THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM

An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount

by Kent Young


© 2017

Chapter 9 -

CONCLUSION:
THE DISCIPLES’ RESPONSE TO THE TEACHING

MATTHEW 7:13-27

The verses of Matthew 7:7-12 provided a final word for all of the teaching of righteousness that is found in the sermon. Jesus concluded the teaching portion of the Sermon on the Mount with his admonition to “ask, seek, and knock,” an admonition which led into the encouraging word that “therefore” the disciples can and ought to treat others with the level of love and mercy that they want for themselves.

We should see the two uses of the phrase “the Law and the Prophets,” those in Matthew 5:17 and there in Matthew 7:12, as “bookends” demonstrating where Jesus’ moral teaching begins and ends. All that was before this phrase in Matthew 5:17 was not so much teaching, as it was an introduction to the teaching to come. Likewise, all that follows that phrase in Matthew 7:12 can be seen as a conclusion to the teaching just given. Jesus’ instruction in righteousness started with comparing and contrasting his own teaching with what was written in the Law. His instruction concluded with the statement indicating that obedience to Jesus would lead also to fulfilling the entirety of the moral requirements of the Law as well.

The remainder of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13-27), then, is a concluding word. In his introduction, Jesus had spoken of the kingdom blessings for his disciples (see chapter 2: Introduction). Here in the conclusion, Jesus returns to the theme of the reward and consequence for his disciples, specifically their reward as it relates to their response to his teaching. Similar to the introduction, the conclusion will have much to do with his disciples and their relationship with the kingdom.

This concluding section of the Sermon on the Mount is divided into three sections. First is the command regarding the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13,14), second is a warning about false prophets (Matthew 7:15-23), and third is the famous illustration of the two builders (Matthew 7:24-27).

The Narrow Gate

“Enter through the narrow gate...”
Matthew 7:13a

We need to notice one fact right away as we look into Jesus’ command to “enter through the narrow gate.” As with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, what Jesus says here is directed toward his disciples. He is not here admonishing unbelievers to believe in him, but is encouraging those who already believe to press on toward a certain goal. Therefore, when Jesus tells his disciples to “enter through the narrow gate,” he is referring to a goal set before them which they, as believers, may or may not attain. If there was no possibility of failing to reach the goal, then Jesus’ admonition to “enter through the gate” would make no sense.

The image that Jesus is conveying is that of a gated entrance into a walled city. If a gate is wide, as would be the main entrance into a large city, naturally the road leading up to the gate would also be wide and would likely be very easy to travel. However, if the gate is narrow, as would be a more exclusive entrance, then the pathway leading up to it would be less-traveled, and thus more narrow and difficult. So when Jesus tells his disciples to enter by the narrow gate, they would naturally consider the gate to be the end goal of the difficult journey along the difficult road.

Most commentators that I have found suppose that “the gate” in this passage pictures initial conversion (what we have referred to elsewhere in this work as the “new birth”). Now, if one agrees with my view of seeing the gate as being the end to which the “constricted way” is leading, then seeing the narrow gate spoken of in this passage as standing for initial salvation would give a false and dangerous impression of the nature of the new birth. Seeing the gate as initial salvation would imply that a great deal of human effort (pictured by trekking up the difficult way) would be required in order to obtain that salvation. This, of course, is not true regarding initial salvation. The new birth is accomplished by simple faith, apart from works. So seeing the gate as regeneration, and its being the destination at the end of a constricted way, gives a false impression of this salvation.

However, many commentators do not see the imagery of the entrance into a city, and thus, because “the gate” is mentioned first in the text, they see it as being passed through before “the way” is traveled. Thus, many holding this view see the gate as referring to initial salvation, which then leads to a difficult life (signified by “the way”).[1] Many of these commentators, rather than seeing the gate being pointed out initially as the goal, instead see a separate destination to which “the way” leads, which they often identify as “heaven” and its accompanying final deliverance from hell. If we look carefully, we will find that these commentators are just as guilty as those of our earlier example of inferring from the teaching a message of salvation by works. Even if the walking through the gate pictures simple faith, if final salvation is only achieved by successfully traversing a difficult life, then works are still a requirement for final salvation.[2]

Even The Grace New Testament Commentary, with its heavy emphasis on the freeness of God’s offer of salvation, falls into this trap. Hal Haller, the writer of the Matthew section of the commentary, sees the entrance by “the gate” as being equated with the initial reception of eternal life (which he rightly emphasizes as being by belief in Jesus). He then is forced into seeing another separate destination at the end of the difficult “way.” This tacitly implies that final salvation (what is thought to be meant by the “life” to which the difficult way leads) can only be arrived at following a life of obedient working.[3] There is no doubt that the writers of the commentary would deny this doctrine, but understanding “the way” as the Christian life following the reception of eternal life (signified by the gate) undoubtedly implies that heaven, illustrated by the separate destination at the end of “the way,” is not guaranteed to the one who simply believes (enters “the gate”), but can only be arrived at as a result of living the correct life (following “the way”). Thus we see the importance of properly seeing the gate as the end to which the constricted way is leading.

But if not initial regeneration, nor final salvation, what then does the gate represent? To answer this question we would do well to look again at the parallel passage in Luke 13:22-29.

In the passage in Luke, Jesus admonishes his disciples to “strive to enter through the narrow door.”[4] Jesus says this in response to the question, “Are (only) a few being saved?” This has led many to the false conclusion that in this passage entrance by the narrow door pictures initial salvation.

Now, we must concede that indeed Jesus’ admonition to “enter by the narrow door” was given in response to the question about “salvation.” This does not mean, however, that Jesus was necessarily talking about what we Christians commonly mean when we use the words “saved” or “salvation.” When we hear either of these words, we tend to immediately jump to either the concept of initial belief (getting “saved”) or to the final deliverance from hell. However, as in each case where the word “save” or “salvation” (Greek: “σῴζω” or “σωτηρία”) is used, the question must be asked, “Saved from what?”

We saw back in chapter 1 of this work that there are words that have multiple meanings in the scriptures and can cause confusion if we do not handle them carefully. The word “saved” is one such word. For instance, if we assumed that the word “saved” (Greek: “σῴζω”) in John 11:12 means delivered from eternal judgment, then we would wrongly conclude that the disciples thought Lazarus would have been eternally saved by catching up on his sleep! Likewise, if we assume that the word “salvation” (Greek: “σωτηρία”) in Acts 27:34 means our common understanding of being born again, then we would assume that Paul told his fellow sailors that their salvation is procured by eating food! In those two instances, the words commonly understood to be a reference to eternal salvation actually pictured “salvation” from sickness, on the one hand, and from physical death from shipwreck, on the other.

I use these silly sounding examples simply to illustrate the point that the words “saved” and “salvation,” when used in the scriptures, must be interpreted based on their context and they must not simply be assumed to mean what Christians often mean when they use them. So what does Jesus understand the word “saved” to mean in Luke 13:23? Well, thankfully for us, Jesus explains his answer further in the verses that follow.

Jesus was asked if there would only be a few who would be “saved,” and his response was that his hearers ought to “strive to enter through the narrow door.” He then went on to describe the position of his fellow Jews regarding the coming messianic kingdom. He said that people from all over the world would be reclining at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in “the kingdom of God” while those of his own nation who had rejected him would be “cast out” (Luke 13:28,29). He then went on to lament the fact that his own people were rejecting the only hope they would have of this “salvation” from being “cast out” (Luke 13:34,35). Thus we see that, based on its context, “entrance by the narrow door” does in fact refer to being “saved,” but this salvation is not a being saved from final damnation, but rather it refers to being saved from being “cast out” of the coming millennial kingdom.

