IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 1, Number 6, April 5 to April 11, 1999

Commentary and Lesson on Matthew 5:1-16

by Dr. Knox Chamblin



    1. The Composition of the Sermon.

      1. Jesus' contribution.

        1. The content. Jesus actually taught what is here ascribed to him. Cf. 7:24, 26 ("these words of mine"), 28 ("When Jesus had finished saying these things"). See INTRODUCTION, V. B.

        2. The form. Matthew's catechetical method is indebted to Jesus' own. Jesus taught in a memorable way; he joined themes together so that his listeners would do the same. A priori, Jesus himself could be credited just as easily as Matthew, with gathering together these very themes into a single discourse or series of connected discourses. Joachim Jeremias goes too far when he says that "we have...in the Sermon on the Mount, a composition of originally isolated sayings of Jesus" (Sermon on the Mount, 19).

      2. Matthew's contribution.

        1. A collection. In keeping with his catechetical purpose to gather Jesus' teaching into five great discourses, Matthew here gathers into one sermon, material that Jesus delivered not just once but on numerous occasions, with considerable variations on his chosen themes. Cf. Lk 6:17-49, the "sermon on the plain" (the same locale as Mt 5-7 see below) for material closely parallel to that of Mt 5-7, but in different arrangement and with different wording; also compare Lk 11:2-4 to Mt 6:9-13. But we cannot rule out the possibility (as suggested under A.) that Jesus actually delivered a sermon consisting of the very themes set forth in these chapters, and in this very arrangement.

        2. A summary. To read aloud (the English translation of) the entire Sermon on the Mount, takes about 15 minutes. The actual delivery of one such sermon lasted considerably longer. We should think of Mt 5-7 as a digest of such a sermon, made under the Holy Spirit's direction (the same holds true for the speeches of Acts). Stott, following A. B. Bruce, thinks that the material contained in Mt 5-7 represents Matthew's "condensed summary" of Jesus' "teaching from the hill," teaching "not of a single hour or day, but of a period of retirement" (Counter-Culture, 23-24).

    2. The Setting of the Sermon. 5:1-2.

      1. Within Jesus' ministry. Jesus has settled at Capernaum (4:13). The mountainside "is probably the gentle slope rising above Capernaum: beneath the ridge parallel to the lake-shore between Tel Hum and et-Tabgha there is a natural amphitheatre. The ridge also satisfies the description of the 'level place' in Luke 6:17, for one looks down on it (as Luke may have done) when approaching from the west" (F. F. Bruce, Matthew, 16-17).

      2. Within Matthew's theology. Jesus is the New Moses. Just as Moses delivered God's law to the people at Mt. Sinai, so Jesus goes onto the mountainside to set forth God's instruction (Torah). Moreover, Matthew expressly says that Jesus "sat down" to teach (5:1). This means more than that Jesus gained a comfortable position for prolonged teaching. Cf. 23:2, "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat." "Sitting in Moses' seat means rehearsing the Mosaic law" (Gundry, 454). I believe that Matthew wants 5:1 to be read in the light of 23:2. Cf. 15:29.

    3. The Purpose of the Sermon.

      The Sermon is Jesus' instruction about life in the community of the Kingdom of God now being inaugurated (the proclamation of 4:17, 23, is foundational for the Sermon). As Moses delivered the Torah to Israel to prepare them for life in the Land, so now Jesus, the New Moses, expounds the Word of God to show the people of God, newly constituted around his own person, how to live.

      For whom is this teaching intended? "Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them" (5:1-2a). Jesus has both the crowds and the disciples in view. He ascends the mountain, not to escape the crowds (so as to be with the disciples exclusively) but to take a position from which he might effectively address a large company of people - consisting both of disciples (5:2), and of the crowd as well (7:28-29; note v. 29a, "because he taught them [missing from NIV] as one who had authority").

