Category Archives: New Bible Commentary

June 10, 2017: Verse of the day

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10–12 The text of the NIV gives the word “yet” twice in this chapter, the previous occurrence being in v. 4. Both verses present reassessment that means the balancing of one partial truth with another, thus giving a full picture. In v. 4 penal suffering is balanced—and so interpreted—by substitution; here humanity’s unjust treatment of the Servant is balanced—and also interpreted—by God’s saving purpose in the Servant’s sufferings. Verse 10a is almost shocking in its apparent presentation of arbitrary disregard for personal righteousness, but the reader may recall the substitutionary nature of those sufferings, already declared in vv. 4–6 and referred to again later in this stanza. At once God is seen not to be harsh but astonishingly gracious.

Verses 10b–11, as rendered in the NIV, remind us of 52:14–15; for after suffering comes vindication, suggesting perhaps at the same time the completion of the Servant’s atoning work in his death and the opening of a new life beyond that death. The guilt offering may have special overtones of completeness, for it involved restitution as well as an offering to God (cf. Lev 5). Nothing then remains to be done; the work is complete.

Verse 11a (cf. Notes), with its contrast of “suffering” and “light,” certainly makes us think of the resurrection, which is still more clearly suggested by the earlier words “prolong his days.” In fact, the words “he will see his offspring and prolong his days” seem to stand in intended contrast with the second and third lines of v. 8. There is a parallel here with Psalm 22, which has so much in common with this passage, where a sufferer now vindicated declares, “Posterity will serve him” (22:30).

Some commentators take the words “by his knowledge” with the preceding clause; but, as Young points out, the Masoretic accentuation, representing of course the Jewish traditional understanding, links it with the words that follow it. If this is so, are we to take the pronominal suffix to be subjective, as the NIV does (“by his knowledge”), or objective, as in the NIV’s margin (“by knowledge of him”)? Young (in loc.) well expresses the contextual argument for the latter: “In this context the servant appears, not as a teacher, but as a saviour. Not by his knowledge does he justify men, but by bearing their iniquities.” We are saved not simply by revelation but by redemptive suffering, the latter being the teaching of the context of this verse. In this case, then, it is the experiential knowledge of faith that is in view; and we have here an important background for the Pauline doctrine of justification through the blood of Christ, appropriated by faith.

The adjective “righteous” and the verb “will justify,” coming from the same Hebrew root (ṣdq), are placed next to each other in the Hebrew, as though to stress their relationship. Calvin stressed that the obedience of Christ is the chief circumstance of his death. His righteousness and therefore his innocence of sin furnish a basis for his substitution. The final clause of v. 11, with its reminder of v. 6 (see comments there), states the objective grounds of this justification, which is of course a new position before God, the righteous Judge, on the basis of what the Servant has achieved in his sufferings and not of what we have ourselves done or will do. Strikingly, the emphatic “he” is used again in this clause (see comment on vv. 4–6). Here, then, is One who is both God and God’s Servant dealing with human sin!

The opening statement of v. 12, reminding many commentators of Philippians 2:9, shows how God honors the Servant for his faithful work and the Servant in turn distributes the spoils of battle to others. In fact it introduces a new note into the passage; for 52:13, to which in other ways it answers, contains no military language. The NT, however, does, and Christ’s work there is presented as a victory over spiritual foes, resulting in a distribution of the spoil to those made strong in him (cf., e.g., Eph 4:8; 6:10–17).

J. Jeremias (Servant of God [W. Zimmerli and J. Jeremias, eds.; London: SCM, 1957], 97), L. S. Thornton (The Dominion of Christ [Westminster: Darce, 1952], 91–95), and others have argued that the words heauton ekenōsen (“made himself nothing”) in Philippians 2:7 are a translation from a Semitic original meaning “he poured himself out” and are based on this verse. Thornton further points out that the clause can in fact be completed by the words “to death” from v. 8. Here, in both passages, is the ultimate in self-abnegation in dedication to the will of God.

The last three clauses of v. 12 sum up the matter. The Servant was numbered with the transgressors not only in the outward circumstances of his death (Mk 15:27 [NIV mg.]), but also as a general description of the meaning of his sufferings (Lk 22:37). Innocent, he was charged with human sins and so bears their penalty. Beyond this, as the letter to the Hebrews proclaims, he now has an intercessory ministry based on the finality of his sufferings. This means that even when vindicated by God, he is still concerned to minister to his people.

In 44:28 the name “Cyrus” is solemnly and dramatically revealed long before his coming. Our present passage speaks so eloquently of the work of Christ that even the inclusion of his name could add but little more to the extent of its disclosure of him.[1]


53:10, 11a Yet the Lord saw fit to bruise Him, to put Him to grief. When His soul has been made an offering for sin, He will see His posterity, that is, all those who believe on Him, He shall prolong His days, living in the power of an endless life. All God’s purposes shall be realized through Him. Seeing the multitudes of those who have been redeemed by His blood He will be amply satisfied.

53:11b “By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many.” This may mean that His knowledge of the Father’s will led Him to the cross, and it is by His death and resurrection that He can reckon believers to be righteous. Or it may mean “by the knowledge of Him,” that is, it is by coming to know Him that men are justified (John 17:3). In either case, it is through His bearing their iniquities that justification is possible for the “many.”

The last stanza of Thomas Chisholm’s hymn, quoted above, reads triumphantly:

Who can number His generation?

Who shall declare all the triumphs of His Cross?

Millions, dead, now live again,

Myriads follow in His train!

Victorious Lord, victorious Lord,

Victorious Lord and coming King![2]


11–12 Other aspects of his saving work are shown in terms of justification, sin-bearing, identification (numbered with the transgressors; cf. Lk. 22:37) and intercession, i.e. intervention. He is presented as priest and sacrifice, patriarch (10b) and king. Finally, the manymany in vs 11–12 (the same word is translated great in v 12) for whom the one suffered, reappear in fulfilment of the opening promise (cf. 52:14–15, ‘many … many’).[3]


53:11 He will … be satisfied. The one sacrifice of the Servant will provide complete satisfaction in settling the sin issue (1Jn 2:2; cf. 1:11). By His knowledge. The Servant knew exactly what needed to be done to solve the sin problem. justify the many. Through the divine “knowledge” of how to justify sinners, the plan was accomplished that by His one sacrifice He declared many righteous before God (Ro 5:19; 2Co 5:21).[4]


53:11 he shall see and be satisfied. The outcome of the servant’s sufferings is not regret but the satisfaction of obvious accomplishment. by his knowledge. His experiential knowledge of grief (v. 3, see ESV footnote). many. His triumph, which does not secure the salvation of every individual without exception (universalism), spreads out beyond the remnant of Israel to “a great multitude that no one could number” (Rev. 7:9; cf. Rom. 5:15). to be accounted righteous. See Rom. 4:11–12.

53:11 Christ’s death and resurrection results in our justification (Rom. 3:23–26; 4:25; 5:19).[5]


53:11 he will see All intact Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts and the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Bible) contain the word “light”; the Masoretic Text simply reads “he will see.” The most probable original text is “he will see light” (Dead Sea Scrolls) or “he will show him light” (Septuagint). The word “light” is required for the text to make sense poetically. This variant is a sign that the Servant experiences postmortem life, though it is not the only sign.

he will be satisfied The Servant may be satisfied by the fact that he has fulfilled Yahweh’s will (Isa 53:10). It is also possible that he is satisfied because he has suffered for the transgressions of God’s people (vv. 5–7). Or, the Servant could be satisfied in his resurrected life.

In his knowledge An elaboration on the previous line. The Servant knows that he has borne the iniquities of many and will make many righteous. He has learned this through his anguish (his suffering).

my servant Yahweh begins speaking again.

shall declare many righteous Like Israel—as Yahweh’s servant—was commanded to bring forth justice to the nations, the Servant makes many righteous.

will bear their iniquities The iniquities of the people are placed upon the Servant (similar to the goat on the Day of Atonement in Lev 16:22).[6]


53:11 knowledge. This is a reference to His insight into the divine plan (52:13 note).

righteous. See Rom. 5:19.

accounted righteous. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to His people (53:6 note), and in return He accepted their guilt so as to “bear their iniquities.” See “Justification and Merit” at Gal. 3:11.[7]


[1] Grogan, G. W. (2008). Isaiah. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, pp. 802–803). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 980). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kidner, F. D. (1994). Isaiah. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 663). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 53:11). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1339). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Is 53:11). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[7] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1029). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

June 2 – Integrity Triumphs over Adversity

“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.”

Daniel 1:1–2

✧✧✧

Integrity shines brightest against the backdrop of adversity.

Our passage today tells of the tragic time in Israel’s history when God chastened her severely by allowing King Nebuchadnezzar and the wicked nation of Babylon to march against her and take her captive. God never coddles His people, nor does He wink at their sin. Israel’s chastening illustrates the principle that “judgment [begins] with the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). But as severe as His discipline can be, it is always aimed at producing greater righteousness and godly integrity in His children (Heb. 12:5–11).

The Babylonian captivity set the stage for a truly uncommon display of integrity from Daniel and his three Hebrew friends. In the days ahead we will examine their character in some depth. For now, however, be encouraged that adversity of any kind—even chastening for sin—is God’s way of providing the rich soil for nourishing and strengthening the spiritual fruit of integrity. Without the adversities of Babylon, Daniel’s integrity and that of his friends would not have shone as brightly as it did and would not have had the significant impact it had on King Nebuchadnezzar and his entire kingdom.

Perhaps you are currently experiencing adversities that are especially challenging, and you may not yet understand what God is accomplishing through them. But like Daniel and his friends, you can pray for the wisdom to understand His will and the faith to trust Him through the process. And you can be assured He will never fail you.

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer: Each day your integrity is tested in many ways. Ask the Lord to help you be aware of those times and to make choices that honor Him.

For Further Study: Read 1 Kings 9:3–5. What kind of integrity did God require of Solomon? ✧ What promises did He make if Solomon obeyed?[1]


Historical Introduction (1:1–2)

Commentary

1 King Jehoiakim (609–597 BC) was installed as a “puppet king” by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt after the death of King Josiah (cf. 2 Ki 23:30, 34). The third year of Jehoiakim’s reign dates Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem and Daniel’s subsequent captivity to 605 BC. This date accords with the accession-year method characteristic of the Babylonian system for computing regnal years (i.e., reckoning a king’s first full year of kingship to commence on the New Year’s Day after his accession to the throne, or 608 BC for Jehoiakim; cf. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 16–18). Critics point to the chronological discrepancy in the biblical reporting of the date of the event in that Jeremiah synchronizes the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign with the fourth year of King Jehoiakim’s reign (Jer 25:1, 9; cf. Porteous, 25–26). Yet if one assumes that Jeremiah is based on a nonaccession-year method of reckoning regnal years (more common to Egyptian and Syro-Palestinian practice), the difficulty fades and the dates are readily harmonized (cf. Longman and Dillard, 376–77).

