An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount

by Kent Young

© 2017

Chapter 2 -


MATTHEW 5:3-16

Twice in Matthew chapter four Jesus is mentioned as making his proclamation regarding the arrival of the kingdom (Matthew 4:17,26).[1] Jesus’ introductory words for the Sermon on the Mount, those profound and paradoxical blessings often referred to as “the beatitudes,” also twice make mention of “the kingdom of the heavens.” Having discussed what is meant by “the kingdom,” we can now look into these specific blessings with which Jesus introduces his sermon and how they relate to his kingdom.

Kingdom Blessings – Matthew 5:3-12

The essentially-future/spiritually-present nature of the kingdom of the heavens was mentioned earlier. It was seen that, in the beatitudes, Jesus speaks of blessings which are somewhat present, but primarily future in their fulfillment. Only the first and the eighth beatitudes are given in the present tense (“theirs is the kingdom”), while each of the others are spoken of as being future (“they will inherit the earth, they will be comforted, etc.).[2] It will be seen directly that the time period for the blessing of these beatitudes will be the future, earthly kingdom of a thousand years (the millennium). This again coincides with what has been shown so far: the kingdom is in one sense present, but is essentially future in its scope.

Present Blessing – Matthew 5:3

“Let the poor in spirit be happy, because the kingdom of the heavens is theirs.”
Matthew 5:3

The first of the beatitudes not only gives an introduction to the beatitudes but really sets the tone for the entire sermon itself. As has been mentioned already, the proclamation of the kingdom had already been made by Jesus. The earlier chapters of Matthew’s gospel tell us that Jesus’ forerunner John the Baptist had made this proclamation as well. Both John and Jesus issued a call to repentance in response to the kingdom’s arrival. The disciples of Jesus were among those who had responded positively to this call. In this sermon, Jesus now gives to these disciples his further instruction regarding that kingdom. This is a crucial point to understand. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is instructing his disciples about the spiritual characteristics of those who will inherit this kingdom. Jesus earlier made the proclamation of the kingdom’s near arrival, now he is teaching his disciples exactly how to get in to the kingdom.

Some within Israel were no doubt looking for their Messiah to be a man of pride and prestige, as many of the Gentile kingdoms’ leaders were. Jesus, however, describes himself as “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). At the outset of his Sermon, Jesus says that those who inherit the kingdom will be of like character with himself. Jesus makes it clear that those who would inherit the heavenly kingdom will not be the aggressive and haughty, but those who, like Jesus himself, can be described as “poor in spirit.”

Remember, the kingdom not only has its future manifestation, but also has its present, spiritual experience. Those submitting to Christ by the Spirit during his absence can be said to be presently experiencing the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. It was only those humble enough to admit and confess their sins that could see their need to accept John’s and Jesus’ call to repentance. Now, in this passage, Jesus is saying that only those who are emptied of themselves are presently able to abide in the spiritual reality of his heavenly kingdom. All who are not presently “poor” in their own spirit have no room for Jesus to give his Spirit, and thus they are unable to abide under his heavenly ruling. Those who are following Jesus’ example of poverty in spirit, however, are said to be presently possessing the kingdom of the heavens. It is something that is theirs now.

Future Blessings – Matthew 5:4-9

All of the “beatitudes” are kingdom blessings. Two of them, as we have seen, are blessings that are presently received. However, the remaining seven, judging by the tenses in the Greek, appear to be blessings that Jesus describes as future in their fulfillment.

This concept of future reward is in keeping with the future element of the kingdom of the heavens, and is something that Jesus mentions several times throughout the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:12,19,22,25; 6:6,18,20; 7:21). Jesus sees the time of the disciples’ blessing to be, for the most part, yet future.

Now this concept of a delayed, future day of reward may have been difficult for a first century Jew to accept, especially coming from someone who claimed to be the coming Messiah. The understanding that most of the nation of Israel seems to have had regarding the arrival of Messiah was that he would bring with him an immediate manifestation of the world-dominating kingdom of Israel as described in Isaiah 2:2-4. It was a stumbling block for some to hear that the current age was instead to be one of suffering and persecution for the faithful. Had not Moses promised to the faithful an abundance of blessings (Deuteronomy 28:1-8)? Did not Moses say of the righteous that the fruit of the womb and of the ground would be blessed, and that their enemies would flee seven ways before them? Indeed Moses did promise these blessings to the nation of Israel, should they remain faithful. Why then does Jesus now speak of future blessing, but with present suffering? These would be reasonable questions for a first century student of the Law to ask.