Looking back at our passage in Matthew 7:13, the most reasonable conclusion that we can draw is that the “narrow gate” of this verse, just like the “narrow door” of Luke 13:24, represents entrance into the coming millennial kingdom. Having been speaking of the character of his kingdom people from the beginning of the sermon (Matthew 5:3,10,18-20), having been referring continually to God’s reward for faithful disciples (Matthew 5:12; 6:4,6,18), and being about to warn his disciples about some who will not inherit the kingdom (Matthew 7:21-23), Jesus here gives a direct admonition to do what is required to enter the kingdom. He tells his disciples, if you have asked for the Holy Spirit’s enabling power, if you have sought after God’s kingdom and righteousness, and if you have knocked at the narrow gate, all that is left is for you to enter by that gate into his kingdom!

The Two Ways

“...For the gate is wide and the way is spacious which leads to destruction,[5] and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is constricted that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Matthew 7:13b-14

Jesus began this section by referring to the narrow gate, but then quickly explains that there are two “ways” (or “roads” or “paths”) available to his disciples. He warns that only one of these paths leads to the desired gate. As we have just seen, the narrow gate that the correct path leads to represents entrance into the millennial kingdom.

What, then, is being pictured by these two “ways” in this passage? Tom Finley, in his booklet Two Ways and Two Gates, to which I owe a great debt of gratitude for help in interpreting this passage, sees “the way” as picturing “the life we live now in preparation for the coming Judgment Seat of Christ.”[6] Because the goal of the narrow gate pictures entrance into the coming kingdom, it can naturally be inferred that the way leading to the goal pictures the believer’s life leading up to the moment when he will be either granted or denied entrance into the kingdom. While I acknowledge this as being true, I do not think it gives the full picture of what Jesus is saying.

The life that a disciple lives leading up to his appearance before the Judgment Seat of Christ is certainly what he will be judged by as Christ determines his reward or loss with respect to the kingdom. However, I see “the way” in this passage as being even more specific. Jesus is not only saying that one road (obedience) leads to life (kingdom reward), while the other (disobedience) leads to destruction (loss of kingdom). He is saying that, but given where this warning is placed within the Sermon on the Mount, I see the two options placed before the disciples as more specifically relating to the disciples’ response to Jesus’ teaching.

Upon hearing Jesus’ words, a conscious choice must be made by each disciple. Either the disciple will hear Jesus’ words, take them exactly as they are, and then act upon them, or else he will hear Jesus’ words, consider what the ramifications would be of taking them literally, and then search for a different way of understanding them.

To see an example of what I feel that Jesus means by “the spacious way,” I would encourage you to simply evaluate the bulk of Christian commentaries regarding Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:17-48. When Jesus is contrasting his own sayings with the Law, by far the majority of commentaries take Jesus to be saying no more than what was said to Israel by Moses. They soften Jesus’ words. They take the broad way. Most will say that, while Jesus was correcting the scribes who may have been softening the Law, Jesus’ doctrine itself goes nowhere beyond what Moses truly meant. Whether referring to Jesus’ forbidding of legal defense in court (Matthew 5:40), his forbidding of oaths (Matthew 5:34), his prohibition against divorce (Matthew 5:32), his forbidding of laying up earthly treasure (Matthew 6:19), or his prohibition of sitting in the seat of judgment (Matthew 7:1), it is lamentable that Christian scholarship has produced endless volumes explaining why their Lord did not really mean what he said.

Govett’s commentary is one of the precious few who take the correct view of Jesus’ teaching as being in contrast to the Mosaic Law. Listen as Govett explains what is meant by “the broad way,” or the softened version of Jesus’ teaching:

“It but little interferes with the life of sober persons of regular lives. The way is broad. It will allow them to follow the world in its various delights, as of old it permitted the Jew to do. It permits the disciple to toil after the wealth and honours of the world. It defends his rights and property with the strong arm of the law. It enables him to make ‘the best of this world,’ if it does not of the age to come.

“He who treads it will be far from finding himself alone. He will find no difficulty in discovering the gate.[7] Over each parochial communion-table in the land he will see the doctrine stated. He will find multitudes from age to age taking this as their standard, and promising to obey it as their way to eternal life. ‘Many go in thereat.’ Protestants and Romanists esteem it to be discipleship; and live, some more, some less, in accordance therewith.”[8]

The “spacious way” is the easier path to walk. It pictures the assumption that disciples of Jesus, while no doubt instructed to be righteous people, have no more placed upon them than did the people of Israel. The strongest of Jesus’ words, especially those against making legal defense for oneself and against storing up earthly treasure, become all but ignored. Jesus predicted that, sadly, this would be the majority view among those who would seek to be his disciples.

Now, many take the “spacious way” to refer to the fact that there will always be more unbelievers in the world than believers. According to this view, rejection of Christ himself (the spacious way), will be more common than belief in him (the constricted way). While it is true that the majority of hearers of the gospel reject Christ, taking this as Jesus’ meaning here does not make as much sense as a warning to disciples who already believe. Remember that the disciples are the target audience of the teaching, so his concluding warning must be something appropriate to them.

Jesus does elsewhere warn his disciples about the reaction of the world to himself. In John 15:18-25 he warns that the disciples themselves should expect this same rejection that Jesus received. Here, however, Jesus is warning about the reaction of his own disciples to the things that he is now teaching. He says that there are two ways to take what he is saying in the Sermon on the Mount. There is the spacious way, which is easier, softer, and will be by far the more popular. Then there is the constricted way, which is the more difficult and will be far less popular. Each disciple must choose which path to take. As for you, reader, as you decide, you will also need to remember what Jesus warns about the destinations of the two roads.

The Two Destinations

Many genuine and sincere Christians take the two destinations referred to in this verse as picturing heaven and hell.[9] The fact that the world contains more rejecters of Christ than accepters of him seems to be sufficient proof that, if you believe in Jesus, then you are walking the narrow road and are destined to arrive at the “life” to which it leads.

The problem with this view is that it makes the warning serve very little purpose to the disciples to whom it was given. Unless you take final salvation from hell to require something beyond simple faith, then the disciples (except Judas of course) should already be assured of their final destiny. Perhaps if Jesus was directly addressing the crowds this understanding would make more sense, but considering (what we have seen again and again throughout the sermon) that Jesus was specifically addressing his disciples, there is no need for a warning for them to get on the road to heaven. They were already on that road.

If, however, in conjunction with the overall theme of the sermon, the destination at the end of the way pictures the reward of the kingdom, then it is entirely appropriate that Jesus would be warning his disciples in this way.

With the disciples’ eternal destiny with God being eternally secure by their faith in him, Jesus, in this sermon, has been laying before them the criteria for entrance into the coming millennial kingdom. He has stated that the kingdom will belong to the poor in spirit. He has explained that those set to inherit the kingdom will be persecuted today. He has warned that a righteousness greater than the scribes and Pharisees is required for entrance into this kingdom. He has continually given promises of the future reward from God which awaits those who obey him. He has given very sober warnings about God’s severe, next-age discipline that he will not withhold from those who hate and slander their brothers. It only makes sense that Jesus would be concluding his message with an admonition to enter into “the way” which leads finally to the “gate” of entrance into this coming kingdom.

As we have seen already, the “gate” of this passage, taking it as parallel with the “door” of Luke 13:24, pictures entrance into the future kingdom. Jesus had just told his disciples to “seek” the kingdom and “knock” at its gate (Matthew 7:7), and shortly he will warn about some who will be denied entrance (Matthew 7:21). Here Jesus is telling the disciples that it is the minority view of the nature of his teaching, the more constricted and difficult view, which is the one that will ultimately lead to the kingdom reward that he has been discussing.

So the gate, the destination at the end of the way, refers to being granted entrance into the future kingdom. In this verse Jesus refers to this destination as “life.” This coincides exactly with what we have previously seen regarding Jesus’ conversation with the rich, young ruler.[10] In that passage, along with many others, “life” or “eternal life” refers to a future reward. It is something that, in a future day, some will be allowed to “enter” into (Matthew 19:17). The time when this reward will be received is specifically mentioned to be “in the age to come” (Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30).

