20. Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God.
The Lord Jesus now focuses on His disciples. This will be a teaching for them, rather than for the common people or the multitudes. This teaching repeats some of what is set forth in Matthew 5-7 in the so-called “Sermon on the Mount.” Some have even related this to that by calling this the “Sermon on the Plain.” Yet this is not a mere repetition of what He said. Remember that the Lord was a traveling speaker. As such, He could often repeat in one place what He had already taught in another. Many times it was probably necessary to do so, for many people would not have been present previously to hear what He said. Yet in repeating it this time, He could alter it slightly, or choose different material that fit better with this audience and this situation. This is something that any traveling speaker has probably done. Yet some imagine some discrepancy here, or that there is something wrong with this teaching because it differs from that in Matthew! Those who teach such things show that they are already biased against God’s Word, for their arguments make little sense.
The Lord first pronounces blessing upon the poor. This does not at all mean that every poor person will be blessed, for there are certainly many poor people who do not deserve the kingdom of God. We must remember that the poor were a caste in Israel. You were born into the poor caste. It did not really have to do with your financial situation, although the two did often go hand-in-hand. Those with the power were the rich class, and the poor were generally downtrodden and despised by their leaders. Yet they were by and large those who responded to the message of the Lord, whereas the rich and powerful were the ones who rejected Him. Thus, the kingdom of God would belong to these poor, rather than their leaders. They would be the ones to hold influence in Israel’s government when God was making the decisions! Moreover, He was speaking to the poor among His disciples, those who already had chosen to follow and serve Him. They, if any, would certainly receive the kingdom of God!
The word “blessed” throughout this teaching means “happy,” and is related to the “how happy” man we read about in Psalm 1. The Lord is proclaiming happiness upon these people, not necessarily from things gained in this world, but from things yet to be enjoyed in the kingdom of God to come.
21. “Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh.
The Lord is speaking of the kingdom of God again. At that time, all hunger and sorrow will be done away with. Yet particularly for these poor and downtrodden people, whose lives were filled with hunger and sorrow, the kingdom would be a great reversal. Those who hungered and sorrowed now would find fullness and laughter once God’s kingdom comes. He could well say this because He had just demonstrated the truth of it by healing these many people.
22. “Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake.
Again, He is speaking to His disciples. Now, He proclaims them blessed when men hate them. We do not like to be hated, and do not really think of it as a blessing. Moreover, they would be excluded from certain things, and would be reviled, and their very names would be cast out by some as evil and destructive. This would all be done to them for the Son of Man’s sake, the Lord Jesus Christ Whom they had chosen to serve. Yet when this happened, though it might mean cursing in the sight of men, He assures them that this will mean a blessing in the sight of God.
23. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.
Alas, all these things would start happening to His followers soon enough! Yet rather than fear them, they could rejoice knowing that the reason they were being persecuted was the same reason the prophets were persecuted, namely, that they remained faithful to God. Not only so, but they would have a sure reward for doing so. That reward was not then on the earth, but it was sure for them, for it was laid up for them in the heavens. This does not mean that they would have to go to heaven to receive it. For example, I have money laid up for me in the bank, but that does not mean that I have to go to the bank to receive it or to enjoy it. The bank is not the only place I can spend that money. Yet it is laid up for me there. In the same way, these men had a reward laid up for them with God in the heavens. Yet they would enjoy this reward on the earth, for the Lord Himself had promised that the twelve would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
24. “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation.
Having pronounced blessing on those who were His disciples, He now pronounces woes instead on those who were rich. Yet we need to be careful with this word “woe.” This does not mean that they had no salvation, or that the Lord would ultimately reject them. Nor does it mean that they would automatically be punished for being rich. This word carries in it the idea of “give due heed.” Those who were rich and powerful in this life needed to be very careful. The Lord will list several reasons for this. First of all, because they had received their consolation in this life. As a result, many of them were not interested in the Lord and His promises of a greater world to come, especially when He threatened to shake up the system by which they now benefited. They needed to be very careful, for this could turn around for them into a most serious problem if it led them to reject the Lord.
