In this chapter, Jesus teaches us not to judge / condemn another person—no judgmentalism. He encourages kingdom citizens to ask, seek and knock. He teaches the Golden Rule. He tells his listeners to travel the restrictive path and enter through the narrow gate. He says to be fruit inspectors, because false prophets are coming. He announces that some will claim him to be Lord and do charismatic gifts, but he will tell them to depart from him, for he never knew them. He talks about two houses, one built on a strong foundation, and another built on sand.
As I said in chapter 5, when I use the phrase “kingdom citizen” or “kingdom subject” (and so on), I’m not talking about some future millennium, but about us right now. The Sermon on the Mount is our teaching now, for us now; it is also about the final, fully manifested, future kingdom.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. And I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Warning against Judgmentalism (Matt. 7:1-6)
1 Do not judge, so that you are not judged, 2 for the judgment by which you judge, you shall be judged, and the measure by which you measure, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and don’t perceive the beam in your own eye? 4 Or how will you say to your brother, “Let me take out the speck from your eye,” and look! there’s a beam in your eye? 5 Hypocrite! First take out the beam from your eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out your brother’s eye.
6 Don’t give what is holy to the dogs, neither toss your pearls before pigs, in case they trample them under foot and turn and tear you in pieces.
Kingdom citizens can judge the fruit of the tree, but not the root. God alone can judge both the fruit and the root. Keep to you own jurisdiction and do not cross the line.
The whole context is condemning from a superior, yet self-deceived stance. Jesus will go next into hypocritical judgment with the speck and beam hyperbole. So “judge” could be just as easily translated as “condemn” (Olmstead, pp. 140-41). Alternative translations: “Do not condemn so that you will not be condemned.” Or “Do not judge so that you will not be condemned.” Yes, the same Greek word is used in this short verse, but once again a superior and self-deceived judgment is in view. The judge has a beam in his eye. Consider our saying today: “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
“you shall be judged”: this is in the passive voice, so Bible interpreters say that this is the divine passive, which means an understated way that God is behind the scenes judging the self-appointed judge. Some commentators say that this verse teaches that God will judge finally and conclusively on the last day (Keener, p. 240; Osborne, comment on 7:1).
This verse is not talking about inspecting and recognizing healthy and rotten fruit (7:15-20). This verse is not about evaluating someone at work when you are the supervisor. This verse is not talking about evaluating your students’ essays, if you are a teacher. It is not about sizing up what your kids did wrong, now that both are crying and accusing each other. We make neutral (and sometimes painful and sometimes positive) judgments / evaluations all the time, and God expects us to do that, when it is our responsibility. Jesus is about to teach not to throw pearls before swine or holy things to dogs (v. 6). However, making judgments and issuing condemnation on people who are not in our jurisdiction is to go down the wrong path.
And for sure we kingdom citizens should not require the state to abolish the legal system. That would be ridiculous.
“What is forbidden is rigid, censorious judgmentalism that scrutinizes others without even a glance at oneself (7:3; cf. Ps. 18:25-26; Rom. 2:1; 14:10; 1 Cor. 5:12; Jas. 4:11-12; 5:9). Such draconian standard will return to haunt the one who condemns others by it (Matt. 7:2; cf. 5:43-47; 6:14-15; 18:12-20, 32-35; cf. 2 Sam. 12:1-15 …) Jesus teaches that honest introspection is absolutely necessary for clear discernment and just moral judgments. Christian interpersonal judgments must be constructive, not retributive, since Jesus’s disciples will not demand an eye for an eye and will love their enemies (Matt. 5:38-48; 18:15-20; cf. Gal. 6:1)” (Turner on 7:1).
Jesus piles on the same “judge” root in Greek, but in context the verse could be translated: “for the standard by which you judge, you shall be condemned” (emphasis added); or “for the standard by which you condemn, you shall be condemned” (emphasis added). And so it goes with measuring people or sizing them up.
The point to these two verses is not to judge people by putting them in permanent categories and shut the prison door. The “judge” words are found most often in a legal context and a divine context. In a legal context, earthly judges are trained to judge crimes and disputes. In the divine context, God is the only one who can judge every molecule in the soul of the whole person from beginning to end, throughout the human’s life, and pass final sentence, with the utmost and perfect accuracy. We cannot—are unable—to do this, because in the next three verses we have a beam in our eyes. Therefore, you have no right to become accuser, tryer of facts, the judge who renders the verdict and passes sentence, and then the jailer.
Here’s Luke’s expanded version, which confirms my interpretation: “Further, don’t judge, and you will not be judged. And don’t condemn, and you will not be condemned. (Luke 6:37). To judge and condemn in Jesus’s teaching here in different contexts are synonyms.
“brothers”: could be translated as “brothers and sisters,” for the Greek in this context is generic and inclusive.
Jesus now launches into hyperbole (pronounced hy-PER-bo-lee). Recall that this is a rhetorical strategy to get the point across in a startling way. It is extravagant exaggeration done in such a clear way that everyone recognizes it cannot be literally true. Up-to-date example: “The ice cream guy is very generous! He piled on the ice cream a mile high on my cone!” Everyone knows that this cannot be literally true. A beam cannot really stick out of a man’s eye. But the imagery is startling and even humorous.
The goal here is to throw a glass of cold water in a hypocrite’s face, spiritually speaking, and to help him to see the truth. It is this context that leads scholars to translate the “judge” verbs (and noun) as “condemn.” It is judgment from a self-deceived and falsely superior vantage point. The self-appointed judge cannot really stand astride the situation and look down from his perch on people, with clarity. He thinks he can, but he is wrong. If he does, his judgment will boomerang right back to him. I have heard it said that it is easy to go astray, but much harder to convince someone to leave the path of error. This wise statement leads to the next key word.
“hypocrite”: originally it comes from the Greek play actor on the stage. They wore masks and played roles. There were stock characters, such as the buffoon, the bombastic soldier, or the old miser. The Septuagint (pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent and abbreviated LXX for the “seventy” scholars who worked on it) is a third to second century translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. It uses the term hypocrite to mean the godless. However, in Matthew’s Gospel (it is used only once in Mark 7:6 and three times in Luke 6:42; 12:56; 13:15), it is more nuanced. Hypocrites appeared one way, but in reality they were different. They appeared outwardly religious, but inwardly they were full of dead men’s bones (Matt. 23:27). They wore religious masks. They actually did many things that the law required, but they failed to understand God’s view of righteousness. They were more self-deceived than deceivers, though in Matt. 23, Jesus denounced the Pharisees and experts in the law for teaching one thing but living another. They are religious show-offs who act out their righteousness to impress others but are out of touch with God’s mercy and love. Eccl. 7:16 says not to be overly righteous, but that is what they were and displayed it publicly. Here is this verse, kingdom citizens can become hypocritical. A bad place to be.
