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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Matthew 5

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The Sermon on the Mount

A. Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount.

1. (Matthew 5:1) Jesus prepares to teach His disciples.

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.

a. And seeing the multitudes: The previous section mentioned that great multitudes followed Him, coming from many different regions (Matthew 4:25). In response to this, Jesus went up on a mountain.

i. It is wrong to think that Jesus went up on a mountain to remove Himself from the multitudes. It is true that Jesus gave this teaching to His disciples, but this use of the term is probably broad, including many among the great multitudes that followed Him mentioned in Matthew 4:25. By the end of the Sermon on the Mount, people in general heard His message and were amazed (Matthew 7:28).

ii. Luke says that this same basic material was, on a different occasion, spoken to a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and be healed of their diseases (Luke 6:17). Yet, in the beginning of the teaching, Luke writes: Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said (Luke 6:20). The sense of this is much the same as in Matthew; that this sermon was spoken to the disciples of Jesus, but disciples in a broad sense of those who had followed Him and heard Him; not in the narrow sense of only the Twelve.

iii. “Jesus was not monastic in spirit, and He had not two doctrines, one for the many, another for the few, like Buddha. His highest teaching…was meant for the million.” (Bruce)

iv. “A crypt or cavern would have been out of all character for a message which is to be published upon the housetops, and preached to every creature under heaven.” (Spurgeon)

b. When He was seated: This was the common posture for teaching in that culture. It was customary for the teacher to sit and the hearers to stand.

i. “Sitting was the accepted posture of synagogue or school teachers (Luke 4:20; cf. Matthew 13:2; 23:2; 24:3).” (Carson)

ii. Now in Matthew’s record Jesus will speak and teach; it is God speaking but no longer through an inspired human personality like Jeremiah or Isaiah or Samuel; now the truth of God spoke through the exact personality of God.

c. His disciples came to Him: This again probably has in mind a group much larger than the Twelve, who to this point have not been introduced as a group in this Gospel.

i. “He ascends the hill to get away from the crowds below, and the disciples, now a considerable band, gather about Him. Others may not be excluded, but the disciples are the audience proper.” (Bruce)

2. (Matthew 5:2) Jesus begins to teach.

Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

a. Then He opened His mouth: This means that Jesus used his voice in a strong way to teach this crowd. He spoke with energy, projecting His thoughts with earnestness.

i. “It is not superfluous to say that ‘he opened his mouth, and taught them,’ for he had taught them often when his mouth was closed.” (Spurgeon)

ii. “He began to speak to them with freedom, so as the multitude might hear.” (Poole) “Jesus Christ spoke like a man in earnest; he enunciated clearly, and spake loudly. He lifted up his voice like a trumpet, and published salvation far and wide, like a man who had something to say which he desired his audience to hear and feel.” (Spurgeon)

iii. “In Greek, it is used of a solemn, grave and dignified utterance. It was used, for instance, of the saying of an oracle. It is the natural preface to a most weighty saying.” (Barclay)

b. And taught them, saying: What they heard was a message that has long been recognized as the sum of Jesus’ — or anyone’s — ethical teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us how to live.

i. It has been said if you took all the good advice for how to live ever uttered by any philosopher or psychiatrist or counselor, took out the foolishness and boiled it all down to the real essentials, you would be left with a poor imitation of this great message by Jesus.

ii. The Sermon on the Mount is sometimes thought of as Jesus’ “Declaration of the Kingdom.” The American Revolutionaries had their Declaration of Independence. Karl Marx had his Communist Manifesto. With this message, Jesus declared what His Kingdom is all about.

iii. It presents a radically different agenda than what the nation of Israel expected from the Messiah. It does not present the political or material blessings of the Messiah’s reign. Instead, it expresses the spiritual implications of the rule of Jesus in our lives. This great message tells us how we will live when Jesus is our Lord. “In the first century there was little agreement among Jews as to what the messianic kingdom would be like. One very popular assumption was that the Roman yoke would be shattered and there would be political peace and mounting prosperity.” (Carson)

iv. It is important to understand that the Sermon on the Mount does not deal with salvation as such, but it lays out for the disciple and the potential disciple how regarding Jesus as King translates into ethics and daily living.

v. It can’t be proved, but in my opinion, the Sermon on the Mount was Jesus’ “standard” sermon. It was the core of His itinerant message: a simple proclamation of how God expects us to live, contrasting with common Jewish misunderstandings of that life. It may be that when Jesus preached to a new audience, He often preached this sermon or used the themes from it.

vi. Yet we can also regard this as Jesus training the disciples in the message He wanted them to carry to others. It was His message, meant to be passed onto and through them. “In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew shows us Jesus instructing his disciples in the message which was his and which they were to take to men.” (Barclay) In the Gospel of Luke, the material similar to the Sermon on the Mount comes immediately after Jesus chose the Twelve.

vii. Barclay also points out that the verb translated taught is in the imperfect tense, “Therefore it describes repeated and habitual action, and the translation should be: ‘This is what he used to teach them.”

viii. It is clear that the Sermon on the Mount had a significant impact on the early church. The early Christians made constant reference to it and their lives displayed the glory of radical disciples.

B. The Beatitudes: the character of kingdom citizens.

The first portion of the Sermon on the Mount is known as the Beatitudes, which means “The Blessings” but can also be understood as giving the believer his “be — attitudes” — the attitudes he should “be.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus sets forth both the nature and the aspirations of citizens of His kingdom. They have and are learning these character traits.

All of these character traits are marks and goals of all Christians. It is not as if we can major in one to the exclusion of others, as is the case with spiritual gifts. There is no escape from our responsibility to desire every one of these spiritual attributes. If you meet someone who claims to be a Christian but displays and desires none of these traits, you may rightly wonder about their salvation, because they do not have the character of kingdom citizens. But if they claim to have mastered these attributes, you may question their honesty.

1. (Matthew 5:3) The foundation: poverty of spirit.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

a. Blessed: Jesus promised blessing to His disciples, promising that the poor in spirit are blessed. The idea behind the ancient Greek word for blessed is “happy,” but in the truest, godly sense of the word, not in our modern sense of merely being comfortable or entertained at the moment.

i. This same word for blessed — which in some sense means “happy” — is applied to God in 1 Timothy 1:11: according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God. “Makarios then describes that joy which has its secret within itself, that joy which is serene and untouchable, and self-contained, that joy which is completely independent of all the chances and changes of life.” (Barclay)

ii. In Matthew 25:34, Jesus said that on the Day of Judgment He would say to His people, Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. On that day, He will judge between the blessed and the cursed — He both knows and explains what are the requirements for the blessed one. We can also say that no one was ever blessed more than Jesus; He knows what goes into a blessed life.

iii. “You have not failed to notice that the last word of the Old Testament is ‘curse,’ and it is suggestive that the opening sermon of our Lord’s ministry commences with the word ‘Blessed.’” (Spurgeon)

iv. “Note, also, with delight, that the blessing is in every case in the present tense, a happiness to be now enjoyed and delighted in. It is not ‘Blessed shall be,’ but ‘Blessed are.’” (Spurgeon)

b. The poor in spirit: This is not a man’s confession that he is by nature insignificant, or personally without value, for that would be untrue. Instead, it is a confession that he is sinful and rebellious and utterly without moral virtues adequate to commend him to God.

