by Thomas W. Finley

Chapter 7-1 (contd.)


Next, we need to look at the most crucial determination that will be made at the Bema. After a believer is examined there, Christ will decide if that believer will enter the blessed, glorious realm of His 1,000 year Kingdom, or if the believer will be denied entry. Entry or exclusion to the coming Kingdom has been a dominant theme of this book. It was noted earlier that entry to that realm is the main subject matter in the story of the rich young ruler.

Let us now examine the eight portions of God’s Word (not counting duplicate Gospel narratives) where the phrase “enter the kingdom” is mentioned in the New Testament. We shall see that seven of the eight portions have to do with works for entry into the Kingdom of God. These seven passages speak of entry into the future stage of the Kingdom, the millennium Kingdom. One passage only speaks of entry into the present spiritual phase of the Kingdom.

Sermon on the mount applicable to believers

The first two mentions of entry into the coming Kingdom are found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Already, a few readers may be feeling uncomfortable because you have been taught that the Sermon on the Mount is for the Jew, not the believer. Therefore, this matter must first be dealt with, or some of you will not be able to receive the lessons presented to us in this passage of Scripture. The view that claims that the Sermon on the Mount does not apply directly to believers is one that endorses an extremely rigid dispensationalist perspective. This school declares that everything before the cross was "legal" and addressed to the Jew.

Lewis Sperry Chafer, a proponent of this view, says this concerning the Sermon on the Mount: "As a rule of life, it is addressed to the Jew before the cross and to the Jew in the coming Kingdom, and is therefore not now in effect."[1] One significant reason why Chafer and others were afraid to assign direct application of the Sermon on the Mount to the believer involves the matter of "works". They feared that grace would be mixed with law. However, as we have seen, it is necessary to separate these two principles and apply them rightly. Because these teachers did not see this distinction, and only had the believer under the grace principle, they had no way of applying the Sermon on the Mount to believers. They were honest with the context of the Sermon on the Mount and saw that the righteousness required for entry into the Kingdom (Matt. 5:20) was not imputed righteousness, but practical righteousness. Chafer commented on this works aspect of the Sermon on the Mount as follows:

All the kingdom promises to the individual are based on human merit...It is a covenant of works only and the emphatic word is do...as the individual forgives, so will he be forgiven. And except personal righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, there shall be no entrance into the kingdom of heaven. To interpret the righteousness which is required to be the imputed righteousness of God, is to disregard the teaching of the context... [2]

To thus discount the Sermon on the Mount as not applicable to believers is itself, however, a significant problem. As theologian George Ladd has stated: "It is immediately obvious that a system which takes this greatest portion of Jesus’ teaching [The Sermon on the Mount] from the Christian in direct application must receive a penetrating scrutiny."[3]

The reasons why we must believe that the Sermon on the Mount is meant for Christians are as follows:

1) It was addressed to disciples (Matt. 5:1), learners and followers of Christ.

2) Jesus’ teaching before the cross was not all "legal" or "law". Although the Lord was certainly teaching righteous requirements, it was not the Old Testament Law; neither was it taught to the exclusion of grace. "The law and the prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached" (Lk. 16:16). "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John" (Matt. 11:12-13). "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (Jn. 1:17).

3) The claim that the Sermon on the Mount was for the unregenerate Jews before the cross and also for them in the Kingdom is untenable. The demand for practical righteousness in the Sermon on the Mount is higher than that presented under the Old Testament Law (Matt. 5:20-48). How could unregenerate Jews be expected to keep Jesus’ elevated standards when just the Law itself was a yoke they were unable to bear (Acts 15:10)? No unregenerate person could be expected to obey the commands of the Sermon, for its requirements exceed the Law, which God had given to prove to man his inability to keep God’s standard, thus revealing to man his sinfulness (Rom. 3:19-20).

L. S. Chafer says that the other application of the Sermon on the Mount, indeed the main one for him, is to show the conditions of life IN the coming millennial Kingdom among the Jews. This contention simply cannot be supported by the language in the Sermon. There is no hint that the Sermon on the Mount is a prophecy depicting life IN the coming Kingdom. To the contrary, it is clearly seen, by normal understanding, to be an admonition to live a righteous life in order to ENTER the coming Kingdom (Matt. 5:20; 7:21).

The verb in Matthew 5:20 is in the emphatic future negative: "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven". Here, the living of a righteous life is seen as a condition precedent to one’s entrance into the Kingdom, not as a depiction of one’s living within the Kingdom.

4) Jesus surely anticipated that the disciples He taught and trained for the three and one-half years before the cross were going to be the very ones who would found and instruct the church. In fact, He labored all night in prayer concerning the choice of His apostles for the church (Lk. 6:12-13). That three and one-half years of teaching was not to be wasted by being only marginally applicable to the church.

Jesus did present things to His people the Jews first (Acts 3:25-26), but upon their rejection of Him, the door was then open to the Gentiles to participate with the believing Jews in the blessings of God (Rom. 11:15-17). Before the cross, and before His final rejection by the Jewish leaders, Jesus anticipated Gentile participation in the coming Kingdom (Matt. 8:10-13). The final and conclusive proof that Jesus intended the Sermon on the Mount for the church is found in the great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel (the book which contains the Sermon on the Mount):

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:18-20). (The emphasized words show that Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is to be taught to the church, not just to Jews, and obeyed.)

Enter the Kingdom in Matt. 5:20

Now let us return to the task of looking at the eight passages explicitly using the term "enter the kingdom". The first passage is Matthew 5:20, which has already been cited. Entry into the coming Kingdom is a major theme of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:20; 6:33; 7:21). A reading of the Sermon on the Mount reveals that the entire discourse entails Christ’s demands of practical righteousness upon the disciple. Faith and free gift are not seen. That is because the millennial Kingdom is in view rather than eternal salvation by grace.

