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I love the upside-down nature of the kingdom. In God’s economy the humbled are elevated (1 Pet. 5:6), the last are first (Matt. 20:16), and life is found by losing it (Matt. 10:39); we have nothing but possess everything (2 Cor. 6:10; cf. 1 Cor. 3:21-23); we may appear to be defeated, but we’re always walking in victory (2 Cor. 2:14). What’s more, we’re called to boast in our weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:5). In short, the way up is the way down. It’s crazy! But it’s the way of the kingdom.

One place in Scripture where the upside-down-nature of the kingdom is on display is in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins his Sermon with the Beatitudes. In the first two Beatitudes Jesus declares that those swept up in his reign of grace are characterized by poverty of spirit (Matt. 5:3)—that is, they confess that they are unrighteous—and, secondly, they mourn their lack of righteousness (Matt. 5:4).

In his third Beatitude, Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). First, we must ask, “What is meekness?” Initially, we may tend to think that it refers to weakness, passivity, indecisiveness, or just flat-out wishy-washiness.[1] Nothing could be further from the truth.

As is often the case when determining the meaning of a word in the NT, we must turn to the OT. In this case, the Hebrew word for “meek” is found on more than one occasion (Num. 12:3; Ps. 37:11). After an exhaustive study of the Hebrew word, two OT scholars –F. Hauck and S. Schulz—noted that a meek person is “one who feels that he is a servant in relationship to God and who subjects himself to Him quietly and without resistance.”[2] In a word, the meek are broken (Ps. 51:17).

Additionally, since Jesus’ words bear a striking resemblance to Psalm 37, scholars suggest that readers look to this portion of Scripture in order to further clarify his statement.[3] The immediate context is illuminating. In Psalm 37 David says the meek person trusts in the LORD (vv. 3, 5), delights in the LORD (v. 4), waits for the LORD (v. 7), and puts his or her hope in the LORD (v. 9). Further, the rest of the Psalm highlights the fact that the meek person continues to exhibit this kind of behavior even when his life is falling apart and the unbelievers around him seem to be getting along just fine! Martyn Lloyd-Jones provides a concise summary of the meek person’s posture: “Finally, I would put it like this: We are to leave everything—ourselves, our rights, our cause, our whole future—in the hands of God, and especially so if we feel we are suffering unjustly.”[4]

Lloyd-Jones’s comments reveal why meekness cannot mean weakness. The meek person is one who displays self-control and whose power issues forth in constructive as opposed to destructive ways.[5]

We Inherit the Earth

If the word “meek” causes confusion, the phrase “inherit the earth” spawns even more discussion. In particular, what “earth” will believers inherit? Is this a reference to a future millennial reign in Israel, or is this a reference to the new heavens and new earth? Here’s what I think we can say: Jesus’ promise that the meek will “inherit the earth” calls to mind the land promise in Genesis 12, as well as Isaiah 61:7, where the language matches exactly.

As I read the unfolding biblical drama, it seems to me that the land inheritance given to Israel is universalized to encompass the entire earth, thus pointing to the new creation (Isa. 66:22; Rev. 21:1). Consequently, Paul speaks of believers inheriting the world (Rom. 4:13), signaling that believers will live forever in the new heaven and earth—a recreated world.

Meekness, Earth Inheritance, and Daily Life

Regardless of what you make of the land inheritance, we can apply Jesus’ words in at least three ways.

Knowing that we will inherit a recreated earth should help us remain content. God tells us not to covet (Ex. 20:17), but to be content (Phil. 4:12-13), trusting him at all times (Ps.62:8), because he will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Sure, I might not get everything I want in this life, but this Beatitude assures me that the best is yet to come.

Knowing that we will inherit a recreated earth creates a holy longing within us. “Though you have not seen him,” Peter writes, “you love him” (1 Pet. 1:8). I have to ask you: Do you love him? Do you long to see Jesus? Do you long to finally see him face to face? To run into his arms? To fall at his feet and thank him for what he did for you? Peter tells us what this anticipation creates within us: “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8-9). A few sentences later, he encourages believers to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 13).

Jesus’ perfectly meek life is credited to my account. Here’s the bad news: You’ll never be meek enough to merit eternal life. It’s not natural for us east of Eden. We’re more like those who constructed the tower of Babel: “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4). There it is: We want to make a name for ourselves.

But here’s the good news: Jesus is the truly meek one (Matt. 11:29). And it is “Through him” that we have “obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2). Thus, Jesus’ meekness counts as my meekness by grace through faith. By virtue of my union with him all that Jesus is and has is true of me! Praise him!


[1] D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5-10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987), 20.

[2] As quoted in Charles Quarles, Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church (Nashville: B&H, 2011), 55. I have not consulted the original source.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Quoted in Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 21.

[5] Stuart K. Weber, Matthew, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville: B&H, 2001), 59.