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Matthew 5 Study Notes

5:1-2 Jesus ascended a mountain when he saw the crowds because he deemed the mountainside to be a better setting for teaching a large group. As the new Moses, his delivery of God’s message from a mountaintop provides yet another parallel with the ancient Moses. The Greek words translated he went up on the mountain are used three times in the Greek OT (Ex 19:3; 24:18; 34:42), and all three fall in the section describing Moses’s ascent of Mount Sinai. This fits with Matthew’s repeated theme of drawing out parallels between Moses and Jesus. For instance, Jesus’s birth paralleled several events surrounding Moses’s birth. Herod attempted to kill the infant Christ by ordering the slaughter of Bethlehem’s boys (Mt 2:16-18) much as Pharaoh ordered the execution of newborn male Israelites (Ex 1:15-18,22). Furthermore, the angel’s pronouncement that danger had passed (“those who intended to kill the child are dead,” Mt 2:20) is a clear echo of Ex 4:19, “All the men who wanted to kill you are dead” (see note at Mt 2:15).

5:3 Since Matthew introduces the Sermon on the Mount by highlighting the connection between Jesus and Moses, the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12) should probably be read against the backdrop of Moses’s teachings. The only time the Septuagint (ancient Greek translation of the OT) used the adjective “Blessed” (Gk makarios) to translate Moses’s words was in his blessing on Israel (Dt 33:29): “How happy [or “blessed”] you are, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is the shield that protects you, the sword you boast in. Your enemies will cringe before you, and you will tread on their backs.” Israel’s blessing had both a historical and future focus. “Saved by the Lord” referred to Israel’s exodus from Egypt. The remainder of the blessing assured the Israelites of success in their conquest of the promised land. Against this backdrop, the blessings of the new Moses identify Jesus’s disciples as the new Israel who will enjoy a new exodus and conquest. The new Moses is a spiritual deliverer rather than a political one, and his promises must be understood in that light. In the Beatitudes, the new Moses pronounces spiritual salvation (exodus from slavery to sin) and promises spiritual victory (conquest and inheritance of a new promised land) to the new Israel. This background is confirmed by the allusion to Israel’s exodus and conquest in the promise that the meek will “inherit the earth” (5:5).

In the OT, the poor were those who cried out for God’s help, depended entirely on him for their needs, had a humble and contrite spirit, experienced his deliverance, and enjoyed his undeserved favor (Ps 86:1-5). In light of this background, Jesus was describing his disciples as unworthy sinners who depend on God’s grace for salvation. Although the promises in Mt 5:4-9 are expressed in the future tense, the affirmation the kingdom of heaven is theirs is in the present tense (5:3,10). This suggests that the kingdom had already arrived through the coming of Jesus but that the fulfillment of many kingdom promises will occur only in the future. This future fulfillment awaits Christ’s second coming. The statement “the kingdom of heaven is theirs” appears at the beginning and end of the main body of the Beatitudes (5:3,10). This bracketing device suggests that the Beatitudes constitute promises only to those who belong to the kingdom. Isaiah 61:1 promised that Messiah would bring good news to the poor. This beatitude serves as a fulfillment of that prophecy (Lk 4:16-21).

5:4 This beatitude is also dependent on Is 61: “He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted . . . to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair” (vv. 1-3). The context of Is 61 portrays mourning as expressive of Israel’s sorrow over the exile that their sins had caused. In this light, Mt 5:4 expresses the grief of those suffering the consequences of sin. Theirs is an attitude of repentance.

5:5 Like the preceding Beatitudes, this one parallels Is 61. Isaiah 61:7 (LXX) uses the words “they will inherit the earth,” an exact parallel to Mt 5:5b. The first three Beatitudes thus confirm Jesus’s identity as the Servant of Is 61. This identification is important for understanding the sacrificial nature of Jesus’s death since Is 52:14-53:12 describes the Servant as suffering the punishment that sinners deserved (see Mt 8:17 and 12:17-21 which appeal to Is 53:4 and 42:1-4). This beatitude also echoes Ps 37:11 in which the humble are those who trust God and surrender to his authority even when they cannot make sense of their circumstances. Inherit the earth (land) in the OT refers to inheriting the promised land of Canaan. Thus most of Jesus’s hearers recognized that his disciples were a new Israel that would inherit the land promised to Abraham. In the context of the Sermon on the Mount and the Gospel of Matthew as a whole, “inheriting the earth” involves more than the promise of living in Palestine. It refers to living in a recreated earth over which Christ rules eternally. Matthew 19:28 anticipates the renewal of earth and assures Jesus’s disciples that they will enjoy great reward in the eternal kingdom.

