We begin a new study this morning of the "Sermon on the Mount". As we approach the book of Matthew, we must have an understanding of several things: Who was this book written to? Why was it written? How does it apply to us? Why should we study the "Sermon on the Mount"?
To answer the last question first: There is nothing more important in the Christian life than the way in which we approach the Bible. It is our textbook, it is our source, it is our only authority. We know nothing about God and about the Christian life in a true sense apart from the Bible.
This being true, we should take our study of God's word very seriously. Do you? Did you come here today prepared to study God's Word? Or are you just putting in your time? James told his readers not to be "hearers only":
James 1:22 (NKJV) But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
"Not hearers only" - akroates, which is a classical term for an academic auditor who listens and maybe even takes notes but has no assignments, responsibilities, or tests. They listen, but don't do any of the work. Many people want to audit church. They don't want to get involved in service, they just listen. Many attend church the same way they would a movie, they're just spectators who listen and then evaluate the message as to how it appealed to them. Hearing is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end.
If you are just hearing, James says you are, "Deceiving yourselves" - this is the Greek work paralogizomai, which means: "to misreckon, to delude or beguile, deceive." It is fallacious reasoning, you are making a huge mistake. This word is only used one other time in the New Testament and that is:
Colossians 2:4 (NKJV) Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words.
If you think that all that is required is listening, you are making a big mistake.
So, to answer our first question, we should devote our time and energy to studying this text in Matthew, because it is God's Word to us. Let's approach it in that manner.
Another question that we must ask and seek to answer is: To whom was the Sermon on the Mount intended? Do you think that this is an important question? This is very important, because if the sermon on the Mount is not for us then why put forth the time and energy to study it?
The Church today is quite divided on to whom this sermon was intended. Some have virtually set this entire sermon aside by dispensationalizing it. They believe that it was given as a kind of constitution for a physical Kingdom for the Jews that is yet future. "Since it gives to Israel the Law of the Kingdom, we in the church age are not under its requirements", they say.
Let me say a little about this dispensational view. The school of theology called "Dispensationalism" came into being during the 19th century, about 160 years ago. So, as a theology, it is relatively new. Of all the things which dispensationalism teaches, the fundamental teaching of the system is that there is a distinction between Israel and the Church. According to dispensationalism, God has two differing peoples, who each respectively have differing covenant promises, different destinies, and different purposes. Membership in Israel is by natural birth. One enters the church by supernatural birth. Dispensationalists view Israel and the church as having distinct eternal destinies. Israel will receive an eternal earthly Kingdom, and the church an eternal heavenly Kingdom. Irrespective of anything else that may be found in the system, if one rejects the Israel/Church distinction, one ceases to be a dispensationalist.
Darby, the father of dispensationalism, stated the distinction in the clearest of terms, "The Jewish nation is never to enter the church." Ryrie considers this the most important dispensational distinction and approves the statement that, "the basic premise of dispensationalism is the two purposes of God expressed in the formation of two peoples who maintain their distinction throughout eternity."
The problems that dispensationalists have with the "Sermon on the Mount" is that they see it as written to Israel and not the Church. If Israel and the Church are two differing peoples of God, with two differing covenant promises, then the "Sermon on the Mount" has no bearing on the Church. If this is true, why study it?
In order to correctly answer the question, "To whom was the 'Sermon on the Mount' intended?" let's back up and see if we can understand why Matthew wrote this gospel.
Matthew is the gospel which was written for the Jews. It was written by a Jew in order to convince the Jews:
Matthew 1:1 (NKJV) The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
It is very important that we understand what the Lord is telling us here. Matthew's gospel begins with the Kingly office of Christ. He sees Christ as the son of David, the son of Abraham, and the promised Messiah. Matthew sees the Kingly office of Christ as the son of David. He starts with, "The generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." The Son of David is a Kingly title:
Matthew 9:27 (NKJV) When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, "Son of David, have mercy on us!"
David was given a kingdom that would be everlasting. When Jesus was referred to as the "son of David", He was referred to as being in the generations of the kings. In the very first verse of Matthew, we see that he is recognizing the Kingship of Christ.
Watch what we see in:
Psalms 145:12-13 (NKJV) To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, And the glorious majesty of His kingdom. 13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
This speaks of the kingdom of David. This is the prophecy of the Kingship of Christ.
We must understand that David is in the grave. We must understand that, never failing, a son of David sat upon the throne. This is prophetic, because it points to the Kingdom of Christ. Throughout the generations between David and Christ, the king of Israel never failed to be a descendant of David. Why? It pointed in a prophetic way to the office and Kingship of Christ. Now we see that the Book of Matthew immediately begins setting forth the Kingship of Christ.