Jesus will address these issues in the next section in his teaching (Matthew 5:17-48). There he will describe his own position in relation to the Law given by Moses. Up to this point, however, Jesus simply says that the faithful among his disciples will indeed suffer now, but will be rewarded in a future day.

Let’s look now at the second beatitude:

“Let the (ones who are) mourning be happy, because they will be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

Notice first of all that the disciples are not told that they will never mourn. In fact, if they are in the correct spiritual condition, during this age they will, like their master, be people “of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). But notice that Jesus promises a future comfort to them. The Lord will turn the disciples “mourning into joy” and will “comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13). When will this take place? Not in this age, but in the age to come.

The third beatitude likewise carries with it a future kingdom promise:

“Let the meek be happy, because they will inherit the earth.”
Matthew 5:5

Today “the meek” are often scorned and oppressed. Jesus himself, who described himself as “meek and lowly of heart” (Matthew 11:29) was treated this way during his earthly ministry. But just as the meek Jesus will one day return to rule the earth in his millennial kingdom, he here indicates that the meek among his disciples likewise “will inherit the earth.”

When describing the future kingdom, Isaiah says, “The whole earth is at rest and quiet” (Isaiah 14:7). Clearly Jesus’ future kingdom will extend over all of the earth. Likewise, in Revelation 5:10 it is said that Jesus’ redeemed people “will reign on the earth.” In this third beatitude, Jesus teaches that an attitude of meekness, reflecting that of the humble Savior himself, is required of his disciples if they intend to reign over the earth, along with him, when he returns in his glory.

“Let the (ones who are) hungering and thirsting for righteousness be happy, because they will be satisfied.”
Matthew 5:6

The present age is described by the apostle Paul as “the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13). Satan’s present title as the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) sadly indicates that righteousness is often now in short supply. In this beatitude, Jesus states that his disciples ought to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness during this present evil day.

However, Jesus does encourage them that they will be satisfied. This, too, is a future kingdom promise, since the day of the satisfaction of the righteous will be when Jesus establishes “his government...on the throne of David and over his kingdom,” when he will “uphold it with justice and with righteousness” (Isaiah 9:7). If, Reader, like Lot in Sodom, your soul is vexed by the wickedness of the world around you, then be happy! These are merely the hunger pangs of one who craves righteousness. One day, Jesus promises, your hunger will be satisfied!

“Let the merciful be happy, because they will receive mercy.”
Matthew 5:7

We have mentioned that, in one sense, mercy is shown exclusively on the basis of faith. When discussing the gift of new birth, Jesus never mentions the requirement for mercy or forgiveness on the part of the recipient. Only faith is required for the reception of the free gift of new birth.

However, when discussing the matter of kingdom reward, Jesus makes it clear, here and elsewhere, that it is the merciful who will receive mercy. Forgiveness from God, in this sense, is entirely dependent upon the disciple’s forgiveness of others. This matter will be discussed in greater detail once we get to the study of the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:14 – chapter 4: Secrecy and Reward). Suffice it to say, at this point, that it will be during the future, earthly kingdom that this promised mercy will be recompensed to the merciful.

“Let the pure in heart be happy, because they will see God.”
Matthew 5:8

The sixth beatitude contains an unspeakably precious promise. In order to grasp Jesus’ meaning when he says that the pure in heart will “see God,” let’s first look at some other scriptures that speak of this concept.

The Old Testament makes it clear that Moses was unique among all the prophets and servants of God. The great men of God, including Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Elijah, David, Isaiah, and Daniel, all received communication from God in the form of visions and dreams. Moses alone was different. When Miriam and Aaron began to speak against humble Moses, the Lord explained to them exactly how special his communion with Moses was. He said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:6-8). Likewise, in Deuteronomy 34:10, we read that “there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.”

Jesus mentions that the pure in heart “will see God.” This reminds us of these descriptions of Moses’ interaction with God. The Lord knew him “face to face,” and Moses is said to have “beheld the form of the Lord.” No doubt it was Moses’ purity of devotion to the Lord that enabled and facilitated this level of intimacy. Recall Moses telling the Lord, “Show me your glory!” The Lord covered Moses with his hand as he walked by, yet allowed Moses to see his back (Exodus 33:18-23). Shortly before this unique event, Moses had confessed to the Lord that he and Israel were helpless without the Lord. Moses pleaded, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). It was this humble and pure dependence on the Lord that the Lord rewarded with the most intimate relationship with himself.

