Sermon on the Mount

This is an introduction to the Sermon on the Mount spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ.
But this is not a detailed study of each sentence in the Sermon.
We are discussing here what the Sermon on the Mount is, what is its context, what is its importance, how it recalls to our mind the event on the Mount Sinai etc.
I am writing this study hoping that this would help you to understand better the Sermon when you read it next time.

We find the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew chapter 5 to 7.
The traditional location for the Sermon is on the north western shore of the Sea of Galilee, between Capernaum and Gennesaret.
The Sermon on the Mount is the most famous sermon Jesus ever gave, perhaps the most famous sermon ever given by anyone.

The Sermon as recorded by Matthew, is found nowhere else in the Bible.
The nearest equivalent is found in Luke 6:17 - 49.
The description in Luke is known as the Sermon on the Plain.
Some theologians are of the opinion that these two incidents are one and the same and others consider it as two different events.

 Sadducees and Pharisees

For a better understanding of the Sermon on the Mount, it is good to know something about the social context of the sermon.
During the time of Jesus, there were two major religious sects of people among the Jews.
They were Sadducees and Pharisees.
Gospels refer often to the Sadducees and Pharisees, as Jesus was in constant conflict with them.
And there were important differences between them.

The Sadducees

The Sadducees, during the time of Christ and the New Testament era, were aristocrats.
They were wealthy and held powerful positions, including that of chief priests and high priest.
They did not relate well to the common man, nor did the common man hold them in high opinion.

Religiously, the Sadducees were more conservative in one main area of doctrine.
The Sadducees considered only the Written Law to be from God.
They rejected any authority of the Jewish Oral Tradition.
The Sadducees preserved the authority of the written Word of God, especially the books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy.
They denied God's involvement in everyday life.
They did not believe in resurrection of the dead.
They denied any afterlife, holding that the soul perished at death and therefore denying any penalty or reward after the earthly life.
They did not believe in the existence of a spiritual world where there is angels or demons.

The Pharisees

Pharisees was a religious society frequently mentioned in the New Testament.
This group included chiefly of poor priests and laymen.
It was a movement toward religious puritanism.
The Pharisees were held in much higher esteem by the common man.

They accepted the written Word as inspired by God.
But they also gave equal authority to Jewish Oral Tradition and attempted to defend this position by saying it went all the way back to Moses.
It is believed by the conservative Jews that God on the mount of Sinai, gave Moses the Written Law during the day and the Oral Law during the night.
Written Laws were written down while the Oral Laws were transmitted orally from Moses to Joshua and so on.
Oral Laws further explains the meaning and intentions of the Written Law.
They believed that without the Oral Law or Oral tradition, we cannot understand or practice the Written Law as intended by God.
Pharisees sought to strictly obey these traditions along with the Old Testament.

They believed that God controls all things, yet allowed that decisions made by individuals also affect life’s course.
They believed in the resurrection of the dead.
They believed in an afterlife, with appropriate reward and punishment on an individual basis.
They believed in the existence of angels and demons.

Jesus had His ministry mainly among the common people.
This brought Him into continual conflict with the Pharisees.

Jesus and the Pharisees

The attitude of Jesus towards the Pharisees is important for us when we study the Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon offers an alternative faith and practise to the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law of Moses.

The Pharisees were the keepers of the Mosaic Law or the Torah.
They believed that having guardianship of this law was proof that they were God's chosen people, to whom the Messiah would come.
They believed that the Messiah would be an earthly king, a son of David whom God would raise up.
He would establish an earthly kingdom, freeing them from Roman rule.
They also believed that in order to remain in favor with God, the keeping of the Torah was essential.

The basic of Pharisees’ conception of religion was the belief that the Babylonian Exile was caused by Israel's failure to keep the Torah (The Mosaic law).
And that it’s keeping was an individual as well as a national duty.

Because of this, they were trying to protect the Mosaic Law with precepts so as to make its violation almost impossible.
They also added to these laws and precepts, customs which had been handed down through the years.
They took these precepts to such extremes that the original intent of the Written Law was often lost.
Laws and Traditions they had brought in to protect and raise the standard of the Mosaic Law actually lowered the purpose of the Law and made the Laws to no effect.

To the Pharisee, keeping the Written and the Oral Law was everything.
The condition of a person's heart towards God was unimportant.
Because of their strict adherence to Levitical laws of purity, they kept themselves separate from gentile sinners for fear of being defiled.
This strict observance of the Written and Oral Law and formal religion while paying no attention to the motives of the heart, led to self-righteousness and hypocrisy.