Beyond this, critics dispute the historical veracity of Daniel’s report of a Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 605 BC because there is no record of such an incursion into Palestine at that time (cf. Redditt, 43). There is, however, indirect evidence for a Babylonian campaign in Palestine in 605 BC. Josephus (Ag. Ap. 1:19) cites a Babylonian priest-historian named Berossus, who recorded that Nebuchadnezzar was engaged in campaigns in Egypt, Syria, and Phoenicia at the time his father died (cf. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 15). Further, a cuneiform tablet published in 1956 indicates that Nebuchadnezzar “conquered the whole area of the Hatti-country” shortly after the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. The geographical term “Hatti” would have included the whole of Syria and Palestine at this time period (cf. Miller, 57; see also Donald J. Wiseman, Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings [London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1961], 69).

The siege of Jerusalem in 605 BC, then, was the first of three major invasions of Palestine by Babylonians (although there is no reference to armed conflict in vv. 1–2, and the verb “besieged” [Heb. ṣwr] may suggest more threat than substance, as evidenced in Goldingay’s [3] translation “blockaded”; cf. Wood, 30, who comments that “likely only token resistance was made, with the Judeans recognizing the wisdom of peaceful capitulation”).

The second incursion occurred at the end of Jehoiakim’s reign in 598 BC, when King Nebuchadnezzar was finally in a position to move against the disloyal Judean vassal (Jehoiakim had rebelled earlier against Babylonia ca. 603 BC; cf. 2 Ki 24:1–7). By the time Nebuchadnezzar reached Jerusalem, Jehoiakim had died and Jehoiachin his son was king of Judah (2 Ki 24:8). As a result of this invasion of Judah, King Jehoiachin was deposed and exiled along with ten thousand citizens of Jerusalem (including Ezekiel; 2 Ki 24:10–17; cf. Eze 1:1–2).

The third Babylonian invasion of Judah was swift and decisive. Nebuchadnezzar surrounded Jerusalem in 588 BC and after a lengthy siege, the city was sacked, Yahweh’s temple was plundered and destroyed, and Davidic kingship in Judah ceased (2 Ki 24:18–25:21).

Nebuchadnezzar II was the eldest son of Nabopolassar and is considered one of the greatest kings of ancient times. He ruled the Babylonian Empire from 605–562 BC—an empire that stretched across the ancient Near East from Elam in the east to Egypt in the west. Miller, 56, notes that the writer of Daniel refers proleptically to Nebuchadnezzar as “king of Babylon,” since he was actually crowned king some two or three months after the siege of Jerusalem.

The city of Babylon lay on the Euphrates River, some fifty miles south of modern Baghdad in Iraq. It reached the height of its splendor as the capital of the Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian Empire because of the extensive building activities of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar. The storied Hanging Gardens of Babylon were counted among the “wonders” of the ancient world. The prophet Jeremiah predicted the overthrow of Babylon as divine retribution for her evil deeds (Jer 25:12–14; cf. Isaiah’s prophecy in Isa 13:2–22 against the city of Babylon during the Assyrian period). In the NT, Babylon symbolizes the decadence and wickedness of Rome (cf. 1 Pe 5:13; Rev 14:8).

2 From the outset of the book, the record clearly indicates that Nebuchadnezzar’s success is not entirely his own doing. The Lord “delivered” (cf. NASB, “gave”) Jehoiakim into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar in that he permitted the Babylonian subjugation of Judah. (See NIDOTTE, 3:206, on the use of the Heb. verb nātan [“to give”] to connote “hand over in judgment.”) This introductory statement reveals the unifying theme for the whole book: God’s sovereign rule of human history. God’s judgment of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah was not capricious or arbitrary. The threat of divine punishment, including exile from the land of the Abrahamic promise, was embedded in the blessings and curses of the Mosaic covenant (cf. Lev 18:24–30; 26; Dt 28). Owing to God’s covenantal faithfulness, he was extremely patient and longsuffering with his people Israel, warning them through his prophets over centuries of the dire consequences of habitual covenantal disobedience (cf. Ne 9:29–32). Daniel was not oblivious to all this, as attested by his prayer for his people (Da 9:4–11).

Placing objects plundered from the temples of vanquished enemies as trophies of war in the temple(s) of the gods of the victors was common practice in the biblical world (e.g., 1 Sa 5:2). The act symbolized the supremacy of the deities of the conquering nation over the gods of the peoples and nations subjugated by the imperialist armies (cf. BBCOT, 287). The articles or vessels from the Jerusalem temple confiscated by Nebuchadnezzar are not itemized. It is possible these articles were given as tribute to Nebuchadnezzar in order to lift the siege against the city (after the earlier example of the payments made by kings Ahaz and Hezekiah to the Assyrians; cf. 2 Ki 16:8; 18:15). The temple treasury cache may have included gold and silver ceremonial cups and utensils displayed to the envoy of the Babylonian king Merodach-Baladan by King Hezekiah a century earlier (cf. 2 Ki 20:12–13). The prophet Isaiah rebuked Hezekiah’s pride and predicted his treasures would be plundered and carried off to Babylon (Isa 39:6; cf. the prohibition in Dt 17:17 against stockpiling wealth given to the Hebrew kings in anticipation of an Israelite monarchy).

Later, King Belshazzar paraded these gold and silver goblets before his nobles at a great feast, precipitating the episode of the writing on the wall and the demise of his kingship (Da 5:1–2, 25–31). Finally, some of these implements may have been part of the larger inventory of temple treasure plundered by the Babylonians that King Cyrus of Persia restored to the Hebrews and that were relocated in Judah when the exiles returned to the land under the leadership of Sheshbazzar (Ezr 1:7–11). All this serves as a reminder that everything under heaven belongs to God and that he providentially oversees what belongs to him—whether his people Israel or drinking bowls from his temple (cf. Job 41:11).

The historical setting laid out in the opening verses is also important to the theology of exile developed in the book of Daniel. It is clear from Daniel’s prayer in ch. 9 that he is aware of Jeremiah’s prophecies projecting a Babylonian exile lasting some seventy years (Da 9:2; cf. Jer 25:12; 29:10). The date formulas in books of subsequent prophets of the exile, such as Jeremiah (e.g., Jer 52:31) and Ezekiel (e.g., Eze 1:2), serve as “covenantal time-clocks” of sorts as they track the chronological progression of God’s judgment against his people for their sin of idolatry in anticipation of the restoration of Israel to the land of covenantal promise (Jer 44:3–6; cf. Lev 18:24–30). Elements of Daniel’s “theology of exile” developed in later sections of the commentary include: the value of prayer for Hebrews in the Diaspora, the role obedience and faithfulness to God play in the success of the Hebrews in the Diaspora, and insights into the nature and character of divine justice and human suffering in the light of the persecution experienced by Israel during and after the Babylonian exile.

More significant for the Hebrews was the crisis in theology created by the historical setting of the Babylonian exile. The Israelites, the people of Yahweh, lost possession of their land, had their temple razed, and had the office of kingship eradicated in one fell swoop to the marauding hordes of King Nebuchadnezzar and the gods of Babylonia. As Wallace, 31, observes, the Hebrews needed a new theology. God’s people needed a “Diaspora theology” addressing the problem of how to live as a minority group in an alien majority culture sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly; how were they to “fit in without being swallowed up?” The remainder of ch. 1 and the rest of the court stories take up the challenge of answering this very question.[2]


1:1–2 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim (605 b.c.), Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and took Daniel and other promising young people to Babylon to be trained in Babylonian culture and literature. This deportation was the beginning of what came to be known as the Babylonian exile, which was the result of the Lord’s judgment on his people. In Lev. 26:33, 39 the Lord threatened his people with exile if they were unfaithful to the terms of the covenant established at Mount Sinai (see also Deut. 4:27; 28:64). After a lengthy history of disobedience, this threat was carried out in several stages, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple in 586 b.c. The final destruction and exile were foreshadowed by this earlier exile in which vessels of the house of God were taken into captivity along with some of his people. Daniel calls it the “third year of the reign of Jehoiakim,” apparently using the Babylonian system for counting the length of a reign, while Jer. 25:1 calls it “the fourth year,” using the Jewish system. (Reigns could be counted from the beginning of the new year preceding a king’s ascension, or from the actual date of ascension, or from the beginning of the new year following his ascension; the third system was used in Babylon.)[3]


1:1 the third year The third year of Jehoiakim’s reign (606 bc) does not coincide with the known siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 bc (compare v. 1 with 2 Kgs 24:10–12; 2 Chr 36:9–10)—a discrepancy that makes it difficult to determine when Daniel was taken to Babylon. The sources Daniel used to determine his dates no longer exist and vary with the sources we have today.

Various cultures reckoned the king’s first year of service from different starting points. For example, in the “accession year” system, the king’s first official regnal year would begin with the arrival of the New Year—regardless of when he actually became king. Daniel may have been utilizing the “non-accession year” system, where the king’s reign begins when he actually assumes the throne. However, Daniel most likely employed the “postdating system,” where the king’s reign begins following the completion of his first full year in office. Babylonian record-keeping typically uses this method. While knowing which dating system was in place helps harmonize certain conflicting passages (compare Dan 1:1 with Jer 25:1), this cannot reconcile time gaps greater than one year. In this passage, the main issue is when and how many times Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem.

The difficulty concerns the timing of Nebuchadnezzar’s attack(s) on Jerusalem. His final destruction of Jerusalem occurred in 586 bc. Daniel 1:1 claims that a siege occurred in 606 bc—during the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign (609–597 bc). The Babylonian Chronicles—which are tablets that record the history of Babylon—report a siege that occurred during the reign of Jehoiachin in 597 bc, but this was after the death of Jehoiakim (compare 2 Kgs 24:10–17). While 2 Chr 36:5–10 records that Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem twice in a brief period, other ancient documents do not mention an earlier siege. It may be that the event mentioned here was not a formal siege, or Nebuchadnezzar may have sent others to deal with Jehoiakim (compare 2 Kgs 18:13–37, where both kings are represented by others).

Daniel 1:1 Daniel (Hermeneia)

Chronology of the Monarchy BEB

Regnal Chronology

 

Accession Year System

 

Length of reign begins at New Year

 

Non-Accession Year System

 

Length of reign begins at coronation

 

Postdating System

 

Length of reign begins after first full year

 

Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon from 605 to 562 bc.

 Nebuchadnezzar

Known as a master builder and military architect, Nebuchadnezzar was the pride of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He ruled for 43 years (605–562 bc) and gained fame by defeating the Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 bc just before ascending the throne. Historical sources emphasize his vast army and warring tendencies, portraying him as a king obsessed with conquest and power. He is portrayed similarly in Daniel but is used to make a theological point: The power of earthly rulers comes from God. Nebuchadnezzar is given power to exercise a temporary judgment on Judah. But his pride will be his downfall, and his vast kingdom will eventually belong to another foreign king.

besieged it According to the Babylonian Chronicles, Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem occurred in 597 bc.

The Babylonian Chronicles are a series of tablets discovered in the late 19th century. They present a selective series of accounts about Babylonian history covering the period from around 625–225 bc. Unlike other historical documents from the ancient Near East, these texts reflect an accurate catalog of historical events and omit the self-aggrandizing qualities often found in Egyptian texts. For example, they chronicle defeats as well as victories—a practice almost without parallel in antiquity—making them one of the earliest attempts at historiography. They assist in our understanding of the biblical record, particularly the book of Daniel, and cover some of the events leading up to (and including) Judah’s exile to Babylon.

