First Discourse Sermon on the Mount – Part II (Matthew 5:13-7:35)

First Discourse Sermon on the Mount. Part II  (Matthew 5:13-7:35)

Jesus’ First Commission (5:13-16)

We have several texts in Matthew where Jesus spells out what his followers will do. The first occurs in 5:13-16 in which Jesus defines their mission in terms of salt and light. A second commission occurs in the discourse on Discipleship (10), where he sends them “to the lost sheep of the tribe of Israel” (10:6). Finally, there is the post-resurrection commandment that Jesus gives to define their mission into the future (28:16-20) – to make disciples of all nations.

In this first commission or set of instructions Jesus defines their critical role among humanity, to preserve and illuminate. Their eschatologically conditioned way of living, defined in the prior Beatitudes, makes a prophetic statement, challenging the status quo of the surrounding culture. Salt primarily functioned in antiquity as a preservative. Because Jesus’ followers possess the Kingdom message and incarnate Kingdom community, they provide a context in which people can be preserved by God and for God. The “salt of the earth” perhaps implies a universal influence. Perhaps because Jesus’ followers live their Kingdom values, not only are they ‘blessed’, but they become a source of blessing to others as agents of redemption and reconciliation. What is Jesus’ emphasis here? Does he anticipate that his followers will season their entire culture and make it Kingdom-like? Or does he anticipate that they will form communities in which Kingdom values dominate, providing places of refuge and restoration for all people who care to enter? Or should we consider both to be his priorities?

Jesus uses a strange expression in v.13 as he warns his disciples –“If the salt should become foolish/mad/stupid.” Betz suggests “dull”[1] as the translation of the verb. Perhaps Jesus echoes here the final parable of the sermon, where he warns his followers about the foolish builder, dull to the point of being useless. If they fail to preserve their kingdom identity, they become just like the dirt in the street, making no difference, in fact being regarded as worthless and scorned by others. Being trampled by other human beings for this cause must be differentiated from the persecution for the sake of righteousness and the Messiah that Jesus has just mentioned. Being trampled signals that others regard them as worthless. There is some slight evidence that this verb when applied to food has the sense of losing taste. Therefore many English translations render it as “insipid” or “tasteless.” Further, if this salt loses its savour, there is no other source for saltiness that humanity can access, nor is there any way for this de-natured salt to be restored to its former saltiness. Perhaps in a sense Jesus is warning his followers not to follow the pattern that ethnic Israel had taken.

The second part of the commission uses the metaphor of lamps, light and city to express the impact Jesus expects his followers will have. In the OT God assigned to Israel the function of being “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:3; cf. Matthew 4:14-17 and its quotation from Isaiah 9:1-2). While Jesus’ words are not an exact equivalent the sense is similar. In Roman literature the city of Rome was considered “a light to the whole world.”[2] Some have argued that there is a reference here to Jerusalem as “the city set on a hill.” However, the language is general, not specific, and any city could fill this role. To be the light “of the world” (κόσμος) implies a universal mission and a position of religious illumination that is unique. None can fill this role, other than Jesus’ followers. This gives the messianic community a stature that surpasses any other human institution. How can you hide a city that purposely occupies the heights precisely to declare its presence! Notice that Jesus does not restrict this witness to the city of Jerusalem as the religious, cultic centre for his new movement. Wherever his followers live, they function as light.

Verse 15 follows this up with a second metaphor. The function of a burning lamp is to provide light, so a person places it where it will provide the best illumination. It is not put under a basket, which would deny its purpose and prevent it from illuminating all those in the household.

So through both metaphors Jesus stresses that his followers must be visible and cannot hide themselves away, if they are to fulfill his mission for them. As a result, the light they have received from the Messiah and which now burns within them, the Kingdom truth and commitment, must affect their visible behaviour. Can the Beatitudes become a reality in a person’s life without significant “illumination” occurring? They must let others see their way of living, their good deeds, so that these people will be attracted to and recognize the work of “your Father in heaven.” This is the first of several places in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus identifies his father as the father of his followers.[3] What kind of evangelistic process is being defined here?

Why does Jesus in the first part of Matthew 6 forbid his followers to pray or give alms or fast in such a way as to bring attention to their piety? Are these not ‘good deeds’? Do these not demonstrate a person’s Kingdom connection and loyalty to God? What is the distinction between “seeing” these deeds and seeing the “works” that might attract people to God? Perhaps the distinction hinges on the one who receives the glory.


Hermeneutical Principles for Understanding the Law and the Prophets 5:17-20

Jesus has made very radical statements, positioning himself and his followers as the new centre of divine activity in this world. How then do these claims relate to what the Jewish canon expressed – the Law and the Prophets? First, using a negative statement (“do not begin to think…”; aorist subjunctive prohibition), Jesus denies the validity of a false claim being circulated about him. The false claim is this: “He has come to abolish the Law and the Prophets.” Such a claim would be tantamount to the accusation that he seeks to destroy Judaism and is in fact atheistic and will cause people to stumble, i.e. defect from proper loyalty to the covenant and its expression (– stumble — skandalizomai (σκανδαλίζομαι)). Moses warned Israel to destroy any prophet whose message urges them “to follow other gods” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).[4] Betz notes that this was the accusation leveled against Socrates. To abolish the traditions and foundations upon which society is based is the worst kind of criminal behaviour. This serious accusation probably was being used by the Jewish opponents of the Jewish Christian community to deny their validity and undermine their connection with anything Jewish (cf. Paul’s assertion in Galatians 2:18). Jesus strongly rejects this accusation with the prohibition “do not consider…” The use of “I have come” (ēlthon ἦλθον) should be noted. It asserts something fundamental about Jesus’ mission. Although Jesus does not “destroy” (katalusai (καταλῦσαι 5:17)) the law, because the Jewish people reject him, the temple and Jerusalem “shall be destroyed” (kataluthēsetai (καταλυθήσεται 24:2)).

Instead of abolition, Jesus’ mission is to bring to the fullest expression, i.e., fulfill, the revealed will of God (i.e., righteousness), expressed in the Torah and applied through the Prophets. Jesus claims that in him the full meaning of the entire Jewish canon comes to a head. No wonder the Jewish religious leaders questioned his authority. Blomberg comments on the significance of this statement: “Every OT text must be viewed in light of Jesus’ person and ministry and the changes introduced by the new covenant inaugurated.”[5] Only in Jesus can this revelation be properly understood and interpreted. How then this fulfillment finds expression becomes the point of controversy. The early Christian leaders had to work hard to help Jesus followers learn this new hermeneutic.

After the double negation of v. 17, we have the first of 31 instances in Matthew where Jesus introduces a teaching with the expression ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν/σοί “[for], amen, I say to you.” Amen is a Hebrew/Aramaic term, cognate with the noun for truth. It is a strong affirmation of the truthfulness of what will be stated. We only find it four times in Greek, Second Temple Judaism documents (Tob 8:8; 14:15; 3 Macc. 7:23; 4 Macc. 18:23 (these last two documents are roughly contemporary with Matthew’s Gospel). Apart from the Testament of Abraham A 8:7; 20:2 (where God and Death are speakers), this formula is only found in the speech of Jesus. This is strong evidence that in such statements we hear the ipsissima vox of Jesus. Does this mean he spoke Aramaic? Not necessarily since both 3rd and 4th Macc. were written in Greek, although Hebrew and Aramaic fragments of Tobit were found in the fourth Qumran cave.

