“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
(a) The gentle or meek are those who are trusting in the Lord. “Those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land” (Ps. 37:9).
(b) Inherit the earth. It is the way of the world to grasp and steal, but in the kingdom everything comes to us by grace. In Christ, we inherit a kingdom (Col. 1:12, Jas. 2:5), we inherit the earth (Rom.4:13), and we inherit all things (John 17:10, Heb. 1:2, Rev. 21:7).
See entry for Inheritance.
(c) The earth. The original word (ge) can also be translated land. Your inheritance is land and this is fitting since we are of the land (Gen 2:7), and our cursed sin the land (Gen 3:17). God’s inheritance redeems the good gift he gave us.
“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.
“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.
“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).
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(a) Blessed are those who have been persecuted. Persecution is a normal part of the Christian life (2 Tim. 3:12). When you turn your back on the world and live for Jesus, there will be a hostile reaction.
It is not a blessing to be persecuted, but to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness is a blessing because it means you belong to God. Your persecution proves it.
(b) The sake of righteousness. To be persecuted for the sake of righteousness is to suffer for being a Christian (1 Pet. 3:14, 4:16).
(c) Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If you belonged to the world, you would not be suffering for the sake of righteousness.
The wrong way to read this is to think we can earn entry into heaven through persecution. A better way is to realize that persecution proves that you are a citizen of a heavenly kingdom (Luke 22:29).
(d) The kingdom of heaven refers to the reign of God through his Son Jesus Christ (see entry for Matt. 3:2).
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
(a) Blessed; see previous verse.
(b) Falsely say. To slander or bring a false accusation against a Christian is one of Satan’s primary weapons against the church. See entry for 1 Pet. 2:12.
(c) Because of Me. Because of your faith in Christ.
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(a) Rejoice and be glad. To be persecuted on account of your faith in Christ is something to celebrate for it means the world recognizes you as a child of God. Your temporary suffering is nothing in comparison with the eternal and weighty glory that is coming (2 Cor. 4:17).
(b) 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.
See entry for Eternal Rewards
“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 referred 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). All the epistle writers referred to God as Father including Paul (Rom. 1:7, 6:4, 8:15, 1 Cor. 1:3, 8:6, 15:24, 2 Cor. 1:2–3, Gal 1:3–4, Eph. 1:2, 4:6, Php 1:2, 4:20, Col. 1:2–3, 1 Th. 1:1–3, 2 Th. 1:1–2, 2:16, Phm. 1:3, Heb. 12:7–9), Peter (1 Pet. 1:2–3, 17, 2 Pet. 1:17), James (1:17, 27, 3:9), John (1 John 1:3, 2:1, 3:1–2) and Jude (Jude 1:1).
“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.
“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, having been marred by sin, will pass away and be destroyed by fire (2 Pet. 3:7, 10, 12).
There is a double meaning which has relevance here. To a Jewish mind, heaven and earth referred to the temple, God’s heavenly seat on earth. (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).) However we may define heaven and earth, the interpretation remains unchanged: the law will not pass away until its purpose as a signpost to Christ is fulfilled.
(b) The Law; see previous verse.
(c) Until all is accomplished. Jesus said he would fulfill the law (see previous verse) and this he did by going to the cross. Through his sacrifice all sin was paid for (Heb. 9:26) and all claims against us were settled (Col. 2:14). For this reason, Christ is the end of the law or fulfilment of the law for all who put their faith in him (Rom. 10:4).
“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 were experts in the law and were sometimes referred to as lawyers (e.g., Luke 7:30). The scribes were responsible for copying the scriptures (the Old Testament), teaching, reading, and interpreting the Law of Moses (Matt. 23:2, Luke 5:17). Many scribes were members of the ruling council or Sanhedrin (Mark 15:1, Acts 4:5), and some were members of the party of Pharisees (Mark 2:16, Acts 23:9). By the time of Christ, the scribes had become a highly-exclusive group who believed they understood the law better than the masses. Jesus rebuked the scribes for putting more emphasis on their traditions than on than the law itself (Mark 7:6–13), and for their greed and hypocrisy (Matt. 23:2–33, Luke 20:46–47). Some of the scribes were opposed to Christ (Matt. 9:3, 21:15, Mark 2:6–7, 3:22, 11:18, 14:1, Luke 22:2), but there were exceptions (Matt. 8:19). Jesus said a true scribe of the kingdom was one who brought out treasures new and old (see entry for Matt. 13:52).
(c) 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).
(d) The kingdom of heaven; see entry for Matt. 3:2.
