Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:5. The Proclamation of the King concerning His Kingdom. Chapters 5-7
In the closing of the last chapter we saw our Lord Jesus Christ surrounded by a great multitude of people, which followed Him and who were attracted by the King’s presence, before whom the various diseases had to flee. If we turn to the eighth chapter we find the continuation of these scenes we had in the last half of the fourth chapter. Between these two chapters are three very important ones, which are as such found only in this Gospel. The contents of the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters are in the form of a continued discourse of our Lord, commonly called “the sermon on the mount,” an expression which the reader knows is nowhere found in the Gospels. If we look through Mark, Luke and John we do not find any such report there of a lengthy discourse; indeed, except a number of fragments in the Gospel of Luke, we find nothing whatever in them about these sayings. When we turn to the Gospel of Luke, we find that the portions of this discourse reported there are in an entirely different setting. We point to that which is generally called “the Lord’s prayer.” In Luke we read (chapter 11) that as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father, etc. Now in Matthew there is no such incident, but the disciples hear it in a continual flow of speech. We also call attention to the fact that the call of Matthew is reported in the ninth chapter, the call of the twelve disciples in the tenth, here his discourse is placed before these historical events. The Holy Spirit, to carry through the wonderful scope of the first Gospel, has put the words of our Lord together into one continued address to His disciples, in the very midst of the most positive evidences that the King has come and Jehovah is in the midst of His people. When the King is manifest He utters His proclamation. Such is the discourse before us here in Matthew, the proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ as King. And if the King proclaims, makes known His proclamation, it must be concerning the Kingdom which He came to bring, preached and offered to the people. Let this, then, be the starting-point of our analysis of this discourse. The so-called sermon on the mount is a proclamation concerning the Kingdom, the magna charta of the Kingdom of heavens.
In the next place let us consider three false applications which are being made of the discourse of our Lord before us.
1. The application to the unsaved, unbelieving mass of Christendom and others, as if in the sermon on the mount the way to righteousness is revealed and human nature’s development (as they say) were here shown, for which every man should strive. This, of course, is the grossest error possible. The discourse speaks of the characteristics of persons who are saved, who have redemption. There is nowhere found in it the word redemption, nor is salvation mentioned and pointed out; in other words, the way a sinner is saved is not revealed here, but, as the greater part of the discourse was addressed exclusively to disciples, the Lord is speaking about such who are saved and not sinners. Yet how little this is understood.
In our days more than ever before we notice an astonishing misuse of the sermon on the mount. The saddest of all is that many preachers of various evangelical denominations fall back upon it as the most important document of Christendom; for them it seems to become more and more the Gospel, and the consequences are that we hear in our times more ethical preaching, more about becoming better, doing good, improving your better self, etc., than ever before. It would require much time and a great deal of space to show up all the errors which are springing from this application. It is the Gospel of works and of evolution. And as this is done there is less preaching of the utter corruption of man, his lost condition and utter helplessness to be righteous (that which the discourse makes very clear), and the salvation of God in our Lord Jesus Christ, the absolute necessity of being born again, the reception of eternal life, the new nature. As the teachings of the Epistle to the Romans have been and are being abandoned in Christendom, the false application of the discourse here in Matthew has been taken up. There is therefore a continual increase of teaching about lifting man out of his lost place into a better sphere by means of ethical teachings taken from the sermon on the mount. This is done also under the garb of a social Christianity, union of worshippers (?), the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Not long ago we were told of a reformed rabbi who read in his synagogue on Saturday portions of the sermon on the mount and preached on it to his hearers. This was hailed as a favorable sign of the progress made toward the lifting up of humanity. Surely, if evangelical preachers (in creed at least) continue to progress in this awful direction by substituting ethical teachings for salvation by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and declare, as not a few have done, “the sermon on the mount is a large enough Bible for us,” a general apostasy from the faith will soon be reached. There is a lifting up of the sinner from his miserable place into sonship and making him the heir of God, but that is never by the sermon on the mount, by striving to obtain the heavenly righteousness revealed here.