Jesus affirms in the strongest terms the divine authority of the Law and the Prophets. Its significance, as now seen in Jesus, stands throughout time. As some parts of the NT demonstrate, Jesus’ mission brings to an end some aspects of the practices associated with the old covenant (e.g., circumcision, dietary prescriptions), but affirms the continued and enhanced application of other aspects (loving God and neighbour) until he returns – heaven and earth pass away. His wording refers to the iota (ἰῶτα  – a Greek letter), and the keraia (κεραία – ‘the horns’), the accents or diacritical marks.[6] It makes sense with reference to Greek writings. However, it more normally is taken as reference to the Hebrew letter yodh and the ornamentations on letters that one finds in the Hebrew square script. In either case Jesus accepts and affirms the inspired status, I think, of the entire Jewish canon – the Law and the Prophets. Of course, while this is a significant principle, we still have to determine what the Law and the Prophets contained. I think the content of the Torah is clear – the five books of Moses. We get a sense of the Prophets from the texts that Matthew quotes as demonstration that Jesus fulfills them (e.g., Micah, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.). The inclusiveness of Jesus’ final statement in v. 18 is breath-taking. The Law stands until its various prescriptions for God’s will are fully completed – “until all things have happened.” If the initial genealogy suggests that much of what God had revealed already was completed, then the final stage, i.e., that inaugurated by Jesus, is what remains to be accomplished. The initial heōs (ἕως until) clause in 18a may be construed as synonymous with the second heōs (ἕως) clause in 18b, or as referring to a different aspect, i.e., prophetic fulfillment.

Jesus now turns his attention (vs. 19-20) to two different kinds of responses to the Law – those who set aside (luein (λύειν) is a play on the previous word kataluein (καταλύειν destroy)  in v.17.  Those who set aspects of the Law aside in terms of personal behaviour do not stop there, but actually seek to persuade others to do the same. What are the commandments? Does Jesus limit his statement to the Ten Commandments? Whatever is decided in this matter, Jesus seems to suggest that to contravene the very least command (the shortest, the most apparently insignificant piece) relegates one to being least in the kingdom. So to set aside more than that would be to exclude oneself from the Kingdom.

Jesus insists on respect for all precepts, as understood through his mission. If Jesus is in fact, as his opponents claim, “setting aside the law,” then he has no status in God’s kingdom. But Jesus, to the contrary, is affirmed by God as being his son, the one whom God loves and takes great pleasure in. So we might suggest that Jesus emphasizes how important it is to come to the Jewish Scriptures with the right hermeneutic, i.e., the Jesus hermeneutic, so that, even with the best of intentions, one does not end up setting aside the meaning God intended his word to have – the importance of authorial intent at the divine level of the text-message.

The connection between doing and teaching occurs negatively at 23:2, 15, 16. Jesus calls for consistency of confession and action. No hypocrisy! Jesus requires complete commitment to the expressed will of God. What does this entail? Jesus turns his attention to the Pharisees, probably viewed within first century Judaism as paradigms of righteousness. He does not deny their efforts to live righteously, but states clearly that this is not sufficient in and of itself to bring entrance into the Kingdom. He requires a greater righteousness. Jesus does not stop at this point to define how one acquires that level of righteousness. Rather, he will immediately offer six examples of what this greater righteousness looks like in comparison to the standards being expressed by his contemporaries, based on their understanding of the Law. By his actions Jesus is saying that their interpretations are not sufficient and so they are in fact setting aside the intent of God’s Law. So far was Jesus from abolishing the Law that he demanded and taught a righteousness that exceeded anything required by those in Jewish society considered to be paragons of lawful living. Jesus puts himself into an exclusive category and demands that his followers join him there. Note again the severe negative that Jesus employs in 20b – “shall never (οὐ μή) enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Antitheses[7] – 5:22-48

Jesus provides six examples of how his hermeneutic applies. He deals with critical, debated, ethical, social and political issues, along with controversies about religious ritual and sinful attitudes, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and relations with enemies. We must remember that Rome was the primary power in the first century and even though it permitted client kings with Jewish ethnic connections to manage these regions, Roman military and other clear signs of their power were always present. Further, we know that fierce debates raged among various Jewish religious groups as to the appropriate way to interpret and apply the instructions found in the Torah. This became particularly difficult when ethical issues not specifically addressed in the Torah needed to be adjudicated. The question of what constituted a violation of the Law was hotly contested. Second Temple had a hard time knowing how to respond appropriately to the challenges of Hellenistic culture.

Things have not changed and several of the issues that Jesus addresses continue to generate controversy within the Christianity. What constitutes adultery and on what grounds can a Christian remarry? Can a Christian swear an oath and if so under what circumstances? And what about the piece on retaliation? Even within the Believers’ Church tradition we have different understandings of how this applies. Almost all agree that Jesus was presenting a more radical understanding of these issues and seeking to emphasize that attitudes were as significant as actions when it comes to the definition of sin.

Making an offering to God, while harbouring hatred in your heart for “your brother,” violated the essence of the offering. Better not to make the offering until reconciliation was attempted. Adultery is not restricted to a physical act, but incorporates the thought that leads to the deed. If you have to swear oaths constantly in order to make people believe you are telling the truth, then something is wrong with your integrity. Jesus rejects the law of retaliation and replaces it with the command “not to resist the evil person.” Of course, we still debate what “not to resist” actually entails. Finally, he requires his followers to love their enemies. These represent astounding reversals of common religious and ethical assumptions within Judaism, responses that were sanctioned by the religious establishment in many cases. In so doing Jesus presents a portrait of Kingdom living just as remarkable as that expressed in the Beatitudes. We might conclude that in the antitheses Jesus applies the principles articulated in the Beatitudes. It is a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees and a fulfillment of the Law to a degree never before heard. But again the question arises – what kind of person has the power and ability to live like this?

If such disputes form a significant element within the Gospel narrative, then perhaps they are in fact a kind of hermeneutical handbook, enabling listeners and readers to evaluate the competing claims to hermeneutical orthodoxy. We might also assume with some probability that these kinds of issues were still disputed within the emerging churches of the first century.

Structurally, Matthew seems to divide the antitheses into two sets of three.[8] The full introductory formula occurs with the first and the fourth (vv. 21, 33, mentioning “the ancients”) and the fourth also has the resumptive adverb “again.” The most detailed antitheses are the first and the last ones. Each of them relate to commands made in the Torah:

Commands about murder and adultery (Exodus 20:13-14; Deut. 5:17-18)

Command about divorce (Deut. 24:1)

Commands about swearing falsely and love of neighbour (Leviticus 19)

Command about retaliation (Leviticus 24:20).

In several cases Jesus revokes an OT command and replaces it with something more in tune with his new covenant. I think this is the case in the matters dealing with adultery, divorce, and oath-taking. The way he articulates them precludes human ability to obey them fully and consistently, exposing the essential sinfulness that characterizes human existence.

Another aspect to this that we must keep in mind is what Jesus’ teaching says about his authority and status. In the OT God gave the Law to Moses. Now Jesus dares to revoke some elements of this Law and replace them with new formulations. Further, he has the authority to apply these standards to his followers. The continued refrain “but I say to you” hammers in the ears of his disciples and the crowd. No wonder the crowd at the conclusion is astounded at his teaching and the authority expressed within it (7:28-29). While one might argue, as Betz does, that there is nothing specifically messianic about Jesus’ articulation, others disagree. As Betz himself notes, there is nothing quite like the antitheses in other early Christian or first century Jewish literature. The first person language is unprecedented, in my view, in Jewish documents related to the establishment of religious principles.

