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Seven Warnings Against False Behaviour, Each Accompanied by The Command To Take Action In The Opposite Direction, And Each of Which Culminates in Assurances of the Father’s (God’s) Resultant Blessing (6.1-7.12).
Having brought out the full significance of God’s Law (in chapter 5), and having stressed the importance within that Law of right human relationships, and having shown them the final goal of full God-likeness at which they had to aim, Jesus now moves on to deal with the worship and service of His disciples (6.1-18), what their attitude should be towards material things (6.19-34) and how they should view judgment among themselves (7.1-6). For perfection did not just lie in what their relationships with men and women were like. It lay in what they were overall in their whole attitude to life.
It is important to note here that leading up to 7.7-12 we now have constant mention of ‘your’ heavenly Father, or the equivalent. Jesus is leading them towards approaching the inner sanctum of God, and turning their thoughts towards things above, a process which will be completed in 7.7-12. Here we have Jesus’ equivalent of Paul’s ‘heavenly places’ (Ephesians 1.3, 20; 2.6). They are sons of their Father in Heaven and even while on earth are to dwell in His presence continually, asking, seeking and knocking as sons of their Father (7.7-11). But they can only do this if they first beware of what may drag them down, and instead turn all their thoughts on things above.
One feature of this final part of the Sermon, is the giving of a direct command or request without the accompaniment of connecting words. This occurs in 6.1; in the first part of the Lord’s Prayer (6.9-11) and then in a series of direct exhortations (6.19, 24b; 7.1, 6, 7, 13, 15). It would seem that by this, having laid the foundation by His exposition of the Law, and having dealt with the importance of their basic religious activities being directed towards God and not men, He now wants to bring home with extra force the response required of them in respect of their attitude towards worldly things.
The second section of this central part of the Sermon from 6.1-7.12 is in the form of a chiasmus, and central to it are what we could call nine or ten things of which they are to beware. (The word ‘beware’ does not appear in the text, and whether we see it as nine or ten depends on how we see the function of 7.6, which appears both to finalise the previous section, and also to lead in to 7.7-12). We have sought to bring out both aspects in the following analysis.
In this regard therefore they were to:
d Beware of being unforgiving. They must be as forgiving as their heavenly Father, if they would be forgiven (6.14-15).
d Beware of judging their brothers. They are rather to put themselves in a position to take the splinters from their brothers’ eyes, demonstrating concern for their Father’s family (7.1-5).
Note that in ‘a’ their righteousness was not to be superficial and man-pleasing, and in the parallel this is made clear by revealing what must be the basis of all their actions towards each other. In ‘b’ their giving is to be as to their Father and not in order to obtain men’s commendation, and in the parallel there is the comparison of how their Father will give to them. In ‘c’ their prayers are to be in loving fellowship with their Father, and the same applies in the parallel where their approach in prayer is to be in the confidence of a child to its father. In ‘d’ their Father knows what they need before they ask Him, and they are therefore to seek His Kingly Rule, and to be forgiving because they will be forgiven, and in the parallel their Father knows what they need and they are therefore to seek His Kingly Rule and to be non-judgmental because they will not be judged. In ‘e’ they are not to lay up a reputation for ‘merit’ on earth, but in Heaven before their heavenly Father, and in the parallel they are not to lay up treasure on earth, but in Heaven so that their minds are set on serving God. This whole section is therefore a unity.
These passages within this section now also divide up into four and three (or four). The first four, headed initially by a general exhortation not to do their righteousness before men (verses 1), deal with what would have been seen as their religious activity, (giving, praying, repetitive praying, and fasting). These on the whole should be kept secret from men, and will bring them to their Father’s awareness (6.1-18). The second three (or four) have more to do with the material basics of life, but again leading up to a contrasting spiritual awareness which will keep their minds on things above (6.19-7.6/7). Yet even in the latter case He indicates that there are some secrets which it is better to keep from the generality of men, for mankind in general only despises heavenly things (7.6). Their emphasis on laying up their treasures in Heaven, their trusting their heavenly Father for their daily needs, and their care to ensure that they can help their brethren by being fitted to pull the splinters out of their eyes are not something to be divulged to the unfit (7.6). Rather they are to be coped with by coming openly to their heavenly Father (7.7-12).
Their Religious Exercises Are To Be Known Only To The Father And Not To Men (6.1-18).
We will now, therefore, initially consider together the first four passages which deal with their religious behaviour towards God. These commence with a general statement in verse 1 followed by four different instances of religious activity, each of which begins with ‘whenever you do this’ or the equivalent. This distinguishes these four passages from the following three (or four), which commence with a direct command. The other distinguishing feature is that these four deal with directly ‘religious activity’, while the following three (or four) deal with attitude towards the wider world. It is noteworthy in this regard that their charitable giving to the poor is seen as part of their worship.
A new pattern emerges here. Whereas in 5.21-48 each statement began with exactly the same phrase, ‘you have heard that it was said’, in this overall passage there are slight differences in the way in which each smaller section opens. Thus 6.2 commences with hotan oun (therefore whenever --), verse 5 commences with kai hotan (and whenever --), verse 7 begins with de and the present middle/passive participle (and whenever you) and verse 16 begins with hotan de (and whenever -). We note further that verse 3 begins with su de with the present active participle; and verse 6 commences with su de hotan, but in these cases the su indicates continuation of subject, not a new subject.
Thus here, instead of just having grammar to guide us, we have to divide up the passage on the basis of subjects and other indications. Verses 2-4 deal with almsgiving and end with ‘your Father Who sees in secret will reward you’. Verses 5-6 deal with prayer and end with ‘your Father Who sees in secret will reward you’, verses 16-18 deal with fasting and end with ‘your Father Who sees in secret will reward you’. And each is distinguished by including hotan in its opening. These then are clearly related small sections.
But in between there is a distinctive passage. This odd one out consists of verses 7-15, which commences with ‘de’ with the participle and ends with ‘if you forgive men their debts, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their debts, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your debts’. In one sense then this is a kind of added comment fitted in between the second and third small sections in order to amplify what is being said about prayer, and especially in order to explain how they are to pray. But that this is deliberate and not a later addition comes out in that it is an important part of the larger chiasmus and is therefore a necessary part of the text in order to prepare for, and parallel, later sections of the chapter. The seeming ‘interruption’ is not really a problem, for the ancients from time immemorial often interrupted patterns in this way in order to introduce added comments. They were not as rigid in their minds as we are. It even happened in their genealogies (see for example the comments added by writers in the Sumerian King Lists).
Furthermore we can understand why Jesus did not feel any need to expand on how to go about almsgiving and fasting, but did feel that it was very important to expand on how they should go about praying. It was not so easy to go wrong on the former, but it was desperately easy to go wrong on the latter. And in view of the fact that verses 7-15 continued the subject of verses 5-6, and yet were also adding to their thought, the usual kai hotan/hotan de would not have been suitable as it would have indicated too much of a separation from His words on prayer that had gone before. Thus Jesus can be seen as deliberately introducing here a vital new section in a new way in order to expand on the idea of prayer, while at the same time maintaining its connection with the previous section by the way that it is introduced.
The new section is indicated by the fact that it comes after ‘the Father Who sees in secret will reward you’, while at the same time the continuation is indicated by not using hotan, and by rather continuing and expanding on the same general thought. It is in fact quite normal for a preacher to break into a series of points in this way in order to expand on one of them, however carefully constructed his sermon may be. And Jesus was not an automaton tied down by rigidity of presentation. Nor would He allow patterns, however important they were in aiding the memory, to prevent the full presentation of what He wanted to say. But it will have been noted that the Lord’s Prayer actually forms an important part of the previous chiasmus. Thus it is necessary to the structure of the whole.
The Importance of Their Worship And Their ‘Religious’ Service Being Genuine (6.1-18).
Among the Jews almsgiving, prayer and fasting were seen as the basics of a godly life, and as being evidence of a life that was pleasing to God. For example in Tobit 12.8 (a Jewish writing) we read, ‘prayer is good when it is accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness’ (note the differing order from Jesus, Who valued righteousness and almsgiving above fasting). The principle in mind was clearly correct, that prayer without genuineness of life and concern for others was useless. The thought was that those who would come to God must also be behaving rightly in their lives (and Jesus would have added, ‘and must be reconciled with their brother’ - 5.23-24). But Jesus will now add to it that all such behaviour must also be the result of a genuine motive, that of bringing honour to God, and not from any desire to be admired by men. In the words of the Psalmist, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me’ (Psalm 66.18). Having this in mind 6.1-18 may be analysed as follows:
Analysis of 6.1-18.
Note that in ‘a’ righteousness must not be practised before men, and in the parallel fasting must also not be pratised before men. Both are activities which should be engaged in with a view to pleasing God. In ‘b’ and its parallel the activity is towards men, but is in order to please God. In ‘c’ and its parallel concentration is on true prayer to the glory of God. Centrally in ‘d’ their Father knows what they have need of before they ask Him.
The Doing of Righteousness and The Giving of Gifts To The Poor (6.1-4).
Analysis of 6.1-4.
In considering the following analyses the small letters indicate the chiasmus in each individual section, while the capital letters indicate a comparison with the sections that precede and follow, for from 6.1 to 7.6 all the sections follow a general pattern. They also indicate a progression in the argument in each small section.
Note that in ‘a’ wanting to be seen of men means that there will be no reward in Heaven and in the parallel, in contrast, doing right in secret results in a recompense from their Father. In ‘b’ the command is not to sound a trumpet before them in giving alms, and in parallel they are not to let their left hand know what their right hand does. Central is ‘c’ where those who receive glory on earth have already received their reward.
These words introduce the whole passage from 6.1-6.18. The point being made is that in whatever they do, their righteousness (their pious behaviour and good works) is not to be publicly displayed so that men may see it, for otherwise it will result in a total lack of any recompense from their heavenly Father. They will get no spiritual benefit from it. Rather it is to be done in secret in the sight of Heaven, not in the sight of earth.
The idea of ‘recompense’ is not that we are to do things in order to get a reward. It is that the reward that the Father gives is so important that it must not be lost by folly, for it involves what we will become and our whole eternal future. It is the reward described in 5.3-9. It is the consequence of God’s active blessing. It is in contrast with receiving the praise of men which will result in a person becoming more proud, more arrogant and more unbearable, and will simply ruin their character. For receiving their Father’s reward will make them into precisely what they ought to be for the future.
‘Your righteousness.’ The context means that there are two significant meanings to righteousness to be borne in mind here. One is the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees in general, which is an insufficient righteousness, and is purely earthly and self-seeking, the other is God’s righteousness revealed as active in the believer which will bring a great reward. They have to choose which righteousness they will reveal.
Someone may ask, ‘If our good works are to be seen of men so that they may glorify God as we were told in 5.16, how can we now be told to keep our works secret?’ The answer to this question is simple. It depends on the types of works in mind. In 5.16 the works shone out because it was unavoidable. They were works done for men’s benefit. They thus had to some extent to be known. But they were nevertheless not done to be seen of men but out of obedience to God and in order to bring Him glory. Their being seen of men was simply the inevitable result of that obedience, and was with no desire for men’s praise and admiration. Such works could not be kept secret with the best will in the world, but there was certainly no idea that they should be trumpeted abroad.
Here the warning is against behaving in the wrong kind of way in regard to things that can be hidden from men, lest we do them in order to be praised and admired by men. Again the concern is to be that God might be glorified. Thus where possible what they do with regard to these things, almsgiving, praying and fasting, is to be done secretly between them and God. They should not be seeking credit on earth for them. They should be doing them for the glory of God. Even here, however, it may not always be possible to keep the secret. But if the aim has been genuinely to avoid publicity or credit no blame will attach for that. The desire, however, should be that as a result God will again be glorified and not men. However, if men do rather foolishly seek to glorify us then we must immediately turn them away from ourselves towards God, and remind them that they must glorify Him alone.
Further ways in which foolish men sought to do things to earn the praise of men are found in 23.5-7. This is always a danger when we live in a place where being religious is something that is highly esteemed. But the whole idea of men using religion to bring praise on themselves was seen by Jesus as abhorrent. If such people were genuine their whole concern would be that God be glorified. It would not, of course, be true that all Scribes and Pharisees sought only to glorify themselves. But the problem was that it was true of all too many, and they were the ones who stood out.
The first example put forward is that of giving alms, that is, that of taking care of the needs of the poor, and of widows and orphans, and of the needy, by giving gifts to be used on their behalf. It was one of the better aspects of Judaism that among the Jews there was a genuine effort made to help the poor, of whom there were many. Such situations of poverty arose through disability, misfortune, age, or the circumstances of life. Indeed the Jews recognised that the Law had laid great stress on this. The third year tithe was to be set apart for the poor and needy (Deuteronomy 14.28-30), the gleaning from the fields had to be available to them (Leviticus 19.9-10; Deuteronomy 24.19-21), they could eat what they needed at a given time from the crops and the fruit as they grew (Deuteronomy 23.24-25), the crops of the seventh year were at their disposal (Leviticus 25.6), necessary loans were not to be refused to them (Deuteronomy 15.7-11), and so on. The motive behind these laws was commendably carried forward in Jewish teaching. Thus by the time of Jesus regular collections were made for the poor by ‘collectors’ from the synagogue to which regular residents were expected to give recognised amounts, and many would give over and above what was required. The giving of alms described by Jesus here is thus giving on top of that. (No one would get special credit for the regular normal giving). But the point is that such extra giving should not to be publicised and drawn attention to, but should be in secret. It should come from the goodness of their hearts, and as a result of their love for God, not with the purpose of gaining human esteem.
The picture is vivid. A trumpeter is seen as being sent on ahead in order to draw attention to the gift. The blowing of rams’ horns was common at particular feasts, and at fasts, but while giving was a part of the fasts, there is no evidence connecting the blowing of the rams’ horns directly with giving. Nor need there be, for this ‘blowing of the trumpet’ is not necessarily to be seen as having actually happened. Even the most blatant hypocrite would hardly go this far. The scene is intended to be ridiculous. They are crying, ‘look at me and what I am giving’. It is a deliberate caricature. It is Jesus’ vivid way of illustrating His point. For the point is that men can make their giving so obvious to all that they may just as well blow a trumpet so as to draw men’s attention to it. Such ostentatious giving is the activity of ‘hypocrites’, that is, of men who put on a pretence of righteousness, of those who behave like play-actors. They are putting on the act of being generous and godly, but in fact are simply out to let everyone know what they are giving, and thus by it are trying to buy themselves prestige. Their generosity and godliness is thus a pretence. The word ‘hypocrite’ occurs thirteen times in Matthew. He wanted it to be known that there was nothing that Jesus was harder on than hypocrisy, the pretence of being what they were not, something of which we are all to some extent guilty. For we all like to give the impression that we are better than we are. And possibly even worse are those who try to make out that they are ‘ever so humble’, who are humble and secretly proud of it
‘In the synagogues or in the streets.’ These were the popular places where collectors would be gathering such funds, and would be places where there would be many people to observe what they were doing, and who it was who made their gifts. We can contrast them with the woman who crept into the Temple and out again, not wanting to be noticed. And she got her wish. No one at the time noticed, apart, of course, from God (Mark 12.41-44).
‘That they may have glory of men.’ Their real aim is that men will think how wonderful they are. And they may well achieve their aim. But they may be sure of this. They will therefore have had their reward. They will not receive any credit from God, nor will it contribute towards their spiritual blessing. Their giving will not reveal true righteousness because it will simply be a matter of making a payment in order to buy glory. There is nothing good about that. It is a simple business transaction of a rather distasteful kind.
Whenever the disciples give, (the fact that they will give is assumed), then it is to be done in such secrecy that even the left hand will not know what the right hand has done. It is thus not only to be secret but totally without any idea of self-congratulation. It will, as it were, be hidden even from themselves. It will pass from the mind almost before it happens so that the left hand will never find out. But the idea is not that they will do it in order to obtain heavenly credit. They will rather do it because it is the good and right thing to do, it is God-like. It is the type of giving that neither wants nor asks for anything in return that brings the greatest reward, for its reward is the growth of true righteousness. The giver has become by it a better person. And they will not lose by it, for it is known to ‘their Father’, Who will see it and recompense it by His gracious working in their lives in a way far greater than they deserve or will even understand.
We should note here that God does not reward us with things that will make us proud and arrogant, such as physical thrones and crowns (any offer of these is to be interpreted spiritually). He gives us what is far more substantial, a delight in service and obedience, and an ability to love. He makes us faithful servants who will hear His ‘well done’. He begins to make us like Himself (1 John 3.2).
The Essence Of True Personal Prayer Is To Be Praying Secretly Alone With God (6.5-6).
Jesus now turns to the question of true prayer. He will deal with this in two stages, firstly as to the need for such prayer to be a secret between God and the one who prays, and not to be simply repetitive, so that it is genuine prayer and not a public performance (verses 5-8), and then secondly as to how to pray, and what to pray for (verses 9-15). Both are to be seen as an essential part of prayer, a right attitude followed by a right approach. He first considers the right attitude to prayer.
Analysis of 6.5-6.
Note that in ‘a’ they are not to be as the hypocrites, but in the parallel are to be as those who talk with their Father in secret. In ‘b’ they are not to pray openly before men, and in the parallel they are to shut their doors and pray in secret. In ‘c’ the hypocrites desire to be seen of men, and in the parallel the disciples are to enter their inner chambers so as not to be seen of men. In ‘d’ it is made clear that the hypocrite has his reward. People think how wonderful he is and God has no time for him.
The disciples are warned against putting on an act in prayer. Among the Jews, to be seen as a praying man was a very desirable thing, because such a man was admired and respected by all. Thus those who wanted to be admired and to put on an act that they were pious stood up where they could clearly be seen in the synagogues, or on street corners (or public open spaces) at the time of prayer, and there made a great show of praying to God, even though they were only praying to themselves. Men and women then thought that they were wonderful. But God did not think that they were wonderful. He simply turned away in disgust. As far as He was concerned they had already received their ‘answer to prayer’ by what men and women thought about them. They had had their reward. Compare here Luke 18.9-14.
It was not normal to pray on street corners as a general rule, but the point is probably that some arranged to be in such an openly observed position as a street corner when the hour of prayer came round, which was the time when all should pray, and would then stop and pray so that all might see their piety. For all would know that a truly pious man must observe the hour of prayer wherever he was. So his aim was that people would say, ‘How pious this man must be!’ And so he had received his reward.
Note that it is his intention that is being judged here. It is not that he prays in public because something has prevented him from getting to the place of prayer. That could be commendable. It is because it was all the time his intention to pray in public, so that men would see it, and give glory to him instead of to God.
