Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount
The early church introduced each of the four Gospels with the phrase “The Gospel According to…” This was followed by the name of the disciple who had been inspired by the Spirit of God to write of their perspective: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew’s Gospel is one of the three synoptic Gospels (along with Mark and Luke), each looking at the life and death and resurrection of Jesus from a similar and yet unique perspective and each with a specific audience in mind. Each Gospel is considered to be an example of narrative literature, as they relate actual events in history. As the four Gospels are narrative in genre, they each provide a biographical account of Jesus Christ and His ministry on earth. Careful study of the Gospels reveals harmony in their message, providing evidence of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Most biblical scholars claim that Matthew was writing to people of his own heritage, people of the nation of Israel. Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, as one’s genealogy was very important to the people of Israel. Matthew presents factual evidence of Jesus’ conception and birth, while including prophecies found in the Hebrew Scriptures that point to Jesus as the Messiah.
Matthew began his Gospel record within a specific point in history, while Herod was ruling as king in Israel. The beginning of Matthew’s Gospel includes the response of those who knew of Christ’s identity, from Joseph and Mary, the visiting magi from the east, and John who was called to lead the way to Christ by preaching a baptism of repentance.
While the Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 5:3 - 7:27, the following exegesis will cover Matthew’s introduction (in Matthew 5:1, 2) as well as Matthew’s conclusion (in 7:28, 29). An observation of the Sermon on the Mount can address the “5 Ws and an H” questions by looking at the context of the Sermon as follows:
Who was involved? In Matthew 5:1 it says that Jesus saw that there were crowds of people and Jesus’ disciples who came to Him. Matthew 4:25 says that great multitudes followed Jesus “from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.” Matthew 4:18-22 tells us about the calling of four of Jesus’ followers, who were later called Jesus’ disciples.
Scripture tells us that Jesus’ audience often included members of Jewish sects. Five to ten percent of the nation of Israel was affiliated with a religious sect. These included the Essenes who had withdrawn to Qumran, and separating themselves from the temple in Jerusalem. The Saduccees who were the overseers of the Jerusalem temple were of prominent lineage. The Pharisees were the most respected of the Jewish sects, who were associated with the synagogue system, adhering to the Law and teaching strict obedience to it. Between 90 to 95% of the Hebrew people were not aligned with any sect.1
What happened before Matthew 5-7 that led to this passage? John the Baptist said to his audience, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” in Matthew 3:2 and then in Matthew 4:17 Matthew wrote that Jesus said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven at hand.” In Matthew 4:23 we learn that Jesus “was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.”
The expression “the kingdom of heaven” is found throughout Matthew’s Gospel and study of this phrase reveals very important teaching concerning Christ and His ministry. The Sermon on the Mount provides as example of the nature of “progressive revelation” within Scripture.2 Through the eons of time God revealed Himself to His people, and with the coming of Christ, a new era opened with teaching that revealed God’s righteousness and His plan for humanity to be reconciled with Him so that they might enter into His beloved family and be a member of His kingdom.
Where did this take place? Jesus’ early ministry was in Galilee, in the northern region of Israel according to Matthew 4:23 and then Matthew 5:1 records that Jesus taught on a mountain. As to the location of the mountain, the early church fathers named a specific place at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, calling it the “Mount of Beatitudes” and from this hillside a person’s voice carries for a considerable distance, as demonstrated by modern day Israeli tour guides.
When did the Sermon on the Mount take place? Matthew recorded these events: Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17), was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11), began His ministry (Matthew 4:17), called his disciples Peter, Andrew, James, and John (Matthew 4:18-22), and then taught in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people, (Matthew 4:23).
Why was this recorded? Matthew shared Jesus’ Sermon as an example of His proclamation. Jesus’ Sermon provides an incredible example of His teaching through preaching. Some of Jesus’ Sermon reflects the proverbial truths found in the Hebrew Proverbs. “Each proverb holds a facet of truth much like the facets of a gem,” and the author of the proverb “rotates the gem giving additional pictures of truth.”3
It is significant that Matthew followed the Sermon with this statement, “The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes,” Matthew 7:28, 29.
How were Jesus’ words recorded? Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Matthew wrote Jesus’ words.
In other portions of the Gospels, Jesus teaches about “similar” themes that appear in the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke 6:20-49, Luke tells of Jesus’ teaching (on the plain) and yet thirty-four of the 107 verses in Matthew’s Gospel are not in Luke’s account. “Forty-seven of Matthew’s verses have no parallel at all in Luke.”4 This exegesis will focus on Matthew’s text and not Luke’s.
