BEGINNING HIS MINISTRY
THE STARTING POINT (Matthew 4:12-17)
For antecedent and parallel events, read John 1:15-51; Luke 3:1-20; Luke 4:14-32, which explain why John the Baptist was imprisoned, and why Jesus left Nazareth. Identify Capernaum on the map, and read up its history in a Bible dictionary since it becomes important as the center of our Lord’s ministry in Galilee. Zabulon and Nephtalim, or Zebulun and Naphtali, we recognize as names of tribes of Israel and locations in Canaan, called after them. Locate them on the map, and compare Isaiah 9:1-2 RV, which is to have a completer fulfillment at the second coming of Christ. The “Kingdom of heaven” He “began to preach” (Matthew 4:17) was that which He came to set up in Israel had the nation received Him. Not a spiritual Kingdom only, but a manifested Kingdom like that of David, wherein righteousness should reign.
THE FIRST FOLLOWERS (4:18-22)
He had met these men before (John 1), and called them to be His disciples. Having believed on Him, they are now called into His service.
THE FIRST WORKS (Matthew 4:23-25)
The teaching was in the synagogues, and the preaching in the open air where the crowds gathered. Note the theme of His preaching, not the gospel of grace which now saves the sinner, but the “gospel of the Kingdom”: the good news that the earthly Kingdom promised to Israel was ready to be set up if they would have it. Later, when His rejection by Israel is confirmed, this gospel ceases to be preached, and the gospel of grace takes its place. The gospel of grace is preached in the present dispensation of the church, but when the church, the body of Christ, is complete, and caught up to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), then the gospel of the Kingdom will be again preached because the Kingdom will be drawing near a second time. The miracles of healing are in connection with the gospel of the Kingdom. That is not to say that there are no such miracles at present, but only that they are peculiar to setting up the earthly Kingdom, and doubtless will be seen again in a marked manner as the day approaches. The Satanic counterfeits of these miracles now in many places indicate the time is at hand.
THE FIRST DISCOURSE (Matthew 5:1)
Beginning here and extending to the close of chapter 7 we have what is called the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1); but we are not to suppose that these words were all spoken at one time, or in their present connection. In comparison with the other Gospels suggests differently. For the purpose of the Holy Spirit in Matthew’s Gospel, however, it was desirable to group them as though they formed a single discourse. Addressing the Jew, he is showing that Jesus is the King who has come to set up His Kingdom, and in these words, chapters 5-7 sets forth at one glance the laws or code of that Kingdom. We must be clear about this. The Sermon on the Mount does not set forth the terms of salvation for sinners. Neither is it the experience which the church will perfectly attain in this age, but is primarily Jewish and pertains to conditions on the earth when the manifested Kingdom of the Messiah is in vogue. It would be wrong to press this too far, and say that the Sermon on the Mount has no application whatever to the Christian church or the times in which we live, for God is the same through all dispensations, and the underlying principles of His government never change. But just how to apply it must be determined in detail, and by the never failing light of the Holy Spirit who has been given to lead the Christian into all the truth (John 16:13).
The first twelve verses, or the Beatitudes, constitute an exordium to the discourse, in which is set forth the characteristics of the heirs of the Kingdom. There are nine beatitudes, and dispensationally viewed, show us Israel, or rather the faithful remnant of Israel, in the tribulation period awaiting the Kingdom. They will be poor in spirit, and shall get the Kingdom. They will mourn and shall be comforted. They will be meek and shall inherit the earth. They will hunger and thirst after righteousness, and shall be filled.
But in an accommodated sense the beatitudes apply to believers in the present age. There is a heavenly side and an earthly side to the Kingdom, and it is only those who are “poor in spirit,” humbling themselves on account of sin and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, who, through the new birth, receive the Kingdom. They who now mourn for their sins are comforted in forgiveness and cleansing through the blood. They who now hunger and thirst after righteousness are filled. We have here a picture of a redeemed and sanctified man, an ideal man whom the Savior is to make actual by saving him from his sin.
For private study or classroom work, it would be desirable to include the whole of the Sermon on the Mount in one lesson, but for the purpose of this commentary, we pause here.
1. Divide this lesson into four parts.
2. Did you read the scripture references for the antecedent or parallel events?
3. Have you looked up Capernaum?
4. Why does Matthew so often quote the Old Testament?
5. What is meant by the “Kingdom of heaven” in this case?
6. What is the distinction between “the gospel of the Kingdom” or “gospel of grace”?
7. What is set forth in the Sermon on the Mount?
8. What is set forth in the beatitudes?
9. What is their historical sense?
10. How do they apply to us in an accommodated sense?
THE CODE OF THE KINGDOM
The King has announced His kingdom at hand, and now declares the laws or code of that Kingdom. These which we began to speak of in the last lesson, have a two-fold application, ultimately to the Kingdom when it shall be set up, and approximately and in an accommodated sense to the Christian at present. Except at the first of these is kept in mind, confusion and uncertainty must attend the interpretation.
