Response to the Sermon
The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (7:28–29)
The response to this most magnificent discourse ever given was as astounding in a negative way as the sermon itself was in a positive way. It seems certain that some of those in the multitudes who were there that day believed in Jesus. But the number who then entered the narrow gate proved what He had said: “few are those who find it” (7:14).
But any conversions that may have taken place are not reported. We are only told that the multitudes were amazed at His teaching (cf. John 7:46). Ekplēssō (were amazed) literally means to be struck out of oneself, and was used figuratively of being struck in the mind, that is, of being astounded or beside oneself. The crowd was totally dumbfounded by the power of what Jesus said. They had never heard such comprehensive, insightful words of wisdom, depth, insight, and profundity. They had never heard such straightforward and fearless denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees or such a black and white presentation of the way of salvation. They had never heard such a fearful warning about the consequences of turning away from God. They had never heard such a powerful and demanding description of true righteousness or such a relentless description and condemnation of self-righteousness.
But the most remarkable thing that struck the audience that day was that Jesus was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Authority (exousia) has to do with power and privilege, and is a key word in Matthew’s presentation of Jesus’ kingship (9:1–8; 21:23–27; 28:18). In the New Testament it is used for the power that proves and reflects the sovereignty of Jesus. The scribes quoted others to lend authority to their teachings, but Jesus quoted only God’s Word and spoke as the final authority on truth. He spoke eternal truth simply, directly, with love (in contrast to the bitter hatred of the Pharisees), and without hesitation or consultation. That astounded the crowd.
All of those things were important for them to hear, and it was entirely appropriate, in fact unavoidable, that they should be amazed, because His teaching was indeed amazing. But what they needed was not amazement but belief, not astonishment but obedience. Jesus did not tell them all of those things for their amazement, or even simply for their information, but for their salvation. He did not intend merely to show them the narrow gate and the narrow way, but pleaded with them to enter that gate and to follow that way, which He would make accessible by paying the penalty for their sins.
But most of the people only watched and listened, only heard and considered—but did not decide. Even by not deciding, however, they decided. For whatever reasons—possibly for no conscious reason at all—they decided to stay on the broad road.
C. S. Lewis gives a remarkable illustration from his own life of what the attitude is of many who hear the gospel:
When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother—at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin: but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists; I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie. (Mere Christianity [New York: Macmillan, 1977], p. 177)
It is that very sort of thinking that keeps many people out of the kingdom: the price is more than they want to pay. Lewis goes on to say, in the imagined words of Christ, “You have free will, and if you choose, You can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through.… I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect—until My Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with Me” (p. 158).
That is the decision the Lord demands before He can turn empty hearts, with their empty words and empty works, into full hearts that produce the good works for which they are recreated. It is God’s great desire that no person perish and that every person “come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9), that he might “be filled up to all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:16–19). That only became possible through the Savior’s death and resurrection, which climaxed His work for sinful man and will be the great conclusion to Matthew’s good news.
He Spoke with Authority
Everyone knows the difference between a person who speaks out of vast and accurate knowledge and a person who merely repeats what he has heard from others. The one is the voice of authority; the other is the voice of a parrot. The first is the sound of the fountain bubbling forth freshly from the ground; the second is the sound of an empty cistern.
There are times in history when there are none to speak with authority, and when that happens, there will always be some who, although they have no authority, nevertheless assume it. That was true in Christ’s day. For five hundred years the Jews had been without a prophet, and, as a result, the scribes had emerged as apparent authorities because they had learned the Scriptures by rote. They were the recognized expositors of the law, and it was their duty to memorize the law, together with all the various opinions about it given by the most learned rabbis of the past. They were then to pass this knowledge on for the benefit of their contemporaries.
The Jews who heard Jesus of Nazareth preach the Sermon on the Mount had long been familiar with these authorities. But when they heard Jesus for the first time, they were at once impressed with the infinite distance that lay between his preaching and the teaching of the scribes. Jesus spoke with authority, while they spoke from the authorities. Or, as Alexander B. Bruce, in The Expositor’s Greek Testament, says, “The scribes spake by authority, resting all they said on traditions of what had been said before. Jesus spake with authority, out of his own soul, with direct intuition of truth; and, therefore, to the answering soul of his hearers.”