Let's look at Abraham now:
Psalms 145:13 (NKJV) Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
This is speaking to the Jews of their King, the Messiah, the promised Seed of Abraham. Matthew 1:1 shows that this now is that promised Messiah. This is that promised Seed of Abraham.
Galatians 3:16 speaks of the Seed of Abraham. The promises to the Seed of Abraham have been greatly misunderstood. Who is the Seed of Abraham? Scripture tells us so clearly in:
Galatians 3:16 (NKJV) Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," [notice not to 'seeds' which is plural.] as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ.
This shows that the Lord Jesus Christ was the promised Seed of Abraham, therefore all of the promises that go to Abraham and his Seed are pointing to Christ. We may not take this to mean the Seed of Abraham after the flesh, just as we cannot look at the kingdom of David after the flesh. This points to the Messiah and His kingdom. These are the promises that go to Abraham and his Seed:
Galatians 3:29 (NKJV) And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
All of the promises to Abraham and his Seed flow through Christ, because Christ was the promised Seed of Abraham. If ye are in Christ, then ye are the seed of Abraham.
We are taught here, "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." The Lord Jesus Christ and those who are in Christ are the Seed of Abraham. So, the promises made to Abraham are fulfilled in Christ, and those who are in Him.
One of the great objects of Matthew is to demonstrate that all the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus, and that, therefore, he must be the Messiah. It has one phrase which runs through it like an ever-recurring theme - "...That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets..." That phrase occurs in Matthew about 16 times.
It is Matthew's primary and deliberate purpose to show how the Old Testament prophecies received their fulfillment in Jesus; how every detail of Jesus' life was foreshadowed in the prophets; and thus to compel the Jews to admit that Jesus was the Messiah.
Jesus is a king, and he came to proclaim a kingdom. His public ministry centered around a significant statement in:
Matthew 4:17 (NKJV) From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Jesus, as King, was announcing the presence of the prophesied kingdom for Israel in the person of the Messiah. The public ministry of Christ revolved around announcing the kingdom promised to Israel in the Old Testament. Christ had been performing miracles of healing, which demonstrated Him to be the Messiah of the Old Testament. So as chapter 5 begins, the "Sermon on the Mount" must be interpreted in the context of the ministry of Christ announcing the kingdom to Israel. It is given in the context of the kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament over which Jesus Christ will rule as king.
One writer says, "The kingdom aspect of the 'Sermon on the Mount' is significant because the Church is not in view at all in this passage. So to take the 'Sermon on the Mount' and say it is addressed to the Church is to destroy the whole context of the Book of Matthew. The Church is not even in view. "
Charles Ryrie has emphatically declared that the kingdom is not the church, the body of Christ. Rather, the kingdom is future.
Some Christians have virtually set the entire sermon aside by dispensationalizing it. What I want you to understand is that while the "Sermon on the Mount" was addressed to Jews, it speaks to Christians today, because "WE", Christians, are the seed of Abraham - we are true Jews.
Romans 2:28-29 (NKJV) For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
This sermon speaks to us, it tells us what our attitudes and actions should be. It challenges us to live an excitingly distinctive life, adding a savor to our society. It warns us of the evils of false religion which creep into Christian theology and practice. It instructs us as to how we should interpret and apply the Old Testament Scriptures. It places before us the measure of a man or woman of God.
So to answer the very important question of, "To whom was the Sermon on the Mount intended?" I would say, "All believers". To be born again is to be a kingdom citizen:
Colossians 1:13 (NKJV) He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,
Who is the "us"? Believers! In Colossians 1:2 Paul says that he is writing to the "saints"!
It is clear from reading it that the great theme of the "Sermon on the Mount" is kingdom living. So, another important question that we must ask is, "When is the kingdom to come?" Is it here now or is it yet future?
What do the Scriptures say of the "time" of the kingdom? In the first mention of the kingdom in Matthew, John said:
Matthew 3:2 (NKJV) and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
Jesus said the same thing:
Matthew 4:17 (NKJV) From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
What does "at hand" mean? The Greek word for "at hand" is eggizo. It is the perfect tense here, which literally means: "has come near." This phrase "at hand" introduces a state of affairs which is already beginning.
We see this same Greek word used in:
Matthew 26:45-46 (NKJV) Then He came to His disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand [eggizo], and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 "Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand [eggizo]"
Now notice verse 47:
Matthew 26:47 (NKJV) And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people.
Jesus tells his sleeping disciples, "Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand [eggizo]" . And "while He was still speaking," Judas came up to betray him.