      There is an unmistakable distinction in Mt (as in the other Gospels) between the "disciples" and the "crowd"; but that line of distinction is never raised into a wall of separation. The Sermon's teaching on discipleship is not meant for disciples exclusively. As he teaches disciples, Jesus appeals to members of the crowd to become disciples. Jesus' purpose is now carried forward by the Evangelist Matthew. What Jesus delivered orally, Matthew writes down as ongoing catechesis for the people of God.

  2. THE BEATITUDES. 5:3-12.

    1. The Character of the Beatitudes.

      The Sermon begins with gospel, not law. Jesus is pronouncing blessings, not issuing orders; each Beatitude begins with the word makarios ("blessed, happy"). He speaks of those who are such persons; he does not command listeners to become such persons. And he says, "How blest" - by God - are such persons. This provides a vital foundation for the subsequent teaching (5:17-48) about law-keeping. The gifts of love come before the demands of love (Herman Ridderbos, Matthew's Witness to Jesus Christ, 31).

    2. The Structure of the Beatitudes.

      1. Eight plus one. Those of vv. 3-10 (each beginning with makarios) are in the third person ("theirs is the kingdom of heaven," etc.). That of vv. 11-12 (which also begins with makarios, and which grows out of the eighth beatitude) is stated in the second person ("Blessed are you").

      2. Four plus four. There is a certain passivity about the first four traits, and a certain activity about the second four. Note the linguistic parallel between vv. 6 and 10, the fourth and the eighth (they have the word dikaiosynae , "righteousness," in common). Note also that the first and the eighth conclude the same way ("for theirs is the kingdom of heaven").

    3. Gospel as Answer.

      The Beatitudes are addressed to Israelites who have been longing for the dawn of the Kingdom of God (cf. 4:23-25) and for the intervention of God in history and in one's personal life.

      1. The human need.

        1. "The poor [ptochoi] in spirit," v. 3. Jesus here addresses the very sort of people of whom he spoke in Lk 4:18 (quoting Isa 61:1): "The Spirit of the Lord...has anointed me to preach good news to the poor [ptochoi]." (Correspondingly, both Isa 61:2b and Mt 5:4 speak of comfort for those who mourn.) We are confirmed in our belief that the Sermon begins with gospel, not law. Significantly, "poor" is qualified by the words "in spirit." It is not exclusively or even primarily material or physical poverty that Jesus has in view. The materially and physically poor may be among those most likely to experience "poverty of spirit." But as 5:4-10 makes clear, "poverty of spirit" has causes other than and in addition to physical disease and material poverty. (The "poor" of Isa 61:1 are the entire nation of Israel.) But there is still more to the concept: It is fundamentally an acute awareness of the nature and the effects of sin (both their own and others') that accounts for such people's "poverty of spirit" - which in turn makes them utterly dependent on God and reliant upon his mercy. Thus NEB properly renders 5:3a, "How blest are those who know their need of God."

        2. The further characterization. Mt 5:4-10 expands upon v. 3. "The poor in spirit" are those grieved ("those who mourn," v. 4) by prevalent injustice, national apostasy, and personal sin. (Zechariah, Mary, Simeon and Anna, Lk 1-2, express such longings.) In face of such dire needs, they "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (5:6), i.e. "to see right prevail" (NEB) and "to do what is right" (NEB mg.). Even as they seek "to act justly and to love mercy" (Mic 6:8), vv. 7-10, they remain in conscious need of the divine mercy and righteousness. As the "meek" (v. 5), they patiently wait upon God to defeat the forces of evil, vindicate his faithful, and establish righteousness in the land.

      2. The divine grace.

        1. The certainty of blessing. Present conditions are not eternal. Jesus declares categorically, without qualification, that God's Kingdom shall indeed be established, at which time the needs described here shall surely be met, and the blessings described here shall certainly be experienced.

