Do not judge, in order that you are not judged,
For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged,
And with what measure you measure, it will be measured to you.
Clearly the first question here is as to what Jesus means by ‘judging’. The term has a wide meaning moving from ‘assessing’ on the one hand to ‘total condemnation’ on the other. Some would see Matthew 7:1 as standing on its own, but in that case it simply becomes a truism. It would be to go against all the teaching of Scripture concerning the need for judges, and the need for individual judgment. It is only in context that it actually gains any significant meaning. We will therefore consider what Jesus definitely does not mean.
1). He does not mean that they should not ‘judge’ what other people teach, for not only does He expect them to pass judgment on His own teaching, but He will also shortly warn them about false prophets who are to be avoided (Matthew 7:15-23; compare Matthew 16:6; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Timothy 2:17-18; 2 John 1:7-11). Recognising a false prophet requires ‘judgment’, and the New Testament regularly lays down the bases on which such prophets should be judged (see for example Matthew 5:20; Romans 16:17-18; Galatians 1:6-9; 1 Timothy 6:3-4; 2 Timothy 2:17-18; 2 Timothy 3:13-17; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 1:7-9). Even Christian prophets have to be judged (1 Corinthians 14:29). On the other hand in the case of lesser things we must recognise the right of each to his own view (Romans 14:1-8; 1 Corinthians 8:7-13). So they are in all cases to judge righteous judgment (John 7:24).
2). He does not mean that they should not act to deal with gross sin which is clearly contrary to Scripture or the teaching of Jesus Christ and His Apostles (compare Matthew 18:17; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; Titus 3:10-11). Jesus agreed with what the Law taught (Matthew 23:2-3), and would have expected them to judge accordingly, even though tempered with compassion (John 8:10). And He constantly makes clear that God will deal severely with gross sin (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:25-26; Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 6:15; Matthew 7:13; Matthew 7:19-20; Matthew 7:23; Matthew 7:25).
3). He does not mean just ‘live and let live’. One of the reasons for appointing the Apostles was so that they could determine authoritatively the behaviour of the ‘congregation’ by ‘binding and loosing’ (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:15-20), although they were not to try to apply them to outsiders (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). And while Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, just as He ate with Pharisees, and with any who sought the truth, it was precisely because they were seeking the truth and He was there as a doctor among them (Matthew 9:11-12). He did not involve Himself in riotous living, or even condone it. ‘Gluttonous man’ and ‘winebibber’ were the accusations of His enemies, not the real facts of the case (Matthew 11:19).
What kind of judging then does Jesus have in mind? It is clear from the context that it is the ‘judging’ of a brother that is mainly in question (Matthew 7:3; Matthew 7:5), while taking a more cautious attitude towards outsiders (Matthew 7:6) and that the principle is that any judgments are to bear in mind the need for having a right attitude (Matthew 7:2). Censorious and condemnatory judgment of a brother, whether by the group, or by an individual, is forbidden.
Thus when they come to pass a judgment they should ensure three things. Firstly that they themselves are in a fit state to be able to judge fairly, secondly that their judgment is fair and reasonable (after full enquiry) and thirdly the repercussions on themselves because of their own attitude if they fail to judge fairly. (The same idea of repercussion comes also in Matthew 7:6, where it is from a different source). Jesus then declares that those who judge harshly, will themselves be judged harshly, both by God and men (this is mainly an example of the ‘divine passive, a reference to God by using the passive tense). They will be judged by their own standards (compare Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:23-35, the latter specifically related to the Kingly Rule of Heaven). They will receive measure for measure from God, if not from men. (Many grain contracts insisted that the same measure should be used for measuring the amounts of grain, and the amounts paid for the grain, and that may be in mind here). Thus they would be better off not standing in judgment on others, for the merciful will obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7), and the judgmental and unforgiving (Matthew 6:14-15) will themselves be judged.
That ‘in order that you might not be judged’ includes the judgment of God is clear from the whole Sermon (and indeed from the whole of Matthew) where God’s judgment is continually in view. It is assumed in the beatitudes, specific in Matthew 5:19-22; Matthew 5:25; Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 6:15; and especially seen in what follows in Matthew 7:13-27. But that it also includes the judgment of men is suggested by Matthew 7:6.
Clearly this statement is to a certain extent a general principle of the Kingly Rule of Heaven and does not just apply between brethren. It illustrates how those under God’s Kingly Rule should behave towards all. It is how all judgment of others is to be approached. That is why He concludes with a warning to be aware of how they pass on their judgments on outsiders (however well intentioned), for they might have violent repercussions (Matthew 7:6). For they will find that outsiders are not as compassionate and accepting as their brother and sister disciples. But unquestionably central to His thought here is ‘judging’ a brother or sister. For one final purpose in mind is to be the assistance of that brother and sister in putting right their own lives.
Central also to Jesus thinking here is how unfit we are to be judges. How quickly we make rash judgments without discovering the true facts. We forget God’s instructions to His people which were to be followed before they acted, ‘if you shall hear tell --- then you shall enquire, and make search, and ask diligently’ and only then were they to act (Deuteronomy 13:13-14). But our tendency is to act first, often on the basis of information supplied by unreliable people (although they might not seem so at the time), and then to discover only too late (if at all) that we have made the wrong judgment.
Nor do we often know sufficient about other people’s problems and psychological difficulties to be able to judge them fairly. The American Indians had a saying, ‘never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins (shoes)’, and the great Rabbi Hillel declared, ‘Do not judge a man until you yourself have come into his circumstances or situation’. Putting it in the words of Jesus, ‘do not judge according to appearances, but judge righteous judgment’ (John 7:24).
Furthermore we are all victims of prejudice. We do not judge righteous judgment because so often we see things only from our own point of view. We overlook the fact that others see things differently, and often have a perfect right to do so. We can rightly expect our brothers and sisters to do God’s will, but we do have to make sure that what we are recommending is not in fact just our own ideas about what is God’s will.
We are reminded here of the words of a poem which is so apposite to what we are considering that we feel it worth citing,
Judge not. The workings of his heart, and of his mind, you cannot see.
What seems to your dull eyes a stain, in God’s pure eyes may only be,
A scar won on some battlefield, where you would only faint and yield.
That look, that air, that frets your sight, might be a token that below,
The soul is closed in deadly fight, with some infernal, fiery foe,
Whose look would scorch your smiling grace, and send you shuddering on your face.
And the final reason why we cannot act in judgment on others is because we are not usually in a fit state to do so. In Jesus’ words here, we have a plank in our eye. For the more we know ourselves the more we recognise that we are ‘the chief of sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15). How then can the chief of sinners pass judgment on another? What he must rather do is feel totally humbled and then use his experience of being such a sinner to help the other with no sense of superiority at all.
This general principle will now be applied by Jesus to dealings among themselves. It is to be noted that it is not a reasonable, rightly-motivated and humble ‘judgment’ that is frowned on, but a censorious, hypocritical and unloving one. The right kind of judgment, or to put it more accurately, the right kind of helpful and loving assessment of another’s need for assistance (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 in order to consider what our attitude and thoughts should be in the matter), is to be encouraged, but Jesus stresses that it is only to be after the one who seeks to offer that assistance has first indulged in a rigid self-examination of himself before God. For those who would offer assistance must first examine their own lives so as to ensure that any sins within them have been forgiven and cleansed, that anything that prevents them from seeing things in God’s light, and in the way that God wants them to look at them, have been removed from their eyes, and that their hearts are right towards all men. Jesus is saying that if we have not wept over our own sins before God we are in no state to help another.
Then they must examine what their own motives genuinely are. For as sinners themselves they are in no position to ‘pass judgment’. Rather they must ensure that their approach to another is in compassion and humility, in full recognition of their own shortcomings, ‘considering themselves lest they also be tempted’ (Galatians 6:1). They must see that they are coming as sinners to fellow-sinners, as those who fail often to one who has failed but once, not as judges to a miscreant, but as loving friends, who themselves have often fallen, to one who has slipped and fallen. And only then are they in a position to approach a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ in order to offer assistance.
How They Are To Judge Among Themselves and View Outsiders (7:1-6).
Jesus now comes to the question of judgment made about others, and especially how it should be conducted under the Kingly Rule of Heaven. The question of judgment among God’s people was always a central issue when new beginnings were in mind. It would therefore have been surprising if it was not found somewhere in this Sermon. The giving of God’s Law at Sinai and the establishing of His overlordship was preceded by the setting up of a system of justice under the guidance of Jethro (Exodus 18:13-26; Deuteronomy 1:12-18). And later God made further provision (Numbers 11:16-17). Furthermore God also gave additional guidance concerning judgment in Deuteronomy 16:18-20 when they were on the verge of entering the land in order to establish the Kingly Rule of God (1 Samuel 8:7). In the establishing of the Kingly Rule of God the approach to judgment within the congregation of Israel was obviously crucial, especially in view of the standards that has been laid down. They left open the possibility of arrogance and strict condemnation by the censorious.
Here then He introduces the principles that are to underlie judgment between His disciples under the new Kingly Rule of God, and also a final warning on how they are to approach the outside world on such matters (Matthew 7:6). Thus while they are to go to a great deal of trouble to help each other in a spirit of love, so as to remove ‘splinters’ from each others’ eyes, splinters which might prevent the light shining through (Matthew 6:22-23), they must only do so after the greatest soul-searching and putting right of all that is wrong in their own lives first, while when it comes to approaching outsiders they are to demonstrate much more tact lest all that they do is provoke a violent reaction. We need not doubt that He later expanded on all this in more detail. (See also John 7:24)
He will, for example, give further guidance on this important question of judgment in the congregation of the righteous in Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:15-20, where He will be laying down the principles on which the new ‘congregation’ which He is forming is to be established. We must also compare here Luke 6:37-42, where similar material to that found here can be discovered, but there it is in a different context and clearly from a different source of tradition, as the differences between the two accounts make clear. This should not surprise us. The importance of the subject would necessitate the continual repetition of these principles by Jesus as He moved from place to place. Note also 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 where Paul lays down how the Corinthians are to go about judging a miscreant, and see 2 Thessalonians 3:6. Paul’s idas would be based on the tradition of Jesus.
The major concern in ‘judgment’ among the brethren is to be on not being judgmental, while at the same time being concerned enough to want to help one another, but this only once they have searchingly examined themselves in order to deal with the failures in their own lives. This would apply both in official judgments by their leaders once He was no longer with them, and in private judgments among themselves. Note Jesus’ certainty that each one who is involved will have a plank in their eye which must first be dealt with. He knew them for what they were (just as He knows us for what we are). Nevertheless having assiduously removed that plank they were then to be concerned enough about their brother or sister to go about the task of removing the splinter from their eye. They were not just to pass by their need. Having first ensured their own fitness for the task by acknowledging and removing the planks in their own eyes, they were to seek to bear one another’s burdens, approaching each other in a spirit of meekness with no sense of superiority, and recognising that one day all would have to bear their own ‘great burdens’ (Galatians 6:1-5).
But a caveat had to be entered, because such teaching could be dangerous if they applied it to outsiders. Thus Jesus pauses for a moment to take that matter into account. When dealing with ‘outsiders’ (those who are not yet believers - see Mark 4:11; 1 Corinthians 5:12; Colossians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 1 Timothy 3:7) they must deal with such matters with the greatest delicacy. They must remember that outsiders have different standards and see things very differently. What to God’s people is holy and precious, and will be welcomed, is often immaterial to outsiders and may even be provocative. They must recognise that they cannot therefore approach them in the same way or judge them on the same basis as those on the ‘inside’ (compare 1 Corinthians 5:12-13), for those who are fellow-disciples have different aims and a different spiritual outlook, and a different spiritual willingness to face up to sin, as compared with those who are outside. The ‘insiders’ are fellow-workers (or sheep), but the outsiders are ‘dogs’ and ‘swine. These latter terms are not intended to be directly insulting, but are vivid pictures indicating the nature of the outsiders. Dogs ran rampant and were not controllable. They scavenged in the streets or round the city walls and often went around in packs, seemingly uncontrolled. They were thus used by Jews as an illustration of the fact that Gentiles lived without the controlling influence of the Law of God. They were like the ‘dogs’ who hung around the outside of cities without being under the control of those who were within. Furthermore to Jews ‘swine’ were ‘unclean’ animals. They were to be avoided by all good Jews. They were thus a suitable illustration of those who were not acceptable within the congregation because they were ‘unclean’. This could include Jews who were not what they should be, that is, in this case, Jews who have specifically turned away from the message of Jesus so that they had to be treated like Gentiles by having the dust of the feet shaken off against them (Matthew 10:14) demonstrating that they were ‘unclean’. Such people had to be dealt with on a totally different basis from fellow-disciples, otherwise they would simply retaliate, or trample underfoot precious things because they did not recognise their worth (e.g. Acts 13:45; Acts 18:6). For what was respected and ‘holy’ and revered among the brethren could be sen by outsiders as infernal insolence, blasphemy, or total foolishness, and could result in quick retaliation (Matthew 7:6).