No doubt, this fact made a strong and lasting impression. Matthew, who records the Sermon, ends his account by drawing attention to it. He writes, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matt. 7:28–29).
It is significant that when Jesus had finished speaking, his audience was apparently more impressed with his authority than with the content of the Sermon itself. There have been times in the past in my own studies of the Scriptures when I would have thought that this was not good. I am not sure that I feel that way anymore. To be sure, to have come to the fullness of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord would have been a far better reaction on the part of his hearers than the type of amazement that is recorded here. But certainly no one then was at the point where such a profession of faith was possible, not even the disciples. It was therefore far more important at this stage of Christ’s ministry that their attention should be riveted to the preacher of the Sermon himself. He is the narrow gate at the end of the narrow way they were to follow. He is the rock upon which they were now to begin to build.
Thus, to be impressed with the authority of Jesus was not bad because it meant they were impressed with him. And the Sermon on the Mount was not ineffective, even if it was not perfectly understood, as long as it fulfilled this function.
It is the same today. At the beginning of these studies, I pointed out that one important reason for studying the Sermon on the Mount was that, like all Scripture, it points us to the Lord Jesus Christ. The preacher of the Sermon on the Mount is the Sermon on the Mount, and so by studying it we are brought into the most intimate contact with him. There is much we may not understand. But this at least should happen: we should see him. And thus, it is proper to glance upward to the Lord Jesus Christ once more and to reflect on the authority which was his then and is his now, the authority with which these words were spoken.
The Words of Jesus
We need to do this piecemeal. And we need to begin with the authority of Christ’s words themselves, for it was these which first made an impression on Christ’s hearers. Did his words have intrinsic authority? Certainly, they did, and anyone can see it. If a person will study the teachings of Jesus Christ, in this Sermon and throughout the gospels, he will soon see that they have an intuitive assurance and character that distinguish them from the words of all other men.
Christ’s most startling revelation was himself. As early as the Beatitudes, in his words about persecution, Jesus assumed that the persecution his hearers would experience would be persecution “for his sake,” not for his teaching’s sake but because of their relationship to him. In the next section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus set himself up as the authoritative expounder of the law. He repeatedly said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old, Thou shalt do so and so … but I say unto you,” thereby placing himself above the rabbis and scribes and doing so without the slightest apology, reserve, or qualification.
He said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” In other words, “I am the Messiah.” In chapter six he instructs men how to give alms, how to pray, how to fast, how to avoid materialism and anxiety. In the final chapter he warns against anything that might turn attention from himself and thus lead the wanderer into judgment. He ends by saying, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.… But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (Matt. 7:24, 26).
These statements immediately distinguish Jesus from all other religious teachers. For, as John R. W. Stott observes, “They are self-effacing; He is self-advancing. They point away from themselves and say, ‘That is the truth as far as I perceive it; follow that.’ Jesus says, ‘I am the truth; follow me.’ ” Certainly, if any man ever spoke with authority, it was Jesus.
The Works of Jesus
But Jesus did not only speak with authority. He also acted with authority. And thus, his works serve to substantiate his claims. What were his works? By the time of the preaching of this Sermon, according to Matthew 4:23–25, Jesus had already healed various types of sickness among the people and had cast out demons. They were yet to see lepers cured, the eyes of the blind opened, the dead raised to life, a storm stilled, water turned to wine, thousands fed from just a few shreds of lunch, and heaven opened. These works were meant to accredit him by revealing the source of his teaching. We cannot study them candidly without coming to the conclusion reached by Nicodemus: “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).
As I say this, I am aware that there have been gigantic attempts in the world of scholarship to remove the supernatural element from the Gospels. But I am also aware that all attempts have ended in total failure.
In the year 1768, in Germany, a historian named Hermann Samuel Reimarus died, leaving behind a manuscript that was to have far-reaching implications. The manuscript argued that, in dealing with the New Testament, historians must distinguish between the “aim” of Jesus and the “aim” of his disciples, by which he meant that there was a difference between the Jesus who actually lived and died and the Christ about whom the apostles were preaching. Faced with the choice between what he had come to consider two mutually exclusive positions, Reimarus chose the historical Jesus (stripped of all supernatural elements) and thereby launched a whole century of similar research. In this period in Germany Christianity was viewed by many scholars as the product of the early disciples who stole the corpse, proclaimed a bodily resurrection, and gathered followers.