        2. The God who blesses. Each instance of the passive voice points to the activity of God: "they will be comforted" (v. 4); "they will be filled" (v. 6); "they will be shown mercy" (v. 7); "they will be called sons of God" (v. 9). The people's inheritance of "the kingdom of heaven" (vv. 3, 10), which includes inheriting the earth (v. 5), comes about because the God of the Kingdom, and the Messiah who reigns as King, grant them this privilege (inherent in the designation "sons of God," v. 9). God is directly and personally active to realize the blessings promised his people. "'Blessed' [makarios] means 'to be congratulated' in a deeply religious sense and with more emphasis on divine approval than on human happiness" (Gundry, 68). Cf. Ps 32:1-2. Those God declares "blessed," are, by virtue of that pronouncement, blessed.

        3. The time of blessing. There is a future dimension to these blessings. Note vv. 4-9 (in each case the future tense), 11 (ongoing persecution), 12 ("great is your reward in heaven"), and Jesus' teaching generally concerning the futurity of the consummation of the Kingdom. But there is a present dimension as well. The very fact that Jesus now pronounces these persons "blessed," points to the present reality of blessedness. As the Kingdom of Heaven is now being inaugurated, and its powers exercised, in the ministry of Jesus, so the blessings of the kingdom can now, to some degree at least, be experienced by his people (who are already, by virtue of their association with him, "sons of God," v. 9).

    4. Gospel as Invitation.

      1. The audience. As noted, Jesus addresses both the disciples and the crowd. Only the ninth beatitude is addressed specifically to disciples, which implies that the other eight are addressed to the crowd as well. Jesus does not restrict the Beatitudes to persons who are already following him or who are already God-centered in their view of life. Significantly, he does not say, "Blessed are the sons of God, for they will be peacemakers," nor "Blessed are those who see God, for they shall be pure in heart." There are doubtless many in the crowd - particularly among the outcasts and the oppressed, among the impoverished, the afflicted and the grieving - who are genuinely "poor in spirit" and who "hunger and thirst to see right prevail," but who live without attending to or depending on God, who bemoan their lot without repenting of their sin.

      2. The offer. The Beatitudes are to be viewed, not simply as an answer to the people of God, those who worship him and long for him to invade their history and their lives with saving power; but also as invitation to those not yet God-centered. God offers salvation to those who are indifferent to him, or who misunderstand his character, or who are even hostile to him (which makes it particularly clear that God's action is based upon nothing but his grace). In directing the Beatitudes to them, Jesus is saying: God offers grace to you whom others despise and ostracize; the injustice, disease and death you suffer, God will conquer; it is for people like you that God is establishing his Kingdom. In other words, God initiates his saving work even where there is no sense of need or expectancy in evidence, and Jesus offers salvation not only in response to repentance and faith but also to evoke them.

      3. The demand. For such people, makarioi describes a state yet to be realized. What makes a person "blessed" is not poverty of spirit (etc.), but being rightly related to God as sovereign ("theirs is the kingdom of heaven") and as father ("they will be called sons of God"). Otherwise we would be identifying such qualities as poverty of spirit, meekness, and peacemaking as virtues which God rewards by granting entry into the kingdom - precisely the position taken by certain of Jesus' antagonists (cf. 9:9-13), and a subtle variation of the "salvation by works" assaulted in Galatians. The Beatitudes offer salvation by the grace of God, not as reward for human achievement. Built into this offer is a very serious demand; precisely because grace makes the offer, it is extremely perilous to reject it. Observe (i) the sober warning that concludes the Sermon (7:24-27); (ii) Jesus' words in 11:6, "Blessed [makarios] is the man who does not fall away on account of me" (which confirms that it is being rightly related to God that makes one blessed, not the condition out of which one calls on God); (iii) the woes on the cities in 11:20-24 (as the disclosure of grace in Jesus far surpasses that of the OT, these cities are in a much more perilous position than were the most iniquitous cities of OT times); (iv) the parable of the tenants in 21:33-46; and (v) the lament over Jerusalem, 23:37-39.