We also need to be careful with the word “rich,” just as we needed to be with the word “poor.” This did not merely mean that these people were wealthy. In Israel, being “rich” meant being of the rich class, not necessarily that one was rich in possessions rather than poor. One of the rich class might fall on financial hard times, yet he would never stop being one of the rich. The Lord Jesus was here rebuking that rich class made up largely of the religious leaders who laid such a heavy burden on the people and then were totally unwilling to help them bear it.
25. “Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep.
Again, those who belonged to the rich caste in Israel often taught that the reason they were full was because they deserved it, and that the reason others hungered was because it was somehow right for them to do so. This increased their status as being more worthy than other men, as well as excusing them from having to feed the hungry. The Lord states the opposite of this teaching, however, and warns them that worse things might be in store for them because they are full. The same thing applies to those who laugh and enjoy life now, for they might find things worse for them in the time to come. Yes, God may have something to say to these uncaring rich when they come into judgment before Him because they hung unto their power and yet had no compassion on their fellow Israelites who were in poverty.
26. “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets.
Again notice that it is not a terrible thing to be spoken well of. What Christ means here is that they must beware if this is the case. The approval of men is no guarantee of the approval of God. In fact, oftentimes the truth can be the exact opposite. Those who were approved of by the majority in Israel and by the leadership of Israel were not the same as those God approved of, and it will not be good for many of them in the Day of Judgment.
The Lord uses the example of the false prophets to illustrate His point. Indeed, these who claimed to speak for God and yet who did so falsely were often the ones upheld as great men in Israel. Certainly the false prophets of Ahab king of Israel received much more favor than the true prophet Micaiah in I Kings 22. The false prophets in the days of Jeremiah likewise were much more popular for their patriotic message than Jeremiah was for his prediction of doom and gloom. Men have ever been in favor of those claiming to be religious, yet who tell them what they want to hear rather than what God would have them to say. Even today those who are upheld by all in the religious world are often not those who would ever meet with the approval of God.
27. “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
For the Lord Jesus’ disciples to react this way would be a great witness to those who met them. To treat your enemies in this way would certainly be enough to cause heads to turn. The Lord’s command ran counter to the way this world teaches us to behave. Yet ultimately, this is the way things will be in the kingdom of God. Then, all men will treat each other with love and good. To do so will be the law of the kingdom. It is good for us if we can show a little fruit out of season and do the same things when we can today.
28. “Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.
He also calls upon them to bless. This word is different from the one we had in verses 20-22. That word meant “happy.” This word means “to speak well of.” To speak well of someone is to bless that person. Thus, the Lord calls upon them to speak well of those who speak evil of them, and to pray for those who mistreat them. Again, this would be radical behavior that would draw the attention of men, not to mention showing forth the grace of God. It is good if we can display grace in this way as well. Yet we do not necessarily have this as a command for us today. Remember, this was how the disciples were to act while their Lord was on earth among them. He was right there to take care of them, and to protect them from their enemies. To never oppose your enemies would not necessarily be a good thing in all situations. Sometimes, indeed, to love your enemies would mean you would have to hate your friends. There are times when the very responsibilities that are placed upon us means we have to strongly oppose those who are enemies to us. Certainly such a spirit of grace would be a witness to men at any time period, however, and there are definitely situations when it would be good for us to display such a spirit.
29. “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.
Again, this was His command to them while He was with them on the earth. I would suspect that, if one of the disciples did turn his other cheek to one who smote him, the Lord would be there before his enemy could smite his other cheek to ask, “Why are you striking My disciple?” These men were under the protection of the Lord. To act in such a way could be very foolish in other situations, particularly when you have others under your care.
In that day, when poor people often had only one set of clothes, it would be very bad to lose your cloak. Yet remember too that the Lord was also in charge of providing for His disciples. In a way they were His employees, and He would see to it that they would not go without clothing. To give all we have to wear away to others would be a most unwise thing to do in our day.
30. “Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.