Unfortunately, in seeking to find the historical Jesus, each of the scholars only succeeded in producing a Jesus in his own image, and it became increasingly apparent that in each case the supernatural had been eliminated at the whim of the historian and not at all on the basis of objective evidence. Thus, idealists found Christ to be the ideal man, rationalists saw him as the great teacher of morality, socialists viewed him as a friend of the poor and a revolutionary. The most popular theories of Jesus, those of David Friedrich Strauss and Ernest Renan, rejected most of the Gospel material as mythology. And Bruno Bauer, who followed them, ended by denying that there had been a historical Jesus at all.
A person can hardly fail to be impressed even today at the immense amount of energy and talent that these German and French scholars have poured into the old quest for the historical Jesus. But in spite of their subtle imagination, genius, historical knowledge and literary skill, all their work came to nothing. They had attempted to eliminate Christ’s miracles. But when their work was examined under the most careful critical analysis, it collapsed. By the beginning of this century, when Albert Schweitzer declared his moratorium on the liberal quest, the entire scholarly world recognized that the previous attempts had been failures.
Look at the miracles any way you will. The miracles in the Gospels will stand the test of your scrutiny. Let any candid man read the life of Jesus with genuine attention and care, and he will soon acknowledge that the life presented there cannot have been imagined but must really have happened, that the teachings are real teachings, that the miracles are real miracles, that the teachings set forth in the Gospels and the miracles that accompany them are inextricably interwoven. What is more, both of these reinforce Christ’s authority. Reuben A. Torrey once wrote, “If Jesus lived and wrought substantially as the Gospels record, cleansing the lepers, opening the eyes of the blind, raising the dead, stilling the tempest with His word, feeding the 5,000 with the five small loaves and the two small fishes, then He bears unmistakable credentials as a teacher sent and endorsed by God.”
These two things, the words of Christ and the works of Christ, are joined by Jesus himself in a comment in John’s Gospel upon those who had both seen and heard him and who yet had not believed; “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.… If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father” (John 15:22, 24).
The final and, in many ways, the conclusive bulwark of the authority of Jesus Christ is his resurrection from the dead, At the time of the preaching of this Sermon, of course, Jesus had not died, let alone been raised from the dead. But we must remember that he was ending his sermon with an encouragement for his hearers to keep on as his disciples until they came to that point. And whatever the cause may have been for them, for us the Resurrection is paramount. Did Jesus rise from the dead? If he did, then his authority is established. His teaching is established. His deity is established. And Christianity rests upon an impregnable foundation.
Did Jesus rise from the dead? It is an assertion demanding a Yes from every true believer and every honest historian. There are literally volumes of evidence for it. In the first place, there is the evidence of the sepulchre. It was found empty. The fact that it was empty is best proved by all lack of evidence that it was not. If it had not been empty, the Pharisees would have been quick to have shown the body in order to have refuted the early preaching of the apostles. The same is true also for the Roman authorities, for had they been in a position to have produced the body they, too, would have done so. If the disciples had stolen it—which was the first explanation of the Jewish authorities—they would have hardly been willing to die (as they later did) for what they knew to be a fraud. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it is only a sober act of small faith to accept the biblical explanation.
Second, there is the evidence of the graveclothes. When Peter and the beloved disciple (who was probably John) arrived at the tomb on that first Easter morning, the body of Jesus was gone, but—and this was the remarkable thing—the graveclothes had remained behind. They were wrapped as they had been when they were wound around the body. They were not unwound. The napkin which had been around the head was there also, in a place by itself. Yet, the body was gone. The only thing that could possibly account for this state of things was the passing of Jesus’ body through the graveclothes just as it was later to pass through closed doors. In other words, there must have been not a resuscitation but a resurrection.
The third line of evidence is found in Christ’s appearances, strengthened by the fact that he appeared to many different types of people, to different-sized groups of people, and under a wide variety of circumstances. This argument was so commanding that Paul appealed to it when writing to the Corinthians, showing that Jesus “appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Cor. 15:5–8).