This passage reveals many marks of connection with what has gone before. The lack of a connecting word has occurred previously in Matthew 6:19; Matthew 6:24 in order to indicate a change of subject. The idea of God’s being responsive to their actions is found in Matthew 5:7; Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:19; Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 6:12; Matthew 6:14-15. Compare also in this regard the promises of rewards. The move from plural to singular has been previously noted (Matthew 6:1-6; Matthew 6:16-23) and occurs again here. The idea of impaired sight is found also in Matthew 6:22-23. The description ‘brother’ is found also Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:47. The word ‘hypocrite’ is found in Matthew 6:2; Matthew 5:16. And the whole subject matter from Matthew 7:1-5 would be very necessary in view of the heavy demands that He has made on His disciples.
For the danger of aiming at high standards is that it can easily result in false pride, arrogance, and a sense of superiority, which could become like a plank in their eye, especially once some began to consider that they were doing better than others, and the need for all to help each other would also be very necessary in view of the steepness of the requirements. But the two could be incompatible. It was common sense therefore that Jesus should want to encourage His community towards humility, generosity of spirit, so that they could then render communal assistance towards each other, while remembering at the same time that the outside world would see things very differently. Not to have dealt with this subject would therefore have been a glaring omission.
a AB Do not judge, so that you are not judged, for with what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with what measure you measure, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:1-2).
b C Why do you behold the splinter that is in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3).
c C How will you say to your brother, Let me cast out the splinter from your eye, and lo, the plank is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:4).
b E You hypocrite, cast out first the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to cast out the splinter from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:5).
a Do not give what is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before the swine, lest the result is that they trample them under their feet, and turn and rend you (Matthew 7:6).
Note that in ‘a’ those who foolishly make unwise judgments about others will find that those judgments turn on them and rend them, for they themselves will be judged in the same spirit with which they judge, and in the parallel those who foolishly make unwise judgments in dealing with spiritual matters with outsiders will discover the same. In ‘b’ and parallel we see clearly reversed situations, the one putting right the other. Centrally in ‘c’ they are to make wise judgments about their own position so that they will be able to help others sensibly
And why do you behold the splinter (or ‘speck of sawdust’) that is in your brother’s eye,
But do not consider the plank that is in your own eye?
Jesus had a full understanding of the weaknesses of men. Elsewhere He says quite blatantly to His disciples, “If you then, being evil ---” (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13). There He assumes evil, even in His own disciples, for He knew to its full depths the heart of man. Here therefore He makes clear that He is well aware that even good Christian men walk around with planks, or more accurately ‘large beams’, such as hold up the roof of a building, in their eyes. In other words that they are regularly guilty of wrong behaviour and attitudes, and of seeing things wrongly, and especially in cases such as these of judging from prejudice or some other false motive, and doing so hypocritically. It is a sad truth that there is often nothing more plain to us than the faults of others, especially if we do not like them or they are rivals, while remarkably we find our own many faults very difficult to spot, because our eye is not ‘single’. We see the sins of others as being as dark as can be. But we think on the other hand, that our own failures are mere peccadilloes, and fully understandable. We ‘condone the sins we are inclined to, by damning those we have no mind to’. Ours we see as only the slightest of sins, almost no sins at all (even though they crucified Christ), while we often see the sins of others as being of deepest dye . Jesus’ point, however, is that until things are the other way round and we recognise the grossness of our own sins, and that the sin of our brother or sister is therefore the one that is the more understandable, we are in no fit state to help them. And the reason that we do not see it like that is because of the plank that is in our eye which prevents us from seeing properly. Spiritually we have defective vision. Our eye is failing to be the lamp of our body (Matthew 6:22). Thus our first move must be to get rid of that plank.
Or how will you say to your brother, Let me cast out the splinter from your eye,
And lo, the plank is in your own eye?
So He asks them to consider the folly of the person who with a great plank sticking out of his eye goes up to his brother and offers to remove the splinter from his eye. The picture is intended to be ludicrous. The plank will make the one he approaches stare at him in bemusement. For not only will the plank make the person unable to do the job, but it will hardly encourage confidence in the patient. If such a person cannot remove the plank from his eye, how on earth can he hope to remove a mere splinter? The person is thus rendered unsuitable on all counts. But Jesus is saying that that is really no more ludicrous than one man criticising another harshly. For the truth is that we need to recognise that we are all sinners together, and must therefore be mutually supportive and helpful, and if we cannot cope with dealing with our own sins how can we possibly assist another with regard to their sins?
The plank represents all the sins that prevent men from seeing clearly in spiritual matters, (which in the end means all sin, but here more specifically hypocrisy and censoriousness), because they have as a result ceased to see singly (Matthew 6:22), and are spiritually squinting. Thus the point is that if we are to help another our own lives must be attuned. The gifted musician who has been lazy, and has not practised sufficiently, may sound well and good to the layman, but to other gifted musicians, (and, if he will face up to it, also to himself), his failure will be obvious. He will not be perfectly attuned. So is it too in our spiritual lives. If we fail to pray regularly and to study God’s word, and to walk rightly with Him in all things, walking in His light and ‘keeping short accounts with God’ (1 John 1:7), it may not be immediately obvious to others, but it is something of which God and the angels will be keenly aware, and it will eventually become obvious to all men. And it renders us spiritually useless.
This is a position that we all find ourselves in time and again in our spiritual lives, and until it is put right we are in no position even to ‘judge’ others helpfully. For censoriousness and a sense of superiority and condemnation renders us immediately disqualified. There is no greater sin than harsh judgment of others, when we ourselves are forgiven sinners. To judge harshly is the greatest evidence of our own lack of fitness to help others. It is demonstrating our failure to recognise how deeply we have been forgiven (compare Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:23-35). Rather the one who would help another must do so humbly, conscious of the depths of their own failure, and therefore esteeming the other better than themselves (Philippians 2:3). (They must remember that they have just got rid of a plank from their own eye, while their brother only has a splinter). Then only will they be in a position to help the other. For our approach in such cases must always be in sympathy and love and understanding, not with a view to passing the judgment that only God can dare to pass.
Thus Jesus’ point is that until the person in question has had the plank removed from their own eye, by true repentance of all wrongdoing and of all failures to do the right, and by humbling themselves before God, and coming back to full fellowship with Him in the light (1 John 1:7), and are thus walking in humility and love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) and having been reconciled to all who have anything against them (Matthew 5:23), they are in no position to remove splinters from anyone’s eyes. To seek so to help others is to be seen as no light matter, and requires a true heart and great delicacy, something only possible to the one who is right with God on all matters, and goes about the matter fully conscious of his own sinfulness and unworthiness. For any other approach is but to bring condemnation on ourselves (Matthew 7:1-2).
Strictly the illustrations are of the beams that hold up the roofs of houses, a compared with a splinter of wood or a speck of sawdust. In those days those were familiar to all because of the ways in which their houses were constructed. We have used here the ideas of planks because for many of us these are more familiar than beams. (In the same way as the prophets spoke of heavenly things using earthly pictures which would be familiar. Communication must always be through what is understandable at the time).
You hypocrite, cast out first the plank out of your own eye,
And then you will see clearly to cast out the splinter from your brother’s eye.
So the first thing that someone who would help another should do is to undergo a strict examination of himself, otherwise he is simply a hypocrite. (For a sinner who is censorious about another sinner is nothing but a hypocrite). He must first remove the plank from his own eye so that he really can ‘see’ clearly. He must get totally right with God. He must rid himself of all censoriousness or sense of superiority. He must bring his own life into God’s light (1 John 1:7). He must own up to all his own sins, and have them cleansed by the blood of Jesus. He must then make his approach recognising that, having just received again the most enormous forgiveness, he is coming as one sinner to another, and he must believe that genuinely. He must really believe it deep inside him. It must be in heart, not just in words. And the proof that he really believes it will be his gentleness and compassion and great desire only for the good of the other, in their immediate situation as well as in the light of eternity. He will be concerned that his brother or sister comes out of it as well positioned as if they had not sinned. (How many suicides would have been avoided in the past if only this had been truly observed). And it is only one who is approaching like this who will really be in a position to assist the other in removing whatever wrongdoing there is in their lives, thus ‘removing the splinter that is in their eye’ which is preventing them from seeing their wrongdoing as God sees it.
But we must note here that this removal of the other person’s splinter is finally also a main purpose of the exercise. Jesus is not forbidding all ‘judgment’ on all matters. He is not forbidding seeing a fault and helping to put it right. Indeed He is encouraging precisely that kind of loving behaviour. What He is forbidding is wrong judgments, biased judgments and judgments made in the wrong spirit, and approaching another in the wrong spirit. He is saying that we are in no position to ‘pass judgment’ on others, but that we certainly have a huge responsibility in the matter of assessing another’s needs and then humbly helping them, while recognising that their sin is not as great as our own. Thus it is our responsibility and privilege to assist others to remove splinters from their eyes, but only once we have made absolutely sure that we ourselves are in a condition to do so, and that we are doing it in a spirit of love that is obvious both to the other and to God. For in the end it is God’s desire that both the plank in our own eye, and the splinter in the eye of another, are dealt with.
a Do not give what is holy to the dogs,
b Nor cast your pearls before the swine,
b Lest the result is that they trample them under their feet,
a And turn and rend you.
These words close down with a firm warning the major chiasmus commencing at Matthew 6:1, the sub-section chiasmus commencing at Matthew 6:19 and the passage chiasmus commencing at Matthew 7:1, each of which have been dealing with ‘what is holy’, and they lead in to what follows. They act as a warning that much of the teaching that He has been giving is for believers who have entered under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and that they should therefore be careful to whom they pass it on. And at the same time they act as an introduction to and contrast with what follows. For while what is holy is not for dogs and pigs, it certainly is for God’s holy people (1 Peter 2:9-10), the children of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 13:38), and is certainly something that must be sought unceasingly by them.
In each of the preceding passages and ‘sections’ Jesus has been revealing something of the inner ‘secrets’ of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. These have included the contents of the Lord’s Prayer, with special emphasis on their pleas in it for God’s Name to be hallowed, for His Kingly Rule to come, and His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven; His teaching concerning laying up treasure in Heaven, the need for singleness of eye, and the call to serve God and not mammon; the call to seek first the Kingly Rule of God and His righteousness; and the approach they are to adopt towards fellow believers in the matter of judgment on failure. All these are ‘holy’ matters. They are for the disciples. They refer to something that is more valuable than pearls (Matthew 13:45-46). So He now gives warning to them against their taking these holy things and offering them to those who will treat them lightly. For He points out that all that will happen if they do is that these holy things will be trodden underfoot, and unnecessary persecution may result.
They are to beware therefore of treating ‘outsiders’ in quite the same way as they treat fellow-believers, and especially outsiders who are not amenable to the Good News they bring. It is one thing to offer these things to ‘sheep’ who love the Shepherd, and of whom they can therefore be required, it is quite another to offer them to packs of dogs and herds of swine. Thus dogs and pigs must be approached differently, and they must show careful discernment in what they reveal to them and offer to them. They must not give them what is holy, they must not offer them pearls of spiritual wisdom or of spiritual guidance for insiders, which is only for those who are spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:11-16). They must not profane holy things.
As we have pointed out above, the dogs in mind in the illustration were the ones which roamed around in a semi-wild condition, often in packs, scavenging for food and living on the outskirts of society. They thus well pictured non-disciples who were ‘outside’ the new congregation of the new Israel, and especially those who made clear their desire to keep their distance and who growled when approached. Jesus may well have had in mind here the use of this term ‘dogs’ by Jews when speaking of the Gentiles, with a similar idea in mind. For they saw them as outside the control of the Law and of the living God, in the same way as dogs were outside the control of the city elders.
Swine on the other hand were seen by Jews as something to be avoided at all costs. They were ritually ‘unclean’ animals. No Jew would wish to have anything to do with them. Jesus may well therefore in this picture have had in mind those Jews who proved themselves unclean by refusing Jesus’ message. Elsewhere He says that His disciple must shake the dust of such Jews off their feet, as an indication that they were as unclean as the Gentiles (Matthew 10:14). Calling them pigs therefore would be no more insulting, but would be equally revealing. It is pointing out that they are the very opposite of what they claim to be. They prided themselves on being ‘clean’, but in fact they were revealing by their refusal to respond to Jesus an evil heart of unbelief, in other words that they were very much unclean. Thus by describing them as ‘pigs’ Jesus might well be emphasising that those Jews who did not respond to His message were those who were truly unclean. The Pharisees accused him and His disciples of being ritually ‘unclean’ because they did not follow the strict requirements of the Pharisees with regard to ritual washings. But He wanted His disciples to know that in point of fact it was they who were unclean, for uncleanness results from what is in the heart (Matthew 15:18-20; Mark 7:20-23), and their hearts had never been cleansed.
On the other hand 2 Peter 2:22 demonstrates that dogs and pigs were regularly cited together in illustrations and proverbs, being seen as equally to be avoided. So they may here only indicate those who have to be treated carefully because they are not under the Kingly Rule of Heaven and are antagonistic or indifferent towards it. Like the dogs they keep well out of the way of those who are ‘within’, and like the pigs they are unsuited for it and have no appetite for it.
