“God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8 NLT)
To a first-century Jewish audience, this announcement regarding the pure of heart would likely bring to mind the Pharisaical obsession with external, ritualistic purification. As illustrated in the parable of the good Samaritan, the religious elite were the kind of people who were reticent to provide assistance if it caused them to be impure in the eyes of the law. Jesus reframes this idea of purity, taking it out of the realm of the physical and setting it squarely in the realm of the spiritual. After all, “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Jesus’s announcement would also likely remind them of the exchange between Moses and God at Mount Sinai found in Exodus 33:12–23. Moses asks for God to personally go with them to the Promised Land, which he promises to do. Moses, once again lacking complete faith in God’s promises, asks for reassurance, which God provides, telling Moses that he is favored by God. In response, Moses asks to see God’s glorious presence. “As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen’” (Exodus 33:22–23).
Jesus was telling them, and us, that to be like Moses and see God does not require following a regimen of cleansing rituals or avoiding certain people or activities, it only requires a heart that is right with God. The beautiful thing is that Jesus also made the reverse of this statement true. Being God, Jesus showed himself to humanity – and gave himself up for our sake – so that we might have hearts that are pure through the blood of Christ. God has already done all the heavy lifting; it’s on us now to respond, daily, by seeking his face.