Likewise, Jesus tells his disciples that it will be the pure in heart who will be rewarded with this kind of intimacy, “seeing God,” in the coming kingdom. We can even say that some will be rewarded with a relationship to the Lord that will exceed even what Moses had. Moses, we are told, was prevented from directly seeing the Lord’s face (Exodus 33:20-22). In 1 John 4:12 we read that “No one has ever seen God.” With regard to the saints’ future, the apostle Paul says that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 ESV). In the next age, the level of intimacy with God that awaits the pure in heart will be a face to face fellowship that goes beyond even Moses’ experience of old.

Now, how do we know that it will be during the millennial kingdom that this reward will be received? Well, notice the language Paul uses when he describes the time period when believers are to experience the Lord “face-to-face.” In 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, Paul describes this time as coinciding with the cessation of prophecy: “As for prophecies, they will pass away...for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:8-12 ESV).

The prophet Daniel likewise referred to this time of the cessation of prophecy, and links it to the coming kingdom. Daniel’s prophecy was directed toward the nation of Israel, and was given in reference to the “seventy weeks” prophecy. Daniel was told by the angel Gabriel, “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place” (Daniel 9:24 NASB). Without getting into details, these seventy weeks (or “seventy sevens,” that is, “weeks of years”) include the entire timeline of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel for the remainder of the present age, leading all the way up to the persecution by antichrist. The “Seventy Weeks” finally conclude with the destruction of antichrist by the Lord Jesus at the second advent.[3] The only point I wish to emphasize here is that Gabriel made clear to Daniel that prophecy is something that ends once the seventy weeks are completed, immediately prior to the kingdom of the Messiah.

Thus, as Gabriel said to Daniel, the time when prophecy is done away is at the introduction of the kingdom age. It is telling that Paul likewise links the cessation of prophecy with the time when the saints will have the opportunity to see the Lord “face to face.”

This concept is very logical if you consider it. In this age prophecy is most precious and is to be diligently sought after (1 Corinthians 14:1). While the Lord is physically absent, he speaks to his people through prophecy and through the recorded prophecies of his previous speaking in the scriptures. However, in the next age, when the glorified Lord is present with his people, his speaking by the mouths of prophets will become completely superfluous.

Therefore, each saint who is found worthy will have the relationship with God akin to that of Moses: not like the prophets, who receive dreams and visions (Numbers 12:6,7), but face-to-face (Deuteronomy 34:10). Has there ever been a promise given that quite compares with this one? Face-to-face communion with the glorified Lord! This is Jesus’ promise to the “pure in heart.”

“Let the peace-makers be happy, because they will be called ‘Sons of God.’”
Matthew 5:9

It is interesting that Jesus has this blessing to pronounce regarding men of peace. When God was raising up Samuel to bring about the close of the period of the judges of Israel and to institute the kingly line of David, he began to be called by a unique, new name. In 1 Samuel 1:3, for the first time God is referred to as Jehovah Sabaoth, meaning “LORD of hosts” or “LORD of armies.” Through Samuel, God was about to raise up David as king of Israel, and through him he would establish his presence in Jerusalem. In order to accomplish this purpose, David needed to be a man of warfare, and likewise the Lord revealed himself to be the God of armies. The Lord would, over the course of several years, deliver all of Israel’s enemies into David’s hand.

However, this title of “Lord of armies” seems not to have been the Lord’s most preferred one. The Lord restricted the use of this particular designation (“Lord of armies”) to the period of the kings, when the establishment of his name in the Promised Land was hanging in the balance. Certainly the Lord is willing to utilize warfare when it is necessary to establish his name and to fulfill his promises, but his true heart’s desire is to establish peace. The Lord demonstrated this truth most obviously when David, his beloved servant, expressed his desire to build a house for him. This request deeply touched the Lord’s heart (2 Samuel 7:1-17), but the Lord refused to allow it, instead ordering his house to be built by Solomon, David’s son. The Lord revealed that this order was given expressly because Solomon would be a man of peace rather than of war (1 Chronicles 22:7-10).

Likewise, the Son of God is indeed the “captain of the Lord’s army” (Joshua 5:13-15, Matthew 26:53); yet, when he is to reign in his coming kingdom on earth he will be called the “Prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Likewise, multiple times in the New Testament God is referred to as “the God of peace” (Romans 15:33; 16:20; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20). While strife and conflict fill this present evil age, Jesus admonishes his disciples, in the seventh beatitude, to work towards peace. Though peace-makers are often maligned and taken advantage of in today’s world, Jesus explains that, in the coming kingdom age, their character will have procured for them the title of “sons of God.”