But the true disciple when he prays goes into an inner room in his house, probably a store room, where no one will know what he is doing. He wants no credit for what he is doing. Such an idea would not even cross his mind. The ‘inner room’ or ‘store room’ would probably be windowless. Here no one was likely to see him, or even know what he was doing there. Then he closes the door and prays to his Father in secret. And then he can be sure that his Father will hear, for his Father will be there with him ‘in secret’, and it will be clear that his motive is genuine, for otherwise he has nothing to gain from it. And if his prayer is right, his Father will give him what he asks for.
Clearly this was not speaking about public prayers of the right kind. There had to be public prayers in the synagogue, just as there have to be in church, and there was no condemnation in that. What would have been condemned with regard to that was to pray in public in such a way that it was simply putting on an act so as to earn men’s esteem. The one who prays in public as a public responsibility has rather therefore to ensure that he is really concerned to pray to God, and be aware that he is leading others in prayer to God, and praying with that aim, desiring no credit for himself. Once he begins to admire his own prayers (or others begin to declare their admiration of them and he basks in their praise) may God help him, for he will need it.
‘Your Father Who sees in secret.’ The idea is that the presence of God is with them in their secret room, despite it simply being a store room. For here they will enter Heaven (Isaiah 57.15). It may even have indicated the room where valuables were kept, with the idea being that he had in his treasure room found the most precious thing of all. The reward will include the answer to their prayer, as long as the prayer is for something that is within His will, but above all it will mean that they are establishing their relationship with Him. And Jesus will now in fact reveal what kind of thing we should be praying for.
How Not To Pray (6.7-9a).
Having gone quietly and secretly into a private room the next question was as to what kind of praying to avoid. The point being made here is that the prayers of most men are useless, and accomplish nothing, simply because when they pray it is not a question of genuinely speaking with God. To them God is just a convenience store. Their aim is simply to get what they want. And they rather think that by repeating themselves and going on and on in prayer they will somehow persuade God to give them what they want. So they ‘babble’ on. They somehow feel that they will earn God’s reply by the length of time that they continue in prayer, and by how often they repeat their request. Their idea is that if they keep it up long enough they will surely eventually have earned a satisfactory reply. They think by such methods to persuade Him to do what they ask. Jesus stresses that His disciples must not think like that at all. For they must remember that they are speaking to a Father Who knows what their needs are before they ask Him, and will cater for them as necessary (6.26, 30).
He is not discouraging long prayers. He is only discouraging long prayers for the wrong things and with the wrong motive. Long prayers made with the hope of their length somehow persuading God to do something selfish are discouraged, but long prayers of someone whose aim is simply to have loving fellowship with God are a different matter. Once He has made the point He will then go on to point out what they should be praying for all the time.
Analysis of 6.7-9a.
Note that in ‘a’ they are to avoid vain repetitions, and in the parallel they are to pray as Jesus shows them to pray. In ‘b’ the non-disciples think that they will be heard because of their constant repetition, and in the parallel the disciples are reminded that such is unnecessary because their Father already knows their needs. In ‘c’ and importantly they are not to be like the Gentiles. Thus while they are to avoid being like the more ostentatious Scribes and Pharisees, it is equally necessary that they do not pray like the Gentiles. Their way of praying must rather be that of a true disciple.
In praying they are not to ‘use vain repetitions.’ This might literally be translated, ‘do not babble’ (but the word is a rare one and its exact meaning is not known). The word is battalogeo. It may reflect the Hebrew word ‘batel’ meaning vain or idle. Or it may reflect the Greek root ‘batt’ meaning ‘stuttering’. Taken with logeo it could therefore mean speaking vainly or idly, or going on and on in a fairly meaningless way. But in compound words as here logein can mean ‘to gather’. Thus it may signify a gathering together of vain or babbling words. The point being made is that prayers that go on and on for their own sake, or are completely repetitive, possibly even including some kind of formulae for persuading the deity to respond, but have no heart in them, will achieve nothing from God. This would include unthinking repetition of prayers by rote, or with a prayer wheel or other aid. It does not, however, discourage the practise of writing out our prayer and laying it before God. It is not a question of method, but of genuineness and motive. Such aimless prayers, says Jesus, achieve nothing. What matters it that the prayer comes from the heart and is genuine, and furthermore that it comes from those whose hearts are right.
The point being made here is that because they are now disciples of Jesus, and have repented and come under the Kingly Rule of God, they can come to God as their Father. Prayer has suddenly become a more vital thing. And no child should see itself as needing to force itself on its father’s attention by constant babbling and endless persistence. Rather the child should be straight and to the point. And that being so, that should also be the approach of the disciples to their a heavenly Father.
The Gentiles, and many Jews also, were seen as knowing no better. They did not know God as their Father in this personal way. They were not in any genuine relationship with Him. Thus they saw God as Someone far off and inaccessible who had to be persuaded and bribed, Someone Who had to be constantly harassed until He gave way. They did think that they could wear God down, or somehow persuade Him to do their will, often by using techniques. For their conception of God was such that they knew no other way to go about it.
In contrast the disciple knows that God is now his Father in Heaven, and that he can therefore approach Him as such. He knows that he does not need to speak a lot, and that he does not need to go on and on at God, but that God is ready to listen to him. And he also recognises that He must remember who God is. So he does not rush in with rash words. He remembers that, ‘God is in Heaven, and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few’ (Ecclesiastes 5.2).
But that is not to say that he does not spend much time in prayer. Jesus Himself certainly did, and He prayed long and hard (Luke 6.12). Nor was He afraid to repeat His essential prayers (26.39-44). The difference lay in His purpose in praying, the fullness of heart that lay behind His praying, His readiness to listen, and in what He hoped to achieve. In Jesus’ case the aim was to establish His Father’s will and then to do it. It was in order at all times to maintain close fellowship with His Father. He had not the slight intention of ‘wearing Him down’ or trying to persuade Him against His will, or of ‘getting what He wanted’ by badgering Him. Rather He wanted to spend time with His Father, and discover His will, and do it. And that is what our aim should be too.
So they need not think that they should wear down God’s resistance, or try to ensure that He really did know what they wanted by their constant repetition, as though there were any doubt about the situation. Rather they should recognise that even before they begin to pray their Father knows precisely what they need before they ask Him. They are coming to One Who is fully aware of all their circumstances. Their praying should therefore be for the purpose of enjoying being in their Father’s presence, in order to bring glory to Him, and in order to pray for the establishing of His Kingly Rule, the Kingly Rule of Heaven.
The truth is that in prayer our aim should not be for personal benefit at all (apart from spiritual benefit, and that kept until the end), for we should be recognising that, if we are walking with Him, our Father already knows our personal needs, and has not forgotten them. Our concern, therefore, should be for His glory, in the happy confidence that He will certainly not neglect our interests. These words very much link up with and parallel verse 32, indicating that this passage is not just a later insertion, but an essential part of the whole narrative.
This idea of God’s personal care for His own people occurs in a similar way in the Old Testament. The hapless know that they can commit themselves to Him, and He is the helper of the fatherless (Psalm 10.14). In a context of want and hunger, those who seek the Lord will lack no good thing (Psalm 34.10). No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84.11). For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with good (Psalm 107.9). Thus they can look to the Lord as their Shepherd, so that they will lack nothing (Psalm 23). And Mary could therefore cry, ‘He fills the hungry with good things, and the rich He sends empty away’ (Luke 1.53). And this is because they seek the Lord, and love Him, not because of the urgency of their prayers for the things in question.
The question here is not whether they pray a set prayer, or whether they pray freely from the heart. What matters is that in either case it is genuinely from the heart. And He now goes on to emphasise this fact by giving them what might be seen as a set pattern of prayer. It was a prayer of such simplicity that it outshone all other prayers of the time, which had a tendency to be rather verbose and complicated. We are so used to the spiritual simplicity of Jesus’ words and teaching, and of this prayer, that we fail to recognise how remarkable it all was. Jesus basically thrust aside all the waffling, and the ostentation, and the complicated theology, and made things available to the common man. That was not to say that there was no profundity behind it. Indeed the full depths of the Lord’s Prayer have yet to be fathomed. But His remarkable ability was to be able to be profound and simple at the same time. Even a child could understand Him, and yet men would grow old in seeking to do so.
But we should note what its emphasis is. It is the prayer of a disciple. Its whole concentration is on the fulfilling and carrying forward of the purposes of God and on the desire to be fitted for that purpose. It does not include a prayer for ‘things’, for the basis of it was that their Father was well aware of their needs for those, and would provide them without their needing to ask (verses 8, 25, 31). It concentrates on what is most important, the fulfilling of God’s will and purpose.
‘After this manner therefore pray you.’ We note here that the prayer is a pattern to follow and not just a prayer to be prayed. Jesus was certainly not saying, ‘just repeat this and you have prayed enough’. He was saying, ‘this is the pattern that you should keep in mind when you pray’. And there can be a danger that by simply being repeated by rote it might lose something of its power. On the other hand as long as it is understood it is in fact vibrant with significance.
How To Pray - The Lord’s Prayer (6.9b-15).
The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6.9b-15).
We should note in using the description ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ that this is not to be seen as how the Lord Himself actually prayed, although He no doubt followed much of this pattern in as far as it applied to Him. This was a prayer give by Him to His disciples telling them how they should pray. For instance Jesus would always pray ‘My Father’, for His relationship with His Father was unique. The disciples were always to pray ‘our Father’ for they came as one body together.
This provision of a new prayer stresses that Jesus sees them as a new community. Israel had its united common prayers, repeated constantly in the synagogues, which were mainly based on the Scriptures. John the Baptist had also taught his disciples to pray (Luke 11.1). So Jesus could have pointed to either of those had He simply wished to guide their praying. But He chose not to do so. He instituted a new prayer. And necessarily so for it is a prayer that sees life from a totally new angle. It is based on the new factor that the Messiah was here among them. It was in recognition of the fact that the old prayers would not do for the current occasion. They needed a prayer to be prayed in the light of the fact that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was here. Thus as we look at the Lord’s prayer we should not ask ‘how is it the same as the prayer of others?’ We should ask, ‘in what way does it differ?’
As we consider the prayer we should note how much it is based on Old Testament ideas, including especially those of the Pentateuch. In many ways it could have been prayed by Israel as they were on the verge of deliverance. And some significance might be seen in the fact that Matthew has been implying that in Jesus the original purposes of the Exodus were now being fulfilled. As we saw in 2.15 Jesus as representing the new Israel has come out of Egypt as God’s Son, just as Israel should have done of old. In chapter 3 the new Israel have passed through the waters of John’s baptism as Israel had passed through the waters of old (compare 1 Corinthians 10.1-2), preparatory to the coming Kingly Rule of Heaven (4.17). In chapter 4 Jesus has faced up to temptations in the wilderness and had succeeded where Israel of old had failed. We would therefore now expect an emphasis on the coming of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. For when Moses was originally sent to call Israel out of Egypt (which Jesus in symbolism was now also doing (2.15)) it was in order to lead them into the land promised to Abraham (Exodus 3.7-10; Psalm 105.8-11) so that God might there establish His Kingly Rule among them, the Kingly Rule which He had already made real in the wilderness (Exodus 19.6; 20.1-18; Numbers 23.21; Deuteronomy 33.5; 1 Samuel 8.7, and see Exodus 4.22-23 where Israel as the Lord’s son are compared with Pharaoh’s son; compare also Psalm 22.28; 93.1; 95.3; 96.10; 97.1; 99.1-5; 102.12). Note the threefold aspects of His Kingly Rule in relation to Moses,
It is worth at this point considering some of the parallels between the Lord’s Prayer and the Pentateuch:
The aspects of God being ‘in Heaven’ and of forgiveness being available to men are also prominent in Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8.27, 30, 32, 34, 36, 39, 50. So Jesus is making clear that He has come so that through His disciples He might fulfil all the hopes of the Old Testament, that is, that He might ‘fulfil the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 5.17).
And the prayer also indicates the way of salvation for each one of them. It is by recognising Who He is that they will come under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and will then begin to do His will, recognising Him as the One in Heaven. This is summarised in 7.22, ‘not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord” will enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven’. Thus by praying this prayer they are praying for God’s salvation to reach out to the world.
The prayer given here is to some extent paralleled in Luke 11.1-4. But in Luke it was given in response to an off the cuff request to be taught how to pray. Jesus therefore there gave them a briefer answer covering a number of essentials. He gave them pointers. Here in Matthew the prayer has to some extent been smoothed out and slightly extended, even though its simplicity, brevity and overall pattern have all been retained. The obvious conclusion from this is that the difference in form here is due to the fact that Jesus had by this time had plenty of time to put it together in a more patterned and rounded form. Even practically speaking it is hardly likely that Jesus would have been satisfied with leaving them with an incomplete pattern.
Both forms betray their Aramaic background, but given the smallness of the scope there are sufficient differences between them to demonstrate that they are not simply different renderings of the same source, in spite of the attempts to demonstrate otherwise. Had both been citing the same source there is simply no reason why some of the changes in question should have been made. Such attempts are, of course, always highly speculative anyway, in spite sometimes of the credentials of those who suggest them, and they are rarely compelling (providing plenty of scope for scholars to exercise their talents and disagree with each other). However, one good thing about such ideas is that they do help us to think more carefully about what we read. But they should on the whole never be taken too seriously. They are largely speculation.
(They are not quite as speculative, however, as those who invent out of nothing a whole community and thus unnecessarily deny to Jesus the credit for the completed prayer. For in fact this prayer is clearly Jesus’ work. Its simplicity and genius bear His hallmark. Once men got to work on it, it would have been expanded until it became unrecognisable. That was the tendency of the age. It remained simple precisely because they were acknowledged to be His unchangeable words).
The length of time over which Jesus’ ministry lasted is against the constant suggestions that the sources for Jesus words were as few as is often suggested, so that any coincidence between sayings is to be seen as indicating only one source. Those who had memorised much of what He said, or had even taken notes, would have a number of varieties of similar teaching given by Him at various times and in different contexts, as Jesus repeated the same truths in slightly different ways, in order to ram them home to the memory, while inducing those who heard them to think. Different Apostles, for example, would have remembered different things, and it must be seen as certain that some who came as disciples in order to learn, no doubt came with instructions from others to keep a record of His words so as to take them back to others. They would thus indeed keep some kind of record of them, as Luke seems to confirm. And Matthew and Luke probably spoke with many such people, and then confirmed their words with the others who would then call them back to memory. We are probably therefore to see Matthew and Luke as presenting two different forms of what Jesus established as a pattern for prayer, two forms given by Jesus on two different occasions. As with the beatitudes, Luke’s source is more craggy, Matthew’s is more rounded, the latter probably bringing out how Jesus’ ministry had to some extent mellowed and developed.
We must first attempt to see the prayer as a whole. There is a beautiful balance to the Lord’s prayer in Matthew which contrasts vividly with the cragginess of it in Luke. The one is the rough outline giving indicators, the other the polished final result, and in the latter each final phrase has its antecedent. Possibly we may make this clear by presenting it in this way:
Note how, having begun with the idea of God as Father over the new community, it continues with Him in Heaven where their Father reigns (Psalm 29.10; 103.19; Isaiah 6.1). Then by means of a trilogy it emphasises the coming of their Father in Heaven down to earth, as they call on God to bring about His plan of taking over in the world (Psalm 2.8-9; 22.27-31; 110.1-6); He is called on to act to hallow His Name on earth (Ezekiel 36.23-28), to bring about His Kingly Rule on earth (Psalm 22.28; 47.2-3; 103.19; Isaiah 43.15; 45.22-23; Zechariah 14.9; see also Jeremiah 23.5-6; 30.7-11; Ezekiel 34.24; 37.22-28; Hosea 3.4-5), and to bring about the doing of His will on earth (Isaiah 48.17; 54.13; Jeremiah 30.11; 31.33; Ezekiel 37.23-24), in precisely the same way as is true in Heaven where He is Lord of all.
He is to come in the same way as a great Conqueror goes out to regain territory of his that has been usurped (Isaiah 59.16-20), in order to restore the honour of his name, to establish his rule and to ensure that his will is put into effect. And all these three aims are then also seen as following the pattern of what is true in Heaven where He reigns as their Father. For in Heaven His Name is hallowed, He rules in complete unanimity, and His will is done. And that is what must also be the aim on earth in the establishing of His Kingly Rule.
Thus ‘the One in Heaven’ is not just to be seen as indicating a Jewish way of protecting the Name of the Father from presumption, it is very much a reminder of the contrast between Heaven and earth, and of the need for the new community to be involved in heavenly things, ‘as in Heaven, so on earth’. The words are there because their Father in Heaven wants them to introduce Heaven to earth.
Then follow the disciples’ prayers with this in mind. They are to pray for heavenly (Messianic) food to sustain them on the way, they are to pray for the forgiveness of the load of debt that they continually owe to God because of their daily sins, so that it will be constantly removed, and this against a background of themselves revealing to others the forgiveness that has come from Heaven (5.45, 48), and they are to pray that they may not be involved in the judgments that are coming on the world, but may be delivered from all evil (and from the Evil One) as they go about their mission. All these things are seen to be very necessary when God begins to act on earth. They need to be fed by Him with the Messianic food (Isaiah 25.6; 40.11; 49.10; Jeremiah 3.15; 23.4; 50.19; Ezekiel 34.13-15, 23; Micah 5.4; John 6.27-63), they need to be forgiven by Him with the Messianic forgiveness (1 Kings 8.30, 34, etc.; Isaiah 43.25; 44.22; 55.7; Jeremiah 31.34; Ezekiel 37.23), and they need to be preserved by Him from the Messianic judgments (e.g. Isaiah 2.10-21; 4.4; 24.13; and often) so that they can be involved in His work of establishing His Kingly Rule. In each case what follows is then particularly pertinent. They not only need Tomorrow’s food, they need it ‘today’ (see below), they are in a position to receive forgiveness because they have shown themselves to be Messiah’s people by the demonstration that they have a new heart, something revealed by their being willing to forgive others. And in avoiding divine testing on a rebellious world, they especially need deliverance from all the evils coming on the world, including what will come on them from the Evil One, who will run rampant in Messiah’s day, and whose kingly rule Jesus, and they with Him, have decisively rejected (4.10).
The prayer may also be seen as naturally falling into two threefold divisions following an opening appeal to their Father in Heaven. The concentration of the first part is then on God being glorified by what happens on earth through the activity of His true people. Through them His Name will be held in awe (for His Name compare 21.9; 23.39; 28.19 and see 7.22; 10.22; 18.5, 20. 19.29; 24.5, 9), His royal power will be revealed, and a light will shine in the world (5.16). The concentration of the second part is on their being made fit to have their part in that work, revealing how His people will be established. Jesus’ assumption in the prayer is that what is prayed for here will be the thing that is of most concern to His disciples and His people. It indicates the mindset that should be theirs.
