Do Not Judge

7:1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 7:2 For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. 7:3 Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 7:4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? 7:5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 7:6 Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.

The command is against a critical spirit, not against the exercise of a critical faculty. The necessity of the latter is clear from v6 and vv15-20, to look no further.

‘There is always one fact more in every life of which we know nothing, therefore Jesus says, “Judge not.”‘  (Oswald Chambers)

Mt 7:3–5 = Lk 6:41,42

‘Probably a current proverb quoted by Jesus like our people in glass houses throwing stones. Tholuck quotes an Arabic proverb: “How seest thou the splinter in thy brother’s eye, and seest not the cross-beam in thine eye?”‘ (Robertson)

v4 – N.T. Wright (Jesus and the Victory of God) insists that such teaching as this refers primarily to Israel, rather than to the individual disciple.  But, as Snodgrass (Jesus and the Restoration of Israel) says, ‘This passage is not questioning why Israel looked at the speck in her neighbor’s eye when there is a plank in her own.’  This teaching is, rather, ‘ethical instruction about the will of God to counter the human tendency to ignore one’s own faults while needling others about theirs.’  The teaching may legitimately be applied to Israel, but that is not its main point.

‘It is easier to declaim, like an orator, against a thousand sins of others than it is to mortify one sin, like Christians, in ourselves; to be more industrious in our pulpits than in our closets; to preach twenty sermons to our people than one to our own hearts.’ (Flavel)

A caution against indiscriminate evangelism

It is true that God word is to be preached ‘in season and out of season’.  However, Jesus’ teaching here stands as a caution against indiscriminate evangelism.  The argument of some would be, ‘Get the word out.  Expose as many people as possible to the gospel.  Some of it will stick.’

But, as R.T. France comments: ‘There may nonetheless be times and situations when a responsible assessment of the likely response requires the disciple’s instinctive generosity to be limited, so that holy things are not brought into contempt.’

And F.D. Brunner urges: ‘There is a form of evangelism that urges Christians to use every opportunity to share the gospel. Unfortunately, insensitive evangelism often proves harmful not only to the obdurate whose heart is hardened by the undifferentiating evangelist, but harmful also to the gospel that is force-fed…. Aggressive evangelism gets converts and counts them, but we are never able to count those turned away from the gospel for the numbers of the offended are never tallied.’

See this article by George A. Terry (from whom the above quotes are taken).

Ask, Seek, Knock

7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. 7:8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 7:9 Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 7:10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 7:11 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 7:12 In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.

Mt 7:7–11 = Lk 11:9–13

This section should be viewed not merely as a piece of teaching about prayer, but as an integral part of the sermon. In answer to the question, “How can I achieve the godliness of character taught and exemplified by Jesus, the answer is, ‘Ask God for it’; ‘Seek diligently for it’; ‘Knock on the door of heaven until you get it’.”

“Ask and it will be given to you”

‘Lord
I crawled across the barrenness
to you with my empty cup
Uncertain
in asking any small drop of refreshment.
If only I had known you better
I’d have come running with a bucket.’

Cf. Jam 4:1f.

“Your Father in heaven will give good gifts to those who ask him” – ‘There is a great difference between praying for temporal things and spiritual. In praying for spiritual things we must be absolute. When we pray for pardon of sin, and the favour of God, and the sanctifying graces of the Spirit, which are indispensably necessary to salvation, we must take no denial; but when we pray for temporal things, our prayers must be limited; we must pray conditionally, so far as God sees them good for us. He sometimes sees cause to withhold temporal things from us: when they would be snares, and draw our hearts from him; therefore we should pray for these things with submission to God’s will.’ (Thomas Watson)

The ‘Golden Rule’

It has often been pointed out that something like the ‘Golden Rule’, or the ethic of repricocity, can be found in the writings of many different religions and philosophies. Here are some examples:

  1. Bahai Faith – And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.
  2. Hindu Faith – This is the sum of duty: do naught to others which if done to thee would cause thee pain.
  3. Jewish Faith – What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. (The Talmud)
  4. Zoroastrian Faith – Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others.
  5. Buddhist Faith – Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.
  6. Muslim Faith – No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.

Most of these, be it noted, are cast in a negative form. More importantly, it is clearly a mistake to suppose that the whole of the Christian faith can be reduced to ‘Golden Rule’:-

‘A theologian and an astronomer were talking together one day.  The  astronomer said that after reading widely in the field of religion,  he had concluded that all religion could be summed up in a single  phrase.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he said, with a bit of smugness, knowing that his field is so much more complex.

After a brief pause, the theologian replied that after reading widely in the area of astronomy he had concluded that all of it could be summed up in a single phrase also.

“Oh, and what is that?” the astronaut inquired.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star; how I wonder what you are!”‘ (Selected)

= Lk 6:31. This verse defines and summarises what has just been said about achieving Christlikeness of character.

The Narrow Gate

7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 7:14 But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The Sermon closes with a series of illustrations showing the need for faithful obedience to the words of Jesus. The section as a whole asserts that there are just two ways to live: one leading to life and the other to death. There are two paths, two trees, two claims, two houses.

Evans notes that such ‘two ways’ teaching ‘has its roots in Scripture, such as Moses’ warning to Israel: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse” (Deut. 11:26); “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity” (Deut. 30:15). These two alternatives are picked up in Jeremiah and become the two “ways”: “You shall also say to this people, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death” ’ ” (Jer. 21:8). It is Jeremiah’s “way of life” and “way of death” alternatives and the wisdom tradition that later grew out of them that form the background to Jesus’ pithy saying in Matt. 7:13–14.’ (BKBC)

Bruner recalls that ‘Jesus began his sermon with unqualified tenderness, embracing in his Blessings those who felt least embraceable. He now concludes his sermon with unqualified toughness, warning that his sermon is not an intellectual option, a set of suggestions we may take or leave, one philosophy of life among others. No, the Warnings make explicit that Jesus believes his person and teaching are the exclusive way to life. The Matthean Hard Way makes the same claim ethically that the Johannine One Way makes theologically in its equally “narrow” assertion: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).’

McKnight comments on the rhetoric of this two-paths teaching.  It is, he says ‘a way of simplifying in order to cast before a listener the gravity of the moral life. It is heard as an Ethic from Above. This sort of rhetoric forces everything into two options: wide versus small, broad versus narrow, destruction versus life, and many versus few. Everything is chosen for rhetorical severity in order to create moral gravity. The choice matters because it determines who enters the kingdom.’

Pairs in Matthew 7

  1. two gates – narrow and wide, v13
  2. two roads – narrow and broad, v13f
  3. two trees – good and corrupt, v17
  4. two fruits – good and evil, v18
  5. two men – wise and foolish, v24, 26
  6. two foundations – rock and sand, v24, 26
  7. two houses – collapsed and secure, v24, 26

(Pickering, Subjects for Speakers and Students)

As France observes, the imagery of the two ways is contrasts their character (broad and narrow), popularity (many and few), and destination (death and life).

“The gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life” – ‘The gate is not just a mild association with Jesus or some kind of general affiliation, but a radical commitment to Jesus as the one who is King and Lord who shapes all of life for us.’ (McKnight)

‘Heaven is large but the way to heaven must be narrow.’ (Henry Smith)

“The road that leads to destruction” – ‘The terrible word ‘destruction’ (terrible because God is properly the Creator, not the Destroyer, and because man was created to live, not to die) seems at least to give us liberty to say that everything good will be destroyed in hell—love and loveliness, beauty and truth, joy, peace and hope—and that for ever. It is a prospect too awful to contemplate without tears. For the broad road is suicide road.’ (Stott)

‘Ignorant people have such a wonderful charity for all mankind, that they cannot bear to hear that any should go to hell; but whether you will hear, or whether you will forbear, I must tell you that there is a way which leads to hell, and great numbers of the children of men are walking in it. I dare not flatter you.’ (Matthew Henry)

‘Whether it be the high way of open profaneness, or the back way of close hypocrisy, if it be a way of sin, it will be our ruin, if we repent not.’ (Matthew Henry)

“There are many who enter through it” – As F.D. Bruner comments, ‘”Everybody does it” will not be a very helpful criterion in Christian ethics.’