The millennial kingdom will be a time of world-wide peace and rest from warfare (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3). This has been the desire of God’s heart for mankind since the creation. While warfare has been at times necessary for the Lord to accomplish his purposes, once this age of peace is established, those whose hearts have likewise been desirous of peace will be rewarded with the acknowledgement that their heart is indeed aligned with God’s.

Present Blessing – Matthew 5:10

As we have seen, most of the blessings, or “beatitudes,” are given in the future tense (“they will be comforted,” “they will inherit the earth,” etc.) Two blessings, though, are given in the present tense. The first beatitude is a present blessing for the “poor in spirit.” The other present blessing is found in beatitude number eight:

“Let the (ones who are) persecuted for righteousness be happy, because the kingdom of the heavens is theirs.”
Matthew 5:10

As you can see the eighth beatitude is a blessing on those who are “persecuted for righteousness.” Both the poor in spirit (first beatitude – Matthew 5:3) and the persecuted (here in the eighth) are told, not that the kingdom will be theirs, but rather that it is theirs. While the other beatitudes refer to the future kingdom, the first and the eighth address the present experience of the kingdom of the heavens.

In this eighth beatitude, Jesus says that these present possessors of the kingdom will, during this age, be persecuted. Those who would submit to Jesus’ heavenly rule are warned that they will be persecuted for the heavenly righteousness that they will possess. The apostle Paul stated the same thing to his closest co-worker: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). If we, as disciples of Jesus, never experience the rejection or persecution by the world that our master and his first servants received, then we should evaluate to see if there is also, in our lives, a lack of the practical righteousness taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus continues this theme of persecution and reward in the final beatitude:

“Happy are you when they revile you and persecute and utter all evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in the heavens, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:11,12

Jesus pronounces his final blessing upon those who are reviled, persecuted, and slandered for his sake. Such suffering is shown throughout the New Testament to be the expected lot of those who are faithful to the Lord in this age. Jesus encourages his disciples, not that he will always deliver them from suffering for his sake, but that they have a great reward “in the heavens.” Jesus makes it clear that there will be a future day of recompense, the day of the kingdom, when those who suffer now will be blessed.

Though the lot of those within his invisible, spiritual kingdom today will be one of suffering in this world, there will be a future day of blessedness and consolation. On the day when the king arrives again, every knee will bow in heaven and on earth (Philippians 3:10). It is at that time that the full manifestation of the heavenly rulership will come to this earth. It is at the commencement of this kingdom that Jesus, the earth’s rightful ruler, will “reward each according to his deeds.” This will include a special reward to the faithful among his disciples for their willingness to suffer joyfully for his sake.

Present Responsibility – Matthew 5:13-16

We see a shift in emphasis as Jesus moves into the next section of the sermon’s introduction. The beatitudes, although two of them touched on the present aspect of the kingdom, stressed primarily the future kingdom reward. In this coming section, however, Jesus shifts his focus in order to emphasize what ought to be the disciples’ present experience.

Salt of the Earth – Matthew 5:13

Jesus describes the present age by using two terms: “the earth” and “the world.” He tells his disciples that they will relate in certain ways to “the earth” (Matthew 5:13) and in certain ways to “the world” (Matthew 5:14-16). First, the disciples’ relationship with “the earth:”

“You are the salt of the earth...”
Matthew 5:13a

Both here and in his discussion concerning the disciples’ relationship with “the world,” Jesus begins with a statement about the disciples’ position in relation to the present age, and then he gives a warning about the way they ought to relate practically to the present age. Jesus speaks of the disciples’ relationship to “the earth” by describing them as “salt.”

From the beginning of God’s dealings with man, the earth has held a glorious position within his plan. Man is unique among God’s creation, as he was made in God’s own image. The earth was given to man to be his place of habitation and dominion (Genesis 1:28). As man fulfills his God-given purpose, then the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord (Habakkuk 2:14). God has purposed glory for man and, despite man’s fall and need for redemption, God still purposes for the earth to be filled with his glory (Romans 3:23, Psalm 57:5).