This is the second false application. We cannot put into the discourse exclusively church teachings and say that all found here is to be applied to the church, and that it is the guide for the church, as some have said. If the Lord had had the church in her heavenly calling and character in mind, the place given to the discourse would be all wrong. The Lord mentions the church the first time in the sixteenth chapter, and if following the sixteenth chapter He had spoken these words we might say that we should find in it the church. He said something to His disciples after He had declared that He would build His church, which applies to the church. A good deal in the sermon on the mount appears mostly in connection with the earth. The meek are to inherit the earth. The church, however, is heavenly. Not here, but in the Epistles, written after the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ and after the Holy Spirit had come down from heaven, do we find all about the church. The magna charta of the church is in the Epistles of Paul, to whom the full revelation of the church was given. Out of this misconception has sprung a good deal of error. People attempt to make the sermon on the mount the standard of their lives; they apply it to themselves in the least details and get into legal bondage. The flesh given so much to legality likes this only too well. Here the greatest mischief comes in, that believers do not see clearly what grace has done, and that their heavenly walk does not spring from a contemplation of a series of descriptions of the character and actions of regenerated persons, but by the fact that we look upon ourselves as lifted into the highest heaven once and for all in the person of our perfect High Priest. A heavenly walk is the outcome of a heavenly contemplation. But this not being seen, professing Christendom, amongst it many true believers, stumble around in the sermon on the mount. In this way it has come about that the “Our Father” (the name next to “Lord’s prayer” given to the prayer, our Lord taught His disciples.) has become the ritualistic prayer of Christendom, repeated at numerous occasions.
3. The last false interpretation is that one, which makes the sermon on the mount exclusively Jewish.
There are not a few who refuse to consider the three chapters in Matthew as having any reference to Christian believers at all and as if there is no application to be made in this direction and the believer could afford to pass them by entirely and not be concerned about it. This is the other extreme and equally wrong.
In our exegesis of the three chapters, (which of necessity we have to condense considerably) we shall always in every part look upon the sermon on the mount as the proclamation of the King concerning the Kingdom. That Kingdom is not the church, nor is the state of the earth in righteousness, governed and possessed by the meek, brought about by the agency of the church. It is the millennial earth and the Kingdom to come, in which Jerusalem will be the city of a great King. We read in the Old Testament that when the Kingdom comes, for which these Jewish disciples of our Lord were taught to pray, the law will go forth out of Zion and the Word of the Lord ¦ from Jerusalem . While we have in the Old Testament the outward manifestations of the Kingdom of the heavens as it will be set up in the earth in a future day, we have here the inner manifestation, the principles of it. Yet this never excludes application to us who are His heavenly people, members of His body, who will share the heavenly throne in the heavenly Jerusalem with Him. Israel ‘s calling is earthly; theirs is an earthly kingdom, ours is altogether heavenly. “In the sermon on the mount we have, then, the principles of the Kingdom of heaven, with very plain references to the millennial earth Yet let it not be thought that this takes from us the application to ourselves which Christians seek in it. The fuller revelation only completes the partial one; the higher blessing but transcends the lower. Through all dispensations God is the same God, and we are ‘blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ Of many things we can only argue, indeed a more perfect (or at least a fuller application) to ourselves than to them. To take from Israel what is hers is only to diminish her and not enrich ourselves. Nay, what has been called in this way the spiritualizing of the promises has led most surely and emphatically to the carnalizing of the church.” (F.W. Grant on Matthew, page 70.)
The Kingdom has, then, a heavenly and an earthly side. Both are seen in the discourse, but the earthly is predominant. In itself the discourse is most perfect. The sevenfold division is well known. We mention them here, and will take up each for a very brief consideration.
1. The characteristics of the Heirs of the Kingdom (Matthew 5:1-16).
2. The Law goes forth from Zion . It is confirmed and expounded by the King (Matthew 5:17-48).
3. The better righteousness (Matthew 6:1-18).
4. Kept in the world. Single-eyed, trusting in God (Matthew 6:19-34).
5. The judgment of righteousness (Matthew 7:1-14).
6. Warning against false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20).
7. Warning against false professors (Matthew 7:21-29).
Most of these sections may again be divided into seven parts. The number seven is the perfect number, and as He is the divine King, the perfect King, all that proceeds out of His mouth is perfection. We have seven expansions of the law, seven parts of the better righteousness, and seven petitions in the prayer our Lord taught His disciples.
The first section in the fifth chapter from the first verse to the sixteenth is before us. Seeing the crowds He went up into the mountain, and having sat down, His disciples came to Him; having opened His mouth He taught them. Moses the mediator of the old covenant went up into the mountain where he received the law; but here is a greater one than Moses, the Mediator of a better covenant and the King at the same time. He begins with blessings, the blessings of grace.
