1. The place where the Sermon on the Mount was preached
a. We know that Jesus was on a mountain near the sea (John 6:3, 16).
b. The sermon was probably delivered near Tabgha north of Tiberias and west of Capernaum. Jesus had moved to Capernaum when He left Nazareth at the beginning of His public ministry (Mat. 4:13), and at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, He returned to Capernaum (Mat. 8:5).
c. There is a large natural amphitheater here on a hill known as Mt. Eremos that could easily fit a multitude of people, and its acoustics are such that a loud voice could carry for a long distance. The Byzantines built a church here in the fourth century, so tradition has connected this site with the Sermon on the Mount for 1,700 years. The Catholic church that exists there today was built in 1938 by Italy. When Pope John Paul II visited here in 2000, Catholic officials prepared for 100,000 people. Though fewer came due to rain, the place was sufficient to accommodate such a great crowd.
See Map 08 Christ’s Early Travels 2.
For photos of this place see the PowerPoint “Christ’s Ministry on the Sea of Galilee.”
2. The time of year when the sermon was preached
John 6:10 says there was “much grass,” and Mark 6:39 says the grass was green. This indicates that it was spring time during the rainy part of the year before the grass typically becomes dry and brown. John 6:4 says the Passover was near which further points to spring time.
3. The Sermon on the Mount compared to other sermons in the Gospels
Parts of this sermon were preached at other places and times. “In my opinion, the Sermon on the Mount was Jesus’ ‘standard’ sermon. It was the core of His itinerant message: a simple proclamation of how God expects us to live, contrasting with common Jewish misunderstandings of that life. It may be that when Jesus preached to a new audience, He often preached this sermon or used the themes from it” (Matthew 5, Biblehub.com).
(1) Compare Matthew 5:29-30 with Mark 9:43-47. This was a different situation. In Mark 9:43-47, Jesus was teaching His disciples privately. See Mark 9:31. Also immediately after the teaching in Mark 9, Christ went into “the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan” (Mk. 10:1). In contrast, after the sermon in Matthew 5-7, Christ went to Capernaum (Mat. 8:5).
(2) Compare Matthew 5-7 with Luke 6:17-49. This, too, was a different situation. The sermon in Matthew was preached on a mountain (Mat. 5:1), whereas the sermon in Luke was preached on a plain (Lk. 6:17). The sermon in Luke 6:17-49 is not merely a shortened edition of the Sermon on the Mount. It is a different sermon but with many similarities. Major differences include Luke 6:38, 39, 40, which are unique to Luke.
4. The addressees of the Sermon on the Mount
The sermon was largely addressed to Christ’s disciples, though many others were present (Mat. 5:1).
a. This is how we understand the frequent references to “your Father” (Mat. 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11).
(1) Christ would not tell a mixed multitude to pray to “our Father which art in heaven,” since He told the Pharisees that they were the children of the devil (Jn. 8:44), and He told Nicodemus that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3).
(2) This is the first reference to God as Father in Christ’s ministry. It is not a teaching that was prominent in the Old Testament, but it was revealed by the incarnation of the Son. In the Gospels, suddenly Jehovah God of the Old Testament is the Father, Son, and Spirit of the New. This is not explained or proven; it is simply declared; and there is no indication that the Lord’s disciples had a problem accepting Trinitarian doctrine.
b. Some parts of the sermon, particularly Matthew 7:13-14, 21-27, are addressed to the wider audience. These warnings about false professions of salvation are addressed to all. Compare 2 Corinthians 13:5 and Hebrews 3:12.
5. What the Sermon on the Mount teaches us about Jesus
a. He is a preacher and teacher. He loves to teach God’s word to men. He will continue this ministry forever. Imagine sitting under Christ’s teaching in His kingdom! See Isaiah 2:3.
b. He is all-wise. Many learned men have observed that the Sermon on the Mount excels all other teaching that the world has ever seen.
c. He is the Son of God. Only God could make the statements that He made in this sermon. He taught from His own authority. He did not say, “Thus saith the Lord” as a prophet. He said, “For verily I say unto you” (Mat. 5:18). And He exalted Himself above the law of Moses, claiming to have the authority to interpret the law of God infallibly. Six times He quotes the law and then says, “But I say unto you” (Mat. 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). He thus demonstrated that He is a “greater than Moses.”
6. The four-fold purpose of the Sermon on the Mount
a. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached the principles of the coming kingdom of God.
These are truths by which men will live in the kingdom that Christ will establish upon His return. Jesus makes this clear by mentioning the kingdom in the very first statement (Mat. 5:3) and by mentioning it eight other times. Just prior to this, Christ was preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Mat. 4:23).
Many things described therein have never been fulfilled on earth and will be fulfilled during the Millennium when Christ will rule with “a rod of iron” (Psa. 2:8-9; Rev. 19:15).
(1) Consider Matthew 5:21-26. A person who is angry at someone without a just cause will be in danger of the judgment. This probably refers to punishment administered by local authorities. If a person calls another “Raca,” he will be in danger of the council, which probably refers to a higher level of magistrate. “Raca” is a term that literally means “O empty or worthless one.” It is a term of “utter vilification” (Strong). If, on the other hand, a person calls someone “thou fool,” he will be in danger of hell fire. It is not simply the use of the word “fool” itself that encompasses this great sin, but the use of the word “fool” as an expression of selfish anger and intended hurt. It is an expression of a murderous heart. Christ Himself called men fools on occasion (Mat. 23:17, 19; Lk. 11:40; 24:50), and the apostle Paul called certain men fools for questioning the bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:36). The point is that during Christ’s earthly millennial reign even sinful actions that are deemed relatively harmless in this present time will be dealt with firmly, even severely. It appears that there will be the potential, even, for rebels to be cast into hell fire during the Millennium because of their unrepentant sinful actions. Note that Jesus does not say that a person who does these things “shall be” judged but that he is “in danger of” being judged. There will be a place in God’s righteous kingdom for genuine repentance and mercy.
(2) Consider Matthew 5:25-26. Again, this has never been fulfilled in any context on earth. It was not fulfilled in Israel during Christ’s day and it is not fulfilled in the church age. New Testament churches have no authority to imprison anyone. These verses look ahead to conditions that will exist during Christ’s kingdom. If an individual does not quickly reconcile with an adversary over an unpaid debt or other obligation he will be put into prison until the obligation is entirely satisfied. This is rule with a “rod of iron.” To fail to pay one’s debt is the sin of lying and stealing.
b. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus established the law of Moses for its intended purpose, which is to reveal sin and man’s lost condition and to lead sinners to Christ (Mat. 5:17-19).
The law is not the gospel; it prepares the way for the gospel by revealing God’s absolute holiness and exposing man’s sin and need of a Saviour (Rom. 3:19-22; Gal. 3:10-13, 24-25).
(1) The words “faith” or “believe” nowhere appear in this Sermon.
(2) Mat. 5:48 gives the requirement of the law. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as you Father which is in heaven is perfect.” This is not the gospel; it is not the way of salvation. Compare Deut. 10:12-13.
(3) Mat. 7:12 also gives a summary of the requirement of the law.
(4) Jesus showed that keeping the law is not merely a matter of outward obedience but that it requires inward obedience and purity of heart, which further shows the impossibility of a sinner being saved through the law.