In view of this we do not have to choose between whether it is to be seen as considering on the one hand the contemporary situation, or on the other the eschatological. It is to be seen as both contemporary and eschatological, for that is how the disciples would undoubtedly have seen it. They would have seen it as referring both very much to day by day life, and at the same time to the eschatological future that was breaking in on them. For to them the two were combined. John had made that clear. The time of the Coming One and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and fire was here. The Kingly Rule of Heaven was upon them, and they were very much aware that they were now in the days of the Coming One, ‘the last days’, because the King had come and ‘the end of the ages’ had come upon them (1 Corinthians 10.11; Hebrews 9.26; 1 Peter 4.7). As far as the disciples were concerned they were in ‘the last days’ (Acts 2.17; compare Hebrews 1.2). To them therefore the prayer was both eschatological and contemporary. (Scripturally we too are in ‘the last days’ and the ‘last day’ prophecies are even now in process of fulfilment. It is simply that God’s time scale is a little different from ours, as Peter will later point out (2 Peter 3.8-9)).
However, while the prayer must clearly be seen as a part of the call to action contained in the Sermon, and as encouraging the programme that they are to follow, it does not, of course, forbid wider praying. We have, for one thing, also to pray for those who persecute us (5.44). It is assuredly, however, an indication that the concerns expressed in the prayer are what should be the central thoughts in our praying. And we should certainly not be spending too much time in praying for what will in the end simply pass away. Our concentration should rather be on preparation for the end of the age, and expanding the work of God. And Jesus could well have added, ‘For we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen. Because the things which are seen are temporary and temporal, the things which are unseen are eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4.18). But instead He emphasised the new world which He was introducing, a world where men forgave each other when they repented (14-15).
Analysis of 6.9b-15.
(The capital letters in the Analysis continue on the series from verse 7b onwards).
Note that in ‘a’ the prayer is to their Father in Heaven, and in the parallel is on what their Father in Heaven will or will not do for them. In ‘b’ they pray that their Father’s Name might be ‘set apart’ as holy (by what happens in and through them) and in the parallel that they might be set apart by Him from evil and the Evil One. In ‘c’ the prayer is for the coming of the Kingly Rule of God on earth, and in the parallel this includes the forgiveness of their failure in the past to observe His Kingly Rule and give Him what was His due, and the revealing of that Kingly Rule in their hearts by their being forgiving. In ‘d’ they pray for His will to be done, and in the parallel His will is done in the provision of their deepest physical (daily bread) or spiritual needs (Tomorrow’s bread). And centrally in ‘e’ all this is to be achieved on earth as well as in Heaven.
Before we look at the prayer in more depth we should perhaps consider it as a whole, and as we do so we learn how to pray. It commences with a simple but profound description of God. This is not just to be seen as an introductory formula with little more meaning than ‘dear sir’. It is a reminder that as we approach Him we must consider the very nature of the One Whom we are approaching. For before we do anything else at prayer we need to get this sorted out. It is only as we do so that our prayers will follow the right course.
Our Father Who is in Heaven’. A pattern Jewish Father was both authoritative and loving. His children would be aware that he would welcome them but also that they must not treat him lightly. So as their Father God too must be respected as such. Honouring father and mother was basic to God’s covenant. And this would especially be so with the ‘Father in Heaven’. ‘He is in Heaven and we are on the earth’. Thus Jesus point is that they must approach Him in ‘awed love’, in godly fear. It must be done remembering Who He is, and yet aware that, if our hearts are right, we are welcome in His presence as His sons.
Our next concern is to be the glory of God, ‘May your Name be made holy’. To the Jew the name represented what a person was, and to them therefore God’s Name indicated His essence. That He is God and there is no other like Him. And to ‘make holy’ meant to set apart to a sacred purpose. So here our intention is to be to express the desire that all in Heaven and earth (verse 10) should be made aware of the remarkable nature and being of God, and should remember Who He is and honour Him accordingly. The point is that they should set Him apart as sacred in their hearts.
It is a reminder to us again that although He is our heavenly Father, the prototype of all fatherhood (Ephesians 3.15), He is not to be treated lightly, and that therefore we should be constantly concerned for the honour of His Name. As we pray this we are still rightly adjusting ourselves to the idea of Who it is Whom we are approaching. We may remember again the words of Ecclesiastes 5.2, ‘God is in Heaven and we are on the earth, and therefore let our words be few’. For this is something that as we enter His ‘experienced presence’ we must never forget. Yet we have now moved from contemplation to beginning to pray, for we are praying for His holiness to be revealed by His activity on earth. That is one essential way in which His Name will be hallowed (Ezekiel 36.23).
Then following that our prayer should be that He might be established in His authority over men, ‘may your Kingly Rule come’. We are still meditating on God as King over all, but we are also praying. And yet our prayer is still concentrated on our desire for God to be all in all. We are demonstrating our longing that He should have His rightful place, and be acknowledged as Lord of all. In this regard we should notice that ‘may your Kingly Rule come’ has in mind both that the Gospel might be accepted in their day, so that God’s Kingly rule on earth spread over more and more people, withan eye finally to His everlasting Kingly Rule. It is to be ‘as in Heaven, so on earth’.
So in a few short words Jesus has summed up the honour due to His Father, without diminishing it a jot. And we should note that it is only now, having reminded ourselves of all these things, that we turn our thoughts to the world, and what it should be doing, and even then it is not in order to obtain what we want for ourselves, it is out of concern that men might do His will, as it is done in Heaven. So for the first half of our prayer, God and His glory is still to be the centre of our thinking. And in the prayer we will now pray that what we have learned, and will learn, from the Sermon on the Mount, might be the basis on which men live in order that His honour might be upheld. ‘May your will be done.’ For the aim of that Sermon is that His will might be done on earth as it is in Heaven (7.13-29).
And then having appreciated our Father’s presence, and having ensured that our hopes and aims are allied with His, we can go on to pray that we might be aligned with His purposes, and might ourselves be what He wants us to be, by recognising that our sustenance must come from Him, by admitting our own failure and seeking forgiveness for it, on the basis that as His disciples we are forgiving of others, and by being delivered from all evil, including the Evil One himself. We can sum it up as continual dependence, continuing cleansing, and continuing confidence in His saving power. Our prayer is thus that we might be wholly His, and as such, aligned with His will, and fashioned by Him.
The disciples can now approach God as their Father because they have come to Him as His ‘sons’ (5.9). They have come under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and their delight is now to do His will. He is their Father in Heaven (5.16, 45; 6.1). The stress on this throughout the Sermon is remarkable (6.14, 26, 32; 7.11, 21). It is something that they must not forget.
Note that it is a joint prayer. They are to pray ‘our’ Father. They are to come as one ‘body’ together, as the new congregation of Israel (Matthew 16.18). There is to be no thought of their just being individual disciples, although that is not to say that they cannot pray this prayer individually. But when they do it will always be with the recognition that they are a part of God’s holy nation, God’s true people (Exodus 19.6; 1 Peter 2.9). They pray as one.
And they recognise that they cannot approach Him lightly. For while He is their ‘Father’, He is their Father ‘in Heaven’. This last addition may seem to make it, to a point, typically Jewish (to some extent in contrast with the prayer in Luke, although the idea is still intrinsically present there), but the emphasis is different from what would be intended by a Jew. For the idea is not in order to make God somewhat remote, but in order to emphasise His very nature and being. He is ‘heavenly’. And therefore as we pray we are to be concerned about heavenly things.
No non-Christian Jew ever actually spoke of God in a way remotely as personal as this until well after the time of Christ, and even then there were only indications of a part of the idea that lay behind it. It is true that a similar phrase (‘our Father’) is found as purported to be on the lips of late first century Rabbis, but it is only in later literature, and not as a direct address (compare also Deuteronomy 32.5 where the idea is exemplified). It did not have the same personal emphasis, but was more secondary.
The Jews did, however, see God as Father in a general way, and the prophets did sometimes border on approaching the idea found here. The words of Jeremiah 31.20 are, for example, moving and explicit,
Here there is a clear invitation for Israel to respond to a loving Father, for we have the picture of a Father yearning for the loving response of His son, even though His son has been recalcitrant. It presented Israel with a joint opportunity (it was not individual), but it was not one that they ever took. God might look on them in this way, but at their worst they ignored Him and at their best they would never dare to presume because of their unworthiness.
We can compare here Deuteronomy 32.5, ‘They are not His children. It is their blemish. They are a perverse and crooked generation. Do you thus requite the Lord, O foolish and unwise people. Is He not your Father Who has bought you, Who has made you and established you.’ Here the thought is very much that of Exodus 4.23, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn’, where as His son He had redeemed them. But then it records their refusal to accept the honour, because they were unwilling to fill the position that was there demanded. So all through their history God offered to be their Father, but all the time they refused.
The same offer to be their Father and Redeemer is spoken of in Isaiah 63.16-17 where the prophet declares to God, “You are our Father. Though Abraham does not know us, and Israel (Jacob) does not acknowledge us, You O Lord are our Father, our Redeemer from everlasting is Your Name.’ The thought there is, however, of a powerful and authoritative Father and Redeemer, not the personal Father that Jesus had in mind, and it goes on to say that because of their recalcitrance and refusal to respond to Him He actually causes them to go astray.
Indeed Hosea reminds us that He had ‘called His son out of Egypt’, but that when they had come they had brought Egypt with them in their hearts, and He had thus had to return them there again (Hosea 11.1-6), because they had not come fully.
God’s offer to them continued while the prophets were still prophesying, for in Malachi 1.6 God declares:
Here the father is seen as a figure of authority, in parallel to a master and his servant. It is a reminder that the offer of Fatherhood brings with it a requirement to fulfil the responsibilities that went along with the idea, but the invitation to be His sons was still there, even though again there was little response.
The same option was opened to them in Jeremiah 3.19-20, where it is connected with the final time of restoration. There Jeremiah has in mind the time when Jerusalem will once more be ‘the throne of the Lord’ (5.24; compare also ‘the city of the Great King’ - 5.25.), and all nations will gather to it (compare Acts 2.5). And His offer is, ‘You will call Me “my Father” and will not turn away from following Me’. But he adds that their response at that time was to ‘deal treacherously with Him’ like an unfaithful wife. It may, however be seen as significant that here the final restoration was seen as being in terms of His people coming to Him and calling Him, ‘My Father’. And that this is what Jesus is offering them now.
For other references to God as Father in the Old Testament see Psalm 103.13 (where it is indirect in the form of an illustration, thus God is seen to be ‘like a father’); and Malachi 2.10 (where it is again as Creator).
The Jews did not totally ignore the idea of God as their Father in accordance with these Scriptures, but it was very much as One Who was kept at a distance, lest they be too presumptious. Indeed they would no doubt have seen this prayer, with its lack of qualifying phrases, as presumptious and blasphemous. (Jesus, on the other hand, while wanting them to respect their Father ‘in Heaven’, intended His disciples to know how dear they were to God). The references are few and sparse. In the Qumran literature we find a depiction of Joseph as addressing God as, ‘my Father and my God’. This lacks quite the personal note found here and is on the lips of a patriarch. In the Wisdom of Solomon 14.3 the writer can say, ‘your providence, O Father, guides it (a seagoing vessel) along’. The thought is thus fairly austere as of One Who watches over the world as its Creator. And in 1 Chronicles 29.10 in LXX David is portrayed as blessing the Lord before the congregation, and saying, “Blessed are You, O Lord God of Israel, our Father, from everlasting and to everlasting.” But the translators would have had an exalted view of David (probably considering that he could pray what others could not) and there is even then a suggestion of remoteness about an ‘everlasting Father’, and it is based on the fact that He is ‘the Lord God of Israel’. Certainly nothing in all this tempted Israel to address God as ‘our Father’ in the personal way intended here by Jesus. The address of ‘Father’ also occurs in the fourth and sixth of the eighteen benedictions regularly repeated in the synagogues (of uncertain date), but both times connected with the address ‘O Lord’. There is nothing in all this of the intimacy portrayed by Jesus, and the idea was almost always accompanied by exalted titles.
So Jesus is calling on His disciples to recognise that because the time of restoration is here (Jeremiah 3.19-20), and they have responded to it, they can call on God as ‘our Father in Heaven’, and the personal nature of the reference comes out throughout the Sermon (‘Your Father’ occurs nine times in verses 1-18 alone. See also 5.26, 45, 48; 6.26, 32; 7.11). But it is very much because they are living as His sons (5.9, 45). Because of His working in their hearts He has a people fitted to be His sons.
Paul brings out the intimacy of the way in which Jesus calls on His disciples to address God as ‘our Father in Heaven’ when he tells us that because we have received the Spirit of sonship we can call Him ‘Abba, Father’ (Romans 8.15). And this is because the Spirit Himself testifies within us that we are children of God (verse 16). But he too would have insisted that we should remember that He is our ‘holy Father’ (John 17.11).
We should perhaps again draw attention here to the fact that Jesus never speaks of God as ‘our Father’ as if He was including Himself. This was a prayer for the disciples. Jesus always addresses God or speaks of God as ‘My Father’ or the equivalent, or, when speaking of the disciples, as ‘your Father’ (note verses 14-15) and even speaks of ‘My Father and your Father’ (John 20.17), but He never speaks of ‘our Father’ as including Himself (notice especially 7.21). This use is consistent throughout the Gospels demonstrating Jesus’ view of Himself as unique. But it does also serve to bring home the wonder of the privilege that is ours, that He is our Father too.
So this approach puts us in mind of the wonder of Who it is to Whom we are coming. He is in Heaven, He is our Creator, and yet He is also our personal Father, for He has called us into a personal relationship with Himself through His Son (John 1.12), and by the working of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8.15). This is not the ‘fatherhood of God’ as a universal Father. It is the personal Fatherhood of those who have, by believing in Jesus, become His Messianic children.
We can compare with this opening to the prayer here how Jesus approached His Father in John 17.1-5. He calls Him ‘Father’ and makes the relationship between them quite clear before continuing His prayer, stressing the part He has played in Their plan of salvation, and seeking restoration as the One Who had been the possessor of His Father’s own glory (John 17.5). Thus He too opens His prayer by making clear His relationship with His Father, even though in His case it is an exalted one. He does not just race into His Father’s presence.
This and the following petition closely parallel, but in a far more succint form, the words of an ancient synagogue prayer, “Exalted and hallowed be His great name in the world which He created according to his will. May He rule his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and soon. And to this, say, ‘Amen’.” This too is seeking to ‘hallow’ God’s Name, and is seeking for God to intervene in order to establish His Kingly Rule. But we must remember in making the comparison that Jesus saw things very differently from His contemporaries. Jesus possibly took over the pattern but not necessarily the ideas. They looked to a remote future. He saw God’s Kingly Rule as already breaking in upon men.
So in order that we might consider carefully the fact that although He is our Father we must not be presumptious, our attention is now drawn to His holiness, that is, to the fact that He is distinct from us and ‘set apart’ from all things by what He is, so that to approach Him is a great and exalted privilege which can only be ours when our hearts are right. He is ‘the high and exalted One Who inhabits eternity, Whose Name is holy, Who dwells in the high and holy place, with those who are of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart on the contrite one’ (Isaiah 57.15).
And our first concern and prayer is therefore to be that both in Heaven and earth His holiness be recognised. It is to long that all creation should know Who and What He is, and honour Him accordingly.
This idea of God’s Name being made holy is found in the Old Testament, from which no doubt Jesus was taking it. The purpose of God’s deliverance of His people was so that they might hallow His Name by obeying His commandments (Leviticus 22.32), and He ‘proclaimed His Name’ before Moses in order to hallow it (Exodus 33.19; compare Deuteronomy 32.3). His holiness was further revealed by His judgment on Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10.3); and the whole purpose of the Tabernacle ritual was in order to keep holy His Name (Leviticus 22.2, 32). Indeed their failure to maintain the holiness of God was the cause of the downfall of Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20.12; 27.14; Deuteronomy 32.51).
In Isaiah 29.23 we are told that Israel will ‘sanctify His Name’ and will thus ‘stand in awe’ of Him when He brings about His deliverance of them, and the result will be that they will come to understanding and will listen to His Instruction. So the prayer ‘may your Name be made holy’ includes this desire that God’s Name might be held in awe, and honoured and worshipped because His people are in awe of Him as a result of what He has done for them. For as we have seen the Name of a person indicates what he essentially is. Thus to ‘set God’s Name apart as holy’ (hallow Him) means to honour what He is fully and without reserve.
It is, however, in Ezekiel that the ‘sanctifying’ (setting apart as holy) of God’s Name by His own action receives a major emphasis (20.41; 28.22, 25; 36.23; 39.27). In Ezekiel the idea is again that God will be ‘sanctified’ (totally justified in all eyes and seen to be unique in goodness, mercy and power), by the deliverance of His people. But this is then especially connected with Him as acting to sanctify His Name. In Ezekiel 36.23 God is seen as declaring, “And I will sanctify (make holy) My great Name which has been profaned among the nations, --- and the nations will know that I am YHWH , says the Lord YHWH, when I will be sanctified (made holy) in you before their eyes --- and I will take you from among the nations --- and I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean -- a new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh, and I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36.23-27). So God is to be ‘made holy’ in the eyes of men by what He accomplishes in salvation and deliverance, in the bringing of righteousness to His people This confirms therefore that ‘hallowed be your Name’ is partly to be seen as a prayer for the pouring out of the Spirit (Ezekiel 36.27; Isaiah 44.1-5; Joel 2.28-29) and the renewing of the new covenant (Ezekiel 36.26; Jeremiah 31.33) so that God’s unique holiness might be made known. It will be praying that the work that has taken place in the disciples will spread more widely and will take in many more people so that through it God’s Name, as He acts in gracious sovereignty, might be seen to be holy. It is praying that 3.11 might be fulfilled for many.
And finally His name will be hallowed at the final judgment when all sin is done away and the perfect everlasting Kingdom is established. Then God will be fully known for what He is. Men may see God’s day of judgment as a time of terror and horror. But that is because of what they are. To Heaven it is the time when all will be set right, when wickedness and selfishness will be done away, and when God will become all in all. And that is why His people pray for it and look forward to it (2 Peter 3.12; Revelation 6.10). So by praying ‘may your Name be made holy’ we have these three things in mind, a desire that men may be in awe of Him and give Him the praise due to His Name, a cry that God will act to bring honour to His Name by pouring forth His Holy Spirit in the cleansing and transformation of a people for Himself, and a longing for that day when God will bring about His judgment and will set all to rights (compare Revelation 6.10).
