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B. Jesus’ revelations concerning participation in His kingdom chs. 5-7
The Sermon on the Mount is the first of five major discourses that Matthew included in his Gospel. Each one follows a narrative section, and each ends with the same formula statement concerning Jesus’ authority (cf. Matthew 7:28-29). The Sermon on the Mount has probably attracted more attention than any discourse in history. The amount of material in print on this sermon reflects its popularity and significance. It has resulted in the publication of thousands of books and articles.
"His [Jesus’] first great speech, the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5-7), is the example par excellence of his teaching." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 106.]
". . . it were difficult to say which brings greater astonishment (though of opposite kind): a first reading of the ’Sermon on the Mount,’ or that of any section of the Talmud.
"He who has thirsted and quenched his thirst at the living fount of Christ’s Teaching, can never again stoop to seek drink at the broken cisterns of Rabbinism." [Note: Edersheim, 1:525, 526.]
However there is still much debate about its interpretation. A brief review of the basic interpretations of this discourse follows. [Note: See Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 86-94; John A. Martin, "Dispensational Approaches to the Sermon on the Mount," in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, pp. 35-48; and W. S. Kissinger, The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bibliography.]
Especially in former years many interpreters believed that the purpose of the Sermon was to enable people to know what God required so that by obeying they might obtain salvation. One writer articulated this soteriological interpretation this way.
"The Kingdom of God, like the Kingdom of Science, makes no other preliminary demand from those who would enter it than that it should be treated experimentally and practically as a working hypothesis. ’This do and thou shalt live.’" [Note: H. D. A. Major, Basic Christianity, p. 48.]
"The Faith of the Fellowship of the Kingdom would be expressed in its Creed-Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. No other affirmation of faith would be required. To pray that Creed-Prayer daily from the heart would be the prime expression of loyal membership. The duties of membership would be the daily striving to obey the Two Great Commandments and to realize in character and conduct the ideals of the Seven Beatitudes: the seeking of each member to be in his environment ’the salt of the earth’ and ’the light of the world:’ and the endeavour to promote by every means in his power the coming of the Kingdom of God among mankind. Membership of the Fellowship would be open to all men and women-whether Christians, Jews, Mohammedans, or members of any religion or of no religion at all-who desired to be loyal to the Kingdom of God and discharge its duties." [Note: Ibid., pp. 67-68.]
There are two main reasons most interpreters now reject this interpretation. First, it contradicts the many passages of Scripture that present salvation as something impossible to attain by good works (e.g., Ephesians 2:8-9). Second, the extremely high standards that Jesus taught in the Sermon make the attaining of these requirements impossible for anyone and everyone, except Jesus.
A second approach to the Sermon is the sociological view that sees it not as a guide to personal salvation but to the salvation of society.
"What would happen in the world if the element of fair play as enunciated in the Golden Rule-’Do unto others as you would that men should do unto you’-were put into practice in the various relationships of life? . . . What a difference all this would make, and how far we would be on the road to a new and better day in private, in public, in business, and in international relationships!" [Note: F. K. Stamm, Seeing the Multitudes, pp. 68-69.]
There are two main problems with this view. First, it assumes that people can improve their society simply by applying the principles that Jesus taught in the Sermon. History has shown that this is impossible without someone to establish and administer such a society worldwide. Second, this view stresses the social dimension of Jesus’ teaching to the exclusion of the personal dimension, which Jesus also emphasized.
Still others believe Jesus gave the Sermon primarily to convict His hearers about their sins. They believe his purpose was also to make them realize that their only hope of salvation and participation in His kingdom was God’s grace. One might call this view the penitential approach.
"Thus what we have here in the Sermon on the Mount, is the climax of law, the completeness of the letter, the letter which killeth; and because it is so much more searching and thorough than the Ten Commandments, therefore does it kill all the more effectually. . . . The hard demand of the letter is here in the closest possible connexion [sic] with the promise of the Spirit." [Note: Charles Gore, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 4-5.]
The main problem with this view is that it fails to recognize that the primary listeners to this sermon were Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 5:1-2). While not all of them believed in Him, most of them did. This seems clear since He called them the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-14). Moreover He taught them to address God in prayer as their Father (Matthew 6:9; cf. Matthew 6:26). He also credited them with serving God already (Matthew 6:24-34). Certainly the Sermon convicted those who heard it of their sins, but it seems to have had a larger purpose than this.
A fourth view holds that the Sermon contains Jesus’ ethical teaching for the church. This is the ecclesiastical interpretation to the Sermon.
"It is a religious system of living which portrays how transformed Christians ought to live in the world." [Note: Thomas. S. Kepler, Jesus’ Design for Living, p. 12. See also C. F. Hogg and J. B. Watson, On the Sermon on the Mount, p. 19; and A. M. Hunter, A Pattern for Life: An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 122.]
The problem with this view is that the New Testament presents the church as an entity distinct from the kingdom. Nothing in the context warrants concluding that Jesus taught His disciples about the church here. Everything points to Him teaching about the kingdom. Even though there are some parallels between Jesus’ teaching here and the apostles’ teaching in the epistles, this similarity does not prove church teaching. There are also similarities between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, nine of the Ten Commandments, for example. However this similarity does not prove that the two covenants are the same.
A fifth view sees the Sermon as applying to the earthly messianic kingdom exclusively. This is the millennial view.
"In our exegesis of the three chapters, . . . we shall always in every part look upon the sermon on the mount as the proclamation of the King concerning the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not the church, nor is the state of the earth in righteousness, governed and possessed by the meek, brought about by the agency of the church. It is the millennial earth and the Kingdom to come, in which Jerusalem will be the city of a great King. . . . While we have in the Old Testament the outward manifestations of the Kingdom of the heavens as it will be set up in the earth in a future day, we have here the inner manifestation, the principles of it." [Note: Gaebelein, 1:10. See also Kelly, pp. 103-6; William L. Pettingill, Simple Studies in Matthew, p. 58; Lewis Sperry Chafer, "The Teachings of Christ Incarnate," Bibliotheca Sacra 108 (October 1951):410; idem, Systematic Theology, 4:177-78; D. K. Campbell, "Interpretation and Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount," (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1953); and Ryrie, pp. 106-8.]
The main problem with this view is Jesus’ frequent references to conditions that are incongruous with the messianic kingdom proclaimed by the Old Testament prophets. For example, Jesus said that His disciples will experience persecution for His sake (Matthew 5:11-12). Wickedness abounds (Matthew 5:13-16). The disciples should pray for the coming of the kingdom (Matthew 6:10). False prophets pose a major threat to Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 7:15). Some who hold this view relegate these conditions to the tribulation period. [Note: E.g., Donald Grey Barnhouse, His Own Received Him Not, But . . ., p. 47; and Campbell, p. 66.] However if the Sermon is the constitution of the messianic kingdom, as advocates of this view claim, it is very unusual that so much of it deals with conditions that will mark the tribulation period. Some who hold this view also believe Jesus taught that to enter the kingdom one must live up to the standards that Jesus presented in the Sermon. [Note: E.g., Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 5:111.] If this were the requirement, no one would be able to enter it. The standards of the Sermon on the Mount are even higher than those of the Ten Commandments.
The sixth view is that the Sermon presents ethical instructions for Jesus’ disciples that apply from the time Jesus gave them until the beginning of the kingdom. This is the interim approach to interpreting the Sermon.
"The sermon is primarily addressed to disciples exhorting them to a righteous life in view of the coming kingdom. Those who were not genuine disciples were warned concerning the danger of their hypocrisy and unbelief. They are enjoined to enter the narrow gate and to walk the narrow way. This is included in the discourse, but it is only the secondary application of the sermon." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 94. See also Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, p. 354; Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., pp. 44-46; Saucy, p. 18; Barbieri, p. 28; and Hagner, p. 83.]
Several factors commend this view. First, it fits best into the historical situation that provided the context for the giving of the Sermon. John and then Jesus had announced that the kingdom was at hand. Jesus next instructed His disciples about preparing for its inauguration.