Some biblical scholars believe that Jesus would not have presented His Sermon (as we read it) in one “sitting” because of the magnitude of His teaching. Perhaps Matthew did expand on Jesus’ teaching with what he heard throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, so that what is presented in Matthew 5-7 is a compilation of His preaching
Matthew 5:1, 2
?1. )Idw\n de\ tou\$ o&xlou$ a)ne/bh ei)$ to\ o&ro$, kai\ kaqi/santo$ au)tou= prosh=lqan au)tw=| oi( maqhtai\ au)tou=: 2 ?kai\ a)noi/ca$ to\ sto/ma au)tou= e)di/dasken au)tou\$ le/gwn:
1 And when He saw the crowds He went up unto the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2And opening His mouth He began to teach them saying,
Matthew 5 begins with Jesus seeing a crowd of people, going up to the mountain, and sitting down. With His disciples coming to Him, Jesus began to teach. Matthew’s reference to the crowds (o&xlou$) causes the reader to look back at the context of this passage where Matthew 4:23-25 tells of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee among people from Syria, Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
God revealed Himself to Moses, Joshua, the elders of Israel, and the nation of Israel from the mountain in Sinai, and biblical scholars have viewed Jesus’ ministry on the mountains of Israel and noted the significant truths that are revealed about God and His purpose and plan for humanity from these locations.5 Jesus manifested the presence of the kingdom of heaven from Israel’s mountains as He came to earth as God in the flesh. Jesus’ identity and His ministry were manifested at a variety of mountains in Israel: His temptation, preaching, teaching, transfiguration, miracles, crucifixion, and ascension.
Matthew says that Jesus’ disciples came to Him and then Jesus began to teach. Matthew’s reference to Jesus’ disciples follows 4:18-22 where we have an account of Jesus’ calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John from among the fishermen of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus told His disciples that He would make them “fishers of men” in Matthew 4:19. Nolland says that Jesus’ Sermon “illustrates the ‘fishing’ to which Jesus has recently called some fishermen.”6 Later (in Matthew 10:1-4) Matthew presented a complete list of the names of the twelve disciples.
The use of the word disciple (maqhtai\) in the writings of the New Testament provides a connection for the people of Israel who understood that Jewish rabbis each had disciples who studied under them and would carry on their teaching and interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Greek culture also had disciples who studied under their philosophers to become learned teachers themselves. What is unique is that Jesus called His disciples from among the people, not from among the rabbinic academies established in Israel to prepare men for service as a Jewish rabbi.
Jesus’ Sermon begins with what the early church called “The Beatitudes,” found in Matthew 5:3-12. The word beatitude is taken from the Latin word beatitudo, generally translated as happiness. The word beatitudo comes from the Latin word beatus which is translated as happy, blessed, wealthy, abundant, and splendid,7 although the Beatitudes provide “an incomplete description of a kingdom person.”8
The early church considered the Beatitudes to be exhortations (paraklesi$), words of encouragement from the Lord Jesus Himself. The word paraklesi$ was used as an entreaty to come alongside of someone and call them to obedience. The word was also used as a commendation for one’s behavior as well as to provide words to give someone courage concerning the present, in light of the future. Jesus later taught His disciples in the Upper Room discourse that the Holy Spirit would become to them a source of guidance and help, reminding them of His teaching, and bringing conviction of righteousness and the coming judgment, (John 14:26, 16:8-11).
3 ?Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi\ tw=| pneu/mati, o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n.
3 Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:3-10 is considered as a rhetorical device called an inclusio, and this entire portion is to be viewed together. Each of the Beatitudes relates to the life of a kingdom person, although the Beatitudes provide an “incomplete description of a kingdom person” and evidence that one’s happiness is not the result of being poor in spirit.9
Each of the Beatitudes (in Matthew 5:3-11) are introduced with the Greek adjective (maka/rioi) which is used as a predicate adjective, asserting a truth about a person without an actual verb of being, although that is implied with this use.
What did the word maka/rioi mean to Jesus’ audience? In the Greek culture the word maka/rioi was first used in poetry and “refers to the blessedness of the gods.”10 The word eventually came to describe the “freedom of the rich from normal cares and worries,” and maka/rioi was used on epitaphs with different themes, regarding “material goods, children, a marriage partner, bachelorhood, riches, a good understanding, fame, righteousness, the release of death, and mystic initiation.”11
When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into the Septuagint (LXX) the adjective maka/rioi was predominantly used as a predicate adjective as it is used in the Beatitudes, which the early church also called macarisms. G. Bertram claims that in the LXX “blessedness is fullness of life, … and true blessedness is that of trust in God, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, even affliction, and final deliverance.”12
F. Hauck, says that the adjective maka/rioi is used in the New Testament to show that God “effects a reversal of all human values. True happiness is not for the rich and secure, but for the poor and oppressed who are rich only in pity, purity, and peace.”13
The maka/rioi is followed by the causal clause introduced with o%ti and the promise that was made by Christ to His followers; the cause of happiness that is to follow is beyond the temporal here and now. Each of the Beatitudes “introduces a fact which justifies the paradoxical declaration.”14
The first eight Beatitudes are given in the third person and then at 5:11 (and through 7:20) the Sermon is recorded in the second person. Nolland connects this to Matthew’s record of Jesus calling His followers to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” in Matthew 4:17 and His preaching of the gospel according to Matthew 4:23.