So Jesus warning is that what is to be holy and precious to the disciples, the words that He has been teaching them, was not to be introduced to such people, for it would arouse wrong reactions within them. They would treat it with contempt, and reject it, and trample it under foot, and would even retaliate violently against it because of the sinfulness in their hearts. We have examples of such a reaction to ‘holy things’ in Matthew 26:68; Matthew 27:29; Luke 16:14; Acts 2:13; Acts 4:3; Acts 4:21; Acts 6:10-12; Acts 7:57-58; Acts 9:29; Acts 13:45-46; Acts 14:2; Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 17:32; Acts 18:12; Acts 19:9; Acts 19:28-29; Acts 22:22-23; Acts 26:24, and while in many of these cases it was unavoidable because it was a reaction to the preaching of the Good News, in some of these cases it resulted in the decision to cease preaching to certain people and going elsewhere in accordance with what Jesus says here.
In the near context the main idea in mind has been that of dealing with the failures of others. So the initial point that is being made is that they are not to involve outsiders in such judgments. Community judgments must be kept within the community. Furthermore, while quite clearly it is true that they are to demonstrate to ‘outsiders’ that they are sinners and in need of mercy, nevertheless they are not to have the same expectations of them as they have of fellow-believers. They are not to approach them in the same way, nor to judge them on the same basis, for they are not party to the teaching of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. Dealings with such ‘outsiders’ are thus to be on a very different basis from dealings with believers, for outsiders not only do not walk in the light, but have often turned against it. Thus they cannot be upbraided for much of their behaviour in quite the same way, and to do so may well provoke unnecessary and unwelcome retaliation, or might even result in blasphemy or their treading these holy things underfoot. In the words that they bring to such people this must always be remembered
The fierceness of wild dogs and full grown pigs, especially bad tempered boars, and sows in heat or protecting piglets, was well known. Thus they well illustrated the fierceness of men’s hearts. And it was a warning to use discernment in what they preached to whom. If we live in circumstances where we think man not so fierce we must not underestimate how much of our society today has been influenced by the areas in which we live having had their ideas shaped by Christian belief from childhood, especially if we live in areas whose lifestyles are partly based, often unconsciously, on those beliefs. But the sad fact is that there are still many parts of our society and of the world today where life is tough. And there are even more parts where the preaching of Jesus would and does arouse violent reaction. However, while there is certainly much fierceness and bitterness in the world, it should not be so amongst true Christians, (nor will it often be among those who have been influenced by them).
‘That which is holy.’ The thought here is of teachings such as those that He has been giving them, which are dear to the hearts of God’s people but which yet might seem strange to indifferent or antagonistic non-believers, especially if similar requirements were being laid on them. Such teachings were therefore best kept ‘within the fold’. His point is that there are many such spiritual truths, and many kinds of behaviour requirement, which are only for those ‘within’, (those who can compare spiritual things with spiritual - 1 Corinthians 2:13), and should not be revealed to, or expected of, those ‘without’, and Jesus is saying that we must thus use discernment in our witnessing. For those ‘without’, the central message must be that of the saving message of Christ, ‘repent for the Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand’. It must be the message of the Gospel. But we should not meanwhile seek to press on them other types of spiritual experience, nor call on them to conform to other spiritual requirements, nor expect them to understand other spiritual truths, for if we do the effect may well be off-putting, and even worse.
Some have suggested that the basis of the phrase concerning ‘giving what is holy to the dogs’ has in mind meat that has been sacrificed (and is therefore holy), and scraps of which should not then be thrown literally to the dogs, and it may well be that He had that in mind. But if that is so it is simply as an illustration of what we have just stated. He is saying ‘just as you would not throw what remains from holy sacrifices to the dogs, so must you not toss these holy things of which I have spoken to those who are not ready to receive them’. Jesus is not giving instructions about Temple procedure but preaching discernment and commonsense. And besides, however much of a reaction such an action as casting sacrificial meat to dogs might bring from Jews, such meat would hardly be unacceptable to the dogs, nor would it cause the dogs to turn on them. The principle is in fact rather that unholy and lawless people will not appreciate holy things.
It may also include a warning against continually pressing the Gospel, which is in itself essentially holy, on those who have had the full opportunity of responding to it, and have continually rejected it. For by doing so they would be in danger of bringing it into ridicule and causing people to blaspheme (e.g. Acts 13:45; Acts 19:9). We should note in this regard how Jesus told His disciples, that when they proclaimed the Gospel in a town and had persevered with it, and then found that town totally unwilling to hear them, they should turn from that town, shaking their dust from off their feet, so that they might move on to another (Matthew 10:14; Matthew 10:23). And we can compare how He Himself also eventually refused to reveal the truth to those who had despised it or were treating it lightly, such as Herod (Luke 23:9), while He had been willing to speak to an interested Pilate (John 18:33-38). Compare also Acts 18:5-7; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Titus 3:10-11. It is true that we must witness to all. But once men begin to react in blasphemy and have become hardened it does no good to continue to press the Gospel continually on them. It will only result in more blasphemy, and worse.
‘Pearls.’ That is, that which is most precious to believers, but which unbelievers would ridicule, or treat with contempt. It is a reminder that we should consider carefully the message that we present to outsiders. Pearls are regularly seen as indicating what is most precious, including the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 13:45-46) and the foundations of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:21). Thus they may also be seen as including here some of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount concerning that Kingly Rule and what is connected with it. For as well as reacting to the Lord’s Prayer, most unbelievers of those days would also, for example, have scoffed at Matthew 6:19-34. Such exhortations were best kept for believers, and revealed to outsiders through the lives of those believers, rather than through words.
We can compare Jesus’ words here in Matthew 7:5-6 with the words of Proverbs 9:8, ‘do not reprove one who is contemptuous or he will hate you, rebuke one who is wise and he will love you’. That is the lines along which Jesus is thinking, and He may well have had it in mind here.
It should be noted how well this last verse (Matthew 7:6) adequately caps off the larger part-section, paralleling and contrasting with Matthew 6:19 where the treasures on earth would be attacked by moth, rust (or rats) and thief, whereas here the misuse of spiritual treasures results in attacks on believers by dogs and swine, and how well it also parallels Matthew 7:1-2, where wrong judgments similarly result in definite repercussions. It also closes this whole section from Matthew 6:1 onwards with the warning that, while they must heed His teaching, they must remember that outsiders will not see things in quite the same way as believers. For example, to outsiders not aware of the coming of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, Jesus’ ideas about prayer and what to pray for might seem strange (and it might even be dangerous to pray ‘your Kingly Rule come’ in front of representatives of Caesar), and the idea of not laying up treasure on earth, and of trusting God for the supply of their needs, might well be seen as foolish (see Luke 16:14), while on the other hand the suggestion that the Gentiles did not do these things because they were Gentiles, or could not see God as their heavenly Father in the same way, although true, might well have been seen as infuriating.
A further lesson from this parable, with its depiction of unbelievers in terms of ‘wild animals’ may be an indication of the need for a work of the Spirit in order for such people to become believers. The only way that such ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’ could be saved would be by being humanised, and having new life put within them. We can compare here how the nations were seen as wild beasts while Israel, who did believe on the living God, were looked on as ‘human’, as the son of man (Daniel 7), and further, how Nebuchadnezzar was ‘humanised’ as a result of his repentance (Daniel 4:28-37; Daniel 7:4). But new life is what the Messiah has come to bring, the life of the coming age (John 1:12-13; John 3:1-6; John 3:16; John 5:24). So it can always be borne in mind that such a ‘humanisation’ is available from Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:12-13; John 3:1-6) even to the dogs and pigs (Matthew 7:6 above) if they repent, and thus it is that message that they must take them, not one that assumes that they are already believers.
A Ask, and it will be given to you,
B Seek, and you will find,
C Knock, and it will be opened to you.
As we have seen these words connect back to their dealings with ‘what is holy’ (Matthew 7:6). While His disciples are not to degrade what is holy by offering it to those not ready to receive it, they are to make the greatest of efforts to obtain it for themselves. The tense of the verbs indicates persistence. They are to ‘Ask and go on asking, seek and go on seeking, knock and go on knocking.’ And in response they are to know that what they ask for will be given to them, that what they seek they will find, and that as they knock on their Father’s door it will be opened to them. In other words they are to have an absolute assurance that He will give them what is holy, that is, will give them all that Jesus has been speaking about.
But the question must then be asked as to why we are given this threefold description. Certainly one reason is for emphasis and in order to indicate what should be the urgency of their requests. But we may probably also see it in terms of how a son comes to his father. When he has a need a son comes to his father and asks, and because his needs are continual it is a continual process day by day. He asks continually because of his confidence in his father’s love and because he is dependent on his father. And if he is then aware at some stage of his father’s absence he is not satisfied with just waiting for him to seek him out, but he himself seeks out his father until he finds him, for he loves his father and he cannot bear to go on too long without seeing him. Indeed he is not content until he finds him. And if he discovers that he is behind a door that he cannot open he knocks on that door until the door is opened to him. For he cannot be satisfied until he is actually with his father, and he knows that his father will be pleased to see him, because he knows that he loves him. Thus these words place great emphasis on God as their heavenly Father, One to Whom they may come as confidently and persistently as a child, something which Jesus has been building up to during the Sermon. And because they are seeking Him as their heavenly Father, it includes the persistence with which they will continue to seek both Him and His Kingly Rule, for they are personally involved in both. So Jesus says that like a child looking for his father they are to allow nothing to prevent them from coming into His presence, because, like the child looking for his father, they know how welcome they will be. Note how this indicates that such prayer is not to be just a matter of asking. It is also to be a matter of wanting to be with their Father.
We should note that the thought here is that they can, as it were, enter Heaven itself. Asking might be accomplished by a call from afar, but seeking, and especially knocking, indicate making an approach right into His presence. (Compare for the idea Luke 13:25; Revelation 3:20 in both of which the knocking is with the purpose of immediate entry). They are taking to heart the words of Isaiah 57:15, ‘For thus says the high and lofty One Who inhabits eternity, Whose name is Holy, “I dwell in the high and holy place with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones”.’ ‘So’, says Jesus, ‘He is waiting for you. Go and ask, go and seek Him, go and knock until He responds, and go on doing it again and again.’
And as Jesus has previously given a pattern of prayer they are not left in any doubt as to what they are to ask for and what it is that they are to seek. They are to ask for and seek the hallowing of His Name, the coming of His Kingly Rule and the bringing about of His will on earth (Matthew 6:9-10; Matthew 6:33). These are the ‘good things’ that they are to ‘seek first before anything else on earth’ (Matthew 6:33), and in Luke we find this related to the Holy Spiritas at present available to the disciples(Luke 11:13), something which Matthew also assumes on the basis of Matthew 3:11. In other words they are to seek the successful establishment through themselves of the Messianic age by means of the Holy Spirit with Whom Jesus has drenched them (Matthew 3:11). And this is something which goes along with His giving to them the gift of His Kingly Rule present on earth as a gift for those who come to Him, along with the gift of His inworked righteousness as promised by Isaiah (for in Matthew we are at this stage in the middle of the Isaiah quotations, see introduction). And that is why they are greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11). And along with these greater gifts we may also see the gifts promised in the beatitudes, and the ‘rewards’ and ‘recompense’ which are promised throughout the Sermon. God is no man’s debtor. All God’s true riches are theirs (Ephesians 2:6) if only they will pray and seek His face continually and walk as in His presence. These are the ‘good things’ that He will give them.
The idea of knocking as indicating prayer is also found in Rabbinic teaching, but not in the same context as the thought of a son coming to his heavenly Father. It is, however, there also an indication of an awareness that God does wish us to be insistent in the right way. Thus in the Talmud we read of Mordecai as ‘knocking at the gates of mercy’, indicating his sense of urgency and his confidence that God will hear him.
We can compare here also Luke 11:5-13. There the lesson is that they were to knock in order to receive the bread of the age to come, the Holy Spirit. The disciples are therefore left in no doubt as to what the source of their strength must be. But here the knocking is even more intimate, for it is knocking at the Father’s easily opened door.
We should note here that the reason that we have to pray is not in order to persuade God to do what He is unwilling to do, but so that we might rather have a part in it, and so that we might come to know Him better as we work together with Him. It is so that we might have the privilege of having a share in the fulfilment of His eternal purposes, so that in the ages to come great glory might be brought to His Name because of what He has accomplished through His people. God intends to do it with or without us, but He also intends to do it through the loving and earnest participation of those who love Him. That has always been His way. That is the story of the Scriptures. He uses earthen vessels through the greatness of His power so that the glory might be His (2 Corinthians 4:7). Ours is the privilege to share in it with Him, and if we refuse to have our part in it, ours alone will be the loss.
The Means By Which the Law and the Prophets Will Be Fulfilled In The Coming Of The Messianic Age Through The Prayers Of His People (7:7-12).
Having outlined in some depths the Messianic interpretation of the Law and some of the ‘holy teachings’ connected with it, Jesus now explains to His disciples how they can obtain the means by which to fulfil it. He had made clear that their righteousness had to exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). To some extent how they can exceed the righteousness of the Scribes (the teachers of the Law) has been explained in Matthew 5:20-48 by His reinterpretation and expansion of the Law, and how they can exceed that of the Pharisees (those rigid if often hypocritical adherents to that Law) has been explained in Matthew 6:1 to Matthew 7:6. It was, however, one thing to receive guidance as to how they should live, it would be quite another for them to actually achieve it. So Jesus will now show them how to do that. It will be:
By constant prayer to their heavenly Father for what is holy.