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’
(a) You shall not. Jesus quotes the seventh commandment (see Ex. 20:13).
(b) The court. The law prescribed judgments for law-breakers. Under the Law of Moses, the punishment for murder was death (Ex. 21:12–14, 23, Lev. 24:17, 21).
“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.
(a) Angry. Murderous anger is as bad as murder.
It is not a sin to be angry, but anger can lead to sin (Eph. 4:26–27). For this reason we are to be slow to anger (Jas. 1:19) and quick to lay it aside (Col. 2:8).
Under the Law of Moses, murderers had to face judgment (see previous verse), but Jesus raised the standard. “But I say to you.” Jesus was not preaching the same law, but a tougher version of it to people born under law. In doing so he was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy (see Is. 42:21).
(b) 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 (Matt. 3:12, Mark 9:43–44, 46, 48, Luke 3:17). 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 oppose God and refuse the gift of life shall be cast into the fiery furnace of hell (Matt. 13:41–42, 49–50),where they will be destroyed (see entry for 2 Pet. 3:7). 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).
“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’;
You have heard. Jesus quotes the seventh commandment (see Ex. 20:14).
but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
But I say to you. Again, Jesus is amplifying the Law of Moses.
The Ten Commandments forbade the sin of adultery (see previous verse), but Jesus raised the standard. Jesus was not preaching the same law, but a tougher version of it to people born under law. In doing so he was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy (see Is. 42:21).
“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.
“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?!”
“It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’;
(a) Sends his wife away. Under the Law of Moses, a man who wished to divorce his wife had to do two things: (1) write her a get or certificate of divorce and (2) send her away (Deu. 24:1).
(b) Give her a certificate of divorce. In Jesus’ day there were men who were sending their wives away without giving them a certificate of divorce. It created a terrible injustice known as wife-dumping (see entry for Mark 10:11).
but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
(a) Divorces. The original word (apoluo) does not mean divorce in the modern sense of the word.
The Law of Moses mandated that a man who wished to divorce his wife had to do two things: (1) write her a get or certificate of divorce and (2) send (apoluo) her away (see previous verse). But some men were doing the latter but not the former. They were sending their wives out into the cold without giving them a get or certificate of divorce. Those women could not remarry as they were still technically married.
(b) Unchastity. Contrary to what has been widely taught, Jesus is not saying that women (or men) must stay in abusive and dangerous relationships.
Women have been told, “You cannot leave your violent husband unless he’s been unfaithful. If your husband is intimate with another woman, you can walk away. But if he beats you black and blue, you have to stay there and take it.” The Lord’s heart was to protect the weak and downtrodden. He would have told abuse victims to run, not walk, to safety. There is never any excuse for abuse. Homes ought to be safe places, especially for women and children.
(c) Makes her commit adultery. Sending out a wife without giving her a certificate of divorce is known as wife-dumping. This shameful practice has left such an enduring stain on Jewish history that the Jews have a special name for a women who is sent away without a get. Such a woman is known as an agunah or a chained wife. She no longer has a husband to provide for her, but since she is still married, she cannot remarry. This practice of wife dumping was abhorrent to Jesus, and he used the law to rebuke the men who did it. “You are breaking the Ten Commandments.”
Jesus is not condemning dumped women, he’s defending them. If she remarries she commits adultery, but it’s not her fault; it’s the fault of her deadbeat husband who sent her out without the proper paperwork.
(d) Whoever marries a divorced woman. Jesus is NOT saying it’s wrong for divorced people to remarry. The original word for divorced (apoluo) refers to a dumped wife – a woman who has been sent out by her husband without a divorce certificate. In the first-century, dumped wives had few options other than remarriage, but they couldn’t remarry without breaking the law.
Here is what Jesus is saying to the men who would marry them: “If you truly love her, go and find her first husband—the one who dumped her—and get him to do what he should’ve done in the first place. Make the divorce kosher. Get that certificate. Then she will be a free woman and you can marry her without committing adultery.”
Jesus covers a lot of ground in two verses, but the short version is he was defending women against an ancient injustice. Contrary to our modern beliefs, Jesus was not saying men and women must remain in abusive situations. Nor was he saying those who get divorced, as we understand that word, are committing adultery.
Further reading: “Did Jesus say adultery is the only grounds for divorce?”
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Love your enemies. If the Jews had listened to Jesus, Judea would not have been destroyed by the Romans in AD70. But the first-century Jews sowed hatred and murder and reaped annihilation. See entry for Luke 19:42.
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.
“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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