The second adjective in Matthew 5:3 ptwxoi), is used as an attributive adjective, as the subject of the sentence. Robertson says that the word ptwxoi “suggests spiritual destitution (from ptwsso to crouch, to cower).”15 Nolland offers multiple explanations of the word within Matthew 5:3, but contends that the “language of poverty is first and foremost the language of neediness”16 and then concludes that because ptwxoi is joined with tw=| pneu/mati it refers to “the human attitude or state of mind.”17
The Essene community at Qumran called themselves those who were poor. These men who had separated themselves from the rest of Israel claimed the promises of God for their future as they felt that “they had learned the lesson of the exile and gloried in their powerless-ness apart from God.”18
As the kingdom of heaven was explained by Christ, He caused those in His audience to contemplate their understanding of the role of the One ushering in God’s kingdom. Matthew used the phrase the kingdom of heaven out of reverence for Israel’s holy God, while Mark and Luke (writing to “Greek” audiences) used the phrase the kingdom of God. God’s sovereign rule from heaven had “already” begun through His Son Jesus, and yet there is a future element of God’s kingdom as well. Kingdom theology, the study of the kingdom of heaven has been simplified with the phrase the “already and the not yet.” The rule of God has “already” been revealed through the incarnation of Jesus, and God’s plan for mankind was clearly announced in the gospel. The “not yet” aspect of the kingdom is what will take place on the earth in the future because of God’s purpose and plan for His creation. Those who follow after God and have asked Jesus Christ to be their Savior are justified; they are declared innocent by God. For those who do not choose to repent, severe judgment awaits. The “mystery of the kingdom” is the relationship between the present and the future.19
Some in Israel believed that the Messiah would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 9:6) and be a “prince of peace” bringing an era without strife among the nations, so that Israel’s circumstances would dramatically change. There was also a determination among the people of Israel to not again be taken into exile by an enemy, and so while Israel lived under the Greek rule, and then in the first century under Roman rule, the determination to honor God and live in obedience to His Law was foremost in their thinking.20 Jesus called His audience to “repent” in light of the kingdom of their God and living by the standard of the “Beatitudes” would be essential for Christ’s followers. Some of the Hebrew people felt it was essential to live by Zephaniah’s instructions found in Zephaniah 2:3, desiring to live by the hope declared there; “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth who have carried out His ordinance; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the LORD’s wrath.”
Luke 4:18, 19 tells us that Jesus read from Isaiah’s prophecy that is recorded in Isaiah 61:1, 2 and Isaiah 35:5, and then Jesus said that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (in Luke 4:21). Some see a connection between Isaiah 61:1, 2 and Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. In the LXX, the word ptwxoi$ was used in Isaiah 61:1, and this is a form of the same word that is found in Matthew 5:3 as Luke 4:18 says that He was anointed “to preach the gospel to the ptwxoi.” Jesus Himself was the good news who would reconcile humanity to the Lord God Almighty through His sacrifice.
4 ?maka/rioi oi( penqou=nte$, ?o%ti au)toi\ paraklhqh/sontai.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
The second beatitude offers a promise for the future, as it promises that those who mourn will be comforted. In 5:4 the verb penqeo is used as the participle (penqou=nte$). In Greek literature we learn that the Stoics considered penqos (the noun form of the word) to be “pointless.”21 In the LXX the word is used as sorrow or a lamentation, and “specially mourning for the dead”22 as well as mourning for one’s own sin. Psalm 23:4 says that “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of dearth, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.” Bultmann interprets the promise of Matthew 5:4 as eschatological, as those “who suffer in the present aeon will find comfort in the next.”23 Jesus’ disciples are comforted with an assurance of what they will inherit and the eschatological promise for them.24
Psalm 34:18 claims that the “Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He saves those whose spirits have been crushed.” When those who follow Christ mourn because of their sin, their confession before God will bring forgiveness and a cleansing from all unrighteousness.
In the Upper Room discourse Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come and be another helper to comfort those who follow Him, (John 14:16-20, 26, 27). The Apostle Paul wrote that God is the God of all comfort who comforts us in all of our affliction so that we may be able “to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God,” (2 Corinthians 1:4). Paul also said that to those who believe have Christ indwelling, “the hope of glory,” (Colossians 1:27). For followers of Christ there is a comfort today for all of life’s sorrows as well as a comfort in the future.
5 ?maka/rioi oi( praei=$, ?o%ti au)toi\ klhronomh/sousin th\n gh=n.
5 Blessed are those who are humble, for they shall inherit the earth.
Jesus spoke to His audience (in 5:3) about being “poor in spirit” and now in Matthew 5:5 He makes another promise, as those who are humble are told that they will inherit the earth. The question asked, “What did Jesus mean by the word praei=$?” This adjective comes from prau=$ which Jesus used of Himself (in Matthew 11:29) saying that we are to learn from Him as He is gentle and humble (prau=$)) in heart. To the Greeks, when the word prau=$ was used to describe people, it meant a gentle or pleasant person.25 To Aristotle prau=$ meant someone who was “between bad temper and spineless incompetence, between extreme anger and indifference.”26 In the LXX, the noun form of the word prau=$ was used in Numbers 12:3 to describe Moses. The adjective praei=$ is used in the Old Testament of someone in a “state of powerlessness” with an “inability to forward one’s cause.”27 The word prau=$ appears in lists of virtues written by the early church fathers. Guelich described praei=$ as “those who stand empty-handed before God in total dependence upon Him.”28
In Genesis 12:3 and 13:15 God promised Abraham’s descendants “the land of Israel” and over the centuries Israel had wrestled with that covenantal promise. In His Sermon Jesus says that the praei=$ will inherit the gh=n. To the first century Israeli zealots, this meant ending the Roman rule in Israel, but Jesus’ words claiming the virtue of humility did not line up with the fervor of the zealot who wanted to take things into their own hands.