Murder is a heart matter (Mat. 5:21-22). Murder is not merely killing someone but also involves the inner hatred that motivates people to kill. The warning is not against the use of the word “fool” itself but the use of such language with the purpose of hurting someone “without a cause.” Jesus called people fools (Mat. 23:17, 19; Lk. 24:25), but in so doing He was speaking the truth in love.
Adultery is a heart matter (Mat. 5:27-28). This shows how deep the law of God is and how impossible it is to be saved by keeping it, because our hearts are so sinful and corrupt (Jer. 17:9). When Jesus said that a man can commit adultery with a woman by looking, He was not referring to appreciating a woman’s beauty. A man could never find a mate and get married if he were not allowed to look in that way. Jesus was referring to the purpose of the look (looking specifically to satisfy sexual lust), and He was referring to the direction of the look (looking at those aspects of the woman that are particularly related to sexual lust).
Loving others means not merely loving my own but loving even my enemies (Mat. 5:43-47). Here Jesus was also correcting the false additions to the law that had been added by the rabbis. Mat. 5:43 is a reference to Lev. 19:18, but the rabbis had added “hate your enemies.” The Old Testament law itself did not teach that. The rabbis had taught that you should love only your neighbor and that you have no obligation beyond that, but in reality God’s law says we are to love all men. This exposes the sinfulness of our nature, because we do not do that.
(5) Matthew 5:20 says the righteousness required for salvation is beyond that of the most religious man. This is because every man is a sinner and cannot perform the perfection required by the law. We must be forgiven of our sins and have the very righteousness of Christ put to our account (Rom. 3:21-22).
(6) Jesus fulfilled the law for us (Mat. 5:17). He lived the righteousness that the law demands, and He made the atonement for sinners that the law requires. Salvation is an exchange. It is a matter of substitution. Christ was made sin for us, and the believer is made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
c. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivered principles by which we are to live in the church age.
Though the Sermon on the Mount looks beyond the church age to the establishment of the kingdom, it contains principles that are applicable for believers today. Consider five examples:
(1) Encouragement in persecution is for today (Mat. 5:10-12).
(2) Prayer is for today (Mat. 6:5-15).
(3) Fasting is for today (Mat. 6:17-18).
(4) Laying up treasures for heaven is for today (Mat. 6:19-21).
(5) Putting God first and trusting Him for one’s needs is for today (Mat. 6:33).
d. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows the evidence of repentance and true salvation.
“In the Beatitudes, Jesus sets forth both the nature and the aspirations of citizens of His kingdom. They have and are learning these character traits. All of these character traits are marks and goals of all Christians. It is not as if we can major in one to the exclusion of others, as is the case with spiritual gifts. There is no escape from our responsibility to desire every one of these spiritual attributes. If you meet someone who claims to be a Christian but displays and desires none of these traits, you may rightly wonder about their salvation, because they do not have the character of kingdom citizens. But if they claim to have mastered these attributes, you may question their honesty” (Biblehub.com).
Compare Matthew 3:2, 8; 4:17. Matthew 5-7 does not show the way of salvation; it shows the fruit of salvation.
(1) The “poor in spirit” and “those who mourn” and the “meek” (Mat. 5:3-5) are those who have humbled themselves before God and who do not boast of themselves and their accomplishments.
“Poor in spirit” is the opposite of self-righteousness and self-dependency. The poor in spirit know that they are spiritually bankrupt before God. They know that they are sinners before God and that they have no righteousness that is acceptable to God except in Jesus Christ (Isa. 64:6). They are like the publican of Luke 18:13. They are utterly dependent on God. They are like Agur who knew that apart from the wisdom of God’s Spirit he is “brutish” (Prov. 30:1-4).
Note that “poor in spirit” stands at the beginning of the Beatitudes. A poor spirit, a humbled spirit, a repentant spirit, is the door into all of God’s blessings and the secret to spiritual sanctification. “The words ‘poor in spirit’ sound as if they described the owners of nothing, and yet they describe the inheritors of all things. Happy poverty! Millionaires sink into insignificance, the treasure of the Indies evaporate in smoke, while to the poor in spirit remains a boundless, endless, faultless kingdom, which renders them blessed in the esteem of him who is God over all, blessed for ever” (Charles Spurgeon).
The mourning of Matthew 5:4 does not refer to mourning in general, but to mourning about sin and its effects. It is spiritual, God-centered mourning rather than selfish, worldly mourning. It is the mourning of Psalm 88:9; 119:136.
(2) To “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Mat. 5:6) is the change of life that follows salvation. Ephesians 2:8-10 says we are saved by grace without works, but we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. No sinner hungers after righteousness unless he has been regenerated (Titus 3:5).
(3) To be “pure in heart” (Mat. 5:8) requires the change that follows salvation (Acts 15:9). It is impossible for the sinner to be pure in heart until he is born again, because the heart is naturally deceitful and wicked (Jer. 17:9). The heart of the saved still contains corruption, because the “old man” is still present, but can be pure before God in that it is converted to God and has complete trust in Christ (Heb. 10:22; 1 Pet. 1:22).
(4) The “peacemakers” (Mat. 5:9) are those that have first found peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and who seek to bring others to peace with God (2 Cor. 5:18-20). Theological liberals and ecumenists and globalists teach that peacemakers in general are the children of God, but this is to take the passage out of context and to ignore the rest of the Bible. Apart from salvation in Jesus Christ, sinners are children of the devil (Jn. 8:44). The sinner is adopted into God’s family only through faith in Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:12; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:5). There is no true peace to the wicked (Isaiah 48:22; 57:21). The peacemakers of this world who are not committed to Jesus Christ and His Word are false prophets (1 Th. 5:3).
7. Other lessons from the Sermon on the Mount
a. Jesus promised great reward for those who are persecuted (Mat. 5:10-12).
(1) The cause of this persecution is righteousness and Jesus Christ (Mat. 5:10, 11). The world loves sin and is therefore convicted by righteousness (Eph. 5:8-13). The world loves false christs, but it hates the true Christ of the Bible who emphatically and dogmatically said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:6).
(2) The most persistent form of persecution is reviling (Mat. 5:11). It takes the form of slanders and false accusations, hateful name-calling, mocking and ridicule, and such. Revile means to defame, rail at, chide, taunt (Strong). Compare Lk. 6:22; Heb. 11:36; 1 Pet. 4:14; Jude 15.
(3) Victory over persecution is to look beyond this present life to Christ’s rule and the believer’s rule with Him. The believer is twice told to look to “heaven” to endure persecution (Mat. 5:10-12). “The Lord will one day triumph in the arena of His rejection. All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, His persecuted people will come into their own, ‘for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mat. 5:10). ... Then those who have suffered with Him will reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:12)” (John Phillips).
b. The seriousness of maintaining a good testimony (Mat. 5:13-17)
Christ uses two metaphors to describe the importance of the believer’s testimony in this world. He warns about salt becoming good for nothing and light being hidden. This is what happened to Israel, which was supposed to be God’s salt and light in a fallen world. It has often happened to professing Christians and churches. It was already happening to some of the churches in the first century AD (Rev. 2:14-16, 20-23; 3:2-3, 15-18).
(1) Salt preserves goodness and keeps back corruption. Salt was the most commonly used preservative before refrigeration. Likewise, believers can restrain the spread of sin by their good examples. Salt has to do with the believer’s testimony and character. Salt is powerful, and the salt of Bible-believing Christians can spread widely in society and affect an entire nation, such as in the first 200 years of American history.
