Who Are the “Pure in Heart”?
“What did Jesus Christ mean when he said, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God?’ Does this mean if a person is sincere before the Lord, and tries to keep his mind pure, he will be saved?”
As we begin a response to this question, bear in mind this vital truth. No single passage may be isolated from the larger context of the Scriptures, and have a meaning forced upon it that is at variance with other clear portions of the Word of God.
In one of his “beatitudes” in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8).
The Greek word for “pure” is katharos (used 27 times in the New Testament). Fundamentally, it signifies that which is clean, or free from contaminating substance (cf. Danker et al., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 489).
The term is used literally, for instance, of the “clean” cloth in which Jesus’ body was wrapped after his death (Mt. 27:59). In the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the word is employed in a ceremonial sense of the purification from leprosy. It also can apply to the release of certain unfortunate individuals from “unclean spirits,” i.e., demons, the persons then, by implication, become “clean.”
On the other hand, the katharos may be engaged in a higher sense. William Barclay contended that with a spiritual import, “pure” may describe the heart that is free of unadulterated “motives” (Commentary on Matthew, I.101). It perhaps represents that ideal state of mind of the person who longs to serve God and others for the sheer unselfish joy of honoring the Creator, and thus free of base motives. What a lofty disposition that would be.
Then there also is that aspect of the promise which declares that those who are pure in heart shall “see” God. Since it is rather clear that upon the final day of history, at the time of Judgment, all human beings of all time will “see” God (cf. Eccl. 11:9; Rom. 14:10-12), it is only reasonable to conclude that the term “see” is used in Matthew 5:8 in a special way.
“See” is the Greek horao (found 449 times in New Testament). The word may be used literally (cf. Mk. 12:15) or figuratively. When figuratively employed, it denotes “to perceive, recognize, experience, etc.” What, then, is the significance in Mt. 5:8?
D.R. Dungan suggested that the term refers to recognizing God in all the wonders of his creation (Hermeneutics, 18). The foolish see only matter (compare “senseless heart” Rom. 1:21b), but the pure in heart see God in the things he has made.
On the other hand “see” can also mean to experience something. He who refuses to “obey” the Son will not “see life” (Jn. 3:36), i.e., receive, enjoy, experience it.
When one submits to the conditions of the “new birth” process, he “sees” or “enters” the kingdom of God, i.e., he receives the blessings of citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!” (Jn. 3:3-5).
The student should compare the “see” of verse 3, with the “enter” of verse 5. They explain one another.
There is no way this verse should be interpreted so as to negate other clear passages which require obedience to specific commands in order to become a Christian and ultimately enter heaven (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38, etc.).