Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

The Jewish crowd that gathered at the mountain for Jesus’ sermon had high expectations of the coming Messiah. Looking to Old Testament prophecies, they sought a king who would defeat their enemies and establish God’s eternal dominion (Daniel 7:13-14). After watching Jesus perform miracles throughout Galilee, the disciples and other followers were perhaps hoping to witness their king assume his throne and liberate them from the Roman Empire.

Rather than cater to the people’s earthly expectations, Jesus drew their attention to what matters most in his kingdom – the spiritual qualities that please our Father in heaven. After making his first two statements about the poor in spirit and those who mourn, he gave another shocking declaration: the meek will inherit the earth.

To be meek means “enduring injury with patience and without resentment,” according to Merriam-Webster. Meekness implies several fruits of the Spirit – patience, humility, gentleness, and long-suffering. Against such things, there is no law (Galatians 5:23), yet we rarely aspire to develop these less flashy characteristics. Instead, we often view meekness as weakness and label it as being passive, timid, or cowardly.

This is the third beatitude wherein Jesus proclaims the gospel of his upside-down kingdom. He’s calling his people to live set apart from the world by accepting wrongdoing against us instead of demanding our rights. The Outline of Biblical Usage defines this mindset: “Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will.”

It seems Jesus is asking for the impossible, wanting us to bear injustice with unflappable composure. Such behavior is impossible to accomplish in our own strength, which is why we needed Christ to take on flesh and conquer our selfish nature. The Son of God entered Earth as a baby, born among the poor and lowly. He subjected himself to human frailty, facing temptation and physical limitations in obedience to the will of the Father who sent him (John 6:38). Though he was God incarnate, he set aside glory and humbled himself as a servant (Philippians 2:6-8). He suffered rejection, grief, abuse, and death to save us: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

Jesus was no doormat, allowing people to trample over him like a coward. Rather, he restrained his almighty strength and submitted to his Father, recognizing his sovereignty meting out justice in his time. Because Christ secured our salvation, we can follow in his steps of obedience and mature as meek servants devoted to God’s will. By the power of the Spirit transforming our minds (Romans 12:2), we can resist the temptation to always defend ourselves in response to slights against us. We can recognize our weakness as humans and remember Christ’s victory over sin. He enables us to choose right actions, even when we’re being wronged.

God’s Word never claims this is easy. As long as we draw breath, we battle selfish impulses and demand that our will be done. But thanks be to God! Christ set us free from the law of sin and death and made us alive in the Spirit (Romans 8:2). Instead of feeling entitled that others should treat us with absolute respect, we can recall what we’re entitled to as children of God and co-heirs with Christ: the redemption of our bodies and all of creation (Romans 8:22-23). Our inheritance is being with and like our risen Savior, who is seated at the right hand of God (Ephesians 1:20-21). And our future glory doesn’t end in heaven. Revelation speaks of the final days of judgment when Jesus will finally overthrow death and bring his kingdom to Earth. In this way, those who are meek like Christ will inherit the new Earth.

The Jewish people longed for a king. He came, but not as they’d imagined. On this side of the cross, we can see how Christ fulfills both roles as servant and king, and know he’ll reign forever in majesty. Until the fullness of his kingdom comes here, we can serve as he came to serve, as meek as the Lamb.