Is there a foundational theme or perspective that ties these remarks together or are they a haphazard collection of comments? Betz proposes that the key theme is agape (ἀγάπη) and that each antithesis deals with some kind of broken human relationship and how actions that are the opposite of ἀγάπη run contrary to Kingdom reality. This fits well with the second great command to “love our neightbour.” In his view the sixth antithesis summarizes this in its requirement of neighbour love, even for enemies, if one is to be ‘perfect’. Perhaps Paul’s comments on the love command in Romans 13:8-10 and his premise that fulfilling this command enables one to fulfill the whole law iterates Jesus’ perspective as expressed in the antitheses.

What in fact does Jesus argue in these antitheses? It seems that Jesus is not refuting what God said, but what Jewish religious leaders or tradition alleged that God said or the meaning inferred from God’s statements. He is rejecting erroneous interpretations and/or applications of what literally was said or written. He rejects all previous interpretations and traditions and speaks his own. In this he is challenging particularly the Pharisees and their embrace of the oral tradition of the Torah. Further he challenges conservative Sadducean interpretations of Moses’ instructions. There is a logic to his presentation, but it is a Kingdom logic, that builds upon the priority of the Love Command and the eschatological reality of God’s actions in sending Jesus. Perhaps we see other “antitheses” in Jesus’ comments about Sabbath practice or washing before meals.


Antithesis # 1  (21-26) – reinterpretation of the command “do not murder.” Jesus states that anger is also a serious sin and should generate the same condemnation as murder (22). However, there also is a “righteous indignation” that is justified on occasion (21:12-17; 22:7). He applies this proscription of anger to the closest relationship within a religious community – brother to brother. If it is inappropriate here, then it is inappropriate in any relationship. Jesus refutes the chain of tradition that seeks to justify such anger. Sacrifice would be considered a usual way to escape judgment, but Jesus says that without personal reconciliation, the sacrifice will not achieve its intended result (Romans 12:18; Matthew 18:21-34). Consider Didache 14.2. Deal with the matter quickly so that judgment will be removed. God will demand payment in full. The Didache in reiterating this statement explicitly connects anger with murder (3.2).

Antithesis # 2 (27-30) – reinterpretation of the command “do not commit adultery.” Jesus addresses the problem and power of erotic love – moving from the sight, to the desire, to committing of adultery “in the heart” (v.28). The eye and the hand are the means by which such acts of adultery would be committed and so their removal in order to save the whole body would be justified in the light of the eschatological risk involved. “Gehenna” is the “valley of Hinnom” just outside Jerusalem that served as the garbage dump for the city. It was constantly burning and smouldering and became a byword for a place of utter loss and destruction. Some suggest that the word “woman” (v.28) should be interpreted as a married woman, in accord with ancient definitions of adultery. However, Jesus does not seem to restrict its sense and we should then interpret his words as forbidding a married man to be unfaithful to his wife by desiring or having sexual relations with another woman. The pornography plague today runs completely counter to this Kingdom ethic. We also need to note carefully that Jesus condemns a look that intends lust, not just any look.

Antithesis # 3 (31-32) – Jesus’ statement about divorce continues to generate immense discussion, particularly because legal grounds for divorce in Western societies have become very broad. Jesus does two radical things:

  1. he limits divorce by a husband to discovering “a matter of porneia (πορνεία)”;
  2. he extends the definition of adultery to include the man who marries a divorced woman. Whether we are to read this last injunction in the light of the first or whether it is a separate and independent principle is debated.

Jesus seems to limit divorce on the grounds that it results in adultery, i.e., through the remarriage of the divorced woman and by the man who marries her. While Moses allows for divorce, Jesus restricts it severely.

What is included in porneia (πορνεία) and why did Jesus not say adultery? It seems that πορνεία is more inclusive, referring to “marital unfaithfulness”[9] of any kind. Blomberg notes that this word was used more commonly “to describe female rather than male infidelity.”[10] Jesus seems to be broadening the scope of the prohibition through this term. Further, he says that if a man divorces his wife apart from this reason, “he makes her commit adultery.” Jesus does not define why this is case. We should be careful not to assume that a woman who marries after such a divorce is living in a “permanently adulterous” situation. That Jesus’ word was not viewed as totally restrictive is confirmed by Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 7:15 providing one other ground for divorce. Jesus’ statements are given in the context of serious debate within Judaism as to the appropriate basis for divorce (Shammai and Hillel). Jesus never requires divorce. He will have more to say about this topic in Matthew 19. It seems that the hard-heartedness of humanity that led to Moses’ earlier allowance, still must be recognized in the action of the Messianic community (i.e., for marital unfaithfulness, 1 Cor. 7:15).

Antithesis # 4 (33-37) – the command not to make oaths. We are not sure what OT text Jesus is quoting here, but Leviticus 19:12 is usually cited. Jesus rejects oath-taking. Josephus says that the Essenes avoid swearing “regarding it as worse than perjury.”[11] There may be a sense that it violates the command of taking the “name of the Lord in vain,” as well as assuming no trust exists between people and the need to verify one’s integrity by reference to some external authority.  We must be careful not to involve God in our sin. However it is understood, the examples Jesus refers to define human limitation – people have no control over these matters and so how can they be incorporated meaningfully into any oath. Similar prohibitions occur in Greco-Romans sources. Perhaps as Betz suggests, v. 37 prohibits any use of magical formula. Rather, the purity of one’s heart should be demonstrated through the simplicity and trustworthiness of one’s speech.

The struggle we have taking this antithesis in an absolute sense is that Paul (Romans 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:23; Phil. 1:8; 1 Thes. 2:5) in various letters seems to “call God to witness” as to the truthfulness of his statements. Is this a kind of oath-making?  Perhaps he merely considered it to be an affirmation of his calling as apostle, the representative of God. 2 Cor. 1:17-20 seems to echo Jesus’ words. Is it permissible for a believer under any circumstances to take an oath in order to substantiate his or her statements (i.e., court testimony)? Matthew 26:63 might suggest that Jesus himself was willing to be placed under oath.

Antithesis # 5 (38-42) – Jesus rejects the lex talionis – eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. Can we doubt that Jesus is deliberately ending an OT command? All would agree that Jesus is requiring Kingdom people to take action to break the spiral of violence by being willing to pay the price. He is requiring a generosity of spirit and action in the face of legal demands or insulting behaviour. What stretches us is Jesus’ statement that we must respond with positive goodness to such hurtful and demeaning actions. And what does it mean “do not resist the evil one?” and who is “the evil one” – a human or Satan? Jesus desires his followers to “overcome evil with good” (cf. Romans 13; 1 Peter 3-4).

Antithesis # 6 (43-48) – the command to love our enemies. There is no command in the OT to hate our enemies, although some might infer it from passages such as Deuteronomy 23:3-6; 25:17-19. It seems to be a traditionally accepted perspective, however, and Jesus opposes it. Loving those who love you places a person on the same level as any other human being. In the Kingdom reality, Jesus requires his followers to love those they naturally would hate. This means to do them good and this would involve praying for one’s enemies, as Jesus himself did (Luke 23:34). There is a second rationale, namely that this is how God operates. He loves his enemies, as demonstrated by his gifts of food, water, sunlight, etc. for those who despise him or do not know him. So the question of distinctiveness enters into the picture.

