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Much of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ teaching on kingdom living. This includes explicit and specific ethical teaching. The specific ethical teaching more or less ends with the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12. From that point until the end of the sermon (Matt. 7:13–27), Jesus gives four memorable paragraph-level comments. Each of the four presses on the reader the need to seriously consider whether he is truly a believer in the King of the kingdom of God.
These four comments present a grand choice—one is either in the kingdom or not. Yes, there are many situations in life in which reality is a continuum of various shades of gray. But for this issue, there is no gray area; there is no third way. There is only living for the triune God or not.
The first memorable comment contrasts the narrow and broad ways (Matt. 7:13–14). The true believer enters the kingdom through the narrow gate and continues to his ultimate home along the narrow way. The narrowness of the gate and way make it difficult to travel. At the metaphor level, traveling with a significant amount of belongings and luggage on the narrow way entails bumping up against the walls and hedges. At the reality level, Jesus is noting that the path of the kingdom of God has its difficulties. For example, as Jesus had previously said, those on the narrow road may be reviled and persecuted for their belief in Jesus (Matt. 5:11). As a generality, there will not be crowds flocking to the narrow way. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14).
By contrast, at the metaphor level, the broad gate and path make travel easy. One can take lots of luggage, and there is no problem. In fact, even though there will be many on this path, it is so wide that there still will be no congestion or bumping into others’ luggage. At the reality level, Jesus is noting that there are those who do not truly put their trust in Him. In the short run, this is the easy choice that many make, but in the end, it leads to horrendous consequences. “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matt. 7:13).
Second, Jesus notes a difficulty for those in the kingdom (Matt. 7:15–20). They will be assailed by false prophets. In fact, these false prophets will seemingly be members of the kingdom. But in truth, they will be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Jesus notes that their “fruits” of bad teaching and selfish actions will eventually show who they really are. He uses agricultural metaphors to make His point. Grapes are not gathered from thornbushes, and figs are not gathered from thistles. Good fruit comes from healthy trees, not diseased ones. Bad fruit comes from diseased trees, not healthy ones. In the end, “every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 7:19).
Although the point concerns false prophets, Jesus is subtly also pressing that all true members of the kingdom will produce good “fruits” (see Luke 6:43–45). They will believe and act appropriately. The mark of a false prophet and the mark of a false member of the kingdom is the same. Yes, true believers do sin, but in general, their lives should be characterized by true belief and good works. Just as the mark of a false prophet and the mark of a false member is the same, so also the final destination—“cut down and thrown into the fire”—is the same. The consequences of not trusting in Jesus are significant.
Third, in Matthew 7:21–23, Jesus speaks of those who do not truly believe in Him. At the judgment, they may say, “Lord, Lord,” and point to the works that they supposedly did for God. Unfortunately, they will hear the devastating words, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23). At the judgment, there are only two groups: those with the Lord and those who have departed from Him.
Jesus is aware that those listening to Him in the historical situation and later reading this text are a mixed group. Most consider themselves true believers; in fact, however, many are not. Jesus has designed His comment to make each one consider whether he truly believes in Him and whether his life reflects that reality. Who will enter the kingdom of heaven? “The one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).
Some will not take Jesus’ point seriously—they attend church or are “spiritual,” and that is good enough. Others will take this comment to heart. Some, upon reconsideration of themselves, will for the first time truly believe. For those who are already believers, it is always appropriate to reevaluate oneself to confirm one’s calling and election (2 Peter 1:10).
Jesus’ fourth and final comment is very well known (Matt. 7:24–27). I remember it fondly from my childhood Sunday school and vacation Bible school days. John Calvin was also struck by it. He singled it out by calling it, somewhat underwhelmingly, “an attractive simile.”
Jesus begins by declaring that a kingdom person is one “who hears these words of mine and does them” (Matt. 7:24). This is a wise person. A foolish person may hear Jesus’ words but not truly believe or obey them. What is memorable, however, is Jesus’ metaphor to compare the two. The wise person builds his house on the rock. Rain, floods, and wind come against it. “But it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matt. 7:25). The foolish person builds his house on the sand. The same rain, floods, and wind come against it, but in this case, the house fell, and “great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:27). Again, two options. Build on the rock or the sand—that is, trust Jesus or not. Note that Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount with the house built on the sand, and even emphasizes the destruction of this choice—“great was the fall of it.”
Intriguingly and wonderfully for those who have ears to hear, Jesus refers to Himself in all four of the comments. He is the narrow way in verses 13–14. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
In Matthew 7:15–20, Jesus warns against false prophets, and He does this as the true Prophet. This is clearly shown a little later in the rock/sand metaphor. Whether one’s life is built on the rock or sand depends on whether one “hears these words of [His] and does them” (Matt. 7:24). Further, Jesus is not a wolf but the true Shepherd who cares about the sheep: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
Jesus refers to Himself as “Lord” and Judge in Matthew 7:21–23. Also, He calls God “my Father,” implying that He is the unique Son. Jesus later says about Himself and the judgment, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, . . . before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:31–32).
Finally, in Matthew 7:24–27, in addition to being the Prophet as mentioned above, Jesus is the foundational Rock: “And the rock [is] Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). “No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Note that Jesus ends with Himself as the foundation. One needs to believe in this foundation. All our works that are evidences of being in the kingdom are ultimately only because of the grace of the foundation, the Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, in one sense there are many religious options, not just two. But in a truer sense, there are really only two options: the Christ option and the not-Christ option. The not-Christ option has many subsets, but they all collapse into one option that is opposed to Christ. Jesus declares that there is only the narrow way or the broad way; there is only a good tree with good fruit or a bad tree with bad fruit; there are only those who will be with Him or those departed from Him; and finally, there are only those who build on the rock or on the sand. Two options: Christ or not-Christ.