It is important in the foundational building blocks of the Sermon on the Mount to understand that the primary theme that Jesus spoke about involved the Kingdom of God. The historian, Michael Grant stated: “every thought and saying of Jesus was directed and subordinated to one single thing …, the realization of the Kingdom of God upon the earth,” and “this one phrase [Kingdom of God] sums up his whole ministry and his whole life’s work” ( Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, 1995, pp. 10-11).
In fact, beyond the Gospels alone, the entire thematic thrust of the Old Testament scriptures onward to the closing chapter of Revelation revolve around God’s administration of His kingdom on Earth. Often times, through Biblical teaching on a basic level, the church has often taught that dispensations are distinct periods of times in which God interacted with humanity a different way. From this we have several dispensations such as: the dispensation of innocence, the dispensation of conscience, the dispensation of human government; followed by several others.
While the dispensations are hermeneutically correct and accepted in the common order they are taught, what is often not grasped as the word “dispensation” itself goes far beyond the concept of a “period of time.” The Greek word from which we get dispensation “comes from a verb that means ‘to manage, regulate, administer, and plan’ (Couch, 2000, p. 39). Therefore, the dominant theme in relation to “dispensation” is the management or administration of a household. This natural meaning of the word dispensation is seen clearly in Luke 16:1-4 where stewardship or administration is obvious.
Luke 16:1-4 (KJV)
1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
This concept is quite obvious when reading New Testament scriptures. While the theme seems to be more dominant during the time of the Apostles and the developing church, it is seen consistently in the actions and words of Jesus. At an early age of twelve Jesus was found in the Temple astounding the learned scribes and teachers. When His mother reprimanded Him for scaring them as He had, Jesus responded: “wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:42-50)
To the ears of most that heard this statement they would have shaken their head with confusion, since in their mind, the father whom Jesus spoke of would have been Mary’s husband Joseph. What did Joseph have to do with the Temple? Outside of sacrificial and ritual obligations; nothing! The filial association of father and son are clearly alluded to in the statement Jesus gave in response to Mary’s question. Jesus was clearly speaking of a kingdom concept, in which He was the administrator of that kingdom as the Son of God.
When Jesus emerged from the obscurity of childhood onto the scene as an adult, He walked into an environment that had been listening to the preaching of His cousin we know as John the Baptist. “Repent!” John admonished, “Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat. 3:2). The prophetic undertones of Isaiah rang in the ears of the Jewish nation (Is. 40:3). John the Baptist seemed to be the voice from the wilderness which was to pave the way for the King of the Davidic Kingdom.
J. Dwight Pentecost, in discussing the message of John, put it this way, “First, he pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” and “the kingdom of heaven is near…, these two parts of John’s message constituted the Gospel of the Kingdom”(Thy Kingdom Come, 1995, p. 194).
The Jewish nation was awaiting the return of their King that the prophets had spoken of. Sadly, they failed to understand one of the most crucial concepts of their coming Messiah; they failed to grasp the Gospel of the Kingdom. Because of this Jesus constantly taught “kingdom parables” (Matt. 13:24, 31, 33, 44-45, 47; 18:23; 20:1; 22:2; 25:1). When the disciples asked Jesus, “why do you speak to us in parables?” (Matt. 13:10), Jesus responded, “It is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (v. 11).
The many likenesses that Jesus attributed to the kingdom of God in parables, “revealed various facets of truth concerning the theocratic kingdom” (Pentecost, 1982, p. 157). The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit while writing to the Corinthian church stated we are the “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:2). Peter admonished his audience to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (I Pe. 4:10), while Paul admonished that a bishop be “blameless, as the steward of God” (Tit. 1:7).
As was seen in the response of Jesus to the question they asked in regards to His speaking in parables, the Kingdom of God is exclusive. Stewardship or rather, the administration of the kingdom is given to a specific people (Luke 8:10). Jesus revealed this exclusive kingdom when Peter declared, “thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:17), by immediately alluding to a future access to the kingdom of God which would be given to the church; “and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven” (v. 19).
The “binding” and “loosing” which Jesus alluded to present a strong dynamic of an administration of heavenly authority on the earth. Alfred Edersheim discussed the concepts of “binding and loosing” in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.
And here we recall, that no other terms were in more constant use in Rabbinic Canon-Law than those of ‘binding’ and ‘loosing.’ The words are the literal translation of the Hebrew equivalents Asar ( ), which means ‘to bind,’ in the sense of prohibiting, and Hittir ( , from ) which means ‘to loose,’ in the sense of permitting. For the latter the term Shera or Sheri ( , or ) is also used. But this expression is, both in Targumic and Talmudic diction, not merely the equivalent of permitting, but passes into that of remitting or pardoning. On the other hand, ‘binding and loosing’ referred simply to things or acts prohibiting or else permitting them, declaring them lawful or unlawful. This was one of the powers claimed by the Rabbis. As regards their laws (not decisions as to things or acts), it was a principle, that while in Scripture there were some that bound and some that loosed, all the laws of the Rabbis were in reference to ‘binding.’ [a Jer. Ber. 3 b; Jer. Meg. 71 a; Jer. Sanh. 30 a.] If this then represented the legislative, another pretension of the Rabbis, that of declaring ‘free’ or else ‘liable,’ i.e., guilty (Patur or Chayyabh), expressed their claim to the judicial power. By the first of these they ‘bound’ or ‘loosed’ acts or things; by the second they ‘remitted’ or ‘retained,’ declared a person free from, or liable to punishment. to compensation, or to sacrifice. These two powers, the legislative and judicial, which belonged to the Rabbinic office, Christ now transferred, and that not in their pretension, but in their relity, to His Apostles: the first here to Peter as their Representative, the second after His Resurrection to the Church (Edersheim, 1900, p. 85).
It is evident throughout the Gospel’s that Jesus was intricately concerned with the Kingdom of God. He explained to the disciples that they were to pray, “After this manner..,” and in that prayer, “Thy kingdom come…, in earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Everywhere that Jesus went He dealt with concepts of the kingdom and made it extremely clear the conditions required in order to enter into that very kingdom.
When we enter into the Sermon on the Mount we quickly find that it begins with the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3) and ends with the kingdom of heaven (7:21-27). On the subject of the kingdom of heaven Jesus deals with two antithetical concepts: those who inherit and enter the kingdom and those who do not. Therefore, to properly understand the Sermon on the Mount everything must be sought exegetically through the prism of the multi-faceted Kingdom of God.