(2) Light dispels darkness. The most powerful spiritual light is God’s Word (2 Pet. 1:19), but it must be backed up by a sound Christian testimony (Mat. 5:16; Phil. 2:14-16). The church is the pillar of the truth, which means it is to uphold the truth in the midst of darkness (1 Tim. 3:15). The church’s job is to proclaim the gospel (Mk. 16:15) and to use the law of God to expose sin as a schoolmaster to lead sinners to Christ (Gal. 3:24). The reproof of sin is spiritual light (Eph. 5:11-13). Reproving sin is a difficult, even a dangerous job, but it has great potential to bring blessing through repentance and faith.
(3) Light is described both as a city and a candle (Mat. 5:14-15). A lone candle signifies the individual believer, while a city signifies the assembly with its multiple candles combining into one. It is God’s will that believers join together in the churches to multiply and magnify the spiritual light.
(4) By comparing Matthew 5 with Luke 8, we see two major ways that the believer’s light is hidden: under a bushel (Mat. 5:15) and under a bed (Lk. 8:16). A bushel was a basket containing a measure of grain and signifies commerce and labor, while a bed signifies leisure and pleasure. Many believers have hidden their light by pursuing business, hobbies, and various forms of pleasure rather than putting God first and pursuing His perfect will.
c. Jesus promised the fulfillment of the law and the prophets (Mat. 5:17-18).
(1) He fulfilled the moral law by His righteous and sinless life.
(2) He fulfilled the ritual law by His atoning sacrifice. This was the fulfillment of the entire Levitical sacrificial system. John stated this in a nutshell when He proclaimed Jesus as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29).
(3) He fulfilled all of the prophecies about His first coming.
“God’s law had two parts: the moral law and the ceremonial law. In His amazing life the Lord Jesus fulfilled the demands of the moral law. In His death He fulfilled the details of the ceremonial law, which was chiefly concerned with sacrifices and offerings. He fulfilled the rich symbolism of the sin offering, the trespass offering, the meal offering, the peace offering, and the burnt offering. Jesus was the goat that was slain on the day of atonement, whose blood was taken into the holy of holies; and He was the scapegoat upon which were laid the sins of the people before it was led away into ‘a land not inhabited’ (Leviticus 16:22). He was the bird that the cleansed leper brought to be slain in his stead; and He was the other bird that the cleansed leper brought to be dipped in the blood of the first bird before being set free to fly heavenward for home. Jesus was the unleavened bread of the Passover, and He was the paschal lamb. His were the ashes of the red heifer, and His was the blood that was shed for sin. The red rivers that poured from ten thousand times ten thousand sacrifices were but a feeble type of His precious blood. ... Jesus fulfilled the prophets as well as the law. The prophets in glory must have been overjoyed at the life Jesus lived on earth. ‘I wrote about His suffering,’ Isaiah might have cried, reciting Isaiah 53, ‘and look how He has fulfilled my words to the letter!’ David might have added, ’Yes, and Psalm 22 as well, and Psalm 69.’ God would have commented, "This is my beloved Son," and the angels would have gazed down in wonder, for these are ‘things the angels desire to look into’ (1 Peter 1:12)” (John Phillips’ commentary on Matthew).
d. Jesus promised the preservation of Scripture (Mat. 5:18). A jot is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and a tittle is a tiny stroke that distinguishes one Hebrew letter from another.
(1) Not only has God inspired the Scriptures verbally, He has promised to keep the Scriptures pure. Compare Psalm 12:6-7. Some have argued that the promise of preservation in verse 7 cannot point to the words of verse 6, because “the gender differences between the masculine plural pronominal suffix ‘them’ and its antecedent feminine plural ‘words’ forces one to look for another antecedent which is masculine plural (i.e., ‘poor’ and ‘needy’ in v. 5)” (William Combs, “The Preservation of Scripture,” Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary Journal, 2001). Dr. Thomas Strouse of Emmanuel Baptist Seminary, Newington, Connecticut, answers this argument: “However two important grammatical points overturn his [Combs’] argument. First, the rule of proximity requires ‘words’ to be the natural, contextual antecedent for ‘them.’ Second, it is not uncommon, especially in the Psalter, for feminine plural noun synonyms for the ‘words’ of the Lord to be the antecedent for masculine plural pronouns/pronominal suffixes, which seem to ‘masculinize’ the verbal extension of the patriarchal God of the Old Testament. Several examples of this supposed gender difficulty occur in Psa. 119. In verse 111, the feminine plural ‘testimonies’ is the antecedent for the masculine plural pronoun ‘they.’ Again, in three passages the feminine plural synonyms for ‘words’ have masculine plural pronominal suffixes (vv. 129, 152, 167). These examples include Psa. 119:152 (‘Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou has founded them for ever’), which Combs affirms to be ‘a fairly direct promise of preservation’ of the written form of the Torah (p. 18). As the KJV/TR bibliologists have argued all along, both the context and the grammar (proximity rule and accepted gender discordance) of Psa. 12:6-7 demand the teaching of the preservation of the Lord’s pure words for every generation.”
(2) This passage is one of three that proves that Jesus used the Hebrew Old Testament and not a Greek translation called the Septuagint.
- The fact that Jesus spoke of the jots and tittles proves that He used the Hebrew Old Testament, not a Greek translation. Greek does not have jots and tittles.
- Another proof is found in Lk. 24:44, where Jesus referred to the division of the Hebrew Old Testament: the law, the prophets, and the psalms. The Greek Septuagint did not use this division.
- Another proof is in Lk. 11:51, where Jesus eluded to the first and last books of the Hebrew Old Testament: Abel in Genesis and Zacharias in 2 Chronicles 24, which is the last book of the Hebrew Old Testament canon. The Greek Old Testament ends, instead, with the prophet Daniel.
- Further, the evidence for the existence of the Greek Septuagint prior to the first century is suspect.
e. Jesus emphasized the need for reconciliation (Mat. 5:21-24). The first interpretation of this is for the millennial kingdom when the sacrificial altar will again be established in Israel (Mat. 5:23). See Ezekiel 43:13-27. But there is an application of this principle to the church age.
(1) Jesus shows that hatred in the heart is the root of the sin of murder, and God is concerned as much with the heart as the actions.
(2) God is as concerned about good relations between brethren as He is about offerings, and He wants us to check up on our relationships before we make an offering (Mat. 5:24). Note that Jesus did not say that offerings are not important; He assumes that His people will make offerings.
(3) The believer is to take the initiative in reconciliation (Mat. 5:23). I am not supposed to wait until the offended party comes to me, but I am to go to the offended party and seek reconciliation. It might be the case that the offense is only perceived, but still I am to go to the one who is holding an offense and work the matter out in a godly manner.
f. Jesus warned of the seriousness of sexual lust (Mat. 5:17-30).
(1) The lust comes from man’s fallen heart (Mat. 15:19). It began when Adam and Eve broke God’s commandment and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:6-7). The human heart became darkened and the thoughts of the heart became oriented toward sin and illicit lust.
