The world in which Jesus entered into, as He came out of the wilderness, having been “tempted of the Devil” (Luke 4:2) for 40 days and nights, was a world deeply steeped in Jewish traditionalism. It was a religious world based, not on the actual Torah, Law of Moses, as many would assume, but on the traditions of Rabbinism that had lost its way.
From the time of the Babylonian captivity, the Jewish nation has been without the central intention of what it meant to be Jewish e.g. The Arc of the Covenant. The Arc had been absent from Judaism from the time of the captivity. When the 2nd temple was built, the Holy of Holies stood empty. The source of all that was purposed in leadership, be it kingship or priesthood, was completely lost, and abandoned. The Spirit of God no longer dwelt in the Holy of Holies, above the Mercy Seat; the Arc of the Covenant was missing. The Tablets of Law were gone. Aaron’s rod, the mana, all were now gone. The Temple stood empty of what made it a Temple in the first place. The voice of God, that is, the presence of God, no longer manifesting. The Will of God that proceeded from the Presence of God, no longer spoken from the Mercy Seat. From the time of the return, to the very moment of John the Baptist preaching on the shores of the Jordan, no voice, no prophetic word, no presence, from the Holy of Holies. 400 years of silence, until John the Baptist.
And yet, there is something that was to assert itself upon the Jewish mind, that would in effect take the place of what they had in their midst before the captivity, e.g. Phariseeism! Which in turn became what we know today as Rabbinism, or Rabbinical Judaism.
For 400 years, since the days of Malachi, the Jewish leadership pursued a knowledge of the Law of God, without the voice, or presence, of God, in their midst. Their traditions replaced the prophets. Their regulations usurped its authority over and above the Mercy Seat. This is what Jesus the Messiah of Israel addressed in them, time and again. This was the primary issue between their Messiah and their leadership.
The hypocrisy of the Pharisaical elite became such a transgression to God, that eventually, once the final Sacrifice had been made when the Messiah gave His Own Life as the Sacrifice, that even their sacrifices were taken from them. Whereas before, God had allowed sacrifice, in order to bring them too repentance, and understanding of their Messiah. But even with the sacrificial ordinances still in effect, they proved to be as empty as the Holy of Holies. For even the sacrifices were meaningless without the Arc of the Covenant. Jesus the Messiah would be as the return of the Arc of the Covenant to Israel. The Voice of God, the Presence of the Most Holy One, God with us!
The Law was used only as it benefited the traditions; it was a means of control. Jewish tradition of Jesus day was designed, in a real sense, to hold men in bondage, for fear of punishment; not for breaking the Torah, but for breaking the traditions that were very loosely based on the Law of Moses, but more on the interpretation of the Law of Moses (known as Oral Tradition, which for many has greater authority that the written Torah), in affect having lost much, if not all, of the spiritual similitude. In reality, the fear that was generated in the people was a fear that had nothing to do with the Word of God. Truth sets us free! Traditions of men put us in bondage. This is the world in which Jesus, the Messiah, willingly entered Himself into, with a completely new and different way; that for those who thought themselves the leaders of the blind, were unable to discern. Jesus addresses them often, as those blind leaders who were leading the blind with their empty traditions (Matthew 23:16 as an example).
Yet, may I add here, for all who have tasted of Jesus the Messiah, (“Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:54), for those who are hungered, and are satisfied in Him. For those who thirst, and their thirst is quenched in the Messiah; Once you have tasted, you can never again stoop down to drink of any other fountain, or eat of any other false god, to have your thirst quenched, or hunger satisfied. Once you “taste and see that the LORD is good” Psalm 34:8, the broken cisterns of the Pharisees and Sadducees, nor modern day Rabbinism, can provide nothing for you!
Jesus began His ministry taking up where the greatest prophet until that time had left off (“Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” Matt.11:11). In Matthew 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Which was the same message of His forerunner (John the Baptist), whose coming the prophets prophesied (Isaiah 40:3; Mal. 3:1).
It is important to take note of the fact that this message of Jesus was initially one of great simplicity. Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! What could this mean? Those who heard Him must have wondered greatly at these words. Many assumed the meaning, and assumed what should now take place, if it be true that this One was indeed the Messiah of Israel, the King of the Jewish people. The question must have been raised, repent of what? Those who kept the tradition of the Pharisees could not imagine of what they were to repent. Israel was not awake to what a call to repentance could possibly mean. Once Jesus began to unfold the Kingdom of Heaven, many, if not most, found themselves truly astonished at His teaching.
As we begin to enter into this amazing message that we commonly know as The Sermon on the Mount, it is important to remember the initial beginning of Jesus preaching, just before this discourse. The beginning message of the Messiah never changed in its intent. His purpose for preaching this first message, of repentance, ran through all of His preaching and teaching. It is the heart of His message, and will be most apparent that this is so as we study these passages. This message of repentance began with the great prophet, the forerunner, John the Baptist, Matthew 3:3-6 “For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”
This message of repentance suggested something very radical was to take place within the human heart, with the coming of Messiah. There is a way that seems right to men (prov. 14:12), but God’s ways are always higher. Mans way will lead to destruction, but God’s ways leads to everlasting life! Jesus knew that the only way to come to this radical change in humanity, was through repentance, first of all!
The Jewish people had spent the last 400 years learning a religious system from a leadership that for all of its rules and regulations, with intense scrutiny of the Mosaic Law, only served to separate them from heaven, Why, because the religion of the Pharisees was not according to the knowledge of God that proceeded from the Mercy Seat. The significance of the Arc of the Covenant was forgotten in the midst of a new found religion, albeit having the same appellation. Their sacrifices made no difference towards a truly clean heart. Their observances made no impact on their self-righteousness. What the Jewish religion (with all of its rules, regulations, and sacrifice) was unable to do in the those days leading up to the coming of Jesus the Messiah, He Himself had come to do. He Himself was to be the answer for the Jewish nation, and for all of mankind, just as it was written concerning Him in Hebrews 10:7, “Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God”. (consider reading Hebrew 10:1-7 for further understanding of what is being said here)
As we begin this study on the Sermon on the Mount, keep in mind this radical change that is to take place in the hearts of those who had ears to hear. The things Jesus talks about in what we know as the Beatitudes, are not of this world, just as He is not of this world. Many have tried to counterfeit these characteristics in one form or another, but only in Jesus can these Beatitudes be truly known, and experienced.
Bless His Name forever! Amen!