Second, the message of the Sermon also anticipates the inauguration of the kingdom. This is obvious in the attitude that pervades the discourse (cf. Matthew 5:12; Matthew 5:19-20; Matthew 5:46; Matthew 6:1-2; Matthew 6:4-6; Matthew 6:10; Matthew 6:18; Matthew 7:19-23). Moreover there is prediction about persecution and false prophets arising (Matthew 5:11-12; Matthew 7:15-18). The abundant use of the future tense also anticipates the coming of the kingdom (Matthew 5:4-9; Matthew 5:19-20; Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 6:18; Matthew 6:33; Matthew 7:2; Matthew 7:7; Matthew 7:11; Matthew 7:16; Matthew 7:20-22).
Third, this view recognizes that the primary recipients of the Sermon were Jesus’ disciples whom He taught (Matthew 5:1-2; Matthew 5:19; Matthew 7:29). They were salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), God was their Father (Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:16; Matthew 5:45; Matthew 5:48; Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:8-9; Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 6:18; Matthew 6:26; Matthew 6:32; Matthew 7:11; Matthew 7:21), and righteousness was to characterize their lives (Matthew 5:19 to Matthew 7:12). Jesus had much to say about service (Matthew 5:10-16; Matthew 5:19-48; Matthew 6:1-34; Matthew 7:1-12; Matthew 7:15-27) and rewards (Matthew 5:12; Matthew 5:19; Matthew 5:46; Matthew 6:1-2; Matthew 5, 16) in the Sermon. Probably many of these disciples had been John’s disciples who had left the forerunner to follow the King (cf. John 3:22-30; John 4:1-2; John 6:66). Jesus was instructing His disciples concerning their duties for the rest of their lives. However, Jesus also had words for the multitudes, especially toward the end of the Sermon, the people that did not fall into the category of being His disciples (Matthew 5:1-2; cf. Matthew 7:13; Matthew 7:21-27).
Fourth, the subject matter of the Sermon favors the interim interpretation. The Sermon dealt with the good fruit resulting from repentance that Jesus’ disciples should manifest (cf. Matthew 3:8; Matthew 3:10). The only thing Matthew recorded that John preached and that Jesus repeated in this Sermon is, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 7:19). Jesus, too, wanted His hearers to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance, and He described that fruit in this address.
Many students of the New Testament have noted the similarity between Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and James’ epistle. [Note: See Virgil V. Porter Jr., "The Sermon on the Mount in the Book of James," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:647 (July-September 2005):344-60, and 162:648 (October-December 2005):470-82.] James also stressed the importance of believers producing fruit, godly character and good works (James 2:14-26). All the New Testament epistles present high standards for believers to maintain (cf. Philippians 3:12; Colossians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:15; 1 John 2:1). These flow naturally out of Jesus’ instruction. Only with the Holy Spirit’s enablement and the believer’s dependence on the Lord can we live up to these standards.
1. The setting of the Sermon on the Mount 5:1-2 (cf. Luke 6:17-19)
The "multitudes" or "crowds" consisted of the people Matthew just mentioned in Matthew 4:23-25. They comprised a larger group than the "disciples."
The disciples were not just the Twelve but many others who followed Jesus and sought to learn from Him. Essentially "disciple" means learner. They did not all continue to follow Him (John 6:66). Not all of them were genuine believers, Judas Iscariot being the notable example. The term "disciples" in the Gospels is a large one that includes all who chose to follow Jesus for some time anyway (Luke 6:17). We should not equate "believer" in the New Testament sense with "disciple" in the Gospels, as some expositors have done. [Note: E.g., John F. MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 196. For a critique of MacArthur’s book, see Darrell L. Bock, "A Review of The Gospel According to Jesus," Bibliotheca Sacra 146:581 (January-March 1989):21-40.]
"To say that ’every Christian is a disciple’ seems to contradict the teaching of the New Testament. In fact, one could be a disciple and not be a Christian at all! John describes men who were disciples first and who then placed their faith in Christ (John 2:11). . . . This alone alerts us to the fact that Jesus did not always equate being a ’disciple’ with being a Christian." [Note: Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, p. 151. Cf. pp. 150-56.]
Customarily rabbis (teachers) sat down to instruct their disciples (cf. Matthew 13:2; Matthew 23:2; Matthew 24:3; Luke 4:20). [Note: A Dictionary of New Testament Theology, s.v. "kathemai," by R. T. France, 3:589.] This posture implied Jesus’ authority. [Note: Tasker, p. 59.] The exact location of the "mountain" Matthew referred to is unknown, though probably it was in Galilee near the Sea of Galilee and perhaps near Capernaum. There are no real mountains nearby, but plenty of hills.
"There is probably a deliberate attempt on the evangelist’s part to liken Jesus to Moses, especially insofar as he is about to present the definitive interpretation of Torah, just as Moses, according to the Pharisees, had given the interpretation of Torah on Sinai to be handed on orally." [Note: Hagner, p. 86.]
The phrase "opening His mouth He began to teach them" (Matthew 5:2; NASB) or "He began to teach them" (NIV) is a New Testament idiom (cf. Matthew 13:35; Acts 8:35; Acts 10:34; Acts 18:14). It has Old Testament roots (Job 3:1; Job 33:2; Daniel 10:16) and introduces an important utterance wherever it occurs.
There is some difference between preaching (Gr. kerysso; Matthew 4:17) and teaching (Gr. didasko; Matthew 5:2) as the Gospel writers used these terms (cf. Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31). Generally preaching involved a wider audience and teaching a narrower, more committed one, in this case the disciples.
The "poor in spirit" are those who recognize their natural unworthiness to stand in God’s presence and who depend utterly on Him for His mercy and grace (cf. Psalms 37:14; Psalms 40:17; Psalms 69:28-29; Psalms 69:32-33; Proverbs 16:19; Proverbs 29:23; Isaiah 61:1). They do not trust in their own goodness or possessions for God’s acceptance. The Jews regarded material prosperity as an indication of divine approval since many of the blessings God promised the righteous under the Old Covenant were material. However the poor in spirit does not regard these things as signs of intrinsic righteousness but confesses his or her total unworthiness. The poor in spirit acknowledges his or her lack of personal righteousness. This condition, as all the others the Beatitudes identify, describes those who have repented and are broken (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17).
"’Poverty in spirit’ is not speaking of weakness of character (’mean-spiritedness’) but rather of a person’s relationship with God. It is a positive spiritual orientation, the converse of the arrogant self-confidence which not only rides roughshod over the interests of other people but more importantly causes a person to treat God as irrelevant." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 165.]
Such a person can have joy in his or her humility because an attitude of personal unworthiness is necessary to enter the kingdom. This kingdom does not go to the materially wealthy only but to those who admit their spiritual bankruptcy. One cannot purchase citizenship in this kingdom with money as people could purchase Roman citizenship, for example. What qualifies a person for citizenship is that person’s attitude toward his or her intrinsic righteousness.
One writer believed that Jesus was not talking about entering the kingdom but possessing it (i.e., it will be theirs in the sense that the poor in spirit will reign over it with Jesus [cf. Revelation 3:21]). [Note: Hodges, "Possessing the Kingdom," The KERUGMA Message 1:1 (May-June 1991):1-2.]
The first and last beatitudes give the reason for blessedness: "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (cf. Matthew 5:10). This phrase forms an inclusio or envelope that surrounds the remaining beatitudes. The inclusio is a literary device that provides unity. Speakers and writers used it, and still use it, to indicate that everything within the two uses of this term refers to the entity mentioned. Here that entity is the kingdom of heaven. In other words, this literary form shows that all the beatitudes deal with the kingdom of heaven.
2. The subjects of Jesus’ kingdom 5:3-16
Their condition 5:3-10 (cf. Luke 6:20-26)
This pericope describes the character of the kingdom’s subjects and their rewards in the kingdom.
Kingsbury identified the theme of this Sermon as "greater righteousness" and divided it as follows: (I) On Those Who Practice the Greater Righteousness (Matthew 5:3-16); (II) On Practicing the Greater Righteousness toward the Neighbor (Matthew 5:17-45); (III) On Practicing the Greater Righteousness before God (Matthew 6:1-18); (IV) On Practicing the Greater Righteousness in Other Areas of Life (Matthew 6:19 to Matthew 7:12); and (V) Injunctions on Practicing the Greater Righteousness (Matthew 7:13-27). [Note: Kingsbury, p. 112. See also idem, "The Place, Structure, and Meaning of the Sermon on the Mount within Matthew," Interpretation 41 (1987):131-43; Robert A. Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding; and Hagner, pp. 83-84.]