  3. SALT AND LIGHT. 5:13-16.

    1. The Metaphors.

      1. Salt. In Jesus' day salt was very useful as a flavoring and a fertilizer, and especially as a preservative in meats. But salt could become useless. "Strictly speaking salt cannot lose its saltiness; sodium chloride is a stable compound. But most salt in the ancient world derived from salt marshes or the like, rather than by evaporation of salt water, and therefore contained many impurities. The actual salt, being more soluble than the impurities, could be leached out, leaving a residue so dilute it was of little worth" (Carson, 138).

      2. Light. The purpose of light is to shine. White limestone buildings in a city placed atop a hill, will surely be seen gleaming in the sun (Carson, 139). A lamp (lychnos) that is lit and placed on its stand, will surely give light in the house. But that purpose could be thwarted: someone could (though no one would) put the lamp under a "peck-measure" (BAGD for modios).

    2. The Meaning.

      1. A declaration of being. Jesus addresses disciples ("You are..."). He speaks primarily of what they are, not of what they ought to be. "You are the salt of the earth.... You are the light of the world." In salt and light, nature and function are one. "Salt salts because it is salt, and light illumines because it is light" (Martin H. Franzmann, Follow Me: Discipleship according to Saint Matthew, 42). These declarations must be viewed in light of 5:3-12. The Beatitudes describe the qualities required for entry into the kingdom, and for life within the kingdom. The citizens of the kingdom demonstrate these particular qualities. When they do, and as those who do, they are salt and light.

      2. Disciples as salt. In keeping with what was said above, Christians are to be a preservative in a sinful and corrupt society (cf. Prov 11:11; Phil 2:15-16). As someone has said, "Salt keeps a dead thing from going rotten." Within the Israel of Jesus' day, this statement is made in light of the corrupting influences of the religious leadership (cf. 3:7, "You brood of vipers!"). On the applicability to our day: "Christianity acts as a retardant against the natural tendencies of cultures built on sinful human nature to fall into decay. Such Christian influences are not always obvious, but they may be crucial" (Mark A. Noll et al., The Search for Christian America, 46).

      3. Disciples as light.

        1. The twofold injunction. The linguistic parallel between v. 13a and v. 14a witnesses to a vital conceptual link. The disciple is to be both salt and light. He is not called merely to act as a preservative, i.e. to stand against the spread of corruption in society. He is also to bear a positive witness to that society.

        2. The city on the hill. The imagery of v. 14 may well be intended to recall OT prophecies about the new Jerusalem "shedding the light of divine glory throughout the world during the messianic kingdom" (Gundry, 77; cf. Isa 2:2-4; 4:4-6; 60:1-22; Carson, 139-40). This would fit well with Jesus' and Matthew's inclusion of the Gentiles.

        3. The character of the witness. "Your good works" (v. 16) must be understood in the most comprehensive way, to embrace the disciples' total witness (by word and work) to the quality of life expressed in vv. 3-12. Recalling Jesus' focus on the disciples' being, note that the stress lies not on their striving to become light (that they already are), but upon their working to let the light shine. If the light is not hidden - if what the disciples really are is clearly to be seen - the witness will occur.

        4. The effect of the witness. The purpose is that those who witness the light might (like the disciples) glorify the Father in heaven - i.e. become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, members of God's new society, children in his family.


MAIN IDEA: Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom, offering gracious salvation as well as demanding righteous obedience.

  1. Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount: kingdom life (5:1-7:29)
    1. Jesus as new Moses
    2. Torah re: kingdom of God
  2. Beatitudes: the gospel of the kingdom (5:3-12)
    1. Character of Beatitudes: gospel
    2. Gospel as answer
      1. Human need
      2. Divine grace
    3. Gospel as invitation
      1. Audience
      2. Offer
      3. Demand: kingdom responsibilities
  3. Salt and light: further kingdom responsibilities (5:13-16)
    1. Metaphors: salt and light
    2. Meaning
      1. Declaration of being
      2. Disciples as salt
      3. Disciples as light


MAIN IDEA: Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom, offering gracious salvation as well as demanding righteous obedience.