i. The poor in spirit recognize that they have no spiritual “assets.” They know they are spiritually bankrupt. We might say that the ancient Greek had a word for the “working poor” and a word for the “truly poor.” Jesus used the word for the truly poor here. It indicates someone who must beg for whatever they have or get.

ii. Poverty of spirit cannot be artificially induced by self-hatred; the Holy Spirit and our response to His working in our hearts bring it about.

iii. This beatitude is first, because this is where we start with God. “A ladder, if it is to be of any use, must have its first step near the ground, or feeble climbers will never be able to mount. It would have been a grievous discouragement to struggling faith if the first blessing had been given to the pure in heart; to that excellence the young beginner makes no claim, while to poverty of spirit he can reach without going beyond his line.” (Spurgeon)

iv. Everyone can start here; it isn’t first blessed are the pure or the holy or the spiritual or the wonderful. Everyone can be poor in spirit. “Not what I have, but what I have not, is the first point of contact, between my soul and God.” (Spurgeon)

c. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven: Those who are poor in spirit, so poor they must beg, are rewarded. They receive the kingdom of heaven, because poverty of spirit is an absolute prerequisite for receiving the kingdom of heaven, and as long as we harbor illusions about our own spiritual resources, we will never receive from God what we absolutely need to be saved.

i. “The kingdom of heaven is not given on the basis of race, earned merits, the military zeal and prowess of Zealots, or the wealth of a Zacchaeus. It is given to the poor, the despised publicans, the prostitutes, those who are so ‘poor’ they know they can offer nothing and do not try. They cry for mercy and they alone are heard.” (Carson)

ii. “The poor in spirit are lifted from the dunghill, and set, not among hired servants in the field, but among princes in the kingdom…‘Poor in spirit;’ the words sound as if they described the owners of nothing, and yet they describe the inheritors of all things. Happy poverty! Millionaires sink into insignificance, the treasure of the Indies evaporate in smoke, while to the poor in spirit remains a boundless, endless, faultless kingdom, which renders them blessed in the esteem of him who is God over all, blessed for ever.” (Spurgeon)

iii. The call to be poor in spirit is placed first for a reason, because it puts the following commands into perspective. They cannot be fulfilled by one’s own strength, but only by a beggar’s reliance on God’s power. No one mourns until they are poor in spirit; no one is meek towards others until he has a humble view of himself. If you don’t sense your own need and poverty, you will never hunger and thirst after righteousness; and if you have too high a view of yourself, you will find it difficult to be merciful to others.

2. (Matthew 5:4) The godly reaction to poverty of spirit: mourning.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

a. Blessed are those who mourn: The ancient Greek grammar indicates an intense degree of mourning. Jesus does not speak of casual sorrow for the consequences of our sin, but a deep grief before God over our fallen state.

i. “The Greek word for to mourn, used here, is the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language. It is the word which is used for mourning for the dead, for the passionate lament for one who was loved.” (Barclay)

ii. The weeping is for the low and needy condition of both the individual and society; but with the awareness that they are low and needy because of sin. Those who mourn actually mourn over sin and its effects.

iii. This mourning is the godly sorrow that produces repentance to salvation that Paul described in 2 Corinthians 7:10.

b. For they shall be comforted: Those who mourn over their sin and their sinful condition are promised comfort. God allows this grief into our lives as a path, not as a destination.

i. Those who mourn can know something special of God; the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10), a closeness to the Man of Sorrows who was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).

3. (Matthew 5:5) The next step: meekness.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

a. Blessed are the meek: It is impossible to translate this ancient Greek word praus (meek) with just one English word. It has the idea of the proper balance between anger and indifference, of a powerful personality properly controlled, and of humility.

i. In the vocabulary of the ancient Greek language, the meek person was not passive or easily pushed around. The main idea behind the word “meek” was strength under control, like a strong stallion that was trained to do the job instead of running wild.

ii. “In general the Greeks considered meekness a vice because they failed to distinguish it from servility. To be meek towards others implies freedom from malice and a vengeful spirit.” (Carson)

iii. “The meek, who can be angry, but restrain their wrath in obedience to the will of God, and will not be angry unless they can be angry and not sin, nor will be easily provoked by others.” (Poole)

iv. “The men who suffer wrong without bitterness or desire for revenge.” (Bruce)

v. The first two beatitudes are mostly inward; the third deals with how one relates to one’s fellow man. The first two were mainly negative; the third is clearly positive.

vi. To be meek means to show willingness to submit and work under proper authority. It also shows a willingness to disregard one’s own “rights” and privileges. It is one thing for me to admit my own spiritual bankruptcy, but what if someone else does it for me? Do I react meekly? This blessed one is meek:

  • They are meek before God, in that they submit to His will and conform to His Word.
  • They are meek before men, in that they are strong — yet also humble, gentle, patient, and longsuffering.

vii. “Our word meek comes from the old Anglo-Saxon meca, or meccea, a companion or equal, because he who is of a meek or gentle spirit, is ever ready to associate with the meanest of those who fear God, feeling himself superior to none; and well knowing that he has nothing of spiritual or temporal good but what he has received from the mere bounty of God, having never deserved any favour from his hand.” (Clarke)

b. For they shall inherit the earth: We can only be meek, willing to control our desire for our rights and privileges because we are confident God watches out for us, that He will protect our cause. The promise “they shall inherit the earth” proves that God will not allow His meek ones to end up on the short end of the deal.

i. “It looks as if they would be pushed out of the world but they shall not be, ‘for they shall inherit the earth.’ The wolves devour the sheep, yet there are more sheep in the world than there are wolves, and the sheep, continue to multiply, and to feed in green pastures.” (Spurgeon)

ii. “The meek of England, driven by their native land by religious intolerance, have inherited the continent of America.” (Bruce)

iii. “I had only to look upon it, all as the sun shone upon it, and then to look up to heaven, and say, ‘My Father, this is all thine; and, therefore, it is all mine; for I am an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ.’ So, in this sense, the meek-spirited man inherits the whole earth.” (Spurgeon)

iv. Through the first three beatitudes we notice that the natural man finds no happiness or blessedness in spiritual poverty, mourning or meekness. These are only a blessing for the spiritual man, those who are new creatures in Jesus.

4. (Matthew 5:6) The desire of the one who has poverty of spirit, mourning for sin, and meekness: righteousness.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

a. Blessed are those who hunger: This describes a profound hunger that cannot be satisfied by a snack. This is a longing that endures and is never completely satisfied on this side of eternity.

  • This passion is real, just like hunger and thirst are real.
  • This passion is natural, just like hunger and thirst are natural in a healthy person.
  • This passion is intense, just like hunger and thirst can be.
  • This passion can be painful, just like real hunger and thirst can cause pain.
  • This passion is a driving force, just like hunger and thirst can drive a man.
  • This passion is a sign of health, just like hunger and thirst show health.

b. Hunger and thirst for righteousness: We see Christians hungering for many things: power, authority, success, comfort, happiness — but how many hunger and thirst for righteousness?

i. It is good to remember that Jesus said this in a day and to a culture that really knew what it was to be hungry and thirsty. Modern man — at least in the western world — is often so distant from the basic needs of hunger and thirst that they also find it difficult to hunger and thirst after righteousness.

ii. “‘Alas!’ says he, ‘it is not enough for me to know that my sin is forgiven. I have a fountain of sin within my heart, and bitter waters continually flow from it. Oh, that my nature could be changed, so that I, the lover of sin, could be made a lover of that which is good; that I, now full of evil, could become full of holiness!’” (Spurgeon)

iii. How does this hunger and thirst for righteousness express itself?