By themselves treasuring the pearls that He has sent them, and will give them, as gifts from their Father.
By their constantly spending time in His presence, asking, seeking, knocking.
And by the subsequent reception of the good things of the Messianic age into which they have entered, which will all come from God as He provides for them as a Father provides for His children.
In terms of Luke 11:13 this includes the power of the Holy Spirit, Who along with Jesus Christ Himself is the greatest gift of all. And later we will also learn that it will include the power of the risen Christ (Matthew 28:20). It is true that the Holy Spirit is not mentioned here, but Matthew has already made clear that the drenching with the Holy Spirit is an essential part of Jesus’ Messianic ministry (Matthew 3:11; compare Matthew 12:18; Matthew 12:28), and that as an introduction to what follows in his Gospel. So His presence within them can be assumed, for it was that that John the Baptist had promised that the Messiah would do. Thus Matthew’s emphasis is on the presence of Jesus with His people as the baptiser in the Holy Spirit. That is why in Matthew 28:20 it is the continuing presence of Jesus with His disciples, as the baptiser in the Holy Spirit (note the connection with what is probably the institution of baptism into the Name, which itself emphasises the gift of the Holy Spirit), that he mentions.
So the purpose of this small section is to offer His disciples something beyond price (Matthew 13:45). They have learned much about their heavenly Father’s goodness (Matthew 5:45; Matthew 5:48), and how they can pray to Him (Matthew 6:9), and come secretly into His presence (Matthew 6:6), and trust Him for full provision as they seek His Kingly Rule and the working of His righteousness (Matthew 6:26; Matthew 6:32-33). But that has all been building up to what He will now reveal. For having spoken of not giving ‘that which is holy’ to the wrong people, He will now explain how that which is holy’ can come as a gift to them, and at the same time He will deal with something that is most holy of all, and that is that as sons of their heavenly Father they are privileged to enter right into His presence, that is, into Heaven itself (Isaiah 57:15).
We should note in this regard how this passage, which at first appears to be a command disconnected from the context, does in fact directly connect back to Matthew 7:6 as the antecedent to ‘it’. There He had spoken of ‘what is holy’ (which in fact summed up Matthew 6:1 to Matthew 7:5), now He tells them that while it is true that their antagonists will reject such things when they are offered, they themselves are to seek what is holy with all their hearts. They are to go on asking that it might be given to them, they are to go on seeking until they find it, they are to go on knocking until the door is opened to them. For it is ‘what is holy’ that will enable them, both in their lives and in their witness, to be what they ought to be. And in asking, they can be absolutely sure that they will receive because they are His sons.
We might see this more clearly if we select from Jesus’ words and present them together, for the danger of splitting up His teaching into passages is that we can sometimes lose the continuity between passages. Thus Matthew 7:6-7 reads, ‘do not give (dowte) what is holy to dogs -- ask and it will be given (dothesetai) to you’, for as He will then point out, it is such good things that their Father wants to give them. (This abrupt use of a command without a conjunction is typical of this last part of the Sermon. See Matthew 6:19; Matthew 7:1; Matthew 7:6 and compare the first part of the Lord’s Prayer with the second). So what they must not offer to dogs because it is so holy is precisely what they themselves must seek to receive from their heavenly Father.
And in speaking of this, something of what He has spoken about all too briefly will now be emphasised and brought home to them so that they might have the confidence to go forward in fulfilling His will as laid down in the Sermon. For they will now be made aware of their great privilege, that they can, as it were, enter right into His Dwellingplace.
We should note that we again have here the ‘divine Passive’, for ‘It shall be given you’ means, ‘your Father will give you it’, and so on. Thus the idea here is that they can ask of Him the things He delights to give them, they can seek His presence continually and find the holy things that He has for them, they can knock on His door, and be sure that He will open His door to them and invite them into His heavenly presence (compare Luke 11:5-8 in a similar context). They can enter into His holy place (Isaiah 57:15), where He will provide to them what is holy. And they can thus be confident of a Father’s response, a Father Who desires only to do them good and give them what is ‘good’ and what is ‘holy’.
(How pleased we should be that He does not always give us what we ask. How wrong of Him that would be. For He wants only to give us what is eternally for our good, and we so often want what is eternally for our harm).
And the result will be they can know that all the good things which He has promised to them, will be freely bestowed on them.
Some see this passage as not connected with what has gone before, but that is to miss the connection with, and change of direction from, Matthew 7:6 that we have described above. For the whole emphasis here is that while what is holy must not be given to dogs and pigs, it is certainly to be sought most earnestly by those who love Him. And the sudden abrupt change of emphasis forcibly brings home the distinction. It is in fact putting the cap on all that He has said about their heavenly Father. ‘Do not give -- ask and it will be given to you’. Here is what can actually happen when they enter their inner room (Matthew 6:6). Here is the recompense that they can receive. And once they have received all the ‘good things’ that He has for them, they will then be enabled to do to others what they would have them do to them, thus fulfilling the Law and the Prophets.
These verses also conclude the central portion of the Sermon which can be entitled the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17; Matthew 7:12). And because they are so important as capping the whole, before we look at the verses in detail, we must first briefly recapitulate the whole portion.
Recapitulation of THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.
a Jesus declared that He had come to fulfil the Law or the Prophets, and in view of His Messianic appearance as the Coming One, which was part of their fulfilment, He called for the total fulfilment of the remainder, in all its aspects, in the lives of His disciples, and this as against the limited and distorted fulfilment required by the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:17-20).
b He outlined five expansions and fuller explanations of the Law, each following the pattern ‘you have heard that it was said --- but I say to you --’, stressing the inner meaning of each Law, and calling for their fulfilment. He was not describing rules to be obeyed, so much as a way of life to be followed, and by it He was exhorting His disciples to be true sons of their Father, and be perfect as He is. And this leads up to His stress on the benevolence of their Father, and His perfection in love (Matthew 5:17-43).
b He outlined seven warnings concerning men’s outlook on life, the first four relating to the need for their religious observance, connected with almsgiving, prayer and fasting, with a stress on the need for them to be genuinely Godward so that they might know their Father’s presence. And these were followed by the next three which were related to the need for a positive approach towards the use of wealth, which they must store in Heaven, in their Father’s holy place; a positive approach towards the Kingly Rule of God and the experiencing of His righteousness as they enjoyed provision from their Father; and a positive approach towards helpful judgment which will result in assisting family members to achieve His aims, ending with the exclusion of outsiders (who have no place in the Kingly Rule of Heaven).
a The promise then is that if they seek their heavenly Father with all their hearts with a view to receiving what is holy, so that by that means they might be enabled to achieve His aims - persistently asking, seeking and knocking so as to enjoy His presence - then they can be sure that their heavenly Father will grant them the ‘good things’ (the Holy Spirit - Luke 11:13) necessary in order to achieve all that He requires, for it is His delight as their Father that they should receive all the good things that He has for them. This is finally how the fulfilment of the Messianic aims will be achieved, as they go out as their Father’s sons (Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:45; Matthew 7:9-11), in order to do to others what they would have them do to them, thus fulfilling the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:7-12), and by it pleasing their Father as Jesus had (Matthew 3:17).
Note that in ‘a’ He promised the fulfilment of the Law or the Prophets, and in the parallel He explains how it will be fulfilled as they enjoy their Father’s presence, while in ‘b’ and its parallel are outlined what is involved for them in terms of that fulfilment under His hand.
As well as demonstrating the means by which the Law and the Prophets will be fulfilled, these verses must also be seen as connecting back to the Lord’s Prayer. It is difficult to see how Jesus could have exhorted prayer in this context without it being intended that His disciples should refer back to that (in the same way as similar words in Luke 11 similarly refer back to the Lord’s Prayer). Here He has in mind that they are to pray for ‘what is holy’, that is, for what is included in the Lord’s Prayer; the hallowing of God’s Name by His effective working in men’s hearts, the coming in of the Kingly Rule of God by His establishing His righteousness within men (Matthew 6:33), and the bringing in of the doing of His will, which would result from both. These are some of the things for which they are to ‘ask, and go on asking, until they receive, seek and go on seeking until they find, and knock and go on knocking until it is opened to them’.
As seen above ‘asking’ in order to be given looks back to Matthew 7:6. We may then also refer ‘seek and go on seeking’ not only to their seeking their Father’s presence, but also to their ‘seeking first His Kingly Rule and His righteousness’ in their prayers as in Matthew 6:33. For both go together. They seek their Father and they seek His Kingly Rule. In finding One they find the other. He is only Father to those who come under His Kingly Rule. Thus what Jesus is exhorting here is that they learn to enjoy His Father’s presence in the same way as He Himself has, and that they engage in unceasing and continuing prayer for the establishing of their Father’s Rule and the exaltation of God and His will, just as He does. In other words that they seek with His divine assistance, and in oneness with Him, the successful establishment of the Messianic age (Matthew 28:18-20).
Analysis of Matthew 7:7-11.
a Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7).
b For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (Matthew 7:8).
c Or what man is there of you, who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone (Matthew 7:9).
c Or if he will ask for a fish, will give him a snake? (Matthew 7:10).
b If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children (Matthew 7:11 a).
a How much more will your Father who is in heaven, give good things to those who ask him? (Matthew 7:11 b).
Note how in ‘a’ we have the call for persistent prayer and seeking of their Father’s presence, while in the parallel is the certainty of their heavenly Father’s reply in the giving of good things to His ‘sons’. In ‘b’ we have the assurance of a reply to their requests and to their seeking, which can be paralleled with their generosity towards their own children. Centrally in ‘c’ we learn of the impossibility of a good father refusing reasonable requests for true sustenance.
A For every one who asks receives,
B And he who seeks finds,
C And to him who knocks it will be opened.
And as they persevere in prayer for the coming of His Kingly Rule and the power of His Holy Spirit, along with all His other precious gifts, they will ask and will receive, they will seek and find His presence and all that He has promised them, they will knock and His door will be opened to welcome them and to give them His provision (compare Hebrews 10:19-23). It should be noted that this is not a suggestion that they may receive whatever they ask for regardless of what it is. There is nothing selfish about what they are to seek here. For the context limits its significance to ‘what is holy’, to what His own prayer provided for them as the basis for their asking, and to the other gifts offered throughout His Sermon. But what could be greater than those? Indeed what is requested there should be our chief concern. That is why He taught them the Lord’s Prayer (it comes in the same context in Luke where it is connected to similar words to these), and that is why He promised them gifts and rewards. For the whole aim behind all this is that they might come to know the Father more really and intensely, might carry forward His will, and might have real confidence in Him.
Or what man is there of you,
Who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf,
Will give him a stone;
Or if he will ask for a fish,
Will give him a serpent?
He then gives them examples in order to strengthen their faith and confidence in their Father. God is their heavenly Father, so let them first consider what an earthly father would do. What earthly father, if asked for bread would give a stone to his son? We have already seen how stones can be likened to the small round loaves baked by the Jews (Matthew 4:3). What a callous father it would be who would give a stone to his hungry son, pretending that it was bread. Or what earthly father, if asked for a fish would give him a snake that looks at first sight like an edible fish (probably the snake-like catfish of the Sea of Galilee) but is far from being so? The answer in both cases is that such a thing is totally beyond belief. Even more so is it then beyond belief with their heavenly Father.
It may be significant that both the false gifts can be associated with Satan. Perhaps Jesus had in mind here what had been offered to Him when He was praying. It was Satan who offered stones to Jesus instead of bread (Matthew 4:3), and it was as the Serpent of old (Revelation 12:9) that he came to Him on the high mountain offering Him good things, such gifts as honour, and prestige and power. Such gifts come from Satan not the Father. The Father has only good things to give to His children, not the baubles of the world. Alternately the ‘snake’ may have indicated an eel, which being ‘unclean’ a Jewish son should not eat.
If you then, being evil,
Know how to give good gifts to your children,
How much more will your Father who is in heaven,
Give good things to those who ask him?
And thus they are to recognise that if they, with all their imperfections, can behave so faithfully towards their sons, how much more certain it is that their heavenly Father will give the good things of the Messianic age to those who are truly His sons when they ask Him persistently, seek Him earnestly, and knock confidently and continually on His door because they are so eager to meet with Him. And by this means they will be provided with all the strength and ability that they will need in order to successfully ‘seek first the Kingly Rule of God’, and to ‘seek His righteousness’, and in order to be able to fulfil His commandments in the way that Jesus has outlined, for in Matthew 7:12 He summarises all those commandments in one sentence.
‘If you then being evil.’ We must neither overstate the meaning of this, nor underestimate it. The strict intention is to stress man’s sinfulness over against God’s perfection. The point is that if weak and failing sinful man can behave well towards his son, how much more will a perfect and loving heavenly Father Who has infinite power behave well towards His sons. Thus once again the purpose is to accentuate that they are now dealing with their heavenly Father.