Carson notes that the Essene covenanters required their members to love one another and to hate their enemies (1QS 1:4,10; 2:4-9).

The initial particle of v. 48 “therefore” may be seen as concluding the entire series of antitheses. It contains the imperative to be “perfect”, i.e., mature, whole, or perhaps blameless. Maybe Jesus is interpreting the statement “You shall be holy because I am holy” (Lev. 19:2). Jesus requires his disciples to demonstrate radical godliness, even while knowing that perfection is not attainable. Jesus has not set forward a complete set of norms, but has demonstrated some of the essential features of godliness that his followers should embrace, if they are hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Jesus expects his followers to demonstrate an ‘intelligent love’, adapting its essence to each situation so that godliness results. Such an ethic results from the new heart that God creates in his people under the new covenant and resourced by the Holy Spirit (Jer. 31:31-34; Gal. 5).

“To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine” (Plummer)


Jesus’ Understanding of Cultic Rituals (6:1-18)

Within Jewish piety of the first century almsgiving, prayers and fasting ranked as significant religious expressions. Tobit 12:8-10 “Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness….For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life,…” Some Jewish circles believed that almsgiving had atoning power. Jesus comments about the appropriate way to give alms (i.e., show mercy), pray, and fast such that we gain God’s approval (as expressed in the Beatitudes).

Jesus emphasizes several contrasts and issues in these three discussions.

  1. The importance of adding to God’s reputation – emphasis on his role as Father — in contrast to human reputation.
  2. God’s approval in contrast to human approval.
    1. Divine rewards
    2. Guarding our religious conduct (i.e., “acts of righteousness” or “attempts to do God’s will”) so that wrong motives do not gain control
    3. The problem of hypocrisy
      1. Are we doing an act of mercy or are we seeking to enhance our image?
      2. Are we wanting to converse with God in prayer and do his will or are we seeking to gain the approval of people as a pious person or are we seeking to coerce God to do our bidding?
  • Are we fasting in order to appear to be pious or because we truly are lamenting and mourning in God’s presence?

Ultimately, I think Jesus challenges our human perception of what true religion is all about. Yes, we love our neighbour, but we cannot do it in ways that prevent us from loving God. Conversely, we do not seek to love God in ways that cause us to abuse our neighbourly relations. In Kingdom culture there is essential consistency between the two great commands.

There is a place for public piety, as we love our enemies, as we speak always with integrity, as we do not hate others, as we forgive others, as we act generously towards those in need, but there is also a place for private piety where we express and deepen our relationship with God in prayer and fasting. There are ways we add to God’s fame through our public behaviour and ways we add to God’s fame by our private devotion. In neither case, Jesus says, should we seek to enhance our own reputation at God’s expense. Just as the six antitheses interpreted God’s standards as matters of heart and relationship, not just public act, so too specifically religious conduct must keep motive and deed thoroughly consistent. Just because we act religiously does not mean we have done a religious act.

To underscore his point Jesus introduces the term hupokritēs (ὑποκριτής). Normally a Greek word defining an actor,[12] it comes to reflect any kind of falseness in pious practice.[13] As Betz notes, Jesus here presents hypocrites as character types, with their behaviour mocked by several satirical vignettes (6:2, 5, 16). Probably there is some degree of caricature here, but Jesus uses it to critique inner-Jewish religious practices. In his comments on prayer in 6:7-15 he turns his attention to the Gentiles, who form another general character type whose piety is critiqued and found wanting.

Stories in Greek literature occur about what kind of piety the gods prefer. These highlight the tension between ritual performance and ethical action. Appropriate worship requires an adequate knowledge of the deity thus served. Betz notes that in antiquity three rituals tend to gather most comment in this regard – sacrificial offering (including almsgiving), prayer and its relation to magic, and forms of abstinence (food or sexual relations). Jesus responds to each of these categories. Similar discussions are found in pre-Christian Jewish literature such as Ben Sirach 34:13 – 36:17, where proper sacrifices, prayer and general religious activity are climaxed by the offering of a model prayer.  We have already drawn attention to Tobit 12:6-10.

6:1 is a summary statement introducing this section. The general principle is that people who follow Jesus must pay attention[14] to their religious activity, lest they conduct it illegitimately.  I regard “acts of righteousness” as religious activity. Jesus incorporates normal Jewish acts of piety into his Kingdom reality – almsgiving, prayer and fasting – but requires them to be done solely with a view to God’s glory, not human approval.

There is a translation issue here. Is the noun “righteousness” defining the first verb (accusative of reference) or is it the object of the following infinitive (to do or perform)? As you note, NIV takes the second option – to do your acts of righteousness before men. However, Betz argues that it should be translated as “Be on guard concerning your righteousness, not to act before the people for the purpose of being seen by them.”[15] He suggests that this comports more normally with Jewish concepts, whereas the translation given by the NIV moralizes the idea. If righteousness has to do with worship, then who is the audience? Make sure you are performing with an eye solely directed towards God, not towards any human audience, seeking their approval. This would turn our acts of worship into public spectacle and they lose any qualification of “righteousness”, in fact becoming “unrighteous.” See Isaiah 1 for a similar prophetic critique of Jewish religious practices.

What is the problem with our righteous deeds being “performed before others in order to be seen”? What is the virtue of secrecy? What is the vice inherent in ostentation? Somehow it affects the way God evaluates the deed and the opportunity to receive a reward or payment from the deity. That those addressed are concerned about how their “Father in heaven,” defines their relationship to him. Nothing remains hidden from God. He knows what his people do in secret, whether it is good or evil. In v. 4 is the phrase “in secret” to be taken with the verbal adjective “see” or with the main verb “reward”? Nolland suggests that the parallelism with the first instance should be maintained (i.e., you act in secret and God rewards in secret).[16]

6:2 begins with the particle “therefore, so then,” indicating that what follows in some sense is the application of the initial principle in v. 1. Matthew uses the term misthos (μισθός wages, recompense, reward) more than any other Gospel writer.[17] Why is Matthew so concerned about God’s reward? Is this related to the concept of judgment that is so prominent or does it have to do with the focus on being the people of God and the eschatological promise this contains (i.e. Beatitudes)?

Jesus does not command that his followers give alms. He just seems to expect showing compassion for those in need will be a natural part of their religious activity (see comments at the end of Matthew 25). However, when they do it and in whatever form they choose to do it, their motive should be the glory of God, without calculation of human praise. How would we apply this today? What aspects of financial giving within Christian communities do not comply with Jesus’ teaching?

In terms of prayer, Jesus expects that his followers will pray. If, however, our desire in prayer is to deepen our relationship with our heavenly Father, then we will engage in this primarily in private spaces. We do not do it to impress people with our piety. What is the to tameion sou (τὸ ταμεῖόν σου)? Some kind of room, perhaps for storing stuff and that has a door. Perhaps the force of Jesus’ statement arises from the fact that most would regard this as an unusual place to pray. Is Jesus suggesting that God is not ostentatious (but he is hidden or secret) and so those who communicate with him should do so in ways that comport with his character? What about the Jewish practice of going to the temple to pray? Is Jesus proscribing any public piety? Perhaps as Nolland suggests, he rather is saying that when you do acts of piety in public, make sure your motivation is the same as when you do them privately.

