The ministry of the Master drew large crowds almost from its outset. “Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan” (Matthew 4:25). Multitudes of people sought Him: the sick, the infirm, the troubled, the curious, the seekers, and the skeptical. Luke explains, “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, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured. And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all” (Luke 6:17-19). Matthew says that, when He saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain to teach—not so that the crowds would be able to better hear him teaching, but to escape the crowds so that He could have some time to teach His disciples.
Matthew refers to a specific hill in the Galilee: “He went up on the mountain.” The mountain alludes to Moses ascending Mount Sinai to receive the Torah (the Law). From atop “the mountain,” Yeshua discoursed on the Law. There are no proper mountains around the Sea of Galilee, but the area is surrounded by hills. Hebrew employs the same word for both. Local Christian tradition identifies a modest hill above the Seven Springs of Tabgha as the location from which He delivered the Sermon on the Mount. The hill offers a magnificent view of Lake Galilee. Its gentle slope descends to the northern shore where the springs of Tabgha dramatically pour into the lake. In the spring months, wildflowers and beautiful red anemones clothed like “Solomon in all his glory” (Matthew 6:29) cover the hill’s uncultivated fields.
Eluding the crowds, Yeshua and His disciples climbed the hill. He sat down to teach. The rabbis always taught from a seated position. In the vernacular of first-century Judaism, a rabbi sitting down is the equivalent of a pastor stepping up to a pulpit. When the Master sat down, His disciples gathered around Him to learn. When the disciples saw their teacher sit down, they knew what was expected of them. They had a job to do. So, they stepped forward, and He began to teach.
The Sermon on the Mount began Rabbi Yeshua’s formal education of His disciples. The sermon addresses a wide variety of discipleship issues on the theme of entering the kingdom (i.e., how to usher in the Messianic Era). Matthew arranged the material in an associative manner to facilitate easy memorization. In these passages the Master laid out the practical applications of His gospel message: “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is near.” It’s Yeshua’s guide on how to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). It’s His prescription for the path of repentance that leads to the redemption.