However, in saying this we should note that the Old Testament does clearly depict the sinfulness of man as being so from his very beginning. David could say, ‘I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me’ (Psalms 51:5), and while it is true that this may have been because he was suffering under deep conviction of sin because of his adulterous and murderous behaviour, it cannot be denied that it demonstrated a sense of his having been in some way connected with sin from birth. We can also compare the words of Psalms 58:3, ‘the wicked are estranged from the womb, they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies’. There too wrongdoing is clearly traced right back to the beginning of life. Thus the sense is clearly given in both cases that how we behave now, can be traced back to the womb. And that is why in Psalms 14:1-3 (repeated in Psalms 53:1-3) we have an all inclusive statement concerning man’s sinfulness, ‘There is none who does good. YHWH looked down from heaven on the children of men, to see if there were any who understood (or ‘dealt wisely’), who sought after God, they are all gone aside, they are together become defiled, there is none who does good, no not one’. Compare also, ‘there is not a righteous man on earth who does good, and does not sin’ (Ecclesiastes 7:20). The universality of both these statements reveals that in all cases it must go back to the condition in which a man was born, for otherwise it would not apply to all.
‘Your Father in heaven.’ Note the ‘your’. As we have noted previously Jesus depicts Him as the Father of those who have come under the Kingly Rule of Heaven and have responded to Jesus, and are thus, as His ‘sons’, seeking to be peacemakers and to be perfect like He is in the loving of their enemies (Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:44-48). It is those who are like that, and those alone, who can with confidence pray these prayers for the Messianic Rule to triumph, and can come confidently into His presence.
‘Good things.’ As we have already seen this includes the Holy Spirit at work through them, and all that is offered in the beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer and the remainder of the Sermon. And along with these come many other spiritual blessings, as spoken of, for example, in Romans 8:28, where it includes all that contributes to their salvation; Romans 10:15, where it is the ‘good things’ of salvation; Matthew 12:6-8, where a number of good things are described; Hebrews 9:11, where Christ as High Priest will minister to them ‘good things’; Hebrews 10:1, where the old offerings were shadows of the ‘good things’ to come, and so on. There is no limit to the heavenly blessings that God can bring to us.
Thus as we come to the end of the main section of the Sermon we can now do so on a high note. For because they can live in the presence of their heavenly Father, living in continual communion with Him (‘pray without ceasing’), and because of the ‘good things’ with which He has blessed them, including the Holy Spirit, they can now go forward to live to please Him (compare Galatians 2:20). And ‘therefore’ they will be able to do what Matthew 7:12 says.
All things therefore whatever you would that men should do to you,
Even so do you also to them,
For this is the law and the prophets.
‘Therefore.’ This connecting word makes clear the connection of this verse, both with the previous verses, and with the whole of the central part of the Sermon commencing at Matthew 5:17. For by fulfilling this verse they will be fulfilling all God’s manward commandments, and it is made possible for them because they have received the drenching of His Spirit and have entered into the Messianic age. (Compare how Matthew 7:6 also applied to the local context and to the wider context, as did Matthew 5:48).
Note that the ‘therefore’ indicates that it is precisely because they can expect to receive God’s good things that they can consider living such a life, and by doing so fulfil all that Jesus has been commanding them, just as it is because we have received the crucified and risen Christ that we also can do so (Romans 6:4; Galatians 2:20).
Here Jesus is claiming that He is summing up the demands of the Law and the Prophets in respect of behaviour towards others in terms of ‘doing to men what we would wish them to do to us’ (compare Matthew 22:40 where they are to love their neighbours as themselves, in accordance with Leviticus 19:18). He is saying that this is what the Law really intended. But even these words can be interpreted in different ways. We can action them either actively or passively (positively or negatively). It is the whole context of the Sermon that indicates that we have to interpret them actively, and it is that that is the main difference between the disciple of Jesus and the moral person who, while agreeing with the principle, puts a limit on how far he or she is willing to go.
Consideration of these words almost always solve any moral dilemma that we may have when facing difficult decisions. For while we certainly have to remember the differences between ourselves and others, if our aim is to behave towards them in the same spirit as we would wish them to behave towards us we will not go far wrong. But Jesus does not intend us just to stop there. He is declaring that we must positively look around for the good that we can do (while not on the other hand simply making ourselves a nuisance. We must not unnecessarily impose on people with our good works).
It is true that the basic idea behind these words is found in many cultures, but never as spoken quite so positively, without refinement, as here, and especially as here they must be interpreted in the light of the Sermon. They are to be seen as promulgating the total self-giving revealed in it. Thus the oft-cited and thoughtful words of Rabbi Hillel, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole Law, all the rest is commentary’, which Jesus may well have meditated on and expanded on here, would not if followed in the way that most people would see it, go as far as Jesus wants us to do here. It is one thing not to behave badly towards others, it is quite another to behave positively towards them in every way. Many in Matthew 25:35-40 had done no positive harm to Christ’s ‘brothers’, but they still came under His condemnation, because they had done nothing. He makes clear that it was positive action alone that revealed the true disciples. And what stands out in Jesus’ statement here is that same demand for positive action.
However, in the end the words can only take us so far. It is how we apply them that makes all the difference. And here Jesus is requiring us to apply them to the uttermost as He did Himself. He is expecting His followers to make huge positive contributions towards the needs of the world. For the words are not there to be admired, or philosophised over, but to be obeyed.
a Enter you in by the narrow gate,
b For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction,
b And many are those who enter in by it,
a For narrow is the gate, and hemmed in is the way, that leads to life,
a And few are those who find it.
Jesus commences with the command to ‘enter by the narrow gate’. As elsewhere He speaks of ‘enteringthe Kingly Rule of Heaven’ we may probably be seen as intended to see the one as resulting in the other (Matthew 5:20; Matthew 7:21; Matthew 18:3; Matthew 19:23-24; John 3:5; compare Matthew 11:12). The ideas of ‘life’ and of the Kingly Rule of Heaven tend to go together (see Matthew 25:34 with 46; Matthew 19:16-17 with 23, 24).
The emphasis on the narrowness of the gate indicates that it is for the comparatively few, and that those who choose it must expect to find themselves with relatively few companions. It is not a gate to which men will be flocking. Being narrow it must be entered one at a time. Nor is it easy to find (only those who seek will find it - Matthew 7:7-8, compare Matthew 6:33) and only those who are in earnest and determined, and responsive to His words will do so. But if they wish to find life it is that gate by which they must enter.
The alternative is the wide gate and the broad way. That is where they will find the crowds. It is the popular way and does not have to be found. It is obvious to all. It is the way most people have chosen, for it is totally unrestricted, and on it you can think what you like, believe what you like, and do what you like, and there is plenty of room on it for all. But there is one problem connected with it. It leads to ‘destruction’.
Note on Destruction.
‘Destruction’ (apowleia) is, in the sense used in this verse, found only here in Matthew (it is used in Matthew 26:8; Mark 14:4 of the ‘waste’ which resulted from pouring the valuable ointment on Jesus’ head instead of giving it to the poor). But it is found in Acts 8:20, where Peter tells Simon, ‘your money be in Destruction (Perdition) with you’; in Acts 25:16 where it simply means ‘to be put to death’; in Romans 9:22 where the vessels of wrath are fitted to Destruction; in Philippians 1:28 where it is the opposite of salvation; in Philippians 3:19 where it is the destiny of those whose god is their belly; in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 where the Man of Sin is also ‘the son of Destruction’; in 1 Timothy 6:9 where the desire for riches results in foolish and hurtful longings which drown men in ruin (olethros) and Destruction (apowleia); in Hebrews 10:9 where those who draw back in the face of persecution do so ‘to Destruction’; in 2 Peter 2:1 where ‘heresies of Destruction (such as denying the Lord Who bought them), result in swift Destruction for them; in the following verse in 2 Peter 2:2 where their ways are ways of Destruction; in Matthew 2:3 where their Destruction is fast approaching; in 2 Peter 3:7 where the heavens and the earth are ‘reserved to fire against the day of judgment and Destruction of ungodly men’; 2 Peter 3:16 where those who are unlearned and unstable wrest the Scriptures to their own Destruction; in Revelation 17:8 where the beast who arises from the abyss is about to go into Destruction (to be cast alive into the lake of fire - Revelation 19:20); and in Revelation 17:11 where again the beast is to go into Destruction. Compare also the use of the cognate verb apollumi in Matthew 10:28; Matthew 18:11; Matthew 18:14. But it is also used regularly simply of dying, compare Roman Matthew 6:23. (In Plato’s work on immortality the use of apollumi clearly represents total annihilation).
‘Destruction’ is paralleled with Hades in Jewish literature such as Psalms of Solomon Matthew 14:9 where it says that, ‘their inheritance is Hades and darkness and Destruction, and they will not be found in the day when the righteous find mercy’. And the same idea (although in LXX not apowleia) is found in Psalms 16:10, where there is also a contrast of destruction with ‘life’ (Matthew 7:11). The contrast between life and apoleia is also found in the Psalms of Solomon Matthew 9:9 (Matthew 7:5), ‘he who does righteousness lays up life for himself with the Lord, and he who does wrong forfeits his life to destruction’; and in Matthew 13:9 (Matthew 7:11), ‘for the life of the righteous will be for ever, but sinners will be taken away into destruction’.
Thus ‘Destruction’ indicates the awful end of the ‘unrighteous’, those who do not respond to God and His will.
End of note.
The narrow gate and hemmed in (restricted) way on the other hand leads to life. It is narrow, and demanding, and ‘hemmed in’ because of the troubles that they will face on it, and because those in it are not free to do just whatever they like. Their choice is restricted. They must do the will of the Father. But it is the only way that leads to life. Thus they must choose which way they will take.
Later in Matthew entry into ‘life’ is contrasted with being cast into everlasting fire or Gehenna (Matthew 18:8-9). It is spoken of as referring to ‘eternal life’, the ‘life of the age to come’, both in the rich young man’s eyes (Matthew 19:16) and in the words of Jesus (Matthew 19:29 compare Matthew 7:17; Matthew 25:46). Both are there referring to entry into the eternal kingdom.
The poet spoke of a high way, and a low way, and an ‘in between’ way on the ‘misty flats’, which was neither the one nor the other. But in Jesus’ eyes those on that ‘in between’ way are in the broad way. For the basic fact is that every man is either in the narrow and afflicted way or he is not. And that way is the way of obedience (Isaiah 30:21). It is the way of doing the will of His Father Who is in Heaven (Matthew 7:21).
So all must choose the gate by which they will enter and the way that they will take, whether the popular gate of man’s choosing, where anything goes, or the narrow gate of repentance and entry under the kingly Rule of Heaven, which must result in walking in God’s way as revealed by Jesus in this Sermon.
It is doubtful if we are intended to fill in the picture by deciding where the gates and ways, when looked on from a practical earthly point of view, lead (compare Isaiah 35:8), for Jesus may not have had any particular picture in mind. On the other hand it may well be that the idea of the broad gate and way did come from His own year by year memory of the pilgrims pouring joyously through the wide gates of Jerusalem on the road from Jericho, and sweeping towards the Temple, towards what they saw as the place where they could meet God, the place which was the centre of their life. They gave a great impression then of religious fervour and honesty. But the majority of them would never submit to Jesus and would therefore never find that life. Their religion was skin deep. In this case the narrow gate might be the wicket gate only used when the large gates were shut, and used especially in time of war when individuals would slip in and out, and it would open the way for those who entered into a place of affliction and tribulation. But this is all surmise.
However, what the narrow gate does indicate is the full response to Jesus of those who enter. They enter because they have heard His words. And the narrow way is the way of tribulation and worldly trouble which results from taking up their cross and following Him. It might also be seen as the way into God’s presence as described in Matthew 7:7-8, as they seek Him and knock.
So what is really to matter to His listeners is as to where the ways lead. They lead finally to life or destruction. What they do indicate is an individual choice that has to be made for those who would enter the narrow gate, and a facing up to the need for a continuation in the way that they have chosen. This indicates the necessity for perseverance, and the recognition that such a way will not be easy (compare Matthew 16:24-25).
There is also disagreement as to whether the gates in question open into the ways, or whether they are at the end of the ways (e.g. the gates of Hades - Matthew 16:18). The order of the words strongly suggests the former, in which case the narrow gate is the gate of commitment to following Jesus and to walk in His way, and to enter under the Kingly Rule of God, but it is not conclusive enough to have convinced everyone. However, the importance that Christians later put on this general idea possibly comes out in the fact that later they were called the people of The Way (Acts 9:2; Acts 18:25-26; Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14; Acts 24:22).
We cannot finish commenting on these words without stressing how important it is for each one of us to enter through the narrow gate of commitment to Christ, and to walk in the ‘pressurised’ way, the way of doing the will of God.
Exhortation to Choose the Right Way and Produce Good Fruit by Full Obedience to His Words So As To Enter Into Life and Avoid Destruction (7:13-27).
We now move on to the application part of the Sermon, and we soon find that it is applied with a punch. For from here to Matthew 7:27, in contrast with His opening words in Matthew 5:3-16, where it was solely God acting in blessing on His people that was emphasised, Jesus now puts what He has said against the background, first of calls to life (Matthew 7:13-14; Matthew 7:21), and then of warnings concerning the final judgment (Matthew 7:19; Matthew 7:23; Matthew 7:26-27). For in the end all must be adjudged in the light of ‘that day’ (Matthew 7:22). And He is calling them to a positive decision in the face of it, with a warning of what will result if they respond negatively. Thus having commenced the Sermon with huge encouragement, He now ends it with grim warning. And the question that each of His listeners would now have to face was how they would respond to it.
