Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when He sat down His disciples came. And he opened His mouth and taught them.
These are the words of introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, which is the first talk of any length recorded in the gospels as being spoken by the Lord when He was on earth. there was a particular purpose in the Lord's going up on the mountain prior to giving such important teachings. The importance of this instruction is made known by the fact that He withdrew from the multitude and his disciples "came to Him." Even the sitting posture in which he taught is important.
In the Old Testament we read about the Ten Commandments being given from the top of Mt. Sinai. There is a wide contrast between the giving of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and the Sermon on the Mount in the New. In Exodus, the people trembled. In the Gospel of Matthew, all was peace and gentleness. It is not difficult to see why the thunderings and lightnings, the noise of a trumpet and the mountain smoking should accompany the delivery of the law which was given by Moses, and why perfect quietness and simplicity should characterize the communication of grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
Different states of mind and life and different degrees of intelligence were addressed on the two occasions. The Israelites in the time of Moses were restrained with difficulty from the lowest forms of idolatry, and were not influenced by God's infinite and universal love, although they could be awed by the display of His power. But when the Lord came, the world was ready for something better. The Jewish Church had been corrupted by centuries of disobedience. It had lost all power to be of spiritual service to mankind, and the particular phase of life to which it ministered had passed away. The new revelation needed to be of another kind. It was in essence and spirit the same, but it needed to differ in outward form. During the long period of spiritual darkness which preceded the Lord's coming, the world was preparing for greater spiritual light. A clearer insight into divine truth is given in the gospel and is a more complete manifestation of God's nature and providence than the law and the prophets.
In the Old Testament, God was omnipotent and was to be feared by this was changed in the New Testament and He was to be loved. Instead of the sound of thunder which was interpreted by Moses, people heard the clear voice of One who spoke as no one had ever spoken before and whose words were those of divine wisdom itself. From the words of Jesus, they gained some knowledge of the deeper meaning of their scriptures, and were lifted above the ceremonial worship to that of spiritual responsibility and allegiance. Gently and tenderly, yet with authority, the Lord gave instructions, and those who accepted His teachings knew that He was telling them about eternal life. The Ten Commandments and other Old Testament sayings were not to be abolished, but He did place them in a new light. Divine truth is always the same in its root and essence even though it varies in its outward expression. In their interior meaning, both the Beatitudes and the Ten Commandments were given as guidelines to the heavenly way of life.
Mount Zion was associated with Jewish worship and considered the holy mountain. But all mountains on which the Lord taught were equally holy. And other mountains are expressive of the highest and inmost regions of human nature, where the Heavenly Father can most truly and fully meet with each individual.
We can become genuinely receptive of divine truth only in the proportion in which the state of our affections is elevated above our selfish and worldly interests. Then we love the truth for its own sake, that is, for the sake of life. It becomes a living medium of conjunction and communion with the Heavenly Father. The mountain of holiness where God lives and speaks can be climbed if we have the sincere love of what is good and true and the governing desire to do the Lord's will, and make a constant effort to find happiness in the welfare and happiness of others.
When the Lord was present in the world, He gave some of his most precious teachings when He went up on a mountain. He went up on a mountain more than once to pray. "And ever day He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and lodged on the Mount called Olivet." (Luke 21:37)
After He and His disciples had eaten the last supper together, He went up on a mountain. And finally, it was on a mountain that He was transfigured, His face shining as the sun, and His raiment white as the light. It was His habit to go up on a mountain where He wanted to give emphasis and fullness to His inner thoughts and open His human heart most deeply to the divine consciousness.
The order of evens as they are given in the Gospel stories tell us that He had previously been going about Galilee teaching, preaching and healing every kind of sickness, until at last "great crowds followed Him from Galilee, and the Decapolis, and Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan." (Mt. 4:25)
It is evident that He wanted a place which was apart from the noisy crowd, where He could quietly share His divine message. No one was obliged to follow Him, yet everyone was free to do so. We do not know how many climbed the mountain with Him, but we do know that those who came to Him are called disciples, and that His words were especially addressed to them.
These happenings give us a true picture of the Lord's way of dealing with all of us. His heart was full of infinite compassion for the multitudes who were scattered as sheep having no shepherd. There was not a single person among them whom He did not wish to help and save. The brought their sick and He healed them. And yet certain conditions were necessary in order that they might receive the full benefit of His presence. In Matthew 13, we read, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house. And He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief."
This means that in everything the Lord does for us, there must be some degree of trustful cooperation on our part. He can teach us nothing, unless we are ready to listen and try to understand. If we want to hear His words, we must keep within the sound of His voice. When He goes up on the mountain, we must be willing to follow. The love form which He teaches must find something corresponding to itself in our hearts. There must be within us the desire to live as He would have us live, so we need to prove that we are His disciples and go to Him.
After the Lord went up on the mountain, it is said that He sat down. This posture, which was the usual one with Jewish teachers in their teaching, expresses a permanent and confirmed state of affection. In the Scriptures walking has relation to active life, and to the changes of state involved in it. From Micah, chapter 4, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and we may walk in His paths." This verse is asking us to live according to divine order.
Unless we are willing to go up on the mountain and sit at the feet of the teacher, we may lose the lessons of the Gospels, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Ten Commandments.
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the cmap trembled. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. The Lord said to Moses, "Go down and warn the people not to break through to the Lord to look; otherwise many of them will perish. Even the priests who approach the Lord must consecrate themselves or the Lord will break out against them." Moses said to the Lord, "The people are not permitted to come up to Mount Sinai; for you yourself warned us saying, "Set limits around the mountain and keep it holy."
Reading from Swedenborg:
And Moses went up unto the mountain of God. That this signifies toward heaven, is evident from the signification of "Mount Sinai," which is here "the mountain of God," as being the Law or Divine truth which is from the Lord, thus the Word such as it is in heaven, consequently also heaven. The reason why the revelation was made on a mountain, and this mountain is called "the mountain of God," is that a "mountain" signifies the celestial of love, which is good, and consequently it signifies heaven, and in the supreme sense the Lord; and "the mountain of God" signifies Divine truth from the Divine good of the Lord's Divine love; for in the Word the Lord is called "God" from Divine truth, and "Jehovah" from Divine good.
Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets) #9419