There is a way that leads to life.  ‘The result is that both the temporary nature of the toils and the eternal nature of the victor’s crowns, combined with the fact that these toils come first and victor’s crowns come afterward, become a hearty encouragement.’ (Chrysostom)

But the way that leads to life is difficult, or ‘confined’ (Osborne).  Osborne adds: ‘There well may be the idea of hardship and persecution, as in Acts 14:22, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” The persecution of the saints is a major Matthean motif (Mt 5:10–11, 44; 10:16–23, 35–36; 13:21; 23:34–35; 24:9–13, 16–21) and is likely implied here.’

The way is ‘difficult’ because it goes against the grain of our sinful, selfish nature, and because it is circumscribed by God’s revealed truth.  Yet, at the same time, Christ’s is an ‘easy yoke’ and a ‘light burden’ (Mt 11:30).

“There are few who find it” – ‘It is as if the narrow gate is so tiny, its road so minuscule, that a person can hardly see this place and so can easily miss it.’ (Bruner)

‘Jesus has already, by way of implication, pictured entrance into his kingdom as being both inviting and difficult, that is, as attended by circumstances both favorable and unfavorable. Favorable, for those who enter are signally blessed. They are the possessors of the kingdom they have entered, are comforted, inherit the earth, shall be fully satisfied, etc. Unfavorable, in the sense that they will be persecuted, insulted, and slandered; and that they are burdened with heavy obligations; for example, they must practice a righteousness that excels that of the scribes and Pharisees; must love even their enemies and pray for their persecutors; must not be hypercritical but must nevertheless be discriminating, etc. Such things are “unfavorable” in the sense that they clash with men’s natural tendencies.’ (Hendriksen)

‘Presenting a rosy picture of the Christian life and minimizing that it is filled with trouble does not follow the lead of our Lord or His apostles (Acts 14:22; Phil. 1:29, 30).’ (The Reformation Study Bible)

Which comes first: the gate or the road?
Jesus mentions the ‘gate’ before he mentions the ‘road’.  If this order is significant, then it would mean that the kingdom of God is entered here in this life, at the beginning of the journey, rather than at the journey’s end.  This would also accord with the sequence of justification and sanctification; of beginning and continuing the Christian life.

Wilkins remarks that to teach that the road comes first, and then the gate at the end, lends itself to works-salvation.

But Jesus language about the kingdom is sufficiently fluid that we should perhaps ought not to make too much of this.  Osborne notes that most commentators regard the two (‘gate’ and ‘road’) as synonymous.

The 'many' and the 'few'
McKnight asks whether Jesus’ reference to the ‘many’ and the ‘few’ defines him as a radical exclusivist, one who believes that the number of the saved will be small compared with the vast numbers who are lost.  Or, ‘is this exaggerated rhetoric that ought to lead one to self-inspection instead of into theological speculation on the numbers of the saved?’  McKnight notes that alongside other texts that appear to number the lost as ‘many’ and the saved as ‘few’ (Mt 22:14) there are others, such as Mt 8:11 and Mt 20:18, in which our Lord speaks of ‘many’ coming into the kingdom.  So, McKnight concludes, there is exaggeration for rhetorical purposes, as there is also a question to be raised about the grounds of salvation.  But Jesus’ teaching in Lk 13:23f confirms that he was concerned to stir up a personal response rather than any kind of speculation about the proportions of the lost and the saved.

Bruner, similarly: ‘Our text is more hortatory than statistical; other texts in Matthew teach that Jesus’ work is effective for “many” (cf. Mt 8:11; 20:28; 26:28). Jesus’ ominous “how few are finding this way” is meant to exhort all hearers, including especially disciples, to make the most important decision of their lives and to make it daily—“Lord, I want to be in that number”; “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.”’

France, however, does think that some kind of numerical contrast between the saved and the lost is taught here.  ‘In Luke 13:23–24 the imagery of the narrow door is a response to the question “Are those who are saved few?”; the answer is clearly meant to be yes. This is consistent with the repeated assumption in this discourse that disciples stand out from the majority of the society in which they live (Mt 5:3–10, 13–16) and as such are subject to persecution (Mt 5:11–12, 39–47)…To envisage the majority as on the broad road to destruction adds a sense of urgency to the call to “seek first God’s kingship and righteousness” (Mt 6:33). A similar contrast between the saved and the lost underlies several of the parables in ch. 13, and again there the impression may be gained that those who are saved are a minority taken out from a generally corrupt society (Mt 13:19–23; 37–43; 49–50). Cf. the imagery of the disciples as sheep among wolves in Mt 10:16. Matthew’s Jesus does not seem to envisage the general conversion of society; those on the road to life are only those few who have “found” it.

Only two ways

‘There are according to Jesus only two ways, hard and easy (there is no middle way), entered by two gates, broad and narrow (there is no other gate) trodden by two crowds, large and small (there is no neutral group), ending in two destinations, destruction and life (there is no third alternative).  It is hardly necessary to comment that such talk is extremely unfashionable today.  People like to be uncommitted.  Every opinion poll allows not only for a “yes” or “no” answer, but for a convenient “don’t know”.  Men are lovers of Aristotle and of his golden mean.  The most popular path is the via media.  To deviate from the middle way is to risk being dubbed an “extremist” or a “fanatic”.  Everybody resents being faced with the necessity of a choice.  But Jesus will not allow us to escape it.’ (Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 196)

The two gates

‘In order to enter by the narrow gate one must strip himself of many things, such as a consuming desire for earthly goods, the unforgiving spirit, selfishness, and especially self-righteousness. The narrow gate is therefore the gate of self-denial and obedience. On the other hand, “the wide gate” can be entered with bag and baggage. The old sinful nature—all it contains and all its accessories—can easily march right through. It is the gate of self-indulgence. So wide is that gate that an enormous, clamorous multitude can enter all at once, and there will be plenty room to spare. The “gate,” then, indicates the choice a person makes here in this life, whether good or bad.’ (Hendriksen)

‘The Wide Gate is the Gate of “whatever pleases you,” for (we are repeatedly told) “God is unconditional love and religion is not a matter of rules”; religion is a matter of tastes, and morality is a matter of choices—“they’re all the same” and “everything is relative,” so “follow your own star and pleasure,” for all ways lead to God. The life of discipleship, on the other hand, passes day by day through the narrow gate of the decision to make Jesus’ one’s sole Lord and so to walk the decidedly uneasy road of obeying his Commands against impiety, anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, hate, ostentation, and acquisitiveness.’ (Bruner)

The easy way

‘One way is easy. The word means ‘broad, spacious, roomy’ (AG), and some manuscripts combine these images and call this way ‘wide and easy’. There is plenty of room on it for diversity of opinions and laxity of morals. It is the road of tolerance and permissiveness. It has no curbs, no boundaries of either thought or conduct. Travellers on this road follow their own inclinations, that is, the desires of the human heart in its fallenness. Superficiality, self-love, hypocrisy, mechanical religion, false ambition, censoriousness—these things do not have to be learnt or cultivated. Effort is needed to resist them. No effort is required to practise them. That is why the broad road is easy.’ (Stott)

Truth is narrow

‘Truth is narrow. If we were hiking and came to a wide river, and we learned that there was one bridge, down the river a mile or two, we wouldn’t stomp in disgust and moan about how that was such a narrow way to think and that the bridge should be right there, where we were. Instead, thankful that there was a bridge, we would go and cross it.

