Question: "What does 'blessed are the merciful' mean?"
Answer: Jesus opens His Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, a series of statements describing the blessed life. The fifth Beatitude states, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
First, the word translated “blessed” is one that has the general meaning of “happy” or “joyful.” It is a spiritual blessedness, a divine satisfaction that comes from a right relationship with God.
To be merciful is to show forgiveness and compassion to those in need. Jesus frequently spoke of this trait. In the Lord’s Prayer, He says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). In Matthew 9:13 Jesus instructs the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
We are blessed if we are merciful because mercy is something God Himself displays. God’s mercy is the withholding of a just punishment; it is His compassion on the miserable. Deuteronomy 30:3 says, “The LORD your God will restore your fortunes. He will have mercy on you” (NLT). The psalmist writes, “Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy” (Psalm 28:6). Jesus Himself often showed mercy, as we see in His healing of the man freed from demons: “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).
We have received God’s mercy. Romans 11:30 notes, “You who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy.” Paul shared that his ministry was given to him by God’s mercy (2 Corinthians 4:1). He also saw his salvation as an act of God’s mercy: “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). Our salvation is also called an act of God’s mercy: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5). As Peter expressed it, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
God’s children reflect His mercy and are therefore merciful themselves. The merciful in this world are blessed in the sense that they know God’s joy. The person who is merciful will be eternally happy because he knows God’s mercy.