As we have seen, this concept should not be confused with the notion of the present gift of eternal life referred to elsewhere. When eternal life is referred to as something to be received immediately, it always means the gift of spiritual new birth, which is received simply by faith (John 6:47, 1 John 5:11). But, when eternal life is referred to as something to be entered into in the future, it always means the reward of the experience of the glories of the kingdom age (Matthew 19:17,23,28).

If the “life” of future kingdom reward is what is pictured by the narrow gate at the end of the constricted way, what then is meant by the wide gate at the end of the spacious way? The word that Jesus uses to describe the destination represented by the wide gate is the word “destruction.” Of course this “destruction” must be understood in opposition to the “life” at the end of the constricted road. If “life” means inheritance of the coming kingdom, then destruction must describe loss of that inheritance.

A full treatise on the various forms of God’s disciplinary judgment on his own people would be too much for this present work, but there have been a few warnings already mentioned in the sermon that we can look at briefly.

Firstly, remember our discussion about Matthew 5:19. Jesus warns that “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of the heavens.” A disciple’s hope of receiving the reward of co-reigning with Jesus is sacrificed when the disciple lives so as to soften Jesus words for himself or for others. With each “relaxing” of Jesus’ word, the disciple’s position in the coming kingdom is downgraded.[11] So first we have the possibility of a disciple who, though he will still receive the reward of entrance into the coming kingdom, will see his position within the kingdom down-graded due to his “relaxing” one or more of Jesus’ commandments.

Next, if you remember Jesus’ warning in Matthew 5:20, an even greater “destruction” is possible. Jesus warns that unless the righteousness of a disciple of his surpasses the level of that of the scribes and Pharisees, he “will never enter the kingdom of the heavens.”

Many who wrongly equate “entrance into the kingdom” with new birth, justification, or final salvation, attempt to make the “righteousness” spoken of here into a “positional righteousness” rather than a subjective, experiential righteousness. Knowing that new birth is not the result of righteous deeds, they cannot take Jesus to be saying what, based on the context, it is clear that he actually is saying. None argue that the two statements preceding this one refer to anything other than subjective, experiential righteousness. Jesus says that a disciple’s position within the kingdom varies in accordance with the disciple’s treatment of “these commands.”[12] It is an untenable exegetical stretch to assume that Jesus is speaking about experiential righteousness in the first two statements regarding position within the kingdom and then jumps to positional righteousness, something he had not even discussed yet within the sermon, in the third statement regarding simple entrance into the kingdom. Thus, the second “destruction” that could await the disciple, beyond the simple down-grade of his status within the kingdom, is complete loss of the millennial kingdom itself. If his righteousness never develops beyond the self-glorying legalism of the scribes and Pharisees, the disciple, though genuinely born again, will nevertheless be refused entrance into the kingdom of a thousand years.[13]

Lastly, we saw in Matthew 5:22 that Jesus warned about the possibility of a disciple of his being “liable to the Gehenna of fire.” Without restating the entire argument presented earlier in this work, it will suffice to say that Jesus warns that, beyond simply the loss of reward within the kingdom, beyond even the loss of the kingdom itself, his disciples, for the most heinous acts of disobedience (especially ones regarding abuse of other believers), can experience a positive, disciplinary chastisement from the Lord himself. Such a believer is “liable to the Gehenna of fire.”[14] This is the most severe possible manifestation of the “destruction” that Jesus warns about here in Matthew 7:13.

Now, while the “destruction” that Jesus speaks of certainly will be manifested in the coming age, there is also another layer to the meaning that we will do well to notice.

The scriptures make clear that the receiving of the reward of rulership with Christ in the next age requires the disciples of Jesus to remain faithful to him until the end of their life on earth. In multiple places in the New Testament the life of the believer is compared to a runner in a race, specifically a race in which he is running in order to win a prize (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrews 12:1). While a runner in this race may stumble at times, it is made clear that he must get back up and finish if he would have any hope of receiving the prize. Even the apostle Paul himself, at times, expressed that it was possible that he himself could falter and thus not inherit the prize set before him (1 Corinthians 9:27; Philippians 3:12-14).

Similarly, in the Christian life there are certainly opportunities for repentance, confession of sin, and restoration unto fellowship with God, all of which equate to the runner falling, yet getting back up and into the race. However, there is also the possibility that, continuing with the race metaphor, a runner could either voluntarily quit, taking himself out of the race, or be disqualified. This would picture a believer either ceasing to follow the Lord as an obedient disciple, or else denying his faith under pressure from those who would oppose him. The apostle Paul saw this as even potentially happening to himself! He said, “I beat my body and enslave it, lest after proclaiming to others, I myself might be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Paul elaborates more, using this same “race” imagery, when in 2 Timothy 2:5 he tells Timothy, “If one competes, he is not crowned unless he competes lawfully.” He then shortly goes on to say, “If we endure, we will also co-reign; if we deny him, he also will deny us.”

In making this point he is stating the same thing that Jesus says in Matthew 10:32,33: “Therefore, everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in the heavens. But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny him before my Father who is in the heavens.” A denial of Jesus during the course of this life means a loss of a disciple’s potential inheritance in the age to come.

Thus, since the disciple’s confession of faith during this life is inexorably linked with his potential reward in the kingdom age, we can reasonably infer that the potential “destruction” in this passage can also refer to the loss of a disciple’s witness for Christ as well.

A disciple’s adherence to the teachings of Jesus will be weighed by Jesus himself when the disciple appears before the Judgment Seat. One certain way for a disciple to know that he will not receive his reward is if he abandons his testimony of faith in this life. If we deny him, he will deny us.

I bring this fact up because there are really two possible outcomes for a disciple who chooses the “spacious way” of softening Jesus’ words, both of which are described by the “destruction” to which this road leads. If, during the time of a disciple’s life, the surrounding world is more amiable with Christianity, the spacious road will be walked with little awareness of the fact that disapproval awaits the disciple at the future Judgment Seat of Christ. However, if the attitude of the world is hostile to the Christian, it will not be long before the very profession of his faith will be challenged and his temptation will be to abandon his testimony and deny his Lord.[15]

A disciple making the conscious choice to walk the narrow way of strict adherence to Jesus’ teaching will prevent both of these possibilities of “destruction.” Throughout the history of the Church, Satan has used both of these tactics in order to prevent Jesus’ disciples from walking in full obedience to him. At times he has attempted to use acceptance by the world to seduce believers into adopting lower, worldly standards of righteousness. At other times he has attempted to persecute believers, driving them to abandon and deny the faith that saved them. Only by deciding in their hearts that they will, by the grace of God, obey Jesus’ words no matter the situation, can Jesus’ disciples be protected from these two Satanic stratagems. Before Satan attempts either of these tactics, the disciples must be resolved to love and pray for both their brothers and their enemies, to refuse the civic law as a means of defending themselves or their property, to deny to themselves the accumulation of material wealth, and most importantly, to ask for the daily help of God the Holy Spirit in their obedience to Christ’s commands.

If the disciple, from the beginning of his Christian life, sets these commands of Jesus as his standard of righteousness, with full knowledge of his need for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, he will have started down the narrow path toward “life” in the coming kingdom. It is the more constricted way, and it is by far the less popular way, but it is the only means of securing his protection from the “destruction” of a loss of his testimony in this age and the denial of entrance into the coming kingdom in the age to come.

Warning About False Prophets

Looking into the next verses, we will see that, without leaving the topic of the proper reaction to his teaching, Jesus will weave into his explanation a warning about certain men who would lead his disciples astray. He had just explained to his disciples that taking the “constricted way” of face-value interpretation of his teaching is what will lead, finally, to being given the reward of the kingdom. Now in these next verses he will give a warning about false prophets who would lead the disciples away from this path. He does this first of all by teaching how to discern who is a false prophet. Then, we will see, Jesus is going to use these very false prophets as examples of ones who will themselves not be granted entrance into the kingdom.