5:6 Hunger and thirst are metaphors for a disciple’s fervent desire for righteousness. The words they will be filled are in the passive voice, indicating that righteousness is not something disciples can achieve by their own efforts. The verb here, like those in the promises of vv. 4,6-7 (and possibly v. 9), is a “divine passive” that describes an act of God. He alone imparts the righteousness for which disciples hunger and thirst. This is crucial to understanding the theology of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus required his disciples to keep the least of the commandments (v. 19), surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (v. 20), and to “be perfect . . . as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48). Such demands can be twisted into a false theology in which righteousness is achieved by works, but the righteousness Jesus demands of us is actually a divine gift given to his followers.

5:7 The merciful are those who relate to others with a forgiving and compassionate spirit (6:2-4; 18:21-35). God will show mercy to the merciful.

5:8 The words pure in heart refer to someone who is authentically righteous in the inner person. Righteousness can be faked, as was the case with the Pharisees (23:25-28). Jesus said true purity is attained when God grants it to the person who hungers and thirsts for it. Complete fulfillment of this divine promise will occur at Jesus’s return, but the identification of his disciples as those who are pure shows that dramatic transformation occurs even in this lifetime. The promise that Jesus’s disciples will see God looks forward to the time when they will literally behold God in all his glory. The words are not to be interpreted figuratively as if they refer merely to special insight into God’s nature or to a visionary experience. The new Moses promises his followers access to God that not even the ancient Moses was allowed to experience (Ex 33:12-23).

5:9 The ministry of peacemaking involves resolving conflict by making prompt apologies and acts of restitution, refusing to seek revenge, and humbly serving and loving one’s enemies (vv. 21-26,38-41,43-48). The promise that peacemakers . . . will be called sons of God probably means that Jesus’s authentic disciples emulate God by undertaking the ministry of reconciliation. Thus at the final judgment they shall be accepted as the sons (and daughters) of God.

5:10 The purest form of righteousness is pursued by disciples who know that their good deeds will demand great sacrifice and will result in pain rather than immediate reward. This is the epitome of the kingdom righteousness demanded by the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus pronounced that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who suffer for righteousness. In the Greek text, theirs is shifted from its normal position at the end of the clause to the beginning instead. This gives the pronoun a special emphasis indicating that the kingdom belongs to righteous sufferers and to them alone. Those who always endeavor to evade persecution are not true disciples and will not have a share in the kingdom because true disciples follow Jesus even at the cost of their lives (16:24-27). The kingdom of heaven is the reign of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Righteous sufferers are subjects of God’s rule through their submission to Jesus’s authority. Jesus inaugurated this kingdom during his ministry, but it will be consummated in the end time.

makarios

Greek pronunciation [mah KAH ree ahss]
CSB translation blessed
Uses in Matthew 13 (Lk 15; Jn 2)
Uses in the NT 50
Focus passage Matthew 5:3-12

Makarios occurs thirty times in the Gospels, all but two on the lips of Jesus (Lk 1:45; 11:27). The OT Hebrew term ashrey stands behind the NT usage of makarios. Both terms are normally translated “blessed” or “happy.” Makarios has two main nuances in the NT. It predominantly refers to God’s blessing upon his people, and secondarily to God’s people blessing him. In the latter sense, makarios is basically synonymous with praise. When a person is blessed by God, he is approved by God. The opposite of makarios is “woe” (ouai), the status of one who is not approved by God and is thus the object of impending judgment (Mt 23:13-32; Lk 6:24-26). God’s blessing does not necessarily include material prosperity in this life (Mt 19:23-24; Lk 6:24; 16:19-31)—the contrary is actually quite possible (Lk 6:20)—but it does anticipate full, uninterrupted prosperity in the future kingdom (Mt 5:4-9,11-12; 25:34).

5:11-12 Jesus’s words show that persecution is typically either verbal or violent. Verbal forms include insult and slander. The word persecute includes acts of physical violence like the slap of Mt 5:39. Jesus promised that the cost of discipleship will be offset by the enormity of the reward the disciple enjoys in heaven. Jewish leaders rejected and vehemently persecuted the OT prophets, and Jesus repeatedly denounced this persecution (21:34-36; 23:29-37). By treating Jesus’s followers in the same way they had treated the prophets, Jewish persecutors unwittingly bestowed on them a prophet’s honor.