Mankind is described in the scriptures as dust. God created the first man from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7), and he often emphasizes mankind’s mortality by reminding us that we, in fact, are composed of that which, after a while, returns to the earth from which it came (Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 12:7). Dust, therefore, is a picture of mankind.

It is telling, then, that Jesus describes his disciples as being salt. Salt is found among the dust of the earth, indeed salt comes from the earth. Jesus is telling his disciples that they are, in one sense, of like character with the rest of mortal humanity. We are normal people of the earth. We work during the day, we sleep at night. Like everyone else, we have families, friends, and neighbors that we know, love, care about, and otherwise interact with every day. While we are looking for and awaiting a heavenly kingdom, we are still today people of the earth. Disciples of Jesus are salt of the earth.

“...but if the salt becomes tasteless, with what will it be salted? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”
Matthew 5:13b

Having expressed the truth regarding the disciples’ position as salt of the earth, Jesus goes on to give an important warning regarding their interaction with the rest of mankind during the course of this age, with the rest of the “dust of the earth.”

Jesus points out that salt is distinct among the dust of the earth. Salt has a flavor which sets it apart from everything else that is mined from the earth. Likewise, Jesus says that his disciples must have a certain distinctness among men. Salt is only of value if it is distinct in its flavor. As Jesus says, “If the salt becomes tasteless,” then it is no longer useful, no different from the rest of the dust of the earth.

Just as salt serves many purposes for man, so the disciples are useful to God, so long as they maintain their “saltiness,” or uniqueness among men on the earth. The disciples are warned that if they lose this distinction, this “saltiness,” then they are as useless as the rest of the dust of the earth; good for nothing but to be trampled underfoot by men.

Thus, what we have in this passage is a call to holiness. To be “holy” is to be distinct and set-apart. While it is true that Jesus’ disciples are people of the earth, and are, in many ways, people of like nature with everyone else, Jesus says that in another sense they are also very different from everyone else. While the disciples carry on their every-day lives on the earth, they must be careful not to lose this “saltiness,” meaning holiness or distinctness. If they are to be of any use to him in accomplishing God’s purposes, Jesus’ disciples must be noticeably distinct and set-apart from the rest of mankind.

Light of the World – Matthew 5:14-16

Jesus next describes the disciples’ relationship to “the world:”

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Matthew 5:14

Unlike “the earth,” which generally has a positive connotation in the scriptures, “the world” is normally described negatively, as being something which is at enmity with God. The Lord’s brother James plainly says that “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (James 4:4). Similarly, the apostle John says that anyone who loves the world does not have the love of God in him (1 John 2:15). Jesus elsewhere makes it clear that his disciples are separate from the world (John 15:18,19). With respect to the earth, the disciples are actively involved, but with respect to the world, they are separate and uninvolved. Jesus establishes this point by describing the disciples as being “light.” The disciples are noticeably outstanding, like a radiant city on a dark hill. Jesus is essentially saying that his disciples are not ones who will be involved with the world as a system, as the entirety of the world system lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19).

So, again, regarding “the earth,” the disciples are involved and of like nature with the rest of the dust, but regarding “the world,” the disciples are not involved and are of a completely separate spiritual make-up than everyone else. Just like there was when Jesus spoke of the disciples as “salt of the earth,” there is an important warning that accompanies Jesus’ statement that the disciples are the “light of the world:”

“Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a lampstand and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in the heavens.”
Matthew 5:15-16

There is a tendency for those who recognize the fact that they are and ought to be spiritually separate from the world system to also believe that they must also be geographically separate from the rest of mankind. They see that they are light and that the world is darkness, but they tend to put their light “under a bushel.” Jesus warns against this. Jesus says that his disciples are to “shine” the light of righteousness to the world that those who are in the world may see this light and glorify God.

Jesus tells his disciples that they should have an influence on the dark world around them, and the best way for them to do this is for them to unashamedly display the righteousness that God works in and through them. The apostle Peter makes this same point when telling believers how they are to handle persecution. Similar to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:11,12, Peter tells his readers that those in the outside world will slander them, but he encourages them, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good works and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

It should be noted that this “shining” to the world to which Jesus refers is not primarily an individual matter. The “lamp” describes the individual disciple, but the lamp is not to abide by itself. Rather, it is to be put “on a lampstand” with all of the other lamps. This signifies the believer joining himself to the local assembly (Revelation 1:20). When outsiders observe the righteousness of the church they are said to “glorify God” because it is the church that the apostle Paul prays will be “filled with all the fullness of God.” This is how Paul is able to tell the Philippian believers that, in the midst of a “crooked and twisted generation,” they “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Jesus is making this same point when he says to his disciples, “You (plural) are the light of the world.”