Discerning False Prophets

“Beware of the false prophets: whoever comes to you in clothing of sheep, but within are rapacious wolves.”
Matthew 7:15

Jesus has already spent a great deal of time in the Sermon on the Mount speaking about the opposition that his disciples will face from unbelievers who will slander and persecute them (see Matthew 5:10-12,39,44; 7:6). Even the previous command to “enter by the narrow gate” carried with it a warning that the way up to the gate would be a “constricted” one, implying, among other things, that the disciples would meet opposition from unbelievers along their journey. We will see in the coming section about the two builders (Matthew 7:24-27), that persecution from outside will be one of the main obstacles preventing the disciples from maintaining their confession of faith.

In this present verse (Matthew 7:15), however, Jesus turns from the persecution that would come from the outside and gives a direct warning about opposition that comes from inside the gathering of believers. He here warns about “false prophets.” Someone claiming to be a prophet is by definition someone claiming to speak on behalf of God. Men like this will be among the congregation of the disciples and will be claiming to be there for the benefit of the believers. This is what is meant by them coming “in clothing of sheep.”

The apostle Paul gave a similar warning to the one found here when he addressed the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29,30. In that passage Paul warns that even among the elders gathered there with him, there would arise “men speaking twisted things to draw away the disciples after them.” It seems that these evil men rising up in Ephesus not only included false prophets, but even some who were false apostles (see Jesus’ commendation of the Ephesian assembly in Revelation 2:2). Jesus has been warning against Satan’s attacks coming from the outside, either by persecution or seduction, but perhaps Satan’s most effective strategies for leading believers astray will be the ones that operate from the inside: imitation and deception. In his wisdom and foresight, Jesus warns his disciples about these inside attacks as well.

“By their fruits you will know them. Grapes are not gathered from thorns, nor figs from thistles, are they? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A good tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.”
Matthew 7:16-20

The English translation of this passage can cause a bit of confusion if not explained. There is a subtle difference between the message conveyed in this passage and the one conveyed in the parallel passage in Luke 6:43-45. The Greek in this passage uses two different words for “good,” as well as two different words for “bad.”[16] In the passage in Luke, however, Jesus uses the same words for good (καλός) and bad (σαπρός) to describe both the trees and the fruits. This distinction is subtle but does have some significance.

The passage in Luke is within the context of Jesus addressing his disciples about their own attitudes and behavior. Jesus uses the tree and its fruit to illustrate that the content of one’s heart manifests through one’s words and behavior, making the very point that he makes to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:33-37. He is saying that the internal character of a person controls the external behavior, so the important point is to “make the tree (internal character) good” so that the fruit (external behavior) will follow (Matthew 12:33).

Here in Matthew 7, however, the situation is a little bit different. Here Jesus is not specifically teaching the disciples about their own hearts and behavior, but is teaching about discerning the character of another person. When speaking to people about their own individual heart attitude (as in Luke 6), Jesus says that they can be sure that the content of their heart will, eventually, be fully and exactly manifest in their speech and behavior. Thus, Jesus uses the same words for good and bad to describe the tree and the fruit. When speaking about the discernment of others (as here in Matthew 7), however, Jesus does not say that things are quite so exact. He uses similar, but different words for both good and bad. As a principle, evil fruit indicates a bad tree and more desirable fruit indicates a good tree, but when looking at others, we should not be so quick to say that the fruit that we see exactly represents the internal character of the person.

The principle is similar to what Jesus said a few verses earlier in Matthew 7:3. One should think of his brother’s sin (the speck in your brother’s eye) as a much smaller issue than his own sin (the log in your eye), not presuming to know so much about another’s character simply based on his limited observation of the other’s behavior.

Why, if in Matthew 7:3-5 Jesus warns against this judgmental attitude, does he seem to imply in this present passage that his disciples should be “fruit inspectors” of others? Well, remember that Jesus is saying this in the context of warning his disciples about “false prophets.” He is not saying that his disciples should be continually inspecting others’ behavior to discern, by their behavior, what is within their hearts. Rather he is warning his disciples about the very real danger of those who would deceive them and lead them astray.

Jesus had just warned his disciples about the danger of indiscriminately sharing their spiritual treasure with those who may reject it and oppose them (Matthew 7:6). Here he is warning them about the danger of receiving from some who may be leading them astray. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit that Christians share with one another can be such a joy that a believer may, in his eagerness, either share that fellowship with those who would discourage him by “trampling” it (Matthew 7:6), or even worse, the believer could try to receive such fellowship from those who would attempt to manipulate him and take him away from the Lord. If Jesus’ disciples wish to walk the constricted way which leads to the narrow door of the coming kingdom, they will have to be careful that they are not deceived by false prophets who would lead them down a different path.

Now, using these false prophets, Satan is able to imitate much of what genuine prophets do. When we begin to look into the verses which follow these, we will notice some of the specifics of how these false prophets imitate what is true. For now, though, Jesus would simply have us notice one thing. When discerning a false prophet, Jesus’ disciples must look for one specific trait in one who is claiming to genuinely speak for God, a trait which which false prophets cannot imitate. While false prophets may deceive people by various means, they can never replicate the level of righteous living that will be found in someone who is abiding in fellowship with God. This is why Jesus does not tell his disciples to judge prophets by their showy displays of power, nor even by their words, which can deceive or confuse. Rather Jesus says to discern false prophets “by their fruit,” that is, by the practical righteousness that is the result of their prophetic ministry.

Let’s reflect for a moment on what Jesus means by “fruit” in this passage. Just a few chapters earlier in Matthew’s gospel we read of John the Baptist using this same metaphor of the tree and the fruit. Judging by John’s message, we can discern that “fruit” pictures behavior which is righteous and appropriate. With the Messiah about to arrive and thus the kingdom near at hand, the message by this genuine prophet of God was, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance!” (Matthew 3:8) The people of Israel, especially their religious leadership, were behaving in ways totally inappropriate for the heavenly kingdom of the Messiah. John went into greater detail explaining what this “fruit” would look like in Luke 3:10-14.

So Jesus says that it is by the nature of this “fruit” that the genuineness of a prophet should be tested. Jesus could mean that the prophet himself must display this kind of righteousness, or he could mean that this righteousness will be what is produced in his hearers. My view is that both the personal behavior of the prophet, as well as the outcome of his ministry in others can be considered his “fruit” by which he should be judged.

Regarding the notion that the fruit pictures the prophet’s own righteousness, we can look at the apostle Paul’s warning to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:2-8. The apostle warns about men who will “oppose the truth,” just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses. If you know the story, Jannes and Jambres imitated the miraculous works done by Moses in attempts to either discredit Moses or to elevate themselves to his level (see Exodus 7). This is just what the false prophets that Jesus is warning about in this passage might do. As Jesus and Paul explain to us, we need not be deceived by these evil men, if we simply notice the character their teaching produces in their own lives.

Regarding the other notion, that the fruit pictures the righteousness produced in the prophet’s hearers, we need only look at another section in that same letter of Paul to Timothy. In 2 Timothy 4:3 Paul warns that “the time is coming when men will not endure healthy teaching, but having itching ears they will heap-up teachers according to their own lusts.” False teachers may gain an audience due to their own craftiness and deception, but often their folly would be “plain to all” (1 Timothy 3:9) if it were not for the desire of their audience to hear these kinds of falsehoods. So here we see the other “fruit” of the false prophet. If their teaching does nothing but confirm men in “their own lusts,” then just like the self-proclaimed prophets who are unrighteous in their own lives, we can know that these are not genuinely speaking on behalf of the Lord.

