Free Sample of our Commentaries - Interpreter's
5:1-2. Introduction. Jesus' going up on the mountain was to withdraw from the crowds, not to gain a vantage point from which he might be seen and heard. His words are addressed to his disciples. No particular mountain seems to be intended; rather Matt. has likely provided the setting, since it contrasts with the "level place" on which Luke locates the comparable "sermon" (Luke 6:17). Matt. does not call this a sermon, and indeed it is not a sermon, but a bringing together of the teachings of Jesus on the meaning of obedience in such a way as to set forth dramatically his understanding of the radical devotion to God's will that God expects. In compiling this discourse material Matt. has drawn on the Q source, although he considerably rearranges the material. In addition he has utilized a source uniquely his own among the gospels.
5:3-12. The Beatitudes. The Beatitudes have been regarded as timeless rules for the good life. Although one can extract from them certain enduring ethical demands, they are not moral laws, but eschatological promises. ("Eschatology" means lit. "the study of the last things," but in relation to the Bible and theology it refers to the events and experiences associated with God's consummation of his purpose in the world, i.e. with the coming of his kingdom.) Matt. has modified the form of the Beatitudes somewhat; originally, as evidenced in Luke's version (Luke 6:20-21), they were addressed directly to the hearer ("Blessed are you poor") and made explicit the contrast between man's response to the will of God now and his fate in the kingdom ("Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh"). Now they have been changed to sound more like general principles. Matt. may well have expanded the original set, since several of his beatitudes do not appear in Luke.
5:3. The phrase poor in spirit does riot mean one who is weak in spirit, but one who, like the psalmist (Pss. 34:1), looks to God alone to preserve him in the midst of his afflictions. He does not live out of his own resources, nor is he relying on his own achievements to overcome the seemingly overwhelming difficulties that he faces—his trust is in God:
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles (Pss. 34:6).
It is the poor ones who will receive the kingdom, rather than those who are proud and confident in their moral achievements.
5:4. Possibly those who mourn refers to persons who are bereaved, but if this beatitude is a parallel to the preceding, it may describe those who bewail the present state of affairs in God's world and long for the coming of the new age. God will comfort them by establishing his kingdom.
5:5. This saying, which probably originated with Matt. or his special source, reads like a modification of Pss. 37:11. Moses was called the meekest of men (Num. 12:3) not on account of his timidity, but because of his awareness of his own limitations and his consequent dependence on God. It is such persons who will inherit the kingdom when it is established in the earth.
5:6. Again Matt. hits augmented (by adding and thirst for righteousness) the simpler form of the saying found in Luke, which pronounces the blessing on those who now "hunger." It is possible that Matt. is using the word "righteousness" in a special eschatological sense to refer to the new situation that will obtain in the earth when God's kingdom is established. His linking of "kingdom" and "righteousness" in 6:33 may confirm this. But in the light of his heavy stress on obedience to the will of God, it seems more likely that he is using righteousness in the sense of holy living. Only those wholly devoted to obedience will be found worthy to see the new age in which their aspirations for mankind will be satisfied by the establishment of God's righteous rule over his obedient people.
5:7-9. Only those who practice mercy can expect to receive it from God at the judgment. Only those whose heart is pure can come into God's presence. The heart is understood to be far more than the seat of the emotions: it is the center of the inner life, the source of thought and understanding, of will and of decision. A full transformation of the deepest level of man's life is what is demanded. The direction that this change takes is implied in the call to be peacemakers, since this is God's own work in the world. To be called sons of God means that one has sought to do what God is doing; in this case it is God's reconciling work in the world in which man is called to participate.
5:10-12. Those who will one day share in the kingdom are now expected to accept calmly the persecution and reviling which they will receive as a result of their devotion to Jesus and the work of the gospel. They are to understand their harassment as a sign of God's favor rather than as an indication of his displeasure, and therefore to rejoice: God has already laid up for them a reward in heaven.