1:2 into his hand Expresses the sovereignty of God over the nations—a theme repeated throughout the book. God can direct the destinies of foreign kingdoms and rulers, as well as His own people. Judah’s exile to Babylon is also viewed within this framework.

The setting for the book of Daniel is the deportation of Judah to Babylon, or the Babylonian exile. When Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish and subsequently became king in 605 bc, Judah fell under Babylonian control. Jehoiakim, then king of Judah, was a submissive vassal for three years, then rebelled. His rebellion brought reprisals from Nebuchadnezzar, who besieged Jerusalem in 597 bc. Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, was forced to yield after three months (see 2 Kgs 24:8, 10–12). As a result, he and many of the leading citizens of Judah were exiled to Babylon (see 2 Kgs 24:13–17). A second rebellion in 586 bc by Zedekiah brought about the full measure of Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath; Jerusalem was destroyed and the remaining population was brought to Babylon (see 2 Kgs 24:18–25:21). For the theological reason behind the exile, see Dan 9:2 and note.

The court tales of Daniel and his three friends (chs. 1–6) are placed within this setting of living under Babylonian domination. They function as “hope literature,” providing a sense of encouragement that God has authority over His people’s future. They are also didactic, teaching the exiles how to live righteously among their captors. The fruit of righteousness is seen in God’s continual deliverance of those who do right. The latter half of the book—chs. 7–12—deals with a later persecution. The arguments over when the book of Daniel was written involve this change of setting halfway through the book. Traditionally, Daniel is considered the author, so the book must have been written in his lifetime (sixth century bc). The stories in chs. 1–6 relate to Daniel and his friends in sixth-century Babylon. The change in style and character of chs. 7–12—with its focus on future events, especially those of the early second century bc—have led some to conclude that the book was written after Daniel’s lifetime.

the land of Shinar The ancient Hebrew name for Babylon, used here, was “Shinar” (see Gen 11:2 and note).

he brought the utensils See 2 Chronicles 36:10. In ancient Near Eastern warfare, placing the objects of a defeated enemy in the temple of one’s god was a common practice. It represented a thanksgiving offering for victory in battle and expressed superiority over the god of the defeated enemy. Israel’s God will eventually punish Babylon for this offense.

of his gods Marduk or Bel. Rather than add further shame to the captives by destroying the vessels, Nebuchadnezzar preserves them. While Nebuchadnezzar is eventually punished for his pride, Daniel presents him here in a positive light.[4]


1:1 the third year. 605 b.c. Nebuchadnezzar defeated a coalition of Assyria and Egypt at Carchemish and initiated Babylon’s rise to international power. After the battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar advanced against Jehoiakim (2 Kin. 24:1, 2; 2 Chr. 36:5–7) and took some Judeans captive, including Daniel. This was the first of three invasions of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. The second was in 597 b.c. (2 Kin. 24:10–14), and the third in 586 b.c. (2 Kin. 25:1–24). In the book of Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar’s attack is dated to Jehoiakim’s fourth year instead of the third (Jer. 25:1; 46:2). The difference occurs because in the Babylonian chronology, which Daniel apparently used, the king’s reign was officially counted from the first day of the succeeding new year, rather than from the actual date of his accession to the throne.

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonians to victory at Carchemish as crown prince and commander of the army. Shortly after this victory, he assumed the Babylonian throne when his father Nabopolassar died (626–605 b.c.). Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (605–562 b.c.) is the historical context for much of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

1:2 the Lord gave … into his hand. Israel’s defeat by the Babylonians is not to be explained simply by analysis of military and political factors. God is at work in the affairs of the nations, and the message to Daniel’s original audience is that He has used the Babylonians to judge His own people for their transgressions (2 Kin. 17:15, 18–20; 21:12–15; 24:3, 4). Under the terms of the covenant made at Mount Sinai, the Lord threatened to exile His people if they were unfaithful (Lev. 26:33, 39). The length of their tenure in the land in spite of their unfaithfulness is a sign of the Lord’s mercy. Their unfaithfulness culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the majority of the remaining population by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 b.c.

the vessels of the house of God. These same temple vessels are brought out by Belshazzar for his feast in Dan. 5 and will be returned to Judah with the exiles in the time of Cyrus (Ezra 1:7).

the treasury of his god. Marduk (or Bel) is the chief god of the Babylonian pantheon (cf. Jer. 50:2).[5]


1:1–2 Man proposes, God disposes

The story of Daniel is introduced by two statements which provide both the historical and theological context for the entire narrative. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Palestine on several occasions. The siege referred to here took place in 605 bc, the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign (by Babylonian reckoning. Je. 25:1, which refers to the same incident, uses Jewish reckoning, counting from the new year prior to a king’s accession.) Notice that this horizontal perspective on history is coupled with a vertical or theological one: the Lord delivered Jehoiakim. Immediately we are introduced to the underlying themes of the entire book:

Babylon versus Jerusalem, the city of this world against the city of God (Augustine), a conflict traced in Scripture to its climax in Revelation (see Rev. 14:8; 17:5; 18:2–24). Ultimately this conflict is rooted in the declaration of Gn. 3:15.

The sovereign reign of God, despite all appearances to the contrary. In the fall of Jerusalem prophecy was fulfilled (e.g. Is. 39:6–7; Je. 21:3–10; 25:1–11) and the judgments of God’s covenant (of which the prophets had warned) were inaugurated (i.e. Dt. 28:36–37, 47–49, 52, 58). The exile was a judgment on Jehoiakim’s reign (2 Ch. 36:5–7), but the rot had set in long before (2 Ki. 24:1–4). To outward appearances Nebuchadnezzar was triumphant, and God’s name shamed (the placing of the temple articles in the treasure-house of his god marking the triumph of the pagan deity Nabu over Yahweh). In reality, however, nothing is outside the divine rule (cf. Is. 45:7; Eph. 1:11b) as Nebuchadnezzar himself was eventually brought to recognize (4:35). In Daniel the experience of Joseph is repeated (Gn. 45:4–7; 50:20).[6]


 

Background (1:1–2). Daniel was exiled in 605 BC, the fourth year of King Jehoiakim, together with a cross section of prominent citizens and craftsmen (Jer. 25:1; 46:2). Daniel’s method of reckoning differs from that of the Palestinian system (cf. 2 Kings 23:36–24:2), as he writes “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it” (1:1). It appears that this manner of reckoning is based on the Babylonian system, according to which the first year began with the New Year.

The tragedy of that hour was that “the Lord delivered” (1:2) Jehoiakim, articles from the temple, and prominent citizens into captivity. This was the beginning of the exile of Judah, spoken of by Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk. The people had sinned, and the Lord had to discipline his rebellious children.

This was the first exile; a second followed, during which Ezekiel and King Jehoiachin were deported (597 BC). The third exile followed the desolation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple (586 BC).[7]


1:1 Jehoiakim king of Judah reigned from 608 to 598 b.c. The third year was 605 b.c., according to the chronological system used by Daniel in which only whole years were counted. Jeremiah, on the other hand, followed a system in which any part of a year was counted as a full year. Therefore, he designated 605 b.c. as the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jer. 25:1; 36:1; 46:2). Jehoiakim was an evil king who sided first with the Egyptians and then with the Babylonians until 602 b.c. when he rebelled. His independence was short-lived, however, and Jehoiakim remained under Babylonian domination until his death. The son of Nabopolassar, the founder of the Neo-Babylonian (Chaldean) Empire, was Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned from 605 to 562 b.c. In the summer of 605 b.c. when his father died, Nebuchadnezzar was leading the Babylonian armies. He returned to Babylon to secure the throne, but not before he besieged Jerusalem and seized loot and prisoners, including Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar greatly enlarged the empire begun by his father and revived the worship of the ancient Babylonian gods, especially Marduk.

1:2 the Lord gave: The Book of Daniel emphasizes the sovereignty of God in the affairs of nations. Jerusalem did not fall merely because Nebuchadnezzar was strong, but because God had judged the people of Judah for their disobedience and idolatry. some of the articles: The remainder of the articles were removed later when Jehoiakim surrendered (2 Kin. 24:13; 2 Chr. 36:18). Shinar—that is, Babylon—was located on the Euphrates River fifty miles south of present-day Baghdad in Iraq. into the treasure house: The articles taken from the house of God appear later, on the night of Belshazzar’s feast (ch. 5). Eventually they were returned to Zerubbabel who brought them back to Israel (Ezra 1:7).[8]


Background (1:1–2). Daniel was exiled in 605 b.c., the fourth year of King Jehoiakim, together with a cross-section of prominent citizens and craftsmen (Jer. 25:1; 46:2). Daniel’s method of reckoning differs from that of the Palestinian system, as he writes “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it” (1:1). It appears that this manner of reckoning is based on the Babylonian system, according to which the first year began with the New Year.

The tragedy of that hour was that “the Lord delivered” (1:2) Jehoiakim, articles from the temple, and prominent citizens into captivity. This was the beginning of the great exile of Judah, predicted by Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk. The people had sinned and the Lord had to discipline his rebellious children.

This was the first exile; a second followed during which Ezekiel and King Jehoiachin were deported. The third exile followed the desolation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple (586 b.c.).[9]


[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Hill, A. E. (2008). Daniel. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, pp. 45–48). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1586). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Da 1:1–2). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1464). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

[6] Ferguson, S. B. (1994). Daniel. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., pp. 748–749). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[7] Burge, G. M., & Hill, A. E. (Eds.). (2012). The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary (p. 785). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[8] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1008). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[9] VanGemeren, W. A. (1995). Daniel. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, pp. 591–592). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

May 24, 2017: Verse of the day

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55:10, 11 God’s word is just as irresistible and effective as the rain and snow. All the armies in the world cannot stop them, and they accomplish their intended purpose. God’s Word never fails to achieve its aims:

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.[1]


55:10, 11 rain … snow … My word. Moisture from heaven invariably accomplishes its intended purpose in helping meet human physical needs. The Word of God will likewise produce its intended results in fulfilling God’s spiritual purposes, especially the establishment of the Davidic kingdom on earth (vv. 1–5).[2]


55:10–11 As the rain and the snow cannot fail to nourish the earth, so God’s word of promise cannot fail to bring his people into the richness and fullness of eternal life. Human good intentions fail, but God’s promises succeed (cf. 40:6–8). The word of God not only describes a glorious future, it is God’s appointed means to create that future (cf. Ezek. 37:1–14).[3]


55:11 It shall not return to me without success Yahweh’s word cannot fail to bring about the desired results (compare 40:8). The word of God contains very real power to accomplish His will. Creation happened through divine speech in Gen 1 (compare Psa 33:6, 9), and Yahweh brought life back into lifeless bones through the prophetic words of Ezekiel (Ezek 37:1–14).[4]


55:10, 11 rain. The rain falls abundantly and of its own accord, and in a familiar but mysterious way produces plants and useful crops, evidently for the purpose of supplying people’s needs. The divine purpose in this is applied figuratively to the word of God in order to distinguish it from fallible human thoughts and plans. It also speaks of the Lord’s word as His decree by which He governs history. It never returns without accomplishing God’s sovereign purposes. Cf. 40:8.[5]

55:11 It is the divine origin (or character) of God’s word, and not some magical power, which causes it to accomplish the purpose for which it is sent (cf. Heb. 4:12).[6]

10–11 The declaration of vs 8–9 not only looks back to v 7 but on to vs 10–13, to shame us out of our small expectations. God’s thoughts are more far-reaching and more fertile, as well as higher, than ours. The comparison of his word with rain andsnow suggests a slow and silent work, transforming the face of the earth in due time. The reference is to his decree (cf. e.g. 44:26; 45:23) rather than his invitation or instruction, which can be refused (48:18–19; cf. the similar imagery to that of v 10 in Heb. 6:4–8).[7]

55:10, 11 bring forth: For a similar reference, see 2 Cor. 9:10. God’s word is similar to rainfall; it produces fruit (Ps. 147:15–20). Just as water enlivens and strengthens a withering rose, God’s word produces life in the hearts of sinners.[8]

55:10–11. Having spoken of the future time of blessing (the Millennium) and the salvation which leads to it, the Lord then assured believers that His Word … will accomplish what He says it will. His word is like rain and snow that water the earth and help give it abundant vegetation. In the Near East dry hard ground can seemingly overnight sprout with vegetation after the first rains of the rainy season. Similarly when God speaks His Word, it brings forth spiritual life, thus accomplishing His purpose.[9]


[1] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 55:10). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1342). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Is 55:11). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1228). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

[6] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Is 55:11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[7] Kidner, F. D. (1994). Isaiah. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 664). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[8] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 865). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[9] Martin, J. A. (1985). Isaiah. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 1111). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

MAY 18 – GOD DOES NOT HAVE POWER: GOD IS POWER

God hath spoken once: twice have I heard this: that power belongeth unto God.