Please note that Jesus does say we can indeed take the speck out of our brother’s or sister’s eye. So a certain measure of judgment has to be allowed in order to see the speck. The conversation can work out like this:
“Oh dear brother! I have a speck in my eye! Can you help me get it out!”
“I can, because God gave me the grace to pull out of my eye a gigantic flaw. I can sympathize with you.” Only then can you see clearly enough to help your brother.
“It is obvious here that once you have dealt with your problems, you will have ‘clear’ sight to help others with their difficulties” (Osborne’s comment on 7:5).
So Jesus did not say not to judge, period. He offers the reason to be careful about judging. Here it is: because or for you too will be judged by your own judgment. So if you judge harshly and wrongly, then expect to be judged harshly and wrongly in return. If you judge correctly (your employee really did something wrong), then expect to be judged correctly. If you judge wisely and fairly, then expect to be judged wisely and fairly. And remember the divine passive. God will be the one judging you, and you can trust him to judge you correctly, wisely, and fairly. And his judgment does not have to negative. He can judge you to be righteous before humankind and commend you. He will vindicate you before others, because you really did act justly and righteously before others.
Vindicate me, Lord, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered. (Psalm 26:1, NIV)
Vindicate me in your righteousness, Lord my God; do not let them gloat over me. (Ps. 35:24)
Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation. Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked. (Ps. 43:1, NIV)
The Lord will vindicate me; your love, Lord, endures forever— do not abandon the works of your hands. (Ps. 138:8, NIV)
God loves to support his servants who walk uprightly. He will cause you to win, when you follow him and are dealt with unjust in the business world, for example. Let God take revenge on those who persecute you without cause.
Jesus said: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with a righteous judgment” (John 7:24). So we can judge within our jurisdiction, not superficially, but at the fruit. As noted, don’t near the root.
Turner titles this verse: Warning against Naivete.
Now the judgment goes in another direction. You rightly discern (a form of judging) that the snickering skeptic does not want to have a nuanced dialogue. But he keeps egging you on. He cackles and won’t leave behind his clunky and shallow reading of a difficult Scripture or concepts. You carry on the dialog with him, for a long or short time, and you realize it is time to move on. This is especially true with “comments debates” in social media. They can go on and on, but they become endless and fruitless. They will never (or rarely) bow the knee to the Lordship of Christ in a comments debate.
Once again, the image of holy things before dogs and the pearls before swine or pigs is hyperbole. No one is supposed to take it literally. No one actually throws pearls before swine, and no one actually takes a Torah scroll or the tools in the temple and places them before dogs. Let’s not read too much into the imagery of dogs and pigs. Jesus is not lining up all the features of those two animals and claiming that humans are identical to them in every way. This is a startling image—often used by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
With that said, however, Peter also has a tough image of humans and dogs and pigs. Dogs return to their own vomit, and pigs go back and wallow in mud (2 Pet. 2:22). Some humans do the same. Ouch. It’s best not to call your sneering skeptical friend a dog or pig to his face but realize—privately—that you are dealing with someone who cannot get enough wisdom to see his way through the tough issues of life and Scripture. You may certainly pray for him if you know him personally, and you can carry on the dialogue as long as he allows it, face to face. God may reach him.
Jesus’s statement is a general warning, and generalizations always have individual exceptions built into them.
France: “perhaps we can be no more definite than to say that disciples are to be discriminating in sharing ‘sacred things’ of the gospel and the treasure of their Father in heaven so as not to lay them open to abuse, but to avoid offering a more specific identification of who are to be regarded as unsuitable or incapable of receiving them (cf. Paul’s insistence in 1 Cor. 2:13-16 that only the ‘spiritual’ can receive spiritual teaching)” (p. 277).
Keener: “7:6 … does not allow one to prejudge who may receive one’s message (13:3-23), but does forbid one to try to force it on those who show no inclination to accept it (10:13-16)” (p. 244).
Turner: “Jesus’s disciples should be neither inquisitors (Matt. 7:1-5) nor simpletons (7:6). Neither censoriousness nor naivete helps the church … If genuine introspection does not occur, a disciple may blunder on the side of judgmental hypocrisy or naïve gullibility. Ignorance of oneself is often mixed with arrogance towards others” (p. 207).
Osborne: “So the metaphor adds persecution to rejection. The unbeliever will not just fail to respond but will actually oppress the saints (cf. Prov. 9:8; Matt. 10:17-31)” (comment on 7:6).
Blomberg: “Verse 6 seems cryptic and unconnected to the immediate context, but it probably further qualifies the command against judging. One must try to discern whether presenting to others that which is holy will elicit nothing but abuse or profanity. In these instances restraint is required” (comment on v. 6).
GrowApp for Matt. 7:1-6
A.. Have you ever set yourself up as judge, jury, and executioner in a situation? If so, how did you stop?
B.. Can you think of scenarios in which you are called to evaluate someone’s progress at work or in school? What is the difference between judging someone’s soul permanently and judging their productivity or temporary behavior?
Keep on Praying (Matt. 7:7-12)
7 Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, to the one knocking it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, whose son will ask for bread, will give him a stone? No one. 10 Or he asks for a fish, and he will give him a serpent? No one. 11 If therefore you being evil know to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask! 12 Therefore, everything that you want people to do to you, in the same way you also do to them. For this is the law and the prophets.
All these commands are in the present tense. So an expanded translation can read as follows: “Continually ask, and it shall be given to you. Continually seek, and you shall find. Continually knock on the door, and it shall be opened to you.” Further, each verb of answer is passive future. So many scholars call this the divine passive, meaning God is behind scenes giving, finding for you and opening the door (Turner).
Sometimes God answers prayers swiftly, and on other occasions and circumstances, it takes time. In the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8), she bothered the unjust judge so often that he gave in. So how much more will God answer swiftly, for he is not like the unjust judge. The finale of the parable: “Won’t God give justice to his elect who cry out to him day and night? Indeed, he is waiting patiently for them to do this! I tell you that he will give justice to them quickly!” (Luke 18:7-8). God is waiting patiently for his people to cry out to him day and night. “But will the Son of Man find faith on the earth?” (v. 8). In other words, will people cry out to him day and night, or will they give up and quit?
Consider Jer. 29:13-14: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, (Jer. 29:13-14, NIV)
This verse is a great promise for those who ask, seek, and knock according to God’s will, because they are in right relationship with him. They are kingdom citizens.
Let’s go over to John’s writings and see his promises about prayer. In these next verses, the context is being connected to the vine. Then your asking will not be selfish, but centered on him:
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:16-17, ESV).
