What is the Sermon on the Mount?

by Matt Slick

The Sermon on the Mount is the name given to the teachings of Jesus that were recorded and Matthew 5:1 through Matthew 7:27 on a mount. Matthew 5:1, "When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him." Some scholars teach that the sermon is a compilation of the sayings of Christ. However, it seems probable that it is a single declaration given by Jesus the whole, of which, was recalled by the disciples.

Many interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount have been offered throughout the Christian church's history. The sermon has been said to be a pattern for Christian living, general instruction to all mankind, and instructions on proper attitudes. Whenever the perspective, Jesus taught a high ethical standard that has overarching teachings for both believer and unbeliever. Its standard of holiness is high enough to reveal to us our own sinfulness. Thus, it can be a means to drive people to the cross of Christ since the moral level taught in the Sermon on the Mount cannot be perfectly maintained by anyone.

Jesus gave the sermon after spending the night west of the Sea of Galilee (Luke 6:12) and after having called His disciples (Mark 3:14-15). He taught a mixed crowd and demonstrated great authority in His words (Matthew 7:28-29). There are elements within the Sermon on the Mount that reflect Old Testament law regarding loving God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and loving your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18).

"SERMON ON THE MOUNT The customary designation for the discourse of Jesus recorded in Mt. 5–7. It begins with the well-known BEATITUDES and then, by a series of startling antitheses, illustrates the relationship of Jesus’ teaching to the Jewish legal system. It emphasizes the inner righteousness of the “kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:20) by warning against improper performance of religious duties; almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are not meant for public display or as currency for the purchase of religious status. Followers of Jesus are urged to dispel anxiety with simple trust and to live in love. The Sermon ends with a series of short parables that encourage people to put these truths into actual practice."1

Following is a brief outline of the Beatitudes.

  • Beatitudes, blessings of those in the kingdom, Matt. 5:3-12
  • Disciples in relation to the world, Matt. 5:13-16
  • Comments on the Law, Matthew 5:17-48
  • Prayer, Matt. 6:1–11
  • Conduct, Matthew 6:1-7:12
  • Challenge to live godly, Matthew 7:13-27

A more detailed analysis is as follows

Matthew 5:1-2The setting
Matthew 5:3-12The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:13-16The new community
Matthew 5:17-20The abiding validity of the law
Matthew 5:21-48On practicing righteousness toward others in matters of:
   Murder (Matt. 5:21-26)
   Adultery (Matt. 5:27-30)
   Divorce (Matt. 5:31-32)
   Oaths (Matt. 5:33-37)
   Retribution (Matt. 5:38-42)
   Love of enemy (Matt. 5:43-48)
Matthew 6:1-7:12On practicing righteousness toward God:
   Almsgiving (Matt. 6:1-4)
   Prayer (Matt. 6:5-15)
   Fasting (Matt. 6:16-18)
On not letting up false treasures (Matt. 6:19-24)
On not being anxious (Matt. 6:25-34)
On not judging (Matt. 7:1-5)
I'm not squandering what is precious (Matt. 7:6)
When resting assured that God hears prayer (Matt. 7:7-12)
Matthew 7:13-27Concluding warnings and exhortations

"Because of the high (and, according to some, impossible) ethical demands of the Sermon on the Mount, it has been interpreted in a number of ways. (1) It has been viewed as a standard only for the clergy or those living a monastic life and not for ordinary laypeople. (2) Among Protestants the sermon has sometimes been assigned the function given to the law at Gal. 3:23–24, that of posing an impossible standard so as to drive people to reliance on Christ rather than on personal achievement. (3) Extreme dispensationalism has seen the sermon as a standard not for this age but for the “kingdom age,” the coming millennial age after the return of Christ. (4) It has been suggested that Jesus foresaw only a short time before the end of the present age and therefore laid out an “interim ethic,” not an ethical system intended for a continuing community. (5) The sermon has been accepted at face value as setting the standard for the lives of all Christians in this age. Often, but not always, qualifications are added to this final view, e.g., that some of the sermon’s demands (e.g., Matt. 5:42) are not to be applied to all types of human relationships, or that Jesus’ intention is not to give specific rules of behavior but general principles."2

  • 1. Bromiley, Geoffrey W., ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988.
  • 2. Myers, Allen C. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987.