"Looked at as a whole . . . the Beatitudes become a moral sketch of the type of person who is ready to possess, or rule over, God’s Kingdom in company with the Lord Jesus Christ." [Note: Zane C. Hodges, "Possessing the Kingdom," The KERUGMA Message 2:2 (Winter 1992):5.]
Jesus described the character of those who will receive blessings in the kingdom as rewards from eight perspectives. He introduced each one with a pronouncement of blessedness. This form of expression goes back to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms (cf. Psalms 1:1; Psalms 32:1-2; Psalms 84:4-5; Psalms 144:15; Proverbs 3:13; Daniel 12:12). The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) may describe the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-3. [Note: See Bock, Jesus according . . ., pp. 128-29; and Robert A. Guelich, "The Matthean Beatitudes: ’Entrance-Requirements’ or Eschatological Blessings?" Journal of Biblical Literature 95 (1973):433.] They describe and commend the good life. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 161.]
The English word "beatitude" comes from the Latin word for "blessed," beatus. The Greek word translated "blessed," makarios, refers to a happy condition.
"The special feature of the group makarios, makarizein, makarismos in the NT is that it refers overwhelmingly to the distinctive religious joy which accrues to man from his share in the salvation of the kingdom of God." [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "makarios," by F. Hauck, 4:367.]
"It [makarios] describes a state not of inner feeling on the part of those to whom it is applied, but of blessedness from an ideal point of view in the judgment of others." [Note: Allen, p. 39.]
Blessedness is happiness because of divine favor. [Note: C. G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels, 2:30.] The other Greek word translated "blessed," eulogetos, connotes the reception of praise and usually describes God.
". . . the kingdom is presupposed as something given by God. The kingdom is declared as a reality apart from any human achievement. Thus the beatitudes are, above all, predicated upon the experience of the grace of God. The recipients are just that, those who receive the good news." [Note: Hagner, p. 96.]
The "for" (Gr. hoti) in each beatitude explains why the person is a blessed individual. "Because" would be a good translation. They are blessed now because they will participate in the kingdom. The basis for each blessing is the fulfillment of something about the kingdom that God promised in the Old Testament. [Note: See Vernon C. Grounds, "Mountain Manifesto," Bibliotheca Sacra 128:510 (April-June 1971):135-41.]
The Beatitudes deal with four attitudes-toward ourselves (Matthew 5:3), toward our sins (Matthew 5:4-6), toward God (Matthew 5:7-9), and toward the world (Matthew 5:10, and Matthew 5:11-16). They proceed from the inside out; they start with attitudes and move to actions that are opposed, the normal course of spirituality.
"Those who mourn" do so because they sense their spiritual bankruptcy (Matthew 5:4). The Old Testament revealed that spiritual poverty results from sin. True repentance produces contrite tears more than jubilant rejoicing because the kingdom is near. The godly remnant in Jesus’ day that responded to the call of John and of Jesus wept because of Israel’s national humiliation as well as because of personal sin (cf. Ezra 10:6; Psalms 51:4; Psalms 119:136; Ezekiel 9:4; Daniel 9:19-20). It is this mourning over sin that resulted in personal and national humiliation that Jesus referred to here.
The promised blessing in this beatitude is future comfort for those who now mourn. The prophets connected Messiah’s appearing with the comfort of His people (Isaiah 40:1; Isaiah 66:1-3; Isaiah 66:13). All sorrow over personal and national humiliation because of sin will end when the King sets up His kingdom and the repentant enter into it.
A "gentle" or "meek" person is not only gentle in his or her dealings with others (Matthew 11:29; Matthew 21:5; James 3:13). Such a person is unpretentious (1 Peter 3:4; 1 Peter 3:14-15), self-controlled, and free from malice and vengefulness. This quality looks at a person’s dealings with other people. A person might acknowledge his or her spiritual bankruptcy and mourn because of sin, but to respond meekly when other people regard us as sinful is something else. Meekness then is the natural and appropriate expression of genuine humility toward others.
Inheriting the Promised Land was the hope of the godly in Israel during the wilderness wanderings (Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 16:20; cf. Isaiah 57:13; Isaiah 60:21). Inheriting is the privilege of faithful heirs (cf. Matthew 25:34). He or she can inherit because of who that person is due to relationship with the one bestowing the inheritance. Inheriting is a concept that the apostles wrote about and clarified (e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:23-24; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:23; 1 Peter 1:3-4; et al.). Inheriting is not always the same as entering. A person can enter another’s house, for example, without inheriting it. The Old Testament concept of inheriting involved not only entering but also becoming an owner of what one entered. In this beatitude Jesus was saying more than that the meek will enter the kingdom. They will also enter into it as an inheritance and possess it. [Note: Ibid., 1:2 (July-August 1991):1-2.] A major theme in the Sermon on the Mount is the believing disciple’s rewards (cf. Matthew 5:12; Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:4-6; Matthew 6:18). [Note: See Dillow, p. 67.]
The earth is what the meek can joyfully anticipate inheriting. The Old Testament concept of the messianic kingdom was earthly. Messiah would rule over Israel and the nations on the earth (Psalms 2:8-9; Psalms 37:9; Psalms 37:11; Psalms 37:29). Eventually the kingdom of Messiah will move to the new earth (Matthew 21:1). This means Jesus’ meek disciples can anticipate receiving possession of some of the earth during His messianic reign (cf. Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). They will, of course, be subject to the King then.
As mentioned previously, Matthew always used the term "righteousness" in the sense of personal fidelity to God and His will (Matthew 3:15; cf. Psalms 42:2; Psalms 63:1; Amos 8:11-14). He never used it of imputed righteousness, justification. Therefore, the righteousness that the blessed hunger and thirst for is not salvation. It is personal holiness and, extending this desire more broadly, the desire that holiness may prevail among all people (cf. Matthew 6:10). When believers bewail their own and society’s sinfulness and pray that God will send a revival to clean things up, they demonstrate a hunger and thirst for righteousness.
The encouraging promise of Jesus is that such people will eventually receive the answer to their prayers. Messiah will establish righteousness in the world when He sets up His kingdom (Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 61:10-11; Isaiah 62:1-2; Jeremiah 23:16; Jeremiah 33:14-16; Daniel 9:24).
A merciful person forgives the guilty and has compassion on the needy and the suffering. A meek person acknowledges to others that he or she is sinful, but a merciful person has compassion on others because they are sinful. [Note: John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 48.] Notice that Jesus did not specify a situation or situations in which the merciful person displays mercy because he or she is characteristically merciful. The promise applies in many different situations.
The blessing of the merciful is that they will receive mercy from God. Jesus did not mean that people can earn God’s mercy for salvation by being merciful to others. God will deal mercifully with people who have dealt mercifully with their fellowmen (cf. Matthew 6:12-15; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7; Matthew 18:33-34). There are many Old Testament texts that speak of Messiah dealing mercifully with the merciful (e.g., Isaiah 49:10; Isaiah 49:13; Isaiah 54:8; Isaiah 54:10; Isaiah 60:10; Zechariah 10:6).
The "pure in heart" are those who are single-minded in their devotion to God and therefore morally pure inwardly. Inner moral purity is an important theme in Matthew and in the Old Testament (cf. Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalms 24:3-4; Psalms 51:6; Psalms 51:10; Isaiah 1:10-17; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 7:3-7; Jeremiah 9:25-26). Likewise freedom from hypocrisy is also prominent (cf. Psalms 24:4; Psalms 51:4-17; Proverbs 22:11; Matthew 6:22; Matthew 6:33). Jesus probably implied both ideas here.
The pure in heart can look forward to seeing God in the person of Messiah when He reigns on the earth (Psalms 24:3-4; Isaiah 33:17; Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 40:5). Messiah would be single-minded in His devotion to God and morally pure. Thus there will be a correspondence and fellowship between the King and those of His subjects who share His character. No one has seen God in His pure essence without some type of filter. The body of Jesus was such a filter. Seeing God is a synonym for having intimate knowledge of and acquaintance with Him (John 14; 1 John 1:1-4).
"Peacemakers" likewise replicate the work of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7). Jesus through His life and ministry made peace between God and man, and between man and man. Isaiah predicted this of Messiah (Isaiah 52:7). The true disciples of Jesus make peace as we herald the gospel that brings people into a peaceful relationship with God and with one another.