  • A man longs to have a righteous nature.
  • A man wants to be sanctified, to be made more holy.
  • A man longs to continue in God’s righteousness.
  • A man longs to see righteousness promoted in the world.

iv. “He hungers and thirsts after righteousness. He does not hunger and thirst that his own political party may get into power, but he does hunger and thirst that righteousness may be done in the land. He does not hunger and thirst that his own opinions may come to the front, and that his own sect or denomination may increase in numbers and influence, but he does desire that righteousness may come to the fore.” (Spurgeon)

c. For they shall be filled: Jesus promised to fill the hungry; to fill them with as much as they could eat. This is a strange filling that both satisfies us and keeps us longing for more.

5. (Matthew 5:7) Blessing to the merciful.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

a. Blessed are the merciful: When this beatitude addresses those who will show mercy, it speaks to those who have already received mercy. It is mercy to be emptied of your pride and brought to poverty of spirit. It is mercy to be brought to mourning over your spiritual condition. It is mercy to receive the grace of meekness and to become gentle. It is mercy to be made hungry and thirsty after righteousness. Therefore, this one who is expected to show mercy is one who has already received it.

  • The merciful one will show it to those who are weaker and poorer.
  • The merciful one will always look for those who weep and mourn.
  • The merciful one will be forgiving to others, and always looking to restore broken relationships.
  • The merciful one will be merciful to the character of other people, and choose to think the best of them whenever possible.
  • The merciful one will not expect too much from others.
  • The merciful one will be compassionate to those who are outwardly sinful.
  • The merciful one will have a care for the souls of all men.

b. For they shall obtain mercy: If you want mercy from others — especially God — then you should take care to be merciful to others. Some people wonder why God showed such remarkable mercy to King David, especially in the terrible ways in which he sinned. One reason God gave him such mercy was because David was notably merciful to King Saul, and on several occasions was kind to a very unworthy Saul. In David, the merciful obtained mercy.

6. (Matthew 5:8) Blessing to the pure in heart.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

a. Blessed are the pure in heart: In the ancient Greek, the phrase pure of heart has the idea of straightness, honesty, and clarity. There can be two ideas connected to this. One is of inner moral purity as opposed to the image of purity or ceremonial purity. The other idea is of a single, undivided heart — those who are utterly sincere and not divided in their devotion and commitment to God.

i. “Christ was dealing with men’s spirits, with their inner and spiritual nature. He did this more or less in all the Beatitudes, and this one strikes the very center of the target as he says, not ‘Blessed are the pure in language, or the pure in action,’ much less ‘Blessed are the pure in ceremonies, or in raiment, or in food;’ but ‘Blessed are the pure in heart.’” (Spurgeon)

b. For they shall see God: In this, the pure of heart receive the most wonderful reward. They shall enjoy greater intimacy with God than they could have imagined. The polluting sins of covetousness, oppression, lust, and chosen deception have a definite blinding effect upon a person; and the one pure of heart is freer from these pollutions.

i. “For though no mortal eye can see and comprehend the essence of God, yet these men shall by an eye of faith see and enjoy God in this life, though in a glass more darkly, and in the life to come face to face.” (Poole)

  • The heart-pure person can see God in nature.
  • The heart-pure person can see God in Scripture.
  • The heart-pure person can see God in his church family.

ii. “One day, at an hotel dinner table, I was talking with a brother-minister about certain spiritual things when a gentleman, who sat opposite to us, and who had a serviette tucked under his chin, and a face that indicated his fondness for wine, made, this remark, ‘I have been in this world for sixty years, and I have never yet been conscious of anything spiritual.’ We did not say what we thought, but we thought it was very likely that what he said was perfectly true; and there are a great many more people in the world who might say the same as he did. But that, only proved that he was not conscious of anything spiritual; not that others were not conscious of it.” (Spurgeon)

iii. Ultimately, this intimate relationship with God must become our greatest motivation for purity, greater than a fear of getting caught or a fear of consequences.

7. (Matthew 5:9) Blessing to the peacemakers.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

a. Blessed are the peacemakers: This does not describe those who live in peace, but those who actually bring about peace, overcoming evil with good. One way we accomplish this is through spreading the gospel, because God has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). In evangelism we make peace between man and the God whom they have rejected and offended.

i. “The verse which precedes it speaks of the blessedness of ‘the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ It is well that we should understand this. We are to be ‘first pure, then peaceable.’ Our peaceableness is never to be a compact with sin, or an alliance with that which is evil. We must set our faces like flints against everything which is contrary to God and his holiness. That being in our souls a settled matter, we can go on to peaceableness towards men.” (Spurgeon)

ii. We commonly think of this peacemaking work as being the job of one person who stands between two fighting parties. This may be one way this is fulfilled; but one can also end a conflict and be a peacemaker when they are party to a conflict; when they are the injured or the offending party.

iii. “It is the devil who is a troublemaker; it is God who loves reconciliation and who now through his children, as formerly through his only begotten Son, is bent on making peace.” (Stott)

b. For they shall be called sons of God: The reward of peacemakers is that they are recognized as true children of God. They share His passion for peace and reconciliation, the breaking down of walls between people.

i. He is blessed by God; though the peacemaker may be ill-treated by man, he is blessed by God. He is blessed to be among the children of God, adopted into His family, surrounded by brothers and sisters through the ages.

ii. “Now therefore, although it be, for the most part, a thankless office (with men) to interpose, and to seek to take up strife, to piece those again that are gone aside and asunder… yet do it for God’s sake, and that ye may (as ye shall be after awhile) be called and counted, not meddler and busybodies, but sons of God.” (Trapp)

iii. “And he sometimes putteth himself between the two, when they are very angry, and taketh the blows from both sides, for he knows that so Jesus did, who took the blows from his Father and from us also, that so by suffering in our stead, peace might be made between God and man.” (Spurgeon)

8. (Matthew 5:10-12) The world’s reception of these kind of people: persecution.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

a. Blessed are those who are persecuted: These blessed ones are persecuted for righteousness’ sake and for Jesus’ sake (for My sake), not for their own stupidity or fanaticism. Peter recognized that suffering might come to some Christians for reasons other than their faithfulness to Jesus (1 Peter 4:15-16), and this is not what Jesus addressed here.

i. The character traits described in the Beatitudes are not valued by our modern culture. We don’t recognize or give awards to the “Most Pure in Heart” or “Most Poor in Spirit.” Though our culture doesn’t think much of these character traits, they do describe the character of the citizens of God’s kingdom.

ii. “So the King adds an eighth beatitude, and that a double one, for those who because of their loyalty endure suffering.” (Morgan)

b. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake: Jesus brings insults and spoken malice into the sphere of persecution. We cannot limit our idea of persecution to only physical opposition or torture.

i. In Matthew 5:10 they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; in Matthew 5:11 they are persecuted for the sake of Jesus. This shows that Jesus expected that their righteous lives would be lived after His example, and in honor to Him.

ii. It did not take long for these words of Jesus to ring true to His followers. Early Christians heard many enemies say all kinds of evil against them falsely for Jesus’ sake. Christians were accused of:

  • Cannibalism, because of gross and deliberate misrepresentation of the practice of the Lord’s Supper.
  • Immorality, because of gross deliberate misrepresentation of weekly “Love Feast” and their private meetings.
  • Revolutionary fanaticism, because they believed that Jesus would return and bring an apocalyptic end to history.
  • Splitting families, because when one marriage partner or parent became a Christian there was often change and division in the family.
  • Treason, because they would not honor the Roman gods and participate in emperor worship.

c. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: Literally, we could translate this phrase to say that the persecuted should “leap for joy.” Why? Because the persecuted will have great reward in heaven, and because the persecuted are in good company: the prophets before them were also persecuted.

i. “A strong word of Hellenistic coinage, from to leap much, signifying irrepressible demonstrative gladness…It is the joy of the Alpine climber standing on the top of the snow-clad mountain.” (Bruce)

ii. Trapp names some men who did in fact rejoice and were exceedingly glad when persecuted. George Roper came to the stake leaping for joy, and hugged the stake he was to be burned at like a friend. Doctor Taylor leapt and danced a little as he came to his execution, saying when asked how he was, “Well, God be praised, good Master Sheriff, never better; for now I am almost home…I am even at my Father’s house.” Lawrence Saunders, who with a smiling face embraced the stake of his execution and kissed it saying, “Welcome the cross of Christ, welcome everlasting life.”

iii. Yet the world persecutes these good people because the values and character expressed in these Beatitudes are so opposite to the world’s manner of thinking. Our persecution may not be much compared to others, but if no one speaks evil of you, are these Beatitudes traits of your life?

C. Where Jesus wants His disciples to display their discipleship.

1. (Matthew 5:13) The followers of Jesus should be like salt.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”

a. You are the salt of the earth: Disciples are like salt because they are precious. In Jesus’ day, salt was a valued commodity. Roman soldiers were sometimes paid with salt, giving rise to the phrase “worth his salt.”

b. You are the salt of the earth: Disciples are like salt because they have a preserving influence. Salt was used to preserve meats and to slow decay. Christians should have a preserving influence on their culture.

c. You are the salt of the earth: Disciples are like salt because they add flavor. Christians should be a “flavorful” people.

i. “Disciples, if they are true to their calling, make the earth a purer and more palatable place.” (France)

d. If the salt loses its flavor…it is then good for nothing: Salt must keep its “saltiness” to be of any value. When it is no good as salt, it is trampled under foot. In the same way, too many Christians lose their “flavor” and become good for nothing.

i. “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.” (Carson)

2. (Matthew 5:14-16) The followers of Jesus should be like light.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

a. You are the light of the world: Jesus gives the Christian both a great compliment and a great responsibility when He says that we are the light of the world, because He claimed that title for Himself as He walked this earth (John 8:12 and John 9:5).

i. Light of the world means that we are not only light-receivers, but also light-givers. We must have a greater concern than only ourselves, and we cannot live only to ourselves; we must have someone to shine to, and do so lovingly.

ii. “This title had been given by the Jews to certain of their eminent Rabbis. With great pomposity they spoke of Rabbi Judah, or Rabbi Jochanan, as the lamps of the universe, the lights of the world. It must have sounded strangely in the ears of the Scribes and Pharisees to hear that same title, in all soberness, applied to a few bronzed-faced and horny-handed peasants and fishermen, who had become disciples of Jesus.” (Spurgeon)

iii. Jesus never challenged us to become salt or light. He simply said that we are — and we are either fulfilling or failing that given responsibility.

iv. A key thought in both the pictures of salt and light is distinction. Salt is needed because the world is rotting and decaying, and if our Christianity is also rotting and decaying, it won’t be any good. Light is needed because the world is in darkness, and if our Christianity imitates the darkness, we have nothing to show the world. To be effective we must seek and display the Christian distinctive. We can never affect the world for Jesus by becoming like the world.

v. “Poor world, poor world, it is dark, and gropes in midnight, and it cannot get light except it receives it through us!…To be the light of the world surrounds life with the most stupendous responsibilities, and so invests it with the most solemn dignity. Hear this, ye humble men and women, ye who have made no figure in society, ye are the light of the world. If ye burn dimly, dim is the world’s light, and dense its darkness.” (Spurgeon)

b. Let your light so shine before men: The purpose of light is to illuminate and expose what is there. Therefore light must be exposed before it is of any use — if it is hidden under a basket, it is no longer useful.

i. “Christ knew that there would be strong temptation for the men that had it in them to be lights to hide their light. It would draw the world’s attention to them, and so expose them to the ill will of such as hate the light.” (Bruce)

ii. “Christ never contemplated the production of secret Christians, — Christians whose virtues would never be displayed, — pilgrims who would travel to heaven by night, and never be seen by their fellow-pilgrims or anyone else.” (Spurgeon)

iii. The figures of salt and light also remind us that the life marked by the Beatitudes is not to be lived in isolation. We often assume that those inner qualities can only be developed or displayed in isolation from the world, but Jesus wants us to live them out before the world.

c. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden: Such a city is prominent and can’t be hidden. If you see such a city from a distance, it is hard to take your eyes off of it. In the same way, Jesus wanted the people of His kingdom to live visible lives that attracted attention to the beauty of God’s work in the life.

i. “It is as much as if our Saviour should have said, You had need be holy, for your conversation cannot be hid, any more than a city can that is built upon a hill, which is obvious to every eye. All men’s eyes will be upon you.” (Poole)

ii. “Not far from this little hill [where Jesus taught] is the city Saphet, supposed to be the ancient Bethulia. It stands upon a very eminent and conspicuous mountain, and is SEEN FAR and NEAR. May we not suppose that Christ alludes to this city, in these words of his, A city set on a hill cannot be hid?” (Maundrell, cited in Clarke)

d. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand: The idea of a lampstand gives the sense that we are to be intentional about letting this light shine. Even as lamps are placed higher so their light can be more effective, we should look for ways to let our light shine in greater and broader ways.

i. “What a lamp-stand was found for Christianity in the martyrdoms of the Coliseum, in the public burnings by pagans and papists, and in all the other modes by which believers in Christ were forced into fame.” (Spurgeon)

ii. “The text says that the candle gives light to all that are in the house. Some professors give light only to a part of the house. I have known women very good to all but their husbands, and these they nag from night to night, so that they give no light to them. I have known husbands so often out at meetings that they neglect home, and thus their wives miss the light.” (Spurgeon)

iii. “The venerable Bede, when he was interpreting this text, said that Christ Jesus brought the light of Deity into the poor lantern of our humanity, and then set it upon the candlestick of his church that the whole house of the world might be lit up thereby. So indeed it is.” (Spurgeon)

e. That they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven: The purpose in letting our light so shine by doing good works is so that others will glorify God, not ourselves.

i. “The object of our shining is not that men may see how good we are, nor even see us at all, but that they may see grace in us and God in us, and cry, ‘What a Father these people must have.’ Is not this the first time in the New Testament that God is called our Father? Is it not singular that the first time it peeps out should be when men are seeing the good works of his children?” (Spurgeon)

ii. Jesus pointed to a breadth in the impact of disciples that must have seemed almost ridiculous at the time. How could these humble Galileans salt the earth, or light the world? But they did.

iii. The three pictures together are powerful, speaking of the effect of Jesus’ disciples in the world:

  • Salt is the opposite of corruption, and it prevents corruption from getting worse.
  • Light gives the gift of guidance, so that those who have lost their way can find the path home.
  • A city is the product of social order and government; it is against chaos and disorder.

iv. Bruce comments on this first reference to God as Father: “God, we learn, as Father delights in noble conduct; as human fathers find joy in sons who acquit themselves bravely.”

