on the mountain: Evidently close to Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. Jesus apparently climbed to a higher spot on the mountain, where he began teaching the crowds spread out on a level place before him.
he sat down: The custom among Jewish teachers, especially for formal teaching sessions.
his disciples: The first occurrence of the Greek word ma·the·tesʹ, a noun rendered “disciple.” It refers to a learner, or one who is taught, and implies a personal attachment to a teacher, an attachment that shapes the disciple’s whole life. Although large crowds were gathered to listen to Jesus, it seems that he spoke mainly for the benefit of his disciples, who sat closest to him.
Happy: Not simply a state of lightheartedness, as when a person is enjoying a good time. Rather, when used of humans, it refers to the condition of one who is blessed by God and enjoys his favor. The term is also used as a description of God and of Jesus in his heavenly glory.
those conscious of their spiritual need: The Greek expression rendered “those conscious,” literally, “those who are poor (needy; destitute; beggars),” in this context is used about those who have a need and are intensely aware of it. The same word is used in reference to the “beggar” Lazarus at Lu 16:20, 22. The Greek phrase that some translations render those who are “poor in spirit” conveys the idea of people who are painfully aware of their spiritual poverty and of their need for God.
them: Refers to Jesus’ followers, since Jesus was primarily addressing them.
mild-tempered: The inward quality of those who willingly submit to God’s will and guidance and who do not try to dominate others. The term does not imply cowardice or weakness. In the Septuagint, the word was used as an equivalent for a Hebrew word that can be translated “meek” or “humble.” It was used with reference to Moses (Nu 12:3), those who are teachable (Ps 25:9), those who will possess the earth (Ps 37:11), and the Messiah (Zec 9:9; Mt 21:5). Jesus described himself as a mild-tempered, or meek, person.
inherit the earth: Jesus is likely referring to Ps 37:11, where “the meek” are said to “possess the earth.” Both the Hebrew (ʼeʹrets) and the Greek (ge) words for “earth” can refer to the entire planet or to a specific land area, such as the Promised Land. The Scriptures indicate that Jesus is the foremost example of one who is mild-tempered. (Mt 11:29) Various Bible verses show that as King he would inherit authority over the entire earth, not just a portion of it (Ps 2:8; Re 11:15), and his anointed followers would share in this inheritance (Re 5:10). In another sense, those of his mild-tempered disciples who would be his earthly subjects would “inherit,” not the ownership of the earth, but the privilege of enjoying life in Paradise, the earthly realm of the Kingdom.
those hungering and thirsting for righteousness: That is, those who long to see corruption and injustice replaced with God’s standards of right and wrong; they strive to conform to those standards.
merciful: The use of the Bible terms rendered “merciful” and “mercy” is not limited to forgiveness or leniency in judgment. It most often describes the feelings of compassion and pity that move a person to take the initiative to assist those in need.
pure in heart: Inwardly clean, referring to moral and spiritual cleanness, including one’s affections, desires, and motives.
see God: Not necessarily to be understood literally, since “no man can see [God] and live.” (Ex 33:20) The Greek word used here for “see” can also mean “see with the mind, perceive, know.” Jehovah’s worshippers on earth thus “see God” by gaining insight into his personality through faith-building study of his Word and by observing his actions in their behalf. (Eph 4:18; Heb 11:27) When resurrected to spirit life, anointed Christians will actually see Jehovah “just as he is.”
peacemakers: Those who not only maintain peace but also bring peace to where it is lacking.
salt: A mineral used for preserving and flavoring food. In this context, Jesus likely focused on the preserving quality of salt; his disciples could help others to avoid spiritual and moral decay.
loses its strength: In Jesus’ day, salt was often obtained from the Dead Sea area and was contaminated by other minerals. If the salty portion was removed from this mixture, only a tasteless, useless residue remained.
A city . . . located on a mountain: Jesus did not specify a particular city. In his day, many cities were located on mountains, often to make them less vulnerable to attack. Such cities were surrounded by large walls, making them visible for miles and impossible to hide. This would have been true even of small villages with their typically whitewashed houses.
a lamp: In Bible times, a common household lamp was a small earthenware vessel filled with olive oil.
a basket: Used for measuring dry commodities, such as grain. The type of “basket” (Greek, moʹdi·os) mentioned here had a capacity of about 9 L (or 8 dry qt).
Father: The first of over 160 occurrences in the Gospels in which Jesus refers to Jehovah God as “Father.” Jesus’ use of the term shows that his listeners already understood its meaning in relation to God by its usage in the Hebrew Scriptures. (De 32:6; Ps 89:26; Isa 63:16) Earlier servants of God used many lofty titles to describe and address Jehovah, including the “Almighty,” “the Most High,” and the “Grand Creator,” but Jesus’ frequent use of the simple, common term “Father” highlights God’s intimacy with his worshippers.
the Law . . . the Prophets: “The Law” refers to the Bible books of Genesis through Deuteronomy. “The Prophets” refers to the prophetic books of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, when these terms are mentioned together, the expression could be understood to include the entire Hebrew Scriptures.
Truly: Greek, a·menʹ, a transliteration of the Hebrew ʼa·menʹ, meaning “so be it,” or “surely.” Jesus frequently uses this expression to preface a statement, a promise, or a prophecy, thereby emphasizing its absolute truthfulness and reliability. Jesus’ use of “truly,” or amen, in this way is said to be unique in sacred literature. When repeated in succession (a·menʹ a·menʹ), as is the case throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus’ expression is translated “most truly.”
smallest letter: In the Hebrew alphabet current at that time, the smallest letter was yod (י).
one stroke of a letter: Certain Hebrew characters featured a tiny stroke that differentiated one letter from another. Jesus’ hyperbole thus emphasized that God’s Word would be fulfilled down to the smallest detail.
accountable to the court of justice: Subject to trial in one of the local courts located throughout Israel. (Mt 10:17; Mr 13:9) These local courts had the authority to judge murder cases.
continues wrathful: Jesus associates such a wrong attitude with hatred that can lead to actual murder. (1Jo 3:15) Ultimately, God may judge the person as being a murderer.
an unspeakable word of contempt: This expression renders the Greek word rha·kaʹ (possibly derived from Hebrew or Aramaic), meaning “empty” or “empty-headed.” Someone addressing a fellow worshipper with such a derogatory term would not only be nurturing hatred in his heart but also be giving vent to it by contemptible speech.
the Supreme Court: The full Sanhedrin
You despicable fool: The Greek word for this expression sounded like a Hebrew term meaning “rebellious” or “mutinous.” It designates a person as morally worthless and an apostate. To address a fellow man in this way was tantamount to saying that he should receive a punishment fit for a rebel against God, that is, everlasting destruction.
Gehenna: This term comes from the Hebrew words geh hin·nomʹ, meaning “valley of Hinnom,” which lay to the W and S of ancient Jerusalem. (See App. B12, map “Jerusalem and Surrounding Area.”) By Jesus’ day, the valley had become a place for burning refuse, so the word “Gehenna” was a fitting symbol of complete destruction.
your gift to the altar: Jesus did not limit his comments to particular offerings or specific transgressions. The gift could include any sacrificial offering presented at Jehovah’s temple in fulfillment of the Mosaic Law. The altar refers to the altar of burnt offering in the priests’ courtyard of the temple. Ordinary Israelites were not allowed to enter this courtyard; instead, they handed over their gifts to the priest at the entrance to it.
leave your gift . . . , and go away: In the scene Jesus describes, a worshipper is at the very point of handing over his sacrifice to the priest. Yet, he first needed to resolve an issue with his brother. Before offering his gift in a way that would be acceptable to God, he needed to go away and find his offended brother, who was likely among the many thousands of pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for the seasonal festivals, the usual time for bringing such sacrifices to the temple.
make your peace: The Greek expression has been defined “to change from enmity to friendship; to become reconciled; to be restored to normal relations or harmony.” So the goal is to effect a change by removing, if possible, ill will from the offended person’s heart. (Ro 12:18) Jesus’ point is that maintaining good relations with others is a prerequisite for enjoying good relations with God.
your last small coin: Lit., “the last quadrans,” 1/64 of a denarius. A denarius equaled a full day’s wage.
You heard that it was said: See study note on Mt 5:21.
commit adultery: That is, marital sexual unfaithfulness. The Greek verb moi·kheuʹo is used in this quote from Ex 20:14 and De 5:
certificate of divorce: The Mosaic Law did not encourage divorce. A certificate was provided as a deterrent to a hasty breakup of marriages and as a protection for women. (De 24:1) A husband who wanted to obtain a certificate likely had to consult duly authorized men who might encourage the couple to reconcile.
sexual immorality: The Greek word por·neiʹa is a general term for all sexual intercourse that is unlawful according to the Bible. It includes adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between unmarried individuals, homosexuality, and bestiality.
you heard that it was said: See study note on Mt 5:21.
Jehovah: Although this is not a direct quote from one specific passage in the Hebrew Scriptures, the two commands that Jesus refers to allude to such scriptures as Le 19:12, Nu 30:2, and De 23:21, which do contain the divine name, represented by four Hebrew consonants (transliterated YHWH), in the original Hebrew text.
Do not swear at all: Jesus did not here prohibit the making of all oaths. God’s Law, which allowed for the swearing of oaths or vows on certain serious occasions, was still in force. (Nu 30:2; Ga 4:4) Rather, Jesus was condemning frivolous and indiscriminate swearing that amounted to a perversion of oath-taking.
neither by heaven: In order to add weight to their word, people would swear “by heaven,” “by earth,” “by Jerusalem,” and even “by [the] head,” or life, of another person. (Mt 5:35, 36) But controversy existed among the Jews as to the validity of such oaths based on created things rather than on the name of God, and some evidently felt that they could retract such sworn statements with impunity.
the great King: That is, Jehovah God.
what goes beyond these is from the wicked one: Any who feel compelled to go beyond a simple “yes” or “no” by continually swearing to what they say are basically revealing themselves to be untrustworthy. They manifest the spirit of Satan, “the father of the lie.”
You heard that it was said: See study note on Mt 5:21.
Eye for eye and tooth for tooth: In Jesus’ day, these words from the Law (Ex 21:24; Le 24:20) were misapplied to condone personal vengeance. However, this law was properly applied only after cases came to trial and the appointed judges determined the appropriate punishment.
slaps you on your right cheek: In this context, the Greek verb rha·piʹzo, “to slap,” is used with the meaning “to strike with the open hand.” Such an action would likely have been intended to provoke or insult rather than to injure. Jesus thus indicated that his followers should be willing to endure personal insult without retaliating.
let him also have your outer garment: Jewish men often wore two garments, an inner garment (Greek, khi·tonʹ, a shirtlike tunic with long sleeves or half sleeves, reaching to the knees or ankles and worn next to the skin) and an outer garment (Greek, hi·maʹti·on, a loose robe or coat, possibly consisting of a simple rectangular piece of material). A garment could be used as a pledge to guarantee payment of a debt. (Job 22:6) Jesus is saying that for the sake of peace, his followers should be willing to give up not only their inner garment but also their more valuable outer garment.
compels you into service: A reference to the compulsory service that the Roman authorities could demand from a citizen. They could, for example, press men or animals into service or commandeer whatever was considered necessary to expedite official business. That is what happened to Simon of Cyrene, whom Roman soldiers “compelled into service” to carry Jesus’ torture stake.
You heard that it was said: See study note on Mt 5:21.
You must love your neighbor: The Mosaic Law directed the Israelites to love their neighbor. (Le 19:18) While the term “neighbor” simply meant one’s fellow man, some Jews narrowed the meaning to include only fellow Jews, especially those who kept the oral traditions; all other people were to be considered enemies.
hate your enemy: The Mosaic Law contained no such command. Some Jewish rabbis believed that the command to love their neighbor implied that they should hate their enemy.
tax collectors: Many Jews collected taxes for the Roman authorities. People hated such Jews because they not only collaborated with a resented foreign power but also extorted more than the official tax rate. Tax collectors were generally shunned by fellow Jews, who put them on the same level as sinners and prostitutes.
greet: Greeting others included expressing good wishes for their welfare and prosperity.
people of the nations: Refers to non-Jews who had no relationship with God. The Jews viewed them as godless and unclean and as ones to be avoided.
perfect: The Greek term used here can mean “complete,” “mature,” or it can mean “faultless” according to standards set by an authority. Only Jehovah is perfect in an absolute sense, so when the term is applied to humans, it describes relative perfection. In this context, “perfect” refers to the completeness of a Christian’s love for Jehovah God and for fellow humans, something that is possible, even though a person is sinful.
1. Plain of Gennesaret. This was a fertile triangle of land, measuring about 5 by 2.5 km (3 by 1.5 mi). It was along the shoreline in this area that Jesus invited the fishermen Peter, Andrew, James, and John to join him in his ministry.
2. Tradition locates Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount here.
The common clay lamps used in homes and other buildings were filled with olive oil. A wick was used to draw up the oil to feed the flame. Lamps were often set on clay, wood, or metal lampstands to provide indoor light. They were also placed in wall niches or on shelves, or they were suspended from the ceiling by means of a cord.
This domestic lampstand (1) is an artist’s concept based on first-century artifacts found in Ephesus and Italy. A lampstand of this kind was likely used in a wealthy household. In poorer homes, a lamp was hung from the ceiling, placed in a niche in the wall (2), or put on a stand made of earthenware or wood.
The Valley of Hinnom, called Gehenna in Greek, is a ravine to the south and southwest of ancient Jerusalem. In Jesus’ day, it was a place for the burning of refuse, making it a fitting symbol of complete destruction.
The Valley of Hinnom (1), called Gehenna in the Christian Greek Scriptures. The Temple Mount (2). The first-century Jewish temple complex was located here. The most prominent present-day structure on the temple mount is the Muslim shrine known as the Dome of the Rock.
This certificate of divorce, dated 71 or 72 C.E., was written in Aramaic. It was found on the north side of Wadi Murabbaat, a dry riverbed in the Judean Desert. It states that in the sixth year of the Jewish revolt, Joseph, son of Naqsan, divorced Miriam, daughter of Jonathan who was living in the city of Masada.