In the LXX, Psalm 36 (37):11 says that the humble (praei=$)) will inherit the land, and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity. In the context of this verse the psalmist David prophesies the future of the wicked, claiming he will be no more, and as the wicked plots against the righteous, the Lord laughs at him, for the Lord sees his day (of judgment) coming. In Psalm 36 (37) the promise of inheriting the land is made five times, in verses 9, 11, 22, 29, and 34. In Isaiah 57:15-21 God promised that He dwells with the “contrite and lowly of spirit” so He may revive, heal, and lead them. In this passage God repeats a promise from an earlier prophecy that there is no peace for the wicked.
Jesus not only taught that His followers were to take on the quality of humility, but He also modeled this quality for His followers. When Jesus was in the Upper Room with His disciples He took on the role of a lowly servant and washed His disciples’ feet.
When He taught in the Upper Room He told His disciples that they were to love one another. Jesus modeled this love by dying a humiliating death upon a Roman cross to remove the wrath of God that was upon all humans because of sin. Jesus gave up His heavenly form and His heavenly throne to take on human flesh and suffer a painful and disgraceful death. Jesus emptied Himself of His glory to take upon Himself the sin of the world and be separated from His Father so that humanity could be redeemed and reconciled with God.
Jesus taught His disciples that there would come a time when they would be regenerated and He would sit on His glorious throne and His disciples would “also sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” (Matthew 19:28) and in this passage Jesus said that His disciples would receive much and inherit eternal life, (Matthew 19:29). Through Jesus, the promises of Hebrew Scriptures would be fulfilled. Paul boldly announced that Abraham’s descendants would be heir of the world (kosmo=$) through the righteousness of faith (in Romans 4:13).
It would be beneficial for those who follow Christ to examine themselves to see if there are any circumstances in life where they tend to not be gentle, meek, and humble.
6 ? maka/rioi oi( peinw=nte$ kai\ diyw=nte$ th\n dikaiosu/nhn, ?o%ti au)toi\ xortasqh/sontai.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Matthew 5:6 continues with another promise for His followers. Jesus reminded His audience of teaching in the Hebrew Scriptures as there are numerous references made in Scripture to the “biblical pair” ‘hunger and thirst’29 and Nolland suggests that this phrase is used here by Jesus as a desire for “moral insight.”30 The word dikaiosu/nhn “occurs commonly as a virtue in Greek literature,”31 although is it associated with the Greek understanding of an observance of the Law. In the LXX “God’s righteousness in His judicial reign means that in covenant faithfulness He saves His people”32 and God’s righteousness was associated with God’s mercy. To Israel, dikaiosu/nhn is “always the goal which lies ahead.”33 Within the teaching of the synagogue, Israel was taught that to obey God’s laws was to display His righteousness. In Matthew’s Gospel, dikaiosu/nhn was used as a “right conduct before God.”34
Jesus’ exhortation to His followers to desire righteousness was a call to look to God to understand what this means, since righteousness is revealed through God’s attributes and His actions. Jesus was to provide a new means of understanding God’s righteousness as His incarnation was evidence of God Himself. The prophet Isaiah shares his heart toward God; “At night my soul longs for Thee, indeed, my spirit within me seeks Thee diligently; for when the earth experiences Thy judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness,” (Isaiah 26:9). Isaiah 30:18 says “the LORD longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; how blessed are all those who long for Him.”
Jesus taught about being satisfied with God’s righteousness and called Himself the bread of life in John 6. Jesus contrasted the manna God sent to Israel while they lived in the wilderness with the provision God made for humanity to be filled by a belief and acceptance that it is Jesus Christ who came as the Messiah.
Does God’s standard of righteousness truly satisfy or do people look to the world to be satisfied? From Jesus’ exhortation we can know that God satisfies when we hunger for Him.
7 ? maka/rioi oi( e)leh/mone$, ?o%ti au)toi\ e)lehqh/sontai.
7 Blessed are those who are merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
In Matthew 5:7 the adjectival form (e)leh/mone$) of the word e)leo$ is associated with maka/rioi and then the verbal form (e)lehqh/sontai) is contained in the promise. The Hebrew Scriptures taught that God’s righteousness was associated with God’s mercy and to the nation of Israel their God was a God of mercy. In the LXX, Psalm 135 (136) used the word e)leo$ in each of its 36 verses stating that God’s e)leo$ is everlasting. Psalm 116 (117):2 declares that God’s e)leo$ is great toward us.
The only place in the Hebrew Scriptures where e)leo$ is associated with humanity is in the book of Proverbs, as Proverbs 11:17-21 contrasts the merciful man with the cruel, calling the merciful man good and righteous while the cruel man is called wicked, evil, and perverse. D. A. Carson defines the biblical concept of mercy as “a loving response prompted by the misery and helplessness of the one on whom the love is to be showered.”35
In the Old Testament, the mercy (heced) of God is associated with God’s faithfulness because of the covenant He made with His people. To Israel God was understood as the One who looks at humanity in their sinful condition and has compassion upon them when they repent of their sin. God can be acknowledged and worshiped as the God of mercy and in response believers are to extend mercy to others.