People who seek to make peace behave as true sons of God. God called Israel His "son" (Deuteronomy 14:1; Hosea 1:10), and He charged the Israelites with bringing their Gentile neighbors into peaceful relationship with Himself (Exodus 19:5-6). Whereas Israel failed largely in her calling, the Son of God, Messiah, succeeded completely. Those who follow Christ faithfully will demonstrate concern for the peace of humanity by leading people to Him.
Persecution is as much a mark of discipleship as peacemaking. The world does not give up its hates and self-centered living easily. This brings opposition on disciples of Christ. Righteous people, those whose conduct is right in God’s eyes, become targets of the unrighteous (cf. John 15:18-25; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:13-14). Jesus, the perfectly righteous One, suffered more than any other righteous person has suffered. The Old Testament prophets foretold this, calling Him the Suffering Servant of the Lord (cf. Isa_52:13 to Isa_53:12).
Even though Jesus’ disciples suffer as we anticipate the kingdom, we can find joy in knowing that the kingdom will eventually be ours. It will provide release from the persecution of God-haters when the "Man of Sorrows" reigns. This second explicit reference to "the kingdom of heaven" concludes the inclusio begun in Matthew 5:3 and signals an end to the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10).
"The ordinary Jew of Christ’s day looked only at the physical benefits of the kingdom which he thought would naturally be bestowed on every Israelite. The amillennialist of today, on the other hand, denies the physical existence of the promised Jewish kingdom by ’spiritualizing’ its material blessings. The beatitudes of the King indicate that it is not an either-or proposition, but the kingdom includes both physical and spiritual blessings. A careful study of the beatitudes displays the fact that the kingdom is a physical earthly kingdom with spiritual blessings founded on divine principles." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 97.]
These two verses expand and clarify the last beatitude (Matthew 5:10; cf. Matthew 6:12; cf. Matthew 6:14-15) and provide a transition to what follows.
Matthew 5:11 broadens the persecution to include insult and slander. It also identifies Jesus with righteousness.
"This confirms that the righteousness of life that is in view is in imitation of Jesus. Simultaneously, it so identifies the disciple of Jesus with the practice of Jesus’ righteousness that there is no place for professed allegiance to Jesus that is not full of righteousness." [Note: D. A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 28.]
The prophets experienced persecution because they followed God faithfully. Now Jesus said His disciples would suffer similar persecution because they followed Him (cf. Daniel 9:24-27). His hearers could not help concluding that He was putting Himself on a par with God. They also realized that they themselves would be the objects of persecution.
This persecution should cause the disciples to rejoice rather than despair (cf. James 1:2-4). Their reward for faithfully enduring would be great when the kingdom began. This fact also shows the greatness of Jesus. These are the first claims to messiahship that Jesus made that Matthew recorded in his Gospel.
The phrase "in heaven" (Matthew 5:12) probably means throughout eternity. Kingdom reward (Matthew 5:10) would continue forever. Some believe it means that God prepares the reward in heaven now for future manifestation. [Note: Dalman, pp. 206-8.] This promise should be an incentive for Christ’s disciples to view their opposition by the ungodly as temporary and to realize that their reward for persevering faithfully will be eternal (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-9).
"Unlike many modern Christians, Matthew is not coy about the ’reward’ that awaits those who are faithful to their calling." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 172. Cf. idem, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, pp. 268-70.]
"One of the curious features of Jesus’ great speeches is that they contain sayings that seemingly are without relevance for the characters in the story to whom they are addressed. Time and again, Jesus touches on matters that are alien to the immediate situation of the crowds or the disciples. This peculiar phenomenon-that Jesus speaks past his stipulated audience at places in his speeches-compels one to ask whether Jesus is not to be construed as addressing some person(s) other than simply the crowds or the disciples in the story. . . .
"If in his great speeches Jesus periodically speaks past his story-audience of crowds or disciples, whom in addition to the latter is he addressing in these instances? From a literary-critical standpoint, he is addressing the implied reader(s)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., pp. 107, 109. For other examples of this phenomenon in Matthew, see 6:16-18; 7:15-23; 10:18, 22, 41-42; 13:18-23, 38; 18:15-20; 24:3-25:46.]
Their calling 5:11-16
Jesus proceeded to clarify His disciples’ calling and ministry in the world to encourage them to endure persecution and to fulfill God’s purpose for them.
"Some might think that Matthew 5:11-12 constitute the concluding Beatitude, since these verses begin with the words ’blessed are you". But it is noteworthy that only here in the Beatitudes do we meet a verb in the second person (i.e., ’blessed are you’). In addition there are 36 (Greek) words in this Beatitude compared to a maximum of 12 words (Matthew 5:10) in the preceding eight Beatitudes. It is reasonable to conclude that Matthew 5:3-10 are a self-contained introduction to the Sermon, while Matthew 5:11-12 commence the body of the Sermon." [Note: Hodges, 2:2 (Spring 1992):1.]
Matthew 5:13-16 have been called the epilogue to the Beatitudes and have been compared to the prologue to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-6). [Note: Edersheim, 1:529.]
By placing "you" (Gr. hymeis) in the emphatic position in the Greek text, Jesus was stressing the unique calling of His disciples (cf. Matthew 5:14). Salt was important in the ancient Near East because it flavored food, retarded decay in food, and in small doses fertilized land. [Note: Eugene P. Deatrick, "Salt, Soil, Savor," Biblical Archaeologist 25 (1962):44-45.] Jesus implied by this metaphor that His disciples could positively affect the world (Gr. kosmos, the inhabited earth, i.e., humankind). They had the opportunity through their lives and witness to bring blessing to others and to retard the natural decay that sin produces in life. As salt thrown out on the earth, they could also produce fruit to God. Some critics have wondered how salt could lose its saltiness since sodium chloride is a stable compound that does not break down.
"But most salt in the ancient world derived from salt marshes or the like, rather than by evaporation of salt water, and therefore contained many impurities. The actual salt, being more soluble than the impurities, could be leached out, leaving a residue so dilute it was of little worth." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 138.]
The most obvious characteristic of salt is that it is different from the medium into which its user places it. Jesus’ disciples likewise are to be different from the world. As salt is an antiseptic, so the disciples are to be a moral disinfectant in a sin-infested world. This requires virtue, however, that comes only through divine grace and self-discipline. [Note: Tasker, p. 63.]
In modern Israel weak salt still often ends up scattered on the soil that tops flat-roofed houses, which the residents sometimes use as patios. There it hardens the soil and so prevents leaks. [Note: Deatrick, p. 47.] God will use disciples either as vessels unto honor or as vessels unto dishonor (cf. Romans 9:21; 2 Timothy 2:20).
Light is a common symbol in the Bible. It represents purity, truth, knowledge, divine revelation, and God’s presence all in contrast to their opposites. The Israelites thought of themselves as lights in a dark world (Isaiah 42:6; Romans 2:19). However the Old Testament spoke of Messiah as the true light of the world (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; cf. Matthew 4:16; John 8:12; John 9:5; John 12:35; 1 John 1:7). Jesus’ disciples are lights in the derived sense, as the moon is a light but only because it reflects the light of the sun (cf. Ephesians 5:8-9; Philippians 2:15).
The city set on a hill (Matthew 5:14) may refer to messianic prophecy concerning God lifting up Zion and causing the nations to stream to it (Isaiah 2:2-5; et al.). Since God will make the capital of the messianic kingdom prominent, it is inappropriate for the citizens of that city to assume a low profile in the world before its inauguration (cf. Luke 11:33).
The disciples must therefore manifest good works, the outward demonstration or testimony to the righteousness that is within them (Matthew 5:16). Even though the light may provoke persecution (Matthew 5:10-12), they must reflect the light of God. For the first time in Matthew, Jesus referred to God as the Father of His disciples (cf. Matthew 5:45; Matthew 5:48; Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:8-9; Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 6:18; Matthew 6:26; Matthew 6:32; Matthew 7:11; Matthew 7:21).
"If salt (Matthew 5:13) exercises the negative function of delaying decay and warns disciples of the danger of compromise and conformity to the world, then light (Matthew 5:14-16) speaks positively of illuminating a sin-darkened world and warns against a withdrawal from the world that does not lead others to glorify the Father in heaven." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 140.]
"Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him." [Note: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 106.]
The introduction of "good works" (Matthew 5:16) leads on to further exposition of that theme in Matthew 5:17 to Matthew 7:12.
3. The importance of true righteousness 5:17-7:12
Jesus had just been speaking about the importance of His disciples demonstrating their righteousness publicly with their good works (Matthew 5:16). Now He dealt with the more fundamental question of what true righteousness is. This was important to clarify since the religious leaders of His day misinterpreted righteousness and good works.
"The kinds of good deeds that enable light to be seen as light are now to be elaborated in the course of the sermon that follows. They are shown to be nothing other than the faithful living out of the commandments, the righteousness of the Torah as interpreted by Jesus." [Note: Hagner, p. 102.]
Some of the Jews may have already concluded that Jesus was a radical who was discarding the teachings of the Old Testament, their law. Many others would begin to do so soon. Jesus prepared them for the incongruity between His teaching and their leaders’ interpretations of the law by explaining His relationship to the Old Testament.
"It seems likely that here Jesus is dealing with the charge of being antinomian since his controversies suggested an approach to the law that was different from traditional thinking. His reply shows that he seeks a standard that looks at the law from an internal, not an external, perspective." [Note: Bock, Jesus according . . ., p. 131.]
The terms "the Law" and "the Prophets" refer to two of the three major divisions of the Hebrew Bible, the third being "the Psalms" (Luke 24:44). "The Law and the Prophets" was evidently the most common way Jews referred to the Old Testament in Jesus’ day (cf. Matthew 7:12; Matthew 11:13; Matthew 22:40; Luke 16:16; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; Acts 28:23; Romans 3:21). Jesus’ introduced the subject of Scripture interpretation in this verse with this phrase. In Matthew 7:12 He concluded the subject with the same phrase. Thus the phrase "the Law and the Prophets" forms another inclusio within the body of the Sermon on the Mount and identifies the main subject that it encloses.
Much debate has centered on what Jesus meant when He said He came to fulfill the Old Testament. [Note: See John A. Martin, "Christ, the Fulfillment of the Law in the Sermon on the Mount," in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, pp. 248-63.] The first question is, Was Jesus referring to Himself when He said, "I came . . . to fulfill," or was he referring to His teaching? Did He fulfill the law or did His teaching fulfill it? Since the contrast is "to abolish" the law, it seems probable that Jesus meant His teaching fulfilled the law. He did not intend that what He taught the people would replace the teaching of the Old Testament but fulfill (Gr. pleroo) or establish it completely. Of course, Jesus did fulfill Old Testament prophecy about Messiah, but that does not appear to be the primary subject in view here. The issue seems to be His teaching.
Some interpreters conclude Jesus meant that He came to fulfill (keep) the moral law (the Ten Commandments) but that He abolished Israel’s civil and ceremonial laws. [Note: E.g., Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, pp. 103-5; Eugene H. Merrill, "Deuteronomy, New Testament Faith, and the Christian Life," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, p. 22; and David Wenham, "Jesus and the Law: an Exegesis on Matthew 5:17-20," Themelios 4:3 (April 1979):92-26.] However there is no basis for this distinction in this text or in any other New Testament text. Others believe that He meant He came to fill out its meaning, to expound its full significance that until then remained obscure. [Note: E.g., Lenski, p. 199-201.] This view rests on an unusual meaning of pleroo, and it seems inconsistent with Jesus’ comment about the jot and tittle in Matthew 5:18. Still others believe Jesus meant that He came to extend the demands of the Old Testament law to new lengths. [Note: E.g., Wolfgang Trilling, Das wahre Israel: Studien zur Theologie des Matthaus-Evangeliums, pp. 174-79.] This interpretation is improbable because the extension of law does not involve its abolition. Another view is that Jesus meant that He was introducing what the Law pointed toward, either by direct prediction or by typology. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 182.]
Probably Jesus meant that He came to establish the Old Testament fully, to add His authoritative approval to it. This view harmonizes with Matthew’s use of pleroo elsewhere (cf. Matthew 2:15). This does not mean He taught that the Mosaic Law remained in force for His disciples. He taught that it did not (Mark 7:19). [Note: See Hal Harless, "The Cessation of the Mosaic Covenant," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:639 (July-September 2003):349-66.] Rather here Jesus authenticated the Old Testament as the inspired Word of God. [Note: Cf. Stephen Westerholm, "The Law in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:17-48," Criswell Theological Review 6:1 (Fall 1992):43-56.] He wanted His hearers to understand that what He taught them in no way contradicted Old Testament revelation.
"He disregarded the oral tradition, which they [the Pharisees] held to be equal in authority to the written Law; and He interpreted the written Law according to its spirit, and not, as they did, according to the rigid letter. He did not keep the weekly fasts, nor observe the elaborated distinctions between clean and unclean, and He consorted with outcasts and sinners. He neglected the traditional modes of teaching, and preached in a way of His own. Above all, He spoke as if He Himself were an authority, independent of the Law." [Note: Plummer, p. 75.]
There is good evidence that the Jewish leaders regarded the traditional laws as, not just of equal authority with the Old Testament, but of greater authority. [Note: Edersheim, 1:97-98.]
"It is not obvious at first sight what Christ means by ’fulfilling (plerosai) the Law.’ He does not mean taking the written Law as it stands, and literally obeying it. That is what he condemns, not as wrong, but as wholly inadequate. He means rather starting with it as it stands, and bringing it on to completeness; working out the spirit of it; getting at the comprehensive principles which underlie the narrowness of the letter. These Messiah sets forth as the essence of the revelation made by God through the Law and Prophets." [Note: Plummer, p. 76.]
Jesus’ view of the Old Testament 5:17-20
It was natural for Jesus to explain His view of the Old Testament since He would shortly proceed to interpret it to His hearers.
Righteousness and the Scriptures 5:17-48
In His discussion of righteousness (character and conduct that conforms to the will of God), Jesus went back to the revelation of God’s will, namely, God’s Word, the Old Testament.
The phrase "truly I say to you" (NASB) or "I tell you the truth" (NIV) indicates that what follows is extremely important. This is the first occurrence in Matthew of this phrase, which appears 30 times in this Gospel, 13 times in Mark, six times in Luke, and 25 times in John. It always conveys the personal authority of the person who utters it. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 184.] "Until heaven and earth pass away" is a vivid way of saying as long as this world lasts. The AV "jot," also translated "smallest letter" (NASB, NIV), refers to yod, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The "tittle" (AV) or "smallest stroke" (NASB) or "least stroke" (NIV) is not as easy to identify. The best possibility seems to be that it refers to a small stroke on one Hebrew letter (a serif) that distinguished it from a similarly shaped letter. [Note: See Carson, "Matthew," p. 145, for other less likely possibilities.] In any case Jesus meant that He upheld the entire Old Testament down to the smallest features of the Hebrew letters that the writers used as they composed the original documents.
This verse is a strong testimony to the verbal inspiration of Scripture. That is, divine inspiration extends to the words, even the letters, in the original texts. Matthew 5:17-19 also argue for the plenary inspiration of Scripture, the view that inspiration extends to all parts of the Old Testament. God inspired all of it down to the very words the writers used. In Matthew 5:18 "the Law" refers to the whole Old Testament, not just the Mosaic Law or the Pentateuch (cf. Matthew 5:17). This is clear from the context.
God will preserve His Law until everything in it has happened as prophesied. It is as permanent as heaven and earth (cf. Matthew 24:35).
The Jewish rabbis had graded the Old Testament commands according to which they believed were more authoritative and which less, the heavy and the light. [Note: M’Neile, p. 59.] Jesus corrected this view. He taught that all were equally authoritative. He warned His hearers against following their leaders’ practice. Greatness in His kingdom depended on maintaining a high view of Scripture. This verse distinguishes different ranks within the messianic kingdom. Some individuals will have a higher standing than others. Everyone will not be equal. Notice that there will be people in the kingdom whose view of Scripture will not be the same before they enter the kingdom. All will be righteous, but their obedience to and attitude toward Scripture will vary.