PSALM 62:11

It is hard for us sons of the machine age to remember that there is no power apart from God! Whether physical, intellectual, moral or spiritual, power is contained in God, flows out from Him and returns to Him again. The power that works throughout His creation remains in Him even while it operates in an atom or a galaxy!

The notion that power is something God separates from Himself and tosses out to work apart from Him is erroneous. The power of nature is the Presence of God in the universe. This idea is woven into the book of Job, the Psalms and the Prophets.

The writings of John and Paul in the New Testament harmonize with this Old Testament doctrine, and in the book of Hebrews it is said that Christ upholds all things by the word of His power.

We must not think of the power of God as wild, irrational energy coursing haphazardly through the world like a lightning strike or a tornado. This is the impression sometimes created by Bible teachers who keep reminding us that dunamis, the Greek word for power, is the root from which comes our word “dynamite.” Little wonder that sensitive Christians shrink from contact with such a destructive and unpredictable force.

The power of God is not something God has: it is something God is! Power is something that is true of God as wisdom and love are true of Him. It is, if we might so state it, a fact of His being, one with and indivisible from everything else that He is. The power of God is one with God’s will and works only as He wills that it should. It is His holy Being in action![1]


62:11 Once God has spoken The psalmist uses a numerical saying—a literary device common in Wisdom Literature—as he looks to God’s promises (see Prov 30:18 and note).[2]


62:11 once, Twice: It is a convention of wisdom literature to use a number and then raise it by one (Prov. 30:11–33). The point here is that David has heard the message with certainty.[3]


62:11, 12 once, Twice: The ascending number emphasizes the truth of the following statement. To God belong power and mercy; He gives to each one as we deserve (see 1 Cor. 3:8).[4]


62:11–12. The psalmist contrasted this with the fact that God has declared that the power is His. David heard God say two things: that He is strong and loving. So justice will be meted out to everybody. How much better then to find rest in the powerful God than in human devices.[5]


11, 12 God has power (unlike man in his insubstantiality, 9) and unchanging love (unlike man’s deceitfulness, 9). Not only so, but his loving power is an active force of moral providence (12) whereby he ‘fully requites’ (reward). Therefore we can trust him for our welfare and against the works of our enemies.[6]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 62:11). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 689). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[4] The Open Bible: New King James Version. (1998). (electronic ed., Ps 62:11–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 839). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 524). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

MAY 8 – MOST IMPORTANT: YOUR NAMES WRITTEN IN HEAVEN

…Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the LORD, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the LORD.

1 CORINTHIANS 15:58

Those who are active in Christian service must beware of two opposite pitfalls: the elation that comes with success on the one hand, or the discouragement that comes with failure, on the other.

These may be considered by some as trivial, but the history of the Christian ministry will not support this conclusion. They are critically dangerous and should be guarded against with great care.

The disciples returned to Christ with brimming enthusiasm, saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name,” and He quickly reminded them of another being who had allowed success to go to his head.

“I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven,” He said. “In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.”

The second of these twin dangers need not be labored. Every minister of the gospel knows how hard it is to stay spiritual when his work appears to be fruitless. Yet he is required to rejoice in God as certainly when he is having a bad year as when he is seeing great success, and to lean heavily upon Paul’s assurance that “your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”[1]


The Great Exhortation

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (15:58)

If we really believe and if we are truly thankful that our resurrection is sure, that we will be transformed from the perishable, dishonorable, weak, natural, mortal, and earthy to the imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual, immortal, and heavenly—we should therefore prove our assurance and our thankfulness by being steadfast, immovable [negative] and always abounding [positive] in the work of the Lord.

Hedraios (steadfast) literally refers to being seated, and therefore to being settled and firmly situated. Ametakinētos (immovable) carries the same basic idea but with more intensity. It denotes being totally immobile and motionless. Obviously Paul is talking about our being moved away from God’s will, not to our being moved within it. Within His will we are to be always abounding in the work of the Lord. But we should not move a hairbreadth away from His will, continually being careful not to be “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14).

Gordon Clark gives a helpful paraphrase of this verse: “Therefore we should mortify emotion, be steadfast, unchangeable, not erratic and scatterbrained, easily discouraged, and should multiply our good works in the knowledge that the Lord will make them profitable.”

If our confident hope in the resurrection wavers, we are sure to abandon ourselves to the ways and standards of the world. If there are no eternal ramifications or consequences of what we do in this life, the motivation for self-less service and holy living is gone.

On the other hand, when our hope in the resurrection is clear and certain we will have great motivation to be abounding in the work of the Lord. Perisseuō (abounding) carries the idea of exceeding the requirements, of overflowing or overdoing. In Ephesians 1:7–8 the word is used of God’s lavishing on us “the riches of His grace.” Because God has so abundantly overdone Himself for us who deserve nothing from Him, we should determine to overdo ourselves (if that were possible) in service to Him, to whom we owe everything.

What a word Paul gives to the countless Christians who work and pray and give and suffer as little as they can! How can we be satisfied with the trivial, insignificant, short–lived things of the world? How can we “take it easy” when so many around us are dead spiritually and so many fellow believers are in need of edification, encouragement, and help of every sort? When can a Christian say, “I’ve served my time, I’ve done my part; let others do the work now”?

Reasonable rest is important and necessary. But if we err, Paul is saying, it should be on the side of doing more work for the Lord, not less. Leisure and relaxation are two great modern idols, to which many Christians seem quite willing to bow down. In proper proportion recreation and diversions can help restore our energy and increase our effectiveness. But they also can easily become ends in themselves, demanding more and more of our attention, concern, time, and energy. More than one believer has relaxed and hobbled himself completely out of the work of the Lord.

Some of God’s most faithful and fruitful saints have lived to old age and been active and productive in His service to the end. Many others, however, have seen their lives shortened for the very reason that they were abounding, overflowing and untiring, in service to Christ. Henry Martyn, the British missionary to India and Persia, determined “to burn out for God,” which he did before he was thirty–five. David Brainerd, one of the earliest missionaries to American Indians, died before he was thirty. We know very little of Epaphroditus, except that he was a “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” of Paul’s who “came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life” (Phil. 2:25, 30). He became so lost in godly service that he literally became sick unto death because of it.

Until the Lord returns there are souls to reach and ministries of every sort to be accomplished. Every Christian should work uncompromisingly as the Lord has gifted and leads. Our money, time, energy, talents, gifts, bodies, minds, and spirits should be invested in nothing that does not in some way contribute to the work of the Lord. Our praise and thanksgiving must be given hands and feet. James tells us, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).

Our work for the Lord, if it is truly for Him and done in His power, cannot fail to accomplish what He wants accomplished. Every good work believers do in this life has eternal benefits that the Lord Himself guarantees. “Behold, I am coming quickly,” Jesus says, “and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). We have God’s own promise that our toil [labor to the point of exhaustion] is not in vain in the Lord.[2]


Concluding Appeal in Light of the Resurrection (15:58)

In view, then, of the certainty of the resurrection and the fact that faith in Christ is not in vain, the Apostle Paul exhorts his beloved brethren to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that their labor is not in vain in the Lord. The truth of resurrection changes everything. It provides hope and steadfastness, and enables us to go on in the face of overwhelming and difficult circumstances.[3]


58 Paul concludes this triumphant chapter with a moral message—one that all of us ought to apply to our lives daily. Earlier he had shown how lack of belief in the doctrine of the resurrection led to the Epicurean lifestyle of finding pleasure in eating and drinking and in immoral behavior (see comments at vv. 33–34). The converse is that belief in the resurrection leads to a “purpose-driven life” of service for the Lord. We know that our service for him will not be in vain because we are on the winning side in the battle of life. Though we all struggle at times, the battle against sin and Satan is worthwhile because in the end, they will be defeated.

Paul’s use of “in vain” (kenos, GK 3031) picks up his use of that adjective in v. 14, where he indicated that if Christ has not been raised, then Paul’s preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain. But because of the resurrection of Christ and the assurance of our future final victory over death, life even with all its difficulties is never in vain.

It is no wonder, then, that Paul encourages believers to “stand firm” and “let nothing move [them].” He began this section on the resurrection by reminding the Corinthians that they had stood firm in the apostolic doctrine preached to them about the death and resurrection of Christ; now he closes with an exhortation to remain firm in that knowledge and to let it shape their everyday lives. May it do so for us as well![4]


An Exhortation

15:58

  1. So then, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

The exhortation has little to do with the immediately preceding verses on the victory the believers share with Jesus Christ. It is an entreaty that arises from the entire chapter if not the whole epistle. The last instructions and final greetings aside, Paul has come to the end of his epistle and now admonishes his readers to do the work of the Lord.

