Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Matthew 5:8 (NKJV)
The Greek word used here for pure was used in several different ways. Each of these ways gives us some insight into what Jesus meant. Originally it simply meant clean and could be used to describe dirty clothes that had been washed and cleaned.
It was also used to describe an army that had been purged of all the discontented, cowardly, unwilling and ineffective soldiers and was therefore composed of fighting men that were totally dedicated to the job at hand. It was also paired with another Greek adjective to describe wine that had not been mixed with water or metal that was free from any sort of impurity. So from this we could say that pure means something that is cleansed, undivided, and unpolluted.
Jesus applies this word to the heart. Focusing on the heart is very much a characteristic of Jesus. When we talk about the heart in Scripture it’s important for us to keep in mind what it means. In the Bible the heart wasn’t considered the seat or center of the emotions as it is today. Instead the heart was considered to be the seat or center of a person’s being. The heart was seen as the seat of the will. It was basically the control center for life. This is why we are told to guard our hearts at all costs (Proverbs 4:23). What is in our hearts will eventually come out in our lives.
So the idea is that we are to be inwardly or genuinely pure and undivided in our devotion to God. It would make sense that Jesus laid such emphasis on the heart here because of the Pharisees. They were very—if not only—interested in being outwardly or seemingly pure. In other words they wanted to maintain the appearance of purity and devotion to God without actually being pure and devoted to God. What mattered to their way of thinking was what you were outwardly or what you appeared to be. They paid very little attention to what you were on the inside or what you genuinely were. Jesus took them to task for this very thing (Matthew 23:25-28).
They laid great stress on making sure they were outwardly and/or ceremonially clean. The obvious reason they did this was because it is the outward things that are seen. They worked hard to make sure that what people saw was a righteous and holy person. Publically they looked to be genuinely pure and devoted to God. Inwardly this was just not the case. Jesus’ contrast between outward appearance and inward reality is thought provoking and challenging. Think about the ways this could play out in our own lives…
Outwardly we may attend church regularly, but what is the inward reality the rest of the week?
Outwardly we may appear to be faithful to our spouse, but what is the inward reality of our thoughts and internet time?
Outwardly we may profess to follow Christ, but what is the inward reality of our focus and devotion?
Outwardly we may agree with justice and mercy, but what is the inward reality when we are given the chance to be just and merciful?
Outwardly we may agree with the importance of generosity, but what inward truth does our checkbook reveal?
Outwardly we may affirm the necessity of repentance of sin and faith in Christ, but what is the inward reality of our faithfulness to share this with others?
Outwardly we may walk humbly with others, but what is the inward truth of our attitude toward those that are very different than us?
The point that Jesus makes is that being outwardly pure and devoted isn’t enough. He wants us to be genuinely pure and genuinely devoted to Him. The pure in heart not only seek to have their external actions be correct. They also seek to have their internal desires and attitudes correct as well. The pure in heart don’t want to merely appear to be pure and devoted to God. They want to genuinely be pure and devoted to God. The pure in heart understand that what we appear to be in the eyes of man doesn’t matter. It’s what we truly are in the eyes of God that matters.
The promise we are given with this attitude is that those who are pure in heart will see God. This has a dual meaning.
Part of the meaning is that we will see God in our lives now. I don’t mean that we will physically see God with our eyes. Instead we will see God at work in our lives and we will experience His presence with us. It means that we will have a real and ongoing relationship with God in this life. One thing we must understand is that genuine purity is necessary to have a relationship with God. There is no such thing as living in sin, whether outward or inward, and living in a close relationship with God at the same time.
The second part of the meaning behind the pure in heart will see God is that they will see God in heaven and be with Him eternally.
But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Revelation 21:22-27 (NKJV)