Finally, the truth of the Resurrection is shown by the transformation of the disciples. Men who once had been cowardly and after the death of Jesus were abjectly despondent were then suddenly filled with joy, love, faith, power, and new confidence and were ready to lay down their lives for their Master. What can account for such an extreme transformation? Certainly there is no explanation short of the fact of the Resurrection and of their having seen the resurrected Lord.
What does all this mean to you personally? The people who heard the Lord Jesus Christ in Galilee on the occasion of his preaching of the Sermon on the Mount were “amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” And yet, it is not said that any who heard him that day believed in his doctrine or committed themselves to him. Unfortunately, it is possible to do the same thing in our far more hectic and perhaps more sophisticated century.
What is the most important message of this Sermon? Certainly, it is the Person of Jesus of Nazareth himself, the Son of God, who spoke as no man has ever spoken before or since, who lived as he preached, and who then died and rose again that he might offer us a full and perfect salvation. Do you believe that? Have you committed your life to his care? If you will make that commitment, he will then do for you all that he has promised. He will make you blessed in the sense given to the word in the Beatitudes. He will make you the salt of the earth, a light in this dark world. He will interpret the Scriptures to you through the Holy Spirit. He will teach you to pray. He will carry you through all the cares and tumults of this life to an eternity of unbroken fellowship with him.
Do you believe that? Today he is speaking to you. He is saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). “Believe on me.” Let your own heart answer, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46). “Yes, Lord, I want you to be my Savior.”
Transitional conclusion: Jesus’ authority (7:28–29)
28–29 This is the first of the five formulaic conclusions that terminate the discourses in this gospel. All five begin with kai egeneto (lit., “and it happened”) plus a finite verb (v. 28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1), a construction common in the LXX (classical Greek preferred egeneto plus the infinitive; cf. Zerwick, Biblical Greek, para. 388; Beyer, Semitische Syntax, 41–60). The only other occurrence in Matthew is of the rather different “Hebrew” construction kai egeneto … kai (lit., “and it happened … and”) plus a finite verb, which appears once (9:10). Matthew’s formula is therefore a self-conscious stylistic device that establishes a structural turning point. (It is not necessary to adopt Benjamin Bacon’s theory of parallelism to the Five Books of Moses; see Introduction, section 14.) Moreover, in each case the conclusion is transitional and prepares for the next section. Here (as we shall see below) mention of Jesus’ authority leads into his authority in other spheres (8:1–17). In 11:1, Jesus’ activity sets the scene for John the Baptist’s question (11:2–3). And 13:53 anticipates rejection of Jesus in his hometown, while 19:1–2 points forward to his Judean ministry with new crowds and renewed controversies. Finally, 26:1–5 looks to the cross, now looming very near.
The crowds—probably a larger group than his disciples—again pressing in on him (see comments at 5:1–2) are amazed. Because this is the only conclusion to a discourse that mentions the crowds’ amazement, Hill suggests that Matthew is returning to Mark 1:22 (Lk 4:32) as his source. This is very tenuous: (1) a closer Matthean parallel is 13:54, and (2) the next pericope in Matthew (8:1–4) is paralleled in Mark by Mark 1:40–45, too far on for us to believe Matthew has “returned to his source” at 1:22.
The word didachē (“teaching,” GK 1439) can refer to both content and manner, and no doubt the crowds were astonished at both. Their astonishment says nothing about their own heart commitment. The cause of their astonishment was Jesus’ exousia (“authority,” GK 2026). The term embraces power as well as authority, and the theme becomes central (cf. 8:9; 9:6, 8; 10:1; 21:23–24, 27; 28:18). In his authority, Jesus differs from the “teachers of the law” (see comments at 2:4). Many of them limited their teaching to the authorities they cited, and a great part of their training centered on memorizing the received traditions. They spoke by the authority of others; Jesus spoke with his own authority. Yet many teachers of the law did indeed offer new rulings and interpretations, so some have tried to interpret vv. 28–29 along other lines.
Daube (New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, 205–16), in arguing that Jesus’ lack of official rabbinic authority was an early issue in his ministry, says that some of the crowds’ response in Galilee was because they did not often hear ordained rabbis so far north. Sigal (Halakhah of Jesus), dating the sources a little differently, insists (probably rightly) that there was no official ordination of rabbis until after Jesus’ death. He argues that Jesus himself was not essentially different in his authority from other proto-rabbis. Both these instructions miss the central point, which transcends halakic applications of the law, the formulas used, and the latitude of interpretation permitted.