(2) This reminds us of the importance of modest dress. Prior to the fall, nakedness was not a problem because the thoughts of the human heart were not sinful. After the fall, God clothed Adam and Eve properly and modestly in coats of skins (Gen. 3:21). Since the fall, nakedness outside of marriage is a sin (Lev. 18). Immodest dress is called “the attire of an harlot” (Prov. 7:10). The godly woman does not want to cause offense and she therefore dresses in such a manner that she does not draw the attention of men’s lust. She dresses modestly because she has a modest heart.
(3) This reminds us of the importance of a man guarding his eyes (Job 31:1; Prov. 4:25; Psalm 101:3).
(4) Question: What did Jesus mean when he talked about plucking out the offending eye or cutting off the offending hand (Mat. 5:29-30)? Answer: He was showing that salvation comes only by the new birth. The eye and hand are not the source of lust. Even if one were to cut off his right hand, the lust in the heart would not be quenched. Jesus was forcing sinners to look at the source of sin, which is the heart, and to understand that religion and good works cannot change one’s nature or bring forgiveness for even one sin. Jesus used shocking language and imagery to force men to face their desperate sinful condition and need of salvation. Jesus was speaking to religious Jews who trusted their good works to make them right with God, and He was attempting to remove their false hope based on the flesh so they would be saved. See Luke 3:8; John 1:12-13; 3:5-7; Col. 2:10-13.
g. Jesus emphasized the seriousness of divorce (Mat. 5:31-32).
(1) Jesus rejected easy divorce (Mat. 5:31). This was taught among the Jews in His day by the rabbinical school of Hillel, which allowed a man to divorce his wife if she was displeasing to him in any way, “a view of the law too well fitted to minister to caprice and depraved inclination not to find extensive favor. And, indeed, to this day the Jews allow divorces on the most frivolous pretexts” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown). This reminds us of the “no fault” divorce laws in most western nations.
(2) Jesus gave only one legitimate cause for divorce, and that is fornication. This is a broad term covering all forms of sexual sin. He gave the same “exception clause” in Matthew 19:9.
(3) The one who is divorced and remarried for a cause other than fornication is an adulterer (Mat. 5:32). Adultery is a grave sin with great and abiding consequences. It can be forgiven (1 Cor. 6:9-11), but the consequences remain. The same is true for the sin of illegitimate divorce and remarriage. The sin can be forgiven in Jesus Christ, but the consequences are almost legion, as most anyone who has been divorced and remarried will testify.
h. Jesus warned about swearing and oaths (Mat. 5:33-37).
(1) Jesus is not forbidding all oaths. Hebrews 6:16 says that men make oaths in the context of agreements, and it does not condemn this. Paul used an oath in Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 1:20, and the angel used an oath in Revelation 10:5-6. “We conclude, then, that judicial oaths, and oaths taken in the name of God on occasions of solemn religious importance, are not included in the prohibition” (The Fourfold Gospel and Commentary on Acts). The passage in Matthew 5:33-37 is not referring to something like giving one’s oath in a court of law or a president swearing the oath of office on a Bible.
(2) He is condemning the following practices:
Christ is condemning the deceitful Jewish practice of requiring an oath using God’s name before an oath was binding. They would swear by heaven, by the earth, and by their own head (Mat. 5:34-36), and this was considered of lesser binding authority. “It will be seen from the quotation given by Jesus that the law permitted oaths made unto the Lord (Ex. 22:11; Nu. 5:19). It was not the intention of Jesus to repeal this law. But the Jews, looking upon this law, construed it as giving them exemption from the binding effect of all other oaths. According to the their construction no oath was binding in which the sacred name of God did not directly occur. They therefore coined many other oaths to suit their purposes, which would add weight to their statements or promises, which, however, would not leave them guilty of being forsworn if they spoke untruthfully. But Jesus showed that all oaths were ultimately referable to God, and that those who made them would be forsworn if they did not keep them” (The Fourfold Gospel and Commentary on Acts).
Christ is condemning oaths that are frivolous and carnal and boastful (Mat. 5:36). To swear by one’s head or some such thing in this world is vain because we do not have power over these things. We cannot change the color of even one hair.
Christ is condemning oaths made in ordinary conversation (Mat. 5:37). Instead of swearing or making oaths, we should merely say yes or no. The main thing that Christ is emphasizing is truthfulness and honesty in all of one ways. The believer should be a man of his word. God is the God of truth; He cannot lie; His every word is truth; and His people are to reflect this character. “All contracts and promises must be kept. Our word should be our bond. We should be marked by total integrity in commitment because our word is backed by total integrity of character. We are to do what we say we will do, wether the commitment is great or small, convenient or inconvenient (Psa. 15:4)” (John Phillips).
i. Jesus warned about personal retribution (Mat. 5:38-42).
(1) The Jews had taken the statements of the Mosaic law out of context and had given themselves the right to seek personal retribution for any injury. Note the lessons from the three times that the law mentions “an eye for an eye”:
Exodus 21:22-25. The context deals with injury caused to a pregnant woman. Note that the punishment is to be meted out by the judges, not by the individual who is offended. If the infant is injured or killed, the one who caused the injury was to pay in like manner.
Leviticus 24:19-20. Here the context is injury caused to one’s neighbor. The punishment is to be given by the entire congregation and not merely by the injured individual. See Lev. 24:13-14.
Deuteronomy 19:16-21. The context here is a man who brings false witness against another person. He is to be punished with the same punishment that he attempted to pin on the innocent person. Note again that the punishment is established and carried out by the judges, not by the offended party (Deut. 19:17).
(2) Jesus taught that rather than seek personal retribution against injury, the believer should exercise Christ-like restraint and forgiveness (Mat. 5:38-42).
This is often repeated in the Epistles (Rom. 12:20-21; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Pet. 2:21-23; 3:9).
These examples are given in the context of compulsion by authorities and in the context of persecution for one’s faith (Mat. 5:38-42), of being beaten for one’s faith (Mat. 5:39), of being compelled to go a mile by the Roman authorities (Mat. 5:41). God’s Word forbids us to defend the gospel with force. “Now by this it appears, that Christ never intended to have his religion propagated by fire and sword, or penal laws, or to acknowledge bigotry, or intemperate zeal, as the mark of his disciples” (Matthew Henry). “These exhortations belong to those principally who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Let such leave the judgment of their cause to Him for whose sake they suffer. The Jews always thought that every outrage should be resented; and thus the spirit of hatred and strife was fostered” (Adam Clarke). “Quite the contrary to the Spirit of Christ is the spirit of the age, which espouses marches, demonstrations, and civil disobedience; settles disputes with strikes and confrontation; and fosters disaffection for and defiance of authority” (John Phillips).
These examples are not intended to cover every situation in life. For example, it is proper to defend oneself against unjust charges (i.e., Acts 16:36-39). Later Jesus instructed His disciples to purchase a sword for self defense (Lk. 22:36). If a believer is attacked with violence or robbery, he has the right before God to defend himself and his family and others, but if he is being persecuted for his faith, he must bear it. The idea is not that we must always passively suffer the assault of the assassin, the bully, or the thief. However, when the interests of Christ’s kingdom demand that we turn the other cheek, we should” (John Phillips).
In regard to Matthew 5:42
- This commandment is spoken in the context of compulsion by authorities and the context of persecution for one’s faith (Mat. 5:38-42). This is not referring to casual requests for gifts and loans by friends and neighbors. “These exhortations belong to those principally who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. Let such leave the judgment of their cause to Him for whose sake they suffer. The Jews always thought that every outrage should be resented; and thus the spirit of hatred and strife was fostered” (Adam Clarke).