Jesus’ opposition to the Pharisees

Throughout His ministry, Jesus was openly opposed to the Pharisees.
He denounced them publicly for their hypocrisy, spiritual blindness, and evil ways.
The law was intended to enable the Israelites to live a righteous life.
But the Pharisees had corrupted the law.
Disregarding any ethical considerations and being devoid of mercy, they imposed an intolerable burden of legal observance upon the common people.
Life for the Jews became slavery to the legal precepts invented by the experts of the Law.
Jesus condemned the Pharisees for being careful to appear righteous on the outside, while inside they were full of greed and wickedness.

Sermon Mount and Sinai

Now let us discuss the Sermon against this social and religious background.

Matthew was writing his gospel, chiefly for Jewish Christians.
So he follows many Jewish traditions of writing a divine history.
And Matthew intentionally brings to our attention, parallels between the Jewish and Jesus’ concept of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Kingdom of Heaven was not a new idea proposed by John the Baptist or Jesus.
Kingdom of Heaven is the hope of the Jews from the Old Testament time itself.
They expected a political King who will establish his Kingdom forever defeating and conquering all their enemies.
Thus there will be peace and joy in the land.

Of course, this is the plan of God about humans, but with some differences.
The organization of the Kingdom as a separated holy nation, with God as the King and His chosen people as priestly kings began in the Old Testament itself.
While the Jews were travelling through the desert, at the mount of Sinai, God came down to declare His nation on this earth.

Exodus 19: 5, 6
5    'Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.
 6   'And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel."   (NKJV)

This was the purpose of the meeting between God and the Israelites.
In another way, this was the purpose of God choosing Abraham and his descendants.

Now, a Kingdom need a King, sphere of action, people and laws.
Here they had God as their King, the promised land as the sphere of action, Israelites as the people.
For the laws that should govern the Kingdom and its people, God called Moses to go up to the mountain and receive them directly from the King.

The King came on the mount of Sinai not just to give the Laws.
He came to declare and establish His new nation.
This is the only nation that God has declared into existence.
This is the only nation whose King is God
And this is the only nation that came into being by a covenant between God and humans.

Let us look at Moses, the great prophet and political leader of Israelites, climbing up the mount of Sinai.
Moses stood in the presence of God for 40 days and nights.
God declared the beginning and the establishment of the nation and prescribed the Laws of the Kingdom to Moses.
Moses then came down to the people with Laws to offer sacrifice and partake in a covenant meal.
Thus came into being the nation, Israel.

Jesus on the mount

In Matthew, chapter 5, by seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up on a mountain.
When he was seated, His disciples came to him.
Then he opened His mouth and taught them the precepts of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The incident recalled the historical event of Israel assembling in the valley of Sinai to receive the revealed Law of God.

Matthew is presenting Jesus as a new Moses or even as Law Giver.
Jesus is both the Law Giver and the mediating prophet.

On the mountain of Sinai God declared His Kingdom and on the Sermon Mount Jesus declared His Kingdom.
These two Kingdoms are not two different ones, but one and the same.
The true Kingdom of God included all those who are predestined by God, those who accept the Kingdom, by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament, the Kingdom was offered to the people, but the mystery of redemption of humanity through the atonement of the crucifixion was hidden.
In the Old Testament, the Kingdom of God is a promise and a mystery.
Israel was a type of the true Kingdom that Jesus inaugurated on the Sermon Mount.
Thus the Sermon on the Mount is the Law of the Kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus.

The sermon

The Sermon took place after Jesus started His ministry on the earth by preaching and manifesting the presence of the Kingdom of God.
The King has come, manifested his authority and power and now is declaring the Laws.
Matthew summarizes everything that Jesus has been doing to the present day by the end of Chapter 4.

Matthew 4:23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.

Then, in Matthew 5, Jesus goes up the mountain, opens His mouth to declare the precepts of the Kingdom of God.
His first words are:  Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is describing and explaining what life would be, for his followers in the kingdom.
And Jesus is describing the life expected from the new generations of His disciples.
The key is stated in the following verse:

Mathew 5:20 "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.  (NKJV)

Here I hope, you would remember what we have been discussing above about the teachings of the Pharisees during the time.
Surely there was something wrong with the teachings the Pharisees and Jesus is correcting them.
The Pharisees with all their precepts aiming to lift the standard of the Mosaic Law, actually nullified it to no effect.