‘Or consider the following. When we go to the doctor, we want a prescription for exactly what we will need to get well. We would be quite startled if the doctor said, “These pills ought to cure you if you’re sincere. After all, we believe in health, don’t we?” Or would you trust yourself to a surgeon who had received no specialised training but was simply a really good person who meant well? Of course not! You know that truth is narrow. And you will trust your life only to someone who knows exactly what he or she is doing.’ (J.S. Stewart, Illustrations Unlimited)

The gate and the way

It is tempting to regard the ‘gate’ as marking the beginning of the Christian life, and ‘the way’ as the ensuing journey.  Justification and sanctification, if you like.  If this is the case, then Jesus’ mention of both in the same breath suggests that we should keep them both in mind in evangelism.  We should not only call people to once-for-all act of faith in Christ, but also to a life of discipleship.  Jesus did not commission his disciples to make converts, but to make disciples (Mt 28:19f).  This includes, among other things, committing to a local fellowship of Christ’s people.  It has been so from the earliest days of the NT church, Acts 2:41f.

Phyllis Tickle takes this up, saying that ‘the two great facts about Jesus are what we may call his “Gate” and his “Road”: (1) the theological Gate of his gracious substitutionary death and resurrection and (2) the ethical Road of his just as gracious commands to follow him in rugged daily discipleship. Paul majors in the former without neglecting the latter; Matthew majors in the latter without neglecting the former. These two great facts about Jesus have been faithfully preserved in the great liturgies of the church, for example, in the Book of Common Prayer (where I will highlight the saving “two facts”): “Almighty God, who has given your only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of his godly life: Give me grace that I may always [!] most thankfully receive his inestimable benefit [at the Gate] and also daily [!] endeavor myself to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life [on the Road]; through [which in the liturgy means, correctly, “by the power of”] the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen”’ (Quoted by Bruner)

Don’t be discouraged

‘We have no reason to be discouraged and cast down, if the religion we profess is not popular, and few agree with us. We must remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in this passage: “The gate is strait.” Repentance, and faith in Christ, and holiness of life, have never been fashionable. The true flock of Christ has always been small. It must not move us to find that we are reckoned singular, and peculiar, and bigotted, and narrow-minded. This is “the narrow way.” Surely it is better to enter into life eternal with a few, than to go to “destruction” with a great company.’ (Ryle)

A Tree and Its Fruit

7:15 “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 7:16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? 7:17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 7:18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 7:20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.

“Watch out for false prophets” – Cf. Deut 13:1-5; Jer 23:9-32; Mt 24:11,24; 2 Pet 2:1; 1 Jn 4:1-3.  France recalls the experience of Jeremiah, ‘who found himself frequently pitted against the more popular prophets who proclaimed “Peace” when there was no peace (Jer 6:13–14; 28:1–17 etc.).’

Hendriksen notes the following references in support of his conclusion that the NT is full of references to false prophets:- ‘Matt. 27:20; 28:12–15; John 7:41, 42; 9:29; Acts 2:13; 8:18, 19; 15:1; Rom. 6:1; 16:17, 18; 1 Cor. 15:12; 2 Cor. 10:10; Gal. 1:6, 9; 3:1; 4:17; 5:2–4; Eph. 5:3–14; Phil. 3:2, 17–19; Col. 2:4, 8, 16–23; 2 Thess. 2:1, 2; 3:6, 14; 1 Tim. 1:3–7, 18–20; 4:1–5, 7; 6:20, 21; 2 Tim. 2:14–18; 3:1–9; 4:3, 4; Titus 1:10–16; 3:9, 10; Heb. 6:4–8; 10:26–28; James 2:17; 2 Peter 2:1 ff.; 3:3, 4; 1 John 2:18; 4:1; 2 John 10; 3 John 9, 10; Jude 4 ff.; Rev. 2:9, 14, 15, 20–24; 3:9.’

‘In referring to certain teachers as ‘false prophets’ it is clear that Jesus was no syncretist, teaching that contradictory opinions were in reality complementary insights into the same truth. No. He held that truth and falsehood excluded one another, and that those who propagate lies in God’s name are false prophets, of whom his followers must beware.’ (Stott)

“Sheep’s clothing…voracious wolves” – They may have impressive gifts, but they are deceitful imposters.  The imagery of ‘wolves’ is used again in Acts 20:29.  France notes that ‘the NT is full of warnings against the damage that false teaching could do to the life and health of the Christian congregations.’

The nature of their false teaching is not stated.  Carson, France, and others suggest that, given the flow of Jesus’ teaching here, together with the OT background, the main idea is that they do not teach the narrow and difficult way (Mt 7:13–14; cf. Jer 6:13f; 8:11; Eze 13:1-16).  Or, it may be that their identity is intentionally kept vague in order to give a wide application of Jesus’ teaching at this point.

Cf. James 3:12.  ‘From a distance the little black berries on the buckthorn could be mistaken for grapes, and the flowers on certain thistles might deceive one into thinking figs were growing (v.16). But no one would be long deceived’ (Carson).  So it is with people: at first glance teaching, character and behaviour may appear to be exemplary; but closer inspection may show them to be devoid of ‘good fruit’.  They may be able to pretend for a while, but sooner or later they will betray themselves.  See also Mt 12:33-37; Lk 6:45.

France (TNTC) points out that prophecy was an honoured gift in the early church (see Acts 11:27–28; 21:9–11; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28; 14:1–3ff.).  However false prophecy, which was well known in OT times (cf. Deut 13:1-5; Jer 23:9-32) became an increasing threat to the church as the 1st century progressed.  Note the warnings in 2 Pet 2:1; 1 Jn 4:1–3; Rev 2:20.

As France (TNTC) says, ‘The metaphor should not be pressed to the point of denying that a person can change; but if the change is to be real, it must be radical, resulting in a new kind of person, not just a new profession or behaviour pattern.’

Again: ‘This Gospel frequently emphasizes the danger of a purely nominal discipleship, and warns that there will be professed disciples who will be rejected at the end (cf. Mt 7:21–23, 24–27; 13:37–43, 49–50; 25:31–46).’

Stott notes the ‘amoral optimism’ of the false prophets that Jeremiah complained about (Jer 23:16f).  These people denied that God was a God of judgement as well as of love.  Such teaching ‘gave [people] a false sense of security. It lulled them to sleep in their sins. It failed to warn them of the impending judgment of God or tell them how to escape it.’  We may assume that Jesus, having just taught about the narrow and broad ways, would have included in his warning those who make the narrow way almost impossibly narrow, as well as those who make out that it is much broader that it really is, so that change of lifestyle is needed to follow it.  Included also might be those who teach that it matters not which path one follows, since ‘all roads lead to God’.

According to Jesus, the false teacher ‘not only [feigns] piety, but he often uses the language of historic orthodoxy, in order to win acceptance from the gullible, while meaning by it something quite different, something destructive of the very truth he pretends to hold.’ (Stott)

France observes that Jesus does not here set a doctrinal test (cf. 1 Jn 4:1-13), but an ethical one.

“You will recognise them by their fruit” – ‘Some of the false prophets’ fruits are mentioned in the NT: controversies (1 Tim. 1:3); divisions (1 Tim. 6:3, 4); greed (6:5–10); destruction of faith (2 Tim. 2:18); and self-destruction by heresy (2 Pet. 2:1).’ (Reformation Study Bible)

Matthew Henry notes two kinds of fruits: (a) the fruits of ‘their persons’: ‘The scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses’s chair, and taught the law, but they were proud, and covetous, and false, and oppressive, and therefore Christ warned him disciples to beware of them and of their leaven, Mk. 12:38’; (b) the fruits of ‘their doctrine’: ‘If the doctrine be of God, it will tend to promote serious piety, humility, charity, holiness, and love, with other Christian graces.’

