Background on Sermon on the Mount
The Great Sermon of the Great King (5:1-2)
And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, (5:1-2)
Until this point in Matthew, Jesus’ words have been limited (4:17, 19) and reference to His teachings general (4:23). Now, in one powerfully comprehensive yet compact message, the Lord sets forth the foundational truths of the gospel of the kingdom He came to proclaim.
Here begins what has traditionally been called the Sermon on the Mount. Though Jesus repeated many of these truths on other occasions, chapters 5-7 record one continuous message of the Lord, delivered at one specific time. As we will see, these were revolutionary truths to the minds of those Jewish religionists who heard them, and have continued to explode with great impact on the minds of readers for nearly two thousand years.
Here is the manifesto of the new Monarch, who ushers in a new age with a new message.
the biblical context
The King’s new message was closely related to the message of the Old Testament and was, in fact, a reaffirmation of it. Yet the emphasis of the gospel (which means “good news”) was radically different from the current understanding of the Old Testament-an astounding clarification of what Moses, David, the prophets, and other inspired writers of God’s Word had revealed. In addition to that, Christ’s message struck violently against the Jewish tradition of His day.
The last message in the Old Testament is, “And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse” (Mal. 4:6). By contrast, this first great sermon of the New Testament begins with a series of blessings, which we call the Beatitudes (5:3-12). The Old Testament ends with the warning of a curse; the New Testament begins with the promise of blessing. The Old Testament was characterized by Mount Sinai, with its law, its thunder and lightning, and its warnings of judgment and cursing. The New Testament is characterized by Mount Zion, with its grace, its salvation and healing, and its promises of peace and blessing (cf. Heb. 12:18-24).
The Old Testament law demonstrates man’s need of salvation, and the New Testament message offers the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord had to begin with a proper presentation of the law, so the people would recognize their sin-then could come the offer of salvation. The Sermon on the Mount clarifies the reasons for the curse and shows that man has no righteousness that can survive the scrutiny of God. The new message offers blessing, and that is the Lord’s opening offer.
As will be developed in the next chapter, however, the blessedness Christ offers is not dependent on self-effort or self-righteousness, but on the new nature God gives. In God’s Son man comes to share God’s very nature, which is characterized by true righteousness and its consequence-blessedness, or happiness. In Christ we partake of the very bliss of God Himself! That is the kind and the extent of the contentment God wants His children to have-His very own peace and happiness. So the Lord begins with the offer of blessedness and then proceeds to demonstrate that human righteousness, such as the Jews sought, cannot produce it. The good news is that of blessing. The bad news is that man cannot achieve it, no matter how self-righteous and religious he is.
The Old Testament is the book of Adam, whose story is tragic. Adam not only was the first man on earth but the first king. He was given dominion over all the earth, to subdue and rule it (Gen. 1:28). But that first monarch fell soon after he began to rule, and his fall brought a curse-the curse with which the Old Testament both begins and ends.
The New Testament begins with the presentation of the new sovereign Man, One who will not fall and One who brings blessing rather than cursing. The second Adam is also the last Adam, and after Him will come no other ruler, no other sovereign. The first king sinned and left a curse; the second King was sinless and leaves a blessing. As one writer has put it, the first Adam was tested in a beautiful garden and failed; the last Adam was tested in a threatening wilderness and succeeded. Because the first Adam was a thief, he was cast out of paradise; but the last Adam turned to a thief on a cross and said, “Today you shall be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The Old Testament, the book of the generations of Adam, ends with a curse; the New Testament, the book of the generations of Jesus Christ, ends with the promise, “There shall no longer be any curse” (Rev. 22:3). The Old Testament gave the law to show man in his misery, and the New Testament gives life to show man in his bliss.