A good rule of thumb is to simply remember that the goal is to be walking the constricted way which leads to the narrow, kingdom door. Any prophet that is either not walking this constricted way himself, or is causing people more and more to join the larger crowd who walk the spacious way, we can be sure is one of the false prophets that Jesus is here warning about.

Before moving on to the next verses, there is one more observation that I would like to make. Notice from these verses the level of humility that Jesus expects from his disciples. Many might be tempted to say to themselves, “I know my Bible, so I can tell whether a prophet is real or not simply by hearing what he says! If what the person says is in accordance with the rest of revealed truth, then he’s genuine. If not, then he’s false.” But such thinking exposes a dangerous pride, because it does not realize that, no matter how smart or well-read we might perceive ourselves to be, we will never be more clever, nor more versed in the scriptures, than are Satan and his evil spiritual forces. These evil beings may well be those who are animating a false prophet. None of us is beyond being deceived by cunning words and arguments. Jesus would have us remain humble enough to look, as he tells us to, at the fruit of every so-called prophet’s ministry, acutely aware of our own vulnerability to being deceived by clever words designed to lead us astray.

False Prophets as an Example of Kingdom Rejection

“Not everyone who is saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of the heavens, rather (it will be) the one who is doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens.”
Matthew 7:21

Here we see the “weaving” that we spoke of earlier. Jesus is teaching two things at once. He is still warning about the danger of false prophets, but he is tying that teaching together with his overall sermon theme of entrance into the coming kingdom.

Jesus reiterates the point that he has made clear since the first words of the sermon. Jesus states in no uncertain terms that practical obedience to God is required for entrance into the coming kingdom. It will be the one who is “doing the will of my Father” who enters.[17]

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not, in your name, prophesy? And in your name cast out demons? And in your name do many mighty works?’”
Matthew 7:22

Remember that Jesus is teaching his disciples about how to determine if a prophet is false or true. There will be those claiming to speak for God who try to convince Jesus’ disciples that they are helping to lead them down the road to the kingdom. Jesus is explaining that many of these men are not even on that road themselves.

In the scriptures, God does often accompany the words that he speaks through one of his prophets with miraculous signs. He does this in order to graciously help to validate the message that is being spoken. This was the case when God sent Moses back into Egypt to command Pharaoh to let his people go. God validated Moses as being his genuine messenger by granting powerful signs and wonders to be performed by him. But if you will remember, though their powers were limited, the magicians of Egypt were able to mimic some of Moses’ early miraculous plagues, and in doing so worked to further harden Pharaoh’s heart against the command of God (Exodus 7:22).

In the New Testament also we see the story of Simon the Great. Prior to his conversion, Simon had duped the people of Samaria into believing that he possessed “the power of God” by using displays of magic. His popularity was so strong that even after his conversion he lusted after the genuine power possessed by the apostles, even to the point that he tried to purchase it with money (Acts 8:9-24).

Now God will, at times, graciously limit the abilities of false prophets. We can observe Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:20-40 to see an example of this. No matter how much they performed their dark religious rituals, God prevented a single spark from falling on the altar they had prepared. However, there are also times when false prophets will be permitted to receive deceiving powers from dark spiritual forces. In Revelation 13:13,14 we read about the false prophet who will use miraculous signs in order to deceive the inhabitants of the earth. Beyond this, there is also always the possibility of phony displays of power through trickery and sleight of hand. These possibilities of deception are why Jesus is here explaining to his disciples that it is not the impressive displays of power that his disciples should look at in determining the genuineness of a prophet, but rather they must look at the fruit produced by his ministry.

Jesus explains that there will be some who stand before him at his judgment seat making protestations that they have done a variety of miraculous works in his name, the first of these works being that of prophecy. These being judged are, based on the context, the type of false prophets that Jesus is warning his disciples about here.

“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me you workers of lawlessness.’”
Matthew 7:23

Note that Jesus neither affirms nor denies that these false prophets ever actually performed the miraculous works that they claimed to have performed in his name. As we noted before, there is the possibility that these types of works can be performed by using the power of evil spiritual forces, so the claims that some supernatural activities have taken place are not necessarily false. All that Jesus denies is the claim that these activities were done “lawfully,” meaning under his direction. The false prophets ask Jesus, “Did we not prophecy in your name?” and Jesus responds, “I never knew you!”

Now, obviously Jesus is not claiming that he was in any way ignorant of these men or of their behavior. The Greek word rendered “knew” (Greek: “γινώσκω”) often conveys a sense of intimate involvement (see John 10:14,15; 1 Corinthians 8:3), even including marital union (Matthew 1:25). Within this context we should understand Jesus as denying the claim of the false prophets, that they performed these miraculous works “in his name.” That is, Jesus is denying that these works were performed in any way under his ordering or direction. Jesus is saying that he was not involved with any of them.

Remember that Jesus has said that the criterion for entering the kingdom is doing the will of his Father. The false prophets claim to have done this, and they point to their own miraculous works as proof. Jesus, however, declares that he does not approve of them, but rather that the works displayed were works of “lawlessness.” In saying this, Jesus makes a two-fold point. Firstly, he confirms his warning to the disciples that a display of miraculous power does not guarantee that a prophet is genuinely of God. Secondly, Jesus makes the point that furthers the overall theme of the Sermon: doing the will of God the Father, specifically by obeying the teachings of God the Son, made possible only by the empowerment and direction of God the Holy Spirit, is required for entrance into the coming kingdom.[18]

Two Builders

And now, at last, we come to the final words of the Sermon on the Mount. In the sermon’s introduction, Jesus made the amazing statement that the poor in spirit, those who are mourning, the ones who are persecuted, etc. should all be happy. Though the world would count them as cursed and despised, Jesus sees them as blessed. Why? Because he says that though they indeed will suffer during the course of this age, the kingdom and the glory of the age to come is and will be theirs.

That was the message with which Jesus started his sermon, and throughout the course of the sermon he established this point in clearer detail. Jesus gave strict and specific instructions on how exactly a disciple of his ought to live in this age if he would be one of those meek, merciful, or pure in heart to whom the glory of the next age belongs.

It is important to note that, looking back at the last two of the beatitudes given in the sermon’s introduction, both of these speak of external persecution of the disciples. Likewise, a few verses before the ones we are looking at here in its conclusion, Jesus had just made an important point about the “constricted way” leading up to the door of the kingdom. The path will not be easy, but in this next and final section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains how his disciples can finally arrive at and enter through the door of kingdom reward.

The Wise

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Matthew 7:24

In order to come to the correct interpretation of Jesus’ concluding illustration, we need to see first of all that what Jesus is talking about here is the disciples’ response to his teaching, specifically their response to the teaching that he has just given. While elsewhere in the scriptures the “rock” pictures Christ himself,[19] Jesus makes it clear that in this present illustration, the rock pictures not Jesus himself, but rather the words that Jesus has just spoken. The teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is the rock on which the wise builder lays the foundation for his house.

What then is pictured by the house that the builder is building? A comparison is sometimes made between this illustration and one the apostle Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. There is no question that there are similarities between the two illustrations, but there are some important key differences as well.

As we just noted, the “rock” upon which the house is built, in Jesus’ illustration, is explained by Jesus himself to be a picture of his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. However, in 1 Corinthians 3, the foundation is specifically said to picture the Lord himself (1 Corinthians 3:11). Now, in 1 Corinthians 3 Paul makes it clear that what is illustrated by the house being built is his and others’ work, as apostles, in building up the local church. Since Paul was the first to work among the Corinthians, he had the privilege of leading them to Christ. This, in the illustration, is pictured as laying the foundation of the house. Once the foundation is laid, Paul, or Apollos, or anyone else may build upon the foundation. Each builder is warned, though, that he must “watch how he builds” (1 Corinthians 3:10), because there is a coming day when each builder’s work will be evaluated.