In 6:7-8 Jesus comments on the prayer habits of the Gentiles. The meaning of battalogein (βατταλόγειν) is uncertain. Most take it as signifying “babbling,” such as you find in magical incantations that seek to coerce the gods and force them to attend to human desires. It may also be related to a term that describes stuttering. Perhaps there is criticism of complex, repeated formulas that characterized pagan prayers. Such processes are not needed in God’s Kingdom because he is already aware of our needs and our prayers become opportunities for him to respond. Consider 7:7-11. Keep them simple and direct because God does not respond to flattery, nor will he be badgered into saying yes.

The literature on the Lord’s Prayer is immense (6:9-13).[18] Jesus provides an example of a simple, direct prayer that is a model for participants in his kingdom. Compare Ben Sirach’s prayer in Sirach 36:1-22. How does this model prayer differ from Jewish or Gentile prayers? Both attitude and content are exemplified. The form of this prayer suggests a division into two parts:

Vv. 9b – 10 set forward the presuppositions for this prayer and they all relate to the reality of God. Vv. 11-13 give examples of several needs we have as humans and how to express these needs before God. Whether we should consider these to be a sufficient and complete list is debated.  In the Didache (VIII.2) there is a version of this prayer also.

Our Father, who art in Heaven,

Hallowed be thy Name,

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,

As in Heaven so also upon earth;

Give us today our daily bread,

And forgive us our debt (τὴν ὀφειλήν) as we forgive (ἀφίεμεν) our debtors,

And lead us not into trial, but deliver us from the Evil One,

For thine is the power and the glory for ever.”

According to the Didache this was to be prayed “three times a day.”

Some features to be noted:

  1. use of “Father” as a way to address God in prayer is very rare in Jewish writings before Jesus (4Q372.1:16; Sir.23:1,4 (Greek only), Wisd. 14:3; 3 Macc. 6:3,8; 1 Chr. 29:10 (Greek text)). The ancient Hebrew prayer, Qaddish,[19] spoken after the sermon in the synagogue begins “May his (God’s) great name be sanctified; May he establish his kingdom in your lifetime,” but how early in this period this prayer actually occurs remains uncertain.
  2. Is the mention of Kingdom to be considered a future hope or a present implication? Blomberg[20] considers that it expresses a desire that God’s will be implemented now. Nolland acknowledges the eschatological sense, but does not rule out some present implications. The third petition in his view holds the first and second together in appropriate tension. Hagner, similarly says that “the disciples are encouraged to pray that what has begun in the ministry of Jesus, what they have now begun to participate in, may be experienced in all fullness.”[21] How do the elements in this prayer relate back to the principles in the Beatitudes?
  • “To sanctify God’s name” is to honour him by acting obediently with respect to his will – 5:16. God’s name and God’s person are indistinguishable.
  1. Should the words “as in heaven so on earth” be taken as an independent expression related to the previous three expressions or as modifying only the third? I am not sure. The mention of heaven in the first line and third lines suggests to me that in the third line the prayer is for God’s will to be expressed on earth, and then the comparison is made to its heavenly expression, where God dwells, as line one indicates.
  2. The second set of three petitions deals with important realities of human life – food, forgiveness, and moral failure. In the first of these the meaning of τὀν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον (our daily bread) continues to be contested.[22] This word ton epiousion (τὸν ἐπιούσιον) only occurs here in Greek literature, until later occurrences are found in patristic literature. Most consider that it means “sufficient for the day,” but some take it to mean “for tomorrow” or “necessary for existence.”[23] Perhaps there is some relationship to the way that God provided daily Israel’s bread in the wilderness. Consider the daily rhythm for making bread that was a commonplace in ancient society.
  3. The ‘debts’ in v. 12 are considered ‘sins’ in the Lukan parallel (11:4). Matthew uses “trespasses or conscious transgressions” in vv. 14-15. Cancellation of debts is what was scheduled to happen in the year of Jubilee. Jesus links a person’s willingness to forgive others with the degree to which God will forgive that person (cf. the parable in Matthew 18:21ff).[24] While this does not tell us the whole story about God’s mercy, it does reveal a substantive truth that we struggle to grasp if we have a strong view of God’s grace. Is this, however, primarily condemnation of hypocritical behaviour? As well, as Nolland indicates, our willingness to forgive is a necessary but not sufficient condition for us to receive God’s forgiveness.[25]
  • What are we praying for in the last lines? The contrast is between God’s actions to place us in dangerous situations and God’s actions to rescue us. God certainly leads his people into trial, i.e., puts them to the test. The OT is filled with examples. Even Jesus experienced this in Matthew 4. The term peirasmon (πειρασμόν) does not refer to a final end-time testing, because it is not definite (no article). Rather is seems to be a generic reference. While there is a sense of pressure and difficulty with this term, the focus is upon assessing and evaluating (cf. Matthew 26:41). So we pray that God will not “put us to the test,” but if this does occur in God’s wisdom, then we pray “that He will rescue us from the evil one,” or “that He will rescue us from harm (cf. 2 Tim. 4:18).”

In 6:14-15 Matthew repeats the essence of v. 12. The language of forgiveness is repeated, but now it is related to “transgression” or “a false step.”

Finally Jesus comments about fasting (6:16-18). The Pharisees fasted twice a week. The Law required Israelites to fast once a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:29, 32) and this was equated with “humbling oneself.” In the early church fasting did occur and we have mentions of it in Acts 13:2-3; 14:23, in connection with choosing godly leaders. Jesus is criticized for not requiring his followers to fast (Matt. 9:14-17).

A word play occurs in v. 16. Jesus warns his followers about those who make their faces ‘unrecognizable’ (aphanizousin (ἀφανίζουσιν)) in order that they be recognizable (phainōsin, phanēs (φανῶσιν, φανῆς)) to people as those fasting.[26] James 4:14 uses the same word play. Betz notes that a sullen (skuthrōpoi (σκυθρωποί)) appearance was associated with prophets and philosophers in Greco-Roman literature. In Luke 24:17 the two men on the road to Emmaus are described as gloomy because of their religious disappointment and misunderstanding.  But what does a Greek word play imply about the language used for the delivery of this discourse? Is Matthew here replicating a word play in an original Aramaic text?


General Guidelines for the Conduct of Daily Life (6:19-34)

Jesus addresses a number of issues in this section which focus around setting appropriate priorities in life. We find the first contrasting statements – two kinds of treasures, two kinds of seeing, two kinds of masters – a form of speech that Jesus will use again in chapter 7. In two cases Jesus addresses the motivations of the heart. In vv. 22-23 he considers the grid through which we evaluate life – the way we see. He ends this section with an extended comment on the importance of putting God and his kingdom first in our lives. We can trust God to take care of the details. As any good father, God watches out for the welfare of his family.

Vv. 19-21 both summarize what has preceded (emphasis upon treasure in heaven/reward) and also prepares for what will follow by addressing the question of the heart’s loyalty. Perhaps another linkage with what precedes occurs in the repetition of the verb aphanizei (ἀφανίζει (v. 16 (disfigure),19 (destroy)). There is some contrast in form as Jesus uses prohibitions that deal with absolute choices, rather than his previous use of general cases introduced by hotan (ὅταν) + subjunctive – “whenever… (vv. 2, 5, 16).