In Luke 10:25-37 Jesus answered a Jewish lawyer’s question about what it would take to inherit eternal life. Jesus said that this person would “love the Lord their God with all their heart and soul and strength, and love their neighbor as themselves.” After Jesus shared the parable of the “Good Samaritan” He asked who had demonstrated love, and the lawyer answered “The one who showed mercy (e)leo$)) toward him.” When Christ’s followers extend mercy to others, they will receive God’s mercy.
8 ? maka/rioi oi( kaqaroi\ th=| kardi/a|, ?o%ti au)toi\ to\n qeo\n o&yontai.
8 Blessed are those who are pure in heart, for they shall see God.
In Matthew 5:8 maka/rioi is claimed for those who are kaqaroi\ th=| kardi/a, and the promise is made that these individuals will see God. The word kaqaroi is the adjectival form of the word kaqaro$ which means clean or clear. The word kaqaroi was used to describe a metal that was not alloyed, and it was known that something that is pure “lasted longer.” When used to describe a person, the antonym would be used for someone who is double minded, or divided in their nature.
In Psalm 24 the question is asked about who will go into the temple and the psalmist answered by saying that one of the conditions is to have a pure heart. Nolland defines the heart as the “core of a person, that place from which we feel and think and determine our actions.”36 For Israel, God had commanded a requirement for “outward” cleansing as to what was physical through many specific religious laws. Israel was also taught that purity was to include an “inward” dimension reflected in what one does and says. God promised His people in Ezekiel 36:25-27 that He would sprinkle clean water on them and they would be clean; as He would cleanse them from all of their filthiness and from their idols. The Lord said that He would give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them, removing their stone heart and giving them His Spirit and causing them to walk in His statues so that they would be careful to observe His ordinances.
Imagine the impact of Christ’s words upon His audience when He promised them that it was possible for those who are “pure in heart” to see God… James 4:8 tells believers to “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.” The Apostle Paul reminded Timothy that “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith,” (1 Timothy 1:5). Paul makes contrasts (in 2 Timothy 2:19-22) between the wicked and the one who pursues righteousness, commending those who “call on the Lord with a pure heart.”
Moses asked to see God’s glory, and God told him (in Exodus 33:20) that “no man can see Me and live!” To see God, is to be with Him, and Matthew said of Christ, that His name would be Immanuel, that is “God with us,” (in Matthew 1:23). Thousands of people were witnesses of Christ’s life and ministry when He was on earth. Matthew 17:1-9 tells us about the time when Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured into His glory, although this was only a glimpse of what was to come for all of His followers. Paul said that “at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Philippians 2:10, 11).
9 ? maka/rioi oi( ei)rhnopoioi/, ?o%ti au)toi\ ui(oi\ qeou= klhqh/sontai.
9 Blessed are those who are peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
In Matthew 5:9 we find a promise made to the ei)rhnopoioi in that they are told that they will be called sons of God. The compound word ei)rhnopoioi carries the mind set of those with an understanding of the components of peace, as well as a desire to seek to bring peace in situations where it is lacking. For the Greeks, ei)rhnh meant “a state, not a relationship or attitude… as it was the opposite of war … and disturbance.”37 The Romans in the first century claimed that they had ushered in the “Pax Romana” promising “security” for its citizens.
To the people of Israel, their word shalom was a greeting among their people, but also a reminder that someday the Messiah would come in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the “Prince of Peace” in Isaiah 9:6. Peace to Israel was also considered to be a gift from God. The word shalom includes the meaning of “completeness” and that quality was believed to only be possible for those who were obedient to God.
Hebrews 12:14 says that those who follow Christ are to “pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Romans 14:17 says that the kingdom of God is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Some have interpreted the word ei)rhnopoioi as a word for followers of Christ to introduce true peace to the unsaved so that they too might be reconciled with God and be at peace with Him. Paul says that “we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 5:1). Jesus commissioned His disciples to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul called believers ambassadors for Christ with a ministry of reconciliation, (in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
10 ? maka/rioi oi( dediwgme/noi e%neken dikaiosu/nh$, ?o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n.
10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:6 says that the blessed will be satisfied when they hunger and thirst for righteousness and then in 5:10 Jesus said that those who are persecuted for righteousness would be blessed… During the Maccabean period Israel underwent persecution from the reigning Greeks, and in several places in the writings of the Maccabee’s in the Hebrew Scripture, the people of Israel were told that they ought “to endure any suffering for the sake of God.” The first Beatitude promised that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are poor in spirit, and the same promise is made in 5:10 to those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.
Allison contends that the phrase for “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” in both 5:3 and 5:10 are examples of a proleptic present, stating that “Greek can use a present tense to indicate a circumstance which, although it has not yet occurred, is regarded as so certain that it is spoken as having already happened.”38 There is a certainty with the promise yet to come, so it is written in the present tense. With the certainty of the future came hope for all those who were suffering.
1 Peter 3:14, 15 says, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” Peter quoted Isaiah 8:12 in this passage. In 1 Peter 4:14, 16 Peter writes, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you… but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.” Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Matthew 5:11, 12
11 ?maka/rioi/ e)ste ?o%tan o)neidi/swsin u(ma=$ kai\ diw/cwsin kai\ ei&pwsin pa=n ponhro\n kaq' u(mw=n [yeudo/menoi]? ?e%neken e)mou=. 12 ?xai/rete kai\ a)gallia=sqe, o%ti o( misqo\$ u(mw=n polu\$ e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$: ou%tw$ ga\r e)di/wcan tou\$ profh/ta$ tou\$ pro\ u(mw=n.