D. The law and true righteousness.

1. (Matthew 5:17-18) Jesus’ relation to the law.

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”

a. Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets: Jesus here began a long discussion of the law, and wanted to make it clear that He did not oppose what God gave Israel in what we call the Old Testament. He did not come to destroy the word of God, but to free it from the way the Pharisees and Scribes had wrongly interpreted it.

i. “The Jews of Jesus’ day could refer to the Scriptures as ‘the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 7:12, 11:13, 22:40; Luke 16:16; John 1:45; Acts 13:15, 28:23; Romans 3:21); ‘the Law…the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44); or just ‘Law’ (Matthew 5:18; John 10:34, 12:34, 15:25; 1 Corinthians 14:21).” (Carson)

ii. “To show that he never meant to abrogate the law, our Lord Jesus has embodied all its commands in his own life. In his own person there was a nature which was perfectly conformed to the law of God; and as was his nature such was his life.” (Spurgeon)

iii. For assuredly: “Truly (Greek Amen), I say to you is Jesus’ own signature: no other teacher is known to have used it…It serves, like the prophets’ ‘Thus says the LORD’, to mark a saying as important and authoritative.” (France)

b. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill: Jesus wanted to make it clear that He had authority apart from the Law of Moses, but not in contradiction to it. Jesus added nothing to the law except one thing that no man had ever added to the law: perfect obedience. This is certainly one way Jesus came to fulfill the law.

i. Even though He often challenged man’s interpretations of the law (especially Sabbath regulations), Jesus never broke the law of God.

ii. “A greater than the Old Testament, than Moses and the prophets, is here. But the Greater is full of reverence for the institutions and sacred books of His people. He is not come to disannul either the law or the prophets.” (Bruce)

iii. “Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets and they point to him, and he is their fulfillment.” (Carson)

  • Jesus fulfilled the doctrinal teachings of the Law and the Prophets in that He brought full revelation.
  • Jesus fulfilled the predictive prophecy of the Law and the Prophets in that He is the Promised One, showing the reality behind the shadows.
  • Jesus fulfilled the moral and legal demands of the Law and the Prophets in that He fully obeyed them and He reinterpreted them in their truth.
  • Jesus fulfilled the penalty of the Law and the Prophets for us by His death on the cross, taking the penalty we deserved.

iv. The Apostle Paul wrote on this theme: For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4).

v. “In a word, Christ completed the law: 1st. In itself, it was only the shadow, the typical representation, of good things to come; and he added to it that which was necessary to make it perfect, HIS OWN SACRIFICE, without which it could neither satisfy God, nor sanctify men. 2dly. He completed it in himself by submitting to its types with an exact obedience, and verifying them by his death upon the cross. 3dly. He completes this law, and the sayings of his prophets, in his members, by giving them grace to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbour as themselves; for this is all the law and the prophets.” (Clarke)

c. One jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled: The jot and the tittle were small marks in Hebrew writing. Jesus here told us that not only the ideas of the word of God are important, but also the words themselves — even the letters of the words — are important. This shows us how highly God regards His word.

i. The jot refers to yod (י), the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet; it looks like half a letter.

ii. The tittle is a small mark in a Hebrew letter, somewhat like the crossing of a “t” or the tail on a “y.”

  • The difference between bet (ב) and kaf (כ) is a tittle.
  • The difference between dalet (ד) and resh (ר) is a tittle.
  • The difference between vav (ו) and zayin (ז) is a tittle.

iii. “Though all earth and hell should join together to hinder the accomplishment of the great designs of the Most High, yet it shall all be in vain-even the sense of a single letter shall not be lost. The words of God, which point out his designs, are as unchangeable as his nature itself.” (Clarke)

iv. Till all is fulfilled: This is true in a few different senses.

  • It is the assurance that Jesus Himself fulfilled the law by His perfect obedience.
  • It is the assurance that Jesus Himself fulfills the law in us by His perfect obedience (Romans 8:4).
  • It is the assurance that God’s plan will never be set aside until all things are fulfilled at the end of the age.

2. (Matthew 5:19-20) The disciple’s relationship to the law.

“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

a. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments: The commandments are to be obeyed as explained and fulfilled by Jesus’ life and teaching, not as in the legalistic thinking of the religious authorities of Jesus’ day. For example, sacrifice is commanded by the law, but it was fulfilled in Jesus, so we do not run the danger of being called least in the kingdom of heaven by not observing animal sacrifice as detailed in the Law of Moses.

b. Whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven: The Christian is done with the law as a means of gaining a righteous standing before God. One passage that explains this is Galatians 2:21: For if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. However, the law stands as the perfect expression of God’s ethical character and requirements.

i. The law sends us to Jesus to be justified, because it shows us our inability to please God in ourselves. But after we come to Jesus, He sends us back to the law to learn the heart of God for our conduct and sanctification.

c. Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven: Considering the incredible devotion to the law shown by the scribes and Pharisees, how can we ever hope to exceed their righteousness?

i. The Pharisees were so scrupulous in their keeping of the law that they would even tithe from the small spices obtained from their herb gardens (Matthew 23:23). The heart of this devotion to God is shown by modern-day Orthodox Jews. In early 1992, tenants let three apartments in an Orthodox neighborhood in Israel burn to the ground while they asked a rabbi whether a telephone call to the fire department on the Sabbath violated Jewish law. Observant Jews are forbidden to use the phone on the Sabbath, because doing so would break an electrical current, which is considered a form of work. In the half-hour it took the rabbi to decide “yes,” the fire spread to two neighboring apartments.

ii. The life of Paul shows what the righteousness of the Pharisees was like: Acts 23:6, 26:5; Philippians 3:5.

iii. We can exceed their righteousness because our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees in kind, not degree. Paul describes the two kinds of righteousness in Philippians 3:6-9: Concerning the righteousness which is in the law, [I was] blameless. But what things were gain to me, I have counted loss for Christ. But indeed, I count all things loss…that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.

iv. Though the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was impressive to human observation, it could not prevail before God (Isaiah 64:6).

v. So then, we are not made righteous by keeping the law. When we see what keeping the law really means, we are thankful that Jesus offers us a different kind of righteousness.

E. Jesus interprets the law in its truth.

In this section, Jesus shows the true meaning of the law. But this isn’t Jesus against Moses; it is Jesus against false and superficial interpretations of Moses. In regard to the law, the two errors of the scribes and Pharisees were that they both restricted God’s commands (as in the law of murder) and extended the commands of God past His intention (as in the law of divorce).

