First, some people try to diminish the accuracy of the recording of the Beatitudes by comparing it to the other Gospels, pointing out the differences and concluding that Jesus never actually gave this sermon but rather that this is a compilation of ‘things Jesus said’. However, it is important to recognize that Jesus probably gave this sermon several times. I think it is proper to think of the Beatitudes as Jesus’ “stump speech”. Something he would have repeated often to the crowd in each new town. Thus the differences between recounting are not indications of editing but rather different recordings of several slightly different presentations.
One helpful way of reading the Beatitudes is to think of them as a “Stairway to Heaven”. Each one is the next step up on your spiritual journey. Starting with “blessed are the poor in spirit”, the journey starts with humility. You have to realize that it’s not all about you, humble yourself and turn your will to God. The last step on the staircase is, “blessed are the persecuted.” Does anyone doubt that someone who has fully turned over their life to God will be persecuted, perhaps violently, by this world. Try reading the beatitudes again with this staircase metaphor in mind.
Finally, notice what Jesus says you have to DO to fulfill discipleship and live the Beatitudes. He says you have to be salt and light. In other words you have to be useful and seen. Then he says,
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
So it is not merely enough to believe and have faith. One must “obey and teach”. A person’s righteousness or good deeds, must be greater than those normally held up as examples. Conversely, a person who does not follow the moral law and teaches other to so (even if only by example) is in big trouble. That is not the case. Jesus says the law remains in effect until “heaven and earth pass away”. This occurs in his death on the cross and resurrection. As all things were created through him, the old creation passes away with his death and the new creation is established in his resurrection. Vestiges of the old creation remain, namely the appearance of the material world but the world is being perfected as it journeys to the second coming.