In Jesus’ illustration here in Matthew 7, however, the building of the house is more of an individual matter. Rather than each apostle adding to the one house, Jesus says that each disciple is building his own house. And rather than being warned about the specific materials with which he builds, the disciple is instead warned only about the quality of the foundation that he has laid. The most important difference between this illustration in Matthew 7, and the one in 1 Corinthians 3, though, is what kind of calamity the house is said to be about to undergo.

In 1 Corinthians 3 the calamity pictured is a house-fire. In barely more than an instant, the entire house is burned up, and everything that is made of “wood, hay, or stubble” is consumed by the flames. The builder is rewarded for whatever survives the fire, which would be those items made of “gold, silver, and precious stones.” Paul explains that the house fire pictures “the Day” of the believers’ future judgment. In a moment, as the believer is standing before the Lord, all of his work in building up the Lord’s church will be revealed. All that was wrought through the cooperative working of the believer with God the Holy Spirit (the gold, silver, and precious stones) will be richly rewarded, but whatever was done simply by means of the man’s natural ability (the wood, hay, or stubble) will be consumed and gone forever. Paul makes it clear that, no matter what, the believer himself will be delivered safely through this judgment, but potentially only as a man being rescued through a blaze (1 Corinthians 3:15).

Here in Matthew 7, the picture is quite different. Rather than the house being at once consumed in a fire, the house faces the more gradual trial of heavy rain. Unlike the house in 1 Corinthians 3, there is no inevitability of the house’s destruction here. It is only the house wrongly built that is destroyed. The one built on the rock foundation remains completely unharmed through the entire ordeal.

Notice that there is nothing stated here in Matthew 7 regarding any differences between the actual houses built by the wise and foolish builders. The only difference between them seems to be the foundation on which each house was built. The wise builder built on the correct foundation, and this pictures a disciple who is obedient to Jesus’s teaching. The foolish builder built on the wrong foundation, picturing a disciple who disregards Jesus’ teaching. Since the foundation, being under the house, is out-of-sight, there would at first be little if any noticeable difference between the two houses. It is not until the heavy rain eventually comes that the house built on a foundation of sand eventually falls.

Because the trial coming upon the house pictured here in Matthew 7 takes place over the course of time, and because the house itself will potentially either stand or fall, depending on the foundation that was laid, we should view the house as picturing a disciple’s profession of his faith in Christ before the world. We will shortly look at what the rain, wind, and floods represent, but for now let us just see what Jesus is saying about the house and the foundation. A disciple of Jesus, if he wishes to fully maintain his testimony of Christ before others, ought to today make a conscious choice to obey the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Unlike the picture in 1 Corinthians 3, which pictures the all-at-once judgment of the future Judgment Seat of Christ, the picture here is of the gradual, day-by-day, moment-by-moment trials faced by the believer hoping to maintain his testimony of Christ in this life. Thus we see that the house in Jesus’ illustration here in Matthew 7 pictures the disciple’s testimony of Christ, a testimony that requires being firmly established on Jesus’ teaching if it is to be maintained during the course of one’s life.

Now, while the illustration of the house enduring the storm pictures the believer’s testimony being maintained in this present life, it is important to notice that the phrase “will be compared to” here in Matthew 7:24 is actually given in the future tense. Though the righteous obedience to Jesus’ teaching, pictured by the laying of the proper foundation, is certainly something taking place presently, the final evaluation of the prudence of the builder will be at the future judgment. Though during the course of his life a disciple of Jesus may be looked down upon or ridiculed for his obedience to Jesus’ words, and though the great majority of Jesus’ hearers will be walking the “spacious way” of disregard for Jesus’ strict instruction, there will come a day when the obedient disciple is viewed as the one who has chosen wisely.[20]

Looking at the parallel verse in Luke 6:48 we see that the wise man “dug deep” in order to build his house on the proper foundation. Thus we see that this builder will have a greater amount of labor and difficulty than the one building on the sand, indicating that Jesus is illustrating that the obedient disciple will have greater difficulty in his work than will the one who disregards his teaching.

This “greater difficulty” which is faced by the obedient disciple brings us to an interesting, almost paradoxical truth. The obedient Christian life is indeed one of strenuous labor, yet through it all Jesus promises comfort and rest. In the natural world we see labor and rest as being mutually exclusive ideas. A person is either working or he is at rest. To be engaged in the one means you have ceased from the other. In the spiritual realm, however, things work differently. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you...and you will find rest for you souls.” The yoke is what constrained the beast of burden to the laborious task that he was being used for. Jesus says that he has such a yoke for each one who would come after him. However, Jesus says that in taking up that yoke, the disciple will “find rest.” Because of the infinite power and availability of the Holy Spirit for the believer, the labor that Jesus requires, though at times it can be more physically strenuous than any required by a worldly task-master, actually produces an internal “rest” that enables the believer to carry on long after one’s natural abilities would have failed. This is what the apostle Paul means when he says, “I worked harder than any of them, but not I, rather the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

The closest comparison that I can make to something in human terms is the energy a man might exert in order to win or to please the woman he loves. In Genesis 29:20 we read about Jacob’s service to Laban for the sake of Laban’s daughter Rachel. It is said, “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” Those who have experience with this type of “love labor” can testify to its truth. Though you may be working longer and harder than anyone around you, the love in your heart creates a “lightness,” almost an extra energy that makes you feel, once your labor is over, not exhausted, but even more rested than when you first began. The same can be said of the fellowship of the believer with God the Holy Spirit. Though we labor and strive to the maximum, it is still, if energized by the Holy Spirit, an experience of rest.

Now this rest should not be seen as a lazy or lethargic rest. To experience this “rest,” ironically the believer must make a conscious decision to work for it. We must be diligent to resist the temptation to act out from our own will or our natural energy. The author of Hebrews phrases it this way, “Therefore, let us strive to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). This is similar to what Jesus is saying in Luke 6:48 about the wise builder who “dug deep” to ensure his house had the proper foundation. There is indeed greater work in laying a proper foundation, but in a mysterious way, his experience will be more restful than the lazy builder who did not make the extra effort.

“And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and fell upon that house, and it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”
Matthew 7:25

Since we are taking the standing or falling of the house to picture the personal testimony of the disciple, the specific aspects of the rainstorm that Jesus describes here should be understood as being illustrative of those occurrences in the Christian life which could potentially damage or destroy that testimony.

Jesus first mentions the rain. Earlier on, in Matthew 5:45, rain pictured the working of God for benefit of men on the earth. In this verse, I take rain to still picture the working of God, but this time it is God’s sovereign working for men’s testing. Though the scriptures do state that God himself does not tempt anyone with sin (James 1:13), they also state that all temptation and trial that does come must be allowed by him (1 Corinthians 10:13). Satan himself must first get the permission of God before he can act to bring trials upon God’s servants (Job 1:11,12; 2:4,5; Luke 22:31) The rain, which is foundationally a blessing for mankind, being the first aspect of the trial against the house, demonstrates that all the circumstances that come into the believer’s life which may try his profession must be first approved by God himself.

Next Jesus mentions the floods and the wind. In Psalm 69:1-15 David uses the imagery of a flood encapsulating him as a description of the trying circumstances in his life from which he is awaiting God’s deliverance. Wind, in the scriptures, is often a picture of the work of spiritual forces (see Daniel 7:2; Zechariah 6:5; Mark 13:27; and Revelation 7:1-3). It is interesting that Jesus first describes the rain failing, then the floods coming up, and then lastly describes the working of the wind against the standing of the house. The rain, which builds up to a flood is what threatens the house’s foundation. Then it is the wind which threatens the house’s ability to stand.

Jesus is painting a picture of the absolute necessity of establishing in one’s heart a determination to follow his teaching. God will allow circumstances to come into the believer’s life which will be trying. They may at times seem to be overwhelming, as they were with David in Psalm 69, to the point where they are like flood waters by which the disciple feels to be completely engulfed. It is at this point that the disciple of Jesus is most susceptible to the cunning working of the “winds” of evil spirits who will try to knock him off of his standing.