Unless we are to see these three prayers that make up the first part of the Lord’s Prayer as totally independent of each other, and as having different time references, this must be seen as including the prayer that the Kingly Rule of Heaven might begin to come on earth within the experience of the disciples who were then listening to His words, for it follows the desire to hallow His Name as described above, and it precedes the request for the doing of God’s will on earth (and the prayer in Luke 11.1-4 omitted the latter because it was seen as having already been said in the previous two requests). Furthermore, as a primary emphasis in respect of the Kingly Rule of Heaven in Matthew (and the total emphasis in respect of the Kingly Rule of God) is on its being experienced and spreading in the present this is what we would expect (see for this The Coming of the King and His Kingly Rule in the introduction). This is thus not just a pious hope that God’s everlasting Kingly Rule will come about in the eternal kingdom, or even a yearning for that situation to come about, looking at things at a distance, in a kind of passive way, as the Scribes and Pharisees did. This is a recognition that the Kingly Rule of God has already begun to exert its power on men and women as revealed in chapter 13, and a prayer that that will be effective, and will continue to come, in order that then it might lead on to the establishment of the everlasting Kingly Rule of God, when all will own His sway (Isaiah 45.23; Philippians 2.10). Both ideas are intrinsic within it. Note especially how the establishment of His Kingly Rule in this way is connected both with the offer of salvation (Isaiah 45.22) and His word going forth in righteousness (Isaiah 45.23).
Thus it is a cry for His Kingly Rule, which is already established in Heaven (Psalm 103.19), to break through on earth (Psalm 22.28; LXX 21.29 tou Kuriou he basileia), so that some on earth may become a part of Heaven (Isaiah 57.15; Philippians 3.20; Ephesians 2.6). For ‘His Kingly Rule reigns over all’ (Psalm 103.19, LXX 102.19 he basileia autou). Indeed the suffering of God’s king is to lead on to the kingship becoming the Lord’s (Psalm 22.12-18 with 28; Isaiah 52.13-53.12). It is a call for His people to hunger and thirst after righteousness (5.6) as they await and participate in the establishment of the Kingly Rule of the righteous Branch, the Messiah Who will make real to them ‘the Lord their righteousness’ (Jeremiah 23.5-6, He will ‘reign as king’ - LXX basileuo basileus). It is a cry for His deliverance and righteousness to be revealed with power in such a way as to effectively work on earth in the saving of men and women in the forming of the new Israel, as a fulfilment of the Isaianic promises. God had promised, ‘I will bring near My righteousness --- and My salvation will not delay, and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel My glory’ (Isaiah 46.13; see also 51.5, 8; 56.1), which would result in the establishment of His righteous King (Isaiah 11.1-4), and that is what is being sought here. It is a prayer that God’s Kingly Rule may spread effectively and powerfully and possess the lives of men and women on earth today, in the way that is described in chapter 13 and elsewhere, so that God’s glory may be seen on earth, although certainly then leading on to its final fulfilment following the judgment, as indeed it also does in chapter 13.
For before there can possibly be an everlasting Kingship there must first be a conquest on earth in the name of the Messiah (28.19-20) which will then subsequently result in His final everlasting Kingly Rule being established, with that in itself handed over to the fullness of the Godhead at the consummation (1 Corinthians 15.24). It is thus a prayer for the establishment of the Messianic reign by the power of God as they go forward to make disciples of all nations (28.19-20), that He and they might reign on the earth under God’s Kingly Rule (19.28; 28.18-20; Romans 5.17; Ephesians 2.6; Colossians 1.13; Revelation 1.6, 9; 5.10) in preparation for their being carried up into Heaven (13.30, 43; 24.31; 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17) as already under His Kingly Rule (Colossians 1.13), and that they may be citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3.20), a situation which is potentially theirs (Ephesians 2.6). It is a prayer that God will fulfil His purposes on earth and bring glory to His Name and to the Name of Jesus, as the world is brought under His sway, something which will then finally result in His perfect everlasting Rule in Heaven. Thus it is the Kingly Rule of God for which the prophets longed and waited (Isaiah 24.23; 33.22; 52.7) which would come about through His Chosen One (Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-4; 32.1-4; 42.1-4; Ezekiel 37.24-28; Daniel 7.14), which would be gradually established on earth in the new Israel (13.1-52), as a result of the activities of His disciples (28.19-20), and consummated in Heaven in the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22).
This petition is then a continuation of the same prayer as the previous one, but seen from the point of view, not only of God’s activity (‘bring about the doing of Your will’), but of men’s response (‘let them do your will’), and put in more basic terms. It has very much in mind how Jesus will close the Sermon, emphasising the doing of the will of God (7.21, 24-25). ‘Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter under the Kingly Rule of God, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven’ (7.21). It is thus a prayer that God will work in men’s hearts and minds and wills in such a way that they will ‘will and do of His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2.13), and that that may be accomplished in order that God’s will might be done on earth and be seen to be done. It is a prayer that what Jesus speaks of in 5.3-9; 7.13-27 might become a reality for His disciples.
But we must here solemnly keep in mind also 26.42 where we have similar words, ‘Your will be done’. For there we have the reminder that His will also comes about through suffering, and especially through the suffering of His Son. Thus by this prayer, quite unknowingly, they will be praying for the successful carrying through of His crucifixion in the will of God, and of their own persecution as they fill up what was ‘lacking’ in the sufferings of Christ (their sufferings as His body and as His witnesses). As can be seen it is no light thing to pray for the doing of His will. This may therefore be seen as very much leading up to the prayer not to be brought into the trials that the world will have to face but to be delivered from evil and the Evil One. For while triumphant, it carries within it the idea of the persecution and martyrdoms that lay ahead.
It is interesting that this last petition is not found in the initial giving of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11.1-4. It is surely therefore to be seen as a clarifying and expanding on the previous two requests so as to make their meaning unmistakable, and attach them firmly to the present time, precisely because Jesus did not want men just to project them into a distant future. In reviewing the prayer He had Himself seen the danger that this might occur.
(If this were not so we would be suggesting that in His Lucan prayer Jesus had not been much concerned about the current doing of His will on earth but had only been interested in the more distant future, something which does not in fact tie in with the second part of the prayer which very much has in mind the present. Thus the second part of the prayer would then lack anything to tie itself to in the first part of the prayer).
And as we pray this we are to do so remembering the perfect pattern of obedience. For Heaven is the place where all race to do His bidding, where there is no thought of disobedience to His will, where there is not a whiff of dissent. Once men are there they do not question His will, for they are in a place where God’s will is all. So in Heaven they do not obey Him because they are in subservience and dare not disobey, but because they recognise that what He requires is wholly right (Revelation 5.13). They therefore delight to do His will.
This reminds us how much easier our lives would be if only we would take time to live in the light of Heaven. And that is in fact what Scripture constantly exhorts us to do, for we are to recognise that we have been seated at His right hand in the heavenly place, and that we have been made citizens of Heaven, and are therefore to set our minds on things above where Christ is enthroned at the right hand of God (Ephesians 2.6; Philippians 3.20; Colossians 3.1-3), recognising at the same time that all things are open to the eyes of Whom we have to do, whether in earth or in Heaven ( Hebrews 4.13; compare 1 John 1.7). Compare again the promises attaching to 5.3-12, and see 6.20. But instead we allow the distractions of this world to take our eyes off our heavenly heritage, and, before we know where we are, we find ourselves once more engaged in disobedience, and ‘the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things, choke the word and it becomes unfruitful’. This can even happen to some extent in a Christian when he takes his eyes off things above. Here therefore Jesus seeks to turn our thoughts in prayer back to our spiritual home. We are to make Heaven our pattern and our home. We are to be homesick for Heaven, and in the light of it ever active on earth.
Note the use of ‘kai’. Kai is a loose and indefinite conjunction, which makes a connection but without emphasising how. Often it is almost redundant. Among other possibilities it can thus be translated as ‘and’ or ‘so’ or ‘even’ (‘that is to say’). A good rule that has been suggested is that its significance should always be understated so as to add as little as possible to the meaning of a sentence. Here that would support the translation ‘so’. ‘On earth as in Heaven’ conveys the right meaning.
But, as we have seen above, the pattern of the prayer suggests that this additional phrase should be seen as applying to all three of the previous petitions, for in Heaven His name is hallowed, in Heaven His rule is unquestioned, and in Heaven His will is done with alacrity and delight. Indeed a major emphasis in the Old Testament is that the Lord already reigns in Heaven. He is the King Who sits above the flood (Psalm 29.10) as King over all the earth (Psalm 47.2). He is high and lifted up and seated on a throne surveying the situation on earth (Isaiah 6.1; Psalm 53.2). It is there in Heaven that His Kingly Rule (LXX he basileai autou) is established (Psalm 103.19). And this Kingly Rule is the Lord’s so that He might rule over the nations (Psalm 22.28). Thus it is right and Scriptural that His disciples should pray, ‘Your Kingly Rule come, as in Heaven so on earth’.
The significance of ‘Heaven’ here must clearly be that it represents the ‘place’ where God dwells with His heavenly hosts, for that is where He is hallowed, where He reigns, and where His will is done without question.
A Change in Focus.
Up to this point the whole prayer has centred on God and His will. The emphasis has been on ‘Your -- Your -- Your’. And rightly so for this should ever be the focal point of discipleship. But now there is a sudden change, for from this point on the focus is on ‘us -- us -- us’, not in any sense of thinking mainly of ourselves, but having in mind our dependence on Him and our need for His constant help if we are to have the ability to fulfil His commands and do His will. In the light of what we have prayed for in the exalting of His Name, and the establishing of His Rule, and the doing of His will, we are now to seek the means by which we may ourselves have our part in it. This in itself confirms that the first part of the prayer very much refers to the position as it is found on earth. It is that which they need help in facing.
We have suggested in the chiasmus above, a parallelism in inverted form between the prayers concerning the performing of His will, and these spiritual requests that now follow, and that still holds, but as regularly in this Sermon they may also be seen from another angle. For the giving of their ‘tomorrow’s bread’ (see below) ties in well with His hallowing of His Name by sending His Holy Spirit to feed their hearts (Ezekiel 36.23-27), the coming of His Kingly Rule very much involves the forgiveness of those who come under that Kingly Rule, (they could not be under His Kingly Rule without its continual provision), and the doing of His will, (and even more so in so far as it leads to suffering), necessarily requires deliverance from trials and from evil and the Evil One.
There are two ways of looking at this part of the prayer depending partly on the significance we place on the first petition. The first is to see the petitions as involving the recognition of:
But note that on this interpretation there is lacking here any idea of a request for positive spiritual good and sustenance. In a sense they would seem to be praying, ‘Lord, somehow keep us going’, rather than, ‘Lord make us strong to do your will’.
Alternatively we may see all three as referring to Messianic provision; a continual requirement for spiritual sustenance, for spiritual bread (‘Tomorrow’s bread’), that is, to partake of Christ and His words (4.4) as the bread of life (John 6.35), followed by a continual requirement for spiritual forgiveness, and spiritual protection. But either way we should note that unlike the previous three petitions these three are connected by the word ‘and’. It is a reminder that all three are necessary together. It is not a question of one or the other.
Having this in mind let us therefore consider them in more detail, .
How the significance of this petition is interpreted depends very much on the meaning of ‘epiousion’. The problem is that this word is otherwise unknown to us prior to the date of this Sermon, and is rarely found, if at all in secular literature, certainly not as meaning ‘daily’. Nor are we helped much by Luke’s present imperative followed by ‘kath hemeron’, ‘Give us day by day our daily/tomorrow’s (epiousion) bread’. We may well ask in this case, why, if Jesus meant physical food, He did not simply repeat the idea of ‘today’, or why in fact the translater into Greek did not make it clear? In Luke especially ‘daily’ would have been so easy to say.
This is further accentuated by the fact that Jerome (c. 342-420 AD) tells us that in the lost Aramaic Gospel of the Nazarenes the term mahar, which means ‘tomorrow’, appears at this place in the Lord’s prayer, which suggests therefore that the reference is to bread “for tomorrow”. The Gospel of the Nazarenes was not, of course, as old as our first three Gospels. Rather it depended on our Gospel of Matthew. But the Aramaic wording of the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of the Nazarenes (“bread for tomorrow”) must surely be seen as representing the ancient form of the prayer in Aramaic, and therefore in that regard as older than the Gospel of the Nazarenes itself, and older even than our Gospels. For in first-century Palestine the Lord’s Prayer would almost certainly have been prayed constantly by Aramaic-speaking Christians in an uninterrupted Aramaic form, right from the time when the words were first taught by Jesus, so that a person translating the gospel of Matthew into Aramaic would undoubtedly translate the Lord’s Prayer in terms of the original Aramaic which they knew to be the Lord’s words, especially if there was any ambiguity or doubt as to the meaning of the Greek word. Thus when the translator of Matthew into Aramaic came to Matthew 6.9-13, he would naturally write the prayer down in the way that he knew that it was prayed day by day by Aramaic-speaking Christians, as it had been through the years. In other words, the Aramaic-speaking Jewish-Christians, among whom the Lord’s Prayer lived on in its original Aramaic wording in unbroken usage from the days of Jesus first giving of the prayer, prayed, “Our bread for tomorrow give us today.”
Jerome also tells us that, “In the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews --- I found mahar, which means ‘for tomorrow,’ so that the sense is, ‘Our bread for tomorrow – that is, our future bread -- give us today.’ ”
It has therefore been suggested that in mind here is the provision in Exodus 16.22, 29 where on the sixth day they were given not only sufficient for the sixth day but also bread ‘for the morrow’, that is, ‘for the Sabbath’, with the Sabbath then seen, as it often is, as the coming (and now come in Jesus) Messianic age. This provision of ‘bread from Heaven’ by Moses was probably expected to be repeated by the Messiah (see John 6.30-31). And to this Jesus replied that His Father was giving them the true bread from Heaven in the giving of Himself.
So the best explanation for this reference to “tomorrow” is probably that it refers to the great ‘Tomorrow’ as anticipated by the Jews, the bread that they would eat at Messiah’s table at the Messianic Banquet at the coming great Sabbath rest. That would not exclude the idea of their receiving their physical ‘bread’ from their heavenly Father as well as their spiritual bread, for such Messianic provision was also expected, but it would seem to encourage the idea that, either way, they are to be seen as receiving not just physical food but God’s Messianic provision of blessing in every way. And this is brought out even more emphatically in Luke where the prayer is preceded by Jesus receiving food at the house of Martha and Mary, at which point He specifically directs Martha’s attention to the greater importance of spiritual food by listening to His words (Luke 10.38-42), and is followed by a parable which uses ‘bread’ as a picture of the need to pray for the ‘good things’ that their heavenly Father has for his children, including the Holy Spirit (Luke 11.5-13). And this is especially so in view of the fact that in the sermon Jesus will shortly stress that their eyes are to be Heavenward rather than earthward (6.20).
Three facts very much favour this interpretation. The first is the emphasis which Jesus has laid on their Father already knowing their physical needs (verse 8). This brings out the fact that they are therefore not to be anxious about food and clothing (verse 25), because God is the great Provider, providing such things to His creatures without any need for prayer. And this is then underlined by the fact that that is precisely the kind of things that the Gentiles do seek when they pray (verse 32), an example which they are not to follow (verse 31). It would seem strange then if physical bread were to be made their first request in the Lord’s prayer. While if this prayer was for Messianic provision, including both physical and spiritual, it is perfectly explicable. Such provision would be seen as a special promise of God (e.g. Isaiah 25.6) and would only be available for those who are His.
The second is that what they are rather to be ‘anxious about’ is the Kingly Rule of God and His righteous deliverance (verse 33). It is those things which they are to seek. And while this idea may certainly be seen as in mind in their being forgiven and in their being kept from evil, we see at once that there is no request in the second part of the prayer concerning their need for positive strengthening or positive righteousness. Was Jesus really saying that apart from food, all that they needed was forgiveness and protection from evil? That is a very negative way of seeing the Christian life.
The third is that there can be no question but that Jesus does constantly very much emphasise their positive need for spiritual bread, in contrast with physical bread. In His temptation in 4.4 He had declared that ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ Given Luke’s clear connection of the Lord’s prayer with spiritual bread in 10.38-11.13 (even putting it in a bread sandwich) that must surely be seen as significant. Furthermore He then asks in 7.9 what father will give a stone to a son who asks for bread, and refers it to the ‘good things’ of the Messianic age which will be given to them by their heavenly Father (compare in Luke where the good things specifically refer to ‘the Holy Spirit’ - Luke 11.13). Note especially how on both occasions when He gives the prayer to His disciples He follows it up with this need to ask for spiritual benefits (7.7-12; Luke 11.5-13), spiritual benefits which are not actually otherwise included in His model prayer, and yet are spoken of in terms of bread. It strongly suggests therefore that the bread that He has in mind in the prayer refers to the blessings of the Messianic age into which they have now entered so that they can enjoy ‘Tomorrow’s bread’, that is the blessings seen by Israel as coming in the great Tomorrow.
References to the spiritual significance of bread can be multiplied. In 15.26 the ‘bread’ for the children signifies Scriptural truth, in 16.5, 7, 8, 11, 12 where the disciples make the mistake of thinking that Jesus is speaking of physical bread He points out that He means ‘the leaven (teaching) of the Scribes and Pharisees’. And finally in 26.26 , while there is certainly physical bread in mind, it is as a picture of the Lord’s body which will be given for them. So in all such cases where He speaks of bread He has in mind spiritual bread.
And greater weight can be added to this argument when we consider Jesus’ teaching in Luke and John. Indeed in the very context of their not seeking physical bread (Luke 12.22-34) Jesus immediately describes how when He comes again He will sit His disciples down to eat meat and He will serve them (12.37). But the idea is not really of a great party where Jesus will act as servant and indulge their appetites. It is rather a promise of the great blessings that He will pour on them in that Day, and as a lesson in humility. In all His provision for us God is acting as our Servant, for the point is that He not only makes the gifts, but also applies them Himself. And the portion of food that the unfaithful servant was supposed to give to his fellow-servants, and failed to give (12.42), was surely more than just bread. The point behind the descriptions was that the servants appointed by God had failed to provide His people with what they needed in their spiritual lives. Furthermore the Pharisee who said, ‘Blessed is he who will eat bread in the Kingly Rule of God’ (14.15) is unquestionably thinking of Messianic blessings, and Jesus follows it up with the parable of the Great Supper, which surely has in mind more than just physical bread, as in fact does the feeding of the five thousand (and the four thousand) which while it involved physical bread was pointing to something greater (John 6.35). The Kingly Rule of God might often be depicted in terms of bread, but surely more than that was regularly intended. And while the husks, bread and dainties of the parable of the prodigal son were very real (if fiction can be real) what they really represented in the interpretation of the parable was spiritual food. So the disciples were aware that when Jesus spoke of bread they must regularly recognise that He meant spiritual bread. And when we come to John we have the well known picture of Jesus as the bread of life, which will take away the hunger (and thirst) of men and women (John 6.35). For the one who eats of that bread will live for ever, for it is His flesh which He will give for the life of the world (John 6.51). And He then goes on to point out that they must therefore feed on Him. More could be added but we think that we have said enough.
