Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …
Matthew’s gospel account tells how Jesus traveled throughout the region — preaching, teaching, and working miracles (see here). As His fame grew, people came to Him from across Galilee and the surrounding regions. But Jesus’ message was the same: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17).
As the crowds began to grow, Jesus went up a mountain and began to teach His disciples:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them…
Jesus had travelled throughout the countryside, preaching that the kingdom is at hand. He now took his disciples aside and laid out what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom.
Thus begins the first of many great discourses in Matthew’s gospel account. It is also one of the longest recorded sermons in Scripture, covering three chapters in Matthew (Matthew 5-7, with parallels in Luke 6:17-49). This teaching by Jesus contains some of the most well known parts of all scripture, and some of His most beloved quotes. Because of the location where Jesus taught, it has been traditionally known as the “Sermon on the Mount”.
Many parts of the Sermon on the Mount are well known in our culture, even by those who have never read the Bible. It opens with the famous series of beatitudes, where Jesus taught about the blessings of those who follow Him, even though they are poor, hungry, and weeping. Jesus urged his followers to be salt and light to the outside world, and He set a much higher standard than was ever given in the Old Testament law.
He criticized religious hypocrisy and indifference, showing that it is meaningless to give God what is no value to you, and the danger of being religious only for the praise of other people. He showed that the treasure in heaven is much more valuable and permanent than anything you can gain here on earth. He taught how to properly judge others, being mindful of your own failures. Yet He also gave comfort for when we doubt if God is caring about us, or when we doubt if He is watching over for us. We are reminded that we are much more valuable in God’s sight than all of the intricate design of His own creation!
And finally, He warned His listeners to not only hear Him, but to also do what He says. The one who hears His words and follows them is the wise man who built his house upon a rock, but the one who ignores His teaching is the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, and everything he has will be destroyed.
The Scripture says that when Jesus was finished, all the people were astonished at the way he spoke. English translation does not put that strongly enough. They were stunned! They were flabbergasted!
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
It was very common for the rabbis of Jesus’ day to stand up and give lectures. They would call upon the authority of a great rabbi from years before, who would call upon the authority of their previous rabbis. But Jesus did not quote the authority of previous teachers, he relied on His own authority. In Matthew 5, He repeats the saying, “you have heard it said … but I say …“ (Matthew 5:17-48). He was not conforming or enhancing the current Jewish system of religion. He was following the law, but making it completely different, bringing it into something new.
Theologians have debated over how we should apply the Sermon on the Mount in our day. It does not contain instructions for how to have eternal life, and at a quick glance, it appears to be all about our works. Much of the sermon is directed toward our attitudes and our actions. The Sermon on the Mount is not how to gain entrance into God’s kingdom, it is how His citizens should live, now that we are in His kingdom. There are some important things to remember about the Sermon on the Mount:
First, Jesus was speaking to his disciples, who have already repented and trusted in Him. The disciples were already following Him, but needed instructions for how to live as citizens of His kingdom. Therefore, it would be wrong to view the Sermon on the Mount as the entrance requirements for how to get into God’s kingdom. This would also contradict other Scripture, which clearly states that we are saved by grace, not by good works (Romans 4:5, Titus 3:4-7, Ephesians 2:8-9). We do not follow God’s law to become His children, we follow God’s law because we are His children!
Also, instead of discarding the Old Testament law, Jesus raised its expectations up to a higher level. It is popular today to believe that Jesus came to put aside any type of law keeping. But Jesus did not come to take away the law of Moses, He came to fulfill the law. In this sermon, Jesus showed that the letter of the law is not nearly as important as the spirit of the law. You may pride yourself on never committing murder or adultery, but you are just as guilty if you harbor hatred or lustful thoughts.
“This sermon is not a ‘constitution’ for the kingdom God will one day establish on earth. The Sermon on the Mount applies to life today and describes the kind of godly character we should have as believers in this world.” – Warren Wiersbe 2
Previous post: What is the Kingdom of Heaven?
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them…
Common questions about the Sermon on the Mount
How does the Sermon on the Mount compare with the “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke’s gospel account?
Luke 6:17-49 contains a very close parallel to the Sermon on the Mount. The passage in Luke’s account is shorter and is placed in a different point in Jesus’ ministry, but the main difference is the location.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
Matthew describes Jesus teaching on a mountain while Luke describes Jesus teaching the same sermon on a “level place” (some Bible translations translate this as “plain”). While some critics of the Bible try to find a contradiction in these accounts, the differences can be easily resolved.
Some Bible scholars see these accounts as two separate sermons. Jesus would have repeated His message as He traveled through Galilee, so it is very possible that Matthew and Luke recorded two separate (albeit similar) sermons. This would readily explain the differences in chronology, length, and location.