In Jesus Christ a new reality dawned on history. A new Man and new King of the earth came to reverse the terrible curse of the first king. The Sermon on the Mount is the masterful revelation from the great King, offering blessing instead of cursing to those who come on His terms to true righteousness.
the political context
Most Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be, first of all, a military and political leader who would deliver them from the yoke of Rome and establish a prosperous Jewish kingdom that would lead the world. He would be greater than any king, leader, or prophet in their history. After Jesus miraculously fed the multitude on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, the people tried “to come and take Him by force, to make Him king” (John 6:15). They saw Jesus as the anticipated leader of a great welfare state in which even their routine physical needs would be provided. But Jesus would not allow Himself to be mistaken for that sort of king, and He disappeared from the crowd. Later, when Pilate asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?” the Lord replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).
The thrust of the Sermon on the Mount is that the message and work of the King are first and most importantly internal and not external, and spiritual and moral rather than physical and political. Here we find no politics or social reform. His concern is for what men are, because what they are determines what they do.
The ideals and principles in the Sermon on the Mount are utterly contrary to those of human societies and governments. In Christ’s kingdom the most exalted persons are those who are the lowliest in the world’s estimation, and vice versa. Jesus declared that John the Baptist was the greatest man who had ever lived until that time. Yet John had no possessions and no home, lived in the wilderness, dressed in a hair garment, and ate locusts and wild honey. He was not a part of the religious system, and he had no financial, military, or political power. In addition to that, he preached a message that in the world’s eyes was completely irrelevant and absurd. By worldly standards he was a misfit and a failure. Yet he received the Lord’s highest praise.
In Jesus’ kingdom the least are greater even than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11). They are characterized in this sermon as being humble, compassionate, meek, yearning for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers-and persecuted for the sake of the very righteousness they practice. In the world’s eyes those characteristics are the marks of losers. The world says, “Assert yourself, stand up for yourself, be proud of yourself, elevate yourself, defend yourself, avenge yourself, serve yourself.” Those are the treasured traits of the world’s people and the world’s kingdoms.
the religious context
Jesus lived in a highly complex religious society, one that included many professional religionists. Those professionals were in four primary groups: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots. At this point, it is only necessary to introduce these groups briefly. Later chapters will unfold more of their distinctives.
The Pharisees believed that right religion consisted in divine laws and religious tradition. Their primary concern was for fastidious observance of the Mosaic law and of every minute detail of the traditions handed down by various rabbis over the centuries. They focused on adhering to the laws of the past.
The Sadducees focused on the present. They were the religious liberals who discounted most things supernatural and who modified both Scripture and tradition to fit their own religious philosophy.
The Essenes were ascetics who believed that right religion meant separation from the rest of society. They led austere lives in remote, barren areas such as Qumran, on the northwest edge of the Dead Sea.
The Zealots were fanatical nationalists who thought that right religion centered in radical political activism. These Jewish revolutionaries looked down on fellow Jews who would not take up arms against Rome.
In essence, the Pharisees said, “Go back”; the Sadducees said, “Go ahead”; the Essenes said, “Go away”; and the Zealots said, “Go against.” The Pharisees were traditionalists; the Sadducees were modernists; the Essenes were separatists; and the Zealots were activists. They represented the same primary types of religious factions that are common today.
But Jesus’ way was not any of those. To the Pharisees He said that true spirituality is internal, not external. To the Sadducees He said that it is God’s way, not man’s way. To the Essenes He said that it is a matter of the heart, not the body. To the Zealots He said that it is a matter of worship, not revolution. The central thrust of His message to every group and every person, of whatever persuasion or inclination, was that the way of His kingdom is first and above all a matter of the inside-the soul. That is the central focus of the Sermon on the Mount. True religion in God’s kingdom is not a question of ritual, of philosophy, of location, or of military might-but of right attitude toward God and toward other people. The Lord summed it up in the words “I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20).
The dominant message of the Sermon on the Mount is that one must not find comfort merely in right theology, much less in contemporary philosophy, geographical separation, or military and political activism. Right theology is essential; so are being contemporary in the right way, separating ourselves from worldliness, and taking stands on moral issues. But those external things must flow from right internal life and attitudes if they are to serve and please God. That has always been God’s way. He told Samuel, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). In Proverbs, wisdom says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (4:23).