In the next verses, we better ask for the purpose of joy:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:23-24, ESV)
In right relationship with the Father through the Son, our hearts will not condemn us, so now we can ask with confidence:
14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
James teaches us how to pray to God in our life with him:
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:3, ESV)
Prayer is all about relationship with our loving Father. He is not a Cosmic Butler or Vending Machine who is there to serve our whimsical desires or even our serious desires. We must talk with him daily. Yes, God will answer prayers when you ask with pure motives, so please ensure that your requests come from the heart of God first; then he will answer them gladly.
Jesus uses surprising imagery to get his point across. It is a form of hyperbole, for no father really gives those things to his kids.
“one”: it literally reads “person.” It is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and even in the plural some interpreters say that it means only “men.” However, throughout Greek literature written before and during the NT, in the plural it means people in general, including womankind (except rare cases). In the singular it can mean person, depending on the context (Matt. 4:4; 10:36; 12:11, 12; 12:43, 45; 15:11, 18). So a “person” or “people” or “men and women” (and so on) is almost always the most accurate translation, despite what more conservative translations say. So I chose “one.” You can chose “person” if you wish.
The main point is revealed in v. 11. You, being evil or bad, know how to give good gifts to your children. Once again Jesus uses a startling image, which he often does in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in his teaching. No father literally does those things, and the point is once again a “how much more” argument. How much more will your Father not do those things. How much more will your Father give you good things? Even though we have a sin nature, even we can understand the basics of goodness and appropriateness. God is so awesome and omniscient that he knows what you need and will graciously grant you. He is your loving Father.
I like this verse from Luke 12:32, which expands on the “good things” in v. 11 to include the entire kingdom: “Don’t fear, little flock, because your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Here is the famous Golden Rule. How is it connected to the previous verse about the Father giving good things to us? Be like the Father! Be good to people! How? The Golden Rule will guide you.
“people”: see v. 9 and the word “one” for more comments.
I like how Olmstead translates it: “Therefore, all things—whatever you wish people to do to you—do also the same to them; for this is the law and prophets” (p. 145). His translation and mine add up to the same principle.
Rabbi Hillel, who lived just before Jesus ministered (AD 20), is reported to have been challenged to summarize the whole Torah standing on one leg. He said: “Do not do to your neighbor what is hateful to you.” One shortcoming to this negative phrasing (the word “not” is the negative) is that the goats in Matt. 25:31-34 could live comfortably and be acquitted at final judgment, with Hillel’s version. Recall that the goats did nothing to help their neighbors in need. Hillel’s version is too passive, while Jesus’s wording is active. The goats would not be acquitted by Jesus’s version. Look for ways to help people (Carson 223-24).
People say God wants only a relationship with us, and we don’t need to bother with rules. It is true that relationship takes priority over rules, but kingdom citizens can get confused without them.
As I noted in 5:17-20, imagine the NT having only this one verse in it—only this one verse:
“I, the Father, love thee so much that verily my Son died on the cross for thee to atone for thy sins. Verily I raised him from the dead. He sitteth at my right hand. Receivst him now by grace through faith. Receivst the Holy Spirit. And now I verily want only a free-flowing relationship with thee. Verily, verily, thou canst forget and ignore all rules and moral law. That is all.”
With that one verse, multiplied millions of kingdom citizens would be confused in their relationship with God through Christ, in about one-half hour. They need guidelines or parameters between which they must remain. This Golden Rule acts as guardrails between which we must drive our cars. When we scrape against the guardrails, we get out and look at the damage and say, “Well, that was dumb!” Then we get our cars fixed. We pay the price for it, too. The Golden Rule is just one rule among many others moral laws in the NT.
Further, it is naïve to think that we don’t need rules. We need them. But the church today is filled with confusing, contradictory, naïve teaching. The hyper-grace teachers are guilty of spreading this bad teaching. So, who can blame the churchgoer if he is confused? These teachers need to repent.
Jesus boils down the law here:
37 And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ [Deut. 6:5] 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 The second is like it. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Lev. 19:18] 40 On these two commandments the whole law and prophets depend.” (Matt. 22:37-40)
Paul expresses the same idea when he writes that love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8-10). He also says that the whole law is fulfilled in this one saying: “You are to love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14). James singles out the love of neighbor as the “royal law” (Jas. 2:8). John writes that if we say that we love God but hate our brother, then we are liars; the love of God is not in us. Whoever loves God must love his brother (1 John 4:20-21).
But we still need moral law, found in both the OT and NT, for guidance and the parameters.
GrowApp for Matt. 7:7-12
A.. In your prayer life, have you persevered (hung in there) and finally received an answer to prayer? Or have you quit? Do you have any long-term “prayer projects”?
B.. How might the Golden Rule (v. 12) influence your life for the better?
The Narrow Gate (Matt. 7:13-14)
13 Enter through the narrow gate because wide is the gate and broad is the road leading to destruction, and many are the ones going through it; 14 because the gate is narrow and the road is restrictive leading to life, few are the ones finding it.
Turner produces a great table for Matt. 7:13-23 (modified):
|Ethical Dualism in Matt. 7:13-27|
|Two Gates / Ways (7:13-14)|
|Narrow gate||Wide gate|
|Difficult way||Broad way|
|Two Trees / Fruits (7:15-23)|
|True Prophets (implied)||False Prophets|
|Good fruit (grapes, figs)||Bad trees (thorns, thistles)|
|Life (implied)||Judgment (fire)|
|Doing the Father’s will||Saying, “Lord, Lord!”|
|Two Builders / Foundations (7:24-27)|
|Wise person||Foolish person|
|Hears / obeys Jesus||Hears / does not obey Jesus|
|House built on rock||House built on sand|
|House stands during flood||House collapses during flood|
Rabbinic statements similarly have two roads, the way of life and the way of death. Also see Jer. 21:8; Ps. 1:6; Deut. 11:26-29 (France, p. 287).
These verses are very sobering and challenging. We must not think that we can just enter the kingdom of God without our having to give up some things, like our past sins and bad old habits. The kingdom improves our life precisely because it demands something from us. If we believe that we have nothing to surrender, then we are deceiving ourselves. Even the newly arrived kingdom citizens who traveled along the strait or narrow or tapered road or path or way and who did not have much of a bad past (no promiscuity or drugs, for example) and entered the narrow gate, still have to give up something, like self-will or stubbornness or self-imposed perfectionism or fear or any number of bad attitudes. The narrow gate and strait or restrictive path will not let you keep them. They get squeezed out of your life. The door is so narrow that only you can fit through it, not your luggage in your hands and under your arms.
Before we leave these two verses, they naturally flow into the next pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section or unit of Scripture. The tree is known by its fruit and then some apparent disciples are asked to leave Christ’s presence, because he never knew them.