This final passage opens and closes with choices to be made between two options, the first example in Matthew 7:13-14 demanding a choice of which gate to enter and which path to tread, and the final one demanding that they consider which foundation they will build on. And the stern warning is given in each case that while one of those choices will lead to life and security, the other will lead to final death and destruction.
And the central thesis of the whole passage is that men will be judged by the fruits that they reveal, whether in ministry or in life (compare Matthew 12:36 and often). This too is presented in terms of differing alternatives, although in this central portion the emphasis is mainly on the wrong alternative which must be avoided. Thus:
False prophets will come who are like wolves dressed up as sheep. They are to be avoided.
There are good trees and bad trees. The bad will be destroyed.
Not all may enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven, but only those who do the will of the Father in Heaven.
Men will do things in His Name but will not be ‘known’ by Him because they work iniquity.
Not all who call Him ‘Lord, Lord’ will be accepted, for some will enter because they do His Father’s will, while others will be told to depart because they did not.
In the chiasmus of the whole sermon the themes here parallel those at the beginning:
His disciples being the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16) parallels the need to enter by the narrow gate and walk in the pressurised and afflicted way (Matthew 7:13-14).
The persecution of the true prophets, and the coming persecution of His disciples on the same basis (Matthew 5:10-12), is paralleled with the need to reject false prophets whose fruit will reveal them for what they are (Matthew 7:15-23).
The beatitudes, which are the foundation on which their lives are built if they are true disciples (Matthew 5:3-9), are paralleled with the need to choose between two foundations so as to ensure that they are based on those foundations (Matthew 7:24-27).
We will now consider the analysis of this section.
Analysis of Matthew 7:13-27.
a Two ways are now open before men and they must choose either the one or the other. One lead to destruction, and the other leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).
b They are to beware of false prophets who will lead them astray, they will be known by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-16 a).
c Things that grow reveal their nature by the fruits that they produce. Those which are good produce good fruit, but those which are not produce inedible fruit, and are cut down and burned (Matthew 7:16-19).
d By their fruits the quality of trees are known (Matthew 7:20).
c It is not by saying ‘Lord, Lord’ that a man or woman enters the Kingly Rule of Heaven, but by the doing of the will of the Messiah’s Father in Heaven (Matthew 7:21).
b For there will be many false prophets, false exorcisers and false wonder-workers who will use His Name, to whom He will declare that He never knew them, and whom He will cast forth as workers of iniquity (Matthew 7:22-23).
a There are two ways open to men, the one of obedience and the other of disobedience, those who follow the one are like a man who builds his house on rock whose house will continue on, and those who follow the other are like a man who builds his house on sand and his house goes to destruction (Matthew 24:27).
We note that in ‘a’ there is the choice of two options, and one lead to life and the other to destruction, and the same applies in the parallel. In ‘b’ comes the warning against false prophets, and in the parallel His judgment on false prophets. In ‘c’ trees are revealed by their fruits and in the parallel so are men and women. Centrally in ‘d’ all is known by its fruit.
The Warning Against False Prophets (7:15).
In Matthew 5:10-12 the disciples were seen as prophetic men, and on that basis Jesus expected them to be persecuted for His Name’s sake. But wherever there are such prophetic men, false prophets will also arise making even greater claims and seeking to muscle in on the success of others. So here in parallel with Matthew 5:10-12 in the overall chiasmus of the Sermon, He now deals with prophets who will not be persecuted for His sake, because they are false prophets. For as Jesus knew, that is in the nature of man. In the Old Testament Moses anticipated the arising of false prophets from the beginning who were to be severely dealt with lest they led the people astray (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; Deuteronomy 18:19-22), and the persecution of the prophets was later regularly connected with the opposition of such false prophets (Isaiah 9:15; Isaiah 25:7; Jeremiah 5:31; Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 8:10; Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 23:16-17; Jeremiah 27:14-15), thus the idea that God’s truth would regularly be opposed by ‘false prophets’ became the norm. That is why we must see it as quite to be expected that Jesus would recognise the danger of ‘false prophets’ arising now that He was Himself ministering as a prophet and would be sending out His own prophetic men, and would even possibly recognise that they were already at work. Indeed, He must have recognised that some of these very men who were listening to Him might turn out to be false prophets, and moreso as their numbers grew.
It is sometimes stated that to speak of false prophets in this way would have been an anachronism. However, such a statement is unjustified. In Antiquities 13:11:2 Josephus describes how, well before the time of Jesus, Judas the Essene had called himself a ‘false prophet’ because he had prophesied the death of Antigonus and it had not happened. While Josephus goes on to say that on Antigonus’ sudden death ‘the prophet was thrown into disorder’ Thus Josephus too could speak of prophets and false prophets in respect of the not too distant past.
Indeed the kind of people Jesus had in mind are defined in Matthew 7:22, they preach and even possibly foretell, they cast out evil spirits, they perform ‘wonders’, and as is demonstrated there, some even do it in the name of Jesus. It is easy for us to get the idea that in 1st century AD only John the Baptist were around to be seen as ‘prophets’, but there is good reason for thinking that that was not so. We can tend to overlook the fact that a number of Jewish wonder-workers and exorcisers were wandering around at this time, some of whom could attach themselves to Jesus name (see Acts 19:13; and compare Acts 13:6), and even possibly become disciples. There may well have been a number of such in unorthodox Galilee, some of whom could easily have attached themselves to Jesus, whether genuinely or with false motives (consider Luke 9:49-50). And there is no reason to doubt that men would look on such people as ‘prophets’ and deeply respect them (like some tend to respect faith healers today). Josephus would later speak of ‘Theudas’ and ‘the Egyptian’, two self-proclaiming ‘wonder workers’ who appeared in Palestine, as ‘prophets’. And Jesus no doubt saw that some who did attach themselves to His name could well become a danger to His followers once He Himself had moved on elsewhere. They might then well appear to some of the people to be a place to look to for advice (as no doubt some looked for advice to the man described in Luke 9:49-50). Agabus, an early Christian foreteller from Jerusalem, was called a prophet, and was one of a number (Acts 11:27-28), and we must ask, from where did these Christian Jews get the title? The probability would seem to be that it initially arose from an already exiting background of seeing seemingly spiritually gifted people as ‘prophets’. The name was then later applied both to some who were officially appointed (1 Corinthians 12:29) and to some who had a charismatic gift (1 Corinthians 14). But it seems reasonable to suggest that it first arose from the original Jewish background, especially as we can compare with this use of the term ‘prophet’ the ease with which the Galilean crowds began to call Jesus a prophet. Again it was simply because a part of their background caused them to express such a view about an inspired teacher, exorciser and wonder-worker. Furthermore in Matthew 10:42 Jesus appears to be likening his disciples to prophets and wise men. Possibly the difference there was that some performed wonders, while others simply testified. In Matthew 14:5 Jesus activities had convinced the people that He was a prophet, probably for a similar reason (compare Matthew 21:11; Luke 7:16; Luke 7:39; Luke 24:19). All this suggests that in Galilee at least the idea of prophets was still alive and active.
It is true that the Scribes and Pharisees may have been partly in Jesus’ mind in this description as ‘false prophets’ (compare Matthew 16:6), but not as the main culprits at this point in time. For we have to recognise from what we have said above that there may well already have arisen actual false prophets doing things in the name of Jesus in Galilee, just as there were genuine ones. Indeed we are quite taken by surprise to learn of someone going around casting out evil spirits in Jesus’ name (Luke 9:49-50 - note that we only know of this case because of the question of the Apostles) because we do not think like that, but we should note that it seems to have been no surprise to the Apostles, only a cause for anger because he was doing it independently. And in that particular case Jesus seems to have been quite happy about what the exorciser was doing. Furthermore in His reply Jesus clearly considered the possibility that there were others, and He must have been aware that not all of them would be as genuine as that one was.
We must not measure Galilee by Judea. Charismatic preachers, exorcisers and wonder-workers (Matthew 7:22) might not have been quite so welcome in Judea, although the fact that Jesus could say to the Pharisees, ‘if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do yours sons cast them out?’ (Matthew 12:27) probably indicates that there were some. However, in more open and unorthodox Galilee where the Jews mingled with Gentiles, it would be a different matter. We also learn of such false Jewish prophets and wonder-workers in the days just before Jerusalem was destroyed, and they did not come from nowhere. They must have had their predecessors. For the 1st century AD was a time of great expectation among the Jews, especially in Galilee, and it is during such times that spurious ‘prophets’ always arise. Indeed Josephus (who had had connections with Galilee) actually came to see himself as having prophetic gifts. He would not describe himself as a prophet, but he probably hoped that others would see him in that way. Taking all things into account therefore there was good reason why Jesus should have recognised the need to warn His wider disciples against being taken in by ‘false prophets’ who acted in His name, even around the time that He was preaching. We only have to consider some types of faith healer today to recognise what influence they could have exercised. And this would have made Him even more aware of the need to warn them about such false prophets arising in the future, under whatever guise. History had demonstrated that there would after all always be ‘false prophets’, a term firmly based on the Old Testament.
Analysis of Matthew 7:15-20.
a Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you will know them (15-16a).
b Do men gather grapes of thorns, Or figs of thistles? (Matthew 7:16 b).
c Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit, but the corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit (Matthew 7:17).
b A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit (Matthew 7:18).
a Every tree which does not bring forth good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:19-20).
Note that in ‘a’ the false prophets are known by their fruits, and in the parallel because they are known by their fruits they will be cut down and cast in the fire. In ‘b’ is the recognition that good fruit cannot come from bad sources, and in the parallel the same applies. Centrally in ‘c’ is the fact that the good tree produces good fruit, and the corrupt tree produces evil fruit.
a Beware of false prophets,
b Who come to you in sheep’s clothing,
b But inwardly they are ravening wolves.
a By their fruits you will know them.
‘Beware of false prophets.’ The false prophets come ‘as though in sheep’s clothing’. That is, they somehow linked themselves with the Name of Jesus and professed to be teaching what He taught. But really their teaching was false and they came with false motives. ‘In sheep’s clothing’ may signify that while they came with false motives, and therefore as wolves, they did so as wolves ‘clothed in sheepskin’, that is, seeking to give the impression that they were sheep among the flock, and at one with the flock, even though underneath their disguise they were wolves, or alternately it may suggest that they came as though dressed in sheepskin clothing so as to give the impression that they were true shepherds, while having the heart of a wolf. The former fits the parallel better, but both are possible. (He mentions similar people in John 10:12-13 in a slightly different guise). We must remember that we do not have to try to make Jesus’ illustrations logical. They were often intended as exaggerations so as to get over the point. But the point in either case is that they were trying to give the impression that they were one with sheep, while really being out for themselves. ‘The sheep’ regularly indicate God’s people in their helplessness (Matthew 9:36; Psalms 78:52; Psalms 79:13; Psalms 95:7; Psalms 100:3; Psalms 119:176; Isaiah 53:6; Jeremiah 23:1; Jeremiah 50:6; Ezekiel 34:6; Ezekiel 34:11-12; Micah 2:12; Zechariah 13:7). The ravening wolves are found in Ezekiel 22:27-28; compare Zephaniah 3:3.
The thought of false shepherds is found in Jeremiah 23:1; Jeremiah 50:6; Ezekiel 34:8; Zechariah 11:16-17. If the thought here then is that these false prophets are like those shepherds then Jesus sees them as pretending to speak from God and to be interested in the people’s welfare, while in fact teaching subtle falsity and out for their own gain. (For example, they say ‘peace, peace,’ where there is no peace - Jeremiah 8:11). We could certainly see this as in a secondary way including many of the Scribes and Pharisees (compare Matthew 16:11-12), and the chief priests in Jerusalem and Judea, for once established the term could have in mind any teachers who used His people with false motives in mind or for gain (Mark 7:11-12; Luke 20:47 compare 2 Peter 2:3), but at this stage in the ministry in Galilee these would hardly have entered into the equation. So the people listening to Jesus might well rather have been intended by Him to see Him here as thinking about some ‘less orthodox’ preachers in Galilee who claimed to be able to guide the people (compare Simon the sorcerer who was no doubt already at work in Samaria -Acts 8), and who as exorcisers and wonder-workers, made the most of their abilities so as to fleece the people. We should note, however, that while Jesus accepted that there were such He did not condemn all such preachers (Luke 9:49-50). If they were teaching the truth He as very happy about their work.
Furthermore Jesus had only to consider the history of His people and the hearts of men to recognise that such false prophets would continue to spring up, both from among His wider group of disciples, and from among travelling exorcisers and wonder-workers (Acts 13:6; Acts 19:13) who did believe that their powers came from God, and some of whom would take the opportunity of aligning themselves with Jesus because of His popularity (Matthew 7:22). We know that certain types of Jews regularly did engage in such exorcising and wonder-working activities. And such Jews were often held in some awe by Gentiles who recognised how ancient were their Law books on which they laid such stress, and because they knew that they could lay claim to calling on the ancient expertise, and even assistance, of famed men of the past like Solomon (see titles of Jesus in the inroduction).
