The Kingdom Character
So far in our study of Jesus in Matthew we have focused on Jesus as the king; the perspective in which Matthew presents Him in his gospel. We see Him as the king worshiped by human rulers at His birth as the wise men were led to do so by the star sent to them by God.
We witnessed His rulership over the dark spiritual forces led by Satan as He defeats the devil in his effort to tempt Him in the desert. Our last glimpse is of the sovereign ruler, Jesus, being ministered to by mighty angelic beings—showing us His rulership over the entire spiritual world, both good and bad.
In the following section of his book, Matthew will now turn his attention to the kingdom over which Jesus rules. This kingdom will be explained and described under the heading, "Sermon on the Mount," because of the time and location that Jesus, the king, begins speaking about His kingdom.
The Kingdom of the King
The Sermon on the Mount begins in chapter five of Matthew and ends in chapter seven. In this sermon or lesson Jesus explains the attitude, the character, the impact, and the relationships that those people, who make up His kingdom, have. Jesus' kingdom, we will see, is not a geopolitical entity, it's not a place or a culture. His kingdom can be made up of one person or a million people together because it exists within the heart, not on a map.
Jesus' kingdom exists wherever His will is being done. So if His will is being done in your heart, His kingdom is within you. If His will is being done within the heart of a thousand or a billion people, His kingdom exists among them. This explains what the kingdom of Jesus is but not what it looks like or how it acts.
We see then that in the Sermon on the Mount, the king answers the question, "How do people act when they have the kingdom within them?" or, "When this kingdom is established in one or a thousand hearts, what difference does it make; how do we recognize it?" Jesus answers these questions about His kingdom by comparing and describing the life in the kingdom to life in the world, in five different areas. These areas, that everyone could relate to, were the following:
- True happiness
- Attitude towards the Law
- Relationship with God
- Relationship with others
- Life in the kingdom
With these teachings Jesus was describing the nature and experience one could expect in the kingdom over which he was king.
What Constitutes Real Happiness (Beatitudes)
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
"Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
- Matthew 5:1-16
The word beatitude does not appear in the New Testament as such; it is a Latin translation (beatitudo) for the word blessed, meaning happy or joyful.
There are nine beatitudes and all begin the same way: they make a promise, deal with spiritual things and are directed at people in the kingdom since they make no sense to non-Christians. They were spoken in a style of teaching that Rabbis usually had in introducing their lesson with a question or a paradox. Beatitudes were contradictions which challenged the preconceived notions of life and philosophy. That is to say:
- Spiritually poor attain riches of heaven
- Mourners will be comforted
- Gentle will gain earth (not warriors)
- Thirsty will be satisfied, etc.
In the beatitudes Jesus gives insight into the spiritual reality that operates in the kingdom of heaven. They are spiritual principles by which we, in the kingdom, operate.
For example, in the kingdom those who bear persecution in the name of Christ do rejoice. This is not the normal reaction for those who are persecuted. People in this situation are usually afraid, angry or have a desire for revenge. However, in the kingdom, the spiritual laws work in such a way that those who suffer for Christ rejoice in Him. Disciples who are influenced by these principles become distinctive (like salt as a flavor, and light to the eye are distinctive).
True happiness (blessedness) therefore is distinctive. The distinctiveness of the disciples, characterized by the principles set forth in the beatitudes, is what makes them stand apart from others and what characterizes the kingdom (like the saltiness of salt or the brightness of light). The happiness of those in the kingdom is based on God's will being accomplished through and in them regardless of the consequences. This distinctiveness, ultimately perceived in good lives and good works, not only characterizes the kingdom, but reveals the true nature of God to fellow man.
What makes you happy in the kingdom is very different than what makes you happy in the world.
In the beatitudes we see man as he is in the regenerated state, and that state is blessed.
How do Kingdom Dwellers Relate to the Law – Matthew 5:17-48
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."
- Matthew 5:17-20
The key verse in the discourse is verse 20. It reveals that the higher righteousness of the disciples is the quality that distinguishes them and makes them useful in the kingdom setting them apart from those who dwell in the world. From verses 17-48 He makes a series of comparisons putting forth what they had been taught about the Law of Moses by their teachers, "...you have heard that it was said..." and lays beside these teachings the essence and spirit of the Law given by the one who originally gave the Law to Moses: Jesus Himself. The Lord comments on five areas of teaching in which they had received instructions concerning the Law:
The unjustified taking of life was wrong.
"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder,' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."
- Matthew 5:21-22
Jesus establishes the breaking of the command at the beginning of anger and resentment towards others and that keeping the Law meant that one made a conscious effort at reconciliation, not just avoiding murder—the extreme. The teachers taught that if you avoided the extreme, you obeyed the whole Law.
They had been taught to manipulate the Law in order to justify their adultery with easy divorce.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery,' but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
- Matthew 5:27-28
Jesus again situates the true sin as impurity of heart and the actual keeping of the Law as an effort to control one's body, not manipulation of the Law in order to gain easy divorces.
They had learned a complex manner of making selective vows which they felt they could break when inconvenient.
"Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.'
"But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil." - Matthew 5:33,37
Jesus reveals that vows are not necessary when one has an honest heart; real obedience required love and honesty.