With Respect to Persecution

It is no coincidence that both Jesus and Peter speak of the believers influence on the outside world in the immediate context of speaking about the persecution they will receive. Jesus tells his disciples in no uncertain terms that “in the world you will have affliction” (John 16:33). Here he cautions his disciples against falling into one of two potential errors, both of which serve as defense mechanisms against persecution.

Jesus teaches his disciples that they are both salt and light, and we have seen that along with both of these teachings is a warning. If we look carefully, we will see that the warnings that Jesus gives are really warnings against neglecting the other truth. To understand that disciples are salt, yet to ignore that they also are light, is for the “salty” believer to “lose his saltiness.” On the other hand, for disciples to understand that they are light, but to forget that they also are salt, is for the believer to put his light “under a bushel.” The two truths balance one another. By neglecting either of these commands, a disciple can fall into one of two potential errors.

The first potential error, as we have seen, is the possibility of “losing one’s saltiness.” There is a temptation for those who rightly understand what it means to be the salt of the earth, which is to say that they recognize that they are a part of God’s purpose for the earth that he created, to fail to realize that they are also the “light of the world.” They may become so caught up in earthly affairs that they cease to stand out from those around them. This is what we mean by “losing one’s saltiness.” Often when Christians or even other religious groups overemphasize the need to be involved in the culture and world around them they tend to take on more and more of the characteristics of that culture and world. This may actually be a subconscious defense-mechanism against persecution. Those in the world tend to have more of a disdain for those who stand against what they love and do.

On the other hand, for those who correctly see themselves as the shining city that stands out from the hill, the temptation for them is to fail to see their place as being salt of the earth. It is possible to place such a large emphasis on teachings to be holy and separate from the world that believers can become isolated. This is the error of “placing one’s light under a bushel.” Teaching holiness at the expense of involvement can lead to missing opportunities for believers to fulfill their purpose from God on the earth. This is the other side of the equation, and it too can be a defense mechanism against persecution. The world is less likely to bother with persecuting those who are so uninvolved with them that they are largely irrelevant to them.

It is important to remember that Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be both salt and light. They are called to be holy and distinct from others, yet also to be lovingly involved with them. The combination of these two callings on the believer, however, puts him in the position of being vulnerable to persecution and slander. It should not surprise us, then, when Jesus makes it clear that persecution would be the cost of following after him.

Concerning the Kingdom

Considering the “kingdom” theme of the entire sermon, let’s consider for a moment how these truths regarding persecution and the believers being “salt and light” relate to the coming kingdom. Multiple times in the New Testament the willingness to suffer along with Jesus is mentioned as a criterion for receiving the reward of co-reigning with him in the coming kingdom. In Romans 8:17 Paul states that we as believers are “co-heirs with Christ, if we suffer with him, in order that we also might be co-glorified.” The believer’s kingdom inheritance is conditioned upon his willingness to suffer with Christ. Likewise, in 2 Timothy 2:12 Paul says, “If we endure, we will also co-reign. If we deny him, he will deny us,” and again in Acts 14:22, “Through many afflictions we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Endurance and a willingness to suffer are required from disciples of Jesus if they wish to inherit the coming kingdom. They are also the inevitable result for those who obey Jesus by being both salt and light. To be actively involved in the lives of others, while remaining holy and distinct from them, makes the disciple vulnerable to persecution, but that is what is required for any Christian to receive the reward of reigning with Jesus when we comes in his kingdom.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] For a more detailed explanation of the immediate context for the Sermon on the Mount that is provided in Matthew chapter 4, see the Addendum at the end of this work: “Notes on the Sermon’s Context.”

[2] The ninth and final beatitude (Matthew 5:11,12) technically does not have an expressed verb, but it is usually translated using the present tense (“your reward in heaven is great”). However, it can be inferred that the blessing, like all but two of the others, is actually a future one. The present location of the reward is said to be “in heaven,” and is thus awaiting the future day of recompense, at which time it will be given by the Lord to the believer. More will be discussed concerning the matter of reward later in Matthew 5 (see chapter 3 of this work) and in Matthew 6 (see chapter 4 of this work).

[3] The best commentary that I have found regarding this particular prophecy is found in the first volume of G.H. Pember’s The Great Prophecies series. (Pember, 1998, pp. 185-225)