- The Bible elsewhere says that the believer’s possessions are his own and he should determine how they should be used; that giving should be of a free will and not forced (Acts 5:4; 2 Cor. 9:7; 1 Tim. 6:17-19).
- In matters of giving to those who ask, both prudence and charity must be considered. “To lend to every worthless man, would be to throw away our property, encourage laziness and crime, and ruin our families. It should be done consistently, and of this every man is to be the judge” (Barnes). “Verse 42 does not command us to give to everybody who asks whatever they desire, for in so doing we might do them harm. We must give them what they need the most and not what they want the most” (Wiersbe). For example, to give money to a drunkard or a drug user who will use the money to purchase alcohol or drugs is not Christian charity or wisdom and does not help that individual. Another case is a “beggar” who is pretending to be in need but is lying and doesn’t want to labor. “To give to such is to encourage laziness, and to support the idle at the expense of the industrious” (Barnes). The Bible forbids us to help those who refuse to work (2 The. 3:10).
- In matters of giving to those who ask, the believer must also consider his other obligations. For example, a man’s first obligation is to his own family and if he somehow neglects that obligation he is said to be worse than an infidel (1 Tim. 5:8). I think of a Christian man who gave to others to such an extent that he neglected his own wife and children and thus caused them to resent his generosity. That is neither wise nor godly.
- The primary teaching of this verse is that the believer is to “be in the habit of giving,” to have a continual open heart toward those in need; to be ready to distribute, willing to communicate (1 Tim. 6:18; 1 Jn. 3:17). Those with a true need should never be turned away if it is in our power to help.
- The Family Bible Notes summarize the obligation of Matthew 5:42 in these words: “When the person who asks or would borrow is needy accommodate him, if consistently [with wisdom] and duty you can do it.” John Wesley adds, “Give and lend to any so far, (but no further, for God never contradicts himself) as is consistent with thy engagements to thy creditors, thy family, and the household of faith.”
j. Jesus taught the meaning of true Christian love (Mat. 5:43-48).
(1) He corrected the common Jewish thinking, which was to love one’s neighbor (other Jews) and to hate one’s enemy (all Gentiles). The law of Moses did not teach this. The law taught to love one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:18), but it never taught to hate one’s enemies. This was the false tradition of the rabbis.
(2) God loves all men (Mat. 5:45, 48). This refutes hyper-Calvinism, which teaches that God loves only the elect. Compare John 3:16.
(3) Even the unsaved love their own (Mat. 5:46-47). If a Christian loves only his family and friends and close acquaintances, he is no better than an unbeliever.
(4) Christ showed the way in this matter when He prayed for those who crucified Him (Lk. 23:34) and saved the thief on the cross who had previously reviled Him (Mat. 27:44; Lk. 23:39-43).
(5) Christ ended this part of the sermon with the obligation that the believer be perfect like God (Mat. 5:48).
- This is the demand of the law, which shows that it is impossible for any sinner to be saved by the law (Rom. 3:19-20; Gal. 3:10). In this sermon, Christ exposed the error of Phariseeism, which makes the law of Moses into a means of salvation. See Romans 9:30-33.
- This is the process of sanctification for the believer. It was repeated by Peter (1 Pet. 1:15-16). It is not possible to be perfect in this present life, but it is the believer’s goal, and the indwelling Spirit impels him toward this end. We are to put on Christ (Rom. 13:14), to put off the old man and put on the new man (Eph. 4:22-24). This is the process of daily sanctification in this present world.
k. Christ taught about almsgiving (Mat. 6:1-4).
(1) He warns against hypocrisy in religious deeds. God looks on the heart. He measures our motives. Those with impure motives are not rewarded.
(2) God is a rewarder of those who serve Him with a right motive. There is a continual laying up of treasures in heaven by the individual who serves God with a right heart. Compare Mat. 10:41-42; Heb. 6:10; 11:6.
l. Christ taught about prayer (Mat. 6:5-15).
The Son of God on earth was a Man of prayer, and in this marvelous passage He teaches His people how to pray.
(1) Effectual prayer is not for show after the fashion of the Pharisees (Mat. 6:5). If prayer is for man’s sake, it is hypocrisy. I think of some church members who have a very poor testimony, but when they pray in church they sound so spiritual! Only the Lord knows man’s heart, but oftentimes this is probably just a show. God hates hypocrisy. What we are in church on Sunday, we must be on Monday in the home at on the job.
(2) Effectual prayer flows from an intimate relationship with God (Mat. 6:6).
Effectual prayer is not a religious ritual; it is communicating with God as Abba Father. It requires that the supplicant know God as Father through repentance and faith in Christ. The secret of answered prayer is the supplicant’s day-by-day walk with God in the most secret and intimate part of his life.
Prayer should first be a private matter between me and God (Mat. 6:6).
- This does not mean that public prayer is not important; it means that prayer starts in my private life, and if I don’t have an effective private prayer life I should not pray in public.
- There are at least four kinds of prayer: private closet prayer (Mat. 6:6; Rom. 1:9), continual prayer (1 The. 5:17), corporate prayer or praying with others (Mat. 18:19-20; Acts 4:24, 31; 12:5, 12; 2 Cor. 1:11), desperate prayer (Mat. 14:30).
(3) Effectual prayer is not vain repetition (Mat. 6:7-8).
This is not a warning against repetition in the sense of praying for the same things persistently. The Bible encourages that (e.g., Lk. 18:1).
It is a warning against VAIN repetition, such as the following examples:
- Hindu mantras and Buddhist prayer wheels are vain repetitions. At the Boudha stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal, Buddhists circumnavigate the stupa clockwise a prescribed number of times while whirling their prayer wheels. The prayers which are written on the wheel and on paper inside the wheel are supposed to be activated by the repetitious rituals.
- Nominal Christians engage in vain repetition when they use rote prayers and ritualistic liturgy. For example, the Lord’s Prayer itself has been turned into a rote ritual. Catholic prayer beads are an example of ritualistic, repetitious prayers. The practitioner prays the Lord’s Prayer six times and the Hail Mary 50 times! The Scala Sancta in Rome is another illustration of vain repetitious prayers. These are supposed to be the 28 steps that Christ ascended to appear before Pilate. Supplicants climb the stairs on their knees while repeating at each step, “My Jesus, through the sorrow you suffered in being separated from your dear Mother and your beloved disciples, have mercy on me. Holy Mother, pierce me through in my heart each wound renew of my Savior crucified.”
- Contemplative prayer, which comes from the Catholic monastic movement and has swept through evangelicalism in the last couple of decades, also uses vain repetition. For example, the Jesus prayer consists of repeating the name “Jesus” with every breath. In another form the Jesus Prayer consists of repeating, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me,” or, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This is to be repeated throughout the day. J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler of Biola University recommend saying the Jesus Prayer 300 times a day (The Lost Virtue of Happiness, p. 90). Some ancient monastic contemplative manuals suggest that it be said from 3,000 to 12,000 times a day (Tony Jones, The Sacred Way, p. 60). Centering prayer is another example of vain repetition in the contemplative prayer movement. It uses the repetition of a “sacred word” such as God or love as a mantra to enter into a contemplative mindset.