Thus He would want His listeners to note the danger that, while some of these men might be genuine and acceptable (so Luke 9:49-50), others of these ‘prophets’ might really be ‘ravening wolves’. Their message might appear to be orthodox, but they would really be coming to ‘devour them’ (compare Luke 20:47) and lead them astray. That probably included obtaining money from them, or sponging on them by becoming guests in their houses and taking advantage of their hospitality. (We know from the Didache that that would in fact also become a danger with Christian prophets). But such people could disturb the flock, use up their possessions, and might even bring harm to them spiritually. So Jesus stresses that they had tested, and if necessary avoided, while if found spurious clearly their teaching not heeded. Meanwhile they could be identified from their ‘fruits’. In other words He had no doubt that the teachers to be avoided would manifest themselves in some way by what they did and what they said. He is thus pointing out that they will be recognisable, either from their behaviour, or from what results from their preaching. For once they arrive, any who think about it carefully will soon recognise whether they are taking advantage of the people’s needs for their own gain, and whether their teaching is in line with His. (This was the kind of accusation against which Paul was constantly having to defend himself and against which he had to protect himself - see 2 Corinthians 11:8-9; 2 Corinthians 12:17. Note also how he presents in his defence that he can perform better and more genuine wonders than his opponents - 2 Corinthians 12:12. This all indicates the types of people who continued to attach themselves to the Name of Jesus and wander around teaching for their own benefit. It was a religious age and Jesus had a great reputation).
In Matthew 10:16 ‘the wolves’ will presumably include the civic leaders and their religious counterparts, for we must remember that the Jewish lay leaders also liked to give the impression that they were deeply religious. But that is not so here. Here the emphasis is on wandering ‘prophets’ and may well have had in mind some whom He knew ‘followed up’ His ministry, after He had moved on to another region, taking advantage of His Name by using it against evils spirits (compare Acts 19:13), and generally engaging in sorcery (compare Acts 13:6), and doing it in order to persuade the people to support them and in order to obtain money from them (compare 2 Peter 2:3). The ‘ravening’ was probably initially financial rather than physical. (We can compare how today successful city wide campaigns soon draw out heretical sects seeking to take advantage of them, and how once they have converted people many of them soon begin to tap their financial resources).
But the principle behind His words undoubtedly goes wider than just these and He may well also have had in mind that such people would continue to arise in the future. Thus the term He used could be applied to anyone who led His people astray, whether by claiming to be the Messiah or by making out that they were teachers of Scripture. Paul can apply precisely the same picture to heretics who would seek to lead the church astray (Acts 20:29; 2 Peter 2:1-3), a picture and idea which he no doubt drew from the teaching of Jesus, and Jesus Himself may well have been intending to indicate that such people would also continue to arise in the future.
It is a warning to us today. We have to learn to say with Isaiah, ‘to the Law and to the Testimony, if they speak not according to this word (the Scriptures) it is because there is no light in them’ (Isaiah 8:20). For many false prophets still prevail today.
a Do men gather grapes of thorns,
a Or figs of thistles?
b Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit,
c But the corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit.
d A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit,
c Neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
b Every tree which does not bring forth good fruit,
b Is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
a Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Jesus then emphasises the kind that He is speaking about. They reveal their falseness by their lives and by their teaching. Thus they are not only like wolves dressed up as sheep, they are like thorns which give the impression of bearing grapes, or thistles which give the impression of bearing figs. They put up a great pretence and make a great show and seem to be offering so much. But on a closer look it is seen to be a sham. They offer much, only in the end to bring disappointment and even discomfort. From a distance the small black berries of the buckthorn can look like grapes, and certain spiky bushes can give the impression of bearing figs. But Jesus’ point is that once people get closer instead of gathering fruit, all they gather is thorns in their hands. The fruit of the bushes will reveal them for what they are. The same description of thorns and thistles is found in Genesis 3:18 (the same Greek words are used in LXX). Possibly Jesus therefore expects His hearers here to remember the Garden of Eden and gather from it whose influence lies behind these false teachers (compare 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Jesus then turns their attention to trees. All agriculturalists know the difference between a good and a bad tree. One produces good, healthy fruit. The other produces fruit of a kind, but it is not pleasant to eat, because there is something wrong with the tree (compare Isaiah 5:1-7). However carefully nurtured it has been, it has turned out to be ‘corrupt’. And it will never produce good fruit. So the sensible tree farmer cuts it down so that it will cease taking the goodness from the ground, and then he burns it. He uses it for what it is good for, fuel. And then it is gone. In the same way false teachers will be known by their fruit, whether it be the fruit of false doctrine or the fruit of false motives. And they must recognise that one day they too will be ‘burned’.
But Jesus’ carefully selected words bring out the fuller truth. Because the tree was ‘corrupt’ and therefore ‘useless for its real purpose’ it produced ‘evil (poneros) fruit’. The application has become a part of the illustration. The evil that comes forth from it reveals the evil that is in its heart (Matthew 15:11; Mark 7:15; Mark 7:20-23). Here ‘evil’ has its deepest meaning of something so hateful in the sight of God that it is rejected (contrast the use in Matthew 7:11 where the idea was of a root of sin in man that could be dealt with in mercy). Like the broad way it leads to destruction.
For Matthew 7:19 compare Matthew 3:10. Jesus may well have heard these words on John’s lips, and here He confirms His full agreement with them. But Jesus greater detail confirms that we have here genuine teaching of Jesus.
Not every one who says to me, Lord, Lord,
Will enter into the Kingly Rule of Heaven,
But he who does the will of my Father,
Who is in heaven.
Note how this echoes the Lord’s Prayer. ‘Hallowed be Your Name (Lord, Lord), Your Kingly Rule come (will enter into the Kingly Rule of Heaven), your will be done (he who does the will of My Father), on earth as it is in Heaven (Who is in Heaven).’ It is those who in response to this prayer have entered under His Kingly Rule, and have commenced doing His will on earth, who are truly His. It is not enough to call Him ‘Lord, Lord’. There must be a personal response in the heart. They must have experienced the powerful activity of His righteousness in their lives (Matthew 6:33).
So Jesus now faces all His disciples with the question of their genuineness. It is not sufficient to call Him ‘Lord, Lord’. (He repeats the words, and then the idea, twice for emphasis). Words and outward gestures are not sufficient, even when they demonstrate a kind of submission to Him. For if they would enter into the Kingly Rule of Heaven it involves submission to His Father’s will. That is actually only commonsense. For entering under the Kingly Rule of Heaven must involve precisely that, submission to His Father’s Kingly Rule.
Here in this verse ‘Lord, Lord’ does not necessarily indicate more than the respect due to a revered Teacher, although its repetition indicates urgency. But it is in Matthew 7:22-23 that it clearly signifies more. Thus He is simply pointing out here that acknowledgement of Him is no guarantee of their security. The only security lies in a genuineness of heart that results in a genuinely changed life.
Note the change to ‘My Father’. All the way through the Sermon it has been ‘your Father’. But here He is dealing with matters of distinction between true and false disciples, and He does not want there to be any doubt about the fact that God is only the Father of those who are truly disciples (they are sons of His Kingly Rule in contrast with the sons of the evil one - Matthew 13:38). We have here therefore here a distinct indication of His own uniqueness (compare ‘My Father and your Father’ (John 20:17)). In such circumstances He never says ‘our Father’. The use is building up to what follows, which is the result of the very fact that His position before the Father is unique. Thus He wants them to recognise that the Father is not their Father in the same way as He is His Father (compare Matthew 3:17; Matthew 4:3; Matthew 4:6). It would not necessarily be something that they would grasp straight away. But remembering His words they would eventually recognise more and more of their meaning.
But one question that may be asked is, Does this mean entry into the present Kingly Rule, or the future? There is no question that elsewhere He does teach that men can ‘enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven’ now. In John 3:3; John 3:6 seeing and entering under the Kingly Rule of God results from being born of the Spirit, a present experience. In Matthew 18:4 the one who humbles himself as a little childisthe greatest in the Kingly Rule of Heaven. The assumption is that he is already in it. And his entry into it has resulted from ‘turning and becoming as a little child’ (Matthew 18:3). Compare Mark 10:15 where ‘receiving the Kingly Rule of God as a little child’ results in entry to it. Matthew 19:23 gives the impression that the rich young man had failed at that stage to enter into the Kingly Rule of Heaven because his riches held him back. That is then followed by the general proposition that entry under the Kingly Rule of God was hard for any rich person (Matthew 19:24), although thankfully even that was possible for God (Matthew 19:26). Furthermore the parallel we detect with the Lord’s Prayer also connects it with the present rolling into the future. Thus it would seem that Jesus’ point here is that those who would now enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven must do so, not just by calling Jesus ‘Lord, Lord’, but by submitting to His Father’s will. For their righteousness for the purpose must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). It must be an inworked righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
It Is Not Enough To Say ‘Lord, Lord’. The Test Of Men Is Found In Doing The Will Of God (7:21-23).
Jesus now widens His words to include all who profess to be disciples. He declares that a man may be totally orthodox in what he says, but that that is not enough. The true test of whether a man is acceptable to God will come out in his life. A faith that does not result in obedience is no faith at all (compare Romans 6:1-2; James 1:22-24; James 2:14-16; James 2:26). These are solemn words of Jesus and we dare not water them down. (Calvin put it more theologically when he said, ‘We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is not alone’).
We should, however, also note the significance of His words. It is not so much the title ‘Lord, Lord’ (which could in another context simply mean ‘teacher, teacher’) which draws attention to His uniqueness, but the quiet claim that His decision at the day of Judgment will in some way determine the destiny of men. It is He Who will say ‘departfrom Me’. The truth or otherwise of their relationship to Him will settle once and for all their eternal destiny.
a Not every one who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 7:21 a),
b But he who does the will of my Father, Who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21 b).
c Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord’ (Matthew 7:22 a).
b Did we not prophesy by your name, and by your name cast out demons, and by your name do many mighty works? (Matthew 7:22 b).
a And then will I profess to them, I never knew you, depart from me, you who work iniquity (Matthew 7:23).
Note that in ‘a’ calling Him ‘Lord, Lord’ does not bring men into The Kingly Rule of Heaven now, while in the parallel He will therefore in the future, ‘in that Day’, command them to depart from Him. In ‘b’ entry into the Kingly Rule of Heaven necessarily requires doing the will of His Father in Heaven, while in the parallel what they think of as enough to guarantee their entry will prove not to be so. Central in ‘c’ is their false claims ‘in that Day’, claims that will fail.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord,
Did we not prophesy by your name,
And by your name cast out demons,
And by your name do many mighty works?
And then will I profess to them, I never knew you,
Depart from me, you who work iniquity.
And then with remarkable suddenness Jesus brings them up short with a new revelation concerning Himself, a revelation made clearer in Matthew 28:20 (compare Matthew 26:64; Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:30-31). ‘In that Day’ is a prophetic phrase which indicates any day when ‘the Lord’ will call men to account in varying circumstances. It is used of historical periods of judgment (e.g. Isaiah 7:20), it is used of the coming and effectiveness of the Coming One (e.g. Isaiah 11:10-11; Hosea 2:21-23; Amos 9:11), and it is used of God’s final Day (Isaiah 2:11; Isaiah 2:17; Isaiah 2:20; Isaiah 4:1-2; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 28:5). It is this last which Jesus has in mind here. Here then ‘Lord, Lord’ must be given its full and deepest meaning (although possibly only recognised by them later). They are to recognise His authority and uniqueness and bow to it. And here they look to Him for hope in that dread Day. But they look without hope.
And yet they have such confidence. They had such a high opinion of themselves. They had ‘spoken prophetically’ in His Name (but it was their own words and ideas and wisdom that they had spoken), they had ‘cast out demons’ in His Name (but without themselves submitting to Him and His Name), they had done ‘mighty works’ in His Name, by utilising the methods of such wonder-workers, but these had not resulted from the power of God (remarkable effects can result by arousing people’s ‘faith’ without it signifying anything spiritually, for so many of people’s problems and illnesses have a psychological root, and the body is attuned to respond to a positive attitude. It was even more so in a day when men looked to a multiplicity of gods and could imagine themselves smitten because they had displeased the gods). So here were prophets and wonder-workers who had made use of the Name of Jesus, fully confident in their right to do so, believing themselves to be disciples, and had convinced at least themselves that they were successfully carrying on His ministry. And they therefore expected to have Jesus’ support. Where then had they failed? They had failed in two ways. Firstly in that they had failed to be ‘known’ to Jesus (compare Matthew 25:12). He had not appointed or approved them (as He did the man in Luke 9:49-50. Thus it was not just a matter of being unofficial). They had not submitted to Him in His Kingly Rule. There had been no establishment of a personal relationship with Him. This was an indictment indeed for God’s promise concerning the last days had been that all would know Him, from the least to the greatest, and would therefore be known of Him as He forgave their sin and no more remembered their iniquity (Jeremiah 31:34). We can compare how God had said of Abraham, ‘for I have known him’ (Genesis 18:19) with the result that Abraham had taught his children to keep the way of the Lord. That is what happens when God knows men. Thus not to be known by Jesus was a sign that they were none of His.