  1. “So then, my dear brothers.” The first two words introduce a concluding statement. Paul frequently uses this expression in his epistles. For the last time in this letter he addresses the recipients in a personal manner by calling them “dear brothers [and sisters].” At two other places, Paul addresses the readers as “my dear children” (4:14) and “my dear friends” (10:14). Each time he speaks to the Corinthians as a father to his children. He remains the spiritual father of the Corinthians, who through the preaching of the gospel are his offspring (4:15). Paul is their pastor who loves them despite the numerous difficulties in the church.
  2. “Be steadfast, immovable.” Paul commends the believers for their steadfastness and exhorts them to continue their dedication to the Lord (compare Col. 1:23). Amid the onslaught of diverse teaching in a pagan culture, he urges them to remain firm in the Lord and not to waver. Paul tells the Corinthians to be immovable. This last word is a compound that signifies an inability to move from their spiritual moorings. Paul is not talking about retaining the status quo in the church. He wants the people to grow in their love for the Lord and to communicate this in their deeds.
  3. “Always abounding in the work of the Lord.” After telling his readers not to be moved in any way, Paul encourages them to excel in the Lord’s work. To express constancy and emphasis he adds the word always which, in the original, he places last in the clause for emphasis. What is the work of the Lord? The work entails preaching and teaching Christ’s gospel, applying the contents of Scripture to our lives, edifying one another, and loving our neighbor as ourselves (compare 16:10). It consists of an earnest desire to keep God’s commandments and to do so out of gratitude for our salvation provided through his Son. As his love extends to us without measure, so our selfless deeds are done for him without measure.
  4. “Knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” The faithful Corinthians have a sure knowledge that the deeds done out of love and thankfulness to God will not be forgotten (see Heb. 6:10). The word labor is often used by Paul in a missionary setting and means working with his own hands for his own support (4:12) “and for activity in the Christian community as a whole.” Such labor given freely in service to the Lord is never in vain because the Lord himself blesses his servants (Matt. 19:29).[5]

15:58 Concluding instructions

The consequence of all this discussion is the command to stand firm and not to move away from the rock of the bodily resurrection of God’s people. What they must not do now in that body, which is to be resurrected, is to be led away into sin (33–34a). Rather, they are always to be given fully to the work of the Lord, which in part means helping those who are ignorant of God (34b). This is the lifetime call to the ordinary Christian. That work will not be worthless and will mean that they will receive the Lord’s reward for the good done in the body at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). Those who die in the Lord are pronounced blessed indeed, for they cease from their work in the Lord and their good works follow on behind them (Rev. 14:13). In contemporary Christianity there is a danger of investing the term ‘eternal life’ with the Greek pagan notion of the immortality of the soul, and of regarding the present moments of the Christian life as providing opportunities for personal advancement and aggrandizement.[6]


15:58 The Corinthians were to continue steadfast in the work of Christ, specifically because of the Resurrection. your labor is not in vain: All the work that we do for Christ will be rewarded (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12).[7]


15:58. Paul’s doctrinal declarations led to practical directives and this chapter’s conclusion was no exception. The Corinthians were urged to stand firm in the apostles’ teaching (v. 2), unmoved by the denials of false teachers (cf. Eph. 4:14). This certainty, especially concerning the Resurrection, provided an impetus to faithful service (cf. 1 Cor. 3:8; Gal. 6:9) since labor in the resurrected Lord is not futile (kenos, “empty”; cf. 1 Cor. 15:10, 14, 17, 30–32).[8]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 446–448). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1811). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 405). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 587–588). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[6] Winter, B. (1994). 1 Corinthians. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1185). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[7] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1488). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[8] Lowery, D. K. (1985). 1 Corinthians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 546). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

April 2 – Happiness Is . . .

“Blessed are the poor in spirit … those who mourn … the gentle … those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … the merciful … the pure in heart … the peacemakers … [and] those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness” (Matt. 5:3–10).

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By the world’s standards, Christ’s definition of happiness is shocking and contradictory!

A quiz in a popular magazine characterized happy people as those who enjoy other people but aren’t self-sacrificing, who refuse to participate in negative feelings or emotions, and who have a sense of accomplishment based on their own self-sufficiency.

But Jesus described happy people quite differently. In fact, He characterized them as spiritual beggars who realize they have no resources in themselves. He said they are meek rather than proud, mournful over their sin, self-sacrificing, and willing to endure persecution to reconcile men to God.

By the world’s standards, that sounds more like misery than happiness! But the people of the world don’t understand that what is often thought of as misery is actually the key to happiness.

Follow the Lord’s progression of thought: true happiness begins with being “poor in spirit” (v. 3). That means you have a right attitude toward sin, which leads you to “mourn” over it (v. 4). Mourning over sin produces a meekness that leads to hungering and thirsting for righteousness (vv. 5–6), which results in mercy, purity of heart, and a peaceable spirit (vv. 7–9)—attitudes that bring true happiness.

When you display those attitudes, you can expect to be insulted, persecuted, and unjustly accused (vv. 10–11) because your life will be an irritating rebuke to worldly people. But despite the persecution, you can “rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (v. 12).

You are one of God’s lights in a sin-darkened world (v. 14), and while most people will reject Christ, others will be drawn to Him by the testimony of your life. Be faithful to Him today, so He can use you that way.

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Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for the grace He gives you, enabling you to have Beatitude attitudes. ✧ Ask Him to make you a bright light in someone’s life today.

For Further Study: Read 1 Peter 2:19–23. ✧ How did Jesus respond to persecution? ✧ How should you respond?[1]


5:3–11 The first four Beatitudes, or “blessed sayings,” portray the ideal heart condition of kingdom citizens; the latter five present the actions resulting from this attitude of heart. Together they emphasize being and living rather than doing, so that the kingdom citizen responds instinctively to various situations as they arise. They revolutionize accepted priorities and the world’s standard of blessedness. The Beatitudes, so designated because of the form of the statement, “Blessed are,” describe the character traits of those accepted as citizens of the kingdom of God and set forth both the present and future blessings of those whose lives portray these virtues. They describe different experiences and attitudes of one person, rather than eight or nine different categories of people.[2]


5:3 Blessed. This means more than the emotional state represented by the word “happy.” It includes spiritual well-being, having the approval of God, and thus a happier destiny (Ps. 1).

poor in spirit. Those with the greater spiritual need are more likely to perceive their need and depend on God alone and not their own goodness. Paul notes the same principle in Rom. 9:30, 31. The parallel in Luke 6:20 omits “in spirit.” This has led many to suppose Jesus primarily spoke of the materially poor. Material poverty and recognition of spiritual need often go together (Ps. 9:18 note), but the two kinds of poverty are not identical.

5:4 those who mourn. The context indicates that these are mourning over sin and evil, especially their own, and over the failure of mankind to give proper glory to God.

5:5 the meek. This beatitude resembles and is perhaps based on Ps. 37:11. The meekness in view is spiritual meekness, an attitude of humility and submission to God. Our pattern for meekness is Jesus (the same Greek word is translated “gentle” in 11:29), who submits to the will of His Father.

inherit the earth. The ultimate fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, whom Paul calls “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13; cf. Heb. 11:16).

5:6 hunger … for righteousness. Those who seek God’s righteousness receive what they desire, not those who are confident of their own righteousness.

5:8 they shall see God. Because God is a spirit, His divine essence is invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16). Nevertheless, believers will “see” God through the insight of faith, and Jesus assured His disciples that in seeing Him they had “seen the Father” (John 14:9). In the glorified state, God’s children will “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

5:9 peacemakers. Spiritual peace, not the cessation of physical violence between nations, is in view. Although the term is usually understood to mean those who help others find peace with God, this peace can also be understood as those who have made their own peace with God and are called His children. The principle is extended in vv. 44, 45—the children of God make peace, even with their enemies.[3]


5:3 Blessed The Greek word used here, makarios (meaning “happy” or “fortunate), often indicates someone who is favored by God.

poor in spirit Refers to those in Jesus’ day who recognize and bear their desperate plight, and who long for God’s restoration through the Messiah.

kingdom of heaven The crowd was already familiar with this terminology through John the Baptist’s proclamation; they anticipated a time of restoration. See note on Matt 3:2.

The Kingdom of God: Already but Not Yet

5:4 the ones who mourn Could refer to those who mourn for Israel and for their plight within its present conditions (e.g., Roman occupation, what seems like a lack of God’s presence, impoverishment). Alternatively, it could refer to those who mourn over their personal sin or are currently enduring difficult times.

because they will be comforted Those who mourn for the unfulfilled condition of Israel will be comforted when the kingdom is fulfilled. In the new kingdom, God’s new covenant will restore what had been lost due to violations of the old covenant.

5:5 the meek Refers to someone who is humble or gentle. The meek do not seek gain for themselves; instead, they hope in the Lord.

they will inherit the earth A reference to Psa 37:11, which foretells the destruction of evildoers (compare Rev 21), so that those who hope in Yahweh will live in peace.

5:6 ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness A metaphor for moral uprightness. This may be an allusion to Psa 37:12–17 (compare note on Matt 5:5), which speaks of a time when oppressors will be no more. This line expresses a deep desire both for personal righteousness and for a world characterized by God’s righteousness (or justice).

This phrase has no exact ot parallel, but Job 15:16 contains the reverse: “one who is abominable and corrupt, a man who drinks injustice like water.” It implies that those who observe God’s commandments should do so not out of resignation, but out of a fundamental desire. Due to widespread poverty, many of those listening to Jesus were probably hungry and thirsty in a literal sense.

5:7 Blessed are the merciful God rewards those who imitate His goodness and mercy. This beatitude has the same emphasis as the others: God’s kingdom is breaking in upon the world. When it does, God will show mercy to those who have been merciful to others.

5:8 pure in heart Possibly an allusion to Psa 18:26. This beatitude uses the terminology of ritual purity and cleanness, which would have been common in Judaism.

At this time, the law—with its ritual precepts—was still in effect. But Jesus’ original audience likely would have made no distinction between having a heart pure from sin and being a person who is ritually pure according to the law. This parallels Jesus’ emphasis on God being concerned about the spiritual state of a person, not just their outward, religious purity (compare Matt 15:11).

they will see God Likely an allusion to the temple entrance liturgy of Psa 24:3–4. The idea being that they will witness God’s entrance.

The law forbade anyone who was unclean from entering the holy place; in Exod 33:20, God declares that none shall see Him and live. Even the prophet Isaiah—calling himself a man of unclean lips—feared for his life when he saw only a vision of Yahweh (Isa 6). The law’s call for purity allowed Jews to hope that, if they could be wholly cleansed, they would finally be able to see God. Jesus here promises this outcome; He implies that God’s people will be able to attain it.

5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers Jewish literature of the time valued those who worked for peace. For instance, 2 Enoch reads “Blessed is one who gives peace and love” (52:11).

sons of God Those whose lives reflect the ethics of Jesus will be clearly identified as children of God (see Rom 8:14 and note).

5:10–12 These three verses address persecution and likely reflect the situation of those who first read Matthew’s Gospel (which may explain why the theme receives such extensive treatment). Later in the narrative, Jesus encounters each form of persecution recorded here and suffers the same fate as many ot prophets (see Matt 23:29–37).[4]

5:3–12 The Beatitudes all begin with “Blessed are …” They are called “beatitudes” from Latin beatus, “blessed, happy” (but see note on v. 3). These short statements summarize the essence of the Sermon on the Mount.

5:3 Blessed. More than a temporary or circumstantial feeling of happiness, this is a state of well-being in relationship to God that belongs to those who respond to Jesus’ ministry. The poor in spirit are those who recognize they are in need of God’s help. theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It belongs to those who confess their spiritual bankruptcy. On a contrast with the first seven beatitudes, see note on 23:13–36.

Jesus’ Five Discourses

The authoritative message of the Messiah (Sermon on the Mount)

 

chs. 5–7

 

The authoritative mission of the Messiah’s messengers

 

ch. 10

 

The mysteries of the messianic kingdom revealed in parables

 

ch. 13

 

The community of the Messiah revealed

 

chs. 18–20

 

The delay, return, and judgment of the Messiah (Olivet Discourse)

 

chs. 24–25

 

5:4 those who mourn. The spiritual, emotional, or financial loss resulting from sin should lead to mourning and a longing for God’s forgiveness and healing (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10).