- Many Pentecostals and Charismatics use vain repetition, such as, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” or, “Come, Holy Spirit; come, Holy Spirit.” Charismatic praise music often incorporates large amounts of repetition, so that it has been called “7/11 music,” referring to seven words sung 11 times.
The warning against vain repetition might teach us that when praying in groups it is better to divide up the prayer requests among the individuals, and as the individual men or women pray for that thing the others agree fervently in their hearts and with their “amens.” This is instead of every person praying for the same thing and thus praying the same prayer repeatedly.
Biblical prayer does not require much speaking (Mat. 6:7). A long prayer is not necessary more effectual than a short one.
(4) Effectual prayer follows the lessons of Christ’s model prayer (Mat. 6:9-15).
This is not a prayer to be repeated by rote. It is a model; it is a teaching tool that instructs the Lord’s people in important elements of personal prayer. Christ did not say, “Pray these words,” He said, “Pray after this manner.”
Consider some of the lessons:
- Prayer is addressed to the Father (Mat. 6:9). Jesus taught that proper prayer is Trinitarian prayer. We pray to the Father through Jesus Christ by the empowerment and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. There are no examples in the Bible of prayers addressed to the Holy Spirit. “The greatest name of all for God is our Father, a name that implies relationship, resources, and responsibilities beyond ‘all that we ask or think’” (John Phillips).
- Prayer is addressed to the Father in heaven (Mat. 6:9). The very act of proper prayer focuses our attention away from this present, fleeting world to our eternal home. “Father” is a tender name, but it is also an august name. Our prayers are addressed to the Father seated on the throne of the universe. “There is no careless familiarity. His is a high and hallowed name, one to be employed with reverence and awe” (Phillips).
- Prayer includes praise and thanksgiving (Mat. 6:9). The Lord’s model prayer begins and ends by glorifying God.
- Prayer seeks the coming of Christ’s kingdom when His will is done on earth (Mat. 6:10). The prayers of the saints are used by God to bring to pass His will. Compare Isa. 62:6-7; Rev. 5:8. Note that the kingdom of God has not yet come to earth. It will not come through the “social-justice” work of Christians or the “spiritual warfare” efforts of charismatics. The kingdom of God will come when Christ returns and establishes it by His power (Dan. 2:44-45).
- Prayer seeks for God’s will to be done (Mat. 6:10). Effectual prayer is to align my will with God’s. See 1 John 5:14-15.
- Prayer involves offering requests and petitions (Mat. 6:11-13a). Note that only one small aspect of the prayer deals with physical needs. We are invited to pray for these, but they should be kept in the right place and proportion. I have observed in many churches that a large portion of prayer requests concern physical matters, such as health and employment, while only a small portion concern spiritual matters, but this reflects an upside down priority in prayer.
- Prayer should be offered daily (Mat. 6:11). God knows our needs, but He wants us to approach Him every day.
- Prayer requires that I keep my heart and life right before God (Mat. 6:12). Unconfessed sin hinders prayer. See Psa. 66:18.
- Prayer is the means of forgiveness of sins (Mat. 6:12). We come to the throne of grace to obtain mercy (Heb. 4:12).
- Prayer is for spiritual protection (Mat. 6:13). One reason why it is not easy to be persistent in prayer is that it is spiritual warfare. The devil does what he can to hinder our prayers. He uses fiery darts of unbelief (Eph. 6:16). We protect ourselves by prayer to God and by exercising the shield of faith, which is to put one’s confidence in God’s promises. If we leave off prayer and faith, we will be defeated.
- Prayer is confidence in God’s omnipotent power (Mat. 6:13). Prayer must be based on confidence in God. Without faith it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6). Effectual prayer is addressed to a God who is the eternal Creator. Satan is currently the “god of this world,” but he is a usurper and his time is short.
- Christ ended the prayer with a repetition of the teaching about forgiveness (Mat. 6:14-15). Compare verse 12. Again we see that one of the chief purposes of the Sermon on the Mount was to expose hypocrisy and to lead men to salvation and “true religion.” Christ’s teaching on forgiveness addresses the hardness of men’s hearts and the lack of compassion and mercy that resides in the fallen heart. Man’s natural tendency is to be unforgiving, to hold grudges, and this is proof of his unrighteous condition and need of salvation. A merciful, forgiving spirit is the product of and evidence of regeneration.
m. Christ taught the power of fasting (Mat. 6:16-18).
(1) Elsewhere the Lord taught that fasting is an element of spiritual warfare (Mat. 17:14-21).
(2) Fasting is not commanded, but it is expected (“when ye fast,” v. 16). It is mentioned 45 times in New Testament. Paul fasted often (2 Cor. 11:27).
(3) Fasting is an aspect of spiritual warfare (Mat. 17:14-21).
(4) In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ makes a specific promise about proper fasting (“thy Father, which seeth in secret, SHALL reward thee openly,” Mat. 6:18). This is a great encouragement to those who fast.
n. The “single eye” and the “evil eye” (Mat. 6:19-24)
The eye in this passage is not the physical eye but the heart. The heart controls the physical eye. Man’s heart determines what the physical eye sees, where it looks and how long it looks, and what is done with that which it sees. The eye refers to the direction and purpose and passion of one’s life.
(1) In the context, Christ is dealing with man’s attitude toward money and possessions and the purpose of life (Mat. 6:19-34). One’s heart will be reflected in one’s attitude toward and use of money and property.
(2) In the context, Christ is dealing with the priorities of one’s life (Mat. 6:24, 33). God must be first. The main lesson of this section of the sermon is summarized in verse 33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
(3) Thus, to have a “single eye” is to have God first in one’s heart and affections. It is to give God first place above the possessions and pleasures of this life.
(4) The “evil eye,” on the other hand, is to have the heart set upon the things of this world and upon self-fulfillment above God and His perfect will. It is to allow the world and its evil affections to take control of one’s heart. This is the essence of idolatry.
(5) The single eye is necessary for spiritual understanding (Mat. 6:22-23). The worldly-minded person does not have God’s wisdom. It is impossible to know God rightly and to have a proper understanding of His Word when we do not walk in purity and single-hearted devotion.
o. Take no thought for your life (Mat. 6:25)
(1) To “take thought” for something means to be anxious and worried about it. Compare 1 Sam. 9:5. This is a warning not to be so overly consumed with worldly matters that these crowd God out from first place in our lives. An example of this is Martha in Luke 10:41.
(2) Jesus is not saying that the Christian is not to work or to be concerned about his responsibilities in this world.
We are to work with our hands that we may have to give to those that are in need (Eph. 4:28).
We are to show piety first at home by meeting the needs of our loved ones (1 Tim. 5:4, 8).
We are to give to the church so the pastors are cared for and the business of the church can go forth (1 Cor. 9:14; 1 Tim. 5:17; Tit. 3:13-14; 2 John 5,6).
(3) The sin of the rich man described in Christ’s parable in Luke 12 was not that he worked hard and laid up something for the future. It was that he laid up everything for himself and was not “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
(4) The “rich in this world” are given instructions in 1 Timothy 6:17-19. They are not rebuked for having riches. They are instructed, rather, to be “rich in good works.”
p. Jesus warned about hypocrisy (Mat. 7:1-5).
(1) The warning against judging is a warning against a certain type of judging, not against all judging.
- It is a warning against hypocritical judging (Mat. 7:5). It is a warning against what David did when he was ready to put a man to death for a sin that was less than his own sin (2 Sam. 12:1-7). It is a warning against a parent telling a child not to do something that the parent himself is guilty of. It is warning against a preacher who preaches against adultery but is secretly having an affair with his secretary or who preaches against stealing while he is “borrowing” money from the church treasury without authority. Hypocrisy is spiritually destructive; it breeds contempt. Many Christian parents have spoiled their child training efforts by hypocrisy. Christ’s warning is important because all men are naturally hypocrites (Rom. 2:1). God has written His moral law in our hearts, and though we do not obey it, we judge others by it (Rom. 2:14-15). In Matthew 7, Christ is teaching us to look in the mirror and judge ourselves before we judge anyone else, to be more severe on ourselves than on others, to get our own house in order before we criticize others. We should do this when we read the Bible and when we hear Bible teaching and preaching. I must first apply the Word of God to myself rather than first thinking about how it applies to other people.
- It is a warning against a self-righteous, critical spirit lacking in compassion and godly wisdom and patience. I have met some “fundamentalists” who love separation issues, but they are not godly and wise in their judgments. They tend to never be able to get along in any church. They know better than any pastor how to rule the church, though they aren’t called or gifted to be pastors. Oftentimes this type of folk have followed my ministry for a time and have expressed complete support for what I preach, but invariably the time comes when they turn away from me, too, as they eventually do from all preachers, because the reality is that they are self-willed and self-righteous. “What the Lord prohibited is censoriousness: a critical, faultfinding spirit that prompts us to condemn people without the facts and without remembering our own vulnerability” (John Phillips).
(2) Christ is not forbidding all types of judgment. In the very context of Matthew 7, He tells us examine spiritual fruit and to beware of false prophets (Mat. 7:15-16), and it is impossible to do this unless we judge the teaching and lifestyle of preachers. Other Scriptures tell us that there are things that we are to judge: We are to judge sin in the church (1 Cor. 5:1-13). We are to judge matters between the brethren (1 Cor. 6:1-5). We are to judge preaching to make sure that it is true (1 Cor. 14:29). In fact, we are to judge all things by God’s Word (1 Cor. 2:15-16; 1 Th. 5:21).
q. Christ warned against giving holy things to dogs and swine (Mat. 7:6).
Dogs and swine were unclean under the law of Moses (Lev. 11:1-18). They signify unregenerate people who profess Christ but are not changed (2 Pet. 2:22). Dogs are false teachers (Phil. 3:2-3).
(1) This is a warning about receiving unsaved people into church membership. The church must be careful about receiving members. It just guard the door so that it does not become a mixed multitude. The church at Jerusalem is the example. Those who were received into membership gave clear evidence of salvation (Acts 2:41-42).
(2) This is a warning about yoking together with nominal Christians and false teachers. Compare Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Tim. 3:5; Tit. 3:10-11. “Down through the centuries the church has been rent and torn by ‘dogs’ and ‘swine.’ Constantine gave holy things to dogs when he espoused the cause of Christianity and threw open the doors of the church to the world. Paganism was baptized and Christendom was born” (John Phillips).
r. Christ encouraged men to seek things from God (Mat. 7:7-11).
(1) We see God’s wonderful character. While He is almighty, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and thrice holy, He is also a tender Father to His creatures. He loves them and desires to save them and help them. He invites us to approach Him in prayer, to ask of Him, to knock at His door. How different this is from the “god of this world.” He has no love, no compassion, no mercy, no care. His promises are lies, and his invitations bring destruction.
(2) We see man’s responsibility to seek God. Compare Acts 17:26-27; Jer. 29:13.
(3) We see the importance of persistence for answered prayer and spiritual victory (Mat. 7:7-8). The verb tense is continuous. Christ is saying that if we ask and keep on asking and if we seek and keep on seeking and if we knock and keep on knocking, God will answer. We should pray until God answers or until He makes it clear that it is not His will to answer, such as in the case of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. God requires persistence to test our faith (Heb. 11:6).
(4) We see the importance of dependency on God. It is a fundamental necessity of a victorious and fruitful Christian life. Obedience to God’s commands as revealed in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in Scripture is impossible for the fallen sinner, but God has everything we need, and He is ready to supply it to those who cast themselves upon him in steadfast dependence.
s. Christ describes the royal law (Mat. 7:12).
(1) The royal law is the heart and soul of the law of Moses, which shows the impossibility of being saved by the law. The self-centered fallen sinner continually fails the law of love, whereas even one failure brings condemnation (Gal. 3:10). Thus, the law cannot bring salvation. Instead it reveals the sinner’s guilt and condemnation before God and turns his attention to Christ as Saviour (Rom 3:19-24).
(2) The royal law is the heart and soul of the Christian life. Compare Romans 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-14; Jam. 2:8.
t. Christ describes the broad road and the narrow road (Mat. 7:13-14).
This is one of the most powerful and effectual descriptions of the way of salvation contrasted with the way of destruction in the entire Scripture.
(1) The wide gate and the broad way signify the way of the world.
- The wide gate signifies the multitude of false religions and philosophies. The devil has something for everyone’s taste.
- The broad way is called broad because it is the way of the vast majority. Each person on this way can encouragement himself that he is in good company. The truth has never been a majority position in this world since man’s fall since Cain killed his righteous brother and his children spread abroad in the earth.
- The broad way leads to destruction. This the Greek word “apoleia,” which is translated “perdition” eight times (1 Tim. 6:9; 2 Pet. 3:7). It does not refer to annihilation, but to eternal punishment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10-15).
(2) The straight gate and the narrow way signify the Christian life.
- The straight gate is repentance and faith in Christ. The gate is described as narrow and constrained, because the sinner must humble himself in repentance (Lk. 13:3, 5) and because the way of salvation is exclusive (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). The straight gate is to encounter Christ at Calvary in regenerating faith. “The broad road intersects the narrow road at just one place: Calvary. At the cross one can leave the broad road, accept Christ as Saviour, and start along the narrow road” (John Phillips).
- The narrow way is to walk according to the New Testament Christian faith. Though it is narrow, it is full of light and blessing (Prov. 4:18).
- The narrow way is called narrow because it is the way of the few as opposed to the many. Jesus warned that few will be saved. This is comparatively speaking, meaning that far more will be lost than saved in this present world. Yet great numbers will be saved. Even the number of those saved out of the Tribulation cannot be numbered (Rev. 7:9).
- The narrow way leads to life. This is eternal life, which is the free gift of God to those who receive Christ (Rom. 6:23).
u. Christ warned about false teachers and false Christians (Mat. 7:15-23).
(1) This is the first of many warnings on this topic in the New Testament. Christ and the apostles did not neglect a ministry of discernment and warning. Practically every epistle has some type of warning along this line. Compare Acts 20:28-35; 1 Cor. 15:12; 2 Cor. 11:1-4, 12-15; Gal. 1:6-9; 2:4-5; Eph. 4:11-14; Phil. 3:1-3, 17-19; Col. 2:8-22; 1 Tim. 1:3-11; 4:1-6; 2 Tim. 3:1-5, 13; 4:3-4; Titus 1:9-16; 3:9-11; 2 Peter 2; 1 John 2:18-29; 4:1-6; Jude 3-20. They taught us to be continually on guard against spiritual deception. To beware of and warn about false teachers is a fundamental aspect of the Christian life and ministry. This is not a secondary issue. It is not a “non-essential.”
