That All Might Hear

Why Jesus chose to preach on a mountainside

The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is one of the most widely cited passages of the Bible—and for good reason. It contains both the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer as well as some of the central tenets of Christian discipleship. But what do we know about the location where Jesus chose to preach? It is a fascinating place, both geographically and symbolically, and one well worth studying in detail.

 

THE MOUNT OF BEATITUDES
According to tradition, the mountain is on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, between Capernaum and Tabgha, on the southern slopes of the Korazim Plateau.

Though the actual location where the sermon was preached is not certain, Mount Eremos (a Greek word meaning “uninhabited” or “solitary”) has been commemorated as the site for more than 1,600 years.

Nearby, a Byzantine church was built in the fourth century, and it stood for three centuries. Today the spot is graced by the elegant Church of the Beatitudes, an octagonal building (one side for each Beatitude) built in 1938. Interestingly, the building was partially funded by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

 

THE SEA OF GALILEE
This freshwater lake, also known as the Lake of Gennesaret, is one of the lowest-lying bodies of water on earth (about 689 feet below sea level). Roughly 64 square miles—nearly the size of Washington, D.C.—the Sea of Galilee continues to be Israel’s primary source of fresh drinking water. It figures prominently in many key gospel moments, including the times Jesus calmed a storm and walked on water (Mark 4:35-41; Matt. 14:22-34).

 

HOW GEOGRAPHY PLAYED A ROLE
The semicircular bay at the foot of the mountain and the sloping hillside form a natural amphitheater, like those created by the Greeks and Romans. Partway up this slope is a plateau, likely the “level place” from which Jesus preached (Luke 6:17), and it is estimated that as many as 5,000 to 7,000 people could have sat in this area and clearly heard His message firsthand. This is also how Jesus was able to preach from Peter’s boat and be heard by the large crowd on the elevated shore (Luke 5:1-3).

The area's natural beauty still dazzle visitors today. Even Mark Twain, who believed in God but had an uneasy relationship with Christianity, was humbled by it and recorded his impressions in The Innocents Abroad. He wrote, “In the starlight, Galilee has no boundaries but the broad compass of the heavens, and is a theatre meet for great events; meet for the birth of a religion able to save a world; and meet for the stately Figure appointed to stand upon its stage and proclaim its high decrees … One can comprehend it only when night has hidden all incongruities and created a theatre proper for so grand a drama.”

 

“Jesus 6. The Sermon on the Mount,” Jan Luyken

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35 On that day, when evening came, He said to them, Let us go over to the other side."

36 Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him.

37 And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.

38 Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"

39 And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, Hush, be still." And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.

40 And He said to them, Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

41 They became very much afraid and said to one another, Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?"

22 Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away.

23 After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.

24 But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary.

25 And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.

26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.

27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."

28 Peter said to Him, Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water."

29 And He said, Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord, save me!"

31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

32 When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.

33 And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, You are certainly God's Son!"

34 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.

17 Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon,

1 Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret;

2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets.

3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat.

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