We have two figurative descriptions of disciples, “Salt” and “Light” (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt is a preservative, and true Christian disciples counteract worldly corruption. They are the light of the world whose conduct is to reflect the Savior. These two descriptions are a text for what follows, which shows how the disciple is to preserve the world and shine in it.
We have a statement of Christ’s relation to the law, (Matthew 5:17-20). His mission was not to set aside the Old Testament, but to fill it out, in that He obeyed the law perfectly, and fulfilled in Himself all the prophets had spoken of the Coming One. He also completely revealed the meaning of the Old Testament, which involves the warning of Matthew 5:19, made necessary by what He says in Matthew 5:20.
We have a comparison between righteousness outward and inward (Matthew 5:21-48). The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was outward and ceremonial, that of the Kingdom of God on earth must go deeper. The spirit of murder is anger (Matthew 5:21-22, compared with 1 John 3:15). Raca (a word of contempt) uttered against a brother will involve a condemnation by the Sanhedrim, and “thou fool” shall subject the guilty one to “hell fire” when the Kingdom is on earth. In the meantime these penalties show us God’s estimate of sin now and always, and intensify our thanksgiving for the salvation we have in Christ.
As anger is the spirit of murder, so a lustful look is adultery (Matthew 5:27-30). It were better to be blind than be guilty of it. The Greek word for hell is Gehenna, the place in the valley of Hinnom where human sacrifices were formerly offered and which is used in Scripture as identical with “the lake of fire.” Divorce is linked with adultery, and becomes adultery under the circumstances indicated (Matthew 5:31-32). The command against swearing (Matthew 5:33-37) does not forbid legal oaths, but profanity, which includes expletives common in everyday speech. Retaliation (Matthew 5:38-42) is personal, not judicial nor governmental. If the cause were that of another we have no right to do some of the things here commanded, or permit others to do them, but they are clearly within one’s own rights. This is how men will act in the Kingdom, and how they ought to act now. And the absence of such a spirit shows how far we are from God, and what it is to be lost. What would become of us, without a Savior! This leads to the law of love (Matthew 5:43-47) which is as far from human hearts in their natural state as the foregoing. Our example is God (Matthew 5:48), but who has attained to it? And if not, how can we see His face, except as He has in grace made provision for us in His Son?
Following these laws on our relation to others, we have those touching the religious life, i.e., our relations to God almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-4), worship (Matthew 6:5-15), fasting (Matthew 6:16-18), all of which must be done as in the presence of the Father. The “Lord’s Prayer” will be dealt with in Luke.
Next are laws relating more particularly to one’s self trust (Matthew 6:19-34), self-judgment (Matthew 7:1-6), prayer (Matthew 7:7-12), false teachers (Matthew 7:13-20), future reward (Matthew 7:21-23). Under the head of “trust,” note (Matthew 7:22-24), that the eye cannot look to earth and to heaven at the same time; and (Matt. 7:34), that lack of trust is always pessimistic of the future. Under self-judgment, we are not denied privilege, or liberated from the duty, of passing upon the conduct of others and the evil that is in the world, which would be contradictory of Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 and other places; but to defer judgment as to motives, the sources from which such conduct or evil springs. (Romans 14.) To abuse this spirit of restraint, however, and permit evil to remain unjudged, would be to “cast that which is holy unto the dogs.”
Reasons for the Golden Rule (7:12) have been suggested thus: (1) We are to be careful about judging others; (2) we should seek divine wisdom in doing so; and (3) which obtained, would lead us to act in love towards all.
How many foolishly say they live by the Golden Rule! The Bible and experience prove that no one has ever done so except Him who uttered it. And yet it is that by which the man out of Christ elects to be judged! What madness! Some tell us that Christ borrowed this word from the sacred books of the east, but this is folly, for what is found there is merely a negative teaching, while this is positive. What you would not have others do to you, do not to them, is different from doing to others what you would have them do to you.
Under “false teachers,” note that “fruits” (Matthew 7:20) does not necessarily mean open immorality, but the counterfeit of the truth of God. False prophets and teachers are sometimes very attractive in their lives, but their words, rightly understood, are inconsonant with Holy Writ.
The conclusion of this discourse shows our Lord’s mind to be resting on the end of the age, and the incoming of the Kingdom. That is how our study of the Old Testament taught us to interpret the phrase, “in that day” (Matthew 7:22).
1. What is meant by the code of the Kingdom?
2. What two figures of speech describe the relation of disciples to the world?
3. In what sense did Christ fulfill the law and the prophets.t 4. What does Gehenna refer to, and how is it used in Scripture?
5. What kind of retaliation does our Lord refer to?
6. What is meant by “Judge not”?
7. Does any one really live by the Golden Rule?
8. What is meant by the “fruits” of false prophets?
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Gray, James. "Commentary on Matthew 5". The James Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany