5:1–7:29 The Sermon on the Mount is the first of five great blocks of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew (Introduction: Characteristics and Themes). It is the classic statement of the ethics of the kingdom of God. The early church favored a literal interpretation but fully applied the sermon only to special classes of Christians, especially monastics. Others, such as the Anabaptists, have attempted to apply it literally to every Christian. Still others have viewed it as legalistic, as a provisional, temporary code, or as a heightening of the law of Moses with the aim of inducing repentance (Luther). Finally, some have argued that the demands of the sermon are not to be understood literally, but that Jesus was concerned with inward disposition rather than outward conduct, or that the severity of the sermon is intended to compel a decision by the hearers either for or against God’s demands on their lives.
We must recognize that the sermon is directed to the disciples and through them to the whole church today. The sermon addresses both inward motives and outward conduct (5:21, 22, 27, 28). These legitimate demands are so strict (5:48) that no one can completely obey them, and we are therefore driven to the grace and mercy of God. In some cases Jesus uses obviously intentional exaggeration to illustrate the absolute requirements of God’s law (5:29, 30).