1. (Matthew 5:21-22) Jesus interprets the law against murder.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”

a. You have heard it said: These people had not really studied the Law of Moses for themselves. All they had was the teaching on the law from the scribes and Pharisees. In this particular matter, the people had heard the scribes and Pharisees teach “You shall not murder.”

i. When Jesus said, “…it was said to those of old,” He reminds us that something isn’t true just because it is old. And if it is not true, its antiquity is no credit to it. “Antiquity disjointed from verity is but filthy hoariness; and deserveth no more reverance than an old lecher, which is so much the more odious, because old.” (Trapp)

b. But I say to you: Jesus shows His authority, and does not rely on the words of previous scribes or teachers. He will teach them the true understanding of the Law of Moses.

i. “What a King is ours, who stretches his scepter over the realm of our inward lusts! How sovereignly he puts it: ‘But, I say unto you’! Who but a divine being has authority to speak in this fashion? His word is law. So it ought to be, seeing he touches vice at the fountain- head, and forbids uncleanness in the heart.” (Spurgeon)

c. Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: The teaching of the scribes and Pharisees (“You shall not murder”) was true enough. Yet they also taught that anything short or murder might be allowed. Jesus corrects this, and makes it clear that it is not only those who commit the act of murder who are in danger of judgment, those who have a murderous intent in the heart are also in danger of the judgment.

i. Jesus exposes the essence of the scribes’ heresy. To them, the law was really only a matter of external performance, never the heart. Jesus brings the law back to the matters of the heart. “The supervision of the Kingdom does not begin by arresting a criminal with blood-red hands; it arrests the man in whom the murder spirit is just born.” (Morgan)

ii. We should emphasize that Jesus is not saying that anger is as bad as murder. It is profoundly morally confused to think that someone who shouts at another person in anger has sinned as badly as someone who murders another person in anger. Jesus emphasized that the law condemns both, without saying that the law says they are the same things. The laws of the people could only deal with the outward act of murder, but Jesus declared that His followers understood that God’s morality addressed not only the end but also the beginning of murder.

iii. Barclay, commenting on the specific ancient Greek word translated angry: “So Jesus forbids for ever the anger which broods, the anger which will not forget, the anger which refuses to be pacified, the anger which seeks revenge.”

iv. “The words ‘without cause’ probably reflect an early and widespread softening of Jesus’ strong teaching. Their absence does not itself prove there is no exception.” (Carson)

c. And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!” shall be in danger of the council: To call someone “Raca” expressed contempt for their intelligence. Calling someone a fool showed contempt for their character. Either one broke the heart of the law against murder, even if it did not commit murder.

i. Commentators have translated the idea behind Raca as “nitwit, blockhead, numbskull, bonehead, brainless idiot.” “Raca is an almost untranslatable word, because it describes a tone of voice more than anything else. Its whole accent is the accent of contempt…It is the word of one who despises another with an arrogant contempt.” (Barclay)

ii. “These are not uncommon or particularly vulgar words…but they suggest an attitude of angry contempt.” (France)

iii. “In these words of Jesus against anger and contempt there is an aspect of exaggeration. They are the strong utterance of one in whom all forms of inhumanity roused feelings of passionate abhorrence. They are of the utmost value as a revelation of character.” (Bruce)

2. (Matthew 5:23-26) More on problem personal relationships.

“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.”

a. Leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way: Jesus considers it far more important to be reconciled to a brother than to perform a religious duty. Jesus says we must first be reconciled to your brother. We can’t think that our service towards the Lord justifies bad relationships with others. We should do what Paul commanded in Romans 12:18: If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

b. Agree with your adversary quickly: Jesus commands us to quickly settle anger and malice with another. When we ignore it or pass it off, it genuinely imprisons us (and you be thrown into prison).

i. Paul expresses the same idea in Ephesians 4:26-27 (do not let the sun go down on your wrath). When we hold on to our anger against another, we then sin — and we give place to the devil.

c. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny: Jesus here spoke with figures of speech. The ultimate penalty one pays at the hands of the judge, the officer, and in the prison could never be satisfied with money (the last penny). Yet the reality suggested by these strong figures of speech reminds us that the suffering of eternity is indeed eternal.

i. “Let our merit-mongers first go to hell for their sins, and stay all eternity there; then afterward, if God will create another eternity, they may have liberty to relate their good works, and call for their wages…A child with a spoon may sooner empty the sea than the damned in hell accomplish their misery.” (Trapp)

3. (Matthew 5:27-28) Jesus interprets the law against adultery.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

a. You have heard that it was said to those of old: Now, Jesus deals with what they had heard regarding the law of adultery. Of course, the teachers of the day taught that adultery itself was wrong. But they applied the law only to the actions, not to the heart.

b. Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart: Jesus explains that it is possible to commit adultery or murder in our heart — or mind, and this also is sin and prohibited by the command against adultery.

i. With the words, “whoever looks at a woman,” Jesus located the origin of lust back to the eyes. This is true according to Biblical statement (such as Job 31:1) and life-experience. “When one seemed to pity a one-eyed man, he told him he had lost one of his enemies, a very thief, that would have stolen away his heart.” (Trapp)

ii. However, it is important to understand that Jesus is not saying that the act of adultery and adultery in the heart are the same thing. More than a few people have been deceived on this point and say, “I’ve already committed adultery in my heart, so I may as well do it in practice.” The act of adultery is far worse than adultery in the heart. Jesus’ point is not to say they are the same things, but to say they are both sin, and both prohibited by the command against adultery.

iii. Some people only keep from adultery because they are afraid to get caught, and in their heart they commit adultery every day. It is good that they keep from the act of adultery, but it is bad that their heart is filled with adultery.

iv. This principle applies to much more than men looking at women. It applies to just about anything we can covet with the eye or mind. “These are the most searching words concerning impurity that ever were uttered.” (Morgan)

c. Adultery… in his heart: Since Jesus considers adultery in the heart a sin, we know what we think about and allow our heart to rest on is based on choice. Many believe they have no choice — and therefore no responsibility — for what they think about, but this contradicts the clear teaching of Jesus here. We may not be able to control passing thoughts or feelings, but we certainly do decide where our heart and mind will rest.

i. “Imagination is a God-given gift; but if it is fed dirt by the eye, it will be dirty. All sin, not the least sexual sin, begins with the imagination. Therefore what feeds the imagination is of maximum importance in the pursuit of kingdom righteousness.” (Carson)

ii. It is also important to distinguish between temptation to sin and sin itself. “The look is supposed to be not casual but persistent, the desire not involuntary or momentary, but cherished with longing.” (Bruce)

iii. Jesus, though tempted in all ways (Hebrews 4:15), endured such temptations but did not yield to such sin. He was able to see women as other than objects for His gratification. “He was tempted in all points as we are, but desire was expelled by the mighty power of a pure love to which every woman was a daughter, a sister, or a betrothed: a sacred object of tender respect.” (Bruce)

4. (Matthew 5:29-30) Our attitude in the war against sin.

“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”

a. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out: Here Jesus uses a figure of speech, and did not speak literally. Sadly, some have taken it so and have mutilated themselves in mistaken efforts in the pursuit of holiness. For example, the famous early Christian named Origen castrated himself on the principle of this passage.

i. The trouble with a literal interpretation is that it does not go far enough! Even if you did cut off your hand or gouge out your eye, you could still sin with your other hand or eye. When all those are gone, you can especially sin with your mind.

ii. “Mutilation will not serve the purpose; it may prevent the outward act, but it will not extinguish desire.” (Bruce)

b. It is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell: Jesus simply stressed the point that one must be willing to sacrifice to be obedient. If part of our life is given over to sin, we must be convinced that it is more profitable for that part of our life to “die” rather than to condemn our whole life.

i. This is the one thing many are unwilling to do, and that is why they remain trapped in sin, or never come to Jesus. They never get beyond a vague wish to be better.

ii. “The salvation of our souls is to be preferred before all things, be they ever so dear and precious to us; and that if men’s ordinary discretion teacheth them for the preservation of their bodies to cut off a particular member, which would necessarily endanger the whole body, it much more teacheth them to part with any thing which will prejudice the salvation of their souls.” (Poole)

5. (Matthew 5:31-32) Jesus interprets the law concerning divorce.