When the Pharisees with whom Jesus was having lunch were bothered that He did not ceremonially wash His hands before eating, Jesus said, “Now you Pharisees have the habit of cleaning the outside of your cups and dishes, but inside you yourselves are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the One who made the outside make the inside too? But dedicate once for all your inner self, and at once you will have everything clean” (Luke 11:39-41, Williams). That was His message for every sect of Judaism.
In light of the preceding truths we can see at least five reasons why the Sermon on the Mount is important. First, it shows the absolute necessity of the new birth. Its standards are much too high and demanding to be met by human power. Only those who partake of God’s own nature through Jesus Christ can fulfill such demands. The standards of the Sermon on the Mount go far beyond those of Moses in the law, demanding not only righteous actions but righteous attitudes-not just that men do right but that they be right. No part of Scripture more clearly shows man’s desperate situation without God.
Second, the sermon intends to drive the listener to Jesus Christ as man’s only hope of meeting God’s standards. If man cannot live up to the divine standard, he needs a supernatural power to enable him. The proper response to the sermon leads to Christ.
Third, the sermon gives God’s pattern for happiness and for true success. It reveals the standards, the objectives, and the motivations that, with God’s help, will fulfill what God has designed man to be. Here we find the way of joy, peace, and contentment.
Fourth, the sermon is perhaps the greatest scriptural resource for witnessing, for reaching others for Christ. A Christian who personifies these principles of Jesus will be a spiritual magnet, attracting others to the Lord who empowers him to live as he does. The life obedient to the principles of the Sermon on the Mount is the church’s greatest tool for evangelism.
Fifth, the life obedient to the maxims of this proclamation is the only life that is pleasing to God. That is the believer’s highest reason for following Jesus’ teaching-it pleases God.
And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. (5:1)
Jesus was always concerned for the multitudes, for whom He had great compassion-whether they were “distressed and downcast” (Matt. 9:36), sick (14:14; cf. 4:23), hungry (15:32), or in any other need. Whether the people were physically ill or healthy, emotionally stable or demon-possessed, financially poor or rich, politically oppressed or powerful, religiously insignificant or influential, intellectually ignorant or educated, Jesus had compassion on them. Jesus attracted all strata of people because He loved them all.
Everything Jesus said on this occasion was spoken publicly, to the multitudes (cf. 7:28-29). His intention was to drive them to a recognition of their sin, and thus to the need of a Savior, which He had come to be. Until they believed in Him, the demands of the sermon could only show them how terribly far they were from meeting God’s standards. This masterful evangelistic sermon is designed to confront men with their desperate condition of sinfulness.
It was Jesus who saw the multitudes, ... went up on the mountain; and ... sat down. God’s own Son delivered the sermon. The greatest Preacher who ever lived preached the greatest sermon ever preached. When He concluded, “the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (7:28-29). He quoted no sources, no ancient rabbis, no revered tradition. What He spoke, He spoke on His own authority. That was unheard of among the Jews, who always derived their authority from recognized sources.
The Sermon on the Mount is the supreme model of good preaching, a homiletical masterpiece. It beautifully and powerfully flows from the introduction (5:3-12) to the first point (the citizens of the kingdom, 5:13-16), to the second point (the righteousness of the kingdom, 5:17—7:12), to the third point (the exhortation to enter the kingdom, 7:13-27), and to the conclusion (the effect of the sermon on its hearers, 7:28-29), The transitions from point to point are clear and unmistakable.
At the beginning of his ministry Ezekiel was told by the Lord, “I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be dumb, and cannot be a man who rebukes them, for they are a rebellious house” (Ezek. 3:26). Much later the same prophet testified, “Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me in the evening, before the refugees came. And He opened my mouth at the time they came to me in the morning; so my mouth was opened, and I was no longer speechless” (33:22). Like Ezekiel, Jesus did not display His truth, His wisdom, and His power until it was time in God’s sovereign will for Him to do so.
The sanctuary for the greatest sermon ever preached was the mountain. As far as we know, this mountain-really a large hill-had no name until Jesus preached there. Until then it had been but one of many hills that slope up gently from the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. What had been simply a mountain among many other mountains now became the mountain, sanctified and set apart by the presence of the Lord. For many centuries the traditional site has been called the Mount of Beatitudes.
