Matthew 5

Matthew 5:6

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Righteousness in the new covenant is the state of being right with God. We are not made right with God by keeping the laws or passing some test. We are made righteous through the sacrificial death of Jesus the Righteous (Rom. 5:18-19, 2 Cor. 5:21).

In context, Jesus is saying, “Some of you are frustrated by your inability to overcome sin. You’ve tried hard but you keep failing. The good news is that I am the answer to your prayers. Through my one act of righteousness, many will be made righteous (Rom. 5:18). I have come to set you free from sin. I am the Righteous Branch foretold by the prophets. In union with me, you will be righteous and bear my righteous fruit (Php. 1:11).”

See entry for Righteousness.

Matthew 5:7

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Mercy is showing compassion towards those in need. Mercy is one facet of God’s grace (Heb. 4:16). Just as God is rich in grace (Eph. 1:7, 2:7, Jas. 4:6), he is rich in mercy (Luke 1:58, Eph. 2:4, Jas. 5:11, 1 Pet. 1:3). He is the God of all grace (1 Pet. 5:10) and the Father of all mercies (2 Cor. 1:3). See entry for Mercy.

Matthew 5:8

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

God. Most of the time when Jesus spoke about God, he called him Father (see entry for Luke 2:49). But when speaking to those under law, as he did in the Sermon on the Mount, he typically called him God (theos; Matt. 5:9, 34, 6:30, 33).

Matthew 5:12

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Your reward in heaven. You may be persecuted and ridiculed on earth, but you are recognized in heaven.

Several types of reward are mentioned in scripture. There is the reward of eternal life that comes from trusting in Jesus (see entry for Matt. 16:27), and there is the reward or wage we get for our labor (see entry for 1 Cor. 3:14). Here Jesus is talking about the heavenly reward or recognition that comes to those who are persecuted on account of their faith in him. “You’re in good company for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” To be counted as an equal among the great prophets of old is an honor indeed.

Matthew 5:16

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Your Father. The Almighty Creator wants you to relate to him as your loving Father.

When Jesus prayed, “Righteous Father… I have made your name known to them” (John 17:25-26), he was referring to the name of Father. Jesus is in the business of revealing the Father (see entry for Luke 2:49). And when Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:28), he was saying, “May you be known as Father.”

The Bible has many names for God, but Jesus gave us the best name of all: “Abba, Father” (see entry for Mark 14:36). Abba is not the name of a distant and mysterious God. Abba is your heavenly Father who cares for you and knows your needs (Matt. 6:31–32). Abba Father is the name of God who loves you as much as he loves Jesus (see entry for John 17:23).

Jesus refers to God as Father seventeen times in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:16, 45, 48, 6:1, 4, 6 (twice) 8, 9, 14, 15, 18 (twice), 26, 32, 7:11, 21).

Matthew 5:17

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

(a) I did not come to abolish. The Jews were worried that Jesus was anti-law or that he had come to abolish their beloved law. “That’s not why I’m here,” said Jesus. “I did not come to abolish the law but fulfill it.” On the cross, Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law on our behalf.

(b) The Law refers to the Law of Moses, the commandments, ordinances, punishments, and ceremonial observances given to the nation of Israel through Moses (Jos. 8:31). This law is sometimes referred to as the law of commandments (Eph. 2:15) or the law of the Jews (Acts 25:8). See entry for The Law.

Matthew 5:18

“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

(a) Heaven and earth refer to the temple. Josephus described the temple as having an inaccessible heavenly part (the Holy of Holies) and an accessible earthly part (the Holy Place; Antiquities, 3.7.7). Thus ‘heaven and earth’ is shorthand for the temple, God’s heavenly seat on earth.

(b) Pass away. Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the law a generation before the temple was destroyed.

(c) The Law; see previous verse.

Matthew 5:20

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

(a) Your righteousness. Jesus and the epistle writers drew a line between our righteousness (Matt. 6:1, Luke 18:9, Rom. 9:31, 10:3) and the righteousness that comes from God (see entry for Matt. 6:33).

(b) The scribes and Pharisees. In contrast with the affluent Sadducees, the scribes and Pharisees were recognized as devout keepers of the law. In Jewish society, they were the standard-setters and the most righteous religious people in town. Yet even their good performance was not enough to qualify them for the kingdom of heaven. In God’s eyes, no one is righteous (Rom. 3:10). We all need to seek first and receive the righteousness that comes from God (Matt. 6:33).