“life”: it is the noun zoē (pronounced zoh-ay, and girls are named after it, e.g. Zoey). BDAG, considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, says that it has two senses, depending on the context: a physical life (e.g. life and breath) and a transcendent life. By physical life the editors mean the period from birth to death, human activity, a way or manner of living, a period of usefulness, earning a living. By transcendent life the lexicographers mean these four elements: first, God himself is life and offers us everlasting life. Second, Christ is life, who received life from God, and now we can receive life from Christ. Third, it is new life of holiness and righteousness and grace. God’s life filling us through Christ changes our behavior. Fourth, zoē means life in the age to come, or eschatological life. So our new life now will continue into the next age, which God fully and finally ushers in when Christ returns. We will never experience mere existence or death, but we will be fully and eternally alive in God.
“There may well 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 (5:10-22, 44; 10:16-23; 35-36; 13:21; 23:34-35; 24:9-13, 16:21) and is likely implied here” (Osborne, comment on 7:14).
GrowApp for Matt. 7:13-14
A.. What do you have to give up, as you entered through the narrow gate and now travel along the narrow path?
Trees and Their Fruits and False Followers (Matt. 7:15-23)
15 Watch out for false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothes but inside are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them from their fruit. They do not pick grapes from thorn bushes, nor figs from the thistles, do they? 17 Thus, every healthy tree produces good fruit, and the unhealthy tree produces rotten fruit. 18 A healthy tree is unable to produce rotten fruit, nor can an unhealthy tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree not producing good fruit is going to be cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then indeed you will recognize them by their fruit.
21 Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one doing the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? And in your name expel demons? And in your name do many miracles?” 23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you! Depart from me, you practitioners of lawlessness!”
See my post here:
See the table under vv. 13-14.
I put these two passages together because the original Greek manuscripts do not have chapter divisions and verse numbers, and the two passages flow nicely into each other. The first section explains the second. And the previous pericope about the narrow gate and restrictive road also clarifies this passage. People have to give up many things, like self-will and self-calling and self-recognition. Then they have to do the will of their Father—his will, not theirs.
Further, Luke produces v. 22 with slightly different wording and places his verse in between the good and bad fruit (6:43-45) and those who obey the teachings of Jesus, so their house is built on the rock, and those who do not obey his teachings, so their house is built on a crumbling foundation (6:47-49): “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Therefore, coupling the illustration about fruit trees with the declaration that he never knew false followers is correct in vv. 15-23.
See my post about the Lordship of Jesus:
Jesus selects an image of sheep, which appears often in the Old Testament, and which he picks up on in his teaching. He is the good shepherd (John 10:1-6). These “sheep” are really dressed in the clothing of sheep, but underneath or inside their sheep’s clothing they are vicious or rapacious or greedy wolves. Who can they be? Verses 21-23 will clarify this question.
The imagery is powerful.
The recognition of them is done by fruit inspection. Now Jesus once again launches into clearly and deliberately absurd images, like a man with a beam sticking out of his eye (vv. 1-6) or the earthly father who doesn’t give his son a stone or a snake (vv. 9). Everyone knows that no one picks grapes from a thorn bush or figs from thistles. Yet that’s how stark the doctrinal and moral errors will be.
Then Jesus states the truth from opposing angles: the positive and the negation. Every good tree produces good fruit, and every bad tree produces bad fruit. That’s the positive statement, without negation (“no” or “not”). No good tree produces bad fruit, and neither does a decayed tree produce good fruit. The “no” and “neither” are the negation. He covered all his bases and now everything is unambiguous. The test is certain, but not easy or quick (Carson, p. 228).
Living according to kingdom norms can be feigned for a time, but what one is will eventually reveal itself in what one does. However guarded one’s words, they will finally betray him (cf. 12:33-37; Luke 6:45). Ultimately false prophets tear down faith (2 Tim. 2:18) and promote divisiveness, bitterness (e.g. 1 Tim. 6:4-5); 2 Tim. 2:23), and various kinds of ungodliness (2 Tim. 2:16). Meek discernment and understanding the dire consequences of the false prophets’ teachings are needed. But at the same time, censoriousness over minutiae must be avoided (Carson, p. 228)
That is a good word for some wacky Charismatics (not all Charismatics are wacky, not even close to all) and for those in a “discernment ministry” who apparently don’t know what they are talking about or do inadequate research and bear false witness against some genuine brothers and sisters in Christ.
This verse is about judgment, either here and now or on the last day. There is no “last day” here (but see v. 22), so let’s understand it to be judgment right now. 1 Pet. 4:17-18 says:
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And
“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Pet. 4:17-18, ESV)
Judgment must begin right now in the household of faith. If we don’t allow God to judge us now, then our judgment on the last day will not be entirely pleasant. We will have to get an extended “teaching” or “dealing” from him.
“fire”: other verses speak of outer darkness (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). So some ask: how can the lake of fire, which produces light, coexist with farthest or outer darkness? They cannot. Therefore, some interpreters conclude that punishment in the afterlife takes on different dimensions: fire in one place, and darkness in another. Still another interpretation is possible. Charismatic theologian and Presbyterian minister J. Rodman Williams (d. 2008) says fire and darkness are just metaphors, which cannot be taken literally, for separation from God and punishment:
These two terms, “darkness” and “fire,” that point to the final state of the lost might seem to be opposites, because darkness, even black darkness, suggests nothing like fire or the light of a blazing fire. Thus again we must guard against identifying the particular terms with literal reality, such as a place of black darkness or of blazing fire. Rather, darkness and fire are metaphors that express the profound truth, on the one hand, of terrible estrangement and isolation from God, and on the other, the pain and misery of unrelieved punishment. It is significant that Jesus in His portrayals of darkness and fire often adds the statement “There men will weep and gnash their teeth.” This weeping and gnashing … vividly suggests both suffering and despair. So whether the metaphor is darkness or fire, the picture is indeed a grim one, even beyond the ability of any figure of speech to express.
One further word: both darkness and fire refer to the basic situation of the lost after Last Judgment. However, we have already observed that there will be degrees of punishment; hence in some sense the darkness and fire will not be wholly the same. Some punishment will be more tolerable than other punishment: some people will receive a greater condemnation, while some (to change the figure) will be “beaten with few blows” [Luke 12:48]. Thus we should not understand the overall picture of the state of the lost to exclude differences in degree of punishment. Even as for the righteous in the world to come, there will be varying rewards, so for the unrighteous, the punishment will not be the same. (Renewal Theology, vol. 3, 470-71).
For the record, Williams does not believe in annihilationism (or terminalism or conditionalism) or universal reconciliation (or restorationism) (see the three links, below in a three-part series).
If you want to take the images of darkness and fire literally, you may certainly do so. It’s up to you. It should be noted that Jesus says nothing about the outer darkness lasting for eternity here.
Please read a three-part series, each of which has plenty of Scriptural support:
Each theory teaches punishment in the afterlife, but the debate is over the duration of punishment. It may be surprising to many traditional Christians, but the latter two theories have plenty of Scriptural support. But whichever theory you decide on, please don’t call the other theories heretical or unorthodox, particularly if you believe in eternal, conscious torment. The theory of eternal, conscious torment did not gain momentum until Augustine’s time in the fifth century. Until then, church leaders easily believed in the other theories of annihilation or restoration.