However it may be asked, ‘if that was the meaning why did Jesus not make it clearer? Why have Christians down the ages seen it as referring to physical bread?’ One answer to that is in fact that it is not true. In the early church that we do know about it was seen as referring to spiritual bread, and in fact mainly to the bread at the Lord’s Supper. Indeed the whole prayer was probably reserved for use within the fellowship, especially at the Lord’s Table, and not expected to be used by those who were not accepted members of their spiritual community. Interpreting it of the Lord’s Supper is probably too narrow an interpretation, unless widely expanded on, although it was certainly understandable. It is the ideas behind the Lord’s Supper that are in mind. However, in fairness it should be pointed out that the more enlightened preachers did make clear that the Lord’s Supper was a picture of great spiritual blessing available to His people. Thus the bread indicates the fullness of the blessings of Christ. It may be seen as rather the later pedantic interpreters who turned it into a request solely for physical bread, and that because the Lord’s prayer became the common lot of men who only thought in terms of physical benefit, although it was also possibly as a reaction against the misuse of the bread and wine by the mediaeval church.
What it does seem rather to signify is all the blessings, both physical and spiritual, which were to come to them because they belonged to the Messiah. It signified the full provisioning of both body and soul as Messiah’s people, both the Messianic banquet and the Messianic blessing. It is ‘Tomorrow’s bread’ available ‘today’ for those who are His. So what they are to pray is, ‘Father in Heaven, we are Messiah’s people, grant us Messianic provision.’ Compare Isaiah 25.6; 40.11; 49.10; Jeremiah 3.15; 23.4; 50.19; Ezekiel 34.13-15, 23; 36.29-20; Micah 5.4; Psalm 23.2-3, 5.
So yes it does include a promise that God will provide His people, as Messiah’s people, with what they physically need, and suggest that they can therefore ask Him for it with confidence, but it is not in the way in which the world asks for it. It is asked of Him by Messiah’s people, and expected by them to be provided for them by their Father, because they are within His favour, and as part of a far more abundant provision in spiritual power and blessing. It signifies all that they need which can be found in Him, food for body and soul, and not just physical bread, which for most people should in fact be the last thought on their minds (6.33). It is praying, ‘Father, feed us body and soul with all the Messianic blessedness’, with Your word that is better than bread (4.4), with the righteousness which You will pour down from above (Isaiah 45.8; 44.1-5; 32.15-18) for which we are to hunger and thirst (5.6), and we may possibly add, especially with what is expressed in the beatitudes.
‘Forgive us our debts.’ The meaning of this petition, as Luke specifically brings out, is that we are to pray for the forgiveness of our sins (Luke 11.4). The Jews saw sin as being a debt owed to God. They rightly saw it as a failure to give Him His due. Thus the Aramaic word for debts came also to mean sins, and this idea is regularly found in the Targums (Aramaic translations or paraphrases of the Hebrew text for the benefit of Aramaic-speaking worshippers who lacked a knowledge of Hebrew). That is why Luke translates whatever the Aramaic word was as ‘sins’ (Luke 11.4).
Luke, however, then goes on to speak of ‘every one who is indebted to us’. This last fact would seem to demonstrate that either he or his source knew that the original Aramaic in the first phrase was also ‘debts’ but saw ‘debts’ as signifying ‘sins’, and wanted this to be clear to those who received their words. Possibly he left the second part as ‘indebted to us’ in order to bring out that any way in which others have sinned against us cannot be compared with the awfulness of our having sinned against God and His laws. Jesus Himself used the same idea of sin being like a debt in certain of His parables (18.23-35; Luke 7.40-43), where He specifically linked it to the forgiveness of sins (18.21-22, 35).
The idea here is of day by day sins, not the initial forgiveness required in order to make men right with God. It can be illustrated by Jesus’ words to Peter in John 13.8, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet’. It is a reminder that daily we do come short, and therefore daily need forgiveness. Compare here 1 John 1.7-10.
In the Old Testament God is revealed as a God Who is very willing to forgive the truly repentant (Exodus 34.7; Numbers 14.18; Daniel 9.9), and such forgiveness was regularly receivable through the offering of sacrifices (Leviticus 4.20 and often; Numbers 15,25, 26, 28). Thus the Psalmists constantly rejoiced in His forgiveness (Psalm 32.1; 85.2; 86.5; 103.3; 130.4). But the coming Messianic age was to especially be a time of forgiveness when God would blot out their transgressions and not remember their sins (Isaiah 43.25; 44.22; 55.7; Jeremiah 31.34; Ezekiel 37.23). Thus His disciples can now approach their Father for forgiveness without doubt in their hearts.
‘As we also have forgiven our debtors.’ This is not a bargaining counter as though we have deserved forgiveness because we have forgiven others. It is a declaration that every disciple is expected to be able to make, precisely because he is observing Jesus’ teaching in 5.43-48. For one sign that they are truly His will be found in this readiness to forgive others. It is one of the badges by which we are identified as the light of the world. Note that it is ‘those who sin against us’ that we forgive. We cannot forgive their sins, but we can forgive the fact that they have sinned against us, and love them for His sake. It should also be noted that the assumption here is of people who seek our forgiveness, not of inveterate enemies. Thus when Peter says ‘How often shall we forgive?’, it is of those who come and say ‘I repent’ (18.21-23). The same principle is also brought out in the parable (18.23-35). This must be so because such forgiveness involves treating the people who have sinned against us as though they have never done so, in the same way as we know that God will treat us. But we cannot expect to take up such a position with someone who has not revealed, at least outwardly, a change of heart. We may refrain from feeling bitter against them, and be prepared to act in love towards them, but that is not full forgiveness. Forgiveness involves putting them back in a position of trust, in the position that they were in before they sinned. So while people are unrepentant we can love them, and act in love towards them, but we cannot treat them as though they were repentant. We cannot restore them to full trust, because their attitude is unchanged.
Such forgiveness is a sign that God’s Kingly Rule has broken forth on the earth in His people, so that His disciples have become forgiving like He is. And the point is that it is because they are His people as revealed in this way that they can come to Him confidently expecting daily forgiveness. It will be because they are walking in His light.
The assumption behind these words is that the world faces positive testing and trial by God, and endures various evils, partly at His hand and possibly partly at the hands of the Evil One. This is an indicator that Jesus recognises God as ever active in the world, shaping history, and aware of man’s goings on, and that in various ways He intervenes in judgment. It is an idea that appears in the Old Testament again and again, see for example Psalm 34.21; 37.19; 140.11; Isaiah 13.11; 31.2; 45.7; 47.10; Jeremiah 6.19; 17.17-18; 18.11; 19.3; 23.12; etc. Amos 3.6; Micah 1.12, and in Daniel 10 it is connected with the activities of the Evil One and his minions (Daniel 10.11-21).
We need to recognise what ‘evil’ as used here represents. It represents whatever is seen as contrary to man’s good, whether natural disaster, war or civil commotion. It is the exact opposite of what is of benefit to man (that is, of what is in that sense ‘good’). Thus Job could say, ‘shall we receive good at hand of God and shall we not receive evil?’ (Job 2.10). It is in fact the sense in which God ‘creates evil’ in Isaiah 45.7. Thus God boldly takes responsibility, not for the sin that is in the world, for that He lays firmly at man’s door, but for the fact that history often does not fall into line with man’s plans, and regularly results in unfortunate circumstances for man. It is a reminder that God allows things to occur which are by no means a blessing for man, and that He can in some way be seen as responsible for them. It is through such things that men learn righteousness (Isaiah 26.9), for there is nothing that shakes men up like disaster.
Thus God is seen as constantly at work against sin, however much man seeks to buttress himself against its consequences. The affluent world may avoid the more obvious evils, (although it still suffers its share of disasters, and will probably do so more and more), but evils still pile on it in the form for example of the effects of drunkenness, drugs, extreme boredom, depression, and disease brought on by sin and man’s own carelessness.
So this third petition is a confident request by His disciples that they may be delivered from the trials of God which will be brought on the world as a result of sin, and from all the common ‘evils’ (see Psalm 5.4; 23.4; 37.19; 49.5; 91.10; 121.7; Isaiah 26.20-21; Jeremiah 15.11; 17.17; see also Ephesians 6.13) and from the machinations of the Evil One (Ephesians 6.11). They are to know that, as they look to Him, God will have a special watch over them and will not bring them into unnecessary testing, especially as such affects the world, but will lead them in the right way, and will keep them from personal spiritual harm. The point is that the lot of the world is not on the whole to be the lot of His disciples. This is clearly portrayed in Revelation 7.3 with 9.4; (compare also Revelation 3.10), where those who are His are seen as sealed by God against the judgments of God and the assaults of the Enemy so that they cannot be harmed. That book, however, also reveals that this is no proof against persecution. God’s people will face persecution, but they will not suffer directly under the judgments of God, except incidentally. Persecution is the lot of every Christian in one way or another (John 16.2-3, 33; Acts 14.22). But the point is that as they pray they will be protected from the worst of the types of judgments that the world has to face (see 24.20; Isaiah 26.20-21; Jeremiah 17.10; Isaiah 2.10-21; 4.4; 24.1-6, 18-20; 42.24; etc).
Only eternity will reveal how often this prayer has been fulfilled. A remarkable example of this was the way in which, being warned by God by means of a ‘prophecy’, the early Jerusalem church fled to Pella at the first indication of the Roman invasion, thus obeying Jesus’ exhortation (24.15-18) and escaping the horrors of the Jerusalem siege. They were not brought into testing but were delivered from evil.
But this also includes the idea that no disciple is to be so overconfident and arrogant as to seek to be tested, or to become relaxed about evil. No disciple is to behave so foolishly as to court trouble. They are not to rush into martyrdom. (It was often those who courted persecution who in the end failed to maintain their endurance until the end). They are to pray not to be brought into testing. Testing of sorts may come, but if it does, it will not have come from God. So rather they must pray that they may escape the testings that constantly come on the world because of its sin, testing brought on it by God (Isaiah 26.20-21; Revelation 3.10). As we have seen the Old Testament makes clear that that there are ways in which God does bring into testing those who are in rebellion against Him, and while His people know that they cannot expect to avoid the general trials that the world must face, they can expect to be kept from the trials that come on a rebellious world because of their sin and failure to repent To be ‘brought into’ such testing by God would be a sign that they were not His.
The lack of the definite article on ‘testing’ is against it signifying only the period of testing called the Messianic woes, (and this even though to them the Messianic woes were already approaching), although they may be seen as included. It is a prayer that they may be spared all types of the testing that faces the world. It is also the prayer of those who are confident of the protection of God under all circumstances. They are confident that they will be protected by His shield (Genesis 15.1; 2 Samuel 22.3; Psalm 3.3; 18.35; 28.7; 33.20; 84.9, 11; 91.4; 119.14; 144.2; Proverbs 30.5).
The corollary of this is that they will be delivered from evil. The ‘but’ is emphatic (alla), God watches over those who have made Him their refuge (Psalm 91.9), leads them in the right way, and will not allow His people to stub their foot against a stone (4.6; Psalm 91.11). Yet they would also have been aware that in the time of Messianic testing Satan will be let loose on the world as never before, and the idea may be included therefore that they are to pray that they will be delivered from his power.
Some, however, would retain the idea of ‘temptation’ to sin. ‘Peirasmos’ means all kinds of testing (26.41; Exodus 17.7 LXX; Deuteronomy 4.34; 6.16; 7.19; 9.22; 29.3 LXX; Psalm 95.8 (94.8 LXX); Luke 8.13; 22.28; Acts 20.19; Galatians 4.14), and can include temptation to sin (Luke 4.13; 1 Corinthians 10.13; 1 Timothy 6.9). Against this is the fact that God is said not to cause His servants to be tempted (James 1.13-14), so that this therefore could not be seen as signifying bringing them into temptation, but the argument given in reply is that the idea is not that God might lead them into temptation, but that as He leads them temptation might arise, and they are praying that this might be avoided, thus showing that they are aware that without God’s help they dare not face such temptation. Whether included or not this is also true and necessary.
Jesus then adds a rider, stressing the kind of people that they must be if their Father is to have dealings with them in a continuing forgiveness (note the emphasis of His words here on God as their Father). If they are to see God as their Father, and enjoy His continual forgiveness, they must be those who, like Him, love their enemies, and who are therefore peacemakers. The blessings of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (which include God’s continual forgiveness) are for those who are truly under the Kingly Rule of Heaven. How could they be otherwise? Thus those who would enjoy them must themselves be under the Kingly Rule of Heaven and thus be involved in dispensing the forgiveness of the new age (18.21-22). Indeed they cannot be Jesus’ disciples and yet not be involved in being forgiving. For being unforgiving is as bad as clinging on to riches. It sets them against God.
The point is thus that if they are not willing to reveal themselves as true sons of their Father (5.9, 45) by being forgiving to those who seek their forgiveness, they cannot very well expect to be treated as such. They have proved that they are not genuinely His sons. Forgiving others is not seen here as a condition of their being forgiven, it is rather seen as a ‘not without which’. It is seen as one of the signs that give them right of entry to their Father. That is, it is an indication that they are of those who walk rightly with God and as such can therefore expect forgiveness from their Father.
So Jesus is not saying here that they will be forgiven if they forgive. That would be impossible. Forgiveness from God cannot be bargained for, nor can it be earned. He is saying rather that if they want God to treat them as His sons by forgiving them, their grosser sins, they must be revealing in their lives that they are true sons by forgiving others their lesser sins. It is not a tit for tat, otherwise we might as well give up. If God’s forgiveness was dependent on the level of ours we would have no hope. What is in mind is that our hearts are revealed as having the right attitude. We can compare with this how they are also to be reconciled with those who have things against them before they bring their gifts to God (5.23-24). In both cases they must approach God having put behind them all that might offend God. How could someone with the spirit of the servant in 18.23-30 possibly approach Someone like the God of infinite mercy and compassion?
‘Trespasses.’ Note that here ‘debts’ has now become ‘trespasses’, confirming that the ideas are synonymous. The principle described here is so important that it is repeated in 18.23-35 where the new community is being described. It also occurs in a different context in Mark 11.25.
There is an interesting parallel in Jewish tradition, for in Ecclesiasticus 28.1-2 we read, ‘he who takes vengeance will find vengeance from the Lord, and He will surely make firm his sins. Forgive your neighbour the hurt that he has done you, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray’. The same principle lies behind it. It is caught up in the basic principle, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’. But whereas in Ecclesiasticus ‘neighbour’ probably meant very much their fellow Jews, with Jesus the requirement was to forgive all ‘men and women’. It was universal.
The Correct Approach To Fasting (6.16-18).
The idea of fasting in Israel was that of expressing repentance for sin (Nehemiah 9.1-2; Jonah 3.5); or of revealing grief (2 Samuel 1.12; Psalm 35.13; Daniel 10.2). It was an act of self-humbling (Isaiah 58.3), or of going without food for the purpose of engaging in a spiritual exercise, such as prayer, with the aim of greater concentration and a deeper sense of participation (Daniel 9.3; 10.2-3; Matthew 4.1-2; Acts 13.1-3; 14.23). By turning their thoughts from earthly things they were able to concentrate more on heavenly things, and found that fasting enabled them to concentrate their minds in a spiritual direction. Fasting was intended to foster and inculcate self-humiliation before God, and confession often accompanied it. It was also often accompanied by weeping, sackcloth, ashes, dust on the head, and torn clothing (see references above). In Paul’s case in Acts 9.9 it probably indicated repentance and a seeking after God. People who felt anguish, or were threatened by impending danger, or felt desperate about some situation, gave up eating temporarily in order to concentrate on presenting some special plea to God in prayer (Judges 20.26; 2 Chronicles 20.3; Ezra 8.21-23; Esther 4.16). Some particularly pious believers fasted regularly (Luke 2.37).
The Pharisees fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays (Luke 18.12), although that was in excess of what was strictly required by the Law, for God had only commanded the people of Israel to fast on one day of the year, the day of Atonement (Leviticus 16.29-31; 23.27-32; Numbers 29.7). But during the Exile the Israelites instituted additional regular fasts (Zechariah 7.3-5; 8.19), and others were added later. Inevitably there was hypocritical fasting, for it brought to those who participated a reputation for piety. Zechariah appears to speak of those who did it for their own self-satisfaction (Zechariah 7.5). Thus God had to declare that fasting was useless unless it accompanied godly living (Isaiah 58.2-7; Jeremiah 14.12). While fasting was by no means unique to Israel it was something to which others pointed as one of the things that often singled out Jews.
In the early church fasting was probably common (e.g. Acts 13.2) and appears to have been a normal part of Christian self-discipline with Christians later fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays (so The Didache). And this was in line with the fact that while Jesus had not actively encouraged it, He had certainly indicated that He held nothing against it. (Although it is significant that copyists began to introduce the idea into texts where prayer was spoken of in order to justify it, because they were aware of how little justification for fasting the actual text of Scripture gave). Thus it was not fasting that Jesus was speaking against here, but fasting for the wrong motive. Jesus’ criticism here was of those who turned their fasting into a public show by making their fasting obvious and drawing attention to themselves, rather than doing it with hearts that were hungry for God. He was not referring to the official fast on the Day of Atonement, (when washing and anointing may well have been abstained from), nor probably to other official fasts.
Analysis of 6.16-18.
Note that in ‘a’ they are not to have an obvious sad expression, and in the parallel are to seek to keep their fast secret. In ‘b’ they are not to disfigure their faces in order to be seen as fasting, but are to wash their faces and dress their hair so as to hide the fact that they are fasting. Centrally in ‘c’ those who do it before men have already received all the reward that they are going to get.
Jesus clearly here expects that His disciples will at some time engage in fasting, although He nowhere actually encourages it, even though He anticipates that they will fast once He has been taken from them, presumably with grief (9.15). He had, of course given an example of it when He faced up to His own temptations (4.1-11). There the purpose of the fasting had been in order to ensure no interruption in His communion with His Father. Consider also 1 Corinthians 7.5 where abstinence from sexual activity is described for the purpose of devotion to a season of prayer. But He warns them that if and when they fast, it should be secretly so as not to be noticeable. Otherwise they will already have received their reward in terms of the honour that they will receive for it.
