Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was primarily addressed to His disciples (Matt. 5:1). The Greek word mathetes means “disciple, pupil, or student.” The disciples of Jesus started as a relatively small group. After His death, there were only about 120 disciples of Jesus (Acts 1:15), which included His inner core of eleven Apostles (after the departure and death of Judas). Of course, at times, literally thousands heard Jesus speak (Matt. 14:21). While speaking to His disciples, some from the larger crowd may also have gathered to hear Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:28). However, it is very important to take note that Jesus’s primary audience was His disciples (Matt. 5:1).
It is also important to note that Jesus’s sermon was spoken on a mountain. His listeners were meant to recall the giving of the law by Moses on Mount Sinai. Jesus was promulgating to His disciples a new set of higher laws. In fact, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount consisted of some of the highest standards ever given to a people group. These higher standards were consistent with a new expectation and a new reality. For example, Jesus’s movement and ministry included a number of women followers. This was nearly unheard of in the ancient world. Notable women followers of Jesus included Mary Magdalene, Joanna, who was married to Herod Antipas’ steward, Chuza, and Susanna, along with many others (Luke 8:1-3). The presence of women in Jesus’s ministry would have aroused gossip and suspicion, especially in the ancient world. Professor Craig Keener wrote that “for these women to travel with the group would have been viewed as scandalous, at least by Jesus’ detractors.” This issue alone required higher standards. Jesus, therefore, taught His disciples, “‘You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,’ 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” (Matt. 5:27-28). Not only was adultery forbidden, Jesus’s followers were told to not even entertain the thought of adultery.
Jesus warned that His followers were going to be insulted and persecuted (Matt. 5:10-11). Nevertheless, the followers of Jesus were instructed to avoid violence. Jesus said to them:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘EYE FOR EYE’ and ‘TOOTH FOR TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not show opposition against an evil person; but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other toward him also.”
It was common for Jesus to make His point by the using hyperbole. A slap on the face was an extreme insult. A slap does not imply the endangerment of someone’s life. Jesus was teaching His followers that “if possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people” (Rom. 12:18). The disciples were taught to go the extra mile to avoid confrontation with others. Jesus understood that humans were, in reality, just a step above Neanderthals. In other words, beneath the veneer, we humans are inclined to primitive thinking. There were many extremist groups during the First Century. For example, during the time of Jesus and leading up to the Jewish war with Rome, the Sicarri were certain Jewish zealots who functioned as assassins, plunderers of the rich, and kidnappers for ransom. They concealed their daggers under their cloaks. While mingling with the crowds in Jerusalem, they assassinated Romans and their sympathizers. In contrast, Jesus had to establish the identity of His followers as lovers of peace (Matt. 5:9). It should also be noted that the words and standards promulgated by Jesus were in stark contrast to the Romans, who routinely enjoyed watching Gladiators cut each other to pieces or watching wild animals dismember humans. The First Century was a particularly violent period.
If the followers of Jesus gained the reputation as being a bunch of brawlers, the reputation of the Jesus Movement would have been compromised and damaged. Peter’s quick drawing of his sword and his cutting off of the ear of the High Priest’s servant in the Garden of Gethsemane was indicative of Peter’s natural inclination. At that time, Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place; for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). Jesus had a very definite idea of how He wanted to shape and protect the reputation of His movement. However, in my opinion, it would be a mistake to assume that Jesus was somehow negating an individual’s or nation’s right of self-defense. Additionally, I believe that it would be wrong to assume that Jesus was endorsing some type of philosophy of international pacifism or softness on crime. The Apostle Paul taught that the government “does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4). Jesus was specifically teaching His disciples to love their enemies (Matt. 5:43-48) and to not participate in criminal behavior or revolutionary activity.
During Jesus’ time on Earth, Israel was occupied by the Roman Empire. As explained by Professor Keener, the Roman soldiers had the legal right to impress their Jewish subjects into service. The Roman soldiers could force the Jews to perform acts of labor, or the soldiers could commandeer private property owned by the Jews. Addressing this issue, Jesus instructed, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matt. 5:41). Jesus made it clear that His followers should not be revolutionaries against Rome. To their own destruction, many Jews ignored the warnings of Jesus, and their nation and city was ultimately destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Thousands were killed or enslaved. The followers of Jesus, however, were required to exercise tremendous patience and perseverance toward their Roman occupiers.
Life in our world is punctuated with difficult circumstances and suffering. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His disciples how to live spiritually in the Kingdom of God, even while living physically on Planet Earth. If we learn how to live spiritually in the Kingdom of God, Jesus promised that we will receive special blessings both now and in the next life. Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matt. 5:12). Many Bible teachers are hesitant to teach believers about the promise of future rewards promised to faithful believers, but Jesus was clear on this issue. As a starting point, we need to realize our own inherent spiritual impoverishment (Matt. 5:3). We are not born with a spiritual life – we must seek a spiritual life from God. We must “put it on.” As Paul taught, we must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). In contrast to pursuing our lusts, Jesus taught, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” (Matt. 5:6). The Greek word makarios means “to be blessed or happy.” From the beginning, God has wanted His people to be blessed and happy. However, to be blessed and happy, we must become students of Christ and attend the School of Christ. And Jesus said,
“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.”
Ultimately, Jesus and His faithful disciples will inherit God’s creation (Matt.5:5). For now, we must learn to accept God’s dealings with us and have perseverance in faith, knowing that God wills the highest and best for us.
The featured image on this page is titled “Sermon on the Mount” by Carl Henrich Bloch. Available on public domain. Courtesy of www.carlbloch.org.
 “G3101 – mathētēs – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (nasb20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 7 Mar, 2022. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g3101/nasb20/mgnt/0-1/>.
 Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Second Ed. InterVarsity Press, 2014, p. 200.
 “Zealot.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Volume Four: Q-Z, Gen. Editor Geoffrey W. Bromiley, et al., William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.
 Keener, p. 59.
 Keener, p. 59.
 “G3107 – makarios – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (nasb20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 7 Mar, 2022. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g3107/nasb20/mgnt/0-1/>.