Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. [Matthew 5:6 ESV]
Righteousness is that eternal characteristic of God against which He judges all of creation. Since He is the Creator of everything whether seen or unseen nothing has come into existence without His express will. He owns everything He has created and fashioned all creation according to His will and purpose. God’s highest creation according to Scripture is Man, created in His image for eternal relationship with Him.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. [Genesis 1:26-27 ESV]
Where all creation bears the evidence of purpose and precision of the Creator Man has more. He has characteristics shared with God and no other. Not even angels have the shared characteristics God has embedded in people. Man has a extraordinary relationship with God able to know Him both intellectually and intimately.
Jesus states the fourth element or characteristic of the Christian who is a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Citizens of God’s kingdom have a hunger and thirst for righteousness. This would be true without the presence and corruption of sin. This element follows the first three in a perfectly logical sequence. It is the culmination, the peak or pinnacle of that which describes the citizen of God’s kingdom. In a world corrupted by sin, in constant rebellion against God, His citizens want desperately to conform to Him, to be known as His.
God is so completely in control of both the temporary world and eternity He has built into the temporary world illustrations of eternal truths. He does this so we would have an understanding, though limited and finite, of our privileged place before Him. Also, there are many instances throughout Scripture where God has instituted a spiritual truth with a temporal mandate. For instance, the relationship between a father and child illustrates the relationship between God the Father, and those who are His. With the corruption of sin the physical illustration breaks down but the spiritual reality remains constant. Jesus uses the exaggeration of hungering and thirsting to describe the desire for God and His righteousness.
This is not mere hyperbole. With sin comes separation from God. Separation from Him in the temporary world has eternal consequences. He is the source of life for all creation. Just as He gave food and water to Man to sustain him in the physical world so He gave Himself to sustain life in the spiritual realm. In reality, man does not need food and water and air, for God is capable of sustaining man’s very physical life without these. But God has set in place the laws of nature and determined man needs these things in order to continue living.
Sin separates us from the absolute source of life. We exist and live apart from the special grace of God, yet within His general grace. Once we come to the place of understanding our spiritual poverty before God, which causes mourning and ultimately a relinquishing of control in meekness to Him, we identify our basic need for Him because we are starving. We are spiritually famished, having received no spiritual sustenance from the very source of spiritual sustenance. We hunger and thirst, and even gasp for air once we have tasted the Lord. We crave God’s righteousness as we crave food when we are starving. We need His righteousness as we need water and without it would die. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are satisfied, or filled, their needs and desires met by the God who created them in His image so He alone might meet such needs and desires.
We need Him in the purest sense of the word “need.” He, however, does not “need” us but wants us in the purest sense of that word “want.”. His love for us is eternal and boundless yet constrained by His justice and our sin. Even corrupted by sin we “hunger and thirst” after Him whose very being is righteousness. Having His image means our purpose and the needs of our most basic nature cannot be fulfilled by anything other than God.