5:13 Salt has many uses, but in the OT it is most often a purifying agent (Ex 30:35; Lv 2:13; 2Kg 2:21; Ezk 16:4). As the salt of the earth, Jesus’s disciples are to purify a corrupt world through their example of righteous living and their proclamation of the gospel. However, contaminated salt does not promote purity. The verb translated lose its taste indicates foolish and immoral behavior. It refers to a professing disciple whose unrighteous lifestyle promotes destruction rather than purification. Such salt is only good for spreading over ground where you want to kill vegetation. Such is the fatal effect of an unrighteous disciple’s lifestyle. Nothing grows where they go. The verb thrown out describes the disposal of something worthless, and the verb trampled alludes to the treatment an immoral disciple receives from the world.

5:14-16 You are the light of the world is an allusion to Is 9:1-2; 42:6; 49:6—texts that describe the ministry of Messiah, Servant of the Lord. This indicates that Jesus’s disciples are to be extensions of his ministry, carrying salvation to the ends of the earth. Such ministry is intrinsic to true discipleship. A disciple should no more conceal his righteousness or the gospel message than a glowing city should douse its light at night. The reference to giving light for all combines with the reference to “the world” to show that Christ’s ministry is intended for all people. This anticipates the Great Commission of Mt 28:18-20.

Jesus’s words make clear that the disciple is not the ultimate author of his good works. If the disciple were the author of his good works, he would justly receive praise. However, Jesus taught that only the Father in heaven is to be praised for a disciple’s good works, for he is the true source of such works (see note at v. 6). This must not be overlooked. The righteousness demanded by the Sermon on the Mount is a divine gift that God imparts to Jesus’s followers.

5:17-20 Jesus defended himself against charges that he defied the law (9:3,11,14; 12:2,10; 15:1-2; 17:24; 19:3; 22:34-36) by insisting that he came to fulfill both the Law and the Prophets, which together amount to the entire OT. The word fulfill may refer to fulfillment of OT prophecies (1:22; 2:15,17,23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:54,56; 27:9). This is suggested by the words all things are accomplished. However, it can also refer to obedience to God’s commands (3:15). This additional meaning is implied by the reference to practicing these commands. Consequently, Jesus’s words imply that he would fulfill all of the OT promises and obey all its commandments. The smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the yod, which resembles an English apostrophe. The stroke of a letter is a slight pen stroke that distinguishes similar letters. Jesus’s statement shows that he regarded the OT as accurate and reliable down to the smallest detail. In keeping with this conviction, Jesus taught that fidelity to the OT witness determines a disciple’s stature in his kingdom. True fidelity to God’s commands is made possible by God’s miraculous work in a disciple’s heart (see note at v. 6).

5:21-22 Matthew 5:21 begins a section of the Sermon on the Mount generally known as the “six antitheses.” The title may seem to imply that Jesus opposed the OT in some way, but in reality he always upheld its authority. Rather than contradicting or overturning OT teachings, Jesus opposed the misguided interpretations of the scribes and Pharisees. These men were concerned only with superficial matters, but Jesus went deeper. He argued that the law prohibits not just actual murder but murderous attitudes as well. Similarly, violent temperaments are condemned just as surely as violent deeds.

5:23-24 Disciples must attempt at their earliest opportunity to reconcile with a brother or sister who has something against them, even if doing so interrupts important business. Speaking to the context of his day, Jesus said disciples should seek reconciliation even if it meant halting in the middle of offering sacrifices at the Jerusalem temple. This interruption was significant since Jesus’s original audience (located away from Jerusalem) would have to abandon their gift at the altar, travel for days to reach Galilee and seek reconciliation, and then return to Judea to complete the sacrifice. Such is the priority of reconciliation.

5:25-26 A person can typically pay a smaller penalty for their offense by seeking an out-of-court settlement rather than waiting for the issue to be settled in court. This illustrates that reconciliation is urgent because the longer it is postponed, the more severe the consequences.

5:27-28 Jesus said that gazing on a member of the opposite sex for the purpose of arousing illicit sexual desire is adultery of the heart. This does not mean lustful thoughts are equally as sinful as the act of adultery. Rather it means the law prohibits adulterous desires as well as adulterous actions. Sin begins in the mind before it is committed outwardly. True righteousness therefore seeks to avoid not only adulterous acts but also adulterous thoughts.

5:29-30 Self-mutilation and amputation are not effective ways to overcome sin. After all, sin arises from a corrupt heart rather than flesh and bone (15:19). Jesus here uses hyperbole (intentional exaggeration for the sake of making a point) and allegory (in which the eye represents a lustful perspective and the hand represents an immoral deed) in order to convey a vital requirement of discipleship. Disciples should put a stop to thoughts and behaviors that contribute to immorality.

