The Sermon on the Mount
By Charles Geiser
It may be that many more if not all the promises that have to do with eternity, the new heaven and new earth, the everlasting kingdom, etc., in the Bible pointed to the end of the first heaven and first earth at A.D.70. Traditionally in churches of Christ many future references in God’s Word have been interpreted for individual Christians in each succeeding generation through time. This author believes that the principles found in scripture that pertain to ethics/morals and the Christian life may be valid to consider in that sense, but it also may be possible that we have missed the FIRST or BASIC interpretation of future promises in their fulfillment at the end time of Judaism in the first century. In other words, we believe that a mandatory first requirement in Bible interpretation is to seriously consider who was being written to in light of “shortly to come to pass” and “the time is at hand” statements in the New Testament; which brings us to some possibilities in the first twelve verses of Matthew five in the beginning of the sermon on the mount. The reader of this piece might consider our statements in this treatise for the whole of the sermon, however, not merely the first few verses. But we shall be brief because of space, and see some suppositions on Jesus’ first few words in the greatest sermon ever preached on earth.
The Poor in Spirit
“Blessed” (makarioi) are the ptoochoi too pneumati, literally, poor in spirit” (verse 3). With a humble temperament Jesus promised the kingdom of heaven. We interpret this metonymically in that Jesus was actually referring to the countless eternal blessings of that same kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of Christ was to come at the fall of Jerusalem (Luke 21:31,32; Acts 14:22; Revelation 11:14; et al). The attitude of those first century persons serious about eternal life would be one of “poor in spirit.” This, we believe, should be the same attitude after one becomes a child of God in any century, but it is possible we believe Jesus may have in mind FIRST the attitude of those in His day and in the days of the apostles in the first century who are interested in possessing the rewards of the established kingdom in A.D.70 (Matthew 16:27,28). One might do a whole study just on this point and start with I Peter 5:6, that those saints then humble themselves under the mighty hand of God, that He might exalt them in due time, the due time being the fall of Jerusalem.
They That Mourn
Literally, “the mourning ones” (hoi penthountes); mourning because of consideration of their destiny, that first age about to end in fulfillment, salvation/redemption about to come (Luke 21:28-32), their unforgiven sins never permanently removed by the blood of bulls and goats, etc. But here again is Jesus with another promise, “they shall be comforted.” Eternal comfort in God’s new way, His new Jerusalem where there is no darkness (if one looks the right way!!), no tears, no death. It is possible to regard Jesus again referring to the end time of Judaism and another blessing of God’s new, eternal age which came in A.D.70.
Praeis, meek, an inwrought grace of the soul (Vine). Before going further, it might be best to suggest that these attitudes Jesus praises are basically attitudes pleasing to God in regards to God’s kingdom, new earth, etc. We think that these verses known so well to so many have been understood in light of human relationships and no doubt these will work in that vein, but the promises Jesus gives following the different dispositions which are godly show first that the relationship of the person with these character points was to be a part of God’s heavenly things in the new age. The promise then in this verse as the result of being meek was the inheritance of the earth. There have been many meek persons since time began; who has inherited the earth if this literal planet earth is meant? Could Jesus have meant the new earth with its eternal blessings that was to come at the fall of Jerusalem? Is the earth in Matthew 5:5 the same in content and meaning as the new heaven and new earth of Revelation 21? We believe so. “Earth” often in the Old Testament refers to Judaism, not this sphere of dirt we call earth. Compare Isaiah 1:1-4, e.g. We believe Jesus could just as easily have said in Matthew 5:5 “shall inherit heaven and earth,” meaning its blessings.
Hunger and Thirst
Imagine a generation of people who had met and/or heard of the Messiah. Many who believed the promises of the prophets concerning the Christ to come and hungered and thirsted for the righteousness of God’s Son imputed to them. If they longed, deeply desired, hungered and thirsted for that righteousness promised in the Old Testament, they would be filled at the second coming of Christ. They would be filled with God’s righteousness because that was where God’s righteousness would dwell, in the new heaven and new earth, which was to come at the fall of Jerusalem (II Peter 3:10-13). We believe the righteousness of Matthew 5:5 is the same righteousness in fulfillment in time and nature as in II Peter 3:13. Compare other passages on righteousness in this area.