Much of the Sermon on the Mount deals with Christ’s raising of the standard of righteousness beyond the Mosaic Law. The beatitudes touch matters of the heart that were never mentioned in the do’s and dont’s of the Law (Matt. 5:3-12). It is with such qualities of character that we are to shine out our "good works’" to the Father’s glory (Matt. 5:16). Jesus also deals not just with the outward act of murder, but with the inner attitude of anger (Matt. 5:21-26). Additionally, the righteousness that Christ teaches goes beyond the Law’s prohibition of adultery and touches the root problem of lust (Matt. 5:27-30). He uses the Old Testament standard of God relating to lawful retribution as a springboard to deal with man’s inner problem of retaliation and unforgiveness (Matt. 5:38-48).

Jesus’ teaching continues as He exposes man’s outward piety for selfish purposes of recognition, and advises that God only rewards worship and good deeds done in secret solely for the Father’s glory (Matt. 6:1-18). He warns against greed and living for the enjoyment of self in this life (Matt. 6:19-24). He deals with our anxious preoccupation with our needs at the expense of seeking God’s Kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:25-34). In Chapter Seven, He exposes our self-righteous and judgmental attitudes (Matt. 7:1-5). He deals with our selfish mind-set, teaching us to focus on meeting the needs of others (Matt. 7:12).

These requirements of the Sermon on the Mount are all exceedingly high. Thus, the path of discipleship that ultimately "leads to life" is narrow and constricted, and "few are those who find it." (Matt 7:14) Taking the narrow way that leads "to life" is just another way Jesus portrayed qualifications for entry into the coming Kingdom (see Matt. 19:17,23,24).

It is therefore obvious that the Sermon on the Mount focuses on a practical righteousness that exceeded the Mosaic standard. Thus, the first of our eight "entry" passages reads: "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20).

Enter the Kingdom in Matt. 7:21

The second "enter the kingdom" verse is Matthew 7:21. "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven." How shall we understand this verse? According to the context, the doing of the will of the Father must include the keeping of the righteous standards set forth in the Sermon on the Mount; it must involve the walk along the narrow way that leads to life. Jesus confirms this when He states in conclusion just three verses later: "Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock" (Matt. 7:24).

To do the will of the Father is to keep His commandments, especially the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Again, we must note that the whole surrounding context of Matthew 7:21 is the doing of practical righteousness. Some in that day will address Christ, "Lord, Lord". Are these false believers? "Lord" was the way Christ was addressed by His chosen apostles (Jn. 13:9, 13), and Scripture tells us that "no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit" [Of course, I am speaking of a sincere confession] (1 Cor. 12:3).

Returning to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus highlights the possibility that the believer is genuine, but his doing of God’s will is absent. To interpret doing "the will of My Father" here as simply believing in Christ violates the principle of interpretation according to the context. Nothing in the context of the Sermon on the Mount remotely stresses trusting in Christ or the gospel. Rather, its conclusion is in hearing the words of Jesus and doing them; this is doing God the Father’s will.

Some interpreters may argue, however, that the context shows those denied entry to the Kingdom in verse 21 are false believers (professors of Christ but not possessors of the Spirit), since some are rejected by the Lord in verse 23 with the declaration, "I never knew you." To understand this verse, let’s look carefully at verses 21-23.

21 Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord", will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" 23 And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt. 7:21-23).

We can see in these verses a picture of the Judgment Seat of Christ. "On that day" (v.21) is the day of judgment. I believe it is clear that verse 21 and verse 22 both speak of the same scene since both verses depict people before the Lord confessing "Lord, Lord", with Christ in turn making a judgment upon them. It is significant to note that almost all interpreters agree that only believers will appear at Christ’s Judgment Seat.

Verse 21 is a general statement by Jesus made as part of the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. Let us review the Sermon in order to see Jesus’ conclusion. After so much admonition concerning doing righteousness (Matt. 5:1 through 7:12), the Lord then concludes that there are two ways for the disciple: the narrow way and the broad way. He then warns the disciple that in his search to find the narrow way there will be false prophets who will try to mislead the disciple (Matt. 7:15-20). After this warning, Jesus speaks of the coming judgment. It is at the coming judgment that the fate of those who appear before Him will be decided relative to entry into the Kingdom.

On that judgment day, people will appear before Christ and confess Him as "Lord". Christ makes a general statement in verse 21 about the judgment. He says that not everyone who confesses Him as Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of the God the Father. This shows us that there will be two classes of those who address Him "Lord, Lord". One class will be those who do the will of God, and they will enter the Kingdom. The other class will be those who do not do the will of God, and they will not enter the Kingdom. Again, according to the context, "doing the will" must mean the carrying out of the righteous demands of God, especially as seen in the Sermon on the Mount.

This interpretation is marvelously confirmed when we study a parallel passage. Luke 6:20-49 contains Christ’s discourse on the plain (Lk. 6:17). This message by Jesus mostly contains statements that are also found in the Sermon on the Mount. If you read verses 46-49 in Luke 6, you will see these as a parallel to Matthew 7:21-27. First there is the confession "Lord, Lord", and then there is Christ’s teaching concerning the wise man building upon the foundation of the rock by hearing and doing Christ’s words. Note how Luke 6:46 reads: "And why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say" ? Therefore, "doing the will of My Father" is hearing and obeying Christ’s words. In Luke 6:46 Christ reveals that some may call Him Lord, but not actually obey His words, thus denying His Lordship in practice, in their living and conduct.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, ©1993 by Dallas Theological Seminary), Vol. V, p. 97. Used by permission of the publisher.

[2] Ibid., Vol. IV, pp. 211-212. Used by permission of the publisher.

[3] George Eldon Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952), p. 106.