Bad fruit – ‘rotten’, ‘worthless’ (Blomberg)

“A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit” – ‘The point of the whole section is that the saints must at all times be watchful to make certain their leaders fulfill their calling. This does not mean a critical attitude (so Mt 7:1–5) but it does entail loving concern and spiritual vigilance. Too many charlatans have appeared throughout church history for us to be complacent.’ (Osborne)

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” – These are precisely the words used by John the Baptist in Mt 3:10.

“By their fruit you will recognize them” – This phrase is repeated from v16, bracketing off the beginning and end of the illustration in the form of an ‘inclusio‘, a commonly-used literary device.

‘“Fruit” is the product of a person’s essential life. All that a person says and does reveals who he or she is (James 3:9–12). John the Baptist earlier rebuked the Sadducees and Pharisees for coming for baptism, telling them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Repentance in their heart will produce a repentant life that rejects sin.’ (Wilkins)

The OT proposes some tests for prophets:-

  1. The fulfilment test, Deut 18:21f.  Does what the prophet has predicted come true?
  2. The doctrinal test, Deut 13:1-6.  Even if the prophet’s words do come true, do they call people to follow false gods?
  3. The ethical text, Jer 23:9-15.  Does their behaviour match their message?

Osborne says that the idea of ‘fruit’ is not limited to deeds, but encompasses one’s whole way of life.  Paul will famously expand on the idea in Gal 5:22f.  Stott expands: ‘Whenever we see in a teacher the meekness and gentleness of Christ, his love, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control, we have reason to believe him to be true, not false. On the other hand, whenever these qualities are missing, and ‘the works of the flesh’ are more apparent than ‘the fruit of the Spirit’—especially enmity, impurity, jealousy and self-indulgence—we are justified in suspecting that the prophet is an impostor, however pretentious his claims and specious his teaching.’

Stott (following Calvin and others) says that ‘fruit’ here is not limited to the life lived.  Mt 12:33-37 uses the same imagery of a tree and its fruits, and the teaching there is concerned with the words (i.e. the teaching) of the Pharisees.  Se 1 Jn. 2:26; 4:1.

‘H. Richard Niebuhr’s famous definition of nineteenth-century American liberal Christianity comes to mind: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross”’ (Bruner)

Clearly, the command not to judge one’s brother or sister is not all-encompassing.  Verse 6 has already made that clear, and so does the present teaching.  As Osborne says: ‘all believers should be “Berean Christians,” who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what [their preachers] said was true” (Acts 17:11).’  See also 1 Jn 4:1.

‘Jesus admonishes his disciples to be “fruit inspectors” of those passing themselves off as prophets’ (Wilkins)

Two key ways in which we apply this to teachers today is to bring their teaching to that of Christ and the apostles, and see how it matches up.

To the two tests of soundness of doctrine and holiness of life, Stott proposes a third, urging us to consider the results of a person’s teaching.  Does it point people to Christ?  Does it lead to faith, love and godliness in others?  Does it build up the church?

“Grapes…thorns…figs…thistles” – ‘Grapes and figs were the staple diet in Palestine, and thornbushes and thistles were hurtful weeds. The latter choke off nutrients from the soil from other plants and are harmful also to humans because of their sharp thorns.’

Beware of false prophets

Stott remarks that in uttering this warning Jesus is assuming that false prophets actually existed.  After all, there is no point in putting up a notice stating, “Beware of the dog” if all you have at home is a budgerigar and a couple of goldfish.  In fact, we come across false prophets on numerous occasions in the OT, and Jesus evidently regarded the bulk of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the same way.  He calls them “blind leaders of the blind”.  He and his apostles also warned that false prophets (claiming divine inspiration) and false apostles (claiming apostolic authority) would continue, and even increase.  There would even be false Christs (claiming messianic status for themselves and denying the true Christ).  And such continue to the present day.  In God’s providence, they challenge us to think out and define the truth.  But each one is ‘pseudo’ – a lie – and capable of terrible damage.

Osborne urges: ‘We must at all times be on the watch for deviations from orthodoxy. Yet we must do so carefully, separating the cardinal doctrines (e.g., the Trinity, deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement, the return of Christ) from those on which we should agree to disagree and maintain a larger unity (e.g., spiritual gifts, the millennium or rapture, mode of baptism, the Calvinism/Arminianism debate, gender roles). Too often we are fighting the wrong battles while true heretics steal our sheep.’

Be wary, but not cynical

‘The instruction to “beware” of them implies the same need for discrimination on the part of God’s people as we saw in v. 6. People cannot always be taken at their face value, and the more so when they claim to speak for God. The testing of purportedly divine communications is a prominent and necessary concern of the NT writers; cf. 1 Cor 14:29, 37–38; 2 Thess 2:1–3; 1 John 4:1–6. Such wariness coexists in the NT, however, with a recognition of and welcome for prophecy as a genuine divine gift, and Matthew shares that recognition (10:41; 23:34); after all, the reason why false prophets can pass themselves off as “sheep” is presumably that genuine prophecy is a familiar and welcome phenomenon in the church.’ (France)

Disturbing teaching

As France says, this teaching ‘raises sharply the issue of assurance of salvation, and taken alone it can be a cause of great distress to some more sensitive souls. But such questioning is not a new phenomenon. It was apparently in the light of just such painful spiritual self-examination that the pastoral treatise we know as 1 John was written, with its recognition of the need for reassurance when “our hearts condemn us” (1 John 3:19–22) and its painstaking examination of the grounds for assurance: “by this we know …” (1 John 2:3, 5; 3:16, 19, 24; 4:2, 6, 13; 5:2).’

In God’s providence

‘The history of the Christian church has been a long and dreary story of controversy with false teachers. Their value, in the overruling providence of God, is that they have presented the church with a challenge to think out and define the truth, but they have caused much damage. I fear there are still many in today’s church.’ (Stott)

Judgment of Pretenders

7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 7:22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 7:23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’

Just as there will be false prophets, so there will be false disciples.

Jesus warns about how we use our lips (a ‘merely verbal profession’), vv21-23, and how we use our ears (a ‘merely intellectual knowledge’), vv24-27. ‘The question is not whether we say nice, polite, orthodox, enthusiastic things to or about Jesus; nor whether we hear his words, listening, studying, pondering and memorizing until our minds are stuffed with his teaching; but whether we do what we say and do what we know, in other words whether the lordship of Jesus which we profess is one of our life’s major realities.’ (Stott)

Here, vv21-23, we are introduced to those ‘who apparently believe themselves to be genuine disciples and can appeal to their charismatic activities to prove it, but nonetheless turn out to have no real relationship with the Lord to whom they appeal. The false prophets of v 15 were deceivers, but these are self-deceived. Acceptance depends not on profession, nor even on apparently Christian activity, but on whether Jesus knew them. Note the extraordinary authority he assumes as judge; to enter the kingdom of heaven depends on his acknowledgement and consists in being with him.’ (NBC)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, lord'” – Such people we might describe as ‘nominal Christians’, and there are many around.