The central point is this: Jesus’ entire approach in the Sermon on the Mount is not only ethical but messianic—i.e., christological and eschatological. Jesus is not an ordinary prophet who says, “Thus says the Lord!” Rather, he speaks in the first person and claims that his teaching fulfills the OT, that he determines who enters the messianic kingdom, that as the Divine Judge he pronounces banishment, that the true heirs of the kingdom will be persecuted for their allegiance to him, and that he alone fully knows the will of his Father. It is methodologically indefensible for Sigal to complain that all such themes are later Christian additions and therefore to focus exclusively on points of halakic interpretation. Jesus’ authority is unique (see comments at 5:21–48), and the crowds recognized it, even if they did not always understand it. This same authority is now to be revealed in powerful, liberating miracles, signs of the kingdom’s advance (chs. 8–9; cf. 11:2–5).
The Authority of the Teacher Recognized (7:28–29)
28 And then, when Jesus had come to the end of these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 because he was teaching them as someone who had authority and not as their scribes taught.
This brief conclusion forms with 5:1–2 a framework round the discourse on discipleship. Again we see Jesus as the teacher, but this time it is not the disciples, the primary audience of the discourse, who are in focus, but the crowds, away from whom Jesus had deliberately taken his disciples in 5:1, but who are now found to have been a secondary audience in the background. They have heard enough of this teaching, even if it was not directed toward them, to be mightily impressed. This response to Jesus’ teaching, added to the general enthusiasm for his healing ministry already outlined in 4:24–25, will form the essential background for the narrative which now takes over from the discourse and will be a continuing feature throughout the Galilean phase of Jesus’ activity.
The transition from discourse to narrative is marked by the formula which will conclude each of the five main discourses (cf. 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1); the first six Greek words are identical in each case, while the teaching which is the object of the verb “come to the end of” is expressed in slightly different phrases to correspond to the content of the discourse just concluded. The distinctiveness of this formula derives from its rather formal wording. The opening kai egeneto, “and it happened,” has an archaic ring (like the KJV phrase “and it came to pass”), representing the familiar OT Hebrew introductory phrase wayyehî; it is not a natural Greek idiom and occurs elsewhere in Matthew only at 9:10. Nor is the verb teleō in the sense of “to complete, come to the end of,” part of Matthew’s normal vocabulary: it occurs outside this formula only in 10:23. The whole clause thus looks like a set formula deliberately designed to mark the end of each main block of teaching and to lead back into narrative.6 In three of its five occurrences it is immediately followed by a main clause describing Jesus’ movement to another location; here that relocation (8:1) is separated from the formula only by the need to comment first on the crowd reaction.
The periphrastic tense “he was teaching them” (rather than “he had taught them”) suggests that Matthew intends us to think of the crowd’s astonishment as applying not only to this discourse but to Jesus’ continuing teaching in Galilee. The astonishment of both crowds and disciples at Jesus, already implied in 4:24–25, will be frequently noted as the story progresses. Often it will be Jesus’ miracles rather than his teaching which evoke it; the particular verb used here, ekplēssomai, is used especially of the effect of his teaching (cf. 13:54; 19:25; 22:33), but that teaching is linked with miracles in 13:54. In both the feature which will impress them is his authority (cf. 8:9; 9:6, 8; 21:23–27; 28:18). To set the authority of his teaching in contrast with that of the scribes is a bold claim, since the scribes were the authorized teachers of the law who in virtue of their training and office had a right to expect the people to accept their legal rulings. When Jesus comes to Jerusalem it will be with the scribes that he must debate, and against them that his tirade in ch. 23 will be delivered. It will be a contest of authority, that of the established guardians of legal tradition against that of the upstart Galilean preacher. But here already the people, perhaps remembering how in 5:20 Jesus has declared the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” inadequate, sense a new dimension in Jesus’ teaching. Whereas scribal rulings were based on the tradition of earlier interpreters of the law, Jesus has in 5:17–48 set himself up as an authority over against that interpretive tradition, on the basis not of a formal training or authorization but of his own confident, “I tell you.” It was that sort of inherent “authority” that the people missed in their scribes, even though their office commanded respect. When to that remarkable claim is added Jesus’ assumption that he himself is the proper object of people’s allegiance and the arbiter of their destiny (5:11–12; 7:21–23, 24, 26), the crowd’s astonishment is hardly out of place. W. D. Davies’ comment on the modern reader’s response to the Sermon on the Mount must apply at least as strongly to those who first heard this teaching: “The Sermon on the Mount compels us, in the first place, to ask who he is who utters these words.”
Two Kinds of Teachers (7:28–29)
‘And it happened when Jesus had finished [etelesen] these words [tous logous toutous], that the crowds [hoi ochloi] were astounded [exeplēssonto] at his teaching [epi tē didachē autou]; for [gar] he was teaching [ēn … didaskōn] them [autous] as one having authority [exousian], and not as their scribes [hoi grammateis autōn].’ As we noted when considering the gospel’s design, Matthew marks the end of all five discourses with such a formula as 7:28a (see p. 27). The whole sermon is in view, as the verb teleō (‘finish’) makes plain; yet the evangelist’s reference to ‘these words’ underscores Jesus’ closing appeal, where tous logous toutous occurs twice (Matt. 7:24 and 26), the only instances of this expression in the sermon itself.
The preface to the sermon reported that Jesus’ disciples (mathētai) came to him and that he began to teach them (edidasken autous; Matt. 5:1–2); nothing was said there of the crowds, though 4:25 reported that ‘many crowds’ (ochloi polloi) followed Jesus. This closing summary focuses on the crowds as recipients of Jesus’ teaching (see the Greek above); the disciples are not mentioned. This suggests that the appeals and warnings of 7:13–27, while addressed to both disciples and crowds, are chiefly intended for the latter; the former have shown at least an initial willingness to obey Jesus’ words by becoming disciples.
The crowds’ present response offers hope that they too will become disciples. They are astounded at Jesus’ teaching: the verb is ekplēssomai. The explanation for their astonishment (note the gar, 29a) is Jesus’ authority—exousia, which here appears for the first time in Matthew. There are at least five reasons for this authority: (i) Jesus teaches this way by virtue of who he is—God incarnate (exousia means literally ‘out of being’; ‘authority’ contains the word ‘author’)—so that all he says and does discloses God; (ii) as the Son of God, he has been anointed by the Spirit of truth and power: see, e.g., 3:16; Luke 4:18–19 (and the instance of exousia in 4:32); (iii) his teaching accords with reality: e.g., the kingdom he says is coming, is coming; there will surely be a final judgment, and a heavenly reward; (iv) it is the Word of God revealed in the scriptures that he expounds, rather than merely human traditions: see, e.g., Matthew 5:17–48; 15:1–9; and (v) what he teaches others, he himself does: e.g., the gentleness of which he speaks (5:5; praeis) marks his own behavior (11:29; 21:5; praus); he himself loves the God he commands his followers to love (11:27, epiginōskō, 22:37, agapaō); and he commands his followers to love one another in light of his love for them (John 13:34, agapaō).
As scholars of the law, the Jewish scribes were also supposed to teach with authority. One reason they lacked the authority Jesus possessed (as the crowds perceived), is that they were mere men; but in this respect no scribe—Matthew included—could compare with Jesus. There are additional reasons, as Jesus reveals: (i) some of their teachings were based on human tradition rather than divine revelation (15:1–9); (ii) those teachings that were based on Scripture, they failed to obey (23:2–4, 25–28); and (iii) their practices, including their teaching, were motivated by love for self rather than love for God, by a desire that self be magnified rather than God (6:1–18; 23:5–7, 23; cf. Luke 11:42). If they knew and loved God, and therefore his torah (as did the writer of Psalm 119), would they not recognize and love Jesus the Son of God, and desire to keep the torah he expounded?
