1.  And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.
2.  Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

Here we have the beginning of the so-called “Sermon on the Mount.”  Let us lay aside pre-conceived ideas, and try to find what the topic of the message is.

First off, we can see that this teaching was aimed at His disciples. The disciples were a collection of people who had left their homes and occupations behind, and instead were following the Lord. This being the case, He was responsible for them. The relationship of a lord to his disciples was that of a master to his apprentice, or a professor to his grad students. He was not only responsible for their training, but also for their care and livelihood. The master was responsible to provide food and the necessities of life for his followers. The disciples, who had left all to follow the Lord, had to depend upon His ability to provide for them in all things. This was not getting together with someone once a week to study the Bible together, as we have reduced “discipling” someone to today.

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

Jesus here begins laying out the rules that will govern the coming kingdom of heaven.  That inheriting this kingdom is the subject of these words is clear from this verse and verse 10.  That this kingdom will take place on the earth, not in heaven, is clear from verse 5.

In this verse, we have the poor in spirit receiving the kingdom of heaven.  Notice that it does not say that the poor receive the kingdom, but rather the poor in spirit.  Remember that the poor and the rich were social classes in that day, and not necessarily just a measure of how much wealth one had.  The rich were extremely proud, and tended to consider themselves far superior to the poor class.  Yet Christ reveals here that it is the poor or lowly in spirit who will receive the kingdom of heaven, not those who are proud and look down on others.

4.  Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.

This will take place during the kingdom.  It probably refers to those who mourn over the sorry state that our world is in.  Certainly God mourns over this as well, but He assures us that those who mourn with Him will be comforted when He brings His kingdom to earth at last!

5.  Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.

This is not the way it is now, but this will take place in the kingdom.  “Meek” does not mean “weak,” as many today seem to think it does.  It is actually quite similar to the “poor in spirit,” and has to do with a humble, self-deprecating attitude.

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

This obviously does not take place now.  It will take place in the kingdom.  Thank God that some day there will be enough righteousness in the world to satisfy us all!

7.  Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.

This will be the law in the kingdom, that God will treat his subjects as they treat one another.

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

Some will imagine this to be talking about heaven, but we cannot switch subjects here in the middle!  This will take place in the kingdom of heaven, which is on earth (vs. 5).

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

They are not called this now, but they will be in the kingdom.  When God controls the earth, all wars will cease.  Thus those who are peacemakers are called representatives of God, for they make peace just as He will make peace.  Yet note that even God has made war in the past when it was necessary to do so!  This does not mean that there is never just cause for war.

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

Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake receive the kingdom.  Notice again that the kingdom is the subject of these beatitudes.

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

The disciples, when they were persecuted, were to rejoice because they have a great reward in heaven.  Let us not bring anyone but the disciples in here!  Christ has been speaking generically, but now He makes it personal with “you,” indicating that He is now focusing specifically on His disciples.  He would not have done this if He had still meant his words in these last two verses to apply to all.

Does this mean that they would receive the reward in heaven?  I don’t believe so.  The subject of this portion is the earthly kingdom, not heaven.  As the kingdom has not yet come upon the earth, the fate of the earth and its ultimate entrance into the kingdom are all stored up with God in heaven.  Therefore, the kingdom waits for God to reveal it from heaven.  For this reason, their reward waits for them in heaven, not on the earth.  This does not necessarily mean that they have to go there to receive it.  Remember, the New Jerusalem itself comes down from heaven!  Rewards in heaven can come to earth in the future.

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

Christ calls His disciples the salt of the earth, yet He warns them of what could happen to them if they lose their saltiness.  A good example of this is what happened to Judas!

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

Although Christ continues speaking to His disciples in particular here, we can, in many ways, still apply these words to ourselves.  We are indeed a light to the world, and we should all let our lights shine brighter in good works, as He urges His disciples to do in verse 16.  The disciples, however, will be a special light in the kingdom of heaven, as they will be God’s representatives, sitting on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

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

Many think that Christ did come to abolish the law.  I even have a pastor-friend who believes He also abolished the prophets!  (although not right at His coming.)  But these will never be abolished until they are fulfilled to the letter.  That is what is meant by “jot” and “tittle.”  These were tiny little markings used in the Hebrew (Aramaic) alphabet.  In that alphabet, a little tiny mark could change one letter into another, much as a cross can change an “l” into a “t” in our alphabet.  Thus Christ is saying that even the smallest detail of the law and prophets will not pass away until it is fulfilled!

Notice that the Law can be fulfilled just like prophecies can.  Christ, for example, fulfilled the sin offering.  Other parts of the Law, however, have yet to be fulfilled.

19.  “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

When one is under the law, breaking even one commandment makes one guilty of breaking the whole law!  Thank God that we are not under the law, but under His grace.

Notice again that the subject here is the kingdom of heaven.