5:5 The meek are the “gentle” (cf. 11:29), those who do not assert themselves over others in order to further their own agendas in their own strength, but who will nonetheless inherit the earth because they trust in God to direct the outcome of events. Cf. Ps. 37:11.

5:6 Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness recognize that God is the ultimate source of real righteousness, so they long for his righteous character to be evident in people’s lives on earth. They shall be satisfied by responding to his invitation to be in relationship with him.

5:7 The kindness and forgiveness that the merciful show to others will also be shown to them.

5:8 The pure in heart are those whose pursuit of purity and uprightness affects every area of life. they shall see God. Note the ultimate fulfillment in Rev. 22:4; cf. note on John 1:18. In contrast to Jewish traditions that overemphasized external ritual purity, Jesus taught that purity of heart was most important (cf. note on Matt. 5:28).

5:9 peacemakers. Those who promote God’s messianic peace (Hb. shalom, total well-being both personally and communally) will receive the ultimate reward of being called sons of God (see note on Gal. 3:26) as they reflect the character of their heavenly Father.

5:10 Those who are persecuted are those who have been wrongly treated because of their faith. God is pleased when his people show that they value him above everything in the world, and this happens when they courageously remain faithful amid opposition for righteousness’ sake.[5]


5:3 Blessed. The word lit. means “happy, fortunate, blissful.” Here it speaks of more than a surface emotion. Jesus was describing the divinely-bestowed well-being that belongs only to the faithful. The Beatitudes demonstrate that the way to heavenly blessedness is antithetical to the worldly path normally followed in pursuit of happiness. The worldly idea is that happiness is found in riches, merriment, abundance, leisure, and such things. The real truth is the very opposite. The Beatitudes give Jesus’ description of the character of true faith. poor in spirit. The opposite of self-sufficiency. This speaks of the deep humility of recognizing one’s utter spiritual bankruptcy apart from God. It describes those who are acutely conscious of their own lostness and hopelessness apart from divine grace (cf. 9:12; Lk 18:13). See note on 19:17. theirs is the kingdom of heaven. See note on 3:2. Notice that the truth of salvation by grace is clearly presupposed in this opening verse of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was teaching that the kingdom is a gracious gift to those who sense their own poverty of spirit.

5:4 those who mourn. This speaks of mourning over sin, the godly sorrow that produces repentance leading to salvation without regret (2Co 7:10). The “comfort” is the comfort of forgiveness and salvation (cf. Is 40:1, 2).

5:5 the gentle. Gentleness or meekness is the opposite of being out of control. It is not weakness, but supreme self-control empowered by the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:23). The statement that the meek “shall inherit the earth” is quoted from Ps 37:11.

5:6 hunger and thirst for righteousness. This is the opposite of the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. It speaks of those who seek God’s righteousness rather than attempting to establish a righteousness of their own (Ro 10:3; Php 3:9). What they seek will fill them, i.e., it will satisfy their hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God.

5:7 they shall receive mercy. The converse is also true. Cf. Jas 2:13.

5:8 see God. Not only with the perception of faith, but in the glory of heaven. Cf. Heb 12:14; Rev 22:3, 4.

5:9 peacemakers. See vv. 44, 45 for more on this quality.

5:10 persecuted. Cf. Jas 5:10, 11; 1Pe 4:12–14. See note on Lk 6:22.[6]


5:3–10 The good life (cf. Lk. 6:20–22). The discourse begins with a rounded portrait of the true disciple in the form of eight ‘beatitudes’. Neither blessed nor ‘happy’ adequately translates makarios, which is rather a term of congratulation and recommendation. These qualities are to be envied and emulated; they make up ‘the good life’. Each is followed by a reason, pointing out that no-one will be the loser by following this way of life, however unpromising it may appear in the short term. The rewards are at the level of spiritual experience and relationship with God rather than of material recompense. The key phrase, which opens and concludes the series, is theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This refers to the people who acknowledge God as their King and who may, therefore, confidently look forward to the fulfilment of his purpose in their lives.

Lk. 6:20–22 offers only four beatitudes, balanced by four ‘woes’. They are phrased in the second person and focus on the material and social condition of the disciples, rather than on the spiritual qualities set out here.

Notes. 3 Poor in spirit suggests the OT theme of the ‘poor’ or ‘meek’, the oppressed people of God who, nonetheless, trust in him for deliverance. This and the next verse echo Is. 61:1–2, while v 5 draws on Ps. 37:11, another passage which contrasts the ‘meek’ with the ‘wicked’.[7]


5:3 This first blessing is pronounced on the poor in spirit. This does not refer to natural disposition, but to one’s deliberate choice and discipline. The poor in spirit are those who acknowledge their own helplessness and rely on God’s omnipotence. They sense their spiritual need and find it supplied in the Lord. The kingdom of heaven, where self-sufficiency is no virtue and self-exaltation is a vice, belongs to such people.

5:4 Those who mourn are blessed; a day of comfort awaits them. This does not refer to mourning because of the vicissitudes of life. It is the sorrow which one experiences because of fellowship with the Lord Jesus. It is an active sharing of the world’s hurt and sin with Jesus. Therefore, it includes, not only sorrow for one’s own sin, but also sorrow because of the world’s appalling condition, it’s rejection of the Savior, and the doom of those who refuse His mercy. These mourners shall be comforted in the coming day when “God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 21:4). Believers do all their mourning in this life; for unbelievers, today’s grief is only a foretaste of eternal sorrow.

5:5 A third blessing is pronounced on the meek: they shall inherit the earth. By nature these people might be volatile, temperamental, and gruff. But by purposefully taking Christ’s spirit on them, they become meek or gentle (compare Matthew 11:29). Meekness implies acceptance of one’s lowly position. The meek person is gentle and mild in his own cause, though he may be a lion in God’s cause or in defending others.

The meek do not now inherit the earth; rather they inherit abuse and dispossession. But they will literally inherit the earth when Christ, the King, reigns for a thousand years in peace and prosperity.

5:6 Next, a blessing is pronounced on those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: they are promised satisfaction. These people have a passion for righteousness in their own lives; they long to see honesty, integrity, and justice in society; they look for practical holiness in the church. Like the people of whom Gamaliel Bradford wrote, they have “a thirst no earthly stream can satisfy, a hunger that must feed on Christ or die.” These people will be abundantly satisfied in Christ’s coming kingdom: they shall be filled, for righteousness will reign and corruption will give way to the highest moral standards.

5:7 In our Lord’s kingdom, the merciful are blessed … for they shall obtain mercy. To be merciful means to be actively compassionate. In one sense it means to withhold punishment from offenders who deserve it. In a wider sense it means to help others in need who cannot help themselves. God showed mercy in sparing us from the judgment which our sins deserved and in demonstrating kindness to us through the saving work of Christ. We imitate God when we have compassion.

The merciful shall obtain mercy. Here, Jesus is not referring to the mercy of salvation which God gives to a believing sinner; that mercy is not dependent on a person’s being merciful—it is a free, unconditional gift. Rather the Lord is speaking of the daily mercy needed for Christian living and of mercy in that future day when one’s works will be reviewed (1 Cor. 3:12–15). If one has not been merciful, that person will not receive mercy; that is, one’s rewards will decrease accordingly.

5:8 The pure in heart are given the assurance that they shall see God. A pure-hearted person is one whose motives are unmixed, whose thoughts are holy, whose conscience is clean. The expression they shall see God may be understood in several ways. First, the pure in heart see God now through fellowship in the Word and the Spirit. Second, they sometimes have a supernatural appearance, or vision, of the Lord presented to them. Third, they shall see God in the Person of Jesus when He comes again. Fourth, they shall see God in eternity.

5:9 A blessing is pronounced on the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God. Notice that the Lord is not speaking about people with a peaceful disposition or those who love peace. He is referring to those who actively intervene to make peace. The natural approach is to watch strife from the sidelines. The divine approach is to take positive action toward creating peace, even if it means taking abuse and invective.

Peacemakers are called sons of God. This is not how they become sons of God—that can only happen by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior (John 1:12). By making peace, believers manifest themselves as sons of God, and God will one day acknowledge them as people who bear the family likeness.

5:10 The next beatitude deals with those who are persecuted, not for their own wrongdoings, but for righteousness’ sake. The kingdom of heaven is promised to those believers who suffer for doing right. Their integrity condemns the ungodly world and brings out its hostility. People hate a righteous life because it exposes their own unrighteousness.[8]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 105). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Mt 5:3–11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1367). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Mt 5:3–12). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 1827–1828). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Mt 5:3–10). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[7] France, R. T. (1994). Matthew. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 910). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[8] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1216–1217). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

April 1 – Cultivating Beatitude Attitudes

“When [Jesus] saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them” (Matt. 5:1–2).

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Only Christians know true happiness because they know Christ, who is its source.

Jesus’ earthly ministry included teaching, preaching, and healing. Wherever He went, He generated great excitement and controversy. Usually great multitudes of people followed Him as He moved throughout the regions of Judea and Galilee. Thousands came for healing, many came to mock and scorn, and some came in search of truth.

On one such occasion Jesus delivered His first recorded message—the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7). In it He proclaimed a standard of living diametrically opposed to the standards of His day—and ours. Boldly denouncing the ritualistic, hypocritical practices of the Jewish religious leaders, He taught that true religion is a matter of the heart or mind. People will behave as their hearts dictate (Luke 6:45); so the key to transformed behavior is transformed thinking.

At the beginning of His sermon Jesus presented the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12), a list of the godly attitudes that mark a true believer and ensure true happiness. The Greek word translated “blessed” in those verses speaks of happiness and contentment. The rest of the sermon discusses the lifestyle that produces it.

Jesus taught that happiness is much more than favorable circumstances and pleasant emotions. In fact, it doesn’t depend on circumstances at all. It is built on the indwelling character of God Himself. As your life manifests the virtues of humility, sorrow over sin, gentleness, righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, and peace, you will experience happiness that even severe persecution can’t destroy.

As we study the Beatitudes, I pray you will be more and more conformed to the attitudes they portray and that you will experience true happiness in Christ.

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Suggestions for Prayer:  Ask the Holy Spirit to minister to you through our daily studies. Be prepared to make any attitude changes that He might prompt.

For Further Study: Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7). ✧ What issues did Christ address? ✧ How did His hearers react to His teaching? How do you?[1]


The Great Sermon of the Great King

And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, (5:1–2)

Until this point in Matthew, Jesus’ words have been limited (4:17, 19) and reference to His teachings general (4:23). Now, in one powerfully comprehensive yet compact message, the Lord sets forth the foundational truths of the gospel of the kingdom He came to proclaim.

Here begins what has traditionally been called the Sermon on the Mount. Though Jesus repeated many of these truths on other occasions, chapters 5–7 record one continuous message of the Lord, delivered at one specific time. As we will see, these were revolutionary truths to the minds of those Jewish religionists who heard them, and have continued to explode with great impact on the minds of readers for nearly two thousand years.

Here is the manifesto of the new Monarch, who ushers in a new age with a new message.

The Context

The Biblical Context

The King’s new message was closely related to the message of the Old Testament and was, in fact, a reaffirmation of it. Yet the emphasis of the gospel (which means “good news”) was radically different from the current understanding of the Old Testament-an astounding clarification of what Moses, David, the prophets, and other inspired writers of God’s Word had revealed. In addition to that, Christ’s message struck violently against the Jewish tradition of His day.