The contrast in these verses is between two places for securing our ‘treasure’. Jesus does not define ‘treasure’ in these verses, but seems to be referring to spiritual treasures. Blomberg defines this as “everything that believers can take with them beyond the grave.”[27] If our treasures consist of human praise, then like other earthly treasures (i.e., rich tapestries or art), these eventually succumb to the ravages of moths or molds, which make them “unrecognizable, disfigured” so that they lose their value entirely, or we lose them to thieves. The only secure place is heaven, i.e., with God. Where we store our treasure will indicate the ultimate loyalty of our hearts. “One’s treasure tells the tale of one’s heart.”[28] Wealth harbours inherent dangers that must be avoided. Jesus links current decisions and actions with future experiences beyond this space/time context.

Blomberg sees a close connection between vv. 19-21 and 22-23. They “restate the truth of the previous paragraph that the way people handle their finances affects every other part of their lives, either for good or for bad.”[29] Ancients operated with the view that the eye generated light, which bounced off of objects and then returned to the eye (like a kind of radar), penetrating at that point into the person for recognition and cognition. The adjective haplous (ἁπλοῦς) means single or simple, perhaps when applied to sight with the sense of clear or healthy. It is contrasted with ponēros (πονηρός) which means evil, but in medical contexts can connote diseased.[30] The metaphor seems to mean that if the eye is diseased, the whole body is in darkness and thus in danger. It creates a distorted view of reality. A healthy eye will be one that sees where to place one’s treasure appropriately and which master to serve whole-heartedly.

A third contrast comes in v. 24. Jesus rejects co-ownership of slaves. It rarely if ever works satisfactorily – either from the standpoint of the slave or the slave-owners.[31] The parallelism in these clauses is neatly expressed. ‘Hating’ and ‘mocking/despising’ are contrasted chiastically with ‘loving’ and ‘clinging’. Jesus uses the term mamōn (μαμών) which is the Greek transliteration of an Aramaic term signifying “all the possessions that constitute a person’s wealth.”[32] In the Ten Commandments God required all of Israel’s worship; none should go to any other god. We also find the language of servant and slave used to describe a person’s relationship to God. People cannot have it both ways. Money/wealth enslaves many and Jesus warns his disciples that in the Kingdom God requires first place. Money/wealth is not important because God will supply all of his people’s needs.[33]


Seeking the Kingdom First 6:25-34 (Luke 12:22-34)

Jesus undoubtedly recognizes that the concern of people for wealth or treasure arises fundamentally because of anxiety over our existence – food, clothing. The term for worry (merimnaō (μεριμνάω)) occurs six times in this short passage (vv. 25, 27, 28, 31, 34(2x)) and Jesus consistently disputes any need for his followers to have anxiety about these matters. It is this anxiety that creates the enslavement to wealth that Jesus had critiqued previously.

  1. 25 seems to provide a rationale then (for this reason) for what has preceded. If we only focus on procuring food and clothes, we may narrow the scope of God’s intended purpose for our lives in destructive ways. The Kingdom lies before us and God invites us to participate in this, creating a far richer and more satisfactory life than the pursuit of wealth ever can. If God looks after the small creatures in his general creation, will he not exercise care for those who commit themselves to his Kingdom? Since God is our Creator, producing our hair and generating our physical growth, neither of which we can do, then why should we worry about that which we cannot alter? We have to trust God and not be “people of little faith” (v.30).

The Gentiles are consumed with these anxieties and their religious activities are driven by them[34], such that they seek every means to coerce the gods to grant them their desires. Modern paganism is scarcely different, pursuing physical exercise and careful dieting as a means to prolonging life, but really these become manifestations of a deeper anxiety (v. 32). Since God, your Father, already knows you have need of these things, you can trust him to provide them. Jesus promises that for those who seek the Kingdom as their priority, God will “add all these things to you” (v. 33). However, we know from our contemporary reality that many believers die from hunger in our world. So what does Jesus mean?

  1. Could he be suggesting that those in the Kingdom are now in a relationship with God that seamlessly extends from the now into the eternal future? So God will provide our every need, even through death into eternal life. The struggles Christians’ experience in this age may be part of the suffering that God’s people contend with as part of their faith journey, but God will still provide for all of our needs because he has given us eternal life. So the contingent exigencies should not cloud the eternal blessings.
  2. Perhaps Jesus is expecting that those in the Kingdom community will use their resources to assist Kingdom people who are experiencing hunger and poverty, thus being the means by which God supplies their needs.
  3. Perhaps Jesus is saying that our pursuit of Kingdom priorities and God’s will becomes the means through which he supplies our needs, i.e., adds them on to the main thing.

God’s righteousness (literally “his righteousness”) picks up the language Jesus had used in Matthew 5:6.

In the concluding piece (v. 34) Jesus draws his conclusion (‘therefore’). This is the third time he has commanded “do not worry” (vv. 25, 31). The language about day and evil reminds us of elements in the Lord’s Prayer. That prayer requests God’s daily provision. If we trust God for this, then tomorrow, the new today, and its needs, will similarly be cared for by God. There will be sufficient misfortunes to deal with that day, but God is with us through it all. If we do overcome the misfortunes of today, what will we attain tomorrow? Three proverbial pieces of wisdom seem to be included in this verse, all warning about the futility of worrying about a time we cannot influence. We may wonder whether the actions we have taken today will be sufficient to care for the needs that may arise tomorrow, but Jesus advises that God is able to manage that for us. So we care for tomorrow by trusting God’s provision for today. If we are preoccupied with tomorrow’s issues, we cannot attend to the matters of today, particularly as they represent God’s will and Kingdom advancement.


Judging Others 7:1-6

The verb krinō (κρίνω) can mean to evaluate or assess, or to pass judgment or condemn. We are not to judge, because that is God’s prerogative (vv.1-5), but we are to assess and evaluate (v. 6). So perhaps the warning is about displaying a very critical spirit. The primary sense of krinō (κρίνω) in Matthew refers to the eschatological judgment of God in which evil people will be condemned. Jesus warns us that by whatever standard we attempt to condemn others, God will use that same standard to condemn us. None of us is consistently in the right and completely innocent. We forfeit God’s mercy if we do not act mercifully ourselves (5:7). The unusual images of vv. 3-5 raise a slightly different issue, namely our inability to judge fairly and appropriately. As 6:22-23 stated, our eye deceives us and we do not see with integrity. The two terms compare a toothpick to a construction plank. Jesus does emphasize that we are to deal first with our own sin and then possibly we might be in a position to assist another to deal with theirs.

What do the terms ‘brother/sister’ mean here? Is Jesus relating these ideas to people in the Kingdom family or to fellow Jews?

Jesus names such judging activity as appropriate to a hypocrite (note the play on words with krinō (κρίνω), even though the person may not be fully conscious of the process that is occurring.

  1. 6 introduces a different problem. Jesus cautions his followers to assess carefully who should be offered “holy things,” i.e., the gospel. Gentiles were often portrayed as dogs or pigs and thus from a Jewish perspective these terms are pejorative. Jesus used them here also, but extended them in general ways. Perhaps as Blomberg indicates, we must take heed when people consistently reject God’s Good News and move on to those who might be more receptive. Force-feeding is not a good evangelism technique. Sometimes it results in considerable harm to those attempting to do the feeding. You feed dogs and swine what they need, not what you think they need.

