Salt and Light - Matthew 5:13-16

Thirdmill Study Bible

Notes on Matthew 5:13-32

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Salt and Light - Matthew 5:13-16

The two metaphors of salt and light have many meanings in the ancient world. Salt is a metaphor that can be used when establishing a new covenant. The language of light is coming especially from Isaiah where light is used to describe life and understanding about God coming to all people, including the Gentiles (Matt. 4:16, from Isa. 49:6). By combining them together Jesus communicated the idea that his disciples must be the messengers of the new covenant that Jesus was bringing (Matt. 26:28). The disciples are being told to not focus on themselves only but to be a blessing to the world, bringing honor to God by their good works (Matt. 5:16). See WCF 16.2; BC 30; HC 2, 86, 122.

Main Idea of the Sermon - Matthew 5:17-20

Each of five major teaching blocks in Matthew has a main theme. The main theme for the Sermon is found in these verses – Jesus has come to fulfill all of God's instructions for the world (Matt. 5:17-19) and as a result, to be a part of God's kingdom requires a wholehearted righteousness (Matt. 5:20). The rest of the Sermon gives several examples of what this wholehearted righteousness looks like in the areas of ethics (Matt. 5:21-48), personal piety (Matt. 6:1-21), and relationship to the world and its goods (Matt. 6:19–7:23). See WCF 1.8,8.4, 19.4, 19.5, 21.7; WLC 48, 116.

Not to destroy but to fulfill – Matthew 5:17

Not to destroy … but to fulfill. Jesus is not dismissive or negative about God's previous revelation through the Mosaic covenant and its Law. But he is also saying that things are about to change because he has come to fulfill God's work in the world. This is the same theme that Matthew has emphasized from the beginning of his Gospel (see note on Matt. 1:22). The new covenant (Matt. 26:28) that Jesus is bringing will take up and transform the Mosaic covenant, resulting in many changes.

Unless your righteousness exceeds – Matthew 5:20

Unless your righteousness exceeds … In Jesus' day the scribes and Pharisees were known for their intensive study of God's laws and their obedience to every detail. From a Jewish perspective they were the most righteous people. Jesus shocked his audience by saying that to enter the kingdom of heaven required people to be even more righteous than them. In the rest of Jesus' teaching he explained what this greater righteousness looks like. It is having a whole heart for God, not just obeying the details of the Law. In each case Jesus commended what God has already said and then showed its meaning at the deepest level of the heart.

Greater Righteousness and Hate - Matthew 5:21-26

In this first example of greater righteousness Jesus challenged his disciples to pay attention to their attitudes and speech toward other people. Murder is clearly wrong, but God requires more from his people than not murdering. Absence of harm is not enough: Jesus' disciples are called to actively offer goodness in their words and relationships.

Greater Righteousness and Lust - Matthew 5:27-30

In the second example of greater righteousness Jesus upheld the importance of faithfulness in marriage – no one should commit adultery. The disciples of Jesus, however, will also pay attention to lust in their hearts. Lusting for someone else's spouse is contrary to God's kingdom — it brings God's judgment and interpersonal harm — so lust must be cut from the life of a disciple.

Greater Righteousness and Marriage – Matthew 5:31-32

The third example of greater righteousness is closely related to the second one (Matt. 5:27-30). In Jesus' day the rabbis debated each other about the grounds for a valid divorce. Many rabbis said that one could be righteous in divorcing one's spouse for almost any reason that caused offense. Jesus taught that only in the case of sexual immorality was a divorce valid. This important teaching protects the dignity and situation of women who have often been mistreated in divorce. See WCF 24.5; WLC 139.

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