When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29 NASB)
I will be honest that this text perplexes me a little bit, and may cause me to go back on an earlier statement I made in this blog. On May 15th on #15 of what the Gospels teach I stated that the Sermon on the Mount was a teaching specific to the disciples and I made that statement based Matthew 5:1-2.
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, (Matthew 5:1-2 NASB)
My take on this passage is this: Jesus is amidst the crowds, so He goes up the mountain to get away, His disciples follow, He sits down and teaches the small group of disciples that followed. Matthew 5:1-2 seems to communicate a separation from the crowd by the disciples and Christ up into a mountain. When Jesus “...began to teach them...” my assumption has been that that ‘them’ refers to ‘His disciples’ and not ‘the crowds’. This idea has shaped much of my thought, especially on the beatitudes, but also the teaching on salt and light as well. My premise has been that the Sermon on the Mount was not evangelistic at all, but was a message to the disciples.
Now fast forward to the end of the Sermon on the Mount... “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed...” At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is teaching crowds, this is clear from Matthew 7:28-29. This leaves a couple options and I am not going to pretend to know which is right. Either my understanding of Matthew 5:1-2 was entirely wrong, and when “He opened His mouth and began to teach them...” He was teaching the crowds from the very beginning, or the other option is that while He was teaching the disciples a crowd began to gather around Him. Honestly I am not sure which stance to take. I understand that if I take the stance that Jesus was teaching the crowd from the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, my understanding of the Beatitudes changes some. However Matthew 5:1-2 really does seem to point to a retreat with only His disciples. It does seem common in the scriptures that Jesus would draw crowds as He ministered, so to think that is what happened here is not out of line. Moreover this would explain how Jesus could affirm that His audience was the light of the world in the beginning of the Sermon and then at the end of the Sermon make warnings about the house built on the sand... the audience changed. The other option is that the group of disciples was a crowd, but that does not seem in line with Matthew 5:1-2 which seems to denote a separation of the disciples from the crowd.
The bottom line is that I am not sure whether the entire Sermon on the Mount was taught to a crowd, or if it started with just a smaller group of disciples. This may be splitting hairs, and this is a pretty dry post, but it is not a trivial point. The audience a message is given to gives insight into the meaning of the message and why it was given. I will leave this post here, feel free to set me straight if you have more insight into this detail.