Why We Should Read the Sermon with David in Mind
Although the name David never appears in the sermon, and only once does the proper noun “king” occur (Matthew 5:35), it would be a mistake to overlook Jesus as king here. At least three reasons present themselves for viewing the sermon through the lens of royalty.
First, the very occurrence of the term “kingdom,” both throughout the sermon and in the narrative leading up to the sermon, give warrant for viewing each discourse as a kingship discourse. As just noted, Matthew speaks of Jesus “proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom” in two summary statements (Matthew 4:23, 9:35), which is meant to act like an abbreviated canopy thrown over the entire narrative. The beatitudes are framed with “Kingdom of heaven” statements (Matthew 5:3, 5:10), and the term “kingdom” occurs eight times in the discourse. The Sermon on the Mount is thus the speech of the King.
Second, it would be odd for Matthew to begin with the Davidic theme so clearly in the genealogy and birth narrative then drop it once Jesus enters his ministry. Matthew begins his Gospel by identifying Jesus as the Son of David, and in the birth narrative, he says he is born in Bethlehem, the city of David (Matthew 2:1), he is the king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2), and that a new ruler would come from Judah who will shepherd Israel (Matthew 2:6). It would be odd if Matthew began by comparing Jesus to David and then suddenly stopped. The sermon isn’t hermetically sealed off from the rest of the narrative but part and parcel of it.
Third, kings in ancient times were to give the law and “embody the law internally and produce good legislation that transforms the people and leads them in obedience to the law” (Joshua W. Jipp). Evidence exists both in the Ancient Near Eastern culture and the Biblical text that kings were to be living embodiments of the law who instructed through both teaching and example what it meant to follow the law. As the king goes, the nation goes. Jesus is the Davidic King who becomes the living law.
Jesus did not come to set aside or nullify the law; rather, he affirmed it, accomplished it, and brought it to reality. Jesus embodies and lives the law he delivers in the sermon and in the rest of the Gospel. The standard responsibility of ancient kings was the task of enacting justice for his people. Matthew’s dramatization of the law throughout his Gospel cannot be separated from Jesus’ kingship because Matthew’s programmatic statement about Jesus’ ministry is: he “went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matthew 4:23). The Sermon on the Mount is part of the King’s message about the Kingdom of heaven. He teaches on the Kingdom (Matthew 5–7), and then he heals every disease in anticipation of the Kingdom (Matthew 8–9) and enacts the double love command.
Adapted from Matthew: Disciple and Scribe by Patrick Schreiner, (to be published in 2019). Used by permission of Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group.