The blessings in themselves are most wonderful in their scope and inexhaustible in their meaning. We can but call the attention to a few thoughts in connection with them.
We notice seven beatitudes which show forth the character of those who are the heirs of the kingdom. These are:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.
Blessed they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed the merciful, for they shall find mercy.
Blessed the pure in heart for they shall see God.
Blessed the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
These seven blessings must be divided into two parts. The division is into four and three. Four is the earthly number and three the heavenly. In the first four we see the characteristics of the heirs of the kingdom in their position in the earth, waiting for the kingdom of the heavens and the inheritance of the earth, and in the last three the inner characteristics as the heirs of the kingdom have them by having become the partakers of the divine nature. Let us remind ourselves once more that the Lord does not speak to unsaved persons, but to His disciples. The blessings do not speak of what a person should be, or strive to be, but what they are. All here is contrary to the natural man, everything is strange to his disposition. It is only the Grace of God in Christ Jesus which can produce this. The gift of God is eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ. He Himself is the true God and the eternal life, which has been manifested and which is communicated to every one who believes and thus hath the Son. Believing in Him we receive life and are partakers of the divine nature. Here we have the description of one who is in possession of this new nature and as it manifests itself. (The first Epistle of John shows the same characteristics). One has said very pointedly: “At the beginning of His career, Christ draws the picture of the person who is to be the result of His work. This is the ideal man whom the Saviour is to make actual by saving him from sin.” (Western on Matthew) How great then the blindness of those teachers in Christendom who make the sermon on the mount, the beatitudes, the Gospel, and who attempt to reform the world by it.
In the first place let us consider that in the seven blessings we have the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is the fullest expression of all. He is the highest illustration of these characteristics. It is a most blessed study to see how the Word speaks of Him as the one who was poor and needy, who became poor for our sake. He took that place for us. He could say, “I am poor and sorrowful” (Psalm 69:29). and, “Bow down thine ear, O Jehovah, for I am poor and needy” (Psalm 86:1), and again, “For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me” (Psalm 109:22). And He who humbled Himself receives the kingdom. He was while on earth the man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs. He Himself took our infirmities and bare our diseases. Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus and over Jerusalem, and in that night of deepest gloom He offered both supplications and entreaties to Him who was able to save Him out of death with strong crying and tears (Hebrews 5:7). He was the great mourner and He was comforted; heard because of His piety and raised from the dead. We know Him as the One who was meek and lowly in heart. He did not cry, nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street (Isaiah 41:2). And now the earth is surely the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein (Psalm 24:1-10). Thou madest Him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under His feet (Psalm 8:1-9). As the hungering and thirsting One, He was here, too, hating iniquity and loving righteousness, His meat and drink to do the will of Him who sent Him. And surely He sees and shall see the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied. Mercy and Purity and Peace were embodied in Him.
Every one then who is born of God has by grace these characteristics. Poor in spirit is the very first characteristic. The unsaved sinner knows nothing of it. It is altogether the work of the Holy Spirit. It means to take the right place before God, which is in the dust in absolute helplessness. It is the continued attitude of a saved person in the earth, poverty in spirit and entire dependence upon the Lord. The mourning which comes next should not be made to mean grieving on account of personal sin. It is rather over the results of sin, the present conditions of things in the earth. Thus our Lord grieved and mourned. The comfort is that coming redemption from the presence of sin and entrance into that heavenly inheritance which belongs to us in Christ Jesus. But having taken the true place before God, and knowing the evil and mourning on account of it, what is to be our path on the earth? Blessed are the meek! Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness! This is the way of the heirs of the kingdom, waiting for the manifestation of it.
When we come to the next three blessings, we find the divine origin of the children of God brought out. It would be very helpful to compare these last three beatitudes with the first Epistle of John. God is righteous, God is light and God is love. Everyone who is born of God is righteous, he is in the light and he loves. The love of God which comes down from heaven is perfected in Him. Merciful would stand for Righteousness, purity in heart for Light and peacemaker for Love. These are then called the sons of God and shall see God.