20.  “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

The problem with the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was that it was all outward, and it did not extend to their hearts.  The exceedingly great righteousness that Christ is speaking of is not the outward righteousness of the Pharisees, but rather the righteousness of Christ that God imputes to us by faith.  This righteousness is far greater than any outward righteousness that we can perform!

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

This speaks of attitudes, and what God will demand of men in the kingdom of heaven.  No one has ever been in danger of judgment in this world for merely calling his brother a name!  But in the kingdom of heaven, no slander will be permitted whatsoever!

“Raca” was an interjection of scorn or disdain, not necessarily a bad name or epithet.  It would be similar to the English “You!”

“Hell fire” is a very bad translation here.  Christ is setting up a progression here.  First of all is judgment, which is bad.  Secondly is facing the council (Sanhedrin,) which is worse.  Then comes hell fire.  But the difference between facing the Sanhedrin and facing hell fire is huge, much more than the difference between facing judgment and facing the Sanhedrin.  If this is what Christ meant, then the progression is thrown all out of whack.  But “hell fire” here is a translation of “the Gehenna of fire,” which was a valley in Israel, the valley of the sons of Hinnom.  This valley was apparently a particularly lush and beautiful one, and so had been chosen by idolaters as an ideal place to worship Molech.  Hezekiah had defiled the valley for all time by spreading the ashes of the dead idolatrous priests around the valley.  At the time of Christ, this whole valley, located about a half-mile from Jerusalem, had been turned into the refuse dump for that city.  Anything that was unclean or defiled would be disposed of there.  And so it was that it became a practice that any particularly odious or hated criminal, after execution, would have his body disposed of in fire at Gehenna rather than being buried.  This was a disgraceful way to be disposed of, and indicated utter contempt and shame upon the criminal dispatched there.  This is what Christ is referring to as the third possibility for one who says, “You fool,” and not eternal conscious torment or anything like that.

23.  “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24.  “leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

These were special instructions to His disciples, and had to do with how they were to treat each other.  We obviously cannot follow these instructions today, as God has no altar and we have no gifts to bring to it.  Nevertheless, the spirit of working things out with our brethren is one that we could and should emulate today.

25.  “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.
26.  “Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

This has to do with unpaid debts.  Christ wanted none of His disciples to renege on debts they owed.  Sound advice for us today as well.

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

One of the things that I believe will be true in the kingdom of heaven is that men will have spiritual bodies, rather than soulish bodies, which is what we have now.  This is the contrast in I Corinthians 15:44-46, not between a “natural” and a spiritual body.  The characteristic of a soulish body is that it is controlled and dominated by the things of a soul, which are emotions, desires, and feelings.  The characteristic of a spiritual body, on the other hand, is that it is dominated by the things of a spirit, which are the thoughts, logic, and reason.  There is nothing more natural for a soulish body than to lust after a pretty woman, whether you are married to her or no.  This is not a spiritual thing, for one knows in one’s head that it is not right to do such a thing, especially when you have a dear wife and family at home.  But the body responds to and desires soulish things, and thus it lusts after what it should not have.  I wonder how many men and women have been led by their souls to commit adultery when they never would have made such a decision if it had been up to their reason…up to their spirits.  And in our day, we see many, many people whose lives are just totally dominated by the things of their souls!  But it will not be so in the kingdom of heaven.  In that day, all men will have spiritual bodies.  A spiritual body will have just as much attraction to and just as much desire for its lawfully married partner as you could possibly have now.  However, any other person will have no such effect.  It wouldn’t matter how attractive the person was, or what that person was wearing, or even if that person was stark naked!  You would have no desire for whatsoever for anyone but your partner, unless you in your spirit willed it to be so!  This seems totally impossible to us because it is so totally different from what we experience now.  Our bodies desire a pretty woman or an attractive man regardless of what our spirits have to say about it.  But in that day, we will have spiritual bodies, and it is the spirit that will be in control.  In that day, the sin of even lusting after a woman in your heart will be totally inexcusable, and will bring about just as strict a punishment as if you had actually committed adultery!  And the reason is because it will be absolutely possible never to lust in that day.  And yet your desire for your own wife will be just as strong as it ever is today.  What a wonderful day that will be.  How wonderful it will be to have spiritual rather than soulish bodies!!!

Some use this verse to suggest that no one is able to keep the Ten Commandments.  Christ further explained the Ten Commandments here, they say, and His explanation makes them impossible to keep.  Yet the Ten Commandments said nothing about lusting after a woman in your heart.  Those who committed adultery were both to be put to death.  Would we suggest that Christ was saying here that lusting should result in death?  If so, soon the earth would be all but devoid of inhabitants!  Christ was not explaining what the Ten Commandments actually meant here, but rather was giving us a further look at what righteousness and sin truly are in the sight of God.  Yet lusting in your heart was never a part of the Ten Commandments, and it is foolishness to act like it was.