A merciful attitude (eleeemones). The merciful attitude is promised mercy. By whom? Paul in a kind of prayer asks that the “Lord grant unto” Onesiphorus, “that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day” (II Timothy 1:18). “That day” was near in Paul’s day (Romans 13:12; see James 5:8; Hebrews 10:37). If one could find mercy in “that day” which was near in Paul’s day and Jesus said the merciful would obtain mercy, then we must conclude that Onesiphorus obtained mercy in the day of the Lord at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D.70. Paul wrote that the Lord would make a “short work” upon the Jewish “earth,” and that He did! (Romans 9:28). It is first then, we believe, the mercy that the Lord would have in the last day upon the merciful in the establishment of the new Jerusalem at the end of Judaism (Revelation 21:1ff).
The Pure in Heart
“The clean in the heart,” hoi katharoi tee kardia. Here is inward purity mentioned of those firstfruits in that generation of the first century who were promised that they would “see God.” We suggest again that God, as was the kingdom of heaven in verse three, is used in metonymy for the spiritual rewards and blessings of God in His new age which came at A.D.70. We would understand John 1:18 to have bearing on this view, in that no man had ever seen God or would ever (oudeis heooraken poopote). We believe further that “seeing God” or “seeing His blessings” or “seeing His second return” were done and are done by a different “eyesight” than we normally think of seeing. Compare the promise of Jesus in discussing Christ’s second advent in Matthew 24, using the same term as in Matthew 5:8b. Opsontai is the future indicative of horaoo, “to see, to behold.” Jesus promised to the clean of heart that they would “see God,” i.e., His eternal blessings in His kingdom, just as Jesus promised that the tribes of the land would “see”(opsontai) the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matthew 24:31; compare Revelation 1:7 where the same term is employed, that every eye would see Him. This has to do with the scope of things, the recognition and remembrance of what Jesus said about His return and all its constituent elements).
Hoi eireenopoioi, those desiring peace with God in His spiritual kingdom which began in the days of Christ and was consummated at His “second time” return (Hebrews 9:28) at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D.70. There were children of God prior to the time of Christ, there were children of God “in the last days” of the Jewish world or age, but there were no children of God matured, established, formed in Christ, made complete by the Spirit, etc., until the resurrection of the dead and the changing of the living at Christ’s second coming in A.D.70. It is noble to make peace with brethren and fellowmen, but it is far better to be at peace with the God of peace in His kingdom of peace.
In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus makes several promises in light of persecution, reviling, reproach, of His disciples in the face of Satan’s messengers of that day. We do not believe this is to be believed and accepted by those who were or are not children of God by the spiritual rebirth Jesus discussed in John 3:1ff.; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:36-38; I Peter 3:20,21; et al. Note: in verse 11, Jesus distinguished between “you” (His disciples, followers, Matthew 5:1,2), and “they reproach you” (oneidisoosin human). Just because someone religiously wrong or an atheist or agnostic is suffering for some reason should not give the idea that such a one is a true disciple of Christ. Jesus was not speaking of false Christs or false prophets who would suffer in the last days, but His true disciples/prophets who would suffer/die in the last time or in that generation (Matthew 23; 24:34). Their response to all this trouble was given by Jesus–rejoice and be exceeding glad, “for great is your reward in heaven” (verse 12). Their’s would be the blessings of the kingdom of heaven (verse 10; compare 5:3). “Their’s is the kingdom of heaven” (verses 3,10) may be better understood by the phrase of Jesus in verse 12, “great is your reward in heaven” (and we think He could have said “great is your reward in the new heaven and new earth,” (Revelation 21:1-7; II Peter 3:10-13; Isaiah 65:17-19; et al). But “reward in heaven;” of what does that remind us? “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; AND THEN HE SHALL REWARD EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS WORKS” (Matthew 16:27). And if we wish to know WHEN verse 27 was to be fulfilled, see verse 28–some of them standing there then, in that day, would not die until they saw the Son of man coming in his kingdom. Matthew 5:10-12 surely would fit the saints of that first century generation concerning what it was all about then.
May the reader sometime read I Thessalonians 2:14-16 to see how this was all happening in the “last days” of that world that was to vanish in fulfillment (Matthew 5:17,18; Hebrews 8:8-13; 10:37; Revelation 2:25,26). Also did John write of things that were “shortly to come to pass” in His day (Revelation 1:1-3; 22:6-12), and wrote, “And, behold, I come quickly; AND MY REWARD IS WITH ME, TO GIVE EVERY MAN ACCORDING AS HIS WORK SHALL BE” (Revelation 22:12). If this writer were to understand this as literally singular, we would suggest eternal life as that reward. But we tend more to think “reward” in the New Testament as inclusive of all spiritual blessings (forgiveness, mercy, grace, God’s love, salvation, etc.), and this, we believe, can be had by the obedient today in the new heaven and new earth.
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