‘They disfigure their faces.’ This may indicate simply not washing and shaving, or not oiling their heads, or it may even signify putting ashes on and making themselves look interesting.
So when they fast they are not to put on a sombre face, or to fail to shave or wash their faces, or to anoint their heads with oil (a contemporary Jewish practise), in order that men will realise that they are fasting. They must rather wash their faces and anoint their heads, in other words try to give the impression that life is going on as normal so as to avoid being lionised. By doing it this way only God will be aware that they are fasting. And then their Father, Who sees in secret will recompense them, because they are doing it in order to demonstrate their love for Him. The basic point, as previously, is the genuine motive that lies behind their actions. Their hearts must be right towards God.
Note on Fasting.
As mentioned the general approach of Christians towards fasting was to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. This fast would end around 15.00 hours (the afternoon meal). Ideally the very fact of doing it would turn their thoughts towards God during that day. At other times they would fast because they were engaged in long sessions of prayer. Fasting as an ascetic practise only became involved much later, and was based on a false idea of the sinfulness of the flesh. It drew great honour from men (who always honour what they themselves are not prepared to do) and was thus a dangerous practise, involving the ascetics, many of whom were not truly godly men, although some were, in a similar condemnation to the Pharisees.
People under eighteen should not fast without consulting a doctor for health reasons. And all should seek medical advice before engaging in long fasts. God does not intend us to dishonour Him by harming ourselves physically. We are not even sure what the full basis of a ‘forty day fast’ was (wild fruit or other occasional sustenance may have been taken) and it was always in exceptional circumstances and with exceptional people. Thus we must be sensible and careful. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates that fasting as such brings blessing in itself. The blessing comes in respect of the right attitude of heart and circumstances that accompany the fasting.
End of note.
Three (or Four) Commands Which Concern The Attitude That His Disciples Should Take Up With Regard To The World Emphasising The Taking Up Of A Positive Spiritual Attitude And The Eschewing Of A Worldly Negative Attitude (6.19-7.6).
Having described how His disciples are to behave towards the Law (5.21-48), and having considered their attitude towards charitable giving, prayer and fasting (6.1-18), Jesus now turns to consider:
A possible fourth is how they should approach what God has available to give them in 7.6-12. For just as in 6.1-18 the verses on the Lord’s Prayer in verses 7-15 are a part of the series, and yet distinguished clearly from the other three, so here verse 7.6 is both an essential conclusion to the different chiasmi leading up to it, and an introduction to a final contrast which caps all that has gone before and finalises the central section of the Sermon.
In each case He warns against the negative approach, which can only lead to concern and worry, and emphasises the positive spiritually acceptable approach which will bring the approval of their Father. And this is then climaxed either by what their reaction should be towards the scornful and those who despise their message, who are fleshly (dogs and pigs) and therefore do not know the Father (7.6), or by the final statement in verse 12 (or to some extent by both).
In each of these cases the question is dealt with by contrasts, by a thesis followed by an antithesis (as previously from 5.21 onwards). Firstly they are not to lay up treasures on earth but to lay them up in Heaven, for they cannot serve God and Mammon (6.19-24). Secondly they are not to be anxiously seeking food and clothing, but are rather to be earnestly seeking the Kingly Rule of God and His righteousness, for a days earthly problems are quite sufficient for each day (6.25-34). Thirdly they are not to judge each other in the state that they are, with a plank in their eye that prevents them from seeing properly and makes them behave harshly, but must do it, having removed the plank, so that they may see clearly in order to gently remove splinters from the eyes of their brethren, while at the same time being aware that they should not try in quite the same way to remove splinters from the eyes of outsiders or bring home to them deeper spiritual truths, as this could only cause problems, resentment and even persecution (7.1-6), indicating quite clearly that what can be done in the heavenly fellowship cannot be done in the world. Thus wisdom is required throughout.
This is then followed by the thesis in 7.6 concerning not offering what is holy to dogs, and the antithesis in verse 7 on instead receiving what is holy from their heavenly Father
This whole section may be analysed as follows:
However, this must be with the proviso that 7.6 now also leads on into 7.7-12 which deals with how they are to receive from their heavenly Father all the spiritual gifts which will enable them to succeed.
Note that in ‘a’ they must consider carefully how they make use of their earthly treasures, lest they become corrupted, and are attacked by predators (moth, rust, thieves), so that those earthly treasures then ‘attack’ them where they are most vulnerable, in their hearts, and in the parallel they are to consider well how they use their spiritual treasures, lest they use them foolishly and find that they become vandalised, and they themselves persecuted, by earthly predators (dogs, pigs). In ‘b’ their eyes are to be single, and in the parallel they are to assist each other to keep their eyes single. In ‘c’ they are to make right judgments about Who or what they serve, and in the parallel are to make right judgments within that service. In ‘d’ they are not to be anxious about necessities, and in the parallel the same. And centrally their faith must be turned towards God the Great Provider.
They Must Lay Up Their Treasure In Heaven As They Cannot Serve God and Mammon (6.19-24).
Having dealt with the question of what His disciples’ attitude is to be towards ‘religious’ activity, namely charitable giving, prayer and fasting, and the need in each case for them to be exercised in secrecy in order that they may bring glory to God and not men, and may bring them into a close relationship with their heavenly Father, Jesus now moves on to more ‘mundane’ matters. He deals with attitude towards worldly possessions, worldly needs, and worldly acts of judgment towards others. These are all to be made heavenly and are thus to bring them into contact with their heavenly Father. And this will then lead on to heavenly fellowship with the Father (7.7-11), with everything (the Law and the Prophets) then summed up in the Golden Rule (7.12).
Here His emphasis is on the fact that they must take up a positive attitude to each. (It should be noted how the sermon is full of positive attitudes). But even here there is a warning of the need to keep some things secret (7.6). Spiritual activity should not be flaunted before a pagan world. God is not the heavenly Father of the pagan world. Thus the heavenly community must keep itself separated in mind and thought from the world.
There is here a parallel to the previous section in that;
The central idea in this first example is the choice between God and Mammon (worldly wealth and possessions). Initially they have to choose whether they will serve God or Mammon. This choice, he points out, will be made clear by where they store up their treasures and on what they fix their eye. While this reference to ‘treasures’ may undoubtedly be seen as having special reference to the ‘better off’, it is actually equally relevant to all, for ‘things’ can grip the hearts of both rich and poor alike, and heavenly treasure are available to all. Jesus’ warning is thus of the grave danger of ‘possessions’, and how it is to be countered. (Jesus always prepares us for coming temptations. The problem is that we do not always listen to Him).
We should note that this passage fits firmly into the structure of the Sermon. For while it undoubtedly directly connects with what follows, it also connects back to what has gone before. Similar choices as to whether to serve God or unrighteousness have been present throughout the Sermon, and especially in 6.1-18, and now they are present here. Furthermore there are particular ways in which this passage connects up with 6.1-18. Thus:
Thus there are similarities between them of approach, grammar and basic principles.
Analysis of 6.19-24.
Note that in ‘a’ we have the contrast between earthly treasure and heavenly treasure which decide on the direction that the heart takes, and in the parallel the choice between two masters, God and Mammon, which again determines the direction that the heart takes. In ‘b’ we have fullness of light if the eye truly lightens the body and in the parallel great darkness if the light within is darkness. And in ‘c’ if the eye is evil (wrongly directed) darkness will rule.
The movement of thought of the passage is as follows. Firstly comes the choice as to which treasure will be sought and lived for, then comes the decision as to where the eye will be fixed in order to carry out that choice, and then comes the consequence, the service of one master or the other.
The passage can then be divided up into three smaller sections.
1). The Choice As To Which Treasure Will Be Sought And Lived For.
Analysis of 6.19-21.
As regularly in the sermon this can be seen as both a chiasmus and a sequence. The capital letters both indicate the sequence and tie up with the previous examples in 6.1-18. On the chiasmus we note that in ‘a’ laying up treasure on earth is forbidden and in the parallel that is because the heart will be where the treasure is. In ‘b’ we have the contrast between the activity of moth and rust on earth, and the non-activity of it in Heaven. In ‘c’ comes the central command to lay up treasure in Heaven.
The present tense might be seen as signifying, ‘Do not be like those who --.’ For a choice lies before all disciples as to what they will do with any possessions that they gain. They can store them up in Heaven by using them in the Master’s service, or they can use them for the purpose of building up ‘treasures’ and storing them away for the future on earth. This latter is a choice that Jesus does not want the person to make, and He therefore puts it first as a negative.
Here we are considering treasures which can be laid up on earth. It may be in the form of gorgeous clothing or brocades, curtains, or jewellery, gold, and other metals etc. or it may be wealth of a simpler form of stout or attractive clothing and baser metals. All can have their hold on the heart. But His point is that no matter what they are, such possessions are temporary and passing, for in each case they will be susceptible to some form of attack, either by moth, or rust, or human predators. Notice that the stress is on natural things which make a personal attack on their possessions. It is not just a matter of them fading or disintegrating, although that could easily happen as well, but of their being positively attacked either by being consumed by insects (compare Isaiah 51.8), by being ‘eaten up’ by rust (the word ‘eaten up’ is also used by Galen of tooth decay) or by mice, or by being stolen by thieves. Thus there is always the danger for those who have possessions that violence will be done to their possessions in one way or another. For possessions attract violence and trouble. Whereas those who have stored up their treasures in Heaven will avoid such problems.
Note the parallel and contrast with 7.6. Here they must beware what they do with their material possessions, for they are subject to the attacks of nature’s predators, while there they must be careful what they do with their ‘spiritual’ possessions, lest they be trampled underfoot, and they themselves be attacked, by dogs and swine (unfriendly Gentiles and unbelieving Jews?). So while being wise about their physical possessions, they must also be wise in dealing with their spiritual possessions. They must not parade them before men, otherwise it could turn against them.
An alternative to seeing ‘eaten up’ here as referring to rust may be found in the seeing of it as containing the thought of mice eating the stored grain, or even more likely of a smallholding being totally overrun by vermin. On top of which may then come the human vermin who will ‘dig through’ even more than the vermin. This last verb might have in mind the fact that thieves would often enter ancient houses by digging through the walls. On the other hand it could well be that by this time the term had become extended in meaning so as to signify any type of ‘breaking in’.
These are, of course just some of many ways in which wealth can be lost. They are intended to illustrate the vulnerability of physical possessions, and their openness to attack, rather than to be an exhaustive list of all the ways in which possessions could be lost. They are simply a reminder that all that a man lays up on earth might be lost simply because they are vulnerable to natural effects, or attacks of nature, or the dishonest onslaught of man, and that that is so, even without considering the additional problem of such things as wars or sudden death. For elsewhere the alternative is propounded that while a man’s possessions might survive all the above, he will anyway have to leave them behind when he dies (Luke 12.13-21). And thus one way or another they will certainly be lost to him. But this last is not in mind here. What is in mind here is the vulnerability of their possessions to the attacks of nature, and to sinful man. And Jesus’ purpose is thus to stress the temporary nature of physical things in contrast with heavenly things which are invulnerable, and He does it by forceful illustrations which were familiar to all, so that the value of heavenly things might shine through.
This is not a total condemnation of wealth. It is a warning against seeking to build up wealth for its own sake, because of the dangers that that involves. For as men begin to build up wealth they often forget what is more valuable. Whereas if they use any possessions that they obtain wisely it will actually benefit them spiritually and turn their thoughts towards their Father, both in this world and the next.
The life of many a righteous person has been destroyed because wealth suddenly began to accrue. John Wesley told of the sad effect on the spiritual lives of early Methodists, when, as a result of their ceasing heavy drinking, combined with having a new attitude to work, they began to build up possessions and prosper, with the result that as they became wealthier, so they became more slack in their spiritual activity.
Jesus therefore attacks the problem by stressing the vulnerability and openness to attack of possessions. Let men get the right attitude to such possessions and it will enable them to cope with them the more easily. Thus once they begin to find that they have wealth in excess of what they really need, they must give serious thought as to where they will build up their excess, whether on earth where it is vulnerable, or in Heaven where it is safe. His purpose was to establish that physical possessions were only ‘temporal’ (compare 2 Corinthians 4.18). They passed away. It would be foolish therefore to put too much dependence on them, for their greatest value should rather be in using them to buy friends in eternal habitations (Luke 16.9) by their wise and spiritual use of them.
The clear message is that we are to recognise that as disciples of Jesus what we possess is not to be kept for ourselves (compare 19.21; Luke 12.33-34; 1 Timothy 6.9-10), but is to be distributed under God to others, with the great consolation of knowing that what we are giving away is in fact only of a temporary nature, and therefore not worth keeping in the long run (see also James 5.1-4 and compare a similar overall lesson in 2 Corinthians 4.16-18), whereas by saving it in Heaven we will be maintaining and increasing its value. Far better is it for us therefore, to have our treasure where nothing can harm it or take it from us.
For as He will point out in the passage that follows, all that we do need for the future will be provided for us by our heavenly Father who will give us His treasures from Heaven. We do not therefore need to worry about possessions. Instead of moth-eaten clothes He will clothe us with a glory greater even than the lilies of the field, whose clothing puts Solomon to shame.
Here the emphasis changes. The positive side is that wealth can be stored up in Heaven. This can be achieved, for example, by giving it to the poor and needy (19.21; Luke 12.33) or to a genuine work of God, or by using it to do good. It will then be safe and secure for ever, and will not perish, and as long as it is given ‘secretly’ it will bring its own reward. The idea is not that we should keep records of how much treasure we have in Heaven, and thus still be possessed by the grip of ‘possessions’, even though it be heavenly possessions, but rather that, having devoted to God all that we could have retained for ourselves, we will enjoy His fullness of blessing, will have our hearts fixed on Him, and will thus possess what is everlasting.
It is certainly not intended to indicate that a rich man can buy himself a better future in eternity than a poor man, as 20.1-16 makes clear. In fact it puts the rich man at a decided disadvantage, for all the while he will be in danger of being taken up by the ‘deceitfulness of riches’. But as long as he is faithful then by his faithfulness he will receive his ‘reward’, in the same way as the poor man will.
‘Treasures in Heaven.’ The idea of ‘treasure in Heaven’ was not new. In the Testament of Levi 13.5 we read, ‘work righteousness (give alms) my children on the earth, that you may have it as a treasure in Heaven’, and the thought of such treasures in Heaven occurs elsewhere, resulting from a ‘righteousness’, which is closely linked with almsgiving. Its use here therefore appears to link with the idea of charitable giving. On the other hand Jesus regularly suggests ‘rewards’ and ‘recompense’ in Heaven which contains a very similar idea, and these are also promised to those who are persecuted or suffer for His sake (5.12; 2 Corinthians 4.17), those who love their enemies (5.46), those who give charitable gifts secretly (6.4), those who pray in secret (6.6), those who fast secretly (6.15), those who give a cup of cold water in His name (10.42), and those who reveal their love for Christ’s brothers by their kindnesses towards them (25.40). In the end treasures will be built up by doing to others what we would that they would do to us (7.12).
And for those who follow Jesus’ words in this regard there will be one very positive result, it will mean that their hearts are then set on heavenly things. For having stored up their wealth in Heaven, their hearts will not be detained by earthly things. Their hearts also will be fixed on Heaven, where their ‘treasure’ is. (And the greatest treasure of all for us is Jesus Christ our Lord - 2 Corinthians 4.6-7). By the ‘heart’ is meant the total inner man, including mind, will and emotions. We should note that all these words are spoken as an assurance and incentive to those who have already come under the Kingly Rule of Heaven. They are not a bribe to the unconverted, indeed they would be folly to them. They would trample them underfoot. They are rather a promise of the fulfilment of the promises of the beatitudes.
2). The Choice As To Where The Eye Will Be Fixed.
Jesus now takes a general illustration that He regularly uses (compare Luke 11.34-36) in order to apply it to this particular situation. Again there is no reason to doubt that Jesus, as all preachers do, used the same illustration on a number of occasions, and not always in the same context. The differences in Luke bring out that the source for it there is not the same. Both are words of Jesus preserved by ‘tradition’ (1 Corinthians 11.2, 23; 15.3; 2 Thessalonians 2.15; 1 Timothy 6.3; Revelation 1.2, 9; 12.17).
Analysis of 6.22-24.
Note that in ‘a’ the lamp of the body is the eye. It is through the eye that either light or darkness come to the body, depending on where the eye is fixed, whether towards God, (and therefore towards the light), or away from God, (and therefore away from the light). Thus in the parallel ‘a’ the second attitude will result in darkness so appalling that it cannot be contemplated, for it will mean separation from God. In ‘b’ we have the contrast between the two alternatives, an eye fixed on the light, and an eye fixed on darkness.
The ‘eye’ here is both the physical eye, which can look on physical things and be drawn by them, or gloat in them, and the spiritual eye which can be fixed on God, and on Heaven, and on the light that has come from Heaven (4.16), whereby His disciples can therefore be drawn by Him and rejoice in Him. Those who are taken up with earthly pleasures and treasures will only see them, and will find that they begin to pall. The pure in heart will see God (5.8), and that will never pall.
What Jesus is really talking about here is what it is that takes up our attention because of the direction in which we fix our gaze both physically and spiritually. In other words it is dependent on where we set our hearts, whether on earthly things or on our heavenly Father. The ‘single’ eye is the eye that is deliberately focused on one thing, and that is possible in this case because it is, at least partly, the spiritual eye. It has been opened to the light that has shone in the darkness (4.16), and if it remains single it will continually receive that light. The word later came to indicate a ‘sound’ eye, and if we take it in that way the principle is the same, the point then being made is that those with a sound eye would let in the light, whereas those whose eye was not sound would be left in darkness. But Jesus in this case clearly intends us to recognise that a disciple can humanly speaking choose whether his eye is sound or not.
The alternative to the single or sound eye is the ‘evil’ (poneros) eye. This therefore links it immediately with the prayer ‘deliver us from evil’ (6.13). Those who pray the latter must ensure that their eye is not evil. But the idea of the ‘evil eye’ occurs elsewhere. (It is not to be confused with the ‘evil eye’ as used with regard to magic, which is not in mind). Compare, for example, 20.15. There the ‘eye which is evil’ is the greedy and resentful eye which complains that it has not been fairly treated. The person in question has seen the master’s behaviour towards others as compared with himself and considers it unfair, even though he had made an agreement and the master had not broken his agreement. There must be no such attitude in those who are under the Kingly Rule of God (6.33). In Mark 7.22 the eye that is evil is one of the evidences of ‘evil things’ that come from the human heart, and thus it connects with the ideas of lust, greed and pride. Thus Jesus clearly signifies by an ‘evil eye’ an eye that causes men to do evil in one way or another.