Both before and after the sermon, Matthew reports that ‘huge crowds’ followed Jesus (Matt. 4:25; 8:1), their predictable response to his authoritative teaching, as well as to his mighty works (of which we are about to learn more). But while the crowds’ amazement (7:28) is encouraging, it is not enough. What does it matter that they recognize the teacher’s exousia, unless they obey his teachings? Indeed, those who hear Jesus’ words and perceive his authority, yet fail to obey him, are in a more perilous position than those who never hear. Matthew may want those enclosing references to ‘huge crowds’ (ochloi polloi), to remind readers of Jesus’ warnings that many (polloi) will take the path to destruction (7:13) and that many (polloi) will in the end be rejected as workers of lawlessness (7:22). In any case, the evangelist sounds warnings from his Master: ‘Beware lest you embrace scribal teachings which lack divine authority and are therefore like a foundation of sand. Instead, build your life on solid rock, on God’s own torah as now expounded by God incarnate and safeguarded and imparted by his appointed scribes, including the author of this book.’
7:28 When Jesus had finished saying these things. This temporal clause is repeated five times by Matthew; each time it marks the conclusion for a teaching discourse of Jesus (11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). By using this formula, Matthew highlights his arrangement of Jesus’ teachings into these five major discourses, with each discourse having a distinct topic and some common features that connect them.
7:29 he taught as one who had authority. The notion of Jesus’ authority is important in chapters 5–10. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew has shown Jesus to be authoritative in his teaching through repeated variations on the refrain “You have heard that it was said … but I tell you …” (5:21–22, 27–28, 31–32, 33–34, 38–39, 43–44). Jesus’ authoritative pronouncements, culminating in his implicit claim to be “Lord” (7:21), provide a contrast to typical Jewish teaching style. Rabbis most often cited past rulings and wisdom of former teachers and traditions to carry on their own teaching. Jesus, however, teaches with an authority that derives from his God-given wisdom and interpretation of the Torah.
Matthew appends the following words in order to show the sermon’s effect upon the audience: 28, 29. Now when Jesus had finished these sayings the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he was teaching them as having authority, and not as their scribes. When Jesus stopped speaking, the large crowd that had been listening spell-bound was left in a state of amazement. In English it is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to reproduce the exact flavor of the picturesque verb used in the original to describe the people’s state of heart and mind. In addition to “were astounded” the following have been offered: “were awed,” “amazed,” “filled with amazement,” “dumbfounded,” “astonished.” The Amplified New Testament has “were astonished and overwhelmed with bewildered wonder.” These renderings are all very helpful. The literal meaning of the original is “were struck out of themselves.” “Struck out of their senses” has been suggested. Compare also the German “ausser sich gebracht sein” (Lenski, op. cit., p. 305) and the Dutch idiom “uit het veld geslagen.” The tense of the verb shows that this state of astonishment was not just a momentary experience but lasted for a while.
The question may well be asked, What were some of the reasons for this feeling of wonder and astonishment? Matt. 13:54, 55 may supply part of the answer. Nevertheless, on the basis of the sermon itself and of 7:28 (“not as their scribes”) the following items are worthy of consideration:
- He spoke the truth (John 14:6; 18:37). Corrupt and evasive reasoning marked the sermons of many of the scribes (Matt. 5:21 ff.).
- He presented matters of great significance, matters of life, death, and eternity (see the entire sermon). They often wasted their time on trivialities (Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42).
- There was system in his preaching. As their Talmud proves, they often rambled on and on.
- He excited curiosity by making generous use of illustrations (5:13–16; 6:26–30; 7:24–27; etc.) and concrete examples (5:21–6:24; etc.), as the sermon shows from beginning to end. Their speeches were often dry as dust.
- He spoke as the Lover of men, as One concerned with the everlasting welfare of his listeners, and pointed to the Father and his love (5:44–48). Their lack of love is clear from such passages as 23:4, 13–15; Mark 12:40; etc.
- Finally, and this is the most important, for it is specifically stated here (verse 28), he spoke “with authority” (Matt. 5:18, 26; etc.), for his message came straight from the very heart and mind of the Father (John 8:26), hence also from his own inner being, and from Scripture (5:17; 7:12; cf. 4:4, 7, 10). They were constantly borrowing from fallible sources, one scribe quoting another scribe. They were trying to draw water from broken cisterns. He drew from himself, being “the Fountain of living waters” (Jer. 2:13).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 487–489). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (pp. 269–274). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 231–232). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 297–299). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.
 Chamblin, J. K. (2010). Matthew: A Mentor Commentary (pp. 488–490). Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor.
 Brown, J. K. (2015). Matthew. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (pp. 85–86). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 382–383). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.