Matthew 5:14 is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount delivered to the multitudes who were following Him. It is important to note that although Jesus was in front of a huge crowd, he was particularly speaking to his disciples. In the first and second verses it reads, “…and when he was set his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth and taught them…” The words spoken were meant specifically for those who were true believers. All Christian true believers must pay attention to this message.
“A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14) is in the second section of the sermon, after the beatitudes. Jesus is explaining how His followers should act in the presence of unbelievers. First he says that they are to be the “salt of the earth.” (verse 13) Salt is a healthful, cleansing and preserving element and so are the followers of Christ. They have a special purpose in the world–to be a preservative power, to have antiseptic (or cleansing) qualities, and to draw out all the good qualities of those around them.
In addition, Christians are to be a “light unto the world,” (verse 14). They should be so illuminated by the truth of their Savior and His love for all mankind that they become living representatives of him. The shining in hearts individually is even greater when believing Christians come together. This “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27) is the “city… that cannot be hid” (verse 14). Their individual lights join like a beacon for those in the darkness of this sin-sick world. They must continue to shine in of this darkness, telling the world of how the dark times will ultimately be overcome by Christ and his Kingdom. This will occur when God’s kingdom is established “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
It can be difficult to continue to shine in this evil world and the next verses in Matthew 5:15 and 16 speak again to the responsibility of each individual Christian to “let their light shine before men” (verse 15). They can’t lack courage and “put it under a bushel,” but should have courage and “put it on a candlestick” (verse15) …so that all men “see and glorify their Father which is in heaven” (verse 16) and understand what God and Jesus are like through the lives of Jesus’ followers. And going back to the beginning of this section, we must heed the warning that if we hide our light and let it falter and go out…we will no longer be worthy to be life-giving salt, but are “good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under the foot of men,” (verse 13).