Mark 3:13–19; Matthew 5:1–12; Luke 6:12–26
Jesus selected twelve men from his disciples (cf. Luke 10:1–12) who became apostles. Christ made this selection after a night of prayer. The term translated for Christ’s all-night prayer is used only here in the New Testament, and it denotes “an all-night prayer vigil,” which suggests a complete trust in God’s selection of the twelve. These particular disciples would be the standard bearers of the church.
An apostle was one who was “sent forth,” like an ambassador. Apostles were head of the church in Christ’s absence (1 Cor. 12.28; Eph. 4.11); hence the early church devoted itself to apostolic teaching (Acts 2.42). That twelve was selected was probably to replace the idea of the twelve tribes of Israel and thus defined Jesus’ followers as the reconstituted people of God. The twelve had a special mission and were hand-selected by Christ. However, the twelve were not the only ones called apostles (cf. 1 Cor. 15:5–7). The term seemed to have been sometimes used regarding missionaries, too, when they were sent from particular congregations (Acts 14:14), though it cannot be said that these were of the same authority as the apostolic office.
Whenever Judas was replaced, his replacement was to be one who accompanied them during the time that Jesus was among them from the baptism of John until his ascension (Acts 1:21–22). The only apostle whose office didn’t fit the requirements of Judas’ replacement was the apostle Paul, but we know that Paul was likely in Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s ministry (cf. Acts 22:3; 26:4). We don’t know if he personally encountered Christ or heard him. Paul’s apostleship was disputed in the early church, but he contended that he was equal with Peter and the others (Gal. 2:7–9).
Men would later call themselves apostles while claiming many characteristics of Jesus’ chosen apostles (2 Cor. 11:5ff; Rev. 2:2), but these were not to be obeyed. Once Jesus made his selection, he and they came down the mountain and stood on a level place. This doesn’t indicate that he came down but that he found a level place on the side of the mountain from which he could address his disciples. The crowd benefited from his teaching but was directed as his disciples (Luke 6:20). Jesus healed many at this point who were ill and those who were possessed. As they touched Jesus, they enjoyed his power.
While Luke’s Sermon on the Plain deviates in structure from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Matthew was a topical rather than chronological writer. Luke’s placement of Jesus’ sermon in his Gospel may be best understood from a chronological view. The difference between the mount and the plain may be understood as Jesus standing on the side of the mount, or a slope, which could technically be the mount.
The following sermon was intended not for the people but for the disciples of Christ. The beatitudes have been described as a way of life, while the woes have been described as a way of death (Didache 1.1–5), reminiscent of Deuteronomy’s blessings and curses. Ambrose understood the beatitudes as the four virtues of Greek philosophy: temperance, justice, prudence, and fortitude (Luke 5.62-63). Ambrose’s interpretation ran counter to the Stoic philosophers of Jesus’ day.
The woes of Luke speak to those who have enjoyed their reward in this life. Jesus equated what was desired by men with what was base. What was base to men, Jesus equated with blessings: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8–9). The woes were woes, and the blessings were blessings because those who enjoyed the woes could not see the need for Christ, while those with the blessings could. Luke later proves this in his story of the rich man and Lazarus later in his Gospel (Luke 16:19–31). The rich man had all the comforts and wealth of the world, while Lazarus suffered daily. In the afterlife, the rich man was tormented while Lazarus was comforted. When the rich man adjured Abraham to send word to his brothers once he learned that he could not receive relief, Abraham’s words were that they heed Moses and the Prophets. The implication of this passage was that the rich man refused to give himself to a study of the Hebrew Bible, and because he lacked adequate knowledge of how to care for his neighbor, he was suffering as a result.