It was a word reserved for the elite, and then only the crème de la crème. Makarios was used to describe those who had everything money could buy, and then some. Those who enjoyed the descriptive term also enjoyed the personal satisfaction of their achievements, the height of socio-economic status, the best political connections, and the wealth of enduring and enriching personal relationships. Makarios was the supreme blessing. It was enjoyed at all times, in all places. It meant receiving the generous favor of respectability from everyone. It was synonymous with all the joys of the life hereafter, an unbroken internal joy, extending forever and ever.
Thus, it was not a descriptive term thrown around lightly.
During the classical Greek era, makarios described the status of the gods, emphasizing their power and wealth. At times, it also described the state of the dead, since through death they had now arrived at the world of the gods. They were beyond the cares and worries common to the living, and now enjoyed the company of the gods.
Makarios was the supreme blessing.
Makarios is used in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) to describe the results of living right. It was the state of the righteous. If you enjoyed the blessings of this world, it was because you had been living right. You were being blessed. You were enjoying the blessings pronounced by Moses on Mount Gerizim, and avoided the curses of Mount Ebal. Thus, you were living in that enviable state of makarios!
The opposite of makarios was not a state of unhappiness. If you were not enjoying the blessing of makarios, you were cursed by God! The curse was well deserved, since you had not lived up to the promises of the blessings on Mount Gerizim. Rather, you were receiving the consequences of disobedience, which were the curses pronounced on Mount Ebal.
This was the understanding of makarios in Jesus’ time. Most people, the masses, the multitudes, where poverty, sickness, and hunger reigned, were living under the curse of God. Makarios was the last adjective someone would think of using to describe the beggar, the sick, and those on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum.
Makarios was out of reach for them, until a certain day on a plain in Judea. Jesus came down from another mountain gathering a throng of the accursed around him. Luke tells us that “A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all” (Luke 6:17-19). Try and picture the scene. The only one truly blessed of God, who in himself is God’s incarnate makarios, surrounds himself with a multitude of the accursed, the non-makarios.
And then, he does the unthinkable. He passes through the crowd, healing, touching the untouchables, embracing the rejected. He brings life to the terminally ill, sight to the blind, hearing and speech to those who could not hear or talk, and soundness of mind to the mentally ill, and as he passes through, he makes an astounding pronouncement. He declares them all makarios! They have been favored with the blessings of Mount Gerizim, because he, and not Moses, declares them to be now heirs of the kingdom of God, and thus in God’s sight, they are makarios. Yes, the first description of the “poor in spirit” is that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” in the present tense. The Word which cannot lie has spoken it into reality. It’s as if Jesus had said, “Before God, all of you, yes, even those who give the clearest appearance of being accursed due to your poverty, illness, state of mind and heart, are now favored with God’s eternal embrace, God’s gracious mercy, spoken through the Word of God which cannot lie!”
The only one truly blessed of God, who in himself is God’s incarnate makarios, surrounds himself with a multitude of the accursed, the non-makarios.
It is because Jesus took the curse upon himself that he can declare the accursed as God’s makarios. Jesus’ pronouncing the accursed on that plain as makarios, was the precursor of justifying sinners on the cross through his blood. Based on Scripture, we know that Matthew, the white-collar extortioner was on that plane (Matt 5:1). Yet, through Jesus’ scandalous cry of makarios, Matthew’s curse was lifted. The same was true for all the disciples. Was Mary of Magdala there? Then her curse was replaced with makarios, and the kingdom of heaven was hers on that day. It was the same for all sinners on that plane on that day. What about those who hear that blessing with faith even today? There’s no curse, only the makarios blessing.
The Septuagint’s chosen translation for the Hebrew esher is Makarios. The best-known example is Psalm 1, where the “righteous man” is described as esher. In the Hebrew, esher includes everything embraced by the Greek makarios, but emphasizes the great joy experienced by the blessed one. (1) The blessed righteous man in Psalm 1 is none other but the Messiah, who became God’s richest blessing to humanity in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. In Matthew 5 we see the Messiah described in Psalm 1, as the makarios of God incarnate in the flesh, scandalously blessing the least deserving with God’s richest blessing, himself, the gospel of God.
Thus the meaning of makarios, as God’s great blessing of salvation, was prefigured in the Old Testament. “Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? (Deut 33:29). The fullness of abundant blessing of makarios is also foreseen in the related Hebrew term, esher, as was previously noted. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Lord Almighty, blessed [esher] is the one who trusts in you” (Ps 84:11,12). Notice that trust in God precedes walking blameless and being called blessed. Thus, saving faith is the clear root of what it means to be both esher and makarios.
Some have understood that the Beatitudes represent a new law given by the “New Moses,” that they express the “deeper and perfect meanings of the Ten Commandments.
But there are no “Thou shalls” nor “Thou shall nots” in the meaning of makarios. Only blessings. The curses are gone. God’s Incarnate Makarios took them upon himself. If the eight “makarios” of the Beatitudes were law, then there would be an accounting, there would be divine bookkeeping of sins and good deeds.
But the blessing of makarios is not a law. It is a gift to be received with open hands, and by faith alone, for those who hear the blessing.
Blessed are those who believe in the blessing of the Incarnate Makarios, for the blessing is theirs forever.