Matthew 5:22

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

Fiery hell. Jesus spoke about hell when preaching to people under the law (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30, 13:42, 18:9, Mark 9:43, 45, 47) and when rebuking the Pharisees and religious leaders (Matt. 23:15, 33) or when talking about them (Matt. 10:28). Jesus also spoke about hell in the context of Judgment Day (Matt 25:41; Luke 17:29–30). There seems to be a connection between hell and the teaching of the law, as if Jesus was saying “If you’re going to teach law, teach hell.” Hell is the cure for a watered-down law. The threat of hell gives the law teeth. In contrast, Paul, the apostle of grace, never mentioned hell directly (cf. 2 Th. 1:9). Nor does the Old Testament mention hell (although the word appears in the King James Version).

The original word for hell in this passage is geenna, which is the Greek name for the vale of Hinnom (Ge-Hinnom or Gehenna), a small valley southwest of Jerusalem that was once a place of child sacrifice and Molech worship (Jer. 32:35). At the time of Christ Gehenna was a garbage dump where fires burned. Gehenna was both a real place and a metaphor for the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14), a.k.a. the eternal fire (Matt. 18:8, 25:41, Jude 1:7) or the unquenchable fire (Mark 9:44, 46, 48). Hell/Gehenna should not be confused with Hades/Sheol, the Old Testament abode of the dead (see entry for Matt. 16:18) or Tartarus, the prison for fallen angels (see entry for 2 Pet. 2:4).

At the end of the age, those who refuse the gift of life shall be cast into the fiery furnace of hell (Matt. 13:41–42, 49–50), but whether this implies eternal torment or ultimate destruction is a subject of much debate (see entry for Rev. 20:14). Hell was not originally designed for people but for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).

Although the other New Testament writers refer to fiery judgment (2 Th. 1:8, Heb. 10:26-27, 2 Pet. 3:7, 10, Jude 1:7, 22-23) or a lake of fire (Rev 19:20, 20:10, 14, 15, 21:8), James, the half-brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem church, is the only other New Testament writer to refer to Gehenna specifically (Jas. 3:6).

Matthew 5:29

“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

(a) Tear it out; see next verse.

(b) Hell; see entry for Matt. 5:22.

Matthew 5:30

“If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.

(a) Cut it off. Tear it out. Pluck it out. Throw it from you. These words of Jesus are so shocking that many dismiss them as hyperbole. “Jesus was merely illustrating the importance of guarding ourselves against sin.” But unlike the religious leaders, Jesus never played fast and loose with the law. Jesus elevated the law and made it terrifying. And guarding against sin won’t make you righteous and save you from hell. We are sanctified by the blood of the lamb, not severed limbs (Heb. 10:29).

So why did Jesus preach self-amputation to those under the law? Because under the law it makes sense to remove those parts that might contaminate the whole.

The law of righteousness is merciless (Rom. 9:31). It demands perfection (Gal. 5:3). One mistake, and you will be judged guilty of breaking all (Jas. 2:10). But we are not under the law-keeping covenant anymore. When we sin, Jesus does not amputate us or cut us off. He speaks in our defence and guides us back to the way of righteousness (1 John 2:1).

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus was preaching to people who thought they would be judged righteous if they kept the law. But instead of being silenced by their inability to do so, they had watered it down making it easier to keep. Jesus’ response was to raise the bar: “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).

This is a serious business, said Jesus. If you persist in this course of self-reliance, you had better be prepared to go the whole way even if that means sacrificing an eye and a hand. (Paul said something similar in Galatians 5:12.)

A self-righteous person thinks he can impress God with his religious performance. The only language he understands is law. “All these commands I have kept from my youth, what else do I lack?” And Jesus responds, “Okay, you asked for it. Receive more law.” Jesus preached a tough law to silence the self-righteous boast and reveal our need for grace.

(b) Hell; see entry for Matt. 5:22.

Further reading: “Chop off your hand?!

Matthew 5:45

so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

(a) So that you may be sons. When we are so full of the Father’s love that we can even love those who hate us, we reveal ourselves to be his children.

(b) Your Father; see entry for Matt. 5:16.

(c) Sends rain. God loves the whole world. See entry for Heb. 6:7–8.

(d) The righteous are those who have been made right with God by receiving, through faith, the free gift of righteousness. See entry for Righteousness.

Matthew 5:48

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(a) Be perfect means “be whole, complete, or lacking nothing.” (The original word for perfect (telios) means complete.) Jesus was saying the same thing as the apostles when they said “be holy” (see entry for 1 Pet. 1:15).

A legalistic mindset interprets Christ’s words as a call to perfect obedience, but that is fruit off the wrong tree. The context is love. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44–45). When we live in connection with the true Source of Life and Love, we are fully human and fully sons of God (1 John 4:12). This is what we were created for. “In this way, love is made complete (or perfected) among us” (1 John 4:17).

(b) Your heavenly Father is perfect in the sense that he is unbroken, undamaged, unfallen, completely complete and entire within himself. He is the indivisible One, wholly self-sufficient, and the picture of perfection. In short, he is holy. See entry for Holiness.

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