(2) False teachers are deceptive (Mat. 7:15). They try to appear to be something that they aren’t. In this, they are both deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim. 3:13), meaning that they themselves are deceived by the devil, even while they deceive others. Many passages in the New Testament warn of the deceptive character of false teachers. Compare Mat. 24:4-5; Gal. 2:4; Eph. 4:14; Col. 2:8;
(3) False teachers are known by their fruits (Mat. 7:16-18). The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth (Eph. 5:9). The fruit of a false teacher is particularly his doctrinal heresies (Acts 20:30; Rom. 16:17; Gal. 1:6-7; 1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 4:1-2). “In the end false prophets betray themselves for what they are by their doctrines and by their deeds. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing and they produce thorns and thistles. These are emblems of the curse (Gen. 3:17-18). False prophets are cursed of God (Gal. 1:8-9). The Lord said they will eventually be ‘hewn down, and cast into the fire’ (Mat. 7:19)” (John Phillips).
(4) Christ ends this section with a sharp warning about unsaved Christians (Mat. 7:21-23). This is the product of false teaching.
- False Christians can do many things that appear to be the truth (Mat. 7:22). They talk about Jesus; they call Him Lord; they preach and teach in Jesus’ name; they do miracles; they do many good works. All of these things are very evident in modern Christian movements. The charismatic movement has its supposed miracles, tongues, healings, prophesyings, exorcisms, fallings, jerkings, shakings, and holy laughter. But when analyzed by Scripture, they are found to be bogus. The tongues, for example, aren’t true languages miraculously spoken but are gibberish and nonsense, and they aren’t operated according to the instructions in 1 Corinthians 14. The social gospel movement and the emerging church has an emphasis on “social justice” work. The Roman Catholic Church has built multitudes of schools, hospitals, and orphanages. But the doctrinal and gospel foundation of the work is not scriptural.
- The main thing that is usually missing is a personal relationship with the true Christ (Mat. 7:23). Observe that the people described here by Christ hold to a false gospel. The evidence is that they boast in their own works rather than in a confidence in Christ’s atonement alone. I have seen this in interviews I have conducted at ecumenical conferences I have attended with press credentials. I have asked attendees, “When were you born again,” and rarely have I gotten a Scriptural answer. Many reply along the lines of, “When I was baptized,” or, “When I joined the church,” or, “When I had a charismatic experience,” or, “I’ve always been a Christian,” or, “I’m a third generation Christian,” or, “I am not sure.” In the book What Is the Emerging Church? we cite many unscriptural testimonies of emerging people. Many follow a false Christ, such as The Shack christ who does not judge or a non-Trinitarian christ or a Christ that is not virgin born or a rock & roll party christ or a christ that is fine with homosexuality.
v. Christ concludes with the parable of the two houses (Mat. 7:24-27).
(1) There is a house of obedience (Mat. 7:24-25).
- This is the individual, the home, the church, the institution, the nation that receives Jesus as Christ, as Lord and Saviour, submits to Him, obeys Him, follows Him. Obeying Christ is elsewhere described as receiving Christ (John 1:12), following Christ (John 10:27), taking up the cross and following Him (Mat. 16:24), the branch that abides in Christ and bears fruit (Jn. 15:4-6), laboring together with God (1 Cor. 3:9), turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Th. 1:9), living and continuing by faith (Heb. 10:38-39), continuing in the truth (1 John 2:19).
- The storms cannot destroy this house. Nothing in this world can destroy those who are built upon Christ. He is the Rock. The god of this world can roar and rampage, but he cannot destroy God’s true people. Their eternal foundation, which is Christ Himself, stands sure. Compare Romans 8:35-39.
(2) There is a house of disobedience (Mat. 7:26-27).
- This is the individual, the home, the church, the institution, the nation that rejects Jesus Christ and His words. The Lord was dogmatic about this and allowed for no exceptions. Any doctrine, philosophy, religion that is built upon anything other than Jesus Christ and the Bible rightly divided will be destroyed. “The sayings of men are a foundation of sand on which the foolish build. The philosophies of eastern mystics and the dogmas of Roman pontiffs appeal to many. Principles of Mormonism, psychology, social science, humanism, Darwinism, or Marxism appeal to others. Some who build on sand are noble and sincere, and their religious and philosophical structures seem beautiful--their buildings and deeds are often more attractive than those of many churches. But when the storms come, all systems of doctrine and conduct not founded on these sayings of Christ will fall. We have His word for that” (John Phillips).
- Houses built on sand can stand as long as the final storm doesn’t come. As long as death does not come and take the soul to its eternal destiny, as long as the final judgment doesn’t come, that house can appear to be alright. It can be wealthy, prosperous, and respected in the eyes of the men of this world, but it will soon fall.
- The fall of the house built on sand will be great (Mat. 7:27). Nothing could be greater, as it consists of eternal destruction in the lake of fire! And there is no hope for the house built on sand once the storm of judgment comes and takes it away. There is no second chance after this life to reconsider one’s folly and to receive Christ.
w. Christ taught with authority because He was certain of what He was saying (Mat. 7:29).
The scribes did not teach with authority because they were teaching man’s traditions rather than the sure Word of God. They were teaching, “This rabbi says this, and that rabbi says that.” “The multitudes had never before heard anything like the Sermon on the Mount. Their rabbis gave wearisome, often false, and often frivolous expositions of the law. The rabbis constantly referred to what this or that teacher had said. Already in Christ’s day the ‘tradition of the elders’ had assumed an authority greater than that of Scripture. According to the Jewish view, God had on mount Sinai given Moses both the written law and the oral law. Hebrew teachers inferred from Exodus 20:1 that along with the Bible, God had given the Mishna, the Talmud, and the Haggada. ... Traditionalism placed this oral law above the written law. The rabbis had no system of theology--only a collection of ideas, conjectures, and fancies concerning God, angels, demons, man, his future destiny, his present position, Israel’s past history, and her coming glory. Alongside what was noble and pure, the rabbis placed a mass of incongruities, conflicting statements, and debasing superstitions. God’s law was made void by rabbinic traditions, and the spirit of the law was crushed under an outward load of ordinances and observances. Judaism was no longer the pure religion of the Old Testament. The common were oppressed by tradition and confused. Then Jesus came, and His Sermon on the Mount blew all the cobwebs of rabbinic tradition away. He spoke with the authority of the living God, and the people could not help but contrast His teaching with that of the scribes” (John Phillips).
Every preacher should preach with authority (2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 2:15; 1 Pet. 4:11). How can we be sure of our teaching and authoritative in our preaching?
(1) We must found our teaching on Scripture alone (John 8:31-32; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). We need the help of God-called teachers (Eph. 4:11-12), but we must test every teacher and every teaching strictly by God’s Word.
(2) We must obey that which we learn (John 7:17; 2 Tim. 2:19).
(3) We must be diligent students (2 Tim. 2:15). It is impossible to know the truth rightly without diligent study. It is impossible to test and discern error without first knowing God’s Word.
(4) We must separate from error (2 Tim. 2:16-21). Association with false teaching brings confusion, doubt, and error.
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