Personally, I believe that the topic of punishment in the afterlife is secondary or nonessential, so I like this saying:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
Give people space to choose one of these nonessential, Bible-supported theories.
Jesus caps off this powerful lesson with clear imagery. By their fruit we shall recognize them.
And by the way, “fruit” in Greek is plural, so to be precise, every time fruit appears in this pericope, it could be translated as “fruits” (plural). It’s a multifaceted production of the good or bad trees. Let’s not focus on one side of a person’s walk with God.
In this context, the kingdom of heaven is in the future. We live our lives now, and then at the Second Coming the entire universe changes. The kingdom of God will be fully manifested. And we enter it by being in the kingdom now and by doing the will of Jesus’s Father.
This sad Parable of the Ten Maidens says the same thing:
8 But the foolish ones said to the prudent ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our torches are going out.’ 9 But the prudent ones replied, saying, ‘In case there is in no way enough for us and you,’ go instead to the sellers and buy it for yourselves.’ 10 After they departed to buy it, the bridegroom came, and the prepared ones went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was closed. 11 Later on, the remaining maidens also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up to us!’ 12 But in reply, he said, ‘I tell you the truth: I do not know you.’ (Matt. 25:8-12)
Oil can be a symbol of the Holy Spirit, so maybe we should add that the ones whom the Lord did not know in v. 23 did not have the fulness of the Spirit, even though they worked miracles. Never forget that miracle workers arise and do not have the true Holy Spirit, but a counterfeit spirit.
So one main interpretive key of those who will be told to depart is that they did not do the will of the Father. What is that? I offer some ideas, at v. 23. Another criterion for these false followers being rejected is that Jesus never knew them. Personal knowledge–saving knowledge–of him is essential.
“kingdom of heaven”: Matthew substitutes “heaven” (literally heavens or plural) nearly every time (except for 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43, where he uses kingdom of God). Why? Four possible reasons: (1) Maybe some extra-pious Jews preferred the circumlocution or the roundabout way of speaking, but this answer is not always the right one, for Matthew does use the phrase “kingdom of God” four times; (2) the phrase “kingdom of heaven” points to Christ’s post-resurrection authority; God’s sovereignty in heaven and earth (beginning with Jesus’s ministry) is now mediated through Jesus (28:18); (3) “kingdom of God” makes God the king (26:29) and leaves less room to ascribe the kingdom to Jesus (16:28; 25:31, 34, 40; 27:42), but the phrase “kingdom of heaven” leaves more room to say Jesus is the king Messiah. (4) It may be a stylistic variation that has no deeper reasoning behind it (France). In my view the third option shows the close connection to the doctrine of the Trinity; the Father and Son share authority, after the Father gives it to him during the Son’s incarnation. The kingdom of heaven is both the kingdom of the Father and the kingdom of the Messiah (Carson). And, since I like streamlined interpretations, the fourth one also appeals to me.
Now let’s go for a general consideration of the kingdom of heaven / God. As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5). The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
“that day”: it refers to judgment day or the day that wraps everything up. “That day” is often used in both the OT and NT of the final day leading to judgment: you can look up the verses online but here are some references: Is. 10:20; Joel 1:15; 3:18; Amos 8:9; 9:11; Zeph. 1:10, 14; Zech. 14:4; Mal. 3:17-18. And in Matthew’s Gospel: 13:24-30, 36, 43, 47-52; 24:30, 51; 25:12, 30, 46.
“in your name”: the phrase means “as his representatives” (Keener, p. 252). They claimed to follow Jesus, but they were not. The phrase may not imply the use of Jesus’s name as a magical formula (Keener), but I say it may indicate this and these seeming disciples probably did use his name as a formula.
“miracles”: it is the plural of the noun dunamis (or dynamis) (pronounced doo-na-mees or dee-na-mis, but most teachers prefer the first one). It is often translated as “power,” but also “miracle” or “miraculous power.” It means power in action, not static, but kinetic. It moves. Yes, we get our word dynamite from it, but God is never out of control, like dynamite is. Its purpose is to usher in the kingdom of God and repair and restore broken humanity, both in body and soul. For nearly all the references of that word and a developed theology, please click on Miracles, Signs and Wonders.
Then Jesus lists the three power giftings—but only representative giftings or ministry power—that the false followers will claim on that day. They can claim to do more than those three gifts, like healing the sick.
These miraculous claims can be confusing for those of us who believe that miracles still happen today—continuationists, in other words. The opposite are the cessationists or those who believe the gifts, particularly the ones listed in 1 Cor. 12:7-11, have ceased (hence the name cessationists).
See my posts on the gifts in 1 Cor. 12:7-11. Each gift has further links to a fuller article:
These false prophets or counterfeit followers who do these mighty works should not be seen as Jewish exorcists who circulated around the ancient world (Acts 19:11-17). No, these are certain people who claimed to follow Jesus and penetrated the Christian communities. Keener points out that the Didache (pronounced dih-dah-kay), an early teaching manual or handbook for Christian communities, provided moral tests for circulating prophets (Keener, p. 252). Likewise, Matthew was not against the charismatic gifts, but in fact these verses assume that they exist. Instead, he warns the early communities to watch out for false prophets. If there are false ones, then there were true ones. Therefore, Matthew was not an anti-charismatic, nor does Jesus’s teaching assume this, either.
Maybe these verses in Matthew 13 will clarify matters:
47 Again the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet thrown into the sea and gathers all kinds of things. 48 When it is full, they haul it up on to the beach and sit and gather the good things into containers, and they throw the bad things outside. 49 In this way, it shall be at the end of the age. The angels shall go forth and separate the evil people from the middle of the righteous people. 50 And they shall throw them into the fiery oven. In that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 13:47-50)
This short parable may be too broad for the context in vv. 21-23, but there will be false members of the kingdom.
Once again these are challenging and even disturbing words at the last judgment.
So who are these charismatically gifted and miracle-working followers to whom Jesus will declare that he never knew or recognized them? Verse 22 calls them false prophets. In this context, they seem to be leaders in the church or self-proclaimed leaders. They claimed to exercise spiritual gifts, and people who do this regularly, as a ministry, can be marked as leaders. Osborne points out that Judas seems to have performed charismatic gifts when Jesus sent out the twelve (Matt. 10:5-15). But his heart was not with Jesus to the very end (comment on 7:23).
Therefore, it is doubtful that this pericope applies to Average Joe or Jane Christian who never claim to be prophets or miracle-workers in the first place. But beware! Anyone can drift so far from Jesus that they will hear the sobering words at judgment: “Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. I never knew you!” This can also apply to Joe and Jane.