Their system relied on the Law as a tool for restitution and many times a cover for revenge.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'"
- Matthew 5:38
Jesus taught them that the higher principle of the Law was mercy not justice.
They used the Law to build a wall around themselves and keep others out.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…"
- Matthew 5:43-44
Jesus showed them that one purpose of the Law was to reveal God's goodness to men, that to be like the giver of the Law, they had to love enemies as He had done with them.
And so, in the kingdom there exists both a true understanding of the essence of God's Law and a sincere desire to abide by the spirit of the Law. In the kingdom there is no game playing: God's word, His will and His Law is life itself, and there is a true hunger to do what is right. Some have made a rule book out of this passage thinking that in order to be in the kingdom you had to perfectly obey the standard that Jesus speaks about here. This idea and practice somehow replaces the old Law with a new and harder one to obey.
What these well meaning but misguided individuals misunderstand is that through the grace of God obtained by Jesus on the cross we are considered perfect according to the kingdom standards outlined here by faith, not by perfect obedience (which is impossible for sinful man). In other words, when God looks at the members of the kingdom, this is the perfection He sees – not because the people in the kingdom have achieved it, but because the king of the kingdom has achieved it for His subjects by dying on the cross. When Jesus teaches blessed are those who hunger and thirst for rightness, for they shall be satisfied – this is what He's talking about.
- The righteousness is the perfection He describes in these passages concerning the Law.
- If this is what you hunger for, you will be given it through faith in Him and thus be satisfied.
- This is the cause of your blessedness, your happiness.
- That you hunger for something you could not achieve for yourself – and Jesus gives it to you because you believe in Him.
The kingdom dwellers understand and perfectly obey the Law through faith in Jesus Christ.
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.
- I Corinthians 1:30
In the kingdom what really brings happiness is obeying the true essence of the Law, and through faith in Christ this is made possible!
Relationship with God
"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
"So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
"But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."
- Matthew 6:1-4
Jesus goes on to teach them how those in the kingdom exercise their relationship with God.
In the world, religion consists mainly of ritual, repetition and tradition. In the kingdom however we do the following:
- We practice goodness towards God with a view of pleasing Him, not men. (vs. 1-4)
- We pray to God in order to communicate with Him, not to impress others with our piety. (vs. 5-18)
- Trust God to provide all of our physical and spiritual needs, not ourselves or the world. (vs. 19-34)
Jesus teaches them to understand the nature of the kingdom (beatitudes), the quality of life that they should strive for as salt and light of the earth (essence of the Law), and now guides them into the practical ways of how to have a meaningful relationship with Himself as opposed to the various methods offered by the world to achieve this end.
Relationship with Others
"Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
"Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!
"In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
- Matthew 7:1-12
The elements for a proper relationship with God are followed by the key idea to a blessed relationship between people in the kingdom.
"In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
- Matthew 7:12
All the teaching contained in the Law and the Prophets can be summarized by this one principle. In it one learns how to treat others in ways that bless our relationships with God and man. This "golden rule" as some refer to it also instructs those in the kingdom on the very practical way to keep the kingdom alive within themselves and please God as a result. Note also how differently those in the world treat one another and the sad results seen in every age.
The Way of Life
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
"You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.'
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall."
When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
- Matthew 7:13-29
Having set forth the parameters of the kingdom and its inner workings, Jesus explains the way to enter into the kingdom and into a relationship with the king and the Father as a result. (vs. 13-15) This is His invitation to His audience:
1. Enter by the narrow gate of Christ.
Later on at His crucifixion the disciples will understand just how narrow and difficult this gate is. The only way to God and the kingdom of Christ is through a response to the cross.
2. Beware of false prophets who produce neither the teachings nor the fruit of the kingdom of Christ.
That's how you know them, neither the fruit nor the teaching. True prophets have the fruit and the teachings. Don't be fooled by those who produce some of the fruit but don't have the teaching, and vice versa. Prophets need both!
3. Don't just hear the words of Christ, act upon them in order to enter in.
Many are called but few become the chosen ones who belong to the kingdom. Many heard all of what He said that day and were amazed, but few entered through the narrow gate of the cross into the kingdom of the king.
Thus ends Jesus' comprehensive description of His heavenly kingdom as it would appear in a physical context among men.
- Complete the following sentence as given in the text associated with this lesson and explain its meaning:
- "Jesus' Kingdom exists wherever His ________ is done."
- How does Jesus compare true happiness to what the world considers true happiness?
- Read Matthew 5:17-48 and discuss how Kingdom citizens relate to the law and how citizens of God's Kingdom demonstrate the character of our King.
- How do citizens in God's Kingdom demonstrate their relationship with God?
- How does Matthew 7:1-12 express how citizens in God's Kingdom demonstrate His will in our relationship with others?
- What does Matthew 7:13-29 teach us as the way of life for citizens in God's Kingdom?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
- What benefit do we receive from the Sermon on the Mount?
- How do the Beatitudes show God's view of happiness?
- As citizens of God's Kingdom, how do we relate to His will (Matthew 5:17-48)?
- How do we exercise our relationship with God (Matthew 6:1-4)?