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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 7

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 12-29


Having introduced the King, Matthew next demonstrated the authority of the King. This section includes a narrative introduction to Jesus’ teaching and then His teaching on the subject of His kingdom.

3. The importance of true righteousness 5:17-7:12

Jesus had just been speaking about the importance of His disciples demonstrating their righteousness publicly with their good works (Matthew 5:16). Now He dealt with the more fundamental question of what true righteousness is. This was important to clarify since the religious leaders of His day misinterpreted righteousness and good works.

"The kinds of good deeds that enable light to be seen as light are now to be elaborated in the course of the sermon that follows. They are shown to be nothing other than the faithful living out of the commandments, the righteousness of the Torah as interpreted by Jesus." [Note: Hagner, p. 102.]

Righteousness and the world 6:19-7:12

Thus far in the Sermon Jesus urged His disciples to base their understanding of the righteousness God requires on the revelation of Scripture, not the traditional interpretations of their leaders (Matthew 5:17-48). Then He clarified that true righteousness involved genuine worship of the Father, not hypocritical, ostentatious worship (Matthew 6:1-18). Next, He revealed what true righteousness involves as the disciple lives in the world. He dealt with four key relationships: the disciple’s relationship to wealth (Matthew 6:19-34), to his or her brethren (Matthew 7:1-5), to his or her antagonists (Matthew 7:6), and to God (Matthew 7:7-12).

Verse 1

Jesus taught His disciples not to be judgmental or censorious of one another in view of the high standards He was clarifying (cf. Romans 14:10-13; James 4:11-12). He did not mean that they should accept everything and everyone uncritically (cf. Matthew 7:5-6; Matthew 7:15-20; John 7:24; 1 Corinthians 5:5; Galatians 1:8-9; Galatians 6:1; Philippians 3:2; 1 John 4:1). Neither did he mean, obviously, that parents, church leaders, and civil authorities are wrong if they pass judgment on those under their care. He meant that His disciples should not do God’s job of passing judgment for Him when He has not authorized them to do so. They really could not since no one but God knows all the facts that motivate people to do as they do. The disciple who usurps God’s place will have to answer to Him for doing so. One poll indicated that this is currently the most popularly quoted verse from the Bible.

Verses 1-5

The disciple’s relationship to brethren 7:1-5 (cf. Luke 6:37-42)

Jesus first laid down a principle (Matthew 7:1). Then He justified this principle theologically (Matthew 7:2). Finally He provided an illustration (Matthew 7:3-5).

Verse 2

The thought here is similar to that in Matthew 6:14-15. The person who judges others very critically will experience a similarly rigorous examination from God (cf. Matthew 18:23-35). There is a word play in the verse in the Greek text that suggests Jesus may have been quoting a popular proverb. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 184.]

Verses 3-5

The "speck" (Gr. karphos) could be a speck of any foreign matter. The "log" or "plank" (Gr. dokos) refers to a large piece of wood. Jesus again used hyperbole to stress the folly of criticizing someone else. This act reveals a much greater problem in the critic’s life, namely, a censorious spirit.

Such a person is a hypocrite and his actions carry him away. He does not deceive others as much as he deceives himself. Other people may realize that his criticism is unjustifiable, but he does not. A proper attitude is important in judging oneself and other people (1 Corinthians 11:31; Galatians 6:1). Censorious critics are not helpful. That is what Jesus warned against here (cf. Luke 6:39-42).

"The disciples of the King are to be critical of self but not of their brethren. The group is to be noted for their bond of unity, which is indicated by a lack of criticism. This is fitting, since the kingdom is characterized by peace. (Isaiah 9:7)." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 113.]

Verse 6

The disciple’s relationship to antagonists 7:6

Jesus’ disciples had a responsibility to pass their knowledge of the kingdom on to others so they, too, could prepare for it. Jesus gave them directions about this responsibility in this verse. This exhortation balances the one He just gave (Matthew 7:1-5). The disciples could be too naive and fail to be discerning (cf. Matthew 5:43-47).

Pigs were typically unclean, wild, vicious animals. Likewise most dogs were not domestic pets but unclean, wild, despised creatures. This verse contains a chiastic construction. The dogs turn and tear to pieces those who give them special gifts, and the pigs trample under foot the pearls thrown before them (cf. Proverbs 11:22). What is holy and the pearls in this illustration evidently represent the good news announcing the kingdom. The pigs and dogs probably do not represent all Gentiles but people of any race who react to the good news by rejecting and turning against those who bring it to them (cf. Matthew 10:14; Matthew 15:14). [Note: Cf. Calvin, 1:349.]