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

This is not meant to be taken literally, as if Christ would actually suggest that people maim themselves.  What Christ is speaking of here is removing anything from your life that causes you to sin.  There are many applications of this.  If there are books or magazines that we are reading, television shows or movies we are watching, friends we are hanging out with, or anything else that might be causing us to sin, it is far better for us to simply remove such things from our lives than to allow them to cause us to sin.

“Hell” here again is “Gehenna,” and speaks not of a supernatural place, but of the valley of refuse and shame that even then existed in Israel.

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

Here, Christ indicates that the only valid reason for divorce in the kingdom of heaven is sexual immorality.  Of course, such immorality in that day would instantly be severely dealt with by God.  As for being divorced causing a woman to commit adultery, we must remember that it was almost impossible for a woman to live as a single in the days in which Christ was speaking.  Unlike today, where women can find work easily, a woman in that day could only work for her husband or father.  If she was divorced and had no father, she could find no work.  Her options were to either remarry, become a beggar, become a prostitute, or starve to death.  Thus, a man divorcing his wife would almost force her into committing adultery.  And most certainly any man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  These things are just as true now as they will be in the kingdom.  Yet Moses allowed divorce in the law, which means by this passage that he was allowing adultery!  We must be careful how we apply this passage today.  Yet if we follow Christ’s commands to husbands and wives in our day in Ephesians 5, we will not have to worry about divorce, for a submissive wife and a loving husband would certainly never have to worry about divorce!

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

Swearing is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself.  The problem comes in when we swear foolishly and find ourselves unable to perform our oath.  And so if you have sworn in the name of one of these things listed here, you will have dishonored that thing by not carrying out your word!  Moreover, swearing will not be permitted at all in the kingdom of heaven.

Christ was speaking much as an employer might when He gave this command to His disciples.  He wanted His disciples not to swear to anything.  He did not want them bound by any oath, but rather free to serve Him in whatever way He saw fit to assign to them.

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

The control the Roman government had over the people of Israel was something they largely resented. The Lord’s command here was probably a direct reference to this. The tendency of most Israelites would be to take every step reluctantly, cursing the Roman inwardly who was compelling him to do this. Going further than required would be an unusual step indeed. Again and again the Lord demonstrated that His goal was not to foment rebellion against Rome. That fact did little to help Him, however, when He came up before the corrupt Roman judicial system.

 42.  “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

Total passiveness is demanded by God during the kingdom of heaven.  No resistance by righteous men is necessary, as God will take care of all evil Himself.  To try to take matters into your own hands in that day will be deserving of the most severe censure from God!  But if righteous men did not resist evil in our day, where would we be?  Still under the oppression of the Catholic Church, no doubt.  Or perhaps in a world ruled by Hitler, at least.

Christ wanted His disciples to be totally harmless.  They were not to resist an evil person.  They were not to refuse anyone who asked anything of them.  This may sound extreme, but we need to understand a few important facts.  First of all, they had Christ with them to defend them.  Although they were not to defend themselves against evil men, they did not necessarily need to.  With the Lord right there to protect and watch over them, they had no need to care for themselves.  Moreover, they were disciples of a traveling preacher.  They had almost no possessions to speak of…probably just a staff, a small bag of necessities, and the clothes on their backs.  Of these few possessions, there was probably almost nothing that anyone would want to ask from them anyway.  But if such a thing did occur, they had Christ right there to provide for them, and to help them replace anything if it was something they really needed.

If we try to apply these things to today, we will run into considerable problems.  If we did not resist evil, we would soon find ourselves overcome by it.  Moreover, if we gave to everyone who asked of us, we would soon have nothing left to provide for ourselves or our families.  We do not have Christ right there to provide for us and protect us.  To try to act in this way in our day, therefore, would be most foolish.

43.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44.  “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
45.  “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Christ and His disciples did have enemies while He was on earth, most notably the religious leaders.  Yet He wanted them to treat their enemies in a loving way.  This would be an extremely unusual thing, and it would go far toward recommending Christ toward the people who were observing it.  Not only would His disciples not harm His ministry in anything they would do by following this command, but rather they would highly recommend it.  This was a wise policy indeed.

Yet I wonder how wise it would be for us to love our enemies in our day?  Sometimes it seems we even have trouble loving our friends, not to mention our enemies!  There are situations where loving our enemies could help them and perhaps lead people to God, but there are also times when loving our enemies might give them free reign to hurt others or even the ones we love.  In this case, showing love to them would not be at all appropriate.  We must use great care before attempting to apply Christ’s commands to His disciples to ourselves today.

46.  “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47.  “And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the tax collectors do so?
48.  “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

God desires perfection from those in the kingdom of heaven, as it will be possible for them to achieve it in that day.  Therefore, it will be necessary for all men to show God’s love to all other men, whether they like each other or not.  There will be no feuds tolerated in those days!

 

Advertisements