Nonetheless, this whole pericope is about leaders. How does these leaders’ falseness manifest?
First, they did not travel down the restrictive road and enter by the narrow gate (vv. 13-14). They did not produce good fruit (vv. 15-20). They may have judged people, even though these self-appointed judges had beams in their eyes (vv. 1-6). In short, they bypassed Jesus’s strict teaching.
Second, they did not do the will of their Father (v. 21). What is his will? It is expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, and the major theme here is doing righteousness, after the follower entered the kingdom so the Father can empower him to do righteousness. The will of the Father shall also be revealed in the next pericope: those who obey the words and commands of Jesus, and those who do not. The obedient ones will be like those who build their houses on the rock, and the second group who do not obey will be like those who build their house on the sand. Doing the will of the Father is obedience to the teachings of his Son. Prophets must submit to the teaching of Jesus, or else they will be declared false.
Third, these charismatically gifted ones produce bad fruit. Some fruit trees appear healthy, but they are not in substance or at their roots. And their unhealthy appearance and fruit may not be visible at first, but soon the results will come in. Fruit can mean both moral behavior and not conforming to the teaching of Jesus—bad doctrines, in other words.
Fourth, they are workers or practitioners or doers of lawlessness. What is this entail? Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4-8).
4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. (1 John 3:4-8, ESV, emphasis added)
In those above verses, John teaches us that practicing sin is similar to Matthew’s workers or practitioners or doers of lawlessness. In fact, both John and Matthew agree: sin is lawlessness. John knew about false “disciples” or prophets who infiltrated the Christian communities, and he taught the communities to inspect their fruit. One symptom of bad fruit is practicing sin.
Further, in some early kingdom communities, false disciples could confess Jesus’s name while seeming to work miracles, expel demons and prophesy, and they can fool many undiscerning disciples who didn’t look for fruit. These false followers exhibited bad fruit that needed inspection, not just the church’s naïve and childish acceptance of their claims to be able to do those Charismatic things. True followers need discernment.
Fifth, they did not know Jesus or he did not know them. They may have started off in right relationship with him, but like the child who confidently thinks he knows how to explore the woods without getting lost, but in fact does, these false followers gradually lose their way in their own self-confidence and self-deception. They think they know Jesus, and maybe they did at first, but they lost their way in tiny steps. Judas was a disciple, but he gradually drifted from Jesus and betrayed him, so this apostle was rejected.
Sixth, the profession of Jesus’s title “Lord, Lord,” may be an outward show, but inwardly they did not know him, truly. The name of Jesus stands in for his character. If the false prophets / followers did charismatic gifts in his name, then they must honor and measure up to his character. Yes, everyone falls short once in a while, but repentance and doing works worthy of repentance is the foundation and first step towards restoration (Matt. 3:8; Acts 26:20).
So are there modern examples of false prophets or false teachers? Yes, but I will not mention names, only the practices and beliefs. The following are representative samples.
First, if any leader has performed same-sex commitment ceremonies (also known as same-sex “marriage”) in church, he is not doing the will of the Father. Jesus endorsed the Edenic model of one man and one woman (Matt. 19:4-6). The church leader who strays this far is a practitioner or worker or doer of lawlessness.
Second, any leader who endorses sexual misconduct because he is “evolving,” allowing, for example, two people to live together (e.g. same-sex couples or opposite-sex couples), is a worker of lawlessness. Yes, we can be patient with these couples, as God deals with them, but to endorse their lifestyle is lawlessness. Pastors who sexually abuse people, particularly children, are practicing lawlessness and not even close to doing the will of the Father.
Third, any leader who continuously teaches false doctrines and denies true ones, like the full significance of Christ’s atoning death on the cross is not doing the will of the Father. Jesus instituted the New Covenant by symbolizing it with the bread and wine and then ratifying it by dying in the cross. To deny the full import and the absolute necessity of the cross is to deny the whole purpose of the four Gospels.
Fourth, if any leader denies the full authority of Scripture for life and morals and doctrine—setting aside the debate between inerrancy in all its parts and infallibility in its doctrine and practice—is not doing the will of the Father. Jesus had a very high view of Scripture, saying David spoke by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 22:43). Obedience to Scripture and Jesus’s teaching is not optional. Though he came to fulfill the OT, he also said it’s a bad idea for teachers to tell people to break it. This is especially true of moral law, which has been imported into the New Covenant.
Fifth, any leader who says Jesus was just a good teacher and fine moral example and denies his full deity is not doing the will of the Father. The leader is really not understanding what “Lord, Lord” means. He does not understand what it means when Jesus says, “Depart from me” at judgment. This is a declaration of repudiation in Rabbinic usage current back then, but Jesus elevates the severity by placing those words at the final judgment. His being the judge show his full deity.
Here are other verses that explain his full humanity and full deity:
Sixth, any leader not obeying Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and the rest of the Gospel, (and depending on God’s power and grace to help him), is bound for a crashing fall. This obedience to his teaching includes righteous living and actions. The hyper-grace teachers are revealing themselves to be workers of lawlessness. Yes, God is willing and loving enough to work with our failures (as he does mine daily), but our repentance must bring forth works worthy of repentance (Matt. 3:8; Acts 26:20), sooner rather than later. Any leader who says repentance is not so important is also a worker of lawlessness.
Seventh, any leader who says he’s an agnostic and is “searching” and is unable even to utter the words, “Lord, Lord,” yet remains in his pastoral duties, is a worker of lawlessness. He must step down until he gets things sorted out. He cannot lead people, when the NT totally affirms that these issues, like God’s existence, and doing righteousness and sexual restrictions to heterosexual marriage, have already been worked out. If he cannot follow the NT, then he must remove himself until he has developed the conviction that the apostles had. The church belongs to Jesus, not a troubled pastor. And Jesus didn’t doubt God’s existence or teach same-sex “marriage” or have a lackadaisical outlook on righteous living.
Eighth, any leader who lives an extravagantly wealthy life from the donations of Joe Factoryworker and Jane Shopkeeper is in danger of greed and being a worker of lawlessness. He is not doing the will of the Father. Prosperity modestly defined is biblical; becoming wealthy by good business practices is also biblical (1 Tim. 6:17-19). But Christian leaders manipulating and pressuring Joe and Jane to give and then living in massive houses and owning conspicuously luxury items that Joe and Jane could never afford is wrong.
In sum, those doctrines and practices are essential, not peripheral (like interpreting the book of the Revelation in one way or the church policy of giving). As noted above, the old saying is true: “In the essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things charity (love).”
God is willing to work with all struggling people (God has shown me mercy over the years), but when the leaders continually teach lawlessness by word or example, they must repent quickly, so they will not hear the shocking words at judgment: “Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness; I never knew you.”