"I say to you" is a claim to having authority (cf. Matthew 7:29). The relativistic view of the scribes and Pharisees led them to accept some Scriptural injunctions and to reject others (cf. Matthew 15:5-6). [Note: For a good brief introduction to the scribes and the Pharisees, see France, The Gospel . . ., p. 189.] This resulted in selective obedience that produced only superficial righteousness (only external conformity to the revealed will of God). That type of righteousness, Jesus declared, would not be adequate for admission into the kingdom. The phrase "enter the kingdom" occurs seven other times in the New Testament (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 18:3; Matthew 19:23-24; Mark 9:47; John 3:5; Acts 14:22). The condition for entering in every case is faith alone. Selective obedience does not demonstrate a proper faith attitude to God, the attitude John and Jesus called for when they said, "Repent."
"I have always felt that Matthew 5:20 was the key to this important sermon . . . The main theme is true righteousness. The religious leaders had an artificial, external righteousness based on Law. But the righteousness Jesus described is a true and vital righteousness that begins internally, in the heart. The Pharisees were concerned about the minute details of conduct, but they neglected the major matter of character. Conduct flows out of character." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:21.]
This pericope deals with various attitudes toward the Law: destroying it or fulfilling it (Matthew 5:17), and doing it and teaching it (Matthew 5:19).
Jesus proceeded to clarify exactly what the law did require in Matthew 5:21-48. [Note: William M. McPheeters, "Christ As an Interpreter of Scripture," The Bible Student 1 (April 1900):223-29.] He selected six subjects. He was not contrasting His interpretation with Moses’ teaching but with the interpretation of the scribes and Pharisees. He was expounding the meaning of the text that God originally intended. He was doing Bible exposition.
In each of these six cases Jesus first related the popular understanding of the Old Testament, the view advocated by the religious teachers of His day. In this verse He introduced it by saying, "You have heard that the ancients were told" (NASB). This was an expression that the rabbis of Jesus’ day used when they referred to the teachings of the Old Testament. [Note: D. Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, p. 55.]
Jesus quoted the sixth commandment and combined it with Leviticus 19:17. The "court" in view was the civil court in Israel.
God’s will concerning murder 5:21-26
Jesus contrasted His correct interpretation with the false common understanding of this command. His, "But I say to you" (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:28; Matthew 5:32; Matthew 5:34; Matthew 5:39; Matthew 5:44) was not a common rabbinic saying, though it did have some parallels in rabbinic Judaism. [Note: Hagner, p. 111.] It expressed an authority that surprised His hearers (cf. Matthew 7:29). Thus Jesus "fulfilled" or established the meaning of the passages to which He referred (Matthew 5:17). [Note: See Roger D. Congdon, "Did Jesus Sustain the Law in Matthew 5?" Bibliotheca Sacra 135:538 (April-June 1978):125.]
"Jesus implicitly claimed deity in at least twelve ways. He claimed three divine rights: (1) to judge mankind, (2) to forgive sins, and (3) to grant eternal life. He declared that (4) his presence was God’s presence as well as the presence of God’s kingdom and that (5) the attitude people took toward him would determine their eternal destiny. He (6) identified his actions with God’s actions, (7) taught the truth on his own authority, and (8) performed miracles on his own authority. He (9) appeared to receive worship or obeisance. He (10) assumed that his life was a pattern for others, a ’divinely authoritative form of life.’ He (11) applied to himself OT texts that describe God and (12) in several parables indirectly identified himself with a father or king who represents God." [Note: Daniel Doriani, "The Deity of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:3 (September 1994):339-40.]
When God gave the sixth commandment, He did not just want people to refrain from murdering one another. He wanted them to refrain from the hatred that leads to murder. Murder is only the external manifestation of the internal problem. The scribes and Pharisees dealt only with the external act. Jesus showed that God’s concern ran much deeper. Refraining from homicide does not constitute a person righteous in God’s sight. Inappropriate anger renders one subject to judgment at God’s heavenly court "since no human court is competent to try a case of inward anger." [Note: Stott, p. 85.]
Jesus often used the term "brother" in the sense of a brother disciple. The term usually occurs on Jesus’ lips in the first Gospel, and Matthew recorded Him using it extensively. The relationship is an extension of the fact that God is the Father of believing disciples. Thus all believers are brothers in the spiritual sense. The early church’s use of the term reflects that of Jesus.
"Raca" is the transliteration of the Aramaic reka. It means "imbecile," "numbskull," or "blockhead." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 149.] The "supreme court" (NASB) or "Sanhedrin" (NIV; Gr. synedrion) probably refers to God’s highest court in view of the context, not the Jewish Sanhedrin of Jesus’ day. "Fool" (Gr. mores) is another similar term that a person who felt hatred for even his brother might use. He, too, would be in danger of divine judgment. Jesus said the offender is guilty enough to suffer eternal judgment, not that he will. Whether he will suffer eternal judgment or not depends on his relationship to God. There does not seem to be any gradation or progression in these three instances of anger. Jesus simply presented three possible instances with an assortment of terms and assured His hearers that in all cases there was violation of God’s will that could incur severe divine torment (cf. Matthew 3:12).
The word "hell" translates the Greek geenna, which is a transliteration of the Hebrew ge hinnom or "Valley of Hinnom." This was the valley south of Jerusalem where a fire burned continually consuming the city’s refuse. This place became an illustration of the place where the wicked will suffer eternal torment. [Note: See Hans Scharen, "Gehenna in the Synoptics," Bibliotheca Sacra 149:595 (July-September 1992):324-37; 149:596 (October-December 1992):454-57.] Matthew recorded 11 references to it.
Jesus’ demonstrations of anger were appropriate for Him since He was God, and God gets angry. His anger was always righteous, unlike the anger that arises from unjustified hatred. It is possible for humans to be angry and not sin (Ephesians 4:26). Here Jesus was addressing unjustifiable anger that can lead to murder (cf. Colossians 3:8).
Jesus gave two illustrations of anger, one involving temple worship (Matthew 5:23-24) and the other legal action (Matthew 5:25-26). Both deal with situations in which the hearer is the cause of another person’s anger rather than the offended party. Why did Jesus construct the illustrations this way? Perhaps He did so because we are more likely to remember situations in which we have had some grievance against another person than those in which we have simply offended another. Moreover Jesus’ disciples should be as sensitive to making other people hate them as they are about hating others.
The offerer would present his offering at the brazen altar in the temple courtyard. It is more important to lift the load of hate from another brother’s heart than to engage in a formal act of worship. Ritual worship was very important to the scribes and Pharisees, and to all the Jews, but Jesus put internal purity first, even the internal purity of another person (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). Reconciliation is more important than worship also in that it must come first.
The second illustration stresses the importance of making things right quickly. Two men walking together to the court where their disagreement would receive judicial arbitration should try to settle their grievance out of court (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:1-11). The offender should remove the occasion for the other man’s anger and hatred quickly. Otherwise the judge might make things difficult for both of them. The mention of going from judge to officer to prison pictures the red tape and complications involved in not settling out of court. Likewise God will make it difficult for haters and those who provoke hate in others if they come before Him with unresolved interpersonal disagreements. Malicious anger is evil, and God’s judgment is certain. Therefore disciples must do everything they can to end inappropriate anger quickly (cf. Ephesians 4:26).
Jesus proceeded to clarify God’s intended meaning in the seventh commandment (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18). The rabbis in Jesus’ day tended to look at adultery as wrong because it involved stealing another man’s wife. They viewed it as an external act. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 151.] Jesus, on the other hand, saw it as wrong because it made the lustful individual impure morally, an internal condition. The Greek word gyn can mean either wife or woman. Certainly the spirit of the command would prohibit lusting after any woman, not just a married woman. Fantasized immorality is just as sinful to God as physical immorality (cf. Exodus 20:17). The fact that fornication that takes place in the brain has fewer bad consequences than fornication that takes place on a bed does not mitigate this truth.
God’s will concerning adultery 5:27-30
As before (Matthew 5:23-26), two illustrations aid our understanding. The eye is the member of the body initially responsible for luring us into an immoral thought or deed (cf. Numbers 15:39; Proverbs 21:4; Ezekiel 6:9; Ezekiel 18:12; Ezekiel 20:8). The right eye is the best eye, the common metaphorical use of the "right" anything. A literal interpretation of this verse would have Jesus crippling every member of the human race. Should not one pluck out his left eye as well? Furthermore disposing of the eye would not remove the real cause of the offense, a lustful heart. Clearly this is a hyperbolic statement designed to make a point by overstatement. The early church father Origen took it literally and castrated himself. Jesus’ point was that His disciples must deal radically with sin. We must avoid temptation at all costs. Clearly this is not a condition for salvation but for discipleship. [Note: See Robert N. Wilkin, "Self-Sacrifice and Kingdom Entrance: Matthew 5:29-30," The Grace Evangelical Society News 4:8 (August 1989):2; 4:9 (September 1989):2-3.]