“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce. But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”

a. It has been said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce”: In Jesus’ day, many people interpreted the Mosaic permission for divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1) as granting virtually any reason as grounds for divorce. Some rabbis taught this even extended to allowing a man to divorce his wife if she burnt his breakfast.

i. “Moses insisted upon ‘a writing of divorcement,’ that angry passions might have time to cool and that the separation, if it must come, might be performed with deliberation and legal formality. The requirement of a writing was to a certain degree a check upon an evil habit, which was so engrained in the people that to refuse it altogether would have been useless, and would only have created another crime.” (Spurgeon)

ii. Yet in Jesus’ day, this permission of Deuteronomy 24:1 had become an instrument of cruelty against wives. “The scribes busied themselves solely about getting the bill of separation into due legal form. They did nothing to restrain the unjust caprice of husbands; they rather opened a wider door to licence.” (Bruce)

iii. In that time, the permissible grounds for divorce were debated:

  • School of Shammai: “Restricted the ‘some indecency’ of Deuteronomy 24:1 to refer only to a sexual misdemeanour authenticated by witnesses.” (France)
  • School of Hillel: “Reputedly took it of any cause of complaint, even including burning the dinner.” (France)

b. Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality: The issue of divorce revolved around a strict or loose interpretation of the word uncleanness in Deuteronomy 24:1. Those who wanted to make divorce easy had a loose interpretation. Jesus makes it plain that the idea of uncleanness is sexual immorality, not anything the wife might do to displease the husband.

i. Sexual immorality “translates porneia, the root meaning of which is ‘fornication’, but it is used more widely, so that it could include premarital unchastity, subsequently discovered.” (France)

ii. The teaching of Jesus on marriage and divorce is further explained in Matthew 19, but here we see the intent of Jesus: getting back to the intent of the law, instead of allowing it to be used as easy permission for divorce.

iii. “The Matthaean exceptive clause is not therefore introducing a new provision, but making explicit what any Jewish reader would have taken for granted when Jesus made the apparently unqualified pronouncements of Mark 10:9-12.” (France)

iv. This emphasis of Jesus on the permanency of marriage and the wrong of unjustified divorce went against the thinking of many in both the Jewish and the Gentile cultures. “In Greece we see a whole social system based on relationships outside marriage; we see that these relationships were accepted as natural and normal, and not in the least blameworthy.” Roman culture came to adopt this attitude towards marriage. (Barclay)

c. Causes her to commit adultery: An illegitimate divorce gives place to adultery because God doesn’t recognize the divorce, and sees a new relationship as bigamous. It is possible for a person to have a divorce that is recognized by the state, but not by God. If that person goes on to marry someone else, God considers that relationship adultery because He sees them as still married.

6. (Matthew 5:33-37) Jesus interprets the law concerning oaths.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

a. You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely”: The scribes and Pharisees had twisted the law You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain (Exodus 20:7) to permit taking virtually every other name in a false oath.

b. Do not swear at all: Jesus reminds us that God is part of every oath anyway; if you swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or even your head, you swear by God — and your oath must be honored.

i. “Again an unqualified statement, to be taken not in the letter as a new law, but in the spirit as inculcating such a love of truth that so far as we are concerned there shall be no need of oaths.” (Bruce)

c. But let your “Yes” be “Yes”: Having to swear or make oaths betrays the weakness of your word. It demonstrates that there is not enough weight in your own character to confirm your words. How much better it is to let your “Yes” be “Yes” and “No” be “No.

i. Some have taken this word of Jesus as more than an emphasis on truth-telling and honesty as an absolute prohibition of all oaths. This is misguided, because oaths are permitted under certain circumstances, as long as they are not abused and used as a cover for deception.

ii. “The truly good man will never need to take an oath; the truth of his sayings and the reality of his promises need no such guarantee. But the fact that oaths are still sometimes necessary is the proof that men are not good men and that this is not a good world.” (Barclay)

7. (Matthew 5:38-42) Jesus interprets the law of retribution.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.”

a. You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”: The Mosaic law did teach an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24). But over time religious teachers moved this command out of its proper sphere (a principle limiting retribution for the civil government) and put it in the wrong sphere (as an obligation in personal relationships).

b. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also: Here, Jesus presents the fullness of the eye for an eye law, and how its idea of limiting revenge extends into the principle of accepting certain evils against one’s self.

i. When a person insults us (slaps you on the right cheek), we want to give them back what they gave to us, plus more. Jesus said we should patiently bear such insults and offenses, and not resist an evil person who insults us this way. Instead, we trust God to defend us. France points out that ancient Jewish writings say that striking someone with the back of the hand — a severe insult — was punishable by a very heavy fine, according to Mishnah BK 8:6.

ii. It is wrong to think Jesus means evil should never be resisted. Jesus demonstrated with His life that evil should and must be resisted, such as when He turned tables in the temple.

iii. “Jesus is here saying that the true Christian has learned to resent no insult and to seek retaliation for no slight.” (Barclay) When we think how Jesus Himself was insulted and spoken against (as a glutton, a drunk, an illegitimate child, a blasphemer, a madman, and so forth) we see how He lived this principle Himself.

iii. It is wrong to think that Jesus means a physical attack cannot be resisted or defended against. When Jesus speaks of a slap on your right cheek, it was culturally understood as a deep insult, not a physical attack. Jesus does not mean that if someone hits across the right side of our head with a baseball bat, we should allow them to then hit the left side. “If a right-handed person strikes someone’s right cheek, presumably it is a slap by the back of the hand, probably considered more insulting than a slap by the open palm.” (Carson) 2 Corinthians 11:20 probably has in mind this kind of “insult slap.”

iv. It is also wrong to think Jesus means that there is no place for punishment or retribution in society. Jesus here speaks to personal relationships, and not to the proper functions of government in restraining evil (Romans 13:1-4). I must turn my cheek when I am personally insulted, but the government has a responsibility to restrain the evil man from physical assault.

c. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also: Under the Law of Moses, the outer cloak could not be taken from someone (Exodus 22:26; Deuteronomy 24:13).

i. “Jesus’ disciples, if sued for their tunics (an inner garment like our suit but worn next to the skin), far from seeking satisfaction, will gladly part with what they may legally keep.” (Carson)

ii. “Yet even in a country where justice can be had, we are not to resort to law for every personal wrong. We should rather endure to be put upon than be forever crying out, ‘I’ll bring an action.’” (Spurgeon)

d. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two: Positively, we are told to take command of evil impositions by making a deliberate choice to give more than we are required. At that time, Judea was under Roman military occupation. Under military law, any Roman soldier might command a Jew to carry his soldier’s pack for one mile — but only one mile. Jesus here says, “Go beyond the one mile required by law and give another mile out of a free choice of love.” This is how we transform an attempt to manipulate us into a free act of love.