Four-part series on how one should not practice lawlessness, particularly for church leaders:
I really like Turner’s caution that we should not reject charismatic prophets (antinomianism means denying and disobeying the law):
One should not conclude from this warning against antinomian prophets that Matthew takes a consistently negative view of prophets and charismatic activities. Jesus himself is the prophet par excellence, and he commission his disciples to prophetic word and deed (Matt. 10:1, 6, 8). Disciples should support such ministry, since reception of the prophets will bring them a reward equivalent to that of the prophets themselves (10:41). Jesus promises to send future prophets (23:34) whose destiny is to share in the persecution that their master and his other disciples would experience (cf. 5:12). Thus Jesus in Matthew repudiates antinomianism, not prophets per se (Deut. 13:1-5; 18:14-22; Didache 7.8). The spiritual gift of charismatic activity is no substitute for the spiritual righteousness. (p. 220)
The point of the whole section is that the saints [you and me, surrendered to Jesus’ Lordship and consecrated to him] must at all times be watchful to make certain their leaders fulfill their calling. This does not mean a critical attitude (so 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. Without the ethics and morality of this Sermon, any so-called Christian message is false. (comment on 7:18).
Then Osborne quotes another commentator: “the test of their reality is not how they come on but how they come off; not how they seem but the theological and moral influence of their teaching and life in the community. Thus the prayer at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘deliver us from evil,’ also means ‘deliver us from false prophets and their amoral, immoral, or supermoral messages.’”
GrowApp for Matt. 7:15-23
A.. How is your discernment level? Have you fallen prey to false teaching? How did you escape? Or how do you escape if you’re caught in one right now?
B.. What kind of fruit should good leaders produce? What does it look like?
Two Foundations and Conclusion (Matt. 7:24-29)
24 Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a prudent man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down and the flood came and the winds blew and beat upon that house. And it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26 And everyone hearing these teachings of mine and does not do them will be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain came down and the floods came and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it fell. And great was its collapse!”
28 And so it happened that when Jesus finished these words, the crowds marveled at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one having authority and not as their teachers of the law.
See the table under vv. 13-14.
“Therefore”: it follows the previous pericope, but it probably reaches back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Apparently, we are to envisage a mixture of people in Matthew’s original community (France (p. 296). Contrast 1 Cor. 3:10-17, which talks about the suitability of the building material, whereas here the foundation is in view. In 1 Cor. 3, Paul’s foundation is also in view, but be careful how one builds on it.
“words”: as I note in many places in this commentary, it is the Greek noun logos (pronounced loh-goss and is used 330 times in the NT). Since it is so important, let’s explore the noun more deeply.
It is rich and full of meaning. It always has built into it rationality and reason. It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic.
Though certain Renewalists may not like to hear it, there is a rational side to the Word of God, and a moment’s thought proves it. The words you’re reading right now are placed in meaningful and logical and rational order. The Bible is also written in that way. If it weren’t, then it would be nonsense and confusing, and we couldn’t understand the gibberish. (Even your prophecies have to make logical and rational sense on some level.) Your Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons have to make sense, also. Jesus’s words also have Bible-based logic and rational argumentation built into it. People need to be ministered to in this way. God gave us minds and brains and expects us to use them. Your preaching cannot always be flashy and shrieky and so outlandishly entertaining that people are not fed in the long term. Movements like that don’t last over the years without the Word. I have observed this from firsthand experience in certain sectors of the Renewal Movement.
People have the deepest need to receive solid teaching. Never become so outlandishly supernatural and entertaining that you neglect the reasonable and rational and logical side of preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible.
On the other side of the word logos, people get so intellectual that they build up an exclusive Christian caste of intelligentsia that believe they alone can teach and understand the Word. Not true. Just study Scripture with Bible helps and walk in the Spirit, as they did in Acts. Combining Word and Spirit is the balanced life.
Here Jesus is referring to his entire teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. I almost translated it as “teaching” (singular, collective teaching rolled into one word) or teachings, for the noun in this pericope is plural.
“prudent”: it comes from the adjective phronimos (pronounced fraw-nee-moss), and it means: “sensible, thoughtful, prudent, wise.” A wise and prudent manager of God’s household or portion of his kingdom can figure things out by the Spirit. He knows how to plan and surrender his plan to God. He is in constant communication with God through prayer. God gives him heavenly wisdom to apply God’s kingdom principles to everyday life. It is God-given know-how. It may even include shrewdness (Luke 16:8). He has business savvy and know-how, in sizing up who the king and his kingdom are. He join it and follows him.
“foolish”: the adjective is mōros (pronounced moh-ross, and our word moron is related to it). It appears in in Matt. 5:22, where Jesus said not to call someone a fool, but he was speaking in the context of a thoughtless, mean-spirited remark. It appears here in Matt. 7:26 about the foolish man who built his house on a sandy foundation. In Matt. 23:17, he called the Pharisees and teachers of the law “fools!” He was being thoughtful and had analyzed and sized them up accurately. And finally it appears in Matt. 25:2, 3, 8 (see also 1 Cor. 1:25, 27; 3:8; 4:10; 2 Tim. 2:23; Ti. 3:9). Matthew is the only Gospel writer who uses it. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the term simply: “foolish, stupid.” It also adds that the foolish person is a godless, obstinate person (see Deut. 32:6; Is. 32:6).
In Psalms and Proverbs ‘fools’ are those who leave God out of of their life (Ps. 14:1; 53:1; Prov. 12:15-16; 14:33).
The rest of the pericope sets up a clear enough contrast between those who hear and obey or do, and those who hear and do not obey or do.
The wise person living in the Palestinian desert would erect a dwelling on a secure rock to protect the house from the flash floods that sudden storms created. The foolish person would build directly on the sand and would have no protection against the devastation of the elements. 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. (comment on 7:24-27)
These verses are a nice wrap up for this wonderful teaching. The clause “And so it happened that when Jesus finished” is used at key junctures in Matthew’s Gospel: 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1. Let’s keep track of them as we move along through the commentary.
“teaching”: in v. 28 it is the noun logos, and see v. 24 for more comment.
“teaching”: in v. 29 it comes from the Greek noun didachē (pronounced dee-dah-khay), and I almost translated it as doctrine, but that word sounds a bit stiff or formal in this context, but make no mistake. It is a doctrine or a set of beliefs which he taught. It was mostly practical, but he did teach them that his words were on an equal plane to the Torah, which hints at his authoritative and divine status. He will judge people, on that day. He will be the divine judge. Matthew’s high Christology.
Let’s explore this Greek noun more thoroughly.