The reference to cutting off the "right hand" (Matthew 5:30) is also metaphorical, but how symbolic is it? Some take the "right hand" as a euphemism for the penis (cf. Isaiah 57:8). [Note: Brown, Driver, and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, s.v. "yad," p. 390; S. T. Lachs, "Some Textual Observations on the Sermon on the Mount," Jewish Quarterly Review 69 (1978):108-9.] This view has the context in its favor. Others take the right hand literally and view it as the instrument of stealing another man’s wife. "Hell" is Gehenna, the final place of punishment for all the wicked. [Note: Scharen, p. 337.] Its mention here does not imply that believers can go there. It represents the worst possible destiny. It, too, is hyperbole. The loss of any body part is preferable to the loss of the whole person is the point.
"Imagination is a God-given gift; but if it is fed dirt by the eye, it will be dirty. All sin, not least sexual sin, begins with the imagination. Therefore what feeds the imagination is of maximum importance in the pursuit of kingdom righteousness (compare Philippians 4:8). Not everyone reacts the same way to all objects. But if (Matthew 5:28-29) your eye is causing you to sin, gouge it out; or at very least, don’t look . . .!" [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 151.]
God’s will concerning divorce 5:31-32
Not only is lust the moral equivalent of adultery, but so is divorce. The connective de ("and," NASB) that begins Matthew 5:31 ties this section in very closely with the one that precedes (Matthew 5:27-30). In Israel a man divorced his wife simply by giving her a written statement indicating that he divorced her (cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4). It was a domestic matter, not something that went through the courts, and it was quite common. In most cases a divorced woman would remarry another husband, often for her own security. Jesus said that divorcing a woman virtually amounted to causing her to commit adultery since she would normally remarry. Likewise any man who married a divorced woman committed adultery with her because in God’s eyes she was still married to her first husband. Jesus’ explanation would have helped his hearers realize the ramifications of a decision that many of them viewed as insignificant, namely, divorcing one’s wife. Women did not have the right to divorce their husbands in ancient Israel.
We could also add the exception clause in the last part of Matthew 5:32 since that seems to have been Jesus’ intention (cf. Mark 10:12). He probably did not repeat it because He did not want to stress the exceptional case but to focus on the seriousness of the husband’s decision to divorce his wife. Jesus had more to say about divorce in Matthew 19:3-9 (cf. Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18).
". . . Jesus introduces the new and shocking idea that even properly divorced people who marry a second time may be thought of as committing adultery. The OT, allowing divorce, does not regard those who remarry as committing adultery. . . . Marriage was meant to establish a permanent relationship between a man and a woman, and divorce should therefore not be considered an option for the disciples of the kingdom." [Note: Hagner, p. 125.]
Some interpreters limit fornication ("unchastity," "immorality," Gr. porneia) to unfaithfulness during the betrothal period, the year between a Jewish couple’s engagement and the consummation of their marriage. [Note: For discussion of this view, see David W. Jones, "The Betrothal View of Divorce and Remarriage," Bibliotheca Sacra 165:657 (January-March 2008):68-85.] The problem with this view is that porneia has a broader range of meaning than this.
Jesus next gave a condensation of several commands in the Old Testament that forbade taking an oath, invoking the Lord’s name to guarantee the oath, and then breaking it (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 5:11; Deuteronomy 6:3; Deuteronomy 23:21-23). God has always intended simple truthfulness in speech as well as lifelong marriage. The rabbis had developed an elaborate stratification of oaths. They taught that swearing by God’s name was binding, but swearing by heaven and earth was not binding. Swearing toward Jerusalem was binding, but swearing by Jerusalem was not. In some cases they even tried to deceive others by appealing to various authorities in their oaths. [Note: Hogg and Watson, p. 54.] Jesus was not talking about "cursing" here but using oaths to affirm that what one said was true.
God’s will concerning oaths 5:33-37
Jesus cut through all the casuistry by saying that if oaths that God intended to guarantee truthfulness in speech become the instruments of deceit, it is better to avoid oaths altogether. Again Jesus got below the external act to the real issue at stake that had been God’s concern from the beginning. The way to dispense with false swearing is to avoid all swearing. Righteous people should not need to confirm their statements with an appeal to a higher authority. Their word should be enough (cf. James 5:12).
Jesus explained that whatever a person may appeal to in an oath has some connection with God. Therefore any oath is an appeal to God indirectly if not directly. To say that one could swear by one’s own head, for example, and then break his vow, because he did not mention God’s name, was shortsighted.
Jesus’ "yes, yes," and "no, no," is not the exact terminology He wanted His disciple to use. If He meant that, He would be doing just what He was correcting the rabbis for doing. Rather it means a simple yes or no. The NIV translation gives the sense: "Simply let your ’Yes’ be ’Yes,’ and your ’No,’ ’No.’" The "evil" at the end of the verse may either be a reference to the devil or it may mean that to go beyond Jesus’ teaching on this point involves evil.
Some very conscientious believers have taken Jesus’ words literally and have refused to take an oath of any kind, even in court. However, Jesus’ point was the importance of truthfulness. He probably would not have objected to the use of oaths as a formality in legal proceedings.
"They [oaths in court or oaths of political allegiance] should not be needed, but in practice they serve a remedial purpose in a world where the ethics of the kingdom of heaven are not always followed. Refusal to take a required oath can in such circumstances convey quite the wrong impression." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 216.]
The Bible records that God Himself swore, not because He sometimes lies but to impress His truthfulness on people (Genesis 9:9-11; Luke 1:73). Jesus testified under oath (Matthew 26:63-64), as did Paul (Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:10).
"It must be frankly admitted that here Jesus formally contravenes OT law: what it permits or commands (Deuteronomy 6:13), he forbids. But if his interpretation of the direction in which the law points is authoritative, then his teaching fulfills it." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 154.]
Retaliation was common in the ancient Near East. Frequently it led to vendettas in which escalating vengeance continued for generations. Israel’s "law of retaliation" (Lat. lex talionis) limited retaliation to no more than equal compensation (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 19:21). The Jews tended to view the law of retaliation as God’s permission to take vengeance. That was never God’s intention (cf. Leviticus 19:18). He simply wanted to protect them from excessive vengeance and to curb vendettas. In some situations the Jews could pay to avoid the vengeance of their brethren (Exodus 21:26-27). By the first century, monetary reparations had replaced physical maiming as the penalty for physical injury. [Note: Craig Keener, Matthew, p. 127.] As God had permitted divorce because of the hardness of man’s heart, so He permitted a certain amount of retaliation under the Mosaic Law. However, His intention was that His people would avoid divorce and retaliation entirely. He wanted us to love one another and to put the welfare of others before our own.
God’s will concerning retaliation 5:38-42
Jesus first expounded God’s intention regarding retaliation. Essentially He said: When evil people do you wrong, do not resist them. "Resist" (Gr. anthistemi) means to defend oneself, not to take aggressive action against someone, as the following verses illustrate. When evil people do bad things to us, Jesus’ disciples should accept the injustice without taking revenge. [Note: Stott, p. 105.] Implicit in this view are Old Testament promises that God will take care of the righteous. Therefore to accept injustice without retaliating expresses trust that God will faithfully care for His own. The Old Testament taught that the Jews were to leave vengeance to God (Leviticus 19:17-18; Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalms 94:1; Proverbs 20:22; Proverbs 24:29). Discerning Jews realized this in Jesus’ day. [Note: Plummer, p. 85.] Paul resisted (Gr. anthistemi) Peter (Galatians 2:11) out of love for the gospel and his fellow believers, not out of selfishness. We should stand up for what is right and for the rights of others, but we should trust God to stand up for us.