And secondly they had failed in that His failure to know them had been revealed by their ‘working of iniquity (lawlessness)’, which may simply mean that they had neglected Jesus’ teachings concerning the Law, e.g. Matthew 7:12. Thus they had not sought to do the will of His Father. Their minds had been fixed on their own agenda and their own ideas. God had not really been in their thoughts.
Note how closely they appeared to have paralleled the Apostles. They too had preached in His Name, they too had cast out demons and done wonderful works (Matthew 10:7-8). But how different had been the attitude of their hearts. All the Apostles, save one who would later be exposed, had done it out of love for Christ. Notice how this confirms that there was a very real sense in which the Apostles could, in Galilee, have been seen in those days as performing a prophetic function, although of course as representatives of the prophet Jesus.
There are many like these ‘false prophets’ today. It may even be true of some successful ‘spiritual healers’ who operate in the name of Jesus, but are self-appointed and not known to Him. They reveal what they really are by the lives that they live, the large houses that they possess and the model of their cars. Jesus leaves us in no doubt as to the two questions that we must ask ourselves. Are we known to Him? Have we repented and come humbly to Him and to the foot of His cross? Have we received His cleansing in ‘the blood of Jesus’ (1 John 1:7)? And secondly are we seeking, however unsatisfactorily in the short term, to do the will of His Father? Is that where our heart is? For it is where the heart is that counts. Is it our desire to do His will? Do we grieve when we fail to do His will? For no man or woman who is truly known to Jesus can fail to desire to do His Father’s will, even though it be a struggle in which they often fail (compare Romans 6:21; Romans 7:14-25). And if we glibly proceed on our way without being concerned about His will then we need to heed Paul’s words, ‘examine yourselves whether you be in the faith. Do you not know that Christ is in you, unless you be in a condition of being rejected?’ (2 Corinthians 13:5; compare Romans 8:9-10). And if Christ is in you the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness (Romans 8:10). It is no good saying ‘Lord, Lord’ if we do not desire to do the will of His Father.
‘Depart from Me.’ Had He just said ‘Depart’ we may have seen this as simply indicating that Jesus had some position of authority in Heaven and was acting on behalf of Another. But ‘Departfrom Me’ is more significant. It is taken from Psalms 6:8 but given a new and deeper significance (although even in the Psalm it is a king who has come through suffering and is now triumphant and is dismissing his adversaries). It indicates that central to the eternal kingdom will be Jesus Christ. To enter there is to be with Him (1 John 3:2; Revelation 21:22-23; Revelation 22:3). And to be commanded to depart from Him is to lose all hope, because all centres on Him (Revelation 20:11). Here Jesus already has the awareness that all judgment has been committed to Him (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 24:30-31; Matthew 25:31; John 5:22; John 5:27; Acts 17:31), and that the Kingly Rule of Heaven is His Rule..
‘You who work lawlessness (anomian).’ The word ‘lawlessness’ is also found in Matthew 13:41, where the angels gather ‘those who do lawlessness’ out of the sphere of His Kingly Rule; Matthew 23:28 where the Pharisees are outwardly righteous but inwardly hypocritical and ‘lawless’; and Matthew 24:12 where the multiplying of ‘lawlessness’ leads to the love of many growing cold. Matthew 13:41 fits the context here well. They have failed to enter under His Kingly Rule and therefore they must now be removed from it. 23 28 confirms that the Pharisees can be seen under this heading as those rejected for lawlessness. Their righteousness has therefore not been sufficient for them to enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven, so that now they are told to depart, along with all other false teachers, and Matthew 24:12 sadly reveals the terrible impact of their behaviour. They must be seen as partly responsible for that situation. They have contributed to man’s state of lawlessness. In each case then the teaching of the Sermon of the Mount has been thrust aside, with the result that they too are thrust aside.
“Every one therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them,”
The emphasis here is on the fact that they have heard His wordsand done themIt is not enough to hear, and to approve, and to ‘believe’. All these are good but they must end in action. His orders are there to be carried out. It is not a question of being saved by good works, but of good works necessarily resulting from true belief and a true attitude towards Him. If they truly believe in Him they will do them. Action is the inevitable consequence of belief, especially when the consequences are so great. If they truly recognise and acknowledge His Lordship they will have no choice.
‘Of mine’. This is the second time Jesus has slipped Himself into the equation when they might have expected Him to speak of God (compare ‘Depart from Me’). Previously it had been ‘does the will of My Father in Heaven’. Now it is ‘Does My words’. He could so easily have said ‘does these words’, but He did not. The point He is emphasising is that they areHiswords. And it is His words which are the foundation on which they are to build, for His words express the will of His Father. We can compare His words in John’s Gospel, ‘My Father works even until now, and I work’ (John 5:17). ‘This is the work of God, that you believe on Him Whom He has sent’ (John 6:29). The same principle is in mind here. They must closely associate Him with His Father, and thus they must do His words.
Matthew 7:24 b
“Will be likened to a wise man, who built his house on the rock,”
Jesus regularly speaks of those who do His will as ‘wise’. We can compare the ‘faithful and wise servant’ (Matthew 24:45) and ‘the wise virgins’ (Matthew 25:4). See also Luke 12:42; Luke 16:8. Those who are wise respond to His words. This contrast between the wise and the foolish comes out regularly in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Consider for example Proverbs 12:15 which is very apposite, ‘The way of the foolish is right in his own eyes, but he who is wise listens to counsel’. That is precisely the situation here.
And what did the wise do? He built his house on the rock. He dug down until he found a firm foundation. And that foundation was not wise sayings, but obedience to Jesus Christ. It lay in a full response to Him. That was wisdom.
The Two Destinies (7:24-27).
Having given His firm warning Jesus now returns to the idea of the two choices which are open before them, but this time in terms of two houses built on two ‘foundations’. Yet it is not the foundations that the emphasis is on but the destinies. All must now decide how they will respond to His words, and upon it will depend their eternal future. Those who hear His words and do them will find themselves built on a foundation which ensures that they are secure for eternity, so that when the judgment comes they will stand firm. But those who hear His words and do not do them will find on that day that all collapses around them. They have no foundation.
Jesus ends with two perfectly balanced and contrasting positions. They are not in the form of a chiasmus but of two direct parallels, matching phrase by phrase, each of which is, however, a chiasmus. We have divided them up so that the parallelism can be observed quite clearly.
a A Every one therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them,
b B Will be likened to a wise man, who built his house on the rock,
c C And the rain descended, and the floods came,
c D And the winds blew, and beat on that house,
b E And it fell not,
a F For it was founded on the rock.
a A And every one who hears these words of mine, and does not do them,
b B Will be likened to a foolish man, who built his house on the sand,
c C And the rain descended, and the floods came,
c D And the winds blew, and smote on that house,
b E And it fell,
a F And great was its fall.
Notice that in each case in ‘a’ we are told how they responded, and in the parallel the final consequence. In ‘b’ we are told the foundation each built on and in the parallel what the consequence was. Centrally in ‘c and its parallel are the descriptions of God’s activities.
Note carefully the contrasts.
One does His words, the other does not.
One is wise, the other is foolish.
One built on rock, the other on sand.
One house was ‘beaten on’ (tribulation/strict examination), the other was ‘smitten’ (final judgment).
One did not fall (it stood firm), the other fell (it collapsed).
One was founded on rock, the other violently collapsed.
Apart from the last each statement has its opposite counterpart and we expect the last one to end, ‘for it was founded upon the sand’, but it does not. For He is bringing out the point that it had no foundation. When the test came there was nothing there. Jesus thus leaves them with the thought hanging in the air, ‘and great was its fall’. That is the final thought that He wants them all to take away with them.
So the Sermon that begins with the words ‘Blessed by God are those who are poor in spirit, for to them belongs the Kingly Rule of Heaven’, ends with (speaking of those who have turned their backs on the Kingly Rule of Heaven and have built on ‘false prophets’ of whatever kind) ‘great was its fall’.
“And the rain descended, and the floods came,
And the winds blew, and beat on (‘fell on’) that house,”
Being on a sound foundation was no guarantee that trials and tribulations would not come, for come they would (Matthew 5:11). Everything would be thrown at them,apart from the smiting of God(Matthew 7:27). Outwardly they would appear to have to face the same things as the foolish. But the difference was that while they might be ‘beaten on’ and have to face trials (compare Romans 5:3; Hebrews 12:3-8; James 1:2-3) they would not be ‘smitten’.
Matthew 7:25 b
“And it fell not,”
The house had to face the same drenching rain, the same powerful floods, the same strong winds, as the other. (They might even have been built side by side). But it stood firm. It did not fall.
Matthew 7:25 c
“For it was founded on the rock.”
And the reason that it did not fall was that it was founded on the rock. It had a firm foundation. And that firm foundation was response to and obedience to the words of Jesus. They had repented, they had received forgiveness, they had entered under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and they thus obeyed His words. This was their rock. Their loving and obedient relationship to Jesus.
“And every one who hears these words of mine,
And does not do them,”
In contrast are not those who do not hear His words, but those who do hear them but do not do them. The words are firmly addressed to would be disciples. There is no sadder picture that these people who hear the words of life, take them in, but do not live them out because they have not allowed them to take root in their hearts (compare Matthew 13:4-7).
Matthew 7:26 b
“Will be likened to a foolish man, who built his house on the sand,”
Such people are like a foolish man who builds his house on sand. He could not take the trouble to establish foundations. It was not where he built that was different (both paced the same floods) but how he built. He found Jesus’ words attractive but did not take them to heart. He built his beliefs on the sand of a failing world, rather than on the rock of Christ’s Lordship.
“And the rain descended, and the floods came,
And the winds blew, and smote on that house,”
But then he had to face the same problems as the wise man’s house, the rain and the floods and the storm. But there was also one more thing that he had to face, and that was God’s smiting. The distinction is emphasised by the deliberate change in verb in the parallel. One faced ‘beating on’ the other faced ‘smiting’. And why? Because he had chosen not to build on a foundation. It was because he had rejected the foundation that he was smitten.
Matthew 7:27 b
“And it fell,”
This house did not stand firm, it fell. But really it was inevitable. Its fall was certain from the moment that he had refused to establish a firm foundation.
Matthew 7:27 c
“And great was its fall.”
Here Jesus disturbs His parallels in order to bring out two lessons. Firstly that it was not that this house had the wrong foundations, but that it had no foundations. For the point is that there only is one foundation, and that is the word that Jesus has brought from His Father. And secondly in order that He might complete His words on a note which would not be forgotten. ‘Great was its fall’. Jesus was not providing interesting sayings, He was preaching for decision. For He wanted them to leave with the recognition that that ‘catastrophic fall’ would be the end of all who did not heed His words and obey them.
‘And it came about that when Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.’
Matthew now ends Jesus’ words with a summary which is very similar to the summaries in Matthew 11:1; Matthew 13:53; Matthew 19:1; Matthew 26:1 (see note below). ‘The disciples’ have now become ‘the crowds’ but not the ‘great crowds’ of Matthew 8:1. This may be seen as evidencing that the write was an eyewitness, and true to what had happened. He remembered how the disciples had been gathered (Matthew 5:1), he remembered how they had grown into crowds by the time that Jesus had finished teaching (Matthew 7:28). And he remembered the even greater crowds who subsequently followed (Matthew 8:1).
All who heard Him were astonished at the authority with which He spoke. For the Scribes in general taught by referring to the traditions of the Elders, which in their training they had thoroughly memorised, and claimed no authority for themselves. Although often they did them come to their own ultimate conclusion. But even then it was based on their authorities. Jesus, however, spoke on His own authority. The repetitive ‘I say to you’ was unquestionably unique, and as will be seen in the Sermon it was as against all comers.
Note the reference to ‘their Scribes’. As with ‘their synagogues’ in Matthew 4:23 it indicated the close relationship that they felt that they had with them (compare how we might say ‘our Pastor’). They placed great reliance on them. Their religious life was based on them.
Note On The Five Major Dissertations.
There are five major dissertations in Matthew which end with a specific formula as follows:
‘‘And it came about that when Jesus had finished these words’ (Matthew 7:28).
‘And it came about that when Jesus had made an end of commanding His twelve disciples’ (Matthew 11:1).
‘And it came about that when Jesus had finished these parables’ (Matthew 13:53).
‘And it came about that when Jesus had finished these words’ (Matthew 19:1)
‘And it came about that when Jesus had finished all these words’ (Matthew 26:1).
This would seem to confirm his deliberate intent to draw attention to these five major dissertations. This division into five is typically Jewish, for five is the number of covenant. There were five books of the Law (Genesis to Deuteronomy). Five books of Psalms. Five books of Proverbs. Other later Jewish literature also divides into five, such as The Megilloth (Esther, Ruth, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes); the Apocryphal Ecclesiasticus; the Pseudepigraphics Enoch and Pirqe Aboth. In the ten commandments also five commandments related to God, and five commandments related to man, each group possibly on separate tablets (thus there were two tablets of the Law. Alternatively they might have been duplicates of each other). The purpose in all this would seem to be in order to stress the covenant, and in Matthew’s case to stress to His Jewish readers that in Jesus the covenant was finding its complete fulfilment (Matthew 5:17), a covenant whose terms had been renewed and expanded on in Matthew 5-7.
End of note.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 7". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany