Will the Meek Inherit the Earth?

Will the Meek Inherit the Earth?

Will the Meek Inherit the Earth?

On March 5, 2022, David Hundeyin, a Nigerian journalist, tweeted that “the meek will never inherit the earth. Your bible lied to you. The meek only get stepped on and eaten. Become strong. The strong shall inherit the earth.”

As expected, the tweet generated a lot of uproar on the internet, with Christians denouncing the clear denial of what the Bible said. However, I believe a moment’s reflection on what he said and what the Bible actually said should dampen some of the negative reactions a bit.

It’s obvious that by inheriting the earth, David was talking about becoming successful, getting rich, making headways, all according to the world’s standards. The question we must then ask is if by “inheriting the earth” Matthew 5:5 has the same reference as David’s.

To anticipate what is coming, I believe that David’s tweet should be a wake-up call for those who have believed that earthly riches, prosperity, and success (by the world’s standards) are the marks of genuine Christian faith or the telos of the gospel. In a world enamoured by the promises of the prosperity gospel, maybe this is a learning opportunity to reflect on what the Bible really means when it says that the meek shall inherit the earth.

The meek

The crucial text is taken from Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Let’s begin by asking two questions: who are the meek and which earth do they inherit.

Thayer Definition defines “praus” (the Greek word translated as “meek” in Matthew 5:5) as “mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, meekness.” Strong’s Definition adds the words “mild” and “humble” as synonyms.

In Matthew 11:29, Jesus himself uses the word to describe himself, where it also refers to humility (humble in heart). When Jesus entered Jerusalem as King, sitting on a donkey, it was to fulfil a prophecy that described such action as meekness or gentleness.

In the OT, the Hebrew word for meek, ānāv, covers a range of referents that include poor, needy, weak, lowly, afflicted, humble, and meek.

Moses was described in Numbers 12:3 as meek, which most likely describes his humility (despite being the most gifted – verse 2) and his gentleness (in dealing with those who are envious of him).

Commenting on Matthew 5:5, R.T France, a NT scholar, comments that the word “meek” (like “poor in spirit”) “speaks not only of those who are in fact disadvantaged and powerless, but also of those whose attitude is not arrogant and oppressive … they are those who do not throw their weight about … those who wait for the LORD instead of fretting and scheming to right their own wrongs.”[1]  

In the epistles, it is clear that this meekness (gentleness, humility, lowliness) should characterise the life of every believer. It’s part of the fruit of the spirit, it’s a character trait of those who are living lives worthy of God’s calling (Ephesians 4:2), a mark of God’s dearly beloved people (Colossians 3:12). We can go on and on (1 Timothy 6:11, 2 Timothy 2:25, Titus 3:12, James 1:21, 3:13, 2 Peter 3:15).

That God wants us to be gentle/meek/humble/lowly is undeniable from Scriptures. However, if our experience in this world is any pointer, it is clear as day that those who are gentle/meek/humble/lowly will indeed be “stepped on and eaten,” to borrow words from David. Of course, this does not exhaust the experience of the meek in this world; meekness can also lead to open doors and many opportunities. Nevertheless, there is no denying the fact that meek people will be stepped on more often than not.

I don’t think this should be controversial a bit. Jesus was the gentlest of them all and he suffered verbal and physical assaults and ended up on the cross, restraining his disciples from using their swords to prevent his arrest. Christ’s humility led him to the cross and it was only an act of divine sovereignty (resurrection) that led him to the throne in heaven where he now rules over all (Philippians 2:1-11).

Of course, meekness does not describe all the virtues that a Christian must possess (love, boldness, kindness, goodness, wisdom are also important virtues); nevertheless, it’s obvious that it must be a part of those virtues. Consequently, every believer in whom the Spirit of God is working (and where meekness is, therefore, evident) will have to endure being “stepped on and eaten” at some times in this sinful world where pride, self-assertion, arrogance, and fierceness are celebrated.  

The earth

What about the earth?

The first point to notice is that when the OT made promises to the meek, it expected them to inherit the land (Canaan). The ānāv will inherit the land (Psalms 37:11). However, just as Paul universalised the promise to inherit Canaan (made to Abraham) to include the whole earth (Romans 4:13), Jesus also universalised the promise to the meek to include the whole earth.

But in what sense do the meek inherit the whole earth?

Secondly, notice that the promise of the kingdom of heaven forms the inclusio to all the beatitudes (vs 3, 10). Therefore, every promise between verses 3 and 10 must be interpreted in light of the kingdom of heaven.   

“When our Saviour uses this language here, he means that the meek shall be received into his kingdom, and partake of its blessings here, and of the glories of the heavenly Canaan hereafter,” commented Albert Barnes, theologian and Bible commentator, on Matthew 5:5.[2]

R.T France concurs: “if the promise to them in the first two beatitudes apply to the kingdom of heaven, the same should presumably apply to their inheritance.”[3]

In essence, the inheriting of the earth is intimately connected to the kingdom of heaven.

In a previous article, I have shown that the kingdom of God (which Matthew calls the kingdom of heaven) has already been inaugurated and awaits its consummation when Jesus brings about the new heaven and the new earth at his second coming.[4]

Therefore, the inheriting of the earth promised to believers has an already and not-yet component. Because the kingdom of God has already dawned, we are already inheriting the earth in some sense (by our membership and participation in God’s kingdom). However, because the kingdom of God will only be consummated when Christ comes, our inheriting of the earth, in some sense, awaits that consummation (when the new heaven and the new earth will be fully realised).

“The kingdom of heaven has already arrived (4:17, and see on 3:2), and so these are people who are already under God’s beneficent rule,” according to France. “The advantages of being God’s people can then be expected to accrue already in this life, even though the full consummation of their blessedness remains for the future.”[5]

Partaking of the kingdom in the here and now

What can people who are “already under God’s beneficent rule” (which is what it means to inherit the earth in the here and now) expect in this world? Said differently, what does our participation in the kingdom of God as the meek people of God guarantee to us in this present world?

First, from Mathew 20:20-28 we learn that in this kingdom, service to others rather than position is paramount. Therefore, inheriting the earth in the here and now is not about Christians lording it over everyone else and ruling over unbelievers with an iron hand. We are the people who through loving service shine the light of Christ so that others can see and glorify the Father (Matthew 5:16).

Second, in John 18:36-37, we see that the kingdom of God does not advance through violence but through truth-telling. Consequently, inheriting the earth does not mean violently taking territories for God.

Third, more positively, we inherit the earth in the here and now as the will of God is done on earth as in heaven (Matthew 6:3) and the present rule of Christ over all creation becomes more evident all over the world (Ephesians 1:15-23).

God’s kingdom rule is characterised by peace, righteousness, justice deliverance, healing ( (Isaiah 11:6-9, 61:1-6, 65:17-25; 32:17-18 Ezekiel 34:25). No wonder that when the kingdom was inaugurated in Christ, his ministry was characterised by all the above. Now, the kingdom is advancing through believers. We are the ones who must pray for the kingdom to come (Matthew 6:3), proclaim the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 24:14), and work in the world for righteousness, peace, justice, deliverance, and healing (the marks of the kingdom) to be more ubiquitous even as we wait for the second coming when these marks of the kingdom will be fully consummated with no stain of sin, evil, and death.

Consequently, as we proclaim the gospel and work to build for the Kingdom, in the power of the Spirit (looking back to its inauguration and forward to its consummation), we are inheriting the earth; we are ridding it (as much as it’s possible in this life) of sin, unrighteousness, violence, injustice, destruction, among others, in anticipation of the the final transformation and renewal of the earth at Christ’s second coming.

“According to the early Christians, what was accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection is the foundation, the model and the guarantee for God’s ultimate purpose, which is to rid the world of evil altogether and to establish his new creation of justice, beauty, and peace,” said N.T Wright, a theologian. “And it’s clear from the start that this was not intended simply as a distant goal for which one was compelled to wait in passive expectation. God’s future had already broken into the present in Jesus, and the church’s task consisted not least of implementing that achievement and thus anticipating that future.”[6]

Fourth, however, this work of the kingdom will be characterised by cross-carrying, suffering, and persecution. Inheriting the earth in the here and now is not about riches, prosperity, and success (defined by worldly standards). Our task to build for the kingdom is situated in a fallen world that hates our Lord and us (John 17:6-26); therefore, we must always expect suffering and persecution (Matthew 16:24, 2 Timothy 3:12, Matthew 5:10-12).

Fifth, the world as we know it will always consist of evil and evil people until the consummation of all things. Jesus tells us that the weeds will grow together with the good seed until the harvest (Matthew 13:24-30). This must put an end to every utopianism. What we can do is to anticipate the future consummation and build for it, not to bring it about by human efforts. Inheriting the earth in the here and now does not mean Christian utopianism but a faithful building for the kingdom in anticipation of Christ’s coming when he will renew creation in the new heaven and earth.

Sixth, reducing the kingdom (and the inheriting of the earth) to material blessings in the here and now undermines Jesus’ call to seek first the kingdom. When Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom, that was in contrast to worrying about material things: food, clothes (Matthew 6:25-34). According to Christ, these are the exact things the pagans worry about. As believers, then, we must aim higher by seeking God’s kingdom. If anything, this shows that God’s kingdom cannot be reduced to having more food, clothes, shelter, and money than unbelievers. Consequently, inheriting the earth in the here and now goes beyond material blessings.

Seventh, this does not mean that God does not meet our needs. What it means is that Christians can be the richest and successful (by worldly standards) people on the earth and that won’t mean fulfilment of Matthew 5:5. In Mark 10:29-30 we see that God indeed gives us certain blessings in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields (alongside persecutions). However, we must ensure we are interpreting Christ correctly here.