But while all this is a true application or rather a faint outline of that which is so richly told out here, we must not forget that there is also a direct application to the believing remnant of Israel . This remnant of Israel will pass through the great tribulation through which the Church (which of course can never be put into the first part of Matthew) will never pass. They will then be waiting in the midst of great tribulations, persecutions and sufferings for the kingdom to come. When the kingdom at last comes, in the return of the king, the Son of man, they will enter in. Let us look at the first four beatitudes from this standpoint. This people will be poor in spirit. The remnant is described in Zephaniah 3:12-13, “I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of Jehovah. The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth, for they shall feed and lie down and none shall make them afraid.” In Isaiah 66:2 : “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit and that trembleth at my Word.” This elect remnant will mourn in the earth in the evil day. Here is a prophetic description of the mourning of this remnant: “Woe is me! for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grape gleanings of the vintage; there is no cluster to eat; my soul desireth the first ripe fig. The godly man is perished out of the earth and there is none upright among men; they all lie in wait for blood, they hunt every man his brother with a net. Their hands are upon that which is evil to do it diligently. ... The son dishonoreth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man’s enemies are the men of his own house. (compare with Matthew 24:10 and Matthew 10:21-23). But as for me, I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (Micah 7:1-7). They shall then be comforted. Their comfort, however, will not be in the heavenlies, but they shall be comforted in Jerusalem , for He shall come and deliver them from all their enemies and restore the kingdom to Israel . They will be as the meek of the earth and inherit the earth when the king comes. Inheriting the earth is Israel ‘s promise; ours is to rule and reign with Him in the heavenlies over the earth. The thirty-seventh Psalm forms a perfect commentary to this beatitude “Blessed are the meek.” There we find what meekness includes, both in ourselves as believers and the future believing remnant. “Fret not thyself” -- “Neither be thou envious” -- “Trust in the Lord” -- “Delight thyself in the Lord” -- “Commit thy way unto the Lord” -- “Rest in the Lord.” The meek waiting for the Lord are thus described. But it is of the believing remnant we read in that Psalm. Some day it shall be as it is written there: “Evildoers shall be cut off. But those that wait upon the Lord they shall inherit the land. For yet a little while and the wicked shall not be, but the meek shall inherit the land, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (Psalm 37:9-11). They will also be hungering and thirsting for righteousness and shall be filled in the day of His manifestation.
The seven beatitudes are followed by two others which describe the heirs of the kingdom as sufferers and persecuted in the earth. Therefore, because we are children of God, the world knoweth us not, for it knew Him not. Do not wonder, brethren, if the world hate you. Our Lord here, too, is the great exemplar. “For to this have ye been called, for Christ also has suffered for you, leaving you a model that you should follow His steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth; who, when reviled, reviled not again; when suffering threatened not” (1Peter 2:21). The first blessing is for the persecuted for righteousness’ sake, but in the second we read, “Blessed are ye when they reproach and persecute you, and say every wicked thing against you, lying, for my sake. Rejoice and exult, for your reward is great in the heavens, for thus have they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” This second beatitude stands in connection with the last three blessings. In the first the Lord says “They” and that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” but in the second He says, “Ye.” In the first it is the kingdom of heaven, in the second it is the great reward in heaven. The latter is more than the earthly glory of that coming kingdom. This finds unquestionably its fulfillment during that time of Jacob’s trouble. There will be the suffering for righteousness’ sake during the tribulation as never before and many will be slain of these faithful Jewish witnesses for His sake. The latter will receive great reward (read Revelation 20:4). It will be the comfort for His earthly people in the coming day of trouble. The suffering of the church, outside of the camp bearing His reproach is revealed in the Epistles.
From the 13th-16th verses (Matthew 5:13-16)we hear what the heirs of the kingdom are in the earth. “Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become insipid, wherewith shall it be salted? It is no longer fit for anything but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot by men.”
This is in reference to the first beatitudes. Salt preserves from corruption. Thus is the heir of the kingdom to be in the midst of all that which is corruption. But what when the salt becomes insipid? It becomes absolutely worthless and is trodden under foot. It was so with Jerusalem , it has become worthless; it has been trodden down by the Gentiles and Christendom will be that, nay is, in the age of Laodicea . Ye are the Light of the world. This is in reference to the last three beatitudes. This is followed by the exhortation: “Let your light thus shine before men so that they may see your upright works, and glorify your Father who is in the heavens.” But what light is it which is to shine? Surely this can mean only the reflection of Him who is the Light. “He does not say let your good works shine, but let your light shine; that is, let Christ shine in your life; not that ye may see your good works, but that men see them; not to your glory, but to the glory of your Father.”