The epithet ‘Lord’ carries in itself no special theological significance.  The use simply recognises in the other a higher social status.  ‘But in Matthew’s narrative, addressed to Jesus as a Galilean villager of no social prominence, and frequently in the context of expecting miraculous help, kyrie clearly carries more weight, and the fact that Matthew uses it substantially more than the other synoptic evangelists indicates that he was well aware of this more than purely social dimension. In the present context this dimension is very clear, where the use of kyrie, kyrie (the doubling of the address draws attention to it as important in its own right, not merely polite) for Jesus is linked with entry to the kingdom of heaven and with the working of miracles.’ (France)

‘The doubling of a name is an address of intimacy (Gen. 22:11; 1 Sam. 3:10; 2 Sam. 18:33; Luke 22:31). It is not claims or feelings of intimacy with Jesus that matter, nor is it performing miraculous works in Jesus’ name, as even Judas Iscariot did (Matt. 10:1–4). What matters is sincere obedience to the Father’s will, flowing from faith.’ (Reformation Study Bible)

‘When you lift up your eyes in hell, or when Jesus comes, you will cry, “Lord, Lord;” but all diligence will then be too late. When the boat has left the shore, it is vain for you to run.’ (McCheyne)

“…but only he who does the will of my Father…” – ‘Faith and morals are two sides of the same coin. Indeed the very essence of faith is moral. Any professed faith in Christ as personal Saviour that does not bring the life under plenary obedience to Christ as Lord is inadequate and must betray its victim at the last. The man that believes will obey. God gives faith to the obedient heart only. Where real repentance is, there is obedience.’ (A.W. Tozer)

Throughout this passage, there is an emphasis on doing.  This idea is represented in vv17,18,19 by ‘producing’ (fruit), in v21 by ‘performing’ (miracles), and in v22 by ‘putting into practice’ (Jesus teaching), and in v24 by ‘doing’ Jesus’ words. (France)

This is not, of course, to say that we enter God’s kingdom by means of the (supposed) merit of our good deeds.  ‘What Jesus is stressing, however, is that those who truly hear the gospel and profess faith will always obey him, expressing their faith in their works. The apostles of Jesus never forgot this teaching. It is prominent in their letters. The first letter of John, for example, is full of the perils of a verbal profession: ‘If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie … He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar’ (1 Jn. 1:6; 2:4.0.  The letter of James, on the other hand, is full of the perils of an intellectual knowledge. An arid orthodoxy cannot save, he writes, but only a faith which issues in good works; so we have to be ‘doers of the word, and not hearers only’ (Jas. 1:22–25; 2:14–20).’ (Stott)

“On that day” – referring to the final judgement.

“Many” – ‘“ ‘Many’—even of those, perhaps, whom posterity has canonized, accounted blessed and saints.… ‘We have prophesied’—… And [Bengel self-critically concludes]: We have written commentaries and exegetical observations on books and passages of the Old and New Testaments, have preached fine sermons, etc.” (Bengel, quoted by Bruner)

“Did we not prophesy in your name?” – Note the high Christology here.  As Osborne notes, the expression ‘in your name’ does not suggest some kind of magical incantation, but rather a claim to be acting on Christ’s behalf, as his representatives.

'In his name'

‘Jesus’ disciples prophesied “in his name” (Mt. 7:22), cast out demons “in his name” (Lk. 10:17), performed miracles “in his name” (Mk. 9:39), etc. With the use of this expression it becomes evident that the disciples spoke and acted like Jesus, in His place and with His authority, as did the prophets of Yahweh in the OT (see Acts 4:7–10). Similarly, the gospel is to be preached in all the world “in his name,” i.e., by His authority, and thus be made effectual to save people (Lk. 24:47), justify sinners (Acts 10:43), and forgive people their sins (1 Jn. 2:12).’

G.W. Hawthorne, ISBE (2nd ed.), art. ‘Name’

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Osborne notes that these three things – prophecy, exorcism and miracles – were performed by Christ and his disciples.  The outward deeds of the genuine and the false can be deceptively similar.  Satan and his followers are certainly capable of notable wonders (Mt 24:24; 2 Thess 2:9; Rev 13:13–15, 16:14; 19:20).  Without love, the prophecies and miracles of even professing Christians are worthless, 1 Cor 13:2.

Bruner asks: ‘is any of Jesus’ Beatitudes present in their three ministries? Any poverty of spirit here? Mourning? Meekness? Hungering and thirsting for righteousness? (There is apparently a hungering and thirsting for power.) Is there mercy here, or purity of heart, or making peace? Any suffering of persecution?’

As Hendriksen comments: ‘it is unnecessary to exclude the possibility that among the feats of which the false prophets are now boasting there had been some that were accomplished by the aid of supernatural power, whether divine or Satanic. Similarly, it is entirely possible—probable even—that the men whom Jesus condemns had actually spoken many a true word when they prophesied in the name of Jesus. Is it not true that the Lord at times makes use of the wicked to proclaim marvelous truths (Num. 23:8–10, 18–24; 24:5–9, 17; Rev. 2:14; Acts 16:16, 17)? Demas may have preached many a fine sermon (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:10). And was not even Judas Iscariot among those who were commissioned to heal the sick and to cast out demons (Matt. 10:1)? The reason why the men described here in Matt. 7:22 are condemned is not that their preaching had been wrong and/or their miracles spurious but that they had not practiced what they preached!’

A warning to us all

‘This “Two Doers” Warning gives us “Christians” who are doctrinally christocentric (the double “Lord! Lord!” and threefold “in your name”) and spiritually charismatic (prophecy, exorcism, miracles), but who do not do the will of the Father.

‘Thus it is not really sufficient for the Christian community to ask of its leaders, “Are they Christ-centered?” They must also ask, “Do they seek to keep, and do they encourage others to keep the Commands of Jesus?” Nor is it enough to ask, “Do they win others to Christ?” They must also ask, “Do they seek to do and to move others to do the will of the Father as taught in Jesus’ sermons?” “Do they honor the Sermon on the Mount?” Neither the Christ-like (sheep’s clothing) nor the Christ-centered (“Lord! Lord!”) are necessarily Christ’s. All of us are in the dock here.’ (Bruner)

The fruits that Jesus commands

‘To be sure, it is a gift of God when anyone can preach effectively, cast out devils, and do miracles, as Jesus will later teach; nevertheless, significantly, these good works nowhere appear in Jesus’ principal sermon. The fruits Jesus commands in his Sermon on the Mount are less sensational and more simple: revering Scripture’s commandments, casting out one’s anger, the miracles of sexual purity and marital fidelity, the careful speech that does not misuse God’s name by oaths or careless speech, and, most deeply, the heart that extends itself even to persecutors and enemies.’ (Bruner)

High Christology

The Sermon on the Mount should never be regarded as merely a set of universal ethical maxims.  The references to Jesus’ exalted nature are inescapable.  He is the exalted Lord, v21f, the unique Son, v21, and the coming Judge, v22f.

Michael Green notes, from the present passage:-

‘People prophesy in his name (v22), and that was something which in Israel was done only in God’s name. People call him ‘Lord’ and are not rebuked for it. Someone can be rejected from the kingdom of heaven if he or she does not know Jesus and is not known by him (v23). Jesus inherits that character of God Almighty referred to in the Old Testament: he is the Rock. Any ‘house’ of someone’s life built on him will stand. Any house built on anything else will crash in ruins.’

Wilkins comments: ‘For Jesus to place himself as the One who has the authority to determine who enters the kingdom and who is banished to eternal punishment is to accrue to himself the highest Christological claim. Throughout the Old Testament God is said to “know” those whom he has chosen to be his people (Jer. 1:5; Hos. 13:5; Amos 3:2), a theme reiterated throughout the New Testament to speak of a saving relationship found with God through Jesus Christ (cf. Gal. 4:8–9; 2 Tim. 2:19). Here Jesus claims that divine prerogative to know the inner recesses of a person’s heart.’

France: ‘The Jesus who in Mt 5:21–47 repeatedly matched God’s OT laws with his own “but I tell you” now presents himself as the one who decides who does and does not enter the kingdom of heaven, and even more remarkably the basis for that entry is people’s relationship with him, whether or not he “knew them.” Further, the essence of their rejection from the kingdom of heaven is that they must go away from him. This pericope therefore stands alongside Mt 25:31–46 in making the most exalted claims for Jesus as the eschatological judge and the personal focus of salvation.’

