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Bible: What Does Matthew 5:1-20 Teach Us About the "Sermon on the Mount"?

Updated on August 20, 2016

The Sermon on the Mount


Meaning of "Beatitude"

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Matthew 5:1-20: The Sermon on the Mount

The Beatitudes

Seated before multitudes of followers and the curious (v. 1), Jesus delivers His Sermon on the Mount (captured for posterity in chapters 5-7), starting with the “Beatitudes.”

The "Beatitudes" consists of wisdom instruction that begins with the word “Blessed” (meaning “happy”) for each individual saying [vv. 3-11].

[Sitting down and allowing one’s disciples to gather around had become a traditional method of teaching.

The wonderful acoustics of the mountainside allowed the multitude to hear Him though He spoke from one place without a microphone.]

The Kingdom of Heaven


His first dictum pronounces happiness and an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven upon the “poor in spirit” (v. 3).

These individuals do not necessarily have little financial means; regardless of their worldly status, they nevertheless perceive themselves to be spiritually poor.

Such people recognize their personal neediness; they acknowledge that their spirit—that part of them that can have a relationship to God, the One who gave them their spirit—is empty, that it lacks what the kingdom requires.

Only one who first understands that he/she is not self-sufficient and then comes to God for a “salvation fill-up” will become a resident of His kingdom.

Second, those who mourn (presumably over their sinfulness) God will comfort by turning their sadness into blessed joy (v. 4).

People who lack a contrite heart neither have any desire for divine strengthening, nor experience any “felt need” for it.

Third, the earth (land, kingdom) will someday belong to the meek (v. 5).

Israel’s inheriting of the “Land” remains one of the original promises that God made to Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:1-3).

Only those who exhibit a meek character qualify for this privilege.

Contrary to the common misconception that meekness is equivalent to weakness, the trait is actually “strength under control”; Moses exemplified such a quality (cf. Num. 12:3).

[A. W. Tozer’sThe Pursuit of God contains an excellent chapter that brings to light the true attitudes and actions of the meek man.

See the chapter “Meekness and Rest,” 109-16.]

Fourth, those people who greatly desire to live righteously and see the same behavior manifested universally will witness this condition one day in Messiah’s earthly kingdom (v. 6).

This desire, akin to the pangs of hunger and thirst, God will fulfill on earth and on into eternity (cf. I Cor. 15:24-28).

Fifth, those who withhold punishment from those who deserve it will experience the same treatment from God for their misdeeds (v. 7).

[Another interpretation may fit the context better.

Those who show compassion, kindness, or pity toward the helpless or guilty will experience it from others (or God) when they especially need it.]

Sixth, Jesus considers “blessed” those who exhibit the purity of their thought life (heart) through their actions.

He counts this quality as a prerequisite for “seeing” God both in this life and in eternity (v. 8).

“Purity” manifests itself negatively as a lack of coarseness, vulgarity, and profanity in word and deed, and positively as the exhibition of an abundance of the “fruit of the Spirit” (cf. Gal.5:22-3).

“Seeing” God appears to be a spiritual apprehension: knowledge of God that enables progressive sanctification to take place (cf. 1 John 3:1-3).

Seventh, the ability to mediate reconciliation between warring parties characterizes “sons of God” (v. 9).

“Sons of God” become such by faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Gal.3:26).

As the Son of God, He eternally functions as the Mediator between God and man (cf. 1Tim. 2:5), the Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1), and the great High Priest (Heb.7:25-27).

He has made reconciliation for the “sons of God” through His blood (cf. Rom.5:10).

As imitators of Christ, believers should seek to be God’s instruments in His ministry of reconciliation (cf. II Cor.5:18-20).

Eighth, persecution for the cause of Christ (righteousness) commonly occurs against faithful believers (v. 10).

[Interestingly, this verse ends as the first one began—“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”—as if to signal completion.]

Jesus, however, continues this theme of persecution through verse twelve, noting the type of persecution His disciples would experience (verbal, v. 11) as well as the kind of attitude they should exhibit in response to this evil treatment.

Knowing that they will receive a reward in the kingdom for their faithfulness and that they do not comprise the first believers to experience such harshness should support them through the trial (v. 12).

Two Metaphors

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Christians: "The Salt of the Earth" and "The Light of the World"

Christ now employs two metaphors to express to His disciples the kind of impact that they should have on the unbelieving, watching world.

First, He compares believers to “the salt of the earth” (v. 13).

When salt has potency, it affects its environment in various ways:

(1) it preserves (for example, people apply it to meat to prevent spoilage);

(2) it enhances the flavor of foods; and

(3) it makes people thirsty.

The Lord points out that if salt loses its flavor, it becomes practically useless (“good for nothing”).

In like manner, if believers lose their “saltiness”—that is, their moral purity—they will become of no use to the Lord.

They may even become a hindrance to the progress of the kingdom, because they neither help preserve moral sanity in society, nor add meaning and purpose (flavor) to people’s lives, nor cause unbelievers to desire what they have (i.e., new life, salvation).

Second, Jesus calls believers “the light of the world” (v. 14), illustrating this metaphor’s meaning with two examples, and finally exhorts His people to make the right choice (vv. 14-16).

He next relates to them a simple observation—a people (understood) cannot hide their city set upon a hill—, implying, of course, that nothing can obscure the city’s lights.

To explain the concept on the family level, Jesus states that people do not hide lamps, but put them on stands where they could fulfill their purpose and do some good (“give light to all who are in the house”) [v. 15].

Likewise, Christians should not hide their “light” (knowledge of Christ, the truth) but make manifest its fruit (i.e., good works that originate with their heavenly Father), so that God might receive the honor due Him (v. 16).


Christ Fulfilled the Law and the Prophets

Now Jesus engages in correction of popular thought regarding His doctrine.

Contrary to the contentious teachings of contemporary Jewish leaders who argued that He was destroying the true meaning of the ancient writings (the Law [torah] and the Prophets [nebiim], the Lord instructs His audience that He had come to fulfill the prophecies of the Older Testament (v. 17).

Then making a solemn oath (“Assuredly, I say to you”), Christ asserts that every yodh (“jot”)—the smallest consonant of the Hebrew alphabet—and every tittle –the extension or protrusion of several Hebrew letters—will find literal fulfillment (v. 18).

To emphasize the crucial nature of the teaching of God’s commandments, Jesus sets up a contrast between an instructor who breaks the least rule and leads others to do likewise, and one who keeps the Law as an individual and as a teacher.

The former will be least in the kingdom of heaven, while the latter will be great (v. 19).

Yet He also points out that one’s “practice of religion” (Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 13) must “exceed” that of the Pharisee if one will even enter the kingdom of heaven (v. 20).

[Jesus delineates three positions in relation to the kingdom of heaven:

(1) least;

(2) great; and

(3) shut out of it altogether.

Is the lawbreaking teacher a Pharisee?

If he is, then he is least in the kingdom. His practice constitutes the absolute bottom rung.

What does Jesus mean by “exceed” the Pharisees in righteousness?

Practice what you profess better than they do? How much better does it have to be?

Why does He seemingly emphasize works as a means of entrance?

To what extent is practice of right deeds evidence of right belief?]

© 2012 glynch1


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    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 5 years ago

      You are welcome. I trust that it will continue to help you.

    • ramerican profile image

      ramerican 5 years ago

      Great topic. Thanks for writing on this.