In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus called his twelve disciples together and commissioned them to go throughout Israel preaching the message that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Mt. 10:7). The content of their message was identical to the message of Jesus and John before him. Now notice what Jesus says in:
Matthew 12:28 (NKJV) "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.
If there is any doubt that the kingdom of God has arrived in an inaugural sense with the first advent of Christ, Jesus swept it aside by proclaiming that the kingdom of God "has come upon you". The words "has come upon" are the Greek word (ephthasen), which suggests an arrival which catches unawares. The only logical conclusion was that the kingdom of God had come in the first century.
Matthew 12:28 is not the only verse to support a presently inaugurated kingdom. Matthew 19:12 also refers to the inaugurated form of the kingdom. There, in teaching on marriage and divorce, Jesus made the following comment:
Matthew 19:12 (NKJV) "For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it."
Jesus' point was that some believers can remain single rather than get married "for the sake of the kingdom" or we could say, "Because of its claims and interests".
Now, if the kingdom of God had come in the first century, then it should be clear that the nature of the kingdom was spiritual. Time defines nature. Jesus said that the kingdom "has come" - TIME, so the NATURE of his kingdom must be spiritual.
The nature of the kingdom that Christ preached was entirely contrary to that which the Jews anticipated. The Jews anticipated a complete usurping of the empire of Rome. Certainly Daniel might lead many to believe this, in that his prophecy describes four beasts (or empires lived out through Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome), the last of which was exceedingly dreadful and powerful--i.e. the Roman Empire (Daniel 2:40; 7:7).
It is also likely that the Israelites understood the history of these beasts (three of which had come and gone), and that they were in the middle of the rule of that fourth and dreadful beast. But Daniel makes very clear the fact that during the days of this fourth beast (Rome), God would set up His everlasting kingdom:
Daniel 2:44 (NKJV) "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.
It's not surprising that the Israelites had a literal interpretation of the above passage. After all, that passage, along with other Old Testament passages, seems to be saying that there would indeed be a time when a literal physical kingdom would be established with, and through, the Israelite people. And if we didn't have the revelation of Jesus Christ and His own interpretation of Old Testament biblical prophecy, certainly it would seem that a literal and physical kingdom was in store for this people of God.
But we are not without interpretation or explanation of the kingdom. And more importantly, we have it from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Let's examine a few statements of Christ that seem to clearly identify a kingdom nature that was vastly different from the traditional interpretation that existed in the minds of the Israelites, particularly at the time of Christ.
The Pharisees, like many believers today, had a natural or physical interpretation of the kingdom. Christ was constantly showing them that the nature of the kingdom was spiritual. The Pharisees asked, "When will the kingdom of God come." What was Christ's response? The same as usual: He first corrected their interpretation of the nature of the kingdom:
Luke 17:20-21 (NKJV) Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 "nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you."
The word "observation" is from the Greek word parateresis, which means: "inspection, i.e. visual evidence". If you can't see it, what type of kingdom is it? It is a spiritual kingdom. Jesus is telling them, "The kingdom of God is not what you expect, for the kingdom of God is a kingdom that is within you, not a physical kingdom." Young's literal Translation says:
Luke 17:21 "nor shall they say, Lo, here; or lo, there; for lo, the reign of God is within you."
Weymouth translation says:
Luke 17:21 People will not be able to say, "Look, here it is!" or "There it is! That is because the kingdom of God is inside you.'
Notice what Christ said to Pilate immediately preceding His crucifixion:
John 18:36 (NKJV) Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."
Even Pilate recognized the implications of this statement:
John 18:37 (NKJV) Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."
Pilate's own experience of kingdoms and rule were strictly empirical. Pilate understood that any who would follow this professed Messiah would only be able to declare the rule of this King based solely on a subjective and perhaps mystical appeal to this unseen kingdom.
John 6:15 (NKJV) Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.
Jesus left them because it was never His purpose to become a physical king over the world.
In the third chapter of John's Gospel is the familiar account of Nicodemus, a religious leader of the Jews, who came to talk to Jesus. Nicodemus acknowledged Him to be a great teacher from God:
John 3:3 (NKJV) Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
In this verse Jesus announces to Nicodemus the requirements for being part of the kingdom that He is going to establish. He told Nicodemus that if a person is going to be part of the kingdom that He is setting up, it is necessary for the person to be born again.
Let me ask you something, "Why can't the person who is not born again see the kingdom of God? What is it about the kingdom of God that only believers can see it?" The answer is obvious: it is a spiritual kingdom!