A rabbi commonly sat down when he taught. If he spoke while standing or walking, what he said was considered to be informal and unofficial. But when he sat down, what he said was authoritative and official. Even today we speak of professors holding a “chair” in a university, signifying the honored position from which they teach. When the Roman Catholic pope gives an official pronouncement, he is said to speak ex cathedra, which literally means to speak from his chair. When Jesus sat down and delivered the Sermon on the Mount, He spoke from His divine chair with absolute authority as the sovereign King.
As mentioned above, the multitudes were an important audience for this evangelistic sermon. But the standards of spiritual life that Jesus gave here could not apply to them or be followed by them unless they belonged to Him.
That His disciples came to Him indicates they were also His audience. In fact, the twelve were the only ones at that time who, to any real extent, could know the blessedness of which the Lord spoke and follow the perfect way of righteousness which He set forth. They were the only ones who had partaken of the inner divine power and presence that are absolutely necessary for obeying God’s perfect will. So the sermon not only showed the multitude the standard of God’s righteousness that they could not keep, but it also showed the disciples the possible standard they could now keep because of His coming and their faith in Him.
An archbishop of the Church of England once remarked that it would be impossible to conduct the affairs of Britain on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount, because the nation was not loyal to the King. The sermon of the King can be understood and followed only by faithful subjects of the King.
The famous historian Will Durant said that in any given generation only a handful of people make an impression on the world that lasts more than a few years. The person who stands out above all others, he said, is Jesus Christ. Jesus undoubtedly has had the most powerful and permanent influence on the thought of mankind. But, the historian went on to say, His teachings have not had a corresponding effect on man’s actions.
Trying to apply Jesus’ teachings without receiving Him as Lord and Savior is futile. Those, for example, who promote the social gospel, endeavoring to institute Jesus’ teachings apart from His saving and regenerating work, prove only that His principles cannot work for those who do not have a transformed nature and God’s indwelling power. One cannot behave like Christ until one becomes like Christ. Those who do not love the King cannot live like the King.
And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, (5:2)
Matthew’s speaking of Jesus’ opening His mouth as He began to teach them was not a superfluous statement of the obvious, but was a common colloquialism used to introduce a message that was especially solemn and important. It was also used to indicate intimate, heartfelt testimony or sharing. Jesus’ sermon was both authoritative and intimate; it was of the utmost importance and was delivered with the utmost concern.
In this sermon our Lord establishes a standard of living counter to everything the world practices and holds dear. To live by the standards He gives here is to live a life of blessed happiness. Here is an utterly new approach to living, one that results in joy instead of despair, in peace instead of conflict-a peace that the world does not understand and cannot have (John 14:27; Phil. 4:7). It is a blessedness not produced by the world or by circumstances, and it cannot be taken away by the world or by circumstances. It is not produced externally and cannot be destroyed externally.
Because of its seemingly impossible demands, many evangelicals maintain that the Sermon on the Mount pertains only to the kingdom age, the Millennium. Otherwise, they argue, how could Jesus command us to be perfect, just as our “heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)? For several reasons, however, that interpretation cannot be correct. First of all, the text does not indicate or imply that these teachings are for another age. Second, Jesus demanded them of people who were not living in the Millennium. Third, many of the teachings themselves become meaningless if they are applied to the Millennium. For example, there will be no persecution of believers (see 5:10-12, 44) during the kingdom age. Fourth, every principle taught in the Sermon on the Mount is also taught elsewhere in the New Testament in contexts that clearly apply to believers of our present age. Fifth, there are many New Testament passages that command equally impossible standards, which unglorified human strength cannot continually achieve (see Rom. 13:14; 2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 1:9-10; Col. 3:1-2; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).
The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are for believers today, marking the distinctive life-style that should characterize the direction, if not the perfection, of the lives of Christians of every age. Unfortunately, those standards do not always characterize Christians. The world’s standards and objectives too often have engulfed believers and conformed them to its own image, squeezed them into its own mold (see Rom. 12:2, Phillips).