Again, we should note the careful parallelisms and chiasms that are present in these verses.

God’s Generosity 7:7-11 (cf. Luke 11:9-13)

Given our needs, Jesus urges us to include our heavenly Father in all we do. He has the ability and desire to respond to our prayers and meet our needs, as Jesus indicated in his model prayer and his teaching in 6:25-34. Asking, seeking and knocking may include more than just prayers, indeed the totality of being a disciple, just like the seeker after wisdom in Proverbs or the Law in Psalm 119. God invites us to seek first the Kingdom and in doing so we will need his help in many diverse ways. As Nolland suggests, “they are all images of venturing out in pursuit of something,… venturing with God.”[35] In two of the statements passive verbs are used, begging the question of who is the agent – in giving and opening. Vv. 9-11 give the answer, as God comes into the frame clearly as the generous, heavenly parent. The contrast is drawn between human fathers who are evil and yet who respond positively to the requests for help from their children, and the heavenly father who implicitly is not evil, and who certainly will be more generous than any human father. He argues from the lesser to the greater. The questions in vv. 9-10 require negative answers. Bread and fish relate to “daily bread.” Luke replaces “good gifts” with “the Holy Spirit” (11:13).

The Golden Rule 7:12

Jesus mentioned the Law and the Prophets back in 5:17. Now he defines the essence of this revelation and how his Kingdom reality will enable people to live in accordance with God’s revealed will. We are to respond with generosity to everyone, no matter how they may have treated us. This is how God has acted. Jesus expresses this ethical principle positively, not negatively. Blomberg observes that “the positive form moves us to action on behalf of others.”[36] We must understand the sense of this maxim in the context of the SM. While it occurs negatively in many other religious settings, only Jesus expresses it positively. Some see no difference in meaning between the negative and positive renditions. However, the open-endedness of Jesus’ statement is a contrast with the negative. The mandate to love our neighbour never gets finished.

The use of ‘therefore, so then’ begs the question of what Jesus is summarizing? Is it just this section (vv. 7-11)? It seems to be too comprehensive just for this. If Jesus is intending it to summarize the entire SM, then it indicates that he had a logical and coherent message to give and its various elements finds coherence in this maxim.[37]

Implementing the Sermon – Conclusions 7:13-27

As Jesus brings his discourse to an end, he offers no new commands, but urges obedient response. Significant warnings are given about the destructive results that happen to those who ignore his teaching. The wise person will heed and respond positively. The stark contrasts between two ways, two trees, two groups, two builders, keep hammering home the need to make a decision in the direction of the Kingdom. It reminds us of the scene at the end of Deuteronomy where Moses urges Israel not to choose the path that leads to God’s curse, but the path that leads to God’s blessing.[38]

Vv. 13-14 introduce two ways and two gates. The “wide gate” seems to lead to the “prosperous” way, but when you enter through it, the result eventually is destruction. The “pressured” way (cf. 5:11, 12, 44) follows upon entry through the “narrow” gate, but when you follow it, the result is life. Unfortunately many are fooled by the wide gate and “prosperous” way and few enter the narrow gate and experience the “pressured” way (cf. 16:24-27). Perhaps the baptismal challenge by John is an example of a narrow gate. We need to remember that Jesus is speaking prior to Pentecost. The idea of two ways occurs frequently in Jewish and Greek literature. “Destruction” (apōleia (ἀπώλεια)) is found parallel with Hades in Tob. 13:2 and in Pss. Sol. 14:9.

Vv. 15-20 provide warning about false prophets. Jesus addresses people who claim to be authentic religious leaders and God’s representatives, but whose actions betray their loyalty to someone else. The “wolf in sheep’s clothing” image is quite threatening, because it shows the vulnerability of the flock to unscrupulous leaders. These religious leaders demonstrate hypocritical character. If vv. 21-23 build upon these verses then Jesus may outline various ways in which these religious people proved themselves false – not doing the will of “my Father who is in heaven.” Regardless of that connection, Jesus does indicate that outward behaviour may provide a clue to inward deceit. Unfortunately the guideline Jesus provides – good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit – may be true in the agricultural world, but human beings are more clever, more deceptive and more changeable. It is not always possible for humans to tell the false confession from a true confession. Jesus contrasts agathos (ἄγαθος good) with ponēros (πονήρος evil). He denies that a bad tree has any ability to produce good fruit. The farmer in the end cuts down the bad or rotting tree and throws it into the fire (cf. 3:10-12). It is destroyed. Who is the “farmer” in this image (v.19)? It must be God himself. False disciples will be ferreted out by God and appropriate judgment will be meted. However, from our human perspective we must admit that we can never tell for sure the spiritual disposition of some people.

Vv. 22-23 suggests that some of these “sheepish wolves” do miracles and perform exorcisms.[39] Their powers are quite astonishing, yet they are deceivers. The NT contains examples of Satan’s power to do miraculous actions (Acts 19:13-16; Rev. 13:13-14; 2 Cor. 11:13), with a view to deceiving human beings into being loyal to him. Just because a person does such astonishing work, says little about his or her loyalty to God. Like the test in the OT that Moses gives, if the prophet urges you to abandon God and even does signs and wonders, do not believe him (Deut. 13:1-5).

There is a sense of surprise on the part of these people when at the great assize Jesus will announce that he has no relationship with them. If they did miracles in Jesus’ name, does that not guarantee their entrance into life? Sometimes in the NT people use the name of Jesus as their authority for casting out demons or healing (Mk. 9:38; 16:17; Acts 3:6; 4:10). Jesus denies any connection, because in their heart they were not loyal to him. We see here a similar principle as expressed by Israel’s prophets that her sacrifices, however many or magnificent, meant nothing if the people did not have a heart of obedience (Micah 6:8). They will hear Jesus’ terrible words – “depart from me, I never knew you.”

Jesus does not deny the validity of their acts or even their positive value for those affected. However, because they have acted without loyalty to him or a consciousness of being his servants, they become “workers of lawlessness” (v. 23). As Carson suggests “There is no reason to judge their claims false; their claims are not false, but insufficient.”[40] How close one may come to the spiritual reality and still miss the mark is evidenced by the example of Judas Iscariot.

Jesus identifies himself as “Lord,” with the power and authority to wield this kind of judgment. Paul tells us that this is the confession that Christians make (1 Cor. 12:1-12; Romans 10:9-10), i.e., Jesus is Lord. It is his will that is determinative for entry into the Kingdom. The time of this judgment (“on that day”) is the eschatological end. In all this Jesus makes an astonishing Christological claim. He is the one who decides who enters his kingdom and who is banished from it.

Finally, we should note that the last part of v. 23 is a quotation from Psalm 6:8. The psalm is the prayer of a righteous sufferer vindicated by God and he tells his tormentors to depart. Is Jesus putting himself in the category of a “righteous sufferer”?

Jesus concludes his sermon with the well-known parable of the two builders – one wise and one foolish. This conclusion indicates the strong connections that the Sermon has with the wisdom tradition. I think Jesus (v. 24) is linking his words with the will of God (cf. 6:10), indicating they are one and the same. Obeying Jesus’ teaching is obeying the will of God (cf. 28:18-20). Hearing is one thing, doing is another and only the doing legitimizes one’s response to Jesus.

