Now you might say, “There’s no lesson or meaning in that verse, is there?” Well, there can be. Why did Jesus leave the multitude when He had all those people there to talk to? Did all those folks follow Him up the mountain to hear the most famous sermon in the world? Why doesn’t it say the multitude came to Him? Is there any significance in that it says the ones who followed Jesus up the mountain were His disciples?
With a brief, superficial reading of that verse, there would seem to be nothing there to learn. But a deeper look reveals a significant message. There have been multitudes who’ve taken a superficial interest in Jesus, but few who’ve grasped and accepted Him and followed Him up the mountain. It was not just here in Matthew 5, at the beginning of “The Sermon on the Mount”, that there arose a difference between the various concentric circles of the followers of Jesus. Here, only His disciples followed Him up the mountain.
In John chapter 6, Jesus fed the multitude miraculously. We are told “5000 men” were there, so we can assume it was even a lot more people than that. After dividing up 5 loaves and 2 fishes to feed all those people, it says Jesus understood that there were those among the multitude right then who would take Him by force to make Him a king. And the next day a good number of those same folks followed Him to where He’d traveled to overnight.
It doesn’t seem like Jesus was into having vast multitudes of thrill seekers tagging along after Him. He ended up telling those folks who’d come to see Him the next day “Except you eat my flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) He actually said that. And when it was clear that it was way more than a lot of them could grasp, He kept saying it.
So the Bible says, “From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.” (John 6:66) It seems like He lost close to His entire following at that time, all except His closest 12 disciples and perhaps a few more. And some might say,
“What’s the point? I thought Jesus was a really nice guy that just went everywhere doing nice things and showing love to everyone? Wasn’t He wanting everyone to believe in Him and follow Him?”
Maybe that’s the point. It turns out there can be a real big difference between believing in Jesus and following Him. There seemed to be quite a lot of folks at that time who found Jesus interesting and maybe they even believed in Him to some degree. But to truly follow Him was something very few people ended up doing. After all He did, all He healed and all the miracles His countrymen saw in His 3½ year of ministry, it says there were only 120 disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost when God poured out the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:15)
So, multitudes or disciples. And isn’t it the same today? Thank God that anyone has any faith left at all in this hellish, demonic world we live in now. But, of all the folks who say they believe in God, or who call themselves Christians, how many of those are pretty much like “the multitude” of Jesus’ day and how many are really what can be recognized as “disciples”.
It says in Acts 10 that “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26) At the beginning of Christianity, a Christian was a disciple. That means a follower of the teaching. They were followers, not just casual believers. Like Peter in Acts chapter 10, they were obeyers of the leading of God, no matter how almost crazy it sometimes seemed. If there was ever an example of following the Holy Spirit and it resulting in historic change for all the earth, Acts chapter 10 has it.
But the Lord loves the multitude. Many people “follow a far off” (Matthew 26:58), like even Peter did at one point. But I’m sure He wants as many as will and can to follow Him up the mountain, to hear His priceless words, and to leave the valley of our mundane routine. Jesus said “the harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37). And it’s certainly the same today. The “believers” of the multitude are plenteous, but the “disciples”, the true followers and obeyers seem at times to be few.