Is the Sermon on the Mount to Be a Guide for the Church
or Some Future Generation?

Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.

The Sermon on the Mount is a problem passage of the first magnitude. It is one of Christ’s three major discourses. The Upper Room Discourse deals with church age truth, the Olivet Discourse with the tribulation, and the Sermon on the Mount with the kingdom. The sermon is given long before the announcement of the church and, indeed, forms part of the kingdom offer. Furthermore, the Sermon lacks Church truth, such as salvation by faith, prayer in the name of Christ, and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. While certain truths of the Sermon seem to be repeated in the Epistles, similarity does not mean identity. The addressees of the Sermon are subjects of the kingdom rather than members of the Body of Christ. The church was to them as yet a mystery. The bonafide offer of the kingdom forms the interpretive key for the sermon. Actually, both the interim view (relevant to those living just prior to the kingdom) and the millennial view (applicable to the earthly citizens of the kingdom) are correct in certain respects. The Sermon on the Mount, rightly understood, involves three aspects. It is taught to the disciples who lived during the time of the proclamation of the kingdom. Further, it involves their preparation of the kingdom, and also deals with the participation in the kingdom.

1. The Sermon Relates to the proclamation of the kingdom

Various passages of the Sermon definitely relate to the period just prior to the establishment of the kingdom, such as the persecution of the disciples, the prayer for the kingdom, and the future prospects of rewards. Since the kingdom was officially rejected in Matthew 12, the promise of the kingdom was taken from the Jews of Christ’s time, and given to another generation (Mt. 21:43), living during the tribulation, when the disciples would once again expect the coming of the King and His kingdom. The so-called Lord’s Prayer will be especially relevant then, as the disciples pray that God’s will be done on earth, where the Willful King of Daniel 11 has free reign. The request for deliverance from the Evil One will then be made by those who suffer under Antichrist’s reign of terror.

2. The Sermon Relates to the preparation for the kingdom

Lewis S. Chafer is correct in seeing the sermon as spelling out the entrance requirements for the kingdom. It is the “pure in heart” (5:8) who alone shall see God. The citizens of the kingdom need a righteousness which exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees (5:20). In fact, Christ requires of them the absolute perfection of God (5:48). The disciples must have responded in utter amazement. How could they be pure in heart, more righteous than the Pharisees and as perfect as God? The answer lies in Christ’s concluding illustration of the house built on the rock (7:24-27). Those disciples who heard Christ’s sayings and did them would endure and enter the kingdom. The message of the Messiah would produce faith and works in the attentive disciples, qualifying them to enter the straight gate of the kingdom (7:13).

3. The Sermon outlines the disciples' participation in the kingdom

Ryrie stresses that the Sermon pictures “certain aspects of life in the kingdom and thus in a certain restricted sense is a sort of constitution of the kingdom” (Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p. 82). The inheritance of the land will then be a blessed reality. The turning of the other cheek and the giving of one’s possessions to anyone who asks, will then be tolerable because of the personal presence of the Prince of Peace. Especially in the Kingdom will His citizens function as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. (5:13-14)

4. The Sermon provides high ethical principles for any dispensation, and any people

As a guide for daily conduct, the Sermon is no more applicable to the church age believers than are the Ten Commandments. By interpretation, the Sermon is for the subjects of the kingdom, giving them guidelines for life in anticipation of the kingdom, detailing the qualifications for entrance into the kingdom and outlining their participation in the kingdom. Once one realizes these three major purposes for the Sermon on the Mount, it becomes possible to rightly divide the teachings of the Sermon and assign each paragraph to its proper purpose. But, like the entire Old Testament, which, while not written to us, is certainly for us, so the principles of the Sermon may be used with great profit by the church age believers.

Consistent dispensationalists have been unjustly accused of writing off this portion of the Word of God as irrelevant for today. Yet dispensationalists insist that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. And they recognize the necessary distinction which others refuse to see, that between interpretation and application. He who would rightly divide (II Tim. 2:15)--rather than recklessly distort (II Cor. 4:2)--the Word of God, must know that while each passage of Scripture has many applications, it has only one correct interpretation. May this discussion be helpful as we make every effort to rightly divide God’s Word.

© Manfred E Kober

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