Purity marks all cultures in their different ways. Sociologists tell us that every tribe or group develops its own expectations regarding social mores and behavior. In speaking of purity, neither Jesus nor the Bible is charting into strange or unfamiliar territory. But the way in which Jesus and the whole biblical witness unpack and commend the call to purity nonetheless proves startling and distinctive. We do well to ask how the words of Matthew 5:8 not only parallel other moralities but also how they break the mold and attest the singular beauty of the gospel. This beatitude, like the others, not only affirms a moral posture or character trait but also relates it rather directly to a particular gift. In this case, the “pure in heart” are those who “shall see God.” We will consider two distinctive elements that speak of the pathway and the prize attested.
First, seeing God is a gift of the gospel of Christ. Long ago, Moses knew the desire to see God’s glory (Ex. 33:18), and David prayed for this “one thing” alone, that “I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4). The biblical witness so consistently points to the fact that we are made with the divinely designed yearning for God that the early Christians spoke of our great hope as the “beatific vision” of God. And the gospel attests the pledge that this vision of God (visio Dei) will be granted when old things have passed away and it can finally be said: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). The loud voice from the throne calls the reader of Revelation to see (“Behold!”) the very presence of God, for He will be near. We learn in Matthew 17:1–8 that it is owing to the mediator, to Jesus Himself, that we can see God’s glory. His work, on our behalf and also in our transformation, brings about the requisite purity and also makes visible the beauty of God Most High (John 1:18; 2 Cor. 4:6). Only in Him do we have no reason to fear for sin and every reason to look boldly upon His glory (Matt. 17:7–8).
Second, this sight shows the generosity and kindness of the God who adopts us and who is Himself our hope and desire. The gospel takes typical expectations of behavioral purity and reshapes them. The purity demanded leads unto heavenly glory and blessing, not simple human acceptance or social belonging. The gospel gives us God. So the Apostle who saw Jesus Christ gloriously displayed on the Damascus Road would later speak to the Christians in Ephesus that by grace the God who has all “fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23) and that, therefore, you can prayerfully and confidently expect that in Him “you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19). Our salvation involves nothing less than the gift of our Savior Himself. God is not merely the author of the gospel—God is the end of the gospel.
The “pure of heart” are those who see that we are made for and only satisfied ultimately by the sight of God. Other gifts are good; this prize alone is ultimately blessed. A crucial facet of growing in the kind of purity envisioned and given by Jesus is the insatiable sense that we would not delight in any other good or reward apart from His giving Himself to us. With David, the “pure in heart” can say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (Ps. 16:2).