This command too was specifically made to the Lord’s disciples while He was on earth at that time. These men were traveling with the Lord, and as such they had but little. They were not destitute, for they had the Lord to provide for what they needed. They had little enough, but if another asked of them what they did have, they were to give it to him. They could rest in the assurance that by doing so, they were obeying their Lord, and He would see to it that they had everything they needed.
For us to never oppose those who sought to steal from us, however, and to give to anyone who asked us would result in our going bankrupt and being on the street ourselves. There are those who are constantly asking for money from others, and if these find a person who is generous, they would ring him dry if they could. Some might ask for aid in deserving causes, others might ask because they truly are in need, but some would just ask to be lazy and to take advantage of one who was generous and would give to them. We would quickly be in terrible trouble if we tried to follow this command. Yet this was really a command that was only meant for Christ Jesus’ followers at that time, and was not meant to be a principle for all time. The Lord did not mean for us to do this. To try to act in this way would be most foolish and unwise.
There are those who try to make out that true Christianity is following the commands of Christ. Somehow, they seem to see these commands only in the gospels, not admitting that all the Scripture is equally God-breathed. Yet how many who teach this are willing to follow and obey to the letter a command like this? It is far better to understand and know the Word rightly divided than to claim some pious but unworkable doctrine like “True Christianity is to follow the commands of Christ.” We must rightly divide and follow the commands God has given to us today, not be distracted by red letter versions.
31. “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
This is what is commonly called “the golden rule,” and is a good model for any time period. Certainly if everyone followed this rule things on earth would be much better than they are now. Yet this is not a means of salvation, nor is it the way to achieve righteousness in God’s sight. This is a good principle of living, yet we should not exalt it to make it more than that.
32. “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
The word “credit” here is the word charis in Greek, and is the word for grace. It is not grace to love those who love you in return, for that is a fair exchange. Grace is loving those who do not love you in return, as our Lord did when He died for the ungodly. Even sinners, the Lord reminds them, will love one who loves them back. Sometimes it seems that even the worst of people can be very kind and loving to certain people in their lives who return love to them. The Lord wants more of His disciples. He wants them to love where there is no return, even as He does.
33. “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
Again, there is little credit in doing good to those who do good to you in return. Many times in life we do this, such as sending Christmas cards or gifts to those who send them to us. There is nothing wrong with doing good in these cases, of course, but at the same time we receive little credit for doing this. Even sinners, those despised and outcast by most in Israel, would act in this same way.
34. “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back.
A third time He speaks of lending to those from which you hope to receive back. This is not true generosity, for even the vilest of people will act in the same way. The Godly way of doing things would be to lend where there is no hope of return.
These statements are leading up to the promise of the blessing of God if they obey this commandment He was giving them. These men would bring credit to Christ and His teaching if they were to act in this way as His disciples.
35. “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.
By doing this they were demonstrating the kindness of God. If all the Israelites had acted in this way, how much better of a place their country would have been! Yet we need to realize that this applied to the specific situation and time they were in. If men in our day never opposed the wicked people who are their enemies, those wicked people would be free to do that much more evil. This was to be a witness of His followers while the Lord Jesus was on earth, not a precept for all time. We can learn from this and try to emulate it in some situations, but we certainly cannot apply this to all men and all situations. This was something the Lord’s disciples were commanded to do at that time. We, on the other hand, need to practice moderation in this, having no such protection as these men had by their association with Christ on the earth.
We can love our enemies in some situations today. We can lend without hope of return. Yet this is not how we hope to become sons of the Most High. These principles were not given with the day we live in in mind. Ultimately, all these principles may have their final fulfillment in the day when God’s kingdom comes to this earth and God governs the people upon the earth. Then, indeed, if anyone asked for a thing who did not truly need it, God’s government could act immediately to punish him for it, for God’s government is not external, as our government is today, but internal, and works upon men from within. In that day, to do good to another, even your enemy, would earn you blessings in an immediate way from God. In that day, if you were to lend without hope of return, God’s government could see to it that you would not lack. Yes, in that time a very different way of things will be dominating upon the earth, and some of these principles may be the very principles by which men will live in that day.