i. “The Jews fiercely resented such impositions, and Jesus’ choice of this example deliberately dissociates him from militant nationalists. Rather than resisting, or even resenting, the disciple should volunteer for a further mile.” (France)

ii. “The old said, Insist on your own right, and loving your neighbor, hate your enemy, and so secure your safety. The new says, Suffer wrong, and lavish your love on all.” (Morgan)

e. Give to him who asks of you: The only limit to this kind of sacrifice is the limit that love itself will impose. It isn’t loving to give in to someone’s manipulation without our transforming it into a free act of love. It isn’t always loving to give or to not resist.

i. We might say that Paul repeated this idea of Jesus: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

8. (Matthew 5:43-47) Jesus interprets the law of love towards your neighbor.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?”

a. You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy”: The Mosaic Law commanded you shall love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). Yet some teachers in the days of Jesus added an opposite — and evil — misapplication: an equal obligation to hate your enemy.

i. “They generally looked upon all the uncircumcised as not their neighbours, but their enemies, whom the precept did not oblige them to love.” (Poole)

b. But I say to you, love your enemies: Instead, Jesus reminds that in the sense God means it, all people are our neighbors, even our enemies. To truly fulfill this law we must love, bless, do good and pray for our enemies — not only our friends.

i. Jesus understood we will have enemies, yet we are to respond to them in love, trusting that God will protect our cause and destroy our enemies in the best way possible, by transforming them into our friends.

ii. “The disciple’s attitude to religious persecution must go beyond non-retaliation to a positive love.” (France)

iii. “A hard task, I must needs say, but, hard or not hard, it must be done, be it never so contrary to our foul nature and former practice.” (Trapp)

c. That you may be sons of your Father in heaven: In doing this, we are imitating God, who shows love towards His enemies, by sending rain on the just and on the unjust.

i. “You see our Lord Jesus Christ’s philosophy of nature. He believed in the immediate presence and working of God. As the great Son of God he had a very sensitive perception of the presence of his Father in all the scenes around him, and hence he calls the sun God’s sun- ‘He maketh his sun to rise.’” (Spurgeon)

ii. “As though he did not regard human character at all, God bids his sun shine on good and bad. As though he did not know that any men were vile, he bids the shower descend on just and unjust. Yet he does know, for he is no blind deity. He does know; and he knows when his sun shines on yonder miser’s acres that it is bringing forth a harvest for a churl. He does it deliberately. When the rain is falling yonder upon the oppressor’s crops, he knows that the oppressor will be the richer for it, and means that he should be; he is doing nothing by mistake and nothing without a purpose.” (Spurgeon)

iii. “What does God say to us when he acts thus? I believe that he says this: ‘This is the day of free grace; this is the time of mercy.’ The hour for judgment is not yet, when he will separate between the good and the bad; when he will mount the judgment seat and award different portions to the righteous and to the wicked.” (Spurgeon)

iv. This is an example — that we also are to love our enemies and bless them if we can. In doing so, we show ourselves to be sons of our Father in heaven. “We are made sons by regeneration, through faith in the Son; but we are called to make our calling and election sure — to approve and vindicate our right to that sacred name. We can only do this by showing in word and act that the divine life and principles animate us.” (Meyer)

d. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you: What do you do more than the sinner? We should regard it as no matter of virtue if we merely return the love that is given to us.

i. Remember, Jesus here taught the character of the citizens of His kingdom. We should expect that character to be different from the character seen in the world. There are many good reasons why more should be expected from Christians than others:

  • They claim to have something that others do not have; they claim to be renewed, repentant, and redeemed by Jesus Christ.
  • They do in fact have something that others do not have; they are in fact renewed, repentant, and redeemed by Jesus Christ.
  • They have a power that others do not have; they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them.
  • They have the Spirit of God dwelling within them.
  • They have a better future than others do.

9. (Matthew 5:48) The conclusion to the true interpretation of the law: be perfect.

“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

a. Therefore you shall be perfect: If a man could live the way Jesus has told us to in this chapter, he would truly be perfect.

  • He would never hate, slander or speak evil of another person.
  • He would never lust in his heart or mind, and not covet anything.
  • He would never make a false oath, and always be completely truthful.
  • He would let God defend his personal rights, and not take it upon himself to defend those rights.
  • He would always love his neighbors, and even his enemies.

b. Just as your Father in heaven is perfect: If a man could keep just what Jesus said here, he would truly have a righteousness greater than the scribes and the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), the very thing we must have to enter into God’s Kingdom. But there is only one man who has lived like this: Jesus Christ. What about the rest of us? Are we left out of the Kingdom of God?

i. “Jesus is saying that the true direction in which the law has always pointed is not towards mere judicial restraints, concessions rising out of the hardness of men’s hearts…nor even to the ‘law of love’…No, it pointed to all the perfection of God, exemplified by the authoritative interpretation of the law.” (Carson)

ii. We see that in this section Jesus was not primarily seeking to show what God requires of the Christian in his daily life. True, Jesus has revealed God’s ultimate standard, and we must take it to heart. But His primary intent was to say, “If you want to be righteous by the law, you must keep the whole law, internal and external — that is, you must be perfect.”

iii. Jesus has demonstrated that we need a righteousness that is apart from the law (Romans 3:21-22). As Paul put it in Romans 3:21-22: But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.

iv. What is our current relation to the law, as truly interpreted? We are exposed as guilty sinners who can never make ourselves righteous by doing good works — which was exactly the view held by most people in Jesus’ day, and in our own day.

v. Finally, when it comes to understanding the interpretation and the demands of the law, we do well to remember another aspect of Jesus’ teaching on the law: in focusing on the command to love God and our neighbor, we will rightly understand the demands and details of the law (Matthew 22:37-40). The Apostle Paul wrote much the same thing: Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).

©2018 David Guzik — No distribution beyond personal use without permission


  1. Barclay, William "The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1" (The New Daily Study Bible, Matthew 1-10) (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975)
  2. Bruce, Alexander Balmain "The Synoptic Gospels: The Expositor's Greek Testament" Volume 1, Section 1 (Matthew-Luke) (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1897)
  3. Carson, D.A. "Matthew: The Expositor's Bible Commentary" Volume 8 (Matthew-Luke) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984)
  4. Clarke, Adam "Clarke's Commentary: The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments with a Commentary and Critical Notes" Volume 5 (Matthew-Acts) (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1832)
  5. France, R.T. "The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary" (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985)
  6. Meyer, F.B. "Our Daily Homily: Matthew-Revelation" Volume 5 (Westwood, New Jersey: Revell, 1966)
  7. Morgan, G. Campbell "An Exposition of the Whole Bible" (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Revell, 1959)
  8. Poole, Matthew "A Commentary on the Holy Bible" Volume 3 (Matthew-Revelation) (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1969)
  9. Spurgeon, Charles Haddon "Commentary on Matthew: The Gospel of the Kingdom" (London: Passmore and Alabaster, Paternoster Buildings, 1893)
  10. Spurgeon, Charles Haddon "The New Park Street Pulpit" Volumes 1-6 and "The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit" Volumes 7-63 (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1990)
  11. Spurgeon, Charles Haddon "The Beatitudes" (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2012)
  12. Stott, John "Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount" (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978)
  13. Trapp, John "A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments" Volume 5 (Matthew to Revelation) (Eureka, California: Tanski Publications, 1997)

Updated: August 2022

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