Because it is the God who spoke that out of darkness light should shine who has shone in our hearts, for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2Corinthians 4:6). Salt and Light, to preserve and to shine -- this is then our responsibility and our testimony we have. But the salt, the preserving, hindering power will at last be taken away from the earth, and the light will shine no longer. What will be left, but unspeakable corruption and the gross darkness which will cover the earth?
The second section of the great proclamation of the King contains the confirmation of the law and its expansion. We can but give a very brief outline and exposition and will be obliged to guard against digressions, which might be made at almost every verse.
We now see our Lord speaking as the one who is greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:12). Sitting upon the mount, He speaks with greater authority than Moses or any one before Him, because He has greater authority. He who speaks concerning the law and the prophets, confirming and expanding, is the one who gave it to Moses, whose fingers wrote upon the tables of stone, whose Spirit revealed the visions to the prophets and testified in them and through them beforehand, concerning the suffering and the glory that should follow. The question which comes to the Jewish mind after reading the opening of the discourse, the description of the characteristics of the heirs of the kingdom is the question concerning the law and the prophets; that is, the whole Old Testament. Did He then come to set them aside? Did He come to make the law and the prophets void? He states at once that He came not to make void the law and the prophets, but to fulfill, and adds, “For verily I say unto you until the heaven and earth pass away, one iota or one tittle shall in nowise pass from the law until all come to pass.”
A good deal of wrong teaching has been taken from these words; the most erroneous is the one which puts a Christian believer still under the law and teaches from this passage that inasmuch as Christ came not to make void the law so, every believer is obliged to fulfill the law. This is a favored argument with Seventh Day people and others. It springs from forgetting the fact that here we have no teaching concerning the Church or the individual believer as it was made known subsequently in the Epistles. The Epistles make very clear the relation to the law which the true believer sustains, who has eternal life and is in Christ. “So that, my brethren, we also have been made dead to the law by the body of Christ, to be another who has been raised up from among the dead in order that we might bear fruit to God” (Romans 7:4). We are dead to the law, yet the law in itself is not dead; it is as much alive as ever, and holy, just and good. However, the new nature which we have Is the perfect law of liberty; it is something altogether new; yet the old law still exists and has its power, but never for him who is a new creation in Christ Jesus. “The law has been our tutor up to Christ, that we might be justified on the principle of faith, but faith having come we are no longer under a tutor, for ye are all God’s sons by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:24-25). The law could make nothing perfect, but Christ came, and perfection is in Him and through Him. What is the meaning of “to fulfill”? It means to give the fullness, to make full, to fill out the law and the prophets. The wrong interpretation comes generally from having only the ten Commandments in view, but there is more than that and more than the Lord’s full obedience to the law and fulfilling Himself all that which the law and the prophets had spoken concerning Him. In the true sense of the word the meaning is, that He came to make good the whole scope of the law and prophets. He is come to reveal the completeness of that which the law and the prophets had but pointed out. All that which the law and the prophets teach and predict, the fullness, is of Him and will be fulfilled in Him who came and who will come again. The eighteenth verse makes this clear. Even the smallest letter, the Hebrew “jod,” shall come to pass; not even the least letter can be set aside, but all will be accomplished. Here we have one of the strongest words for the verbal inspiration and infallibility of the Bible. Even the “jod” is of Him, and “until the heavens and the earth pass away one iota or one tittle shall in nowise pass from the law till all come to pass.” All then is divine, infallible and will come to pass. What a solemn declaration of the great King this is! This is in full harmony with the entire testimony of the Word. “Forever, O Lord, Thy Word is settled in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). “Thou hast magnified Thy Word above all Thy name” (Psalm 130:2). “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold, sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is thy servant warned, and in keeping of them is great reward” (Psalm 19:1-14). In the 119th Psalm the perfection and excellency of the Word is told out in each of the 176 verses, with the exception of two, and the declaration is made, “Thy Word is true from the beginning.” What an awful sin, what a heinous thing, the rejection of the inspiration of the Word of God is!