The last message in the Old Testament is, “And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse” (Mal. 4:6). By contrast, this first great sermon of the New Testament begins with a series of blessings, which we call the Beatitudes (5:3–12). The Old Testament ends with the warning of a curse; the New Testament begins with the promise of blessing. The Old Testament was characterized by Mount Sinai, with its law, its thunder and lightning, and its warnings of judgment and cursing. The New Testament is characterized by Mount Zion, with its grace, its salvation and healing, and its promises of peace and blessing (cf. Heb. 12:18–24).

The Old Testament law demonstrates man’s need of salvation, and the New Testament message offers the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord had to begin with a proper presentation of the law, so the people would recognize their sin-then could come the offer of salvation. The Sermon on the Mount clarifies the reasons for the curse and shows that man has no righteousness that can survive the scrutiny of God. The new message offers blessing, and that is the Lord’s opening offer.

As will be developed in the next chapter, however, the blessedness Christ offers is not dependent on self-effort or self-righteousness, but on the new nature God gives. In God’s Son man comes to share God’s very nature, which is characterized by true righteousness and its consequence-blessedness, or happiness. In Christ we partake of the very bliss of God Himself! That is the kind and the extent of the contentment God wants His children to have-His very own peace and happiness. So the Lord begins with the offer of blessedness and then proceeds to demonstrate that human righteousness, such as the Jews sought, cannot produce it. The good news is that of blessing. The bad news is that man cannot achieve it, no matter how self-righteous and religious he is.

The Old Testament is the book of Adam, whose story is tragic. Adam not only was the first man on earth but the first king. He was given dominion over all the earth, to subdue and rule it (Gen. 1:28). But that first monarch fell soon after he began to rule, and his fall brought a curse-the curse with which the Old Testament both begins and ends.

The New Testament begins with the presentation of the new sovereign Man, One who will not fall and One who brings blessing rather than cursing. The second Adam is also the last Adam, and after Him will come no other ruler, no other sovereign. The first king sinned and left a curse; the second King was sinless and leaves a blessing. As one writer has put it, the first Adam was tested in a beautiful garden and failed; the last Adam was tested in a threatening wilderness and succeeded. Because the first Adam was a thief, he was cast out of paradise; but the last Adam turned to a thief on a cross and said, “Today you shall be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The Old Testament, the book of the generations of Adam, ends with a curse; the New Testament, the book of the generations of Jesus Christ, ends with the promise, “There shall no longer be any curse” (Rev. 22:3). The Old Testament gave the law to show man in his misery, and the New Testament gives life to show man in his bliss.

In Jesus Christ a new reality dawned on history. A new Man and new King of the earth came to reverse the terrible curse of the first king. The Sermon on the Mount is the masterful revelation from the great King, offering blessing instead of cursing to those who come on His terms to true righteousness.

The Political Context

Most Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be, first of all, a military and political leader who would deliver them from the yoke of Rome and establish a prosperous Jewish kingdom that would lead the world. He would be greater than any king, leader, or prophet in their history. After Jesus miraculously fed the multitude on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, the people tried “to come and take Him by force, to make Him king” (John 6:15). They saw Jesus as the anticipated leader of a great welfare state in which even their routine physical needs would be provided. But Jesus would not allow Himself to be mistaken for that sort of king, and He disappeared from the crowd. Later, when Pilate asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?” the Lord replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).

The thrust of the Sermon on the Mount is that the message and work of the King are first and most importantly internal and not external, and spiritual and moral rather than physical and political. Here we find no politics or social reform. His concern is for what men are, because what they are determines what they do.

The ideals and principles in the Sermon on the Mount are utterly contrary to those of human societies and governments. In Christ’s kingdom the most exalted persons are those who are the lowliest in the world’s estimation, and vice versa. Jesus declared that John the Baptist was the greatest man who had ever lived until that time. Yet John had no possessions and no home, lived in the wilderness, dressed in a hair garment, and ate locusts and wild honey. He was not a part of the religious system, and he had no financial, military, or political power. In addition to that, he preached a message that in the world’s eyes was completely irrelevant and absurd. By worldly standards he was a misfit and a failure. Yet he received the Lord’s highest praise.

In Jesus’ kingdom the least are greater even than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11). They are characterized in this sermon as being humble, compassionate, meek, yearning for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers-and persecuted for the sake of the very righteousness they practice. In the world’s eyes those characteristics are the marks of losers. The world says, “Assert yourself, stand up for yourself, be proud of yourself, elevate yourself, defend yourself, avenge yourself, serve yourself.” Those are the treasured traits of the world’s people and the world’s kingdoms.

The Religious Context

Jesus lived in a highly complex religious society, one that included many professional religionists. Those professionals were in four primary groups: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots. At this point, it is only necessary to introduce these groups briefly. Later chapters will unfold more of their distinctives.

The Pharisees believed that right religion consisted in divine laws and religious tradition. Their primary concern was for fastidious observance of the Mosaic law and of every minute detail of the traditions handed down by various rabbis over the centuries. They focused on adhering to the laws of the past.

The Sadducees focused on the present. They were the religious liberals who discounted most things supernatural and who modified both Scripture and tradition to fit their own religious philosophy.

The Essenes were ascetics who believed that right religion meant separation from the rest of society. They led austere lives in remote, barren areas such as Qumran, on the northwest edge of the Dead Sea.

The Zealots were fanatical nationalists who thought that right religion centered in radical political activism. These Jewish revolutionaries looked down on fellow Jews who would not take up arms against Rome.

In essence, the Pharisees said, “Go back”; the Sadducees said, “Go ahead”; the Essenes said, “Go away”; and the Zealots said, “Go against.” The Pharisees were traditionalists; the Sadducees were modernists; the Essenes were separatists; and the Zealots were activists. They represented the same primary types of religious factions that are common today.

But Jesus’ way was not any of those. To the Pharisees He said that true spirituality is internal, not external. To the Sadducees He said that it is God’s way, not man’s way. To the Essenes He said that it is a matter of the heart, not the body. To the Zealots He said that it is a matter of worship, not revolution. The central thrust of His message to every group and every person, of whatever persuasion or inclination, was that the way of His kingdom is first and above all a matter of the inside-the soul. That is the central focus of the Sermon on the Mount. True religion in God’s kingdom is not a question of ritual, of philosophy, of location, or of military might-but of right attitude toward God and toward other people. The Lord summed it up in the words “I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20).

The dominant message of the Sermon on the Mount is that one must not find comfort merely in right theology, much less in contemporary philosophy, geographical separation, or military and political activism. Right theology is essential; so are being contemporary in the right way, separating ourselves from worldliness, and taking stands on moral issues. But those external things must flow from right internal life and attitudes if they are to serve and please God. That has always been God’s way. He told Samuel, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). In Proverbs, wisdom says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (4:23).

When the Pharisees with whom Jesus was having lunch were bothered that He did not ceremonially wash His hands before eating, Jesus said, “Now you Pharisees have the habit of cleaning the outside of your cups and dishes, but inside you yourselves are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the One who made the outside make the inside too? But dedicate once for all your inner self, and at once you will have everything clean” (Luke 11:39–41, Williams). That was His message for every sect of Judaism.

The Importance

In light of the preceding truths we can see at least five reasons why the Sermon on the Mount is important. First, it shows the absolute necessity of the new birth. Its standards are much too high and demanding to be met by human power. Only those who partake of God’s own nature through Jesus Christ can fulfill such demands. The standards of the Sermon on the Mount go far beyond those of Moses in the law, demanding not only righteous actions but righteous attitudes-not just that men do right but that they be right. No part of Scripture more clearly shows man’s desperate situation without God.

Second, the sermon intends to drive the listener to Jesus Christ as man’s only hope of meeting God’s standards. If man cannot live up to the divine standard, he needs a supernatural power to enable him. The proper response to the sermon leads to Christ.

Third, the sermon gives God’s pattern for happiness and for true success. It reveals the standards, the objectives, and the motivations that, with God’s help, will fulfill what God has designed man to be. Here we find the way of joy, peace, and contentment.

Fourth, the sermon is perhaps the greatest scriptural resource for witnessing, for reaching others for Christ. A Christian who personifies these principles of Jesus will be a spiritual magnet, attracting others to the Lord who empowers him to live as he does. The life obedient to the principles of the Sermon on the Mount is the church’s greatest tool for evangelism.

Fifth, the life obedient to the maxims of this proclamation is the only life that is pleasing to God. That is the believer’s highest reason for following Jesus’ teaching-it pleases God.

The Setting

And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. (5:1)

Jesus was always concerned for the multitudes, for whom He had great compassion-whether they were “distressed and downcast” (Matt. 9:36), sick (14:14; cf. 4:23), hungry (15:32), or in any other need. Whether the people were physically ill or healthy, emotionally stable or demon-possessed, financially poor or rich, politically oppressed or powerful, religiously insignificant or influential, intellectually ignorant or educated, Jesus had compassion on them. Jesus attracted all strata of people because He loved them all.

Everything Jesus said on this occasion was spoken publicly, to the multitudes (cf. 7:28–29). His intention was to drive them to a recognition of their sin, and thus to the need of a Savior, which He had come to be. Until they believed in Him, the demands of the sermon could only show them how terribly far they were from meeting God’s standards. This masterful evangelistic sermon is designed to confront men with their desperate condition of sinfulness.

The Preacher

It was Jesus who saw the multitudes, … went up on the mountain; and … sat down. God’s own Son delivered the sermon. The greatest Preacher who ever lived preached the greatest sermon ever preached. When He concluded, “the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (7:28–29). He quoted no sources, no ancient rabbis, no revered tradition. What He spoke, He spoke on His own authority. That was unheard of among the Jews, who always derived their authority from recognized sources.

The Sermon on the Mount is the supreme model of good preaching, a homiletical masterpiece. It beautifully and powerfully flows from the introduction (5:3–12) to the first point (the citizens of the kingdom, 5:13–16), to the second point (the righteousness of the kingdom, 5:17—7:12), to the third point (the exhortation to enter the kingdom, 7:13–27), and to the conclusion (the effect of the sermon on its hearers, 7:28–29), The transitions from point to point are clear and unmistakable.

At the beginning of his ministry Ezekiel was told by the Lord, “I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be dumb, and cannot be a man who rebukes them, for they are a rebellious house” (Ezek. 3:26). Much later the same prophet testified, “Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me in the evening, before the refugees came. And He opened my mouth at the time they came to me in the morning; so my mouth was opened, and I was no longer speechless” (33:22). Like Ezekiel, Jesus did not display His truth, His wisdom, and His power until it was time in God’s sovereign will for Him to do so.

The Location

The sanctuary for the greatest sermon ever preached was the mountain. As far as we know, this mountain-really a large hill-had no name until Jesus preached there. Until then it had been but one of many hills that slope up gently from the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. What had been simply a mountain among many other mountains now became the mountain, sanctified and set apart by the presence of the Lord. For many centuries the traditional site has been called the Mount of Beatitudes.

The Style

A rabbi commonly sat down when he taught. If he spoke while standing or walking, what he said was considered to be informal and unofficial. But when he sat down, what he said was authoritative and official. Even today we speak of professors holding a “chair” in a university, signifying the honored position from which they teach. When the Roman Catholic pope gives an official pronouncement, he is said to speak ex cathedra, which literally means to speak from his chair. When Jesus sat down and delivered the Sermon on the Mount, He spoke from His divine chair with absolute authority as the sovereign King.