Demons – ‘There is only one devil (Satan), but there are many demons. The demons are those angels who sinned with Satan by following him when he revolted against God. Some are confined, (2 Pet 2:4) but many are active in the world (Mt 12:43-45). They seek to thwart the purposes of God; (Eph 6:11-12) they promote their own system of doctrine; (1 Tim 4:1) they can inflict diseases (Mt 9:33); and they possess the bodies of men and of animals.’ (Mt 4:24; Mk 5:13) (Ryrie)

We cannot tell whether these claims had any element of truth in them.  However, in Mt 12:27 we find exorcists who are not disciples of Jesus, and in Mk 9:38–41 and Acts 19:13–16 such exorcists name Jesus as their source of power.

Powerful deeds – ‘We are reminded that signs and wonders can come from sources other than God, including both the demonic world and human manufacture (cf. Acts 19:13–16; Rev 13:13–14).’ (Blomberg)

‘On the pages of the Gospels there is no indication that Jesus healed all or even a majority of the sick people in his day. He warns against those who would work counterfeit signs and wonders in his name, (Mt 7:21-23) especially as the last days unfold. (Mt 24:5) he refuses to work signs on demand and warns against an inappropriate dependence on the spectacular. (Mt 12:38-42; Jn 4:48; 20:29) Even the most well-authenticated signs do not necessarily prove their divine origin; (Mt 9:32-33; 12:22-24) Christian faith should therefore be based on a more solid foundation.’ (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)

‘It…is interesting that prophecy, exorcisms, and miracle workings all characterize “charismatic” activity, which has a tendency, by no means universal, to substitute enthusiasm and the spectacular for more unglamorous obedience in the midst of suffering.’ (Blomberg)

“I never knew you” – “I never recognised you as belonging to me.”  ‘Perhaps these people fooled many on earth, but Jesus knows that they never had a saving relationship with him.’ (Blomberg)

“Away from me, you evildoers” – quoting a psalm about the vindication of the righteous (Ps 6:8; cf. Ps 119:115; 139:19).

Turned away

v22-23 ‘On the day of judgement, there will be some who claim to be Christians who will be turned away from God’s kingdom. They will be like counterfeit money when it reaches the bank. Suppose you are given a forged note. Thinking it is genuine, you use it to pay for some petrol. The petrol station owner uses it to pay one of his employees, who uses it to buy groceries. From there it goes to the bank where to clerk says, “I’m sorry, but this note is forged.” The note may have been used to do a lot of good while it was in circulation, but when it arrived at the bank, it was exposed for what it really was and put out of circulation. A counterfeit Christian may do many good works, but still be rejected at the gates of judgement.’ (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 419)

Hearing and Doing

7:24 “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 7:25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 7:26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 7:27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!”

Mt 7:24–27 = Lk 6:47–49

As v24 indicates, we have in this section no new commandment from Jesus, but rather encouragement to follow the way of obedience to ‘these words of mine’ that have just been uttered.  Throughout this final section of the Sermon, Jesus insists that there are just two ways to live: the way of obedience that leads to life, and the way of disobedience that leads to death.

Stott characterises the message of this paragraph as ‘the danger of a merely intellectual knowledge.’ The basic question is, ‘What will you do with the teaching of Christ? Will you hear it and ignore it, or will you hear and obey it?

Wilkins notes that, in context, the implied contrast is between himself and the religious establishment.  However, to go further than this and adopt the interpretation of N.T. Wright (Jesus and the Victory of God), according to which ‘building on sand’ is equivalent to trusting in the Temple, which was destined for destruction, whereas ‘building on the rock’ means trusting in Jesus as the true Temple, seems idiosyncratic.  As Klyne Snodgrass remarks, ‘Every occurrence of oikos (house) cannot be assumed to be a reference to the temple, and petra (rock) is unlikely to be a reference to the foundation stone of the temple. The parable refers to obedience to Jesus’ ethical teaching; certainly that is Matthew’s intent’ (Jesus and the Restoration of Israel).

“These words of mine” – No Jewish teacher had ever claimed such authority for his own words; such authority was always reserved for the law itself. ‘In this age of permissiveness and pluralism (which we forget was much the same in Jesus’ own day), his claims stand out sheer and stark. He does not ‘ (Green)

Note that ‘Jesus does not refer us to the words of the law or the Word of God in the prophets; he refers us to “these words of mine,” as if these are the Word of God in the final sense.’ (Bruner)

“Everyone who hears these words of mine…and puts them into practice” – See Eze 33:32-33. The ‘putting into practice’ recalls the ‘fruit’ of vv 16-20.

Bruner recalls; ‘As a young Christian I was taught to contrast trusting and trying. Matthew is teaching me to combine the two—in this order: trusting, trying (Gate, Way). Compare Paul’s similar order at many places (e.g., Phil 2:12–13, “for”; Eph 2:8–10, “by … for”); and his teaching (like that of Jesus)—of present justification by faith—then final judgment by works (e.g., 2 Cor 5:10).’

“A wise man who built his house on rock” – ‘Everyone is building a house—a life, a career, a family. Everyone builds a house on some foundation, for everyone believes that something is true and stable. Jesus invites his hearers to believe that his words are the most stable foundation in the world.’ (Bruner)

Osborne says that the rock should not be allegorised to mean ‘Jesus’: ‘the message is that the house built wisely will stand, and the life built on obedience will stand now and at the final judgment.’

As France notes, ‘the importance of a solid rock foundation will be echoed in 16:18, where again the resultant building will remain secure against all threats.’

The rest of the NT underlines the futility of a mere verbal profession, 1 Jn 1:6 2:4; Jas 1:22-25; 2:14-20.

‘As it is often difficult to distinguish the true professors of the Gospel from the false, Christ shows, by a beautiful comparison, where the main difference lies. He represents two houses, one of which was built without a foundation, while the other was well-founded. Both have the same external appearance: but, when the wind and storms blow, and the floods dash against them, the former will immediately fall, while the latter will be sustained by its strength against every assault. Christ therefore compares a vain and empty profession of the Gospel to a beautiful, but not solid, building, which, however elevated, is exposed every moment to downfall, because it wants a foundation. Accordingly, Paul enjoins us to be well and thoroughly founded on Christ, and to have deep roots, (Col 2:7) “that we may not be tossed and driven about by every wind of doctrine,” (Eph 4:14) that we may not give way at every attack. The general meaning of the passage is, that true piety is not fully distinguished from its counterfeit, till it comes to the trial. For the temptations, by which we are tried, are like billows and storms, which easily overwhelm unsteady minds, whose lightness is not perceived during the season of prosperity.’ (Calvin)

‘In Palestine the builder must think ahead. There was many a gully which in summer was a pleasant sandy hollow, but was in winter a raging torrent of rushing water. A man might be looking for a house; he might find a pleasantly sheltered sandy hollow; and he might think this a very suitable place. But, if he was a short-sighted man, he might well have built his house in the dried-up bed of a river, and, when the winter came, his house would disintegrate. Even on an ordinary site it was tempting to begin building on the smoothed-over sand, and not to bother digging down to the shelf of rock below, but that way disaster lay ahead.’ (DSB)

‘The locale of the sermon near the Sea of Galilee finds a natural setting for this parable. The alluvial sand ringing the seashore was hard on the surface during the hot summer months. But a wise builder would not be fooled by surface conditions. He would dig down sometimes ten feet below the surface sand to the bedrock and there establish the foundation for his house. When the winter rains came, causing the Jordan River pouring into the sea to overflow its banks, houses built on the alluvial sand surface would have an unstable foundation. But houses built on bedrock would be able to withstand the floods. Excavations in the late 1970s in the region uncovered basalt stone bedrock that was apparently used for the foundation of a building in antiquity.’ (Wilkins)

‘Some of Jesus’ more biblically literate hearers may have thought of Pr 24:3 (“by wisdom a house is built”) and the contrast between wisdom (which builds a house in Prov 9:1) and folly in Pr 9:1-18.’ (NT Background Commentary)

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them” – Bruner insists that ‘the story of the Two Houses is about two kinds of Christians, not about Christians and non-Christians (note: both “are listening” to Jesus’ words). The house that crashes is not the house of pagans or of those who did not hear Jesus’ words. The house that crashes is the house of Christians who find Jesus’ words important enough to hear but not realistic enough to live. For such Christians the Sermon on the Mount is not practical enough for the demands of modern life, or is dispensationally limited, or is too naive for contemporary fast-lane life, or too spiritual for urgent modern causes, or, perhaps most commonly of all, it is just too hard.’