The Mosaic Law was intended to lead people to salvation through Christ, but the precepts of the Pharisees lead people to the wrong concept of “justification through works”.

Jesus draws the attention of the crowd to the precepts of the Mosaic Law by telling “You have heard that it was said to those of old”.
Then he goes on to say “But I say to you that”.
Surely Jesus is presenting his precepts better and higher than the Mosaic Laws.

Jesus offered salvation and inheritance to the Kingdom of God by the Grace of God through faith in the sacrificial atonement arranged by God Himself.
Abraham and his descendants are saved by Grace through faith in the sacrifice arranged by God.
The sacrifice on the Mount Moriah is a type of this great truth.
Abraham understood and had faith in this mystery and his faith was accounted to him for righteousness.

The theme of the Sermon

The Sermon on the Mount covers several different topics.
It is about how to live a life that is dedicated to and pleasing to God, free from hypocrisy, full of love and grace, full of wisdom and discernment.

The Sermon on the Mount is a preview of Christian living within the kingdom of God.
The sermon speaks of the true relationship of Christians to God.
The forgiving God takes the initiative in relating to humans.
The Sermon explains how we should correspondingly respond from our hearts to the generous heavenly father.

The Sermon on the Mount contains key teaching that Jesus himself demonstrated through the way he lived and in what he taught throughout his ministry.
It starts with the Beatitudes, short sayings about who is blessed.
Jesus goes on to commission them to show ‘greater righteousness’ than that of the scribes and the Pharisees.
The Sermon covers teaching on the Jewish law, anger, adultery, divorce and re-marriage, vows, revenge and love of enemies, charity, prayer and fasting, riches and possessions and judging others.
Jesus frequently uses examples from the Jewish Law to build his teaching on, and explains that He is the fulfilment of the law.
The Sermon ends with the story of the wise man who built his house upon the rock.
Matthew closes the description with the observation that “the crowds were astounded at his teaching.

The Sermon is possible

The impossibility of earning salvation and the need for grace are the true Bible perspective.
Leading humans to this truth is the intention of the Mosaic Law.
The intention of the Law was to help us see our need for gospel, the sacrifice of Jesus.

But the goal of the Sermon is a different one.
Jesus was not presenting a list of impossible tasks to humans, but rather a higher standard of living.
This higher standard is the standard of the Kingdom.
The Law was impossible, but the Sermon is possible.
The Sermon is wisdom from God, inviting us through faith to re-orient our values, vision, and habits from the ways of external righteousness to whole-heartedness toward God.

The Sermon is not “Law” but “gospel.”
Jesus is inviting us into life in God’s kingdom both now and in the future age.
The sermon offers us grace to live according the higher standard of the Kingdom.
The Law did not offer us grace, but the sermon invites us to grace.

Understanding the Sermon

The whole sermon must be understood under the principle that Jesus came not to destroy the Law.
Jesus definitely is prescribing new Laws for life without destroying the Mosaic Laws.

Matthew 5:17 "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.   (NKJV)

‘Fulfill’ is the opposite of ‘destroying’.
Fulfilling the Torah was the task of a first century rabbi.
The technical term for interpreting the Scripture so it would be obeyed correctly was "fulfill."
To interpret Scripture incorrectly so it would not be obeyed as God intended was to "destroy" the Torah.
Jesus did not come to do away with God's Torah or Old Testament.
He came to complete it and to show how to correctly keep it.

One of the ways Jesus interpreted the Torah was to stress the importance of the right attitude of heart as well as the right action.

A summary

The Sermon opens with the famous ‘Beatitudes’, the blessedness.
These are the verses beginning with the word “blessed”, recorded in Matthew 5:3-11.
‘Beatitudes’ means a state of supreme happiness.
These are the blessings that Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount.
They are not prohibiting anyone from the Kingdom, but inviting all to inherit the Kingdom.
Jesus was revealing God’s kingdom to real people in real cultures.

The Beatitudes describe the new community of believers identified with Jesus.
They are God's law fulfilled in Jesus and applied to Christians.
The new community of Jesus include, the poor in spirit, the merciful, the peacemakers, those persecuted for his sake and those persecuted because of righteousness.

The Beatitudes present the value system of the Kingdom of God.
The Pharisees had a value system built upon the Written Law, Oral Traditions and extended precepts of their own.
By obeying them, they created a system of belief that is based on the merit based salvation.
Obedience to all precepts of the Pharisees created self-righteousness in the people.
Remember the young rich man who came to Jesus for a righteous certificate.
He was filled with self-righteousness on the basis of his obedience to the precepts of the Pharisees of the day.
But Jesus looked into his heart and rejected his claim to the Kingdom.
Jesus wanted a person “poor in spirit”.

In the beatitudes, Jesus is concerned with spiritual realities, not material possessions.
Poor in spirit includes sinners, but does not mean sinners.
They are people who realizes the truth that they need the Grace of God for justification.
They realize the truth that none of their works in this world will justify them.
Blessedness cannot be claimed by anyone without the Grace of God and faith in Jesus Christ.

The sinful tax collector in a parable who went to pray along with a self-righteous Jew is a man who is poor in spirit.
The parable is recorded in Luke 18: 9 - 14.
Jesus spoke this parable about those who trusted in themselves and their righteousness.
Two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector, went up to the temple to pray.
The Pharisee prayed thanking God for all the good deeds that he could do according to the Law.
He listed his righteous deeds one by one.
But the tax collector was poor in spirit; he had no righteous list to present before God.
He felt the poverty in spirit and prayed for the mercy of God for a sinner.
God accepted the man who confessed his poverty in spirit and justified him by Grace.

Poor in spirit is a condition in which we realize our spiritual poverty to justify ourselves before God and praying for the Grace of God and faith to trust in the sacrifice of Jesus.
Surely they are blessed in the Kingdom, not the self-justified Pharisees.

What did Jesus present in the Sermon?

What did Jesus declare in the Sermon?
To answer this question, we should have an idea about the ministry of Jesus as a Rabbi.

Jesus was a Rabbi with authority.

Matthew concludes the description of the Sermon on the Mount with the observation that “the crowds were astounded at his teaching.

Matthew 7:28,29
28  When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching,
29  because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

There were two types of rabbis during the time.
Most of the rabbis were Torah teachers (teachers of the law) who could only teach accepted interpretations.

The second group was believed to have s'mikhah or authority to make new interpretations.
Those with authority ("ordination") could make new interpretations and pass legal judgments.
Jesus seems to be a type of rabbi who had s’mikha or authority to make new interpretations.

At the end of the sermon the crowds are amazed, not because the content is new but for the clarity, strength, and authority with which Jesus teaches.
His teachings are radical, but not out of the blue.

The Parable of the wise builder

The Sermon of Jesus Christ ends with a parable, recorded in Matthew 7: 24 - 27
Two people are presented in this parable, one is a foolish man and another is a wise man.
They searched for a land to build a house and found a suitable place.
They both got a land equal in quality, offering the same opportunity.
Soon the foolish man started constructing the house on the loose land, without digging deep for firm foundation.
But the wise man found that the land is loose and so he dug deep.
He worked hard and spend a lot of health, time and money to go deep and deep into the loose sand.
At last he found the strong rock under the loose land.
He build the foundation of the house on the rock and build up his house.

The foolish man finished his house much early than the wise man.
It seems that the foolish man is smarter than the wise man.

But after some days, there came heavy wind and rain.
The wind flew over and the rain fell heavily on both the houses.
Unfortunately, the foolish man’s house without a rocky foundation could not withstand the wind and the rain.
It fell and its fall was so heavy.

The same wind and rain in the same speed and weight fell on the wise man’s house also.
But his house had a foundation on the solid rock.
So the wind and rain could not harm it.

All those who hears and does the sayings of Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount are like the wise man who built his house on the rock.

Now the question is, will we be like that wise man?
Will we take these words from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount to our heart?


Jesus directed the Sermon on the Mount primarily to His disciples (Matthew 5:1-2).
But there were a crowd of people who came to hear Him speak. (Matthew 7:28-29).
So the Sermon was to His disciples and to the crowd.
Matthew describes the event in his gospel for all those who would be added later to the community.

None of us can measure up to the vision of moral perfection that Jesus presents in the Sermon on the Mount.
But it is the goal we must continually strive for.
When we fail to live up to the ideal, we must ask God for forgiveness and sincerely resolve to do better in the future.
The good news is that, no matter how serious the sin, God is always seeking us out and is willing to forgive our sins and give us a fresh start!

Jesus spoke the Sermon, for us to live accordingly.
Jesus lived up to the standards of the Sermon; He taught and trained his disciples to live accordingly.
By the enabling of the Holy Spirit, His disciples lived to the mark.
And by His Grace, we can also keep the standard.
That must be attitude. It is not what we have attained; it is what we are aiming to attain.

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