The parable fits well within Palestinian conditions. Flash floods are frequent. The wise person who knows what is coming builds with knowledge of this and so is secure when the storms come. The foolish person ignores this reality and builds in the flood-plain, perhaps the ground that is most easily accessible. When the storms come, his home is washed away and everything he has worked for is destroyed. Whether the storm exemplifies the final judgment or other more mediate crises is not made plain. However, what is clear is that failure to hear and obey Jesus’ teaching will result in a ruined life, because they “reveal authentic and inauthentic spirituality.”[41]

Matthew creates a transition (vv. 28-29, 8:1) to the activities of Jesus in chapters 8-9. The statement that begins v. 28 occurs at the conclusion of four other discourses in Matthew. The astonishment of the crowd arises from Jesus’ authority. He cites the Law, only to change it or reinterpret it! He offers no support for his teaching from any other tradition. He is sufficient authority for what he says. In this he speaks like a prophet. Perhaps also it is the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching that generates astonishment within the crowd.

Jesus descends from the mountain, with crowds trailing and abuzz with astonishment, presumably inclusive of the disciples.

[1] Betz. Sermon on the Mount, p. 159-160.

[2] Cicero, Catalina. 4:6. Is Jesus then providing a not so subtle critique of the Roman political ideology and challenging its fundamental assumptions?

[3] Peter expresses a very similar idea in 1 Peter 2:13-14.

[4] The intention “to destroy the law” describes what pagan leaders such as Antiochus Epiphanes tried to do (4 Maccabees) or some Jewish leaders were accused of doing in promoting Hellenization in Jerusalem (2 Maccabees 2, 4).  This verb is used in 2 Macc. 2:22; 4:11 to describe the actions of these Antiochean leaders to introduce “the Greek way of life” and eliminate the Jewish way of life.

[5] Blomberg, Matthew, 104.

[6] Did Jesus make this statement using the Greek alphabet as the point of reference or has Matthew or an earlier tradent adjusted a statement originally referencing the Hebrew alphabet and contextualized it to the Hellenistic context?

[7] Betz (op.cit., 200) notes that this term seems first to be used by Marcion and reflects a rhetorical device in which opposing views are stated in juxtaposed sentences. Theologically, however, Marcion saw Jesus’ words as Gospel replacing the Mosaic requirements.

[8] Turner, Matthew, 164-65. The chart is helpful.

[9] Nolland, Matthew, 240 renders this word as “sexual impurity,” i.e., serious moral failure of a sexual kind.  He also adopts several other different renderings, i.e., “causes her to have adultery committed against her,” “marries a woman who has gained a divorce [for herself].”

[10] Blomberg, op.cit., 111.

[11] Josephus, Jewish War 2.135.

[12] Matthew 6:2,5,16; 7:5; 15:7; 22:18; 23:13,14,15; 25:51. Only once in Mark (7:6) and three times in Luke (6:42; 12:5; 13:15).  The cognate noun hupokrisis (ὑπόκρισις) is used at Matt. 23:28; Mark 12:15; Luke 12:1; Gal. 2:13; 1 Tim. 4:2; 1 Peter 2:1. Luke uses the verb hupokrinomai (ὑποκρίνομαι) once (20:20).

[13] Psalms of Solomon 4:1-7 has an extended discussion about hypocrisy, but it relates to out-of-sight evil deeds.

[14] Jesus uses the same verb at 7:15, but there it is a warning about false prophets.

[15] Betz, p. 352. Nolland, p.273 disagrees saying that this creates strained Greek because it leaves poiein (ποιεῖν to do) without an object. Yet, perhaps the awkwardness is part of the emphasis.

[16] Nolland, p. 276. NIV translates para tōi patri (παρὰ τῷ πατρὶ) as “from your father,” but the dative would suggest rather the sense “in the presence of your father” or “with your father,” perhaps with a sense of evaluation or assessment.

[17] Matthew 5:12,46; 6:1,2,5,16; 10:41(2x),42; 20:8 (cognate verb in 20:1,7). Mark used it once (9:41) and Luke at 6:23,35; 10:7 (cf. Acts 1:18 with reference to Judas). John 4:36. Perhaps this is linked with the metaphor Jesus uses at the end of chapter 9 when he encourages his disciples that God would send out labourers into the harvest.

[18] There is an immense literature about the different form that the Lord’s Prayer has in Matthew in comparison to its form in Luke. I think it is rather fruitless to try and discern which form is “original.” We do not know and all attempts to resolve this are speculative. I presume that Jesus prayed with his disciples numerous times over a three year period. It would be surprising if the form and content of his prayers did not reflect some difference, as well as similarity.

[19] Exalted and hallowed by His great Name

In the world which He created

According to His will.

May He establish His kingdom

In your lifetime and in your days

And in your lifetime of the whole household of Israel,

Speedily and at a near time.

And say, Amen.  (D. Hagner, Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary 33A (Dallas, Tx.; Word Book Pub., 1993), 147)

[20] C. Blomberg, Matthew, 119.

[21] Ibid., 148.

[22] Nolland (p. 289-290)  notes three possible ways it might be formulated:

  1. epi + ousia = our bread for subsistence
  2. combination of epi and a feminine participle of the verb ‘to be’, implying the feminine noun hemera is implied = bread for the day that now exists

iii. feminine participle may come from hienai (to come or draw near) = bread for the day that is drawing near.

[23] C. Hemer, “epiousios,JSNT 22 (1984):81-94.

[24] Ben Sirach 28:1-4 “The vengeful will face the Lord’s vengeance,,,,Forgive your neighbour the wrong he has done, and then your sin will be pardoned when you pray. Does anyone harbour anger against another, and expect healing from the Lord? If one has no mercy towards another like himself, can he then seek pardon for his own sins?”

[25] Nolland, 294.

[26] Sackcloth and ashes normally accompanied fasting. Cf. Isaiah 58.

[27] Blomberg, op.cit., 123.

[28] Davies and Allison, Matthew I, 632.

[29] Blomberg, op.cit., 123-124.

[30] In other contexts in the Synoptics it might connote “an evil eye,” i.e., one that uses magic to cast spells (cf. Mark 7:22). Consider also Matthew 20:15.

[31] An example of this is found in Acts 16:16-19.

[32] Nolland, 304, says that its occurrence in the Synoptic Gospels (Luke 16:9,11,13) is the earliest occurrence of the term in Greek. The Hebrew equivalent occurs in Sir. 31(34);8, but not in the corresponding Greek translation. Ben Sirach warns of the destructiveness of a love for gold. Also it is found in 1QS 6.2; 1Q27.1.2,5.CD 14.20

[33] Note Paul’s comments about the dangers of wealth in 1Timothy 6.

[34] Betz documents this obsession within pagan writings. Sirach 40:1-11 gives a long list of the things that worried people in the Hellenistic age. While we may not have an exact equivalent of the word ‘worry’ in Hebrew, the Psalmist certainly is concerned at times with his fragile state and it bothers him significantly.

[35] Nolland, op. cit. 325.

[36] Blomberg, op.cit. 131, quoting Mounce, Matthew, 63.

[37] Hillel’s comments was “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour; that is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary thereon; go and learn it.” (b. Sab.31a).

[38] Other parallels are found in 2 Esdras 7:-16. Consider also the Didache 1:1 – 6:7.

[39] Is Jesus here responding to accusations against himself that he is demonized and thus performs exorcisms and healings?

[40] Carson, 193.

[41] Blomberg, op. cit., 134.