“Given that Jesus explicitly refers to these possessions as available ‘in this present age’ in contrast with eternal life ‘in the age to come’ (10:30b), we must understand the text as unequivocally teaching that Jesus’ followers can expect material reward for their sacrifice in this life,” said Craig Bloomberg, a NT scholar. “But what is this reward and how do they receive it? The innumerable brothers, sisters, mothers and children that they gain are, without question, the spiritual kin they acquire as they become part of the large family of God’s people. There is no reason to take the ‘homes’ and ‘fields’ any differently. As in the Sermon on the Mount, a new family means a new community of those who share with one another. The new homes and fields are those that God’s people share with those in need (see esp. May 1990). No-one considers their possessions their own, and the plight of the poor takes priority over the desires of the affluent”[7]

What God is promising here is not that believers will be the richest and most successful people on earth but that God will constitute us as communities where selfishness and self-centeredness have been so overcome that everyone’s material and relational needs are met.

“The promise is not literal (one cannot have one hundred mothers),” said D.A Carson, NT scholar, “God is no man’s debtor. If one of Jesus’ disciples has, for Jesus’ sake, left, say, a father, he will find within the messianic community a hundred who will be as a father to him – in addition to inheriting eternal life (v.29).”[8]

Our father will indeed take care of us, especially as members of a community defined by self-sacrificial love, service, and giving. But the kingdom of God (and the inheriting of the earth) must not be reduced to material blessings.

We inherit the earth in the here and now as we work and labour in the power of the Spirit to anticipate the coming new creation and the destruction of sin, evil, and death by “bringing signs and symbols of the kingdom to birth on earth as in heaven”[9]  (a work that will include cross-bearing, suffering, persecution, and some measure of “failures” [we won’t and can’t create utopia on earth]).

aerial view of clouds
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Inheriting the new earth

The ultimate fulfilment of Mathew 5:5 will occur when Christ returns and brings about the new heaven and the new earth, the consummation of the kingdom of God (Revelation 21-22). “While in Pauline terms, believers may now possess all things in principle (1 Cor 3:21-23; 2 Co 6:10), since they belong to Christ,” said Carson. “Matthew directs our attention yet further to the “renewal of all things (19:28).”[10]

In this new earth, sin, suffering, and death that are features of this present evil age will be gone. There, the triune God will dwell with us. This renewed earth and heaven will be the home of full, final, and perfect righteousness, peace, unity, deliverance, justice, etc. On the one hand, it will be a restoration to Edenic life; but on the other hand, it will be way more glorious than Eden.

In that new earth, we will reign with Christ and rule over the new creation as God’s redeemed people. The calling to be God’s vicegerent over creation that we messed up in Eden will be finally fulfilled to perfection.

That new earth will be physical and material, though free from every evil. We’ll enjoy all of God’s blessings, devoid of sin and corruption. We’ll finally be fully human, becoming who we were always designed to be in perfect communion with the triune God.

It’s this new earth that God ultimately promises the meek, not plenty of cars, money, and houses in this fallen creation. The latter is too thin; what God has in store is more glorious – the transformation and renewal of creation.

Conclusion

The meek will indeed inherit the earth; in the here and now, they inherit it as they bring signs and symbols of the new creation to the present world (a process that includes cross-bearing, suffering, persecution, and some “failures”); in the consummation, they inherit it as the transformed and renewed earth – the new heaven and the new earth.

David is right, the meek will get trampled upon on this earth but the hope of the Christian has never been “getting ahead” of everyone else to acquire the most wealth or success. In fact, if we are committed to God’s kingdom, we can expect to be trampled upon and hated by men.

Our hope is in the fact that through Christ, the kingdom of God has been inaugurated; through us, that kingdom will advance and imitate the coming consummation; and in the final climactic act at Christ’s coming, the kingdom will be consummated.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

   for they will be comforted.

 Blessed are the meek,

   for they will inherit the earth.

 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

   for they will be filled.

 Blessed are the merciful,

   for they will be shown mercy.

 Blessed are the pure in heart,

   for they will see God.

 Blessed are the peacemakers,

   for they will be called children of God.

 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:3-12


Footnotes

[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of MATTHEW (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), Location 3743, Mobi. 

[2] Riversoft Systems (2022). My Sword Bible. Retrieved from https://www.mysword.info/

[3] France, The Gospel of Matthew, Location 3748, Mobi.

[4] The Renewed Mind, The New Creation Has Dawned. Available at: https://therenewedmind.org/the-new-creation-has-dawned/

[5] France, The Gospel of Matthew, Location 3712, Mobi.

[6] N.T Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (London: SPCK, 2006), 96-97, Scribd.

[7] Craig Bloomberg, Neither poverty nor riches (Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1999), 210, Scribd.

[8] D.A Carson, Matthew (Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 2010), Location 14816, Mobi.

[9] N.T Wright, Surprised by Hope (London: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2008), 280, Scribd.

[10] Carson, Matthew, Location 6034, Mobi.

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