“The rain…the streams…the winds” – ‘Storms in Palestine are infrequent but can be violent. Although the houses of the foolish and the wise may for a long time appear equally secure, when the storm comes the destruction of the foolish one’s house is total (Is. 28:14–18). So it is with the life of those who hear the words of Jesus but do not take appropriate action in response (cf. James 1:22–25).’ (Reformation Study Bible)

The time of testing arrives for both houses. This may be in the form of trial, Gen 22:1; Job; temptation, Gen 39:7-18; Mt 26:69-75; bereavement, Gen 42:36; Job 1:18-22; Lk 7:11-17; Jn 11:1ff; and death, Acts 7:59-60; 9:37. In the present context, it is the day of judgement that is especially in view, cf. v22.

Bruner agrees: we are not told that life built on the foundation of Jesus’ words will be spared rains, floods, or winds, as though Jesus’ teaching were a talisman against trouble. Realistically, Jesus says the same storms hit thoughtful disciples as hit thoughtless ones (cf. 7:25, 27). Obedience to Jesus’ words is not so much protection from troubles as protection in them, just as rock under a house does not shield from storms but supports during them.’

Osborne notes that many commentators understand the storms to represent either the troubles of life or the impact of final judgment.  In his view, ‘the whole parable describes divine judgment in the present as well as the final judgment of one’s works, but the details need not be allegorized.’

‘His foundation is whatever is the basis of his character, and the ground of his hopes for eternity. This is not the true and faithful sayings of the Saviour, for though he hears them, he does not conform his mind to them – he he does not believe them. His foundation is that set of false principles, whatever they may be, or wherever they may have been got, which regulate his temper and conduct, and are the basis of his character, the ground of his hopes. These vary in different individuals. In the case of those whom our Lord was addressing, the traditions of the fathers, the doctrines of the Scribes and Pharisees, were probably the foundation on which they were building.

The edifice itself is just that character, that mode of thinking, feeling, and acting, which such false principles naturally produce, or those hopes which they naturally inspire. That character has often a great degree of plausibility, and gains in no ordinary measure the esteem and approbation of men. Those hopes are often very confidently entertained. But the stability of the edifice must be tested.’ (Brown)

“It was utterly destroyed!” – Noting that ‘Jesus prefers the last illustration in his sermon to be Warning rather than Blessing’, Bruner offers to preachers the following quote from Bengel: ‘Thus it is not necessary for every sermon to end with consolation.’

Wilkins agrees, noting that these are not words with which many modern preachers would end a sermon!  We would want to be more ‘encouraging’.  Indeed, Jesus did have more reassuring ways of ending a discourse (cf. Jn 16:33):-

‘But the mixed audience of the SM calls for a different challenge. At this early stage of the Jesus movement, Jesus challenges his disciples to examine themselves carefully so that they do not deceive themselves about the authenticity of their commitment to him, for someday they will be called to an eternal accounting for their profession. He challenges the crowds to take up his invitation to the kingdom of heaven, because their choice either for or against him has eternal consequences. And he challenges the religious leaders to consider carefully their pious hypocrisy, which may lead them and the crowds to eternal destruction. So the note of doom with which Jesus concludes the SM is urgently appropriate to the time and audience and draws attention not so much to the judgment but to Jesus as the One who will dispense that judgment.’

‘So too Judgment Day will come like a flood to disclose which spiritual structures will endure. Preliminary crises may also reveal authentic and inauthentic spirituality. In fact, often only in times of crisis can one’s faith be truly proven.’ (Blomberg)

How are we building?

‘Both the men mentioned in the parable are builders, for to live means to build. Every ambition a man cherishes, every thought he conceives, every word he speaks, and every deed he performs is, as it were, a building block. Gradually the structure of his life arises. Not all builders are the same, however. Some are sensible, some foolish.’ (Hendriksen)

Get the point?

Wilkins remarks that the surface meaning of the parable would have been plain to his hearers.  ‘But would they see beyond the parable to Jesus’ point? Would they reject the present secure but shallow sifting sands of the religious leadership of the scribes and Pharisees and choose instead Jesus’ words as the foundation for their lives? The religious establishment was advocating a form of surface righteousness that masked an unstable foundation of religious hypocrisy. Eventually its instability would be revealed as not having the answers to the deepest needs of the people. In this parable Jesus continues to give an invitation to the bedrock of true life in the kingdom of heaven, but it is the unpopular way, even the troubled way, because those who follow him leave behind the way of comfort found in identifying with the popular religious establishment.’

The wise builder

‘The wise person shows that he or she has carefully viewed the shifting sands of life’s teachings and understands that Jesus is the only secure truth of life (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10–11). The wise person thinks ahead to when there will be storms and sacrifices and builds his or her life on the rock of Jesus’ words. The choice is no less stark in our own day. Wise men and women build their lives on Jesus, regardless of the cultural or religious weather.’ (Wilkins)

Hearing and doing

We should not suppose that this passage contrasts believing and doing, as though we were saved, not by faith, but by actions. The contrast is, rather, between hearing and doing. Similarly, the passage is misunderstood when it is taken to mean that it matters little what doctrine we believe, so long as we live a good life. It is precisely that doctrine which, heard and obeyed, leads to a good life, that our Lord commends.

Similar appearance; different foundations

Both houses looked alike to the casual observer. So it is with real and false Christians: both have the appearance of genuineness. Both go to church, listen to sermons, use Christian vocabulary. Both appear to be respectable, orthodox and clean-living. But only one is built on the secure foundation of obedience to the teaching of Christ. The final judgement will reveal the difference.

Believing and doing

‘In applying this teaching to ourselves, we need to consider that the Bible is a dangerous book to read, and that the church is a dangerous society to join. For in reading the Bible we hear the words of Christ, and in joining the church we say we believe in Christ. As a result, we belong to the company described by Jesus as both hearing his teaching and calling him Lord. Our membership therefore lays upon us the serious responsibility of ensuring that what we know and what we say is translated into what we do.’ (Stott)

How to build on the Rock

‘So we must build on the Rock. How? Jesus’ reply to that question is the heart of Old Testament religion. We must hear and obey. Not just hear, but obey. The theological and religious world is full of hearing; it is overloaded with God-talk. What will thrill the heart of God and make the pagans realize that the gospel is true is practical, generous obedience – obedience that transforms our characters (Mt 5:11f), affects our influence (Mt 5:13-16), shows itself in practical righteousness (5:17-48), touches our devotional life (Mt 6:1-18), radically alters our ambitions (Mt 6:19-34), transforms our relationships (Mt 7:1-12) and marks us out as totally wholehearted servants of the King (Mt 7:13-27). That is what Jesus is looking for.’ (Green)

(a) we can build on a rock – we can hear and obey the words of Jesus

(b) we can build on sand – we can hear and not put them into practice In either case, stormy times will come. And it is then that the difference in the foundations will be revealed. There are just two ways to build They can have much in common – but one fundamental difference Storms and calamities are inevitable The danger of knowledge without obedience; it’s not so much what we know, or what we say, but what we do, that counts.

Summary

‘The resultant four sections therefore press increasingly closer to home:

  1. the first is a simple contrast between saved and lost,
  2. the second concerns outsiders who merely pretend to be insiders,
  3. the third looks at those who think they are insiders but are not, and
  4. the fourth draws a line even within the group of insiders (who hear Jesus’ words) between those who respond and those who do not.