  1. Introduction to the Sermon (5:1-7:29)
    1. Composition
      1. Jesus' contribution
        1. Content
        2. Form
      2. Matthew's contribution
        1. Collection
        2. Summary
    2. Setting (5:1-2)
      1. Capernaum
      2. Jesus as new Moses
    3. Purpose
      1. Instruction
        1. Kingdom of God
        2. Torah
      2. Audience
        1. Disciples
        2. Crowds
  2. Beatitudes (5:3-12)
    1. Character of Beatitudes: gospel
    2. Structure of Beatitudes
      1. Eight plus one (5:3-12)
      2. Four plus four (5:3-19)
    3. Gospel as answer
      1. Human need
        1. Poor in spirit (5:3)
        2. Grieved (5:4-10)
      2. Divine grace (5:3-12)
        1. Certainty of blessing
        2. God who blesses
        3. Time of blessing
    4. Gospel as invitation
      1. Audience
      2. Offer
      3. Demand
  3. Salt and light (5:13-16)
    1. Metaphors
      1. Salt
      2. Light
    2. Meaning
      1. Declaration of being
      2. Disciples as salt
      3. Disciples as light
        1. Twofold injunction
        2. City on the hill
        3. Character of witness
        4. Effect of witness


  1. What evidence does the Sermon on the Mount contain that indicates that Jesus was the "new Moses"? What does this suggest about Jesus purpose in delivering the Sermon?
  2. What is the distinction between an "apostle" and a "disciple"? Why did Matthew distinguish between the disciples and crowd? How is it evident that Matthew understood Jesus to have been delivering his teaching to the crowd as well as to the disciples?
  3. How does the Sermon's place in Matthew's gospel affect the significance of the sermon? What is the Sermon's function in the flow of the story of Matthew's gospel? How should these facts affect the way Christians read the Sermon?
  4. In what sense are the Beatitudes more gospel than law? Doesn't each beatitude present a condition for blessedness? How is this gracious rather than legalistic?
  5. What is the kingdom of heaven? What does the kingdom of heaven have to do with the gospel?
  6. How does Matthew 5:3-16 prepare Matthew's readers for the rest of the Sermon? How do these verses dispose you to receive the material which follows?
  7. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? What traits characterize those who are poor in spirit? Why would you or wouldn't you describe yourself as poor in spirit?
  8. What kinds of blessings do the Beatitudes offer? When do/will believers receive these blessings?
  9. In Matthew 4:17, Matthew summarized Jesus' message as being one of repentance at the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. How does this summary compare to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount? How is this comparison/difference significant?
  10. If the Beatitudes represent the gospel, how and where is the gospel offered in them? What sort of invitation do they contain? To what audience is this offer made?
  11. What sorts of demands does Matthew 5:3-16 make on its readers? On what basis does it make these demands? How does this basis relate to the gospel?
  12. What does it mean to be the "salt of the earth"? What does it mean to be the "light of the world"? What encouragement should these verses give to Christians? What obligations do these metaphors lay on Christians?
  13. How does Matthew 5:13-16 forward the argument from the Beatitudes? How does it move the argument toward the statements in 5:17ff.?


  1. Compare Matthew 5:3 to Luke 6:20. Some commentators suggest that Luke simply abbreviated Jesus actual words from "poor in spirit" to "poor," and that Luke really referred to the poor in spirit, not more simply to the literal poor. What evidence is there to suggest that Luke really referred to the "poor in spirit"? What evidence is there that he really meant to identify instead those who lived in literal poverty?
  2. Jesus' apparently address the remarks in Matthew 5:13-16 to his disciples as well as to many others. In what sense were his words true? Was the entire crowd saved? If not, how are unsaved people the salt of the earth and the light of the world?

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