Jesus’ new way of living comes from a new way of thinking, and the new way of thinking comes from new life. Here are God’s standards for those created in His own image and recreated into the image of His own dear Son (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18). Those who do not follow them as a general direction of life have an unacceptable righteousness (Matt. 5:20).
Who knows more about a product than the manufacturer? When you buy a new power tool or appliance the first sensible thing to do is read the owner’s manual. The manufacturer prints those manuals to explain what the item is designed to do and not do, how it is to be cared for, what its limitations are, and so on. God has made every human being, yet few turn to their Maker to find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in their lives, to learn how they are to live and how they are to take care of themselves-how they can function properly and happily as they were designed to do.
As the Sermon on the Mount itself makes clear, internal changes also bring external changes. When our attitudes and thinking are right, our actions will fall in line. If our inner life does not make our outer life better, our inner life is deficient or nonexistent. “Faith without works is useless,” James says (James 2:20). Paul tells us that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
But the true outside life can only be produced from a true inside life. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones compares the Christian life to playing music. A person may play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata accurately and without a single mistake-yet not really play what the composer had in mind. Even though the notes are played correctly, they do not produce the sonata. The pianist may mechanically strike the right notes at the right time, yet miss the essence, the soul, of the composition. He may not at all express what Beethoven meant to be expressed. The true artist must play the right notes at the right time. He is not exempt from the rules and principles of music. But accurate playing is not what makes him a great musician. It is his expression of what lies behind the notes that enthralls his listeners. In the same way, faithful Christians are concerned about the letter of God’s Word; but beyond that they are also concerned about the spirit, the deeper will and purpose that lie behind the letter. That concern reveals an obedient heart filled with the desire to glorify the Lord.
To claim to follow the spirit without obeying the letter is to be a liar. To follow the letter without following the spirit is to be a hypocrite. To follow the spirit in the right attitude and the letter in the right action is to be a faithful child of God and a loyal subject of the King.
III. The Sermon and Salvation
Millions of people think they can be saved by obeying the Sermon on the Mount. They think it is easier than trying to obey the Ten Commandments. How foolish! Nobody was ever saved by obeying any law (Gal. 2:16; 3:10–11), and the Sermon on the Mount is much more strict than Moses’ Law! Under his Law, if a man murdered another, he was guilty, but Jesus says that hatred in the heart is the moral equivalent of murder. Lust is adultery in the heart. Please keep in mind that the Beatitudes come first. They describe the kind of person who, under the power of the Spirit, can live the way Matt. 5–7 describes. Note the progression in the Beatitudes:
poor in spirit—this means humble before God
mourn—this means sorrow for sin, repentance
meek—waiting before God for His mercy
hunger and thirst—asking for God’s righteousness
merciful—condemning self, not others
pure in heart—this is the result!
peacemakers—trying to win others to Christ
persecuted—this happens to all who live godly lives
The Sermon on the Mount does not mention the Holy Spirit or the blood of Christ, yet the basis for it is Calvary, and the power to live it is by the Holy Spirit. Again, keep in mind that these are not commandments to obey—a “Christian Law.” The Sermon on the Mount describes the character of the truly righteous person, character that comes from a walk with the Lord. It’s the spirit of this Sermon that is important. Keeping it according to its letter is going back to the very Pharisaic righteousness that Jesus is condemning!
The first sixteen verses of Matthew 5 describe the true Christian and deal with character. The rest of the Sermon on the Mount deals with conduct that grows out of character. Character always comes before conduct, because what we are determines what we do. In Matt. 5:1–16, Jesus shows us that true righteousness is inward, and in 5:17–48, He points out that sin is also inward. Thus, He exposed the false righteousness of the Pharisees, who taught that holiness consisted in religious actions, and that sin was what you did outwardly. How many people make these mistakes today! God looks upon the heart, for there is life’s destiny decided.
I. The Beatitudes Collectively (5:1–12)
The word beatitude is not found in your Bible. It simply means blessing and comes from the Latin word for blessed.