In the nineteenth and twentieth verses (Matthew 5:19-20) the King speaks of the doing and teaching of the commandments. Here we are, of course, altogether on Jewish ground. Then there is to be a surpassing righteousness, or better righteousness for the one who is to enter into the kingdom of the heavens. Their righteousness was their own and insufficient for the entering into the kingdom of the heavens. But does our Lord here teach that a person is by a better righteousness of his own to enter into the kingdom of the heavens and that he is by his own efforts to produce this righteousness? Certainly not. Still the false application, the ethical teachings in Christendom substituting now so universally the preaching of the glad tidings of our salvation, teaches that man is to lift himself up into heaven by his own righteousness. Our Lord speaks not to sinners here, but to such who are saved, and the saved sinner has a better righteousness than the scribes and the Pharisees, who were only natural men. In possession of his righteousness we do rejoice. “But now without the law the righteousness of God is manifested, borne witness to by the law and the prophets; righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ towards all, and upon all those who believe, for there is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth a mercy seat through faith in His blood for the showing forth of His righteousness; in respect of the passing by the sins that had taken place before, through the forbearance of God; for the showing forth of His righteousness in the present time, so that He should be just and justify him that is of the faith of Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26). “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, having sent His own Son in the likeness of flesh of sin, and for sin, has condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law should be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4). And the outflow of the righteousness of God we are in Him, is His righteousness. But these words stand also in relation to Israel , converted at last and entering into the kingdom (Ezekiel 36:25, etc).
And now after He had confirmed the law and made known its immutability, He begins to teach that surpassing righteousness which He demands. He teaches the law in its fullest and deepest spiritual meaning. Here we see all the majesty of the King and the lawgiver. Six times He says “I say unto you.” It is divine “I” of Jehovah, who speaks. And as He speaks here and sends forth the expansions of the law, so will He speak again. Out of Zion shall go forth the law and the Word of the law from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3). And when that time comes, then surely righteousness and peace will kiss each other, and Israel, new-born, having the laws in their inmost parts and written in their hearts and the Spirit upon them, will walk in His statutes, and nations will be converted.
Not alone does He show in these expansions of the law, in declaring the true righteousness, His divine authority, but He uncovers the human heart and shows its deep corruption and the hopelessness that the natural man could ever attain to such a righteousness. It condemns every human being. As mentioned before, thousands of unsaved persons, Jews and Gentiles have made this first discourse of our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew the standard for what they call “their religion.” It is a sad statement which is now heard from all sides: “The sermon on the mount is my creed,” or “Our preacher preaches only from the Gospels and the sermon on the mount, and never touches the Old Testament or the Epistles” (this was told us), etc. Are these people really honest, and do they know the cutting words of our Lord, words like a two-edged sword, penetrating to the division of soul and spirit, a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart? If they read and are sincere they find themselves all uncovered and naked before Him whose eyes are like flames of fire, before whom indeed all things are naked and laid bare. The words show the sinner his ruin and his corruption. Condemnation comes from every word to the natural man.
Let us look but briefly to the different teachings our Lord giveth, both to show the true righteousness He demands and to uncover the corruption of the heart.
He takes some of the commandments which He wrote on the second table of stone and begins with the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” Murder was the first awful fruit after the fall, sprung as it was from envy in the heart. The penalty of murder is the judgment. This, then, is the letter of the law. It dealt with the outward deed, but the heart itself it did not touch. Now He speaks. “I say unto you, that every one that is _lightly angry with his brother shall be subject to the judgment.” (The word “lightly” belongs in here. It was dropped in some manuscripts, but stands in the oldest. It is not angry alone outwardly, but even the remotest feeling of displeasure is meant.) It shall be as if he had committed the deed “thou shalt not kill.” Every one that hates his brother is a murderer (1John 3:15). “Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca (a word embodying hatred and contempt) shall be called before the Sanhedrin; but whosoever shall say, Fool, shall be subject to the penalty of the hell fire.” It will be so, no doubt, when the kingdom will be come into the earth; swift judgment will overtake the offender. But the words lay bare the heart and show the impossibility of man to stand before God, who judges the heart, in their own righteousness. The believer being the partaker of the divine nature, is righteous and loves his brother. Only the reception of eternal life, which is Christ Himself, can produce righteousness and love. “Whosoever has been begotten of God does not practice sin, because His seed abides in him and he cannot sin, because he has been begotten of God. In this are manifest the children of God and the children of the devil. Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, and he who does not love his brother” (1John 3:9-11). The believer walking in the Spirit will in no way fulfill flesh’s lust.