The idea of the eye that is evil is soundly based in the Old Testament. Proverbs 28.22 is directly relevant here. The man whose eye is evil runs after wealth and riches (earthly treasures). They have become his ruling passion (even though he will end up in want). In Proverbs 23.6 the one who has an evil eye is the one who is hypocritical, devious and not to be trusted. His ‘heart is not with you’. In Deuteronomy 15.9 the one whose eye is evil withholds help from the poor. Thus in all cases it has reference to an eye that leads to sinfulness.
The important thing in all this is that the ‘eye’ acts as the lamp to the body. It therefore either illuminates it or keeps it in darkness. For it is the source or otherwise of light coming to the inner being (compare Luke 11.34-36). If our minds are set on the light of God (Psalm 27.1; Isaiah 60.20; Micah 7.8; 1 Timothy 6.16; James 5.17; 1 John 1.5, 7); and on heavenly things (Colossians 1.1-3), including the way of life that Jesus has laid down from the Scriptures (compare Proverbs 6.23); and on the Heaven in which we have stored up all that we have (6.20-21); and on the Scriptures themselves (Psalm 119.105; Proverbs 6.23; Psalm 119.18); and on the One Who has shone on us with His great light (4.16; John 8.12), then our bodies will be filled with light. But if our minds are set on earthly things, (and this will especially be determined by what we fix our gaze on, things such as earthly treasures, and mammon, and position, and fame), then our bodies will be filled with darkness. They will be turned away from the light. Our eye will cause us to stumble (5.29). And there is no darkness greater than for those who have turned away from light, and for whom their light is darkness (compare here John 3.19-21; Ephesians 4.18; Romans 11.10; John 12.35-36 and see John 9.41).
A similar contrast is found in John 9.39, where Jesus pointed out, ‘for judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see, may see, and so that those who do see may become blind’.
This thought of fixing the eye has already been considered in 5.28, which is one example of the eye bringing darkness into the heart, and in 5.8 which is an example of fixing the eye on God, thus bringing light into the heart. We can also compare 5.16 where the disciples are to be a light that shines in other’s hearts so that they too might seek God, and themselves receive light. This idea of light shining into people’s lives was very much therefore central to Jesus’ teaching.
But the verse that follows will provide an added thought. That what we fix our eye on will determine whom we serve. The eye of a bondservant always had to be kept on his master ready at the instant to do his bidding, so that his master had only to look at him and give a slight sign, and he would know immediately what to do. He was expected to have a ‘single eye’. Thus the principle is that where a man’s eye is fixed will reveal who or what man he really sees as his master.
It should be noted that Greek ideas about light flowing out through the eye, while interesting, are irrelevant here. Here the emphasis is on light flowing in, with the eye basically therefore acting as a ‘lamp’ by bringing light to the body by the reception of light (or otherwise) from an external source. If light was flowing out through the eye there would hardly be darkness within.
3). The Choice As To Which Master will Be Served.
We can compare here Luke 16.13, another example of Jesus’ continual use of similar illustrations in the normal way. ‘You cannot serve God and mammon’, in the context of the use of wealth, was clearly one of His watchwords.
Note that in ‘a’ two masters cannot both be served well, therefore in the parallel the choice must be made between God and Mammon. In ‘b two similar contrasts are paralleled.
The principle here is that of conflict of interest. Even in earthly matters it is now regularly recognised that a reputable person should not act for two people where there may be a conflict of interest. For men in their wisdom recognise that it is totally impossible in such a case for someone to be sure that they are not being influenced one way or another. In heavenly affairs that is even more so. Having earthly things as a master must mean being in conflict with heavenly things for they are direct rivals for the heart. Either we are totally given over to ‘divine service’, that is, doing the will of God (7.21), which is God’s requirement for all who serve Him, or we are not. And if our minds are half on earthly things then we are not serving Him fully and truly. And this applied just as much to the farmer who ploughed his fields for God, and saw them as God’s fields, and his produce as God’s produce, as it did to the Apostles themselves. It applied to all ‘disciples’ without distinction.
Jesus is not saying that no man can ever have two masters. He is simply saying that it is not an arrangement that can ever work well if the two masters are opposed to each other, for in that case the bondservant will sometimes have to take sides, and that can only be detrimental for one of them. No doubt such arrangements may work well enough on earth where men are willing to compromise and fixed contracts can be written up. But God does not compromise. God expects total response. So in heavenly things the idea of two masters cannot work. We must love God ‘with all our heart, and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength’ (22.37; Luke 10.27; Deuteronomy 6.5), or we must go away with nothing.
We have here an example where the verb translated ‘hate’ really means ‘love less’ in contrast to the person’s love for another. (Compare for example Jacob’s love for Rachel and his ‘less love’ for Leah (Genesis 29.30-31, 33. Compare also ‘Jacob have I loved and Esau have I loved less’ - Romans 9.13). The point being made is that a bondservant with two masters will always love the one more than the other, and will therefore tend to serve him the better, sometimes even possibly to the detriment of the other. The guarantee of equality of love is impossible for anyone in such a situation, and we ourselves are the last who could possibly determine such a matter (and no one else could even try to do so except by interpreting the way that we live).
Thus Jesus is bringing out that what our eyes are fixed on will determine whom we serve. Those whose eyes are fixed on earthly things, and are thus turned away from God, are serving and worshipping Mammon, whatever their protestations, while those who would serve Him must turn their eyes on Him and on heavenly things, and turn away from all things on earth. For where their gaze is fixed, and what they treasure, demonstrates whom they serve. This does not necessarily mean monasticism or separateness from society, for that was not what Jesus required of many who were disciples but did not follow all the time. It meant being separate in heart, and having the mind fixed on heavenly things (compare Colossians 3.1-3).
‘Mammon.’ The word includes not just riches but all that a man possesses. Jesus probably uses the term to indicate a kind of quasi-god. He is saying that those who allow their possessions to control their decisions and absorb their love are behaving just as idolatrously as those in the Old Testament who sought after idols (compare Ephesians 5.5).
EXCURSUS. Note On The Christian’s Attitude To Wealth.
This is necessarily a difficult question to deal with in societies where most are comparatively ‘wealthy’, (i.e. have a TV and a car and their own habitable apartment, and are not in rags, and have at least a staple diet), especially in view of starvation elsewhere, a problem which cannot, however, simply be dealt with by giving money, (although if it can be used wisely it unquestionably helps). The tendency therefore can be almost to dismiss the idea of a Christian giving away a large part of his wealth, and to assume that our fairly luxurious standard of living is acceptable. Certainly it is a matter of balance, but our tendency is ever to ensure that the balances are weighted in our favour.
On the one hand we have clear indications of Jesus’ approval of those who gave away all that they possessed (Luke 12.33 which is to all disciples, not just the few; compare Matthew 19.21). This especially comes out in His approval of the poor widow who gave away all her living (Mark 12.44; Luke 21.1-4). She was not called on to be a disciple (at least not immediately) and yet Jesus not only approved of her action but also indicated thereby that none of our giving is judged in terms of what we give, but in terms of what we have left (Mark 12.44). This last principle must always especially be kept in mind. The multi-billionaire who gives away a few billions will get much credit on earth, but little in Heaven, compared with those who are like that poor widow.
Jesus once said that for every idle word that a man should speak he would give account of it in the Day of Judgment (12.36). We can equally be sure that that will also apply to very idle penny or cent that a man spends. Thus complacency can only be our enemy in eternal terms.
On the other hand certain things also have to be kept in mind. A man is expected to provide for his relatives and his children (1 Timothy 5.8), and Paul certainly expected that there would be wealthy Christians, but bade them ensure that they were humble and continued in generosity and in good works (1 Timothy 6.17-19). For those who would succeed in certain areas of life a certain standard of living is certainly required. And the giving away of all wealth could only lead in many cases to future poverty. But this must never be a reason for indulgence. Ministers especially have to remember the witness that they give. Men often think, for example, that a man can be judged by his car. God thinks the same. But the problem for us is that He has a different model in mind from man. He remembers the widow. How many of us really ask, which car would God be proud to see me in?
Furthermore it was expected that men and women would work hard in order to maintain their ability to achieve what has been described. Proverbs 6.6-8 emphasises the need for people to be able to maintain themselves. Paul declared that if a man does not work he should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3.10; compare Genesis 3.19); and should be loth to live on benefit (1 Thessalonians 4.11-12); and he himself maintained himself by his hard labour (1 Thessalonians 2.9; 2 Thessalonians 3.8). Trusting God does not therefore mean that we can sit back and have an easy time.
Each of us must therefore recognise that all that we have comes from God and that we must hold it at His disposal. And then we must recognise that we are accountable for how we use it. It is doubtful whether there are too many (apart from those who have given the matter deep consideration) who can be comfortable if they think along those lines. As with so much our tendency is to excuse ourselves, while every second someone, somewhere, dies of starvation and disease, and the work of God goes lacking. This is unquestionably one of the most difficult continuing decisions that most Christians have to face. Ten per cent’ is in most cases certainly not enough! Consider especially 1 Timothy 6.10; James 5.2-3.
End of Excursus.
We Are Not To be Taken Up With Concern About Our Daily Needs, But Are To Ensure That Our Concern Is Fixed On Seeking God’s Kingly Rule And The Establishment On Earth of His Righteousness (6.25-34).
Having dealt with how His disciples should view their possessions, Jesus now turns to the danger of their being taken up with their needs, bringing out two opposing problems. Some stumble because they enjoy too much, others because they have not enough. We can compare here Proverbs 30.9; ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with the bread of my portion, lest I be full and deny you, and say, “Who is the Lord?”, or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God’. Jesus provides the answer to both these problems. The answer to the first has been to lay up their treasure in Heaven, the answer to the second is now to trust their heavenly Father for His provision. For once they are committed to their Father, and to the Kingly Rule of Heaven, their ‘needs’ are not things that should concern them, for the simple reason that they can be sure that God as their Father in Heaven knows their needs and will provide for them. They must therefore concentrate their attention on seeking to establish His Kingly Rule and the introduction of His righteousness into the world (6.33).
Note that in ‘a’ they are not to be anxious about their future needs, and in the parallel they are not to be anxious about tomorrow. In ‘b’ the life is more than food and the body than clothes, and in the parallel their concentration is to be on the Kingly Rule of God (eternal life) and on His righteousness (the covering of His people (Isaiah 61.10), the clothing of His bride (Revelation 19.8)). In ‘c’ their Heavenly Father knows the needs of His creatures, and in the parallel their Heavenly Father knows the needs of His people. In ‘d’ they are of more value than the creatures (because they are His), while in the parallel the Gentiles seek all these things (because they are not). In ‘e’ they cannot by being anxious add to their length of life, why then be anxious about clothing, and in the parallel they are not to be anxious about what they will eat and wear. Centrally in ‘f’ let them note that the flowers are more gloriously arrayed than Solomon, while in the parallel they can be sure that God who clothes the vegetation, will also clothe them.
There is here a secondary analysis for in ‘a’ being anxious for their lives parallels their inability to increase the length of their lives by being anxious, in ‘b’ concern about food and clothing, followed by a question about the value of life, parallels their Father feeding the birds, followed by a question about their value, while in ‘c’ interest is centred on the basis of the illustration.
This brings out that the next thing that the disciples have to beware of is being anxious about relatively unimportant matters. They are to consider that there is much more to life than food and clothing, and that their inner life is much more important than both. Thus they should not be clamouring about a seeming shortage of food and clothing (as Israel did in the wilderness), but concentrating on the satisfactory maintenance of their inner life. We can compare here 4.4 where the food that gives life is the word that comes from God’s mouth. Thus they must consider that to some extent this temptation to be concerned about food and clothing is the same as the one He overcame, and must be overcome by them too.
And He will then go on to explain that just as God fed and clothed His people at the time when those words were said (Deuteronomy 2.7), so He will feed His people now. Note the relation of life to eating and the body to clothing. Food sustains the inner life, clothing covers the outer body. But both inward and outward physical need can be left to God to provide at the time when He feels suitable. They should thus rather be concerned about the inward food of the word of God (4.4), and the outer clothing of righteousness (verse 33). To be consumed with anxiety can only hinder the effects of both
Let them rather then consider the birds of the heaven. They neither sow, nor reap, nor harvest. But the disciples’ heavenly Father feeds them. There may be a play here on the term ‘heaven’. The birds are in a sense ‘of heaven’, but those in the Kingly Rule of Heaven under their ‘Heavenly’ Father are to be seen as even more important than they. They are the true sons of Heaven. But whether that inference is there or not the basic idea is there, for they are certainly seen to be of more value than the birds of heaven. Thus they can be sure that their Heavenly Father Who takes such care of the birds, who do nothing in order to produce their food (most present would no doubt visualise the picture of the birds flying down and picking up the seed as they sowed (13.4), just like the poor are allowed to do with the grain that results (Deuteronomy 23.25). God thus makes provision for all), will equally certainly take good care of them, as they work hard for their daily provision. The emphasis is on ‘not being anxious’ because their Father will provide, not on their working or not working to obtain their food and clothing. It is on the fact that in the end all things come from above, from the One Who gives sun and rain to ripen the Harvest.
Behind these words may also be the thought of how in the Old Testament God fed Elijah by means of the birds of Heaven (1 Kings 17.4, 6), who were thus so well provided for that they could feed Elijah. And also how He twice fed His people in the wilderness by bringing the birds of Heaven to them (Exodus 16.13; Numbers 11.31-32), which demonstrated that His people were of more value than the quails.
And the whole then ends with a reminder to them that they cannot change the length of their lives, for their lives are in His hands (while the implication is that He can). What then is the point of their being anxious about their physical lives?
‘Can add one cubit to his life (or his stature)’? Helikia can refer to either age (e.g. Hebrews 11.11) or stature (Luke 19.2; compare Luke 2.52 where it can be either). ‘Cubit’ (a length measurement) may seem to suggest the length of an object, but outside sources do in fact speak of a ‘cubit of time’; and we can compare with this Psalm 39.5 where ‘a handbreadth’ is used to describe the length of days. So the usage for length of life would not be unique, and this interpretation fits better with the parallel, ‘Do not be anxious for your life’ (verse 25). There may even be the implication behind it of possible martyrdom.
On the other hand growth in stature, which also comes from God, may refer to man’s longings to ‘stand tall’. Perhaps it is even at this stage a reminder that any progress that they make in life comes from the hand of God. But this would then be to introduce a concept which is not followed up, whereas length of life also fits better with what follows as contrasting with the shortness of life of the grass of the field (verse 30).
The same principle can be applied to their clothing. The anxiety about clothing, especially for the women, no doubt included the desire to look attractive, even though the thought is mainly of a basic need for clothing (so as not to be naked, compare Genesis 3.7, 21). Let them then consider that God not only provided clothing to the flowers, but that in providing it He provided clothing more glorious than Solomon’s. Let them also consider that if He shows consideration to vegetation in this way, which has but a short span of life and was then used for fuel, how much more would He provide for those who trusted in Him, even if their faith was so little. The ‘oven’ (klibanos) was a pottery oven with a hole in the bottom so that the ashes could fall through, which was probably fired by burning vegetation inside. The flat cakes for baking could then be attached to its walls inside and out.
The comparison of the lilies of the field as clothed much more richly than Solomon, with the ‘much more’ in verse 30, suggests in context that His people are therefore to expect to be arrayed more gloriously than both. The thought here may be of 5.16 where they are the light of the world. In the end their being clothed includes being clothed in light and in righteousness as children of light (Ephesians 5.8). And it may well also be that He leaves it to them to recognise that they will be gloriously arrayed in the Kingly Rule of God by wearing the robe of righteousness brought by God (compare 22.11; Isaiah 6.10 with 61.3; Revelation 19.8), so that they will shine before Him (5.16) as the brightness of the heavens and the stars (Daniel 12.3). A similar idea is taken up by Paul (Ephesians 5.26-27). They would remember how Joshua the High Priest was gloriously clothed by God on behalf of God’s people when under attack by Satan (Zechariah 3.4-5). Thus being clothed by God had heavenly associations.
We retain the translation ‘lilies of the field’, for it gets over the idea, but the exact type of vegetation in mind is not certain. The strict differentiations that we make today did not apply in those days, and the translation ‘flowers’ might possibly be a more accurate one (to tie in with ‘grass/vegetation’) although a particular flower may have been growing on the mountainside and have been pointed out by Jesus. Note the parallelism of ‘the lilies of the field’ with ‘the birds of the air (heaven)’. God overlooks neither those above nor those below. He will not therefore overlook those in between who are more important than both.
‘You of little faith.’ A gentle and tender rebuke. He was clearly aware that such anxieties did sometimes beset them. He uses it elsewhere of His disciples in 8.26; 14.31; 16.8, and in each case at times when they have failed to trust Him and His Father. Compare also 17.20, although the phrase is different and there they had failed in their effectiveness over the power of Satan. It was intended gradually to strengthen their faith. The point was not that they did not believe, but that they lacked the full trust that would come through continuing in prayer. They still failed to recognise the truth about their heavenly Father. (He will later provide a cure for this failure in 7.7-11).
We can compare with this gentle rebuke His further rebuke of them as potential ‘hypocrites’ in 7.5 (see also 7.11). Jesus was quite well aware of His disciples’ shortcomings. In spite of the lofty standards He was setting He knew that they still had a long way to go. They would not immediately fall in line with all the Sermon on the Mount. But as their eyes became more and more fixed on the Kingly Rule of God, so would their faith grow and their anxieties disappear, and so would they learn to be less judgmental and more caring.
In view of what He has been saying about God feeding and clothing natural things, anxiety about food and clothing is to be seen as folly. It is not to trust their Heavenly Father. It is all very well for the Gentiles to chase after these things. They have no Heavenly Father. But His disciples do have a heavenly Father, and they must learn to be aware of it. Thus their concentration must be on the things of their Father. They must therefore put all their efforts into seeking His Kingly Rule, and putting that first, which, as He has already told them, will result in ‘all these things’ (daily necessities) being added to them. This putting first of the Kingly Rule of God, ties in with the way that they should be praying (6.10). They must put their effort into seeking and fulfilling the effects of His righteous deliverance, resulting from the coming of His righteousness as promised by Isaiah (‘and His righteousness’). They are to seek them first of all in prayer (6.9-10; 7.7-11), and then they are to seek their part in bringing them about. In this way not only will they be fed and clothed, but their inner beings will be fed and clothed as well, and they will be fed and clothed for eternity. Note the contrast between ‘chasing’ and ‘seeking’. The former is a compound verb which includes the root of the verb to seek, but adds to it. The Gentiles go around their earthly chase with great anxiety, for they chase what is illusive, the disciples are to go about their earthly seeking with faith and trust, for it concerns heavenly things.
Both seeking His Kingly Rule and seeking His righteousness must here have a present significance, in the same way as seeking food and clothing has. While the Gentiles are daily busy seeking food and clothing, they are to be daily seeking His Kingly Rule and His righteousness (note the emphasis on ‘daily’ in the passage - verses 30; 34), which will be enjoyed both in this world and the next (19.29; and especially Mark 10.29-30, ‘now in this time, and in the age to come, eternal life’). They must pray for His Kingly Rule and the coming of His righteousness and deliverance, and their hearts must be set on the establishment and expansion of His Kingly Rule and the bringing in of His righteousness.
While the Gentiles seek ‘bread alone’ they are to seek for words which come from God’s mouth (4.4), and as we will learn later, they are to spread them. For the whole point is that God has something better for them from day to day than food and clothing even in this life (see also our introduction to Matthew which demonstrates the present aspect of the Kingly Rule of God). They can have ‘eternal life’ now (John 5.24; John 5.13) as well as in the future (John 5.28-29), life that is more abundant (John 10.10; compare John 4.10-14; 7.37-38). They can even now enter into rest (11.28-30). So they are to concentrate all their attention (‘first’) on seeking the establishment of His Rule now, and the bringing about of His saving work in righteousness and salvation, as promised by Isaiah 46.13; 51.5; etc. Here, as always in Matthew, the righteousness which they are to seek, and hunger and thirst after (5.6) is the righteousness revealed by the Law as expanded by Jesus, but which is to be brought to them and worked in them by the righteousness and salvation of God (Isaiah 61.3). It is the God-given Messianic righteousness. Note in Isaiah 51.8 the interesting contrast between the moth eating up people (see verses 19-20 above) and His bringing of righteousness to His people. In seeking righteousness His disciples are laying up treasure in Heaven (building up within themselves a deeper quality of life) where the moth cannot reach them (verse 20).
The contrast with the Gentiles is interesting. Jesus still has at this point in time the hope of a widespread turning to God among the Jews, thus it is with the Gentiles that He makes the contrast. Consider His bitter disappointment in 11.21. But the comparison with the Gentiles also brings out the enormity of the difference between His listeners, as His disciples, and the idolatrous Gentiles. The one are at peace because they are aware that their heavenly Father will provide for them, the other are far from Him and have no one to bear their anxieties but themselves and their idols.
Jesus then finishes this passage with a pithy saying. Compare 5.48; 6.24b; 7.6. Their concentration is to be on each day, and not on the morrow. For there is enough evil each day to be concerned about, without worrying about tomorrow’s that may never come. Thus they may pray to be delivered from today’s evil (6.13), and may depend on Him to do it, and that ‘evil’ includes lack of food and clothing. But because He is their Heavenly Father they need not then worry about it. (He is not, of course, suggesting that they can worry about today. They are not do that either. But His point is that most people’s worries tend to be about ‘tomorrow’, hence our favourite proverb, ‘tomorrow never comes’). Note the indication here that there will be constant troubles but that their Father will watch over them day by day so that they need not be concerned. Thus they can leave the future in His hands without being concerned about it. All concentration instead is to be on seeking His Kingly Rule over men’s lives and His righteous deliverance of His people.
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 He had 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 (verse 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 (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 16.19 and 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 ideas 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 they are to do 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 (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; 18.6). For what was respected and ‘holy’ and revered among the brethren could be seen by outsiders as infernal insolence, blasphemy, or total foolishness, and could result in quick retaliation (verse 6).
This passage reveals many marks of connection with what has gone before. The lack of a connecting word has occurred previously in 6.19, 24 in order to indicate a change of subject. The idea of God’s being responsive to their actions is found in 5.7, 9, 19, 21-22, 29-30; 6.12, 14-15. Compare also in this regard the promises of rewards. The move from plural to singular has been previously noted (6.1-4, 5-6, 16-18, 19-23) and occurs again here. The idea of impaired sight is found also in 6.22-23. The description ‘brother’ is found also 5.22, 47. The word ‘hypocrite’ is found in 6.2, 5. 16. And the whole subject matter from verses 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. This 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.
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
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 verse 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.
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 (verses 3, 5), while taking a more cautious attitude towards outsiders (verse 6) and that the principle is that any judgments are to bear in mind the need for having a right attitude (verse 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 keep in mind 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 as a result of their own attitude if they fail to judge fairly. (The same idea of repercussion comes also in verse 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 6.14-15; 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 (5.7), and the judgmental and unforgiving (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 5.19-20, 21-22, 25, 29-30; 6.15; and especially seen in what follows in 7.13-27. But that it also includes the judgment of men is suggested by verse 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 (verse 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 their minds is to be the assistance of that brother and sister, by enabling them to put 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,
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 whilst having 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.
Jesus had a full understanding of the weaknesses of men. Elsewhere He says quite blatantly to His disciples, “If you then, being evil ---” (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 (6.22). Thus our first move must be to get rid of that plank.
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 (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 6.14-15; 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), with the result that they are thus walking in humility and love (1 Corinthians 13.4-8), and until they have been reconciled to all who have anything against them (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 (verses 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 the prophets spoke of heavenly things using earthly pictures which would be familiar. Communication must always be through what is understandable at the time).
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 found in 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.
These words close down with a firm warning the major chiasmus commencing at 6.1, the sub-section chiasmus commencing at 6.19 and the passage chiasmus commencing at 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 (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 (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 that, 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 are only for those who are spiritual (1 Corinthians 2.11-18). 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 (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 the Pharisees who were unclean, for uncleanness results from what is in the heart (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 26.68; 27.29; Luke 16.14; Acts 2.13; 4.3, 21; 6.10-12; 7.57-58; 9.29; 13.45-46; 14.2, 19; 17.5, 13, 32; 18.12; 19.9, 28-29; 22.22-23; 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 might think differently if we lived elsewhere), we must not underestimate how much of our society today has been influenced by the areas in which they live, having had their ideas shaped by Christian belief from childhood. And this is especially so 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; 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 (10.14, 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 (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 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 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 (7.6) adequately caps off the larger part-section, paralleling and contrasting with 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 7.1-2, where wrong judgments similarly result in definite repercussions. It also closes this whole section from 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; 7.4). But new life is what the Messiah has come to bring, the life of the coming age (John 1.12-13; 3.1-6, 16; 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; 3.1-6) even to the dogs and pigs (verse 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.
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 (5.20). And to some extent how they can exceed the righteousness of the Scribes (the teachers of the Law) has been explained in 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 6.1-7.6. 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:
In terms of Luke 11.13 these ‘good things’ (verse 11) include 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 (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 (3.11; compare 12.18, 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 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 (13.45). They have learned much about their heavenly Father’s goodness (5.45, 48), and how they can pray to Him (6.9), and how they can come secretly into His presence (6.6), and trust Him for full provision as they seek His Kingly Rule and the working of His righteousness (6.26, 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 the right people, and at the same time He will deal with something that is most holy of all, and that is the fact 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 7.6 as the antecedent to ‘it’. There He had spoken of ‘what is holy’ (which in fact summed up 6.1-7.5), 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 (just as earlier they would receive food and clothing for the same reason).
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 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 6.19; 7.1; 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. They must seek what is holy.
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, verse 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 (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 (5.17; 7.12). And because they are so important as capping the whole, we must first briefly recapitulate the whole portion, before we look at the verses in detail,
Recapitulation of THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.
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.
Connection With The Lord’s Prayer.
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 (6.33), and the bringing in of the doing of His will, which would result from both. These are the main things 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 7.6. They are to ask for what is holy. 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 6.33. For both go together. They seek their Father and they seek His Kingly Rule. In finding One they find the other. For 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 (28.18-20).
Analysis of 7.7-11.
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.
As we have seen these words connect back to their dealings with ‘what is holy’ (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. He will fulfil their desire for the hallowing of His Name on earth as it is in Heaven, His Kingly Rule will come among men on earth as it is in Heaven, His will shall be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Compare for the same persistence Luke 18.7-8.
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 (6.9-10, 33). These are the ‘good things’ that they are to ‘seek first before anything else on earth’ (6.33), and in Luke we find this related to the Holy Spirit as at present available to the disciples (Luke 11.13), something which Matthew also assumes on the basis of 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 (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 (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.
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 a similar 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.
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 (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 described (the stones and the serpent) 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 (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.
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 verse 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’ (Psalm 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 Psalm 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 Psalm 14.1-3 (repeated in 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’ emphasising that He is the heavenly Father of true disciples. 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 (5.9, 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 (Luke 11.13), 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; 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 verse 12 says.
Note how this reference to the Law and the Prophets forms an inclusion with 5.17. Here He is explaining how the Law and the Prophets can be fulfilled.
‘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 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 7.6 also applied to the local context and to the wider context, as did 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 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 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.
THE APPLICATION OF JESUS’ WORDS IN PRACTISE (7.13-27).
Jesus now moves on to the application of His words in practise. In this passage He exhorts them to choose the right way and produce good fruit by full obedience to His words, in order that they might enter into life and avoid destruction.
So we move on finally to the application part of the Sermon, and we soon find that it is applied with a punch. For from here to verse 27, in contrast with His opening words in 5.3-16, where what was emphasised was solely God acting in blessing on His people, Jesus now puts what He has said against the background, first of calls to life (verses 13-14, 21), and then of warnings concerning the final judgment (verses 19, 23, 26-27). They must choose life or face judgment. For in the end all must be adjudged in the light of ‘that day’ (verse 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 verses 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 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:
In the chiasmus of the whole sermon the themes here parallel those at the beginning:
We will now consider the analysis of this section.
Analysis of 7.13-27.
We note that in ‘a’ there is the choice of two options, and one leads 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 Two Ways (7.13-14).
Jesus commences His closing exhortation by setting before them a choice as to which way they will take in the future. His words reveal that He is very much aware that among the group of disciples are some whose commitment is not genuine (compare John 6.66) for He knows men’s hearts (John 2.23-25). It is to them that these words are mainly addressed, although at the same time they are a reminder to all that the way of the disciple is a narrow and afflicted one, and that they are to examine themselves whether they are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13.5). They are to satisfy themselves as to whether they have entered through the narrow gate or not.
This passage parallels 5.13-16 in the overall chiasmus of the Sermon. They were intended to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, but if they were to be so they must choose the right way.
The idea of a choice between two ways is a common one in the Old Testament. Moses informed the people as he was approaching his death, ‘see I have set before you this day life and good, (achieved by loving God and walking in His way), and death and evil’ (Deuteronomy 30.15). The same themes of life and destruction are found there as are also found here. A similar choice is found in Joshua 24.14-15 at an official covenant ceremony, where he declares ‘choose you this day Whom you will serve’, although the reply expected of all there was that they would serve the Lord. It can be found in Psalm 1 where the blessedness of the man who delights in God’s Law is contrasted with the judgment on the wicked, and he finishes with the words ‘the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly will perish’ (verse 6).
Furthermore in Isaiah the coming age was summed up in terms of a way of holiness in which the righteous alone would walk, a way that would lead them into everlasting joy, when all sadness and sorrow would flee away (Isaiah 35.8-10), and this in the context of the Messianic signs (Isaiah 35.5-6, compare Matthew 11.4-6). And in that way they would hear a word behind them saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’ when they turned to the right hand or turned to the left (Isaiah 30.21). So the choice of a new way to walk in is in these terms an indication of the arrival of the Messianic age.
As so often with Jesus’ words we have here both a chiasmus, which centres on the judgment which is the theme of the whole passage, and a sequence which leads from the one aspect to the other.
In ‘a’ we have the narrow gate and in the parallel few will find it. In ‘b’ and its parallel we have the comparison between the two alternatives, and centrally in ‘c’ is the emphasis that the many enter the way of destruction, something which continues to be the emphasis in verses 19 and 23.
Jesus commences with the command to ‘enter by the narrow gate’. In other words. ‘enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven’. As elsewhere He speaks of ‘entering the Kingly Rule of Heaven’ we are probably intended to see entering by the narrow gate as the same thing. The one will result in the other (5.20; 7.21; 18.3; 19.23, 24; John 3.5; compare 11.12). For the ideas of ‘life’ and of the Kingly Rule of Heaven tend to go together (see 25.34 with 46; 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 - verses 7-8, compare 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 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). Although we can compare the use of the verb apollumi in 10.28; 18.11, 14. But the word is found regularly elsewhere in the New Testament. It is found:
Compare also the use of the cognate verb apollumi in 10.28; 18.11, 14. (In Plato’s work on immortality the use of apoowleia and apollumi refers to the opposite of immortality and clearly represents total annihilation and extinction).
‘Destruction’ is paralleled with Hades in Jewish literature such as Psalms of Solomon 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 Psalm 16.10, where there is also a contrast of destruction with ‘life’ (verse 11). The contrast between life and apowleia is also found in the Psalms of Solomon 9.9 (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 13.9 (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 (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 (19.16) and in the words of Jesus (19.29 compare verse 17; 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 (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 Christians taking up their cross and following Him. It might also be seen as the way into God’s presence as described in verses 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 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 - 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; 18.25, 26; 19.9, 23; 22.4; 24.14, 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.
The Warning Against False Prophets (7.15).
In 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 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; 18.19-22), and the persecution of the prophets was later regularly connected with the opposition of such false prophets (Isaiah 9.15; 25.7; Jeremiah 5.31; 6.13; 8.10; 14.14; 23.16-17; 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 more so as their numbers grew.
Note on False Prophets.
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 verse 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 with our lack of knowledge of circumstances in 1st century AD Palestine, to get the idea that in 1st century AD only John the Baptist and Jesus 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 also 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 some kinds of 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 any inspired teacher, exorciser and wonder-worker.
Furthermore in 10.42 Jesus appears to be likening his disciples to prophets and wise men. Possibly the difference there was that some performed wonders (prophets), while others simply testified (wise men). In 14.5 Jesus activities had convinced the people that He was a prophet, probably for a similar reason (compare 21.11; Luke 7.16, 39; 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 of ‘false prophets’ (compare 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 although 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, 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 (verse 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?’ (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.
We should also consider the way in which Simeon was a man of whom it could be said ‘the Holy Spirit was upon him’, and was recognised as one who had received intimations from the Holy Spirit (Luke 2.25-26). He prophesied to Mary (Luke 2.34-35). We should also note how Anna was described as ‘a prophetess’ (Luke 2.36), which could be seen as suggesting that there were also recognised ‘prophets’.
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 (24.11; compare Mark 13.22), under whatever guise. History had demonstrated that there would after all always be ‘false prophets’, a term firmly based on the Old Testament.
End of note.
Analysis of 7.15-20.
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.
‘Beware of false prophets.’ The false prophets would come ‘as though in sheep’s clothing’. That is, they would somehow link themselves with the Name of Jesus and profess to be teaching what He taught. But really their teaching would be false and they would come 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 the sheep, while really being out for themselves. ‘The sheep’ regularly indicate God’s people in their helplessness (9.36; Psalm 78.52; 79.13; 95.7; 100.3; 119.176; Isaiah 53.6; Jeremiah 23.1; 50.6; Ezekiel 34.6, 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; 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 being 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 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 may well have been 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 was 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; 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 (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 introduction).
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 to be tested, and if necessary avoided, while if found spurious clearly their teaching was not to be 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; 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 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; compare 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.
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 thorn bushes 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 there in LXX as are found here). 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, which 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’. They too will face judgment.
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 (15.11; Mark 7.15, 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 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 7.19 compare 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.
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; 2.14-16, 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 ‘depart from Me’. The truth or otherwise of their relationship to Him will settle once and for all their eternal destiny.
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.
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 (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 common sense. 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 verses 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 - 13.38). We have here therefore 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 3.17; 4.3, 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, 6 seeing and entering under the Kingly Rule of God results from being born of the Spirit, a present experience. In 18.4 the one who humbles himself as a little child is the 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’ (18.3). Compare Mark 10.15 where ‘receiving the Kingly Rule of God as a little child’ results in entry to it. 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 (19.24), although thankfully even that was possible for God (19.26). Furthermore the parallel we detect with the Lord’s Prayer also connects it with the idea of 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 (5.20). It must be an inworked righteousness (6.33).
And then with remarkable suddenness Jesus brings them up short with a new revelation concerning Himself, a revelation made clearer in 28.20 (compare 26.64; 24.27, 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, 17, 20; 4.1, 2; 27.1; 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 some will look to Him for hope in that dread Day, but will look without hope.
And yet they have such confidence. They have 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 25.12). He had not appointed or approved them (as He approved the man in Luke 9.49-50. Thus it was not just a matter of their 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. verse 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 (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; 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 ‘Depart from Me’ is more significant. It is taken from Psalm 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; 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 (16.27; 24.30-31; 25.31; John 5.22, 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 13.41, where the angels gather ‘those who do lawlessness’ out of the sphere of His Kingly Rule; 23.28 where the Pharisees are outwardly righteous but inwardly hypocritical and ‘lawless’; and 24.12 where the multiplying of ‘lawlessness’ leads to the love of many growing cold. 13.41 fits the context here well. They have failed to enter under His Kingly Rule and therefore they must now be excluded 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 here they will be told to depart, along with all other false teachers, and 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.
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.
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.
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’.
The emphasis here is on the fact that they have heard His words and done them It 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 are His words. 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.
Jesus regularly speaks of those who do His will as ‘wise’. We can compare the ‘faithful and wise servant’ (24.45) and ‘the wise virgins’ (25.4). See also Luke 12.42; 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.
Being on a sound foundation was no guarantee that trials and tribulations would not come, for come they would (5.11). Everything would be thrown at them, apart from the smiting of God (verse 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’.
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.
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.
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 than 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 13.4-7).
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 faced 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.
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.
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.
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.
Closing Summary (7.28-29).
7.28-29 ‘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 11.1; 13.53; 19.1; 26.1 (see note below). ‘The disciples’ have now become ‘the crowds’ but not the ‘great crowds’ of 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 (5.1), he remembered how they had grown into crowds by the time that Jesus had finished teaching (7.28). And he remembered the even greater crowds who subsequently followed (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 they claimed no authority for themselves. Although often they did then come to their own ultimate conclusion. But even then it was represented as 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 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:
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 (5.17), a covenant whose terms had been renewed and expanded on in Matthew 5-7.
End of note.
Forward to Matthew 4
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