It is, as noted, the word didachē (pronounced dee-dah-khay). BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the noun as follows: (1) “The activity of teaching, teaching, instruction”; (2) “the content of teaching, teaching.” Yes, the word is also used of Jesus’s teaching: Matt. 7:28; 22:33; Mark 1:22, 27; 4:2; 11:18; 12:38; Luke 4:32; John 7:16, 17; 18:19. And it is used of the apostolic teaching: Acts 2:42; 5:28; 13:12; 17:19; Rom. 6:17; 16:17; 1 Cor. 14:6, 26; 2 Tim. 4:2; Ti. 1:9; Heb. 6:2; 2 John 9 (twice), 10; Rev. 2:14, 15, 24.
Renewalists need much more instruction and doctrine than they are getting. Inspirational preaching about God fulfilling their hopes and dreams is insufficient. We need to discern the signs of the times or seasons (Matt. 16:3). We live in the time or season of the worldwide web. The people are getting bombarded with strange doctrines, on youtube (and other such platforms). These youtube “teachers” know how to edit things and put in clever colors and special effects, but they have not been appointed by God. They do not know how to do even basic research. They run roughshod over basic hermeneutical (interpretational) principles. These “teachers” do not seem to realize that they will be judged more severely (Jas. 3:1) and will have to render an account of their (self-appointed) “leadership” (Heb. 13:17). If they destroy God’s temple (the church), God will (eventually) destroy them (1 Cor. 3:17).
Further, my impression is that the main platform speakers on TV whose budgets are big enough to put them on TV every day don’t even know the basics about doctrine, if they were asked (I admit I’m still learning basic doctrine). Why not? They are too busy being corporate managers and even Chief Executive Officers of large churches. They are not turning over the practical side of church leadership to their elders and deacons. They do not spend hours a day—all day, every day—studying nothing but Scriptures, with good ol’ commentaries. (Maybe this one can help, a little.) They do not spend much time reading up on theology and doctrine. (Maybe my website can help, a little.)
A better translation of Eph. 4:11 reads: “Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teaching pastors,” not pastors and teachers. Do we have teaching pastors or management or corporate pastors who specialize in organizational leadership? Or do we have psychology pastors? These areas should be turned over to a team. The teaching pastors should do nothing but study Scripture and should have the bulk of the teaching time on Sunday morning and in other services.
We need to change our ways and follow Scripture, or else much of the church will spiritually diminish and be swept away by strange teachings. Yes, good ol’ fashioned theology and even a little apologetics about difficult passages is what the global Church needs. They need the basics—even on Sunday morning, delivered by teaching pastors, not corporate, inspirational pastors.
“authority”: it is the noun exousia (pronounced ex-oo-see-ah), and it means, depending on the context: “right to act,” “freedom of choice,” “power, capability, might, power, authority, absolute power”; “power or authority exercised by rulers by virtue of their offices; official power; domain or jurisdiction, spiritual powers.”
The difference between authority and power is parallel to a policeman’s badge and his gun. The badge symbolizes his right to exercise his power through his gun, if necessary. The gun backs up his authority with power. But the distinction should not be pressed too hard, because exousia can also mean “power.” In any case, God through Jesus can distribute authority to his followers (Matt. 10:1; Luke 10:19; John 1:12). Jesus will give us authority even over the nations, if we overcome trials and persecution (Rev. 2:26). And he is about to distribute his power in Acts 2.
Never forget that you have his authority and power to live a victorious life over your personal flaws and sins and Satan. They no longer have power and authority over you; you have power and authority over them.
“their”: And here we have another instance of their (see 4:23; 8:34; 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54; 22:7; 22:16). Why does Matthew keep saying “their synagogue or their city or their teachers of the law? My opinion: his community has moved well past Judaism and must distinguish between the newly formed Christian community and the Jewish community.
“teachers of the law”: They were also known as scribes or legal experts.
You can see a writeup about them here (in alphabetical order):
They were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” ((Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Overdoing righteousness, believe it or not, can damage one’s relationship with God and others.
Jesus’s authority came from his anointing at his baptism, and the Father’s declaration that he loved his Son (Matt. 3:13-17). The teachers of the law did not have this blessing; instead, they just taught a wooden literalism and compliance, and piled their interpretations on top of previous interpretations or the tradition of the elders. Words multiplied and people were oppressed.
I like how France contrasts scribal authority with the authority of Jesus:
Whereas scribal rulings were based on the traditions of earlier interpreters of the law, Jesus has in 5:17-48 set himself up as an authority over against that interpretive tradition on the basis not of formal training or authorization but of his own confident “I tell you.” It was that sort of inherent “authority” that the people missed in their scribes, even though their office commanded respect. When to that remarkable claim is added Jesus’s assumption that he himself is the proper object of people’s allegiance and the arbiter of their destiny (5:11-12; 7:21-23, 24, 26), the crowds astonishment is hardly out of place. (p. 299)
The Sermon has presented the laws of the kingdom and demanded a superior righteousness (5:20) for the citizens of the new covenant community. The conclusion (vv. 28-29) cements that with the realization of Jesus’ incredible authority on the part of crowds. The Sermon is powerful both in content and form, and the foundation behind it is neither rabbinic tradition or even the Torah itself. The authority came from within, form the messianic authority of his Person. In Jesus, God has spoken in an entirely new way. The crowds could be linked with the “seekers” above, for they are interested in Jesus and his authority; yet they fail to respond as he demands. They form the audience and correspond to many readers of Matthew’s gospel. They are being called to repentance and to participation in the gospel message. (p. 279)
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. (Comment on 7:28-29)
Summary and Conclusion
I was impressed with how many times Jesus taught about his Father who is in heaven. I can say that the Sermon was Father-centered. The term Father was used seventeen times.
Here are the themes of the Sermon reduced to a simple sequence, with the arrows means “leads to” or “builds to”:
Father ordains kingdom and righteous living → Jesus teaches kingdom and righteous living → We enter kingdom through narrow gate and live righteously → Father empowers us with kingdom life to live righteously → We actually live righteously in the kingdom right now
Let’s not be confused about this. This righteousness is not something declared over us. We live it. However, at the same time, the righteousness is not our own. It is alien to us. It is a new kind of righteousness. We receive it from the Father. The kingdom is founded on his righteousness; it is every bit the structure of his kingdom, as much as sunshine and oxygen and water and gravity are the structure of our environment on planet earth. We breathe and drink his righteousness; we could never live up to his righteous standard without him. His righteousness holds us steady, as gravity does. His righteousness shines on us, as the sun does. His righteousness shines through us, which sunshine cannot even do, so the comparison has a shortcoming. His righteousness comes to us from the outside, once we enter the kingdom through the narrow gate. After we enter it, we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and then all the things of life will be added to us—including his power to live righteously. We don’t live righteously and do good works through God’s light with the purpose of showing off, but living righteously and doing good works flow through us normally, as we live in the Father’s kingdom.
What a great Sermon. Thank you, Jesus, for teaching it.
We have read his authoritative teaching–his teaching with authority. Now, in the following chapters, we are about to witness his authoritative deeds, beyond a summary (4:23-25).
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Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 1-14: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).