God is kind to the unthankful and the evil. Many do not see or understand this. Yet this has never been truer than today in the dispensation of grace. God is showing grace to all men today, no matter how wicked they might be. Often men puzzle over the ability of the vilest of men to get away with their lawless deeds. They call upon God to act in justice in these situations, but He will not. God has always acted in kindness to the unthankful and evil. Yet never more than He does today, for today, He only and always acts in grace!
36. “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
Though this was spoken to the disciples in a different time than that in which we live, still, this is good advice for us to take to heart. Even as God has shown us mercy, so we should show it to others. That is the truth that grace teaches to a truly grateful heart.
37. “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
For us to not judge today would be foolish. We must make judgments every day. Sometimes we meet people that we feel to be dangerous, and we just want to have nothing to do with them. If we refused to judge in such cases, we might get ourselves in the most serious trouble. Other people we judge that it would be good for us to get to know them. This is not wrong. For us to not condemn would likewise be foolish. There are some behaviors that the Bible most clearly tells us are wrong. To pretend that this is not so would just be to ignore what the Bible says is true.
Moreover, our forgiveness does not depend on our forgiving others. Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” This is what is true today. We are to forgive others because God already has forgiven us. We do not forgive to be forgiven. This would be wrongly dividing, and ignoring what is true in the dispensation of grace.
These statements all applied to those to whom Christ was speaking at that time. They were to act in this unusual and startling manner while they were in His company as His disciples. This was God’s plan for them at that time. Moreover, this will be the way things are in the kingdom of God. In that day, God will be making the judgments, and He will be setting men up or pulling them down as He sees is right. For one to judge or condemn in that day, then, when God has not judged or condemned would be to question the very judgment of God. Needless to say, that would not be a good thing to do under God’s government.
No, this is not how we are to act. If we were to never condemn evil, then how could we ever fight against it? If we were never to try to judge and set things right, how would wickedness ever be stopped and justice served? Moreover, if we are not forgiven if we do not forgive, what good is the blood of Christ? We must not try to apply these words to ourselves today!
38. “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Many have used this verse to try to motivate people to donate to their ministry. They try to convince men that if they give to them, they will receive much in return. Yet the only ones who seem to get much out of the deal are the preachers who use this verse this way. This is not what Christ was talking about. I cannot guarantee anyone that money given to me will be given back to them and more, nor can anyone else. Yet this is the way things will be in the kingdom of God. Then, it will just be the order of things that those who are willing to give will receive much more back again. The more they give then, the more they will receive. The measure they use then will be measured back to them. Yet it is just foolishness and lies to act like anything like this will happen today.
The disciples too could be assured that every good thing they did in obedience to the Lord’s instructions would be rewarded in the kingdom to come. Yet today we cannot even guarantee that, when we give, our generosity will be rewarded at all in the kingdom of God, not to mention good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. Let us not wrongly divide this verse, but keep it instead in its context of the way things will be in the kingdom of God.
39. And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?
The blind are those who cannot see. In another place, the Lord called the Pharisees blind guides. Indeed, they were men who had no understanding of God’s truth, and yet they were considered great religious leaders of men. In the same way, many today lead who themselves do not see the truth. How can it be that men who are largely ignorant of the Word of God can be set up on high and exalted as great Christian leaders? The truth of the matter is that those who are following them are just as blind as they are, and so cannot see that they are being led astray. The only way we can avoid such error is to train ourselves to see through the light given by God’s word. Let us follow that true light, and not some blind guide.
40. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.
This reveals to us why the Lord Jesus was asking them to act this way. He Himself was at that time not acting as the judge, not condemning, but only forgiving. Thus, being well-trained disciples, they were to act like Him. Yet this very One Who was speaking to them is the same One Who someday will come again to earth, “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Thessalonians 1:8) Can there be any greater proof that these words must not be applied to all times and all situations? Christ Himself will certainly not keep them at His revelation from heaven!
41. “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye?
The picture the Lord gives here is, of course, a rather amusing one, and is completely an exaggeration, for this could never really happen. Yet the illustration is clear. Often those who are the most condemnable are the ones most ready to condemn others.
