzzle identifies each of the Beatitudes and will reinforce the child’s awareness of what they are.
– The Beatitudes Bookmarks: There’s a bookmark for each of the Beatitudes to help kids learn and remember them. These make great gifts!
– The Beatitudes Coloring Pages: There’s a coloring page for each Beatitude. Kids can decorate each page and place them on a wall or mirror as a reminder of the kind of heart God desires in a Kingdom citizen!
– The Beatitudes Poster: A colorful page listing all of the Beatitudes. A great tool for seeing all of them in a glance.
You can find all of the above activities listed here. You can also find a more detailed article about the Beatitudes here.
As you reflect on the Beatitudes for kids, remember that it often takes repeated exposure for children to gain a healthy grasp of something like this. You can’t expect then to “get it” in 45 minutes. But, if you’ll work at understanding the Beatitudes for yourself and bring your kids back to them as appropriate, they can begin to take root in the child’s young heart and begin preparing him or her to be a citizen of God’s great kingdom!
Author, Speaker, Bible Teacher
See a list of other articles by Rick Edwards.
* Matthew used the phrase “kingdom of heaven” to mean the same thing as “kingdom of God.” We should not make a distinction between the two phrases.