Assorted Thoughts on Matthew 5

I’m teaching a bible study on the Sermon on the Mount this fall, so I may use this blog to organize some of my thoughts. Like right now. Fair warning: I make no guarantees that the following thoughts are coherent, right, or even intelligible.

What might be called Beatitude #9 (“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…” [Matt. 5:11-12]) is likely an elaboration on Beatitude #8 (“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”) since the reward promised for Beatitude #8 matches the reward for Beatitude #1, setting off that section.

5:11-12, then, seems to elaborate on Beatitude #8, indicating that “righteousness” is just another name for Jesus, to put it starkly, or that the righteousness in view is the righteousness of Jesus. Interestingly enough, this seems to start the comparisons that permeate the sermon.

For example, Jesus starts his famous expansion of the law section with a comparison: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20). He then ends that section with another comparison: “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” (5:48)

But there’s another comparison before that when Jesus says he has come “to fulfill” the law and Prophets. The verb there, plēroō is used a few times before this in Matthew, in the so-called “fulfillment quotations” where Matthew will quote an OT verse (for example, Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I called my son”) and say that whatever just happened in the narrative happened “in order to fulfill (same verb” this OT prophecy.

Basically, “That verse I just quoted? This is what it was talking about.”

Which means when Jesus says he “fulfilled” the law, he’s basically saying: “Do you see the law and the prophets? They were talking about me.” Jesus is the law. The law described Jesus. So when Jesus expands the law he is further describing himself. It seems we could then outline the section as follows:

1.  Be More Righteous than the Scribes and Pharisees (v.20)

2. Be Righteous Like the Fulfiller of the Law (vs.21-47)

3. Be Righteous Like God (v.48)

Basically meaning that the whole section is about being like Jesus, which might recast Jesus’ expansion. He isn’t giving us a bigger, more thorough set of rules that now govern the heart. If we treat what he says as just more rules, we’ll likely fall afoul of his warnings in Matthew 6 and start doing our righteousness so other people can see it. The point isn’t to follow more rules, the point is to be more like Jesus. The rules help us, but imitation is the point.

Anyway. I was planning on trying to think through the Beatitudes more, but I think I’ll have to put that off for another time.