Jesus gave four illustrations to clarify what He meant. In the first (Matthew 5:39 b), a disciple suffers an unjustified physical attack on his or her person. What is that one to do? He or she should not injure the aggressor in return but should absorb the injury and the insult. He should even be ready to accept the same attack again. In Jesus’ illustration the disciple gets slapped on the right cheek. Under normal conditions this would come from the back of a right-handed person’s right hand. Such a slap was an insult more than an injury. However, we should probably not make too much of that point. The point is that disciples should accept insult and injury without retaliating. In Jesus "honor shame" culture such a sacrifice was perhaps greater than it is for us today in the West.
Second, if someone wanted to extract as much as the disciple’s undergarment for some real or imagined offense, the disciple was to part with it willingly (Matthew 5:40). The disciple should not resist the evil antagonist’s action. Moreover he or she should be ready and willing to part with his or her outer garment as well. Under Mosaic Law, a person’s outer cloak was something he or she had an almost inalienable right to retain (Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:13). This is another example of hyperbole. Jesus did not intend His disciples to walk around naked but to be generous even toward enemies even if it meant parting with essential possessions.
The third illustration requires some background knowledge of customs in New Testament times to appreciate (Matthew 5:41). The Romans sometimes commandeered civilians to carry the luggage of military personnel, but the civilian did not have to carry the luggage for more than one Roman mile. [Note: W. Hatch, Essays in Biblical Greek, pp. 37-38.] This imposition exasperated and infuriated many a proud Jew. Again the disciple is not only to refrain from retaliating but even to refrain from resisting this personal injustice. Jesus advocated going an extra mile. The disciple is to respond to unjustified demands by giving even more than the adversary asks, and he or she is to return good for evil.
Fourth, Jesus told His disciples to give what others request of them, assuming it is within their power to do so (Matthew 5:41). This applies to loans as well as gifts (cf. Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:37; Deuteronomy 23:19). A willing and generous spirit is implicit in this command (cf. Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Psalms 37:26; Psalms 112:5). This does not mean we should give all our money away to individuals and institutions that ask for our financial assistance (cf. Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 17:18; Proverbs 22:26). The scene in view in all these illustrations and in all of this teaching is one individual dealing with another individual. Personal wrongs are in view, not social or governmental crimes. [Note: See Hagner, p. 131.]
". . . Jesus is here talking to his disciples, and speaking of personal relations: he is not laying down moral directives for states and nations, and such issues as the work of police or the question of a defensive war are simply not in his mind." [Note: Hunter, A Pattern . . ., pp. 57-58.]
There is a progression in these illustrations from simply not resisting to giving generously to those who make demands that tempt us to retaliate against them. Love must be the disciple’s governing principle, not selfishness. [Note: See G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 58.]
Some conscientious believers have taken Jesus’ instructions about resisting aggression literally and refuse to defend themselves in any situation either as pacifists or as advocates of non-resistance. However the spirit of the law, which Jesus clarified, did not advocate turning oneself into a doormat. It stressed meeting hatred with positive love rather than hatred. Though Jesus allowed His enemies to lead Him as a lamb to the slaughter, He did not cave in to every hostile attack from the scribes and Pharisees. Likewise, Paul claimed his Roman citizenship rather than suffering prolonged attack by the Jews. Disciples may stand up for their rights, but when we are taken advantage of we should always respond in love.
Jesus quoted the Old Testament again (Leviticus 19:18), but this time He added a corollary that the rabbis, not Moses, provided. Nowhere does the Old Testament advocate hating one’s enemies. However this seemed to many of the Jewish religious teachers to be the natural opposite of loving one’s neighbors. [Note: Morison, p. 83.]
God’s will concerning love 5:43-47 (cf. Luke 6:27-36)
Jesus answered the popular teaching by going back to the Old Testament that commanded love for enemies (Exodus 23:4-5). Love (Gr. agapao) here probably includes emotion as well as action in view of Jesus’ previous emphasis on motives.
"To love one’s enemies, though it must result in doing them good (Luke 6:32-33) and praying for them (Matthew 5:44), cannot justly be restricted to activities devoid of any concern, sentiment, or emotion. Like the English verb ’to love,’ agapao ranges widely from debased and selfish actions to generous, warm, costly self-sacrifice for another’s good. There is no reason to think the verb here in Matthew does not include emotion as well as action." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 158.]
The word "enemies" also has a wide meaning and includes any individuals who elicit anger, hatred, and retaliation from the disciple.
Prayer for someone’s welfare is one specific manifestation of love for that person.
"Jesus seems to have prayed for his tormentors actually while the iron spikes were being driven through his hands and feet; indeed the imperfect tense suggests that he kept praying, kept repeating his entreaty, ’Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34). If the cruel torture of crucifixion could not silence our Lord’s prayer for his enemies, what pain, pride, prejudice or sloth could justify the silencing of ours?" [Note: Stott, p. 119. Cf. Acts 7:60.]
Some liberal interpreters have concluded that Jesus meant that we become God’s sons by loving and praying for friend and foe alike. However, consistent with other Scriptural revelation, Jesus did not mean His disciples can earn their salvation (Matthew 5:45). Rather by loving and praying for our enemies we show that we are God’s sons because we do what He does.
"They show their parentage by their moral resemblance to the God who is Love . . ." [Note: Plummer, p. 88.]
Theologians refer to the blessings God bestows on His enemies as well as on His children as common grace. Disciples, as their Father, should do good to all people as well as to their brethren (Galatians 6:10).
Loving one’s enemies is something God will reward (Matthew 5:46). This should be an added inducement to love the antagonistic. Tax gatherers were local Jews who collected taxes from their countrymen for the Romans. Matthew was one of them. The whole Roman system of collecting taxes was very corrupt, and strict Jews viewed these tax collectors as both traitorous and unclean because of their close association with Gentiles. They were among the most despised people in Palestine. However even they, Jesus said, loved those who loved them.
Proper salutations were an evidence of courtesy and respect. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 159.] However if Jesus’ disciples only gave them to their brethren, they did no more than the Gentiles, most of whom were pagans.
Jesus’ summary of His disciples’ duty 5:48
This verse summarizes all of Jesus’ teaching about the Old Testament’s demands (Matthew 5:21-47). It puts in epigrammatic form the essential nature of the "greater righteousness" of Matthew 5:20 that Jesus illustrated above. "Therefore" identifies a conclusion.
"Perfect" (Gr. teleios) often occurs in a relative sense in the New Testament, and translators sometimes render it "mature" (e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:13; Hebrews 5:14; Hebrews 6:1). However it also means perfect. In this context it refers to perfect regarding conformity to God’s requirements, which Jesus just clarified. He wanted His disciples to press on to perfect righteousness, a goal that no sinful human can attain but toward which all should move (cf. Matthew 5:3; Matthew 6:12). They should not view righteousness as simply external, as the scribes and Pharisees did, but they should pursue inner moral purity and love. This is only appropriate since their heavenly Father is indeed perfect.
"Perfection here refers to uprightness and sincerity of character with the thought of maturity in godliness or attaining the goal of conformity to the character of God. While sinless perfection is impossible, godliness, in its biblical concept, is attainable." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 51.]
Good children in the ancient East normally imitated their fathers. Jesus advocated the same of His disciples. In giving this summary command Jesus was alluding to Leviticus 19:2, which He modified slightly in view of Deuteronomy 18:13.
"In Jesus’ perspective, the debates concerning law and tradition are all to be resolved by the proper application of one basic principle, or better, of a single attitude of the heart, namely, utter devotion to God and radical love of the neighbor (Matthew 5:48; Matthew 22:37-40)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 63.]
While we are definitely to strive for perfection in our conformity to the will of God (cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16), we must beware of the perils associated with perfectionism. Striving for an unattainable goal is difficult for anyone, but it is particularly frustrating for people with obsessive-compulsive personalities, people who tend to be perfectionists. In one sense a perfectionist is someone who strives for perfection, but in another sense it is someone who is obsessed with perfection. Such a person, for example, constantly cleans up his or her environment, straightens things that are not exactly straight, and corrects people for even minor mistakes. This type of striving for perfection is not godly. God does is not constantly "on the backs" of people who are less than perfect, and we should not be, either other people or ourselves. In fact, He gives us a great deal of "space" and is patient with us, allowing us to correct our own mistakes before He steps in to do so (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:31). It is possible for disciples of Jesus to become so obsessed with our own holiness that we shift our focus from Christ to ourselves. Rather we should keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3) more than on ourselves and on being perfect.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 5". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18