"As with other parts of Jesus’ teaching, the point is not an absolute prohibition, because then the disciple could not share the gospel with those who are not responsive. Rather, the point is that the disciple is not obligated to share with those who are hard-hearted." [Note: Bock, Jesus according . . ., p. 146. Cf. Proverbs 9:8; Proverbs 23:9.]

Verses 7-8

In view of such hard opposition Jesus’ disciples need to pray for God’s help. He will always respond positively to their words, though others may reject them (Matthew 7:6). Still, their petitions must be for His glory rather than for selfish ends (cf. James 4:2-3). All that the disciple needs to serve Jesus Christ successfully is available for the asking.

"Jesus’ disciples will pray (’ask’) with earnest sincerity (’seek’) and active, diligent pursuit of God’s way (’knock’). Like a human father, the heavenly Father uses these means to teach his children courtesy, persistence, and diligence. If the child prevails with a thoughtful father, it is because the father has molded the child to his way." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 186.]

The force of each present imperative is iterative. [Note: Tasker, p. 80.] We could translate them, "Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking" (cf. Luke 11:9-10). However, no matter the level of intensity with which we seek God’s help, He will respond to every one of His disciples who calls to Him.

Verses 7-12

The disciple’s relationship to God 7:7-12

This section of verses brings the main body of the Sermon to a climactic conclusion.

Verses 9-11

In Matthew 7:9-10 Jesus put the matter of Matthew 7:7-8 in two other ways. Even though parents are evil (i.e., self-centered sinners) they do not typically give their children disappointing or dangerous counterfeits in response to requests for what is wholesome and nutritious. Much more will the heavenly Father who is pure goodness give gifts that are truly good to His children who request them (cf. Jeremiah 29:13; Luke 11:11-13; James 1:5-8). This is another a fortiori argument (cf. Matthew 6:26). Jesus’ disciples are in view as the children praying here (cf. Matthew 5:45). The good things they request have direct connection with the kingdom, things such as ability to follow God faithfully in spite of opposition (cf. Acts 4:29). God has ordained that we ask for the good gifts we need because this is the way He trains us, not because He is unaware or unconcerned about our needs (cf. Matthew 6:8).

"What is fundamentally at stake is man’s picture of God. God must not be thought of as a reluctant stranger who can be cajoled or bullied into bestowing his gifts (Matthew 6:7-8), as a malicious tyrant who takes vicious glee in the tricks he plays (Matthew 7:9-10), or even as an indulgent grandfather who provides everything requested of him. He is the heavenly Father, the God of the kingdom, who graciously and willingly bestows the good gifts of the kingdom in answer to prayer." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 187.]

Verse 12

The recurrence of "the Law and the Prophets" here takes us back to Matthew 5:17, the beginning of the body of the Sermon. As pointed out previously, this phrase forms an inclusio. Everything Jesus said between Matthew 5:17 and Matthew 7:12 was essentially an exposition of Old Testament revelation. Consequently the "therefore" in this verse probably summarizes the entire section (Matthew 5:17 to Matthew 7:12).

The "golden rule" sums up the teaching of the Old Testament (cf. Exodus 23:4; Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 15:7-8; Proverbs 24:17; Proverbs 25:21; Luke 6:31). The title "golden rule" traditionally comes from "the Roman Emperor Alexander Severus (A.D. 222-35), who, though not a Christian, was reputedly so impressed by the comprehensiveness of this maxim of Jesus . . . that he had it inscribed in gold on the wall of his chamber." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 284.]

Rather than giving scores of specific commands to govern individual behavior during the inter-advent era, as the Old Covenant did for the Mosaic era, Jesus gave this principle. It provides a rule we can use in thousands of specific cases to determine what righteousness looks like. Doing to others what we would want them to do to us is what the Law and the Prophets taught. This behavior fulfills them (cf. Matthew 5:17). This behavior is the will of God, and that is why Jesus’ disciples should do it.

Verses 13-14

The two paths 7:13-14

The Old Testament contains several references to diverging ways that force the traveler to choose between two paths (e.g., Deuteronomy 30:15; Deuteronomy 30:19; Psalms 1; Jeremiah 21:8). The AV translation "straight" is a bit misleading. That translation reflected the Latin strictum meaning narrow, and it probably contributed to the common idea of "the straight and narrow." However the Greek word stene clearly means narrow as contrasted with broad. The word "small" (Matthew 7:14, Gr. tethlimmene) relates closely to the Greek word thlipsis meaning tribulation. Thus Jesus was saying that the narrow restricting gate has connections with persecution, a major theme in Matthew’s Gospel (cf. Matthew 5:10-12; Matthew 5:44; Matthew 10:16-39; Matthew 11:11-12; Matthew 24:4-13; Acts 14:22). [Note: See also A. J. Mattill Jr., "’The Way of Tribulation,’" Journal of Biblical Literature 98 (1979):531-46.]

The narrow road leads to life, namely, life in the kingdom (cf. Matthew 7:21-22). The broad road leads to destruction, namely, death and hell (cf. Matthew 25:34; Matthew 25:46; John 17:12; Romans 9:22: Philippians 1:28; Philippians 3:19; 1 Timothy 6:9; Hebrews 10:39; 2 Peter 2:1; 2 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 3:16; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 17:11). Few will enter the kingdom compared with the many who will perish. Jesus clearly did not believe in the doctrine of universalism that is growing in popularity today, the belief that everyone will eventually end up in heaven (cf. John 14:6). Entrance through the narrow gate onto the narrow way will eventually lead a person into the kingdom. The beginning of a life of discipleship (the gate) and the process of discipleship (the way) are both restrictive and both involve persecution.

"Gate is mentioned for the benefit of those who were not true followers; way is mentioned as a definition of the life of the disciples of Jesus. This is why Matthew uses the word ’gate’ (pule) while Luke employs the word ’door’ (thura, Luke 13:24). Luke is concerned primarily with salvation. Here the King desires subjects for His kingdom, so He uses a word which implies a path is to be followed after entrance into life." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 116.]

Only a few people would find the way to life (Matthew 7:14). As we noted earlier, Israel’s leaders were lethargic about seeking the Messiah (Matthew 2:7-8). Many of the Jews were evidently not seeking the kingdom either.

Verses 13-27

4. The false alternatives 7:13-27

To clarify the essential choices that His disciples needed to make, Jesus laid out four pairs of alternatives. Their choices would prepare them to continue to get ready for the coming kingdom. Each of the four alternatives is a warning of catastrophic proportions. They all focus on future judgment and the kingdom. This section constitutes the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount.

Verse 15

Jesus here sounded a warning that the Old Testament prophets also gave about false prophets (cf. Deuteronomy 13; Deuteronomy 18; Jeremiah 6:13-15; Jeremiah 8:8-12; Ezekiel 13; Ezekiel 22:27; Zephaniah 3:4). He did not explain exactly what they would teach, only that they would deceptively misrepresent divine revelation. This covers a wide spectrum of false teachers. Their motive was ultimately self-serving, and the end of their victims would be destruction. These characteristics are implicit in Jesus’ description of them. The scribes and Pharisees manned a narrow gate, but it was not the gate that led to the narrow way leading to life.

Verses 15-20

The two trees 7:15-20 (cf. Luke 6:43-44)

Verses 16-20

Fruit in the natural world, as well as metaphorically, represents what the plant or person produces. It is what other people see that leads them to conclude something about the nature and identity of what bears the fruit. Fruit is the best indicator of this nature. In false teachers, fruit represents their doctrines and deeds (cf. Jeremiah 23:9-15). Jesus said His disciples would be able to recognize false prophets by their fruit: their teachings and their actions. Sometimes the true character of a person remains hidden for some time. People regard their good works as an indication of righteous character. However eventually the true nature of the person becomes apparent, and it becomes clear that one’s apparently good fruit was destructive.

Prophets true to God’s Word would produce righteous conduct, but false prophets who disregarded God’s Word would produce unrighteous conduct (Matthew 7:17).

A poisonous plant will yield poisonous fruit. It cannot produce healthful fruit. Likewise a good tree, such as an apple tree, bears good, nutritious fruit (Matthew 7:18). The bad fruit may look good, but it is bad nonetheless (Matthew 7:16). A false prophet can only produce bad works even though his works may appear good superficially or temporarily.

Some interpreters of this passage take Jesus’ teaching farther than He went with it. They say it is impossible for a genuine believer to do bad works. This cannot be true in view of the hundreds of commands, exhortations, and warnings that Jesus and the prophets and apostles gave to believers in both Testaments. It is possible for a believer to do bad works (e.g., Matthew 16:23; Titus 2:11-13; Titus 3:8; 1 John 1:9). That they will not is the teaching of sinless perfection. Other interpreters say that some bad works are inevitable for the believer, but bad works will not habitually characterize the life of a true believer. This quickly turns into a question of how many bad works, which the New Testament does not answer. Rather the New Testament writers present some people who have departed from God’s will for a long time as believers (e.g., 1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 2:17-18). The point Jesus was making in Matthew 7:18 was simply that false prophets do what is bad, and people who follow God faithfully typically do what is good. How disciples of Jesus live was very important to Him.