42. “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
This is an injunction against hypocrisy. The disciples were not to try to help remove sins in the lives of others when they themselves were committing worse faults. We should take this to heart in our own lives. We do not have to be perfect before we can condemn sin. Yet how hypocritical would it be to condemn a first-time adulterer if you had been committing adultery regularly for ten years? So the Lord encourages His disciples to remove sin from their own lives so that they can help others get rid of it as well. Hypocrisy is spoken against here, not judgment, though they were not to indulge in that either at this time, but were to leave the judgment up to their Lord. Yet again, we must judge today as well. If we never judged anyone for their sin, then how could we even teach our children what is right and wrong, since calling anything “wrong” would be condemning those who do it? No, there is no commandment for us today against condemning sin. Yet at this time the disciples were not to act as judges, but instead to forgive all those who wronged them and condemn no one. This is what Christ, their Master, was doing, and they were to follow His example. This was the plan of God for this time.
43. “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.
Of course this is completely true. We can well understand that a bad tree cannot have good fruit, and no one would say it was a good tree that brings forth bad fruit.
44. “For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.
Again, one could not expect fruit from useless plants. Figs come from fig trees, not thorns, and grapes come from grapevines, not bramble bushes. These are obvious facts, but the Lord has an application He wants to make from this.
45. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Just as a bad tree does not bring forth good fruit or a good tree bad fruit, so a man is known as to what condition his heart is in by what works he does. If he has good things treasured up in his heart, his inner being, then he will bring forth good out of that treasure. If, however, he has evil things stored up in his inner being, then he will bring forth calamity out of that treasure. Not only so, but his mouth will also give him away. It will speak out of the abundance of what is in his heart.
The abundance of the heart is that which fills it. Many in our day fill their lives with many different things besides the word of God. There are those who are just full of murders. Others fill their lives with alcohol. Some are full of sex and sexual pleasures. Some we know are good at putting on a good front. Yet once you get to really know someone you will always be able to tell what is really in his heart by the fruit his life produces. We need to be wise in this and discern what men’s motivations really are. When we see their fruit, then we can have the wisdom to know what is truly in their hearts.
46. “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?
The word “Lord” means “Master.” Calling someone “master” and yet not doing what he says is the ultimate in hypocrisy. Yet many there are today who are bold enough to do this with the Lord Jesus Christ! He might be our God even if we disobey Him, but He is not our Lord unless we obey His commands. Yet we must be careful to rightly divide, for only by following His commands for today can we truly say we are acting in obedience.
47. “Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like:
This is true faith, and an excellent example of faith. The Lord speaks of one who first comes to Him. Then, this one hears His sayings. He does not just hear the sounds, but truly listens to what is being said. Then, he does them. He responds, and acts according to what he has heard. This is what it means to have faith. This is what we can do every time we come to God’s Word. This is what every one of us should do, if we wish to call ourselves people of faith.
Now, the Lord will make a comparison, and tell us what such a person of faith is like in God’s sight.
48. “He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.
The Lord compares this person of faith to a man who is building a house. He digs deep and lays the foundation on the rock. Thus, even when the flood arose and the stream beat vehemently against that house, it could not shake it, for its foundation was secure. This is what having faith in God’s words is like. The sayings of Christ are like a rock: they keep the believer through even the worst of storms. Yet again we need to interpret them correctly, for there is no strength in a misapplied truth. That is why we need so desperately to understand dispensational truths and to rightly divide the words Christ has given us. And remember, it is not just the words that the Lord Jesus spoke in the gospels that are the rock. Every word in the Bible is inspired by that same living Word.
49. “But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.”
Now He speaks of the one who fails to have faith in His words. This one hears, but does nothing in response to what he has heard. This person is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation. When the storms beat on his house vehemently, it fell immediately, and made a great ruin.
There are, alas, many who call themselves “Christians” who act like this. Many hear the Word of God yet do not pay any attention to it. And there are many others who never even take the time to hear! Even those who have believed the gospel often act this way towards many other things that are taught in the Word of God. Let us see to it that we do not act this way, but that our lives are built upon the solid foundation of Christ’s teachings.