Category Archives: New Bible Commentary

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).

✧✧✧

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.

✧✧✧

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).

✧✧✧

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.

✧✧✧

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.