As mentioned above, the multitudes were an important audience for this evangelistic sermon. But the standards of spiritual life that Jesus gave here could not apply to them or be followed by them unless they belonged to Him.

That His disciples came to Him indicates they were also His audience. In fact, the twelve were the only ones at that time who, to any real extent, could know the blessedness of which the Lord spoke and follow the perfect way of righteousness which He set forth. They were the only ones who had partaken of the inner divine power and presence that are absolutely necessary for obeying God’s perfect will. So the sermon not only showed the multitude the standard of God’s righteousness that they could not keep, but it also showed the disciples the possible standard they could now keep because of His coming and their faith in Him.

An archbishop of the Church of England once remarked that it would be impossible to conduct the affairs of Britain on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount, because the nation was not loyal to the King. The sermon of the King can be understood and followed only by faithful subjects of the King.

The famous historian Will Durant said that in any given generation only a handful of people make an impression on the world that lasts more than a few years. The person who stands out above all others, he said, is Jesus Christ. Jesus undoubtedly has had the most powerful and permanent influence on the thought of mankind. But, the historian went on to say, His teachings have not had a corresponding effect on man’s actions.

Trying to apply Jesus’ teachings without receiving Him as Lord and Savior is futile. Those, for example, who promote the social gospel, endeavoring to institute Jesus’ teachings apart from His saving and regenerating work, prove only that His principles cannot work for those who do not have a transformed nature and God’s indwelling power. One cannot behave like Christ until one becomes like Christ. Those who do not love the King cannot live like the King.

The Content

And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, (5:2)

Matthew’s speaking of Jesus’ opening His mouth as He began to teach them was not a superfluous statement of the obvious, but was a common colloquialism used to introduce a message that was especially solemn and important. It was also used to indicate intimate, heartfelt testimony or sharing. Jesus’ sermon was both authoritative and intimate; it was of the utmost importance and was delivered with the utmost concern.

In this sermon our Lord establishes a standard of living counter to everything the world practices and holds dear. To live by the standards He gives here is to live a life of blessed happiness. Here is an utterly new approach to living, one that results in joy instead of despair, in peace instead of conflict-a peace that the world does not understand and cannot have (John 14:27; Phil. 4:7). It is a blessedness not produced by the world or by circumstances, and it cannot be taken away by the world or by circumstances. It is not produced externally and cannot be destroyed externally.

Because of its seemingly impossible demands, many evangelicals maintain that the Sermon on the Mount pertains only to the kingdom age, the Millennium. Otherwise, they argue, how could Jesus command us to be perfect, just as our “heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)? For several reasons, however, that interpretation cannot be correct. First of all, the text does not indicate or imply that these teachings are for another age. Second, Jesus demanded them of people who were not living in the Millennium. Third, many of the teachings themselves become meaningless if they are applied to the Millennium. For example, there will be no persecution of believers (see 5:10–12, 44) during the kingdom age. Fourth, every principle taught in the Sermon on the Mount is also taught elsewhere in the New Testament in contexts that clearly apply to believers of our present age. Fifth, there are many New Testament passages that command equally impossible standards, which unglorified human strength cannot continually achieve (see Rom. 13:14; 2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 1:9–10; Col. 3:1–2; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15–16).

The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are for believers today, marking the distinctive life-style that should characterize the direction, if not the perfection, of the lives of Christians of every age. Unfortunately, those standards do not always characterize Christians. The world’s standards and objectives too often have engulfed believers and conformed them to its own image, squeezed them into its own mold (see Rom. 12:2, Phillips).

Jesus’ new way of living comes from a new way of thinking, and the new way of thinking comes from new life. Here are God’s standards for those created in His own image and recreated into the image of His own dear Son (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18). Those who do not follow them as a general direction of life have an unacceptable righteousness (Matt. 5:20).

Who knows more about a product than the manufacturer? When you buy a new power tool or appliance the first sensible thing to do is read the owner’s manual. The manufacturer prints those manuals to explain what the item is designed to do and not do, how it is to be cared for, what its limitations are, and so on. God has made every human being, yet few turn to their Maker to find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in their lives, to learn how they are to live and how they are to take care of themselves-how they can function properly and happily as they were designed to do.

As the Sermon on the Mount itself makes clear, internal changes also bring external changes. When our attitudes and thinking are right, our actions will fall in line. If our inner life does not make our outer life better, our inner life is deficient or nonexistent. “Faith without works is useless,” James says (James 2:20). Paul tells us that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

But the true outside life can only be produced from a true inside life. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones compares the Christian life to playing music. A person may play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata accurately and without a single mistake-yet not really play what the composer had in mind. Even though the notes are played correctly, they do not produce the sonata. The pianist may mechanically strike the right notes at the right time, yet miss the essence, the soul, of the composition. He may not at all express what Beethoven meant to be expressed. The true artist must play the right notes at the right time. He is not exempt from the rules and principles of music. But accurate playing is not what makes him a great musician. It is his expression of what lies behind the notes that enthralls his listeners. In the same way, faithful Christians are concerned about the letter of God’s Word; but beyond that they are also concerned about the spirit, the deeper will and purpose that lie behind the letter. That concern reveals an obedient heart filled with the desire to glorify the Lord.

To claim to follow the spirit without obeying the letter is to be a liar. To follow the letter without following the spirit is to be a hypocrite. To follow the spirit in the right attitude and the letter in the right action is to be a faithful child of God and a loyal subject of the King.[2]


Commentary

1 The “crowds” are those referred to in 4:23–25. Here Jesus stands at the height of his popularity. Although his ministry touched the masses, he saw the need to teach his “disciples” (mathētai, GK 3412) closely. The word “disciple” must not be restricted to the Twelve, whom Matthew has yet to mention (10:1–4). Nor is it a special word for full-fledged believers, since it can also describe John the Baptist’s followers (11:2). In the Lukan parallel, we are told of a “large crowd of his disciples” as well as “a great number of people” (6:17). This goes well with Matthew 4:25, which says large crowds “followed” Jesus. Those who especially want to attach themselves to him, Jesus takes aside to instruct; but it is anachronistic to suppose that all are fully committed in the later “Christian” sense of Acts 11:26 (cf. Mt 7:13–14, 21–23). Matthew sees the disciples as paradigms for believers in his own day but never loses sight, as we shall repeatedly notice, of the unique historical place of the first followers (contra U. Luz, “Die Jünger im Matthäusevangelium,” ZNW 62 [1971]: 141–71—though Luz wisely avoids reducing Matthew’s disciples to the Twelve). On the importance of the theme of discipleship in this gospel, see Martin H. Franzmann, Follow Me: Discipleship according to Saint Matthew [St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia, 1961]).

At this point in his ministry, Jesus could not escape the mounting crowds; and by the end of his sermon (7:28–29), he was surrounded by even larger crowds. This suggests that his teaching covered several days, not just an hour or two (cf. the three-day meeting, 15:29–39). The place of retreat Jesus chose was in the hill country (see Notes, v. 1), not “on a mountainside.” He “sat down” to teach. Sitting was the accepted posture of synagogue or school teachers (Lk 4:20; cf. Mt 13:2; 23:2; 24:3; see NIDNTT, 3:588–89). The attempt of Lachs (“Textual Observations,” 99–101) to find an anachronism here fails because his sources refer to the position of one who is learning Torah, not teaching it. Luke has Jesus standing (6:17) but ministering to the larger crowd from which he could not escape (6:17–19).

2 The NIV masks the idiom “he opened his mouth and taught them,” found elsewhere in the NT (13:35; Ac 10:34; 18:14) and reflecting OT roots (Job 3:1; 33:2; Da 10:16). It is used in solemn or revelatory contexts. The verb “teach” (edidasken) is imperfect and inceptive: “He began to teach them.” Contrary to Davies (Setting, 7–8), one must not draw too sharp a distinction between preaching (kēryssō, GK 3062, Mt 4:17) and teaching (didaskō, GK 1438: see comments at 3:1 and the linking of these categories in 4:23; 9:35). Str-B, 1:189, notes that teaching was not uncommonly done outdoors as well as in synagogues.[3]


5:1, 2 The sermon opens with the Beatitudes, or blessings. These set forth the ideal citizen of Christ’s kingdom. The qualities described and approved are the opposite of those that the world values. A. W. Tozer describes them thus: “A fairly accurate description of the human race might be furnished one unacquainted with it by taking the Beatitudes, turning them wrong side out, and saying, ‘Here is your human race.’ ”[4]


5:1–2 Introduction (cf. Mk. 3:13; Lk. 6:20). The audience is clearly specified as his disciples, as opposed to the crowds. The latter reappear as a wider audience in 7:28, but they are clearly not the main focus of the teaching, which typically contrasts ‘you’ (the disciples) with other people (see especially 5:11–16).[5]


5:1 mountain. The traditional site of this sermon (though Matthew does not pinpoint the location) is above Tabgha, near Capernaum, on a ridge of hills northwest of the town, with a magnificent view of the Sea of Galilee. A twentieth-century church marks this site today, although down the hill in Tabgha there are remains of a small Byzantine chapel (probably from the 4th century) commemorating the sermon. This ridge is likely also where Jesus went “to a desolate place” (14:13; cf. Mark 1:35) and where he went “up on the mountain” (Matt. 14:23; 28:16). he sat down. Teachers in Judaism typically taught while sitting (cf. 23:2), a position Jesus takes regularly (cf. 13:1–2; 15:29; 24:3–4; 26:55).

5:2 While Jesus was seated, he opened his mouth (a Jewish idiom) and taught them, i.e., his disciples who had come to him (v. 1). “Disciples” (Gk. “learners”) were those who had made a commitment to Jesus as the Messiah; the “crowds” (v. 1) were those who were curious and often astounded by his teaching and ministry (7:28–29) yet for the most part remained neutral and uncommitted.[6]


5:1 he went up the mountain Jesus’ giving new instruction on a mountain reflects Exod 19–24. His comparisons with various points of the law (Matt 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43) allude to Moses. Mountains provide the setting for significant teachings and events in Matthew (e.g., 17:1; 24:3; 26:30; 28:16).

sat down In Jesus’ day, the most important person or persons in a group would sit while the rest stood. Rabbis sat while giving instruction.

his disciples Matthew does not mention how many of Jesus’ followers were disciples in the full sense.

While Jesus chose 12 for special status (10:1–4), Luke records that at least 72 were disciples of some sort (see note on Luke 10:1–20); Jesus selected these 72 from a larger group. He likely had as many as a few hundred disciples.

his disciples approached him The language of this verse reflects Moses’ reception of the law at Mount Sinai.

Moses went up Mount Sinai into the cloud; the disciples—like the Israelites in the desert—may have thought that they should wait below while he spoke with God. Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses, but so much greater than Moses that He does not have to consult with God before giving His new law—hinting at Jesus’ divinity.

5:2 opening his mouth A common idiom that emphasizes the solemnity of His teaching (see Job 3:1).[7]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 104). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 131–139). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 158). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1216). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] France, R. T. (1994). Matthew. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 910). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[6] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1827). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Mt 5:1–2). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.