There is often in today’s churches an urging for Christians to get out into the world and the world’s institutions to make a difference “for the Kingdom”. The urging is often based on the Sermon on the Mount where the Lord supposedly gave the command to the Church to be “salt and light”. Now in this I am not questioning whether Christians should engage in evangelism or to do good things in the world, but if we are truly going to obey the Lord, our first objective should be to see what He really said, and what He meant when He said it. Before moving on too far, let us take a look at His words:
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. [Mat 5:13-14]
The first item to take note of in these verses is that it is not a command to go out and be salt and light, but a statement: “Ye are the salt of the earth…Ye are the light of the world…” The use of the “Ye” in these statements also indicate that He is talking to a group of people as a group. So who is this group of people? As is always a good practice, let us first let the scripture speak for itself:
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And His fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and He healed them. And there followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and [from] Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and [from] Judaea, and [from] beyond Jordan.
And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him: And He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying…[Mat 4:23-5:2]
This “them” that is stated here is exactly who the Lord is talking to. The multitudes and His disciples were there.
This is followed with “the beatitudes” and then our passage of interest on “salt and light”. Now since the Lord’s earthly ministry was primarily to the children of Israel, or the Jews, (Mat 15:24, Rom 15:8) the main understanding of the “salt” in this passage should be taken from the understanding of the Hebrew scriptures. Of the references in the Old Testament, the following best describes our Lord’s reference to the salt of the earth:
Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there [any] taste in the white of an egg? [Job 6:6]
Salt has been a requirement for meat offerings, heave offerings, and burnt offerings, but in Job 6:6 the simple usage of it to make food which gives the best thought of the use in Matthew 5:13. Salt is used on food to give it palatable flavor. Now it does not take a theologian or an expert in ancient customs and practices to figure that out, now does it?
Now here in the Lord’s sermon, we have salt that has the possibility of losing its savor, or as we could say its saltiness. Now that is an interesting concept, because it seems to me if salt were to lose its saltiness, it would no longer be salt. But apart from technical difficulties, we can understand the concept of what He is saying. It is very simple. If the salt cannot be used as salt, it is worthless, throw it out.
But if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Salt [is] good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; [but] men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. [Luk 14:34-35]
As the Lord said, he with ears, let him hear! Read that verse again aloud, and really HEAR it! If the common interpretation of this passage is correct, it becomes very difficult to hold on to doctrines of eternal security, for in this passage we see a threat of being cast out. So let us move forward to study this passage and accept the truth wherever it leads. Remember that scripture must lead our theology, and not the other way around.
So now, let us come back to the Sermon on the Mount. We must remember also that the multitudes and the disciples who were the audience of this sermon were the covenant people, who were in a covenant relationship with Jehovah. Part of that covenant relationship is a land covenant that is found in Deuteronomy 28-30. The land covenant, sometimes referred to as the Palestinian covenant, contains blessings and curses, associated with obedience. The obedience was to another covenant, commonly called the Mosaic covenant which was conditional in nature, unlike the covenant with Abraham:
Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth [is] Mine: [Exo 19:5]
Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do [them]; for this [is] your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation [is] a wise and understanding people. For what nation [is there so] great, who [hath] God [so] nigh unto them, as the LORD our God [is] in all [things that] we call upon Him [for]? And what nation [is there so] great, that hath statutes and judgments [so] righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? [Deu 4:5-8]
And said unto me, Thou [art] my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. [Isa 49:3]
The Old Testament history of the nation is in general a history of disobedience and of their unfaithfulness to the covenant. Paul states in Romans a quote from the prophet Isaiah (Isa 52:5):
For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. [Rom 2:24]
Israel, God’s elect people had “lost their savor”. This is a solemn warning, and in a way a prophetic utterance. Remember the content of the Lord’s message:
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. [Mat 4:17]
This call to repentance is just as the prophets of the Old Testament had proclaimed, a call to the nation to “amend your ways and your doings”. (Jer 7:3) This message came with a further warning that if the salt had lost its flavor, it would be good for nothing but to be cast out and trampled under foot. It would not even be fit for the dunghill! In the shadow of the cross, the Lord spoke to those still following Him about things to come. Look at how He picks up on this idea of being trampled under foot:
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. [Luk 21:24]
Israel as a nation had indeed lost its place of blessing and prominence among the nations. As we progress through Scripture and get to the Revelation, note the condition of the holy city in the time of the end:
But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty [and] two months. [Rev 11:2]
The New Testament history of the nation is also one of unbelief, both in the Gospels and the Acts. The loss of their place of blessing is stated in Romans, and even with this judicial statement, see the heart of our God in this matter:
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all. [Rom 11:32]
The good news is that now Israelites need not depend on living up to their end of the bargain. They now must only fall on the mercy of the God Who loves them with an everlasting love (Jer 31:3).
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. [Rom 10:12-13]
The Lord Jesus, in His “Sermon on the Mount”, is speaking to the nation of the peril that they are in if they do not heed His call to repentance. That prophetic warning has come to pass as the Scriptural record has told us. If we do not rightly divide the word of truth, we may come up with a contradiction to the following passage:
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of Him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. [Jhn 6:35-40]
“All that the Father giveth Me” I believe is reference to everything that is coming to the Son by virtue of His Sonship and and His position as Messiah and King of Israel. And the one who comes to the King will in no wise be cast out! The one who sees the Son and believes on Him will have EVERLASTING LIFE
In regards to “the light of the world”, the elect nation was replaced:
Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. [Jhn 8:12]
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. [Jhn 9:5]
He has now left the world with a promise to return. The King, while sitting at the right hand of the Father waiting for His enemies to be made His footstool (Psa 110:1) has left a light here in His place:
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [His] good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. [Phl 2:12-16]
We live now under the reign of grace, in the day of salvation, where God was in Christ in reconciling the world to Himself, by Jesus Christ our Lord who was made sin on our behalf. (2 Cor 5:21-6:2) We who have received the grace of God by faith, and the gift of justification by grace (Rom 3:24) are left with a position and job to do. Let us be faithful in carrying out our duty to our Lord. Not for fear of being cast out, but for love toward Him Whose love from which we cannot be separated:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rom 8:38-39]