I remember listening to a sermon by Kevin DeYoung at the The Gospel Coalition Conference 2019 where he preached from Luke 4:10-30 and warned about the danger of being “too familiar” with Jesus. “Familiarity can breed unbelief” was the gist of his cautioning. In a similar line of thought familiarity can also cause us to gloss over things that Jesus says without considering the monumental implications that are His working assumptions.1
The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5-7 is very likely the most famous single grouping of Jesus’s teachings. Many people, even non-Christians, consider it the place to go to understand the morality that Jesus teaches. The teachings here, if thoughtfully considered, are genuinely radical. I recall hearing of a Muslim apologist who argued that these teachings proved Christianity could not be true as no one could follow such an ethic without constant failure! I believe that man was closer to Christianity than he would have believed. Yet, without going into detail on the actual morality taught in this sermon or its implications, I want to take a quick glance at some of the working assumptions within it, that, I dare say, are every bit as radical. Here we go:
5.8 : “for they shall see God.”
– This is a massive claim in first century Judaism, to see God is to know him, Jesus claims to know the way.
5.11-12 : “Blessed are people who insult you… because of Me… for your reward in heaven will be great…”
– Jesus claims that people will be rewarded in heaven because of enduring persecution due to being His follower.
5.17 : “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
– Saying the Law and the Prophets was essentially saying the entire Jewish Old Testament. Jesus just claimed that His purpose was to fulfill the entire Old Testament. Let that soak in.
5.20 : “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of God.”
– Jesus knows the required righteousness that it takes to get into heaven. He states plainly that the height of the religious community fails to meet that standard.
5.29-30 : “your whole body to go into Hell.”
– Jesus here, and more than anyone else in the Bible, affirms without defense the reality of Hell.
5.31-32: “It was said… but I say to you…”
– Some interpret this as bringing to light the true meaning of the OT Law, others say it is indeed enriching it, whichever way you interpret it, it is clear that Jesus sets the standard.
6.7 : “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”
– Jesus claims that the prayers of the Gentiles, or if nothing else these types of prayers, are not heard even if the Gentiles believe they are. (Obviously God “hears” them, but I believe Jesus means they are ineffectual.)
6.8 : “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
– Jesus affirms the Omniscience of God. (God is all knowing.)
7.11 : “If you then, being evil, know how to…”
– Jesus just told an entire crowd of people (with disciples present, listening and included) that they are evil. He adds it as a simple passing statement that is to be assumed. Hence the need for repentance, but please don’t miss this, Jesus assumes everyone, but Himself, is evil. (Note, He says “you” not “we.”) What does that say about us? What does that say about Him?
7.15 : “Beware of false prophets…”
– Jesus declares that there will be false prophets to come. Whether it is Muhammad or Joesph Smith or someone within the Church, Christians should not be surprised that false prophets have come since His ascension.
7.21-22 : “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘’Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven… 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.’”
– Okay there is a lot beneath the surface on this one. Jesus assumes that there is a coming judgment where some will be told to depart from Him. He assumes He will be the judge. Jesus does not deny the power of His Name, and yet, to do such works in a Name other than God’s is unfathomable from a second temple Jewish worldview. He declares that His knowledge of someone is essential for them being saved from this judgement. I think there is enough in these two verses to assume the full deity of Jesus Christ, though we certainly have far more explicit claims elsewhere to support that. Also, an important reminder for a country saturated with nominal Christianity, Jesus assumes that not every one who says they are a Christian has genuine saving faith.
It is simple case studies like we’ve seen in just these three chapters that make me believe that people who claim Jesus was just a “good moral teacher” have not seriously considered His teachings as a whole, nor looked at them carefully. All of this is just scratching the surface, but I hope it serves as a helpful reminder to study The Bible carefully and to look deeply into what God teaches through The Word by both explicit proclamation and underlying themes.
1. By “assumptions” I simply mean the statements that Jesus, as the Son of God, makes without defending them, they are simply background truths or are to be assumed for whatever teachings He is presenting.