11 Blessed are you when they reproach you and persecute you and say all evil against you falsely on account of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward in heaven is great; for this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.
In Matthew 5:11, 12 Jesus continued with the longest of His Beatitudes, claiming a blessing for those who are insulted, persecuted, and spoken about with false evil intent on account of Him. In 5:10 Jesus said that the blessing would come to those who were persecuted for righteousness sake and then in 5:11 He said that persecution would be “on account of” Him.
In 5:11 Jesus changed His address into the second person rather than the “generalized third person”39 of the earlier Beatitudes. Each of Jesus’ statements is in the subjunctive, as it might happen that they would be insulted, persecuted, and spoken about falsely “on account of” Him.
Jesus reminded His audience about the persecution of the prophets that God sent to speak to the people of Israel on His behalf. Jesus commanded His followers to “rejoice and be glad” because those who are persecuted because of Him were to expect a great reward in heaven.
The Gospels record that Jesus specifically told His disciples several times that He would suffer and be killed by men in Jerusalem. When James and John asked Jesus for a special privilege in His kingdom, Jesus asked them if they were able to “drink the cup” that He would drink (in Mark 10:38). In Israel the phrase “the cup” sometimes symbolized suffering, and in fact, James and John did suffer for Jesus’ sake.
The book of Acts records some of the history of the early church where Christians were threatened, jailed, and killed for their belief in Jesus as the Messiah. Acts records the spirit of the disciples in response to their “persecution” who said “we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard,” (in Acts 4:19) and “we ought to obey God rather than men,” (Acts 5:29). The disciple James was to later write, those who follow Christ Jesus are to “consider it all joy when they encounter trials,” (James 1:2).
1 Peter 2:20-24 exhorts Christ’s followers to look to Him and patiently endure when they are called to suffer for doing what is right. Peter shared about Christ’s example when He was reviled and suffered, as He entrusted Himself to His Father who judges righteously, (1 Peter 2:23).
13 ? (Umei=$ e)ste to\ a%la$ th=$ gh=$: e)a\n de\ to\ a%la$ mwranqh=|, e)n ti/ni a(lisqh/setai; ei)$ ou)de\n i)sxu/ei e&ti ei) mh\ blhqe\n e&cw katapatei=sqai u(po\ tw=n a)nqrw/pwn.
13 You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt becomes tainted, by what shall it be salt again? It is no longer of use, except to be thrown out to be trodden down by men.
The next section of the Sermon presents two metaphors, declaring that Christ’s disciples are salt and light. Matthew 5:13-16 continues the second person perspective that was begun in verses 11 and 12 and some interpret these verses as a continuance of the description of the identity of the ones who are persecuted.40
Salt has properties that provide benefit especially in the ancient world, for flavoring and preserving food as well as for purifying or cleansing. However when salt was thrown onto the ground, it pollutes the soil.41 Being called the salt of the world would cause someone to think about their usefulness in the world, as someone who brings the “purifying” message of the gospel that can “preserve” the soul.
“Modern” medicine has discovered that the addition of salt to one’s diet helps to maintain electrolyte balance within all mammals, as it is essential for promoting good health. Jesus told His disciples (in 5:13) that they were the “salt of the earth” and then He warned His followers to not lose this quality.
Mark 9:50 records Jesus’ instructions as He told His disciples to “have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” In Colossians 4:6 Paul said that those who follow Christ are to let their “speech be gracious, seasoned with salt.” In classical Greek writings “salty speech” was known as joyful, and witty.
It is interesting that in Matthew 5:13 mwranqh is in the passive voice, which means that the subject is being acted upon. When someone is not alert to the schemes of the enemy, the ways of the world, or the deeds of the flesh, one can become tainted, rather than effective for the kingdom. What would specifically contribute to salt losing its essence or no longer being useful? According to Hendriksen while salt cannot chemically lose its taste, it can become tasteless by “adulteration, contamination or infiltration: the salt becomes tasteless because foreign substances had become mixed with it.”42
A follower of Christ can ask the questions “What adulterates, contaminates, or has been allowed to infiltrate my mind?” Paul warned about this when he wrote concerning a believer’s level of engagement with the world as he challenged believers to go out and make a difference in their world in the following passages:
1I therefore urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercies, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God, for this is the reasonable way for you to worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but continually be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God's will is - what is proper, pleasing, and perfect, Romans 12:1, 2.
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is fair, whatever is pure, whatever is acceptable, whatever is commendable, if there is anything of excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy - keep thinking about these things. 9Likewise, keep practicing these things: What you have learned, received, heard, and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you, Philippians 4:8, 9.
