The Morality of the Kingdom
Tom Wilson, Levin, New Zealand
THE LORD JESUS CHRlST began the Sermon on the Mount by outlining the moral principles of His kingdom to the disciples. It is likely that this was a larger group than the twelve; no doubt others who had responded to His call would also be present. His opening ministry of preaching the gospel of the kingdom and performing sign-miracles of healing had drawn large crowds, 4. 23-25. He now sought the solitude of a mountainside to be alone with His followers. There as the rabbis used to do, He sat down to teach.
The Attributes of His Subjects,5. 2-12
Commonly known as the beatitudes (Latin beatitudo from beatus, blessed), these declarations of blessedness are quite unique. They convey more than an idea of bliss. The word 'blessed' from the Greek makarios is not just 'happy', as some versions render it. D. A. CARSON points out that the word corresponds in the Septuagint to 'asre, a Hebrew term used like an interjection to mean 'Oh the blessednesses (plural) of', the thought in the Greek being more of obvious blessing than personal satisfaction. In the context of this gospel it is clear that the primary reference is to those who have part in the coming kingdom.
The beatitudes are eight in number, the last being followed by an elaboration in the second person to give a more immediate application. Those referred to have a wide range of qualities. The poor in spirit who realize they have no sufficiency in themselves to please God and therefore must utterly rely upon Him. The mourners who corne to God for consolation. The meek, or gentle, who do not show aggressiveness towards others. Those who earnestly desire for God - 'hunger and thirst after righteousness'. The merciful who demonstrate by their attitude and dealings the mercy which they themselves receive from God. The pure in heart whose utter sincerity abhors every kind of uncleanness. The peacemakers who promote harmony by life and lip because they themselves have peace with God. The persecuted who were to suffer as Christ Himself was to suffer. Because this was more connected with the immediate future our Lord then expanded it to relate to the experience of His hearers.
To the natural mind these are hardly qualities making for greatness or achievement! But step by step the Lord Jesus highlighted the rewards they bring: their citizenship in the kingdom of heaven; their comfort from the Source of all comfort; their rich inheritance in the kingdom; true satisfaction
derived from personal righteousness; mercy from the Judge of all the earth; cleansing without which no one shall see the Lord in glory, Heb. 12. 14; peace, the calm of sins forgiven, apart from which there can be no real peace on earth; suffering as they are counted worthy to endure persecution and rejection for His sake, Acts 5. 41. With the possible exception of the last beatitude these attributes and experiences were to be characteristic of the coming kingdom. But they also
have application to disciples of Christ in the present age. It is significant that our Lord elaborated the eighth beatitude by saying, 'great is your reward in heaven' turning the focus away from kingdom blessings to the heavenly prize anticipated by believers of all generations who suffer and
bear His reproach.
The Influence of His Subjects, 5. 13-16
True disciples have a corrective and challenging influence on the world. Israel will be central to the reign of Christ among the nations during the millennial kingdom. To us who have been given the great commission, Matt. 28. 19-20, is delivered the responsibility of representing Him here and now. The impact made by His disciples is illustrated by two figures:
Salt. Both to preserve and create thirst. We preserve the world from impending judgment until the Holy Spirt is 'taken out of the way' (at the rapture of saints), 2. Thess. 2. 7. Through our witness is created a thirst for righteousness which can only be satisfied through the new birth, John 3. 3, 5.
Light. To be effective a lamp must be placed in a prominent and elevated position. Light emanating from a city on a hill will be seen far and wide through the night. Our function is to shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven, said our Lord.
When in our measure we live as Christ lived, d. Rom. 8. 29, we fulfil our role as salt of the earth and light of the world. Those attracted by godly lives will be more ready to listen when we give a reason for the hope within us, 1 Pet. 3. 15. This is an important principle.
The Morality of His Subjects, 5. 17-48
Jesus Christ then came to the core of His message. He explained His relationship to the law and prophets, so greatly revered by Jews. It was not His purpose to detract from the Mosaic law; rather He came to fulfil it. Indeed the very smallest letter and punctuation mark in the language in
which it was written would be fulfilled, v. 18. This meant raising, not lowering, the standards of the scribes and pharisees whose concentration was upon the letter, not the spirit. Sadly, orthodoxy can often be more legal than spiritual. This would not do among the subjects of His kingdom,
neither will it do among us. By way of illustration Christ then presented a number of pertinent examples, contrasting the inadequacy of the old with the excellency of the
Murder, "v. 21-26. While the Mosaic law said, "Thou shalt not kill,' in the kingdom it was even wrong to be angry without good cause. A word like raca!, expressing contempt like our 'idiot!' or 'fool!', shows an attitude of one still under the control of sin and whose destiny then would be 'the
Gehenna of fire' (NEWBERRY). On the other hand the spiritual person seeks reconciliation by removing the grounds of offence. The principle, 'Agree with thine adversary quickly', is one which we might well heed.
Adultery, vv. 27-30. Pharisees regarded adultery as an external act rather than a matter of personal morality. But our Lord taught that purity was violated as soon as lust was conceived in the mind. He repeated the implications of a wrong attitude and how this should be dealt with, v. 29, d. v.22.
Divorce, vv. 31-32. Divorce may have seemed relatively easy under the law, Deut. 24. 1-4, but our Lord conceded that Moses allowed only one ground because of the hardness of their hearts, viz, adultery in the case of those betrothed but not yet joined together. Disobedience makes a wife who is unfaithful to her husband guilty of adultery, Romans 7. 3.
Oaths, vv. 33-37. Pharisees were given to making oaths. The law forbade swearing by God's name, Lev. 19. 12, but other oaths once made had to be kept, Num. 30. 2. Among the subjects of His kingdom there was to be no swearing, only simple statements - 'Yes, yes,' or 'No, no.' The principle is simply that God's people are to keep their word and think before making commitments they cannot keep.
RetributionL vv. 38-42. The law's requirement of 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,' Exod. 21. 24; Lev. 24. 20, was not designed to promote vengeance, but to lay the basis of a judicial system which would prevent vendettas by offended parties. In the kingdom a higher law would prevail involving self-sacrifice and self-abasement, which our Lord illustrated by means of four practical situations.
Love, vv. 43-48. The perfect law of love is the climax to this section. The law of Moses required Jews to love their neighbours, Lev. 19. 18, and that love was to be practically expressed, Deut. 15. 7-11. But now with the kingdom in view Christ developed this truest expression of the divine nature. They were to love the unlovely, even their enemies, in this way expressing something of His love for them, Rom. 5. 10.
This series of antitheses is most challenging. Apart from their prophetic significance they have a bearing on the way we now live, both before Him and the world. The aim of the Lord's teaching in a word was: 'Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect'.