The 23rd and 24th verses (Matthew 5:23-24) refer primarily to Israel ; in principle they are applicable during this Christian age.
The words which follow are: “Make friends with thine adverse party quickly, while thou art in the way with him; lest some time the adverse party deliver thee to the judge and the judge deliver thee to the officer and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say to thee, Thou shalt in nowise come out thence till thou hast paid the last farthing.” The words contain an allegorical exhortation to Israel . It is a short outline of their history the Lord here introduces. Following the expansion of the law concerning murder and hatred, that which they were about to do with their own Brother, it is significant. Israel were the adversaries of Him who had come, and treated the royal Person in their midst as an adversary. They did not agree with Him and have been put into the prison (nationally) under punishment till the last farthing is paid. The lord will perform His whole work (punitive) upon Mount Zion and on Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:12), and then it will be “that her warfare is ended” or, as the marginal reading gives it (Isaiah 40:2), “her punishment is accepted,” and “her iniquity is pardoned and she hath received of the Lord’s hand double “(in blessing) for all her sins.” Thus explained these words fit in the whole.
The next two expansions of the law are concerning purity and divorce. Not alone the deed itself, which was punishable by a severe penalty, is sin, but every one who looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Out of the heart the transgression comes, and the heart is evil. And this is what so many persons in Christendom say is their creed and standard for “religion”! It is the word which condemns them altogether.
The plucking out of the right eye and the sacrificing of the right hand is, of course, never to be understood in the literal sense, but stands for the inner exercise of the believer, who in self-judgment puts that away which is a snare or a stumbling block. But what sinner can do it or will do it? Let him try it. And while there is in our day an increased boasting in a better morality, a higher standard, and a “social Christianity” is attempted and built upon certain words of our Lord in this discourse, it becomes more and more evident that the lust of the eye and the lust of the flesh are honeycombing all classes of the professing church and are practiced as never before. So it is with divorce. What dreadful things might be mentioned here! Among the Jews the greatest laxity prevailed in this direction. Even now through talmudical laws the marriage relations may be dissolved on a mere pretext. Our Lord says with the voice of authority, binding ever: “Whosoever shall put away his wife except for cause of fornication makes her commit adultery, and whosoever marries one that is put away commits adultery.”
In the fourth place He speaks against swearing, not against oaths such as are demanded by law, but in a profane way. Heaven, earth and Jerusalem are mentioned because these were mostly used in profane swearing. Significant here is the description of Jerusalem as the city of the great King. This will be during the millennial reign. When the kingdom has come praise will be heard in the heavens, in the earth and in Jerusalem . Now the earth is full of swearing and wicked words, but in that coming day the offences will be gathered out of the kingdom.
The law of retaliation comes next (Matthew 5:38). He teaches not to resist evil. This is again a great principle for His disciples. The author of the Numerical Bible says: “There is no supposition of the abrogation of law or of its penalties. The government of the world is not in question, but the path of the disciple in it. Where they are bound by the law, they are bound and have no privileges. They are bound, too, to sustain it in its general working, as ordained of God as good. Within these limits there is still abundant room for such practice as is here enjoined. We may still turn the left cheek to him that smites the right, or let the man that sues us have the cloak as well as the coat which he has fraudulently gained, for that is clearly within our rights. If the cause were that of another, we should have no right of this kind, nor to aid men generally in escape from justice or slighting it. The Lord could never lay down a general rule that His people should allow lawlessness or identify themselves with indifference to the rights of others. He speaks only of what is personal to one’s self -- smite thee, compel thee and sue thee.”
The last expansion brings forth love. “Ye have heard that it has been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those that hate you and pray for those who insult you and persecute you,” etc. (Matthew 5:43-48), ending with “Be ye therefore perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is the same exhortation as in Ephesians 5:1 : “Be imitators of God as dear children.” The standard for the heirs of the kingdom is then His own moral perfection.
The day will come when such righteousness and love and perfection as the King here describes will dwell amidst His earthly people and will be manifested in the earth. It will be in the day when the kingdom has come and His will be done in earth as it is in heaven. But every child of God born anew has put before him the highest standard, which includes all that which the King here expounds and that is in possession of Himself, who is the true God and the eternal life, “to walk even as He walked.” “Be ye therefore perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”