5:31-32 Jesus challenged a loose rabbinic paraphrase of Dt 24:1 that distorted the original meaning of the text. In the hands of the rabbis, Dt 24:1 greatly multiplied the number of offenses that could justify divorce. For instance, rabbinic commentaries on Dt 24 cited minor complaints such as a wife’s fading beauty or her tendency to burn food as legitimate grounds for divorce. However, Jesus kept true to Dt 24:1 and insisted that sexual immorality is legitimate grounds for divorce. People who divorce for frivolous reasons and remarry are guilty of adultery since their original marriage covenant has not been genuinely dissolved.

5:33-37 Oaths to the Lord (i.e., “I swear to God”) were considered binding, but since Jews avoided use of God’s personal name and instead used reverent substitutions, clever liars could take an oath that seemed to appeal to God without technically doing so (23:16-22). Jesus taught that swearing oaths is wrong since oaths call for the destruction of an object or person if the oath is broken. Thus, swearing by heaven . . . earth . . . Jerusalem, or even one’s own head is inappropriate because it implies that we have the authority to destroy things over which God alone has authority. Swearing against God or his belongings aligns us with the evil one who attempted to assume God’s position as ruler of the universe.

5:38-39 Jesus explained that eye for an eye (Ex 21:24; Lv 24:20; Dt 19:21) was given not as a mandate for personal vengeance but as a principle to guide courts in determining appropriate punishments. The slap on your right cheek was a back-handed slap that was both insulting and injurious. For this act Jewish law imposed a fine that was double the one for an open-palmed blow on the left cheek. Thus we see that Jesus urged his disciples not to seek vengeance even against the most offensive kind of blow. The words don’t resist an evildoer do not indicate, however, that we should not seek justice or defend ourselves when threatened with serious bodily harm.

5:40 Frivolous lawsuits were rare in first-century Israel, and so the suit described here was probably a legitimate one that the plaintiff was likely to win. Ordinarily, defendants are upset if the judgment goes against them, but Jesus commanded his disciples to seek reconciliation with their opponents by going above and beyond the legal requirements in order to make amends. Jewish law permitted an opponent to sue for possession of an offender’s inner garment, the shirt. Typically it was a sleeved tunic that extended to the ankles and was made of wool or linen. These could be valuable and were frequently used for bartering or making payments. The coat was an outer robe or wrap. It was the more essential piece of clothing since it provided warmth and could double as a blanket for the poor. Based on OT texts such as Ex 22:26-27 and Dt 24:12-13, Jewish law insisted that the coat was exempt from seizure by the courts (m. B. Qam. 8:6). Taking the coat was too severe a punishment. Jesus thus commanded his disciples to do even more than the courts allowed when seeking reconciliation with an opponent.

5:41 Jesus likely had in mind the much-resented practice of compulsion, in which Roman officials could force their subjects to perform menial tasks such as hauling a load on their backs (27:32). It is often said that soldiers could legally compel a subject to carry a load for only one mile before letting him go, but no surviving text establishes this as law. Most likely compulsion was usually limited to a mile simply out of common sense: people are tired after hauling a load for a mile, and soldiers who pressed for more than this risked fostering dangerous resentment among subjugated peoples. In contrast to this, Jesus said his disciples should carry their oppressor’s pack out of obligation for the first mile, but then exceed all expectations by going a second mile as an act of love and service.

5:42 Since this entire paragraph is devoted to Jesus’s teaching against retaliation, this verse probably prohibits disciples from seeking vengeance against opponents by refusing to help them in a time of need. By giving the necessities of life to an enemy, disciples may restore broken relationships (Rm 12:19-21).

5:43 The words love your neighbor appear in Lv 19:18. However, the command hate your enemy does not appear anywhere in the OT. Evidently some of Jesus’s contemporaries argued that the command to love your neighbor also implied the opposite—that a person was to hate everyone who was not his neighbor.

5:44-45 Loving enemies and praying for one’s persecutors does not make a person God’s child. Only rebirth does that. However, the sort of forgiving love Jesus mentions displays your family resemblance to the heavenly Father, and thus serves as a sign to your true identity. God blesses both the evil and the good with sun and rain.

5:46-47 Tax collectors were despised because they often collected more than the legal tax and served Rome at the expense of their downtrodden fellow Jews. Jesus taught that selfish behavior and loving only those who love you resembles the behavior of tax collectors and pagan Gentiles, not the character of the heavenly Father.

5:48 Much as a child resembles his biological parents, spiritual children bear close resemblance to their heavenly Father. Consequently, Jesus’s disciples are commanded to exhibit moral perfection. The close connection between this verse and Jesus’s teaching about love (vv. 43-47) suggests that unconditional love is the most crucial expression of God’s character in the life of his followers.

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