In the Fulness of Time/Part 12
By: Dr. Thomas Figart
|By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2007|
|Dr. Figart gives two analogies given in Matthew 5:13-16 to explain the responsibilities of true discipleship in God’s kingdom.|
The Beatitudes predicted the blessings of true discipleship in Christ’s coming Kingdom, as noted in our previous studies. Next, Jesus showed the Responsibilities of True Discipleship in His Kingdom by using two common analogies in Matthew 5:13-16. These analogies of salt and light have been used in both Old and New Testaments in a number of ways and of a variety of people and things in different dispensations. For example, salt was used in the dispensation of Law in Levitical sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13), in making covenants (Numbers 18:19), and even in performing miracles (II Kings 2:21). In the Age of Grace, Christians are admonished to have speech “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). Christ calls Himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and Christians are called “light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8). The analogy of light is used in Isaiah 9:2; 49:6; 60:1 to prophesy of Messiah in the future.
But the question arises once again, are any of these precisely what Jesus had in mind here in Matthew 5:13-16? Granted, there are universal principles which can be applied in many ways, and there will be more such applications used throughout this section of Matthew. Walvoord’s observation is a good reminder: “Most expositions, however, content themselves with spiritual applications …and do not consider each verse contextually in its relation to the doctrine of the kingdom. While good application is common, precise interpretation is rare” (Matthew, p. 246, note 7 on ch. 5). Contextually, therefore, how is Jesus using “salt” and “light”?
- Matthew 5:13 “Ye are the salt of the earth, but if the salt have lost its savor, with what shall it be salted? It is therefore good for nothing, but to be cast out, and trodden under foot of men.”
Obviously Jesus is still speaking of the “blessed” ones, only now He points out their responsibilities, first with regard to salt. Salt is pure; it is used as a preservative and it was used for flavoring. The word Jesus uses is “savor.” The Greek word is moraino, which in turn comes from moria, meaning “foolish.” Thayer in his Lexicon gives this definition: “To prove a person or thing to be foolish… to make flat or tasteless… of salt that has lost its strength and flavor” (p. 420). Matthew 5:13 could be translated, “But if the salt has lost its pungency, by what means can its saltiness be restored?”
So much for translation, but what does all this mean? Keeping the context in mind and going to verses 14-16, the second analogy helps to explain the first. As light, the blessed ones are to shine, not be hidden, that men may see their good works and glorify the heavenly Father. Thus, the word influence satisfies both analogies. The pungency of salt has a positive influence on whatever is salted. In this case, the “blessed” ones who are expected to affect their “earth” that is, the sphere of their influence. It is not to preserve a corrupt earth; that would be impossible, but it is realistic to believe that real influence can be exerted on a one-to-one basis, and in this manner to affect their “world.”
The negative aspect is also presented. If salt is not salty, it is of no use but to be “cast out and trodden under foot of men.” As in every illustration, all details cannot be expected to coincide with the primary application. Pure salt cannot lose its saltiness, and in this
respect Jesus is using an argument from the impossible to prove the reality. True salt remains salty, but in the ancient world there was impure salt from salt marshes, contaminated with chemicals. Such salt was often cast on the road and ground underfoot. Jesus did not say that these “blessed” ones became salt by their influence; rather they have influence because they are salt. But then what of the latter part, “if the salt have lost its savor” and further, why would Jesus not have used a contrary to fact “if” rather than the Greek word ean: “If it loses its savor, and it may”? And why speak of the salt being “good for nothing but to be cast out”? True believers in every dispensation have two natures, one from God which is sinless and the old, corrupt human nature inherited from Adam. When the old nature asserts itself, the believer loses his “saltiness” (influence). The words of Jesus in John 15:6 are similar: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered; and men gather them into the fire and they are burned.” If we interpret John 15 as referring to believers who either abide and bear fruit, or do not abide and cast out of this physical life (not referring to a loss of salvation at all), because of a lack of fruit-bearing, then we can look at the savorless salt in the same way. They, too, are believers who have lost their effectiveness and fruitfulness and have become worthless as a testimony for their Messiah and are cast out of this physical life.
- Matthew 5:14 “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Here again the concept of influence is evident in the analogy of the believer as light. Light cannot dispel darkness if it is hidden. Even in New Testament days there were candles and lamps, so that a lighted city on a hill could not be hidden.
- Matthew 5:15 “Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under a bushel, but on a lampstand and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.”
It is just as outlandish to think of lighting a lamp only to place it under a “bushel” (modios) which was probably a peck, or even a bowl. Obviously this would defeat the purpose. Placing it on a lampstand gave maximum light to all.
- Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who is in heaven.”
There should always be the complement of witness in life and lip, or walk and talk. Here, attention is drawn to the life, and rightly so. Proof in the walk is necessary before the “world” will listen to the talk. In reality, not all the works of Christ’s followers were good; nevertheless, the admonition is no less needed because of some failures; the responsibility is still there. The extent of the influence of these “blessed” ones will reach the Father in heaven. It is the men of the world who see the good works. These are the ones Jesus wanted to win over to His Messianic claims and be part of the kingdom He was presenting. It would come “in the fulness of time!”