So, we see that the kingdom was set up in the first century. As you read various writer's view on the kingdom of God, you will come across what many call the "already but not yet" view of the kingdom. Those who hold this "already but not yet view" approach the study of the kingdom with the presupposition that there is at least a spiritual kingdom which is already established, and a physical kingdom which is yet to come. This view accepts the spiritual nature of the kingdom and the time statements that clearly teach that it arrived in the first century, but they still hold to a future physical kingdom, also. They do this because they don't understand the distinction of the "ages" or the clear Scriptural teaching concerning the transition period. During the first century the kingdom was "already" inaugurated but "not yet" consummated:
Hebrews 12:28 (NKJV) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
The word "receiving" is from the Greek word paralambano, and it is in the present tense showing progression. The kingdom was being brought into its fullness during the first century by progression. This "kingdom that cannot be shaken" is the church of Jesus Christ, it is the New Covenant, it is Mount Zion the heavenly Jerusalem.
This "already but not yet" was only a first century condition. The kingdom was fully consummated in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple:
Luke 21:21-22 (NKJV) "Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22 "For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
Luke 21:31-32 (NKJV) "So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.
Luke ties the destruction of Jerusalem with the appearance of the Kingdom. He also states the Kingdom will arrive in its consummated state before that generation standing there dies off.
Most believers don't understand that we live in a different age than Paul did. Paul lived in what the Bible calls the "last days"- they were the last days of the Old Covenant. Those "last days" began at Pentecost and ended at AD 70 when the Jewish temple was destroyed. We now live in what the Bible calls "the age to come", which is the New Covenant age - the kingdom. This forty year period, from Pentecost to Holocaust, was a time of transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. In this transition period, the kingdom of God had been inaugurated but not consummated. It was a time of "already but not yet." Notice what was to happen at the end of the age:
Matthew 13:49-50 (NKJV) "So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, 50 "and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
Notice who is taken - the wicked! I believe this speaks of the Judgement of Jerusalem in AD 70. The "end" that Jesus is talking about was the end of the Jewish age, when the wicked Jews were burned in the destruction of Jerusalem and the kingdom of God was consummated.
All through the New Testament we see two ages in contrast: "This age" and the "age to come."
Ephesians 1:21 (NKJV) far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
Here we see the two ages. The understanding of these two ages, and when they changed is fundamental to interpreting the Bible.
The New Testament writer lived in the age that they called "this age." To the New Testament writers the "age to come" was future, but it was very near, because "this age" was about to end:
1 Corinthians 10:11 (NKJV) Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Paul said very plainly that the end of the ages was coming upon them, the first century saints. "This age," along with its wisdom and rulers, was about to end.
We now live in what was to the first century saints the "age to come." When most Christians read in the New Testament and see the words "the age to come," they think of a yet future (to us) age. But the New Testament writers were referring to the Christian age - the kingdom of God. We live in what was to them the "age to come," the Kingdom age. It is an age that has no end! Christ's kingdom is everlasting, it will never pass away or be destroyed:
Luke 1:32-33 (NKJV) "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 "And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."
So the answer to the question, "When is the kingdom to come?" - It was inaugurated at the coming of Christ, and it was consummated when Christ came in judgement on Jerusalem in AD 70. The kingdom of God is the Church! And all Christians are kingdom citizens.
So, as I see it, it is destructive to say that the "Sermon on the Mount" has nothing to do with modern Christians. It is something that is meant for all Christian people. It is a perfect picture of the life of the kingdom of God. The "Sermon on the Mount" is not saying, "Live like this, and you will become a Christian". What it is saying is, "Because you are a Christian, live like this. This is how Christians are to live".
Augustine of Hippo, that great Theologian of the fifth century, said:
If any one will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as we read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find in it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian life: and this we do not rashly venture to promise, but gather it from the very words of the Lord Himself. For the sermon itself is brought to a close in such a way, that it is clear there are in it all the precepts which go to mould the life. For thus He speaks: 'Therefore, whosoever heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, I will liken unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.' Since, therefore, He has not simply said, 'Whosoever heareth my words,' but has made an addition, saying, 'Whosoever heareth these words of mine,' He has sufficiently indicated, as I think, that these sayings which He uttered on the mount so perfectly guide the life of those who may be willing to live according to them, that they may justly be compared to one building upon a rock. I have said this merely that it may be clear that the sermon before us is perfect in all the precepts by which the Christian life is moulded; for as regards this particular section a more careful treatment will be given in its own place.
God give us grace to face the "Sermon on the Mount" seriously and honestly and prayerfully until we become living examples of it, and examples of its glorious teaching.
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