This sermon can be broken down into three general parts: The Beatitudes and the results of inner happiness, advanced seminary training for the disciples and our Lord’s clarification of the Mosaic Law. Remember that this is subject to change as I continue to study this passage. At the point of this writing, I’ve only written to the end of Matthew 5: 11 and studied several passages beyond. This is a work in progress!
Before we approach this study, we must remember that every passage in the Scripture must be interpreted within the context of its time of presentation. This context involves both the broad dispensational context as well as the local and immediate context. As to the broad dispensational context, this entire message was presented during our Lord’s first advent. Bob Thieme separated this short 30 year era into its own dispensation, calling it the Dispensation of the Hypostatic Union. This distinction is an important one to remember as we study our Lord’s entire life. It is especially important in the study of this sermon because our Lord’s ministry was not only the fulfillment of the entire content of Old Testament prophecy but also the setting of the stage for future dispensations. Human history pivots around both our Lord’s life and His many faceted ministries. As being the fulfillment of all prophecy, our Lord not only pointed this out by His many miracles but also by His teaching. As He saw that the Jews reject Him, He turned His ministry toward the future, His crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and the glorious Church Age.
The first part of this sermon, the Beatitudes, does not specifically delineate the Christian way of life, that is, the spiritual life of the Church Age believer, nor specifically address the spiritual life of those living in our Lord’s dispensation. Neither category of believer can seek to apply these beatitudes specifically then assume that he is living the spiritual life of his dispensation. The principles, however, in a general way, apply to the spiritual life in every generation, every dispensation. These verses delineate the process or path of spiritual growth, starting with the realization of the need of salvation through belief then growing to spiritual maturity. These principles apply to every generation of believers, no matter what dispensation he finds himself living in!
In the second part of this sermon, our Lord reframed the Mosaic Law. By His reframing various aspects of the Law, He didn’t introduce anything new, but demonstrated how the Law was perfect in so far as its intents were and its purpose was. These lessons sounded new to believers in Jesus day, but since Moses received the Law, it had been much distorted over the generations. Our Lord grounded those believers who heard Him with accurate applications of the Law.
As we study these passages, understanding that these principles apply to every generation, not only to the Jews in Jesus day and not only to Church Age believers. How then, in the light of the fact that He had not yet prophesied the coming of the Church Age, nor had He revealed to those Jews the mysteries of the mighty age to come; are we, believers of this Church Age, to understand the many lessons in this Sermon? As we will note from passage to passage, Jesus delineated many principles of grace that carry over to our Age of Grace though these principles are often not directly or mechanically applicable to your spiritual life. Often, for specific interpretations and applications of these principles, we need to go to Church Age mystery doctrines as taught by the apostles, Paul, John, Peter and James.
To the 80 disciples our Lord was sending out to Israel, through whom He was offering the kingdom, this sermon served as their formal training. He taught them the dynamics of the kingdom He was offering to Israel. Because of her rejection of Him, the reality of His rule would be delayed until after the Church Age and Tribulation. To other Jews within earshot, this message was also designed to shock them out of their complacent legalism in order that they may be open to our Lord’s grace message. To Church Age believers, these serve as guidelines and instructions regarding grace.
As we progress through the first 13 verses, read them as a progression of spiritual growth. Each beatitude builds upon the preceding one, presenting inner happiness as result of its fulfillment. The first begins with the realization of the need for salvation, then finally peaks with spiritual maturity in the last one. The verses which proceed after the happiness verses talk about the influence mature believers have in the world.
The first two verses of Chapter 5 reveal the occasion of the Sermon:
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, Matthew 5:1-2 NASB
When Jesus saw the large crowd of people that His teaching and miracles attracted He accessed the situation. He did not start to teach them as we often assume He did. Instead, He did something that no modern preacher or evangelist would do. He went up on the mountain where the crowd would not follow Him. This wasn’t just any mountain, but the mountain nearby. We know this from the use of the definite article preceding the mountain. It identifies it as being a well-known locale. He had another agenda at that moment. He needed to orient His disciples to the realities of His ministry. First, He was not prepared single-handedly handled such a mass of people. He needed an organization. The disciples served as that system of organization. Secondly, He needed to orient the disciples to the Kingdom of God for their personal spiritual growth and application. Thirdly, He needed to prepare them to offer the Kingdom to Israel. This was going to be an abbreviated crash course. They didn’t have four years to go through management courses and seminary! He needed to bring them up to speed quickly in order to make the issue clear for their own edification and to Israel, to whom He was to eventually send them. Note that Jesus was teaching during the Age of the Law, to those whose spiritual life was based upon keeping the Mosaic Law. Their spiritual life was not supposed to be based upon the harsh legalism of the day, but upon the grace and principles of sanctification delineated by the correct interpretation and application of the Mosaic Law, so much of Jesus’ teaching in this sermon was corrective.
As was the custom of the day, Jesus sat down to teach. Teachers always sat in front of their congregations instead of standing up as we do today. When Jesus had seated Himself, His disciples went to Him to listen to Him. Though this sermon was focused particularly on these disciples, undoubtedly, others from the crowd found Him and also listened. Verse two is important because, by saying that “He opened His mouth and began teaching them,” the importance of every word He spoke is emphasized. The verb, teaching, indicates that He kept on teaching them. Any pastor today needs to follow this pattern of doctrinal communication. He should continually teach until his congregation understands what he is communicating. Repetition is paramount! A congregation should hear the teachings until they can’t forget them!