There is definite progression in these verses. They show how the person begins with his or her own sense of sin and finally becomes a child of God and the results that then follow. Note that these verses deal with attitudes—what we think in our hearts, our outlook on life. “Beatitudes”—the attitudes that ought to be in our lives if we are true Christians.
A. “Poor in spirit” (v. 3).
Our attitude toward ourselves in which we feel our need and admit it.
B. “Mourn” (v. 4).
Our attitude toward sin, a true sorrow for sin.
C. “Meek” (v. 5).
Our attitude toward others; we are teachable; we do not defend ourselves when we are wrong.
D. “Hunger and thirst” (v. 6).
Here our attitude toward God is expressed; we receive His righteousness by faith because we ask for it.
The rest of the Beatitudes show the results of the new life in the believer:
E. “Merciful” (v. 7).
We have a forgiving spirit and love others.
F. “Pure in heart” (v. 8).
We keep our lives clean; holiness is happiness to us, and we want no substitutes.
G. “Peacemakers” (v. 9).
Christians should bring peace, between people and God and between those who are at odds with each other. We share the Gospel of peace.
H. “Persecuted” (v. 10).
All who live godly lives will suffer persecution.
II. The Beatitudes Individually (5:1–12)
A. “Poor in spirit” (v. 3).
We must be empty before we can be full. The opposite of this is self-sufficiency. Our sufficiency is not of ourselves (2 Cor. 3:5). The world promotes self-sufficiency, yet God dwells with the person whose heart is broken (Isa. 57:15). This does not mean false humility or cowardice; it means a proper attitude toward self, realizing how weak and sinful we are apart from Christ. Compare the two men in Luke 18:9–14.
B. “Mourn” (v. 4).
This is sincere sorrow for sin, our sin and the sins of others. How careless we are about sin! We excuse it, yet God hates it, and sin breaks God’s heart. Beware of the sorrow of this world (2 Cor. 7:8–10). Peter mourned with godly sorrow and was forgiven; Judas had remorse—the sorrow of this world—and he took his life.
C. “Meek” (v. 5).
Meekness is not weakness! Jesus was meek (Matt. 11:29), yet He drove the changers from the temple. Moses was meek (Num. 12:3), yet he judged sinners and even faced Aaron with his sin. Meekness means not asserting my own rights, but living for the glory of God. Christians are to show meekness (Eph. 4:1–2; Titus 3:2). We are prone to be self-willed.
D. “Hunger and thirst” (v. 6).
A true Christian has an appetite for spiritual things. Ask people what they desire and you will know what they are like.
E. “Merciful” (v. 7).
This is not legalism, but merely the working of the biblical principle of sowing and reaping. If we show mercy, because Christ has been merciful to us, then mercy will come back to us (see Luke 16:1–13; James 2:13; Prov. 11:17). We do not earn mercy, but we must have hearts prepared to receive it.
F. “Pure in heart” (v. 8).
Not sinlessness (1 John 1:8) but the truth within (Ps. 51:6). It means a single heart, not divided between God and the world.
G. “Peacemakers” (v. 9).
Titus 3:3 describes this world at war. Christians have the Gospel of peace on their feet (Eph. 6:15), so that wherever they go, they bring peace. This is not “peace at any price,” for holiness is more important than a peace based on sin (see James 3:17; Heb. 12:14). Compromise is not peace, but Christians should not be contentious as they contend for the faith.
H. “Persecuted” (v. 10).
See 2 Tim. 3:12 and 1 Peter 4:15. Note that we should be accused “falsely.” We should never be guilty of deliberately asking for persecution. If we live godly lives, suffering will come! Note the rewards: we are in the same company as Christ and the prophets, and we shall be rewarded in heaven.
5:1-12. As the multitudes continued to flock to Jesus (cf. 4:25), He went up on a mountainside and sat down. It was the custom of Rabbis to sit as they taught. His disciples came to Him and He began to teach them. Matthew 5-7 is commonly called “the Sermon on the Mount” because Jesus delivered it on a mountain. Though the mountain’s exact location is unknown, it was undoubtedly in Galilee (4:23) and was apparently near Capernaum on a place which was “level” (Luke 6:17). “Disciples” refers not to the Twelve, as some suggest, but to the crowds following Him (cf. Matt. 7:28, “the crowds were amazed at His teaching”).
