The Character Of God’s Kingdom.
Matthew 7: 13 – 29.
In Matthew’s concluding segment on the Sermon on the Mount, he brought together Jesus’ elucidation of the character of the kingdom of God in His four essential commands on entering the kingdom: the two roads, the two trees, the two claims, and the two builders. This theme was not uncommon in the Old Testament as a teaching point, highlighting two ways, with only one acceptable outcome. An example is in Psalm 1, where the psalmist contrasted the righteous and the wicked, and another in Deuteronomy 30, where Moses set before the Israelites two ways – life and prosperity or death and adversity, a blessing or a curse (Deut 30:15-20). We have two different ways, but only one is agreeable to God and pleases Him.
The Two Roads (Matt 7:13-14): One road is broad and is a well-travelled highway with many more people on it that leads through a wide gate to destruction. The narrower pathway that leads to a smaller access gate, with fewer travellers is the gateway to life and the kingdom of heaven. The obvious implication is that the constricted less accessible route and not the spacious one, is God’s way, despite being a more difficult course that is shunned by the majority. On a similar subject in Luke’s gospel, a question is posed to Jesus, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” In this similar context of a more confined road, He rebuked those who had rejected Him as Messiah, and He advised the seeker to be more concerned about entering through the narrow gate himself, intimating that the numbers are unimportant (Luke 13:22-29). The choice of entering by the narrow gate is a lonely one and invariably counter-cultural; it, therefore, demands from us a counting of the cost and being committed to faithfully walking closely with the Lord and only serving Him (c.f., Matt 19:29). Choosing this way had eternal repercussions in a life of blessing in Christ (c.f., John 10:7-10).
The Two Trees (Matt 7:15-20): Nature itself illustrates that good trees do not sprout bad fruits and a bad tree does not produce good fruit. This metaphor was used to refer specifically to false teachers within the church community. Both Testaments abound with constant warnings to the faithful on false prophets and their teachings (c.f., Deut 18:20-22; Jer 23:16; Ezek 22:28; Matt 24:11; Acts 20:29-31; 2 Peter 2:1-3). At times, it is not what they preach that sets them apart, but what they do not say that will mislead His people (Jer 8:11-12). An appropriate caution would be to look out for a dichotomy between the enduring link of life and conduct (i.e., fruit), which will eventually surface the falsehood of these ’thorn bushes,’ leaving God to judge and punish them for their false teachings ultimately. Kingdom character, therefore, posits bearing good fruits that honour and testify to the faithfulness of God.
The Two Claims (Matt 7:21-23): On the judgment day, the claims to be able to prophesy, to cast out demons, and to perform miracles in Christ’s name do not automatically qualify such practitioners for entering the kingdom of God. Jesus was unequivocal in rejecting such displays of power when they surface out of disobedience to God (i.e., lawlessness, a rejection of God’s laws). Various contentious interpretations had been suggested for this claim. However, to retain its context, these persons were not criticised for their charismatic activities but their dependence on them as a substitute for the righteousness taught by Jesus. Hence these activities done apart from this righteousness, have no self-contained importance and are in themselves insufficient for entry into the kingdom of heaven. The criterion then for a true believer is one who faithfully obeys God in consistently doing His will (c.f., Matt 5:20). It goes without saying that such submission comes first, and any ministry grows out of it, as evidence of an ongoing personal relationship with God. And the result being His transformation of us into increasing Christlikeness (Rom 12:1-2); for without such faith, it would be impossible to please God (Heb 11:6).
The Two Builders (Matt 7:24-27): Foundations are critical, and Jesus emphatically spelt out His conclusion in His allegory of the two houses built on differing bases on the day of God’s final judgment, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” The Lord’s reference point was to His teachings in the Sermon on the Mount at that time, but it could as well encompass all His teachings during His time on earth. The prognosis of these two different buildings is a vignette of the demise of the totality of our lifetime’s efforts as judged by the Divine plumb line; what will last through eternity and what will not, and where damnation is eschewed, and heaven desired!
There are only two ways; one leads to the kingdom of God and the other away from God’s eternal presence. When our aspirations are eternal, irrespective of where we are in our spiritual convictions, the Godward path of choice is always against the tide, where the focus is on honouring our God in life and conduct in absolute faithful obedience to His Word and having our roots and foundation in Christ. In all the four themes, Jesus was deadly serious about the outcomes, and any indifference and reticence in choosing to follow Him will unavoidably meet God’s absolute judgment.