14 ? (Umei=$ e)ste to\ fw=$ tou= ko/smou. ou) du/natai po/li$ krubh=nai e)pa/nw o&rou$ keime/nh: 15?ou)de\ kai/ousin lu/xnon kai\ tiqe/asin au)to\n u(po\ to\n mo/dion a)ll' e)pi\ th\n luxni/an, kai\ la/mpei pa=sin toi=$ e)n th=| oi)ki/a|. 16 ?ou%tw$ lamya/tw to\ fw=$ u(mw=n e&mprosqen tw=n a)nqrw/pwn, o%pw$ i&dwsin u(mw=n ta\ kala\ e&rga kai\ doca/swsin to\n pate/ra u(mw=n to\n e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$.
14 You are the light of the world. A city setting on a mountain cannot be hidden. 15 Nor can they light a lamp and place it under a bushel but place it on a lampstand and it gives light to all those in the house. 16 So your light is to shine before men, so that they may see your good works and may glorify your Father in heaven.
The second metaphor that Jesus used (in 5:14-16) was to tell His disciples that they are the light of the world and their life is to glorify their Father in heaven. Some have simplified the meaning of glory as “a reflection,” and in this way Christ’s disciples are to reflect God to the dark world. As light is visible to others, whether the light from a city or the light inside one’s home, so the disciple’s light is not to be hidden or extinguished.
Before Socrates, Parmenides “speaks of the way to truth as a way to light, i.e. to being, or to God.”43 Within Judaism, “light is the brightness of the world, salvation, and wisdom… The law, as light, also confronts darkness. Light and darkness thus become moral qualities.”44
Israel knew God as light and Job said that by God’s light he walked through darkness, (Job 29:3). Psalm 27:1 claims that the Lord is light and salvation. Psalm 36:9 says that with God we see light and Job 12:22 says God brings what is hidden into the light. In John 8:12 Jesus taught that He was the light of the world and promised that whoever follows Him shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.
The children’s song “This Little Light of Mine” announces the truths of Jesus’ metaphor that even a child can live; thereby choosing to let one’s life “shine” for Jesus. Obedience to Jesus’ imperative will change the world.
17 ?Mh\ nomi/shte o%ti h@lqon katalu=sai to\n no/mon h* tou\$ profh/ta$: ou)k h@lqon katalu=sai a)lla\ plhrw=sai. 18 ?a)mh\n ga\r le/gw u(mi=n: e%w$ a*n pare/lqh| o( ou)rano\$ kai\ h( gh=, i)w=ta e^n h* mi/a kerai/a ou) mh\ pare/lqh| a)po\ tou= no/mou, e%w$ a*n pa/nta ge/nhtai. 19 ?o^$ e)a\n ou@n lu/sh| mi/an tw=n e)ntolw=n tou/twn tw=n e)laxi/stwn kai\ dida/ch| ou%tw$ tou\$ a)nqrw/pou$, e)la/xisto$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n: o^$ d' a*n poih/sh| kai\ dida/ch|, ou!to$ me/ga$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n. 20 ?Le/gw ga\r u(mi=n o%ti e)a\n mh\ perisseu/sh| u(mw=n h( dikaiosu/nh plei=on tw=n grammate/wn kai\ Farisai/wn, ou) mh\ ei)se/lqhte ei)$ th\n basilei/an tw=n ou)ranw=n.
17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one iota or point shall pass away from the Law until all things shall come to pass. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Before Jesus began to teach about the Law (that included the six antithesis statements presented through the end of Matthew 5), He told His audience about His commitment to the Law in the Matthew 5:17-20 pericope and then Matthew 5:21-48 provides illustrations of Jesus’ relationship to the Law. Jesus knew that “the Law defined the identity of the Jewish people”45 Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the Law or the (writing of the) Prophets but to fulfill them or bring them to fruition.46
Since the time of the exile, Jewish leaders were adamant in their challenge to Israel to live in obedience to the Mosaic Law. In Jesus “the Messianic age has dawned in history, and with it comes the fulfillment of the prophetic expectation. Consequently, the way in which the law is ‘fulfilled’ is inseparable from the total mission of Jesus.”47
When the expression “the Law and the Prophets” was used, people understood it to mean the sacred writings of the Hebrew Scriptures. The first five books of the Bible (the Torah) were known as the Law, and the books written by the prophets were called the Prophets. Jesus used this same expression when He made a “summary” statement later in His Sermon in Matthew 7:12. However Jesus said He did not come to destroy “the Law or the Prophets,” asserting the importance of the sacred Hebrew Scriptures.
