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After choosing His twelve disciples, Jesus set forth His foundational teachings to them and to the rest of His disciples.
Luke 6:17-19 says,
17 Jesus came down with them, and stood on a level [pedinos] place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear Him, and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured. 19 And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all.
This was the setting for the Sermon on the Mount. Luke says that it took place “on a level place,” after descending from the mountain. Matthew appears to contradict this, saying in Matt. 5:1, 2,
1 And when He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain [oros]; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying…
Because of the different wording, it is sometimes said that Matthew gives the Sermon on the Mount, while Luke gives the Sermon on the Plain.
How could Jesus be on a mountain and yet stand on a level place? First, there are level places even on mountains. Secondly, the word oros is often translated “hill.” The word does not necessarily imply a high mountain, but can indicate any rise in elevation. It is likely, then, that He stood on the highest point of the plain, which would act as a platform so that the people in the back could see Him. Or, if He did indeed go to a mountain, He did not go to its peak, but simply stood on a level area toward the base of the mountain just high enough to see the crowd clearly.
Mark’s account seems to imply that Jesus was (or had been) in a house in Capernaum (Mark 9:33). In Mark 9:39-50 we are given a shortened version of the same teachings that He gave in the Sermon on the Mount. However, this may have been on a different occasion and in a different sermon. We would expect Jesus to repeat many of His teachings wherever He went, since the crowds always included different or new people.
The main thing is that it is highly unlikely that Jesus gave this “Sermon” on the Mount of Olives, as is often assumed. He had just chosen twelve men out of the crowd of His disciples. Four of these were fishermen living in Bethsaida on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called them. (Bethsaida is an Aramaic name that means “house of fish,” an appropriate place to begin teaching them to become “fishers of men.”) This was far from the Mount of Olives, which was located on the east side of Jerusalem.
If Mark 9:33 is relevant at all in determining the location of this “Sermon,” then it may have been preached on a hill or mountain near Capernaum, where He had spent most of His time ministering. This area was where most of His disciples lived, and the fact that He was speaking to a large crowd this early in His ministry would indicate that this teaching was given near Capernaum, rather than near Jerusalem.
As for the structure of the Beatitudes, Luke records them differently from Matthew’s account. While Matthew uses no particular structure, Luke puts the Beatitudes into a parallelism with four “Blesseds” followed by four opposite “Woes.” Separating the positives from the negatives is Luke 6:23 in the center of the parallelism, showing this to be the main focus of the message. The Beatitudes and Woes can be outlined as follows:
A1.Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
B1.Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you shall be satisfied.
C1.Blessed are you who weep now,
for you shall laugh.
D1.Blessed are you when men hate you and ostracize you, and cast insults at you and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.
Climax: Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.
A2.Woe to you who are rich,
for you are receiving your comfort in full.
B2.Woe to you who are well-fed now,
for you shall be hungry.
C2.Woe to you who laugh now;
for you shall mourn and weep.
D2.Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.
We can see the contrast as follows:
The poor vs. the rich
The hungry vs. the well-fed
The weepers vs. the laughers
The mistreated vs. the well-treated
The first thing we must establish is the meaning of “blessed.” It comes from the Greek word makarios. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), makarios is the first word of Psalm 1:1, which the NASB translates,
1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.
The Hebrew word asher (asir) was translated makarios, and so the Greek word should be understood as the nearest Greek equivalent to asher. It does not picture a man speaking blessings over a crowd of disciples, nor was David pronouncing a blessing upon the righteous. David was recognizing their blessed condition, as did Jesus. When Jesus blessed the food in Matt. 14:19, He used the term eulogio, as in a “eulogy.” But in the Sermon the Mount, Jesus was not blessing the people, but instead was telling them how blessed they were already—i.e., that they walk in a state of blessedness. More literally, asher is a condition of moving straight forward, prosperous, and happy.
It is not a future blessing, but a present spiritual joy and satisfaction that comes only from being at peace with God and in union with Him through a New Covenant relationship. It is probably the foundation of Paul’s concept of being “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17). In classical Greek, it is the word used to describe the blessedness of the gods.
Psalm 1 describes such a blessed man. He is one whose delight is in the law of the Lord. In Luke 6:20 a blessed man is one who is “poor,” because he is part of the Kingdom of God and can enjoy its blessings.
Some have translated it as “happy,” but this does not do the word justice. It is far more than a state of happiness, though obviously to be blessed is to be truly happy, even in the midst of hardship or pain. In my view, “joy” is a more accurate description than “happy.”