If, as Jesus has commanded in the Sermon on the Mount, the disciple has resolved in his heart to, by God’s grace, be willing to suffer all forms evil from the hands of men with all love and grace; if the disciple has divorced himself from any love of the world’s goods, looking only to the future reward that will come from God in the next age; and most importantly, if the disciple will ask God daily for his empowering Spirit to help him with his righteousness, then that disciple can rest confidently knowing that his Christian testimony will withstand whatever attacks that evil spirits may level against him. Obedience to Jesus’ teaching will preserve the believer’s witness, and thus also his standing within the coming kingdom. “The house” will stand because it will have been “founded on the rock.”

The Foolish

“And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be compared to a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”
Matthew 7:26

Again, the issue being addressed in this illustration is a believer’s profession of faith, not his status of being justified before God. The two builders are not “righteous” and “unrighteous,” but rather “wise” and “foolish.” The foolish builder, just as much as the wise builder, pictures a believer, someone who “hears” Jesus’ words. Govett points out that in Luke 6:27 Jesus addresses those who are truly his disciples when he says, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies...” Likewise in John 8:47 Jesus contrasts the hypocrites with genuine believers in himself by saying, “Whoever is of God hears God’s words. The reason why you do not hear is that you are not of God.”[21] Therefore, even this foolish builder is a genuine believer, as he is described as one who “hears” Jesus’ words. The difference between him and the wise builder is only that he takes the “spacious way” of walking according to a loose interpretation of Jesus’ teaching. The foolish builder does not, as the wise builder did, make the extra spiritual effort required to obey Jesus’ teachings in their fullness.

“And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and fell upon that house, and it fell, and its fall was great.”
Matthew 7:27

This last sentence of Jesus’ sermon was a sober warning, both for his disciples then and for us today. If those who hear Jesus’ words do not take them with the strictness and directness that Jesus is telling them to, then their testimony is in serious peril. It is true that the structure built on the sand may survive a while. While the weather remains pleasant, it may even, to an outside observer, be indistinguishable from the one built on the proper foundation. Similarly, a Christian life built around simple law-keeping can be maintained so long as the surrounding circumstances stay generally congenial. After all, everyone has his moral standards to some degree. The worldly have their social etiquettes and mores, and as long as everyone is getting along, a believer’s abiding by the Ten Commandments will be sufficient to maintain his position as being reckoned a moral, Christian person. At least temporarily, the “house” of his Christian witness will stand.

But Jesus assures us that the floods will come. Life circumstances will turn against the disciple and the powers of the enemy will, at some point, try to knock the believer off of his standing. When the worldly people insult and slander us, if we are not prepared to “rejoice and be glad,” considering our future inheritance rather than our present suffering (Matthew 5:12), then we will likely respond with the natural response of bitterness, anger, and eventually retaliation. If we are not, by the power of the Spirit, loving and praying for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), then our flesh will cause us to hate and oppose them. If we disregard Jesus’ teaching against using judicial power to defend ourselves (Matthew 5:40; 7:1), we will very quickly lose the essential sheep-like dependence on God for our guidance and protection. If we store up earthly treasure for ourselves, Jesus has already warned that our hearts will quickly become occupied with the things of world (Matthew 6:19-21), which will very quickly break us from the heavenly-mindedness necessary for maintaining our testimony in the face of opposition.

The experiences of the early disciples of Jesus testify that Jesus’ warning is appropriate. Indeed the floods will come, and there will be the temptation to relinquish our hold on our testimony to one degree or another. Jesus has given us one way to ensure that we withstand this temptation and maintain our confession of faith, and that way is simple, unwavering obedience to his teachings.

Relation to the Future Kingdom

Again, we must notice that in Matthew 7:26, just as in 7:24, the verb in the phrase “will be compared to” is given in the future tense, while the verbs “hear” and “do” are given in the present tense. There is an important reason for this, and it links this concluding word with the “kingdom” message, the theme of the entire sermon.

As we have already seen, the house being built pictures the disciple’s testimony of the Lord before men that he is to maintain. This is why Jesus uses the present tense when he says that it is the one who “hears” his words and “does” them. He is describing the disciples’ obedience to his teaching during the course of this present life. This present obedience is what gives the believer’s witness a solid foundation which will support it once the day of opposition comes.

However, though the obedience and the maintaining of one’s testimony is something that takes place during the course of this life, the final evaluation of these things takes place at the future Judgment Seat of Christ. It will be there that Jesus will determine the believer’s worthiness or unworthiness to receive the reward of his kingdom. This is why Jesus uses the future tense when he says the disciple “will be compared to” either a wise or foolish builder. The actual experience of the believer’s testimony either being maintained or lost is something that takes place in the present, but the ramifications of this experience are in the future.

Throughout the entire New Testament, the believer’s maintaining of his profession of Christ is said to be a necessary criterion for receiving approval at the coming judgment seat and for receiving the reward of co-rulership with Jesus in the coming kingdom. Perhaps nowhere is this concept laid out more clearly than in the Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:32,33. Jesus had just told his disciples to be bold in their proclamation of the gospel, fearing the Lord, but having no fear of men (Matthew 10:26-28). He then went on to warn them, saying, “Everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in the heavens. But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny him before my Father who is in the heavens.”

This is why this sober warning in Matthew 7:24-27 serves as an apt conclusion to Jesus’ entire Sermon on the Mount. The message of the sermon has been, as has been demonstrated throughout the course of this work, one about the hearing disciple’s potential reward of entrance into the coming millennial kingdom of Christ. The maintaining of his Christian testimony during the course of this present life is the foundational criterion for receiving this reward. If we deny him, then he will deny us. None who are truly the Lord’s can be eternally lost, but during the course of the thousand-year reign of Jesus that will commence upon the conclusion of this present age, many of the Lord’s who have been unfaithful during this present life will weep with disappointment[22] over the loss that they will suffer.

If a disciple wants to be certain that he will be among those to whom Jesus says, “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful over a little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:21), then he must be able to maintain his testimony in whatever circumstance he finds himself. To do this, Jesus says that he must lay as a foundation for all of his spiritual life the teaching and principles laid out by Jesus here in the Sermon on the Mount.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them...

I ask you, reader, as a disciple of Jesus, does this describe you? When you stand before your Lord and he evaluates the thoughts and intentions of your heart, when he judges the attitude that you showed toward your fellow believers, and when he considers the response that you gave to those who opposed you, will he determine that you lived by the same Spirit and according to the same principles that he himself lived by?

Or will he determine that you did no more than what have been the standards of the world? Did you lust and labor after the things of the world? Did you trust in human institutions, or even your own hands, for your provision and protection rather than in God? My friend, do not suppose that the approval of other men, even of other Christians, is sufficient. Jesus alone will be your judge on that day, and remember what he says concerning what becomes of those walking the spacious way. Approval by Jesus at his judgment seat requires, above all else, a heart-commitment of obedience to the actual teachings of Jesus. You must be the wise-builder! Do not allow anyone to soften Jesus’ commandments, nor his warnings. If you would receive the reward of the kingdom, and be spared the disciplinary hand of God when Jesus returns, then you must “build your house on the rock.” Determine even now to live, by the power of the Spirit of God, according to the standard of righteousness that Jesus has laid out here in the Sermon on the Mount.



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] The word “enter” at the beginning of the command should preclude this view. It is possible for a road to be walked along after a gate is walked through, but this is only the case if the person is leaving rather than entering the city, property, or whatever else is being guarded by the gate. If Jesus had said, “exit by the narrow gate,” then the assumption could be made that the road follows the gate, but that is not the case in this verse.