The end of every tree that does not bear good fruit is the fire (Matthew 7:19). Likewise the false prophet who does bad works, even though they look good, suffers destructive judgment (cf. Matthew 3:10).

The words and works of a prophet eventually reveal his true character just as surely as the fruit of a tree reveals its identity (Matthew 7:20). Of these two criteria, words and works, works are the more reliable indicator of character.

Jesus was evidently dealing with typical false prophets in this section. He did not go into the case of a believer who deliberately distorts God’s Word. Typically a false prophet rejects God’s Word because he is an unbeliever. However even in the Old Testament there were a few true prophets who lied about God’s Word (e.g., 1 Kings 13:18).

Verses 21-23

The two claims 7:21-23 (cf. Luke 6:46)

Matthew 7:15-20 deal with false prophets, but Matthew 7:21-23 deal with false followers. The repeated cry of these false disciples reveals their fervency.

"In Jesus’ day it is doubtful whether ’Lord’ when used to address him meant more than ’teacher’ or ’sir.’ But in the postresurrection period, it becomes an appellation of worship and a confession of Jesus’ deity." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 192.]

Obedience to the Father’s will determines entrance into the kingdom, not professed admiration for Jesus. This is the first occurrence of the phrase "my Father" in Matthew. By using it Jesus was implicitly claiming to be the authoritative revealer of God. During Jesus’ ministry, doing the will of God boiled down to believing that Jesus was the Messiah and responding appropriately (John 6:29). [Note: See Robern N. Wilkin, "Not Everyone Who Says ’Lord, Lord’ Will Enter the Kingdom: Matthew 7:21-23," The Grace Evangelical Society News 3:12 (December 1988):2-3.] Note that entrance into the kingdom was still future; the kingdom was not yet present. Judgment will precede entrance into the kingdom.

Jesus claimed to be the eschatological Judge (cf. John 6). This was one of Messiah’s functions (e.g., Psalms 2). "That day" (Matthew 7:22) is the day Jesus will judge false professors. It is almost a technical term for the messianic age (cf. Isaiah 2:11; Isaiah 2:17; Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 10:20; Jeremiah 49:22; Zechariah 14:6; Zechariah 14:20-21). "In your name" means as your representatives and claiming your authority. Obviously it was possible for false disciples to prophesy, exorcise demons, and perform miracles in Jesus’ name (e.g., Judas Iscariot). The authority of His name (reputation) enabled them to do so, not their own righteousness or relationship to Him. Many onlookers undoubtedly viewed these works as good fruit and evidence of righteous character. However these were cases of tares that looked like wheat (cf. Matthew 13:24-30).

Jesus Himself would sentence the hypocrites to depart from His presence (Matthew 7:23). [Note: See Karl E. Pagenkemper, "Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:610 (April-June 1996):189-90.] Thus Jesus claimed again that He is the Judge who will determine who will enter the kingdom and who will not. This was a decidedly messianic function. The quotation from Psalms 6:8 puts Jesus in the place of the sufferer whom God has vindicated and who now tells those who have done Him evil to depart from His presence. Moreover He will say He never knew these false professors. Many people deal with holy things daily yet have no personal acquaintance with God because they are hypocrites. It is their failure to bow before divine law, the will of God, that renders them practitioners of lawlessness and guilty.

Verses 24-27

The two builders 7:24-27 (cf. Luke 6:47-49)

Matthew 7:21-23 contrast those who say one thing but do another. Matthew 7:24-27 contrast hearing and doing (cf James 1:22-25; James 2:14-20). [Note: Stott, p. 208.] The will of Jesus’ Father (Matthew 7:21) now becomes "these words of mine" (Matthew 7:24). As throughout this section (Matthew 7:13-27), Jesus was looking at a life in its entirety.

"The two ways illustrate the start of the life of faith; the two trees illustrate the growth and results of the life of faith here and now; and the two houses illustrate the end of this life of faith, when God shall call everything to judgment." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:31.]

Each house in Jesus’ illustration looks secure. However severe testing reveals the true quality of the builders’ work (cf. Matthew 13:21; Proverbs 10:25; Proverbs 12:7; Proverbs 14:11; Isaiah 28:16-17). Torrential downpours were and are common in Israel. Wise men build to withstand anything. The wise person is a theme in Matthew (cf. Matthew 10:16; Matthew 24:45; Matthew 25:2; Matthew 25:4; Matthew 25:8-9). The wise person is one who puts Jesus’ words into practice. Thus the final reckoning will expose the true convictions of the pseudo-disciple.