In each of the four cases, the result of a failure to respond is catastrophic: “destruction” (v. 13), “cut down and burned” (v. 19), excluded from the kingdom of heaven (vv. 21, 23), and the total collapse of the house (v. 27).’ (France, reformatted)

7:28 When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, 7:29 because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law.

When Jesus had finished saying these things – The formula closes all five of the major discourses in this Gospel (Mt 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).

The crowds were amazed by his teaching – Mt 5:1f implies that Jesus had moved, along with his disciples, away from the crowds.  Either the crowds had followed them anyway, and had overheard some or all of this teaching, or we are to understand that the teaching of Matthew 5-7 was delivered over a more extended period of time and in more than one setting.  Then again, v29a (lit. ‘he was teaching them’) suggests that they were responding to Jesus’ continued teaching in Galilee.

Authority – Jesus accepts the address, “Lord, Lord”, v21; he calls God “My Father,” v21; he claims the right to announce each person’s final destiny, v23; he appeals to no other authority than, “these words of mine”, v24.

Not like their experts in the law – ‘The scribes (religious scholars) often cited traditions and quoted authorities to support their arguments and interpretations. But Jesus spoke with a new authority-his own. He didn’t need to quote anyone because he was the original Word.’ (Jn 1:1) (HBA)

‘The scribes had to rely on tradition for authority; Christ’s authority was his own. It disturbed the Pharisees that he had no “credentials” as an official teacher in their system.’ (Ryrie)

‘As one can see in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus never interacted with previous teaching and did not even depend on Torah. His was an authority never seen before (or since!). His teaching “fulfilled” Torah and lifted it to a higher plane (cf. Mt 5:17–20).’ (Osborne)

Teaching that cannot be ignored

‘Not surprisingly, the crowds marvel and contrast Jesus’ teaching with that of the scribes. For them the difference was one of authority. Of course the scribes and Pharisees were religious authorities, but their right to speak was always based on their ability to quote Scripture or subsequent Jewish teachers and tradition. Strikingly, Jesus quotes Scripture in his sermon only to reinterpret it, he cites no human authorities or tradition, and he speaks with directness and confidence that he himself is bringing God’s message for a new era in human history. Such preaching reflects either the height of presumption and heresy or the fact that he was a true spokesman for God, whom we dare not ignore.’ (Blomberg)

Amazing teaching

Hendriksen identifies a number of points of contrast between the teaching of Jesus and that of the scribes:-

  1. He spoke the truth (John 14:6; 18:37). Corrupt and evasive reasoning marked the sermons of many of the scribes (Matt. 5:21 ff.).
  2. He presented matters of great significance, matters of life, death, and eternity (see the entire sermon). They often wasted their time on trivialities (Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42).
  3. There was system in his preaching. As their Talmud proves, they often rambled on and on.
  4. He excited curiosity by making generous use of illustrations (Mt 5:13–16; 6:26–30; 7:24–27; etc.) and concrete examples (Mt 5:21–6:24; etc.), as the sermon shows from beginning to end. Their speeches were often dry as dust.
  5. He spoke as the Lover of men, as One concerned with the everlasting welfare of his listeners, and pointed to the Father and his love (Mt 5:44–48). Their lack of love is clear from such passages as Mt 23:4, 13–15; Mark 12:40; etc.
  6. Finally, and this is the most important, for it is specifically stated here (verse 28), he spoke “with authority” (Matt. 5:18, 26; etc.), for his message came straight from the very heart and mind of the Father (John 8:26), hence also from his own inner being, and from Scripture (5:17; 7:12; cf. 4:4, 7, 10). They were constantly borrowing from fallible sources, one scribe quoting another scribe. They were trying to draw water from broken cisterns. He drew from himself, being “the Fountain of living waters” (Jer. 2:13).

(Emphasis added)

‘Me, me, me!’

It is fascinating to work through the last two Warnings of the sermon and to note the heaping up of first-person pronouns (“I, me, my, mine”). They uncover the sermon’s most astonishing dimension: that Jesus believes himself to be, as we say in our vernacular, “something else”: “Not everyone who is saying to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ … but the person who is doing the will of my Father.… Many people will say to me on that day, … and I will say to them, ‘Get out of my face.… So then, everyone who is listening to these words of mine and is doing them.… And everyone who is listening to these words of mine and is not doing them.…” Jesus assumes for himself the place that hitherto the Torah occupied; indeed, Jesus comes very close to assuming for himself the place that the Torah assigns to God.’ (Bruner)

The authority of Jesus

‘He taught them like one who had authority’.  Bruner notes: ‘Jesus talks as if he already has “all [!] authority in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18).’

Wilkins remarks that Jesus the Messiah has presented in this, the first Gospel, in a number of guises:-

  1. ‘In chapters 1–4, Jesus was introduced as the Messiah of Israel through the genealogy and infancy narrative, in the thunderous preaching and ministry of John the Baptist, in the skirmish with the devil in the desert, in the arrival of Jesus in Galilee to announce the arrival of the kingdom of heaven, and in the calling of his first coworkers to become fishers of men.
  2. In chapters 5–7, Jesus is presented as the Messiah in word, in the matchless SM, and
  3. in chapters 8–9 to follow, Jesus will be presented as the Messiah at work in a collection of miracle stories. The spotlight shines fully on Jesus as the authoritative Messiah of Israel’s hopes.’ (Numbering added)

Making a similar point, Jackman and Philip say: ‘He is putting himself, unequivocally, in the position of law-giver, in the position of authoritative declarer of the mind of God…The preacher, who has already been declared to be the king in chapters 1 and 2, the Son of God in chapter 3, and the conqueror of Satan in chapter 4, is now claiming to be the real Law-giver, the authoritative figure who fully reveals the mind of God and directs the life of his people.’

Amazement is not acceptance

‘Amazement at Jesus’ teachings does not indicate acceptance. The term “amazed” is the passive form of ekplesso, which in Matthew is not a description of faith. It indicates a variety of emotional responses but not a commitment to Jesus’ messianic ministry. The word is used to describe Jesus’ hometown’s unbelieving reaction to his ministry (Mt 13:58), his own disciples’ astonished response at the difficulty of a rich man being saved (19:25), and the crowds’ astonishment at Jesus’ teaching on marriage at the resurrection (Mt 22:33). Amazement is not the same as a commitment of faith. Only when a person accepts Jesus’ invitation and enters the kingdom of heaven does he or she become a disciple.’

What will you do with Jesus?

‘So Jesus confronts us with himself, sets before us the radical choice between obedience and disobedience, and calls us to an unconditional commitment of mind, will and life to his teaching.’ (Stott)

As Wilkins remarks, Jesus presents himself as ‘the authoritative adjudicator of humanity’s destiny’.  Here, at the close of the Sermon on the Mount, all of humankind stands before him, and is confronted with the following urgent questions:-

  • 7:13–14: Will you enter the gate to life in the kingdom of heaven and embark on a life of following me? Or will you reject me for the popular road that leads to destruction?
  • 7:15–20: Will you find in me the inner source of transformation that will produce the good fruit of life? Or will you follow the prophetic voices of this world that hype a promise of life but will only take you into the fires of hell?
  • 7:21–23: Will you obey my Father’s will and come to me as your only Lord? Or will you chase after false manifestations of spirituality that result in eternal banishment?
  • 7:24–27: Will you build your life on me as your solid rock? Or will the pleasant ease of your life cause you to be unprepared for the storms that will come in this life and that will ultimately wash you away into the desolation of the afterlife?
A prayer

Barclay quotes a prayer that was written for the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 1948.  It suggests a fitting response to the Sermon on the Mount:-

“Almighty God, give us grace to be not only hearers, but doers of thy holy word, not only to admire, but to obey thy doctrine, not only to profess, but to practice thy religion, not only to love, but to live thy gospel. So grant that what we learn of thy glory we may receive into our hearts, and show forth in our lives: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

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