It is not possible to know the exact meaning of plhrw=sai in 5:17 aside from the context of the word as it is used in 5:17. The word (plhrw=sai from plhrw) means “to fill to the full” and Hagner interprets this to mean in its context “bringing it to its intended meaning in connection with the messianic fulfillment … brought by Jesus.”48
Matthew 5:18 opens with the Hebrew a)mh\n which is used thirty-one times in Matthew’s Gospel, while John’s Gospel used the “double” form with the word which was repeated for emphasis. In Hebrew Scripture, the word a)mh\n follows significant teaching, but in Jesus’ case, He used the word to introduce some of His teaching, and in this case “to follow the authoritative teaching of Jesus is to be faithful to the whole meaning of the law.”49 Even the smallest detail of the Law would stand, every iota and point, even the smallest letter. Robertson writes that (the Hebrew Vay. R. 19) warned Israel that if one was guilty of changing even the “yod or vav,” the smallest Hebrew letters, “the world would be destroyed.”50 Nolland says that the claim Jesus made in Matthew 5:18 is that “the validity of the Law is as enduring as heaven and earth.”51
After Jesus declared the importance of the sacred writings He points those who teach to consider their own commitment to the Law in Matthew 5:19. Nolland contends that in 5:19, the “issue is not the degree of success in resisting temptation but rather recognition of and commitment to the will of God in all its breadth, depth, and detail.”52
Jesus’ statement about the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees caused people to think about their own position before God Almighty, and yet it is Jesus who spoke about the Torah and its message with authority. Matthew’s audience “needed to know … that the pattern for righteousness taught by Jesus reflects the true meaning of the Torah, and thus that the Torah in its entirety is preserved in and through the ethical teaching of the Church.”53
Righteousness was known to be a right standing before God after an individual received an acquittal from God. To the Pharisee, to be righteous involved meticulous behavior so that one’s piety revealed what was considered to be “proper religious behavior.” In the oral tradition of Pharisees, one’s religious obligation included how one lived and how one worshiped God.54
Throughout His ministry Jesus addressed Jewish leaders concerning their lives and their relationship with God. In Matthew 23:23, 24 Jesus told the Pharisees that they should practice “justice and mercy and faith without neglecting the minor matters of the law.”55 The Jewish people were concerned with whether they were righteous before God, and in this passage Jesus introduced His teaching on the importance of walking in righteousness as His followers. The Apostle Paul taught that the Law was a tutor to lead us to Christ, in Galatians 3:24. Paul said that through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (in Romans 3:20) and in Galatians 3:13 Paul announced that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law.
Concerning the word plhrw=sai, we gain insight into the use of specific words by looking at other Scripture to see how the word is used. In Matthew 3:15 Jesus said to John after He had asked to be baptized, “Permit this at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to plhrw=sai all righteousness.” Peter, Andrew, James, and John left their nets (that they wanted to see filled, from the same plhrw), to follow Jesus. The Apostle Paul instructed the church in Ephesus (whose pagan worship included drunkenness), “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be plhrousqe with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:18).
In Matthew 5:19 Jesus admonished those who do not obey the Scriptures or teach others to live in the same obedience. Jesus’ warning carried a significant consequence for those teachers who did not live in obedience to the Law as well as a promise for those who do, which will determine whether one is called “the least or greatest” in the kingdom of heaven.
Earlier in Jesus’ Sermon He spoke of the blessing of satisfaction that would be known by those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness (in 5:6) and then (in 5:10) Jesus said that His followers would be blessed when they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:20 would have caused His audience to feel tremendous tension. The scribes and Pharisees were considered to be righteous, and yet Jesus said that the lifestyle of those listening, who wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven must exceed the righteousness of these their leaders. When Paul wrote about his background as a Pharisee he said (in Philippians 3:6) that “as to righteousness which is in the Law he was found blameless.”
1 Michael Martin, Exegesis Class Notes, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Fall, 2007.
2 Martin, Ibid.
4 David S. Dockery & David E. Garland, Seeking the Kingdom, Wheaton, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1992, 4.
5 Terence L. Donaldson, Jesus on the Mountain, Sheffield, JSOT Press, 1985, 3.
6 John Nolland, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Matthew, Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005, 196.
7 Handy Dictionary of the Latin and English Languages, New York, David McKay Company, Inc., Undated, 13, 19.
8 Martin, Ibid.
10 Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985, 548.
12 Ibid., G. Bertram, IV, 364-367, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 548.
13 Ibid., F. Hauck, IV, 367-370, Ibid., 549.
14 Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew, London, Paternoster Row, 1910, 63.
15 A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume I, Nashville, Broadman Press, 1930, 40.
16 Nolland, Ibid., 198.
17 Ibid., 199.
18 Ibid., 200.
19 George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994, 93.
20 Rick Melick, New Testament Lecture Notes, GGBTS.
21 Bromiley, Ibid., 825.
23 R. Bultmann, VI, 40-43, Ibid., 826.
24 Martin, Ibid.
25 Bromiley, Ibid., 929.
26 Ibid., 930.
27 Nolland, Ibid., 201.
28 Robert A. Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, Waco, TX, Word Books, 1982, 82.
29 Nolland, Ibid., 202.
31 Bromiley, Ibid., 171.
33 Dale C. Allison, Editor, Matthew: A Shorter Commentary, London, T & T Clark International, 2004, 67.
34 Bromiley, Ibid., 172.
35 D.A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount: An Exposition of Matthew 5-7, Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1982, 24.
36 Nolland, Ibid., 205.
37 Bromiley, Ibid., 207.
38 Allison, Ibid., 66.
39 Nolland, Ibid., 208.
40 Ibid., 210.
41 Ibid., 212.
42 William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1973, 283.
43 Bromiley, Ibid., 1293.
44 Ibid., 1294.
45 Nolland, Ibid., 218.
46 Martin, Ibid.
47 Donald A. Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary, Matthew 1-13, Dallas, Word Books, Publisher, 1993, 105.
48 Ibid., 106.
50 Robertson, Ibid., 43.
51 Nolland, Ibid., 219, 220.
52 Ibid., 223.
53 Hagner, Ibid., 110.
54 Martin, Ibid.
55 Allison, Ibid., 73.