As way of background, the Gospel of Matthew was written according to church tradition by the former tax collector, Matthew. As a Jew and eyewitness of Jesus, Matthew ties the Old Testament into the New Testament by proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. As the promised Messiah, Matthew reveals Jesus as the fulfillment of what was promised and as a new and clearer interpretation of God's plan. Jesus is Immanuel, "God with us", and the one who will save His people from their sins (1:21-22). Jesus came bringing the very kingdom of God. Matthew tells how Jesus proclaimed the presence of the kingdom in word, but also manifested kingdom rule by healing the sick and casting out demons. It is in this context that the book, and particularly chapter 5-7, can best be understood.
Having announced the power of the Kingdom in acts of healing, in chapter 5 Jesus turns to proclaiming the character of the Kingdom, which is traditionally known as the Sermon on the Mount or the Beatitudes (5:1-12).
In these opening statements Jesus outlines the primary attributes of people who receive the kingdom rule of God--who receive the very spirit of it. Until now the relationship of God to his people has been that of rules, but now Jesus reveals the organic nature of how people are to live in relationship with God. Now the hidden motivation and character of the heart are the guiding rules. It is what a person is and not just what one does that is important. In the Old Testament the emphasis fell on the externals. Now Jesus brings things home to the heart. The subjects of God's Kingdom have certain heart attributes. They now are to exhibit a dependency upon God, remorsefulness over their sins, humility, a desire to seek...