The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of sayings and teachings of Jesus Christ; which emphasizes his moral teaching found in the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 5-7). It is the first of the Five Discourses of Matthew and takes place relatively early in the Ministry of Jesus after he has been baptized by John the Baptist, finished his fasting and meditation retreat in the desert, and begun to preach in Galilee. The name and location of the mountain is unstated; the Mount of Beatitudes is the traditional interpretation.
The Sermon is the longest continuous discourse of Jesus found in the New Testament and has been one of the most widely quoted elements of the Canonical Gospels. Also it includes some of the best-known teachings of Jesus; such as the Beatitudes, and the widely recited Lord’s Prayer. Furthermore, the Sermon on the Mount is generally considered to contain the central tenets of Christian discipleship.
Sermon on the Mount: The Background and Setting
The Sermon is set early in the Ministry of Jesus after he has been baptized by John the Baptist in chapter 3 of Matthew’s Gospel, gathered his first disciples in chapter 4, and had returned from a long fast and contemplation in the Judaean Desert where he had been tempted by Satan to renounce his spiritual mission and gain worldly riches.
Before this episode, Jesus had been “all about Galilee” preaching, as in Matthew 4:23, and “great crowds followed him” from all around the area. Then the setting for the sermon is given in Matthew 5:1-2. Jesus sees the multitudes, goes up into the mountain, is followed by his disciples, and begins to preach. The Sermon is brought to its close by Matthew 8:1, which reports that Jesus “came down from the mountain followed by great multitudes”.
The Different Componentes of the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5:3–12 discusses the Beatitudes. These describe the character of the people of the Kingdom of Heaven, expressed as “blessings”. The Greek word most versions of the Gospel render as “blessed,” In Matthew, there are eight (or nine) blessings, while in Luke there are four, followed by four woes.
In almost all cases the phrases used in the Beatitudes are familiar from an Old Testament context, but in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives them new meaning. Together, the Beatitudes present a new set of ideals that focus on love and humility rather than force and mastery; they echo the highest ideals of Jesus’ teachings on spirituality and compassion.
In Christian teachings, the Works of Mercy, which have corporal and spiritual components; have resonated with the theme of the Beatitude for mercy. These teachings emphasize that these acts of mercy provide both temporal and spiritual benefits.
Then Matthew 5:13–16 presents the metaphors of salt and light. This completes the profile of God’s people presented in the beatitudes and acts as the introduction to the next section.
There are two parts in this section, using the terms “salt of the earth” and Light of the World to refer to the disciples – implying their value. Elsewhere, in John 8:12, Jesus applies Light of the World to himself.
Jesus preaches about hell and what hell is like: “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother “Raca (fool)” shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:22 KJV)
The longest discourse in the Sermon is Matthew 5:17–48, traditionally referred to as the Antitheses or Matthew’s Antitheses. In the discourse, Jesus fulfills and reinterprets the Old Covenant and in particular its Ten Commandments. In other words, he is contrasting with what “you have heard” from others. For example, he advises turning the other cheek, and to love your enemies. In contrast to taking an eye for an eye.
In Matthew 6 Jesus condemns doing what would normally be “good works” simply for recognition and not from the heart, such as those of alms (6:1–4), prayer (6:5–15), and fasting (6:16–18). The discourse goes on to condemn the superficiality of materialism and calls the disciples not to worry about material needs; but to “seek” God’s kingdom first. Within the discourse on ostentation, Matthew presents an example of correct prayer. Luke places this in a different context. The Lord’s prayer (6:9–13) contains parallels to 1 Chronicles 29.
The first part of Matthew 7, i.e. Matthew 7:1–6 deals with judging. Jesus condemns those who judge others before first judging themselves: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
In the last part in Matthew 7:17–29 Jesus concludes the sermon by warning against false prophets.
Teachings and Theology
The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount have been a key element of Christian ethics; and for centuries the sermon has acted as a fundamental recipe for the conduct of the followers of Jesus. Various religious and moral thinkers (e.g. Tolstoy and Gandhi) have admired its message; and it has been one of the main sources of Christian pacifism.
The last verse of chapter 5 of Matthew (5:48) is a focal point of the sermon that summarizes its teachings by advising the disciples to seek perfection.” The Greek word telios used to refer to perfection also implies an end, or destination, advising the disciples to seek the path towards perfection and the Kingdom of God. It teaches that God’s children are those who act like God.
The teachings of the sermon are often referred to as the Ethics of the Kingdom: they place a high level of emphasis on “purity of the heart” and embody the basic standard of Christian righteousness.