[2] MacArthur’s commentary lays out this view more clearly and unapologetically than any other that I have found. (MacArthur, 1985, pp. 449-458)

[3] (Wilkin R. N., 2010, p. 35)

[4] In our passage here in Matthew the word is simply, “Enter by...” where in Luke it is, “Strive to enter by...” Luke’s indication that the entrance requires difficulty and labor gives further evidence that in Matthew the gate ought to be seen as being at the end of the constricted road.

[5] There is a textual variant in this verse that leads one possible translation to be “For the way is wide and spacious which leads to destruction,” leaving out the entire concept of a second “gate.” If this is indeed the correct rendering, then it would give even more credence to the notion that the primary focus is the one, narrow gate. There are indeed two ways, but only one leads to the gate, and the gate is the goal.

[6] (Finley, 2007, p. 5)

[7] Govett understood “the broad way” as I am presenting it here, and he also agreed with my view that the destinations of the two ways do not represent eternal destiny but rather millennial kingdom destiny. He saw “the gate,” however, not as the picture of the kingdom destination, but as the outset of the way. He saw the gate as picturing, not the new birth as some do, but the disciple’s conscious decision to accept Jesus’ words with their plain meaning. Thus, in my view, though he missed the picture of the path leading to the gated entrance to a city, he was still able to find Jesus’ real meaning.

[8] (Govett, Sermon on the Mount, 1984, pp. 297,298)

[9] Weirsbe states this assumption outright and thus leads to the inevitable conclusion that salvation from hell requires the kind of work that is quite clearly pictured by the walking of the “narrow way.” (Wiersbe, 1996) The subtle implication of a works gospel seems all but inevitable until one understands the distinction between judgment/salvation which is set before the genuine believer as pertaining to the millennial kingdom and the judgment/salvation which pertains to the final destinies of the lake of fire or the New Jerusalem. The former takes place before the millennium (1 Corinthians 4:5), the latter takes place after it (Revelation 20:6,11-15).

[10] See chapter 3: Jesus’ Teaching and the Law, specifically the section concerning adultery.

[11] Other New Testament verses which illustrate this point include Luke 19:11-26 and Ephesians 5:5.

[12] Remember that some take this to be referring to the Decalogue or some other commandments from the Old Testament Law. I argue in chapter 3 of this work: Jesus’ Teaching and the Law, that the phrase “these commandments” actually refers to the teaching that Jesus is about to bring in his own sermon.

[13] Other scriptures which affirm this truth can be found in Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9,10; and Galatians 5:21.

[14] Other verses teaching this concept include Matthew 18:33-35; 24:48-51; Luke 12:45-48; and Hebrews 10:28-31.

[15] This, we will see shortly, is what is pictured by the illustration of the two builders at the end of the sermon.

[16] My translation brings out this difference by using the two different words “bad” and “evil” in verses 17 and 18, which are good translations of the Greek words “σαπρός” (bad) and “πονηρός” (evil). Unfortunately it is not as clear when I use the same word “good” to translate both the Greek words “ἀγαθός” and “καλός.” There are simply no words that I am aware of that convey the translation of either Greek word as well as the English word “good.” I admire the effort of the translators of the ESV, who use different English words for all four Greek words, but in my opinion their final translation ends up deviating too far from the literal meaning of the text. In our translation we will have to settle for using the same English word “good,” while explaining in either the margin or commentary that there are actually two different Greek words being used.

[17] Those who directly associate entrance into the kingdom with being born again often use this text to argue against the freeness of God’s offer of eternal life. Simple belief, so the argument goes, is not enough, since here it is the ones who “do,” rather than the ones who “believe,” who gain entrance into the kingdom. An understanding of the kingdom as being an aspect of reward, rather than of gift, helps to avoid this error.

On the other hand, there are some who do believe in the freeness of God’s grace, but still do not see kingdom entrance as an aspect of reward, but as an aspect of the free gift. Some of these have gotten around the difficulty presented in this passage by interpreting it by citing John 6:29. In that passage Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” These argue that the specific work of God that Jesus is referring to here in Matthew 7:21 as the requirement for entrance into the kingdom is the work of believing in Jesus. This is highly unlikely in my view.

Firstly, the subject matter of the entire sermon up to this point has been experiential righteousness as it pertains to believers. Therefore, unless there is a good contextual reason to think otherwise, our first thought should be that experiential righteousness is what is being referred to here as well. Secondly, Jesus does not use the phrase “work of God,” as he did in John 6, rather he uses the phrase “will of my Father,” which is a phrase used multiple times in the book of Matthew. When Matthew quotes Jesus as using the phrase “will of my Father,” he either refers to God’s providential will, as in Matthew 18:14, or he means, as I take him to be meaning here in Matthew 7:21, the experiential righteousness that God desires from his people. Most tellingly, in Matthew 21:28-32, when Jesus is telling the parable of the two sons, it is the one who gave to his father practical obedience that is said to have done “the will of his father.” Never, to my knowledge, does the phrase “the will of my Father” refer specifically to the simple belief in Jesus that is required for the reception of eternal life.

[18] Many times modern Christians will refer to their salvation as being their “personal relationship with Jesus.” This has caused many to understand Jesus’ use of the expression “I never knew you” as proving that these false prophets were unregenerate men. This is not necessarily the case, and there is good reason to think that Jesus is saying that this could be a declaration that he makes to some who are genuinely born-again.

As explained earlier in the text of this work, the Greek word γινώσκω, does not necessarily refer exclusively to the establishment of any relationship at all, but often refers to a level of intimacy and involvement within a relationship. In Matthew 1:25 it is said of Mary that Joseph “did not know her” until she had given birth to Jesus. Certainly this does not mean that Joseph had no relationship with Mary, the two got married during the pregnancy! The phrase only meant they had not yet engaged in sexual intimacy. The same word γινώσκω is used there as is used here in Matthew 7:23. Based on its context, we should understand the word here in Matthew 7:23 to be referring to the type of involvement that the false prophets claim Jesus had with their ministry. They state that their works were done in Jesus’ name. He rebuffs by saying that he never “knew” them, meaning that his relationship with them was not what they were claiming it was. Nothing in the text implies that these were necessarily unbelievers.

The fact that these false prophets are present at the pre-kingdom judgment seat of Christ implies to me that they are either survivors of the tribulation period or else are believers who have been resurrected, which would imply that they are, in fact, believers. The fact that false-prophets can arise from among those who are genuinely believers should not surprise us. Paul mentioned to the Ephesian elders that even among themselves there would “arise men speaking twisted things to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30 ESV). Genuine believers, even those whom the apostles recognized as being spiritual leaders of the assembly, have the potential to leave the narrow path to kingdom reward, and can even be found among those leading others astray as false prophets.

[19] See 1 Corinthians 10:4.

[20] There is a textual variant that makes it somewhat unclear as to who will be comparing the disciple to the wise builder. Note that in my translation the word “compared” is in the third person passive (“he will be compared”). Some manuscripts have the Greek word for “compared” (Greek: “ὁμοιόω”) in the first person active, also inserting the word “him” (Greek: “αὐτός”) making the translation, “I will compare him.” In the latter translation it is clear that the Lord himself will make this positive comparison, where in the former, what I believe to be the preferable translation, it could be anyone, or possibly everyone, who will view the obedient disciple as the more prudent. I see in this teaching a subtle implication that some who may be ridiculing strict obedience to Jesus today will be forced to concede in the future that it was the better view all along.

[21] (Govett, Sermon on the Mount, 1984, p. 356)

[22] In Matthew 25:30, it is the unfaithful disciple who is said to be cast into “the darkness outside,” picturing the exclusion from the joy of the millennial kingdom. While some may find it shocking that Jesus would say that genuine believers will be placed where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” we should notice that it is not until after the millennium, in Revelation 21:4, once believers enter the New Jerusalem, that God is said to “wipe away every tear.” If there will be tears to be wiped at that point, then it seems fair to assume that there will indeed be tears during the millennium, even for some who will thereafter enter eternity future in the New Jerusalem.