However, the content is so similar in both accounts that it is best to consider them as two separate records of the same sermon. Neither Matthew nor Luke are attempting a transcript of the entire sermon, so they would differ on the excerpts that they each chose to record. It is very common for Matthew, Mark, and Luke to arrange the material by subject, and not necessarily in chronological order, so it is not surprising to see a different chronology when comparing sections from Matthew and Luke (for example, see the differences in the temptations of Jesus Christ here).
Luke’s account of this sermon follows after Jesus had spent the night in prayer on the mountain, and had chosen His twelve apostles in the morning. If the chronology in Luke’s account is correct, then Jesus was already on the mountain through the night. He came down in the morning, chose the Twelve, and then went up the mountain again to teach His disciples. Note that most translations translate Luke 6:17 as a “level place”, and not a “plain”. Therefore, Jesus would have found a plateau on the mountain to teach His disciples, which is consistent with both Matthew and Luke’s accounts.
Why does the Sermon on the Mount not show the way to eternal life?
As mentioned above, it is important to note that Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples. Although there would have been listeners who had not committed to following Jesus, His primary audience were those who had already repented and committed to Him. Therefore, the focus on the sermon is how to live, now that you are citizens of His kingdom.
It would be wrong to say that Jesus did not teach the way to be saved. Matthew 4:17 tells that Jesus traveled through Galilee with the same message as John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Several months before this sermon, Jesus talked with Nicodemus and told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). In the same conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus made the point completely clear, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). Jesus was teaching to repent and believe in order to have eternal life, long before the Sermon on the Mount. 1
Many Bible teachers have pointed out that the way to eternal life is in the Sermon on the Mount.3 The beatitudes show a progression of expressing your need for God’s righteousness and purity. When Jesus amplified the law, He showed that the law is an impossible standard to keep. While this teaching from Jesus can lead a person to eternal life, it is important to note that it is only implied within the Sermon on the Mount and not specifically stated. It can only whet a person’s appetite so that they can ask what can they do to be saved (Acts 16:30-31).
“In the sermon on the mount, we do not have any reference made to the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it is a message to the disciples from Christ as to how they who profess to know Him should behave.” – H.A. Ironside
How does the Sermon on the Mount apply to the church?
Jesus does not mention the church in the Sermon on the Mount, nor will the church be in existence until after His death, resurrection, and return to heaven. Acts 2 tells about the beginning of the church at Pentecost. Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to the church, but it does apply to the believers who are in the church, since they are also part of Jesus Christ’s kingdom.
Can the Sermon on the Mount apply to secular issues, such as world peace, social justice, etc.?
The failures in society are not due to a lack of education but to the sinfulness in the human heart. The message of Jesus’ kingdom was not to reform people, but to transform them. As He said to Nicodemus (John 3:3), you cannot see the kingdom of God unless you are born again.
While the principles in the Sermon on the Mount make for a better society, it is important to know that it is a message for Jesus’ disciples. The message that “your father in heaven will take care of you” cannot apply to those who do not know Jesus Christ. If it is not possible for people to keep the Old Testament law (Acts 15:10-11), then Jesus’ commands in the Sermon on the Mount makes it even harder. Most importantly, a person who does not know Jesus does not need to learn to be good, they need to learn how to be come to God!
Does the Sermon on the Mount apply to the Millennial Kingdom at the end of the age?
Jesus promises that He will return and will reign for a thousand years, known as the “Millennial Kingdom” (Revelation 12:10, 20:4-5). See the previous post on The Kingdom of Heaven for more details. The thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ will be a physical component of the kingdom of God, but it is only a small part of His greater kingdom. In addition, Jesus instructed His followers regarding how to handle persecution, revenge, and the poor. These problems will not be an issue when Jesus Christ is personally ruling over the entire earth. Therefore, although many of the promises within the Sermon on the Mount will not be fulfilled until Jesus’ physical kingdom, the message of the Sermon on the Mount applies to believers while we are waiting for His kingdom.
- Stephen Davey, Blessed Are the Beggars, Matthew 5:1-3, 3/2/2008
- Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 5:1-16, pages 85-98
- H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 5, The Principles of the Kingdom, Part 1
- H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, The Gospel of Luke, Address 20, Christ’s Ethical Teaching, Luke 6:17-26
- Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 6:20-26, Pages 155-156
 One of the most famous verses for eternal life is John 3:16, which directly follows the quote here to Nicodemus. Many Bible scholars believe that John 3:16 is John’s commentary on Jesus’ words, but the earlier quote (John 3:14-15) was clearly spoken by Jesus during His conversation with Nicodemus.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 6:20-26, Pages 155-156
 John MacArthur, Happy Are the Humble, Matthew 5:3, 9/10/1978
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