The Sermonon the Mount site.

Matthew 5:14-16, light of the world

A city on a hill

Walled section of Jerusalem, running uphill
Jerusalem, a city on a hill.
© Dejan Gileski | Dreamstime.com

The old city of Jerusalem stands on the brow of ridge, jutting out southward between two deep valleys. A psalm declares “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, in the city of our God, in his holy mountain.  Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the north sides, the city of the great King” (Ps 48:1-2 HNV).
 

5:14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden.
5:15 Neither do you light a lamp, and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house.
5:16 Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

(Matt 5:14-16 WEB)

Let your light shine

Jesus had in mind a specific city on a hill, Jerusalem. Jerusalem was known as the mountain of the temple of the Lord and it was the seat of King David, a man whose dynasty God had entrusted with revealing divine judgements to the world. God had promised David that he would always have a lamp in Jerusalem, so, especially at night, the light from the great fire on the Temple’s altar was a visible reminder of the cities role.

The Hebrew Bible links light with God’s words, for both reveal the truth. Those entrusted with God’s words were therefore likened to lights and poetically compared to the stars. As such folk scattered throughout the countryside, they came to resemble the lamps in first Century Jewish homes, innumerable little truth-revealers, casting their light across the land. 

Because of ancient Israel’s belief in its light giving role, the menorah style lamp stand, with its seven lamps, became forever associated with the nation. 

Jesus reminds his disciples that they are to to be like lamps and reveal the truth before men. When they do, then good things will happen and these good works will bring glory to God.

. . . commentary continues with Matt 5:17-18

This page is just an overview. For a detailed analysis of Matt 5:14-16, with supporting material and citations, see the further notes on Matt 5:14-16.

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