Jesus later compared Himself to foundation rock (Matthew 16:18; cf. Isaiah 28:16; 1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Peter 2:6-8). That idea was probably implicit here.

Matthew 7:16-20 have led some people to judge the reality of a person’s salvation from his or her works. All that Jesus said before (Matthew 7:1-5) and following those verses should discourage us from doing this. False prophets eventually give evidence that they are not faithful prophets. However, it is impossible for onlookers to determine the salvation of professing believers (Matthew 7:21-23) and those who simply receive the gospel without making any public response to it (Matthew 7:24-27). Their real condition will only become clear when Jesus judges them. He is their Judge, and we must leave their judgment in His hands (Matthew 7:1).

Jesus’ point in this section (Matthew 7:13-27) was that entrance into the kingdom and discipleship as a follower of the King are unpopular, and they involve persecution. Many more people will profess to be disciples than really are. The acid test is obedience to the revealed will of God.

"So the sermon ends with a challenge not to ignore responding to Jesus and his teaching. Jesus is a figure who is not placing his teaching forward because it is a recommended way of life. He represents far more than that. His teaching is a call to an allegiance that means the difference between life and death, between blessing and woe. Jesus is more than a prophet." [Note: Bock, Jesus according . . ., pp. 152-53. For a good exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, see Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy.]

Verses 28-29

5. The response of the audience 7:28-29

Each conclusion to each of the five major discourses in Matthew begins with the same formula statement: literally "and it happened" (Gr. kai egeneto) followed by a finite verb. It is, therefore, "a self-conscious stylistic device that establishes a structural turning point." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 195. Cf. Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 105.] Each conclusion is also transitional and prepares for the next section.

We learn for the first time that even though Jesus was teaching His disciples (Matthew 5:1-2) multitudes were listening in to what he taught them. Probably for this reason the end of the Sermon contains more material that is suitable for a general audience. France believed that all the discourses in Matthew are anthologies of Jesus’ teachings on various occasions that Matthew compiled into discourses rather than single discourses that Jesus delivered on individual occasions. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., pp. 8-10.] This is a minority opinion, but it is probably true that the Gospel writers edited Jesus’ teachings to some extent.

Jesus’ "teaching" included both His content and His delivery. What impressed the crowds was Jesus’ authority. This is the first occurrence of another theme that Matthew stressed (Matthew 8:9; Matthew 9:6; Matthew 9:8; Matthew 10:1; Matthew 21:23-24; Matthew 21:27; Matthew 28:18). Jesus’ authority was essentially different in that He claimed to be the Messiah. He not only claimed to interpret the Word of God, as other contemporary teachers did, but He claimed to fulfill it as well (Matthew 5:17). He would be the One who would determine entrance into the kingdom (Matthew 7:21), and He would judge humankind eventually (Matthew 7:23). He also claimed that His teaching amounted to God’s Word (Matthew 7:24; Matthew 7:26). Therefore the authoritative note in His teaching was not primarily His sincerity, or His oratorical style, or His lack of reference to earlier authorities. It was who He was. He claimed to be the authoritative interpreter of the Word of God.

"In the final analysis . . . what Jesus says about the law applies to it as something being authoritatively reinterpreted by his teaching. It is not the Mosaic law in and of itself that has normative and abiding character for disciples, but the Mosaic law as it has passed through the crucible of Jesus’ teaching." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 65. Cf. 5:17-18, 21-48; 22:37-40; 24:35; 28:20.]

Scholars have noted many parallels between Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and Rabbinic instruction, probably more than in any other part of the New Testament. The similarities, however, lie in form of expression, subject matter, and turn of words, but definitely not in spirit. [Note: See Edersheim, The Life . . ., 1:531-41.]

"The King has proclaimed the nearness of the kingdom and has authenticated that message with great signs. With people flocking to Him He instructs His disciples concerning the character of those who shall inherit the kingdom. The kingdom, though earthly, is founded on righteousness. Thus the theme of His message is righteousness." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 119.]

Jesus proceeded to demonstrate His authority by performing powerful miracles that liberated captives from their bondage, signs that the Old Testament prophets said Messiah would perform.

"Throughout the rest of his story, Matthew makes it exceedingly plain that, whether directly or indirectly, the issue of authority underlies all the controversies Jesus has with the religious leaders and that it is therefore pivotal to his entire conflict with them." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 125.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/matthew-7.html. 2012.
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