Jesus instructed them in view of His announcement of the coming kingdom (4:17). Natural questions on the heart of every Jew would have been, “Am I eligible to enter Messiah’s kingdom? Am I righteous enough to qualify for entrance?” The only standard of righteousness the people knew was that laid down by the current religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees. Would one who followed that standard be acceptable in Messiah’s kingdom? Jesus’ sermon therefore must be understood in the context of His offer of the kingdom to Israel and the need for repentance to enter that kingdom. The sermon did not give a “Constitution” for the kingdom nor did it present the way of salvation. The sermon showed how a person who is in right relationship with God should conduct his life. While the passage must be understood in the light of the offer of the messianic kingdom, the sermon applies to Jesus’ followers today for it demonstrates the standard of righteousness God demands of His people. Some of the standards are general (e.g., “You cannot serve both God and money” [6:24]); some are specific (e.g., “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” [5:41]); and some pertain to the future (e.g., “many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name?¯” [7:22])
Jesus began His sermon with “the Beatitudes,” statements beginning with Blessed are. “Blessed” means “happy” or “fortunate” (cf. Ps. 1:1). The qualities Jesus mentioned in this list, “the poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” “the meek,” etc., obviously could not be products of Pharisaic righteousness. The Pharisees were concerned primarily with external qualities, but the qualities Jesus mentioned are internal. These come only when one is properly related to God through faith, when one places his complete trust in God.
The poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3) are those who consciously depend on God, not on themselves; they are “poor” inwardly, having no ability in themselves to please God (cf. Rom. 3:9-12). Those who mourn (Matt. 5:4) recognize their needs and present them to the One who is able to assist. Those who are meek (v. 5) are truly humble and gentle and have a proper appreciation of their position. (Praeis, the Gr. word rendered “meek,” is translated “gentle” in its three other usages in the NT: 11:29; 21:5; 1 Peter 3:4.) Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6) have a spiritual appetite, a continuing desire for personal righteousness. The merciful (v. 7) extend mercy to others, thus demonstrating God’s mercy which has been extended to them. The pure in heart (v. 8) are those who are inwardly clean from sin through faith in God’s provision and a continual acknowledging of their sinful condition. The peacemakers (v. 9) show others how to have inward peace with God and how to be instruments of peace in the world. They desire and possess God’s righteousness even though it brings them persecution (v. 10).
These qualities contrast sharply with Pharisaic “righteousness.” The Pharisees were not “poor in spirit”; did not “mourn” in recognition of their needs; were proud and harsh, not humble and gentle; they felt they had attained righteousness and therefore did not have a continual appetite or desire for it; they were more concerned with “legalities” of God’s and their own laws than with showing mercy; were pure ceremonially but not inwardly; created a rift, not peace in Judaism; and certainly did not possess true righteousness. Jesus’ followers who possess these qualities become heirs of the kingdom (vv. 3, 10) on earth (v. 5), receive spiritual comfort (v. 4) and satisfaction (v. 6), receive mercy from God and others (v. 7), will see God (v. 8), that is, Jesus Christ, who is God “in a body” (1 Tim. 3:16; cf. John 1:18; 14:7-9). His followers were known as God’s sons (Matt. 5:9; cf. Gal. 3:26) for they partook of His righteousness (Matt. 5:10).
People possessing these qualities would naturally stand out in the crowd and would not be understood by others. Thus they would be persecuted; others would speak evil of them (v. 11). However, Jesus’ words encouraged His followers, for they would be walking in the train of the prophets, who also were misunderstood and persecuted (v. 12; cf. 1 Kings 19:1-4; 22:8; Jer. 26:8-11; 37:11-16; 38:1-6; Dan. 3; 6; Amos 7:10-13).
Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament, (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books) 1992.
Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.