Matthew 7:13-23

From The Kingdom series.

Matthew 7:13–23 (HCSB): Enter through the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction,  and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. 

“Beware of false prophets  who come to you in sheep’s  clothing  but inwardly are ravaging wolves.  You’ll recognize them by their fruit.  Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.

‘“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,  but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.  On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons  in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’  Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’   

Broad and Narrow Roads

I am trying to picture these two roads in my mind. I’m seeing something like a castle with doors to go through to enter from the outside, but then there seems to be these long roads which belong on the outside not the inside…. Maybe my mental picture is wrong. Maybe the road is the destination. This would mean that the road is more about how you live life much more than which gate you started off choosing?And what if you wanted to switch roads at some point? How does that work? Let’s pause on this one and look at the next paragraph.

Good and Bad Fruit

There are some false prophets. You are a sheep in a flock. They want to eat you. And they get close enough to you to be able to do that by dressing up as one of you – a sheep. Meek and mild on the outside but a ravenous wolf underneath. They don’t care about your welfare, they just want your production or to have you for breakfast.

The structure of this passage is interesting:

   A. Entering the kingdom through the narrow gate.

B. Watch out for the false prophets.

   A’. Entering the kingdom.

A chiasm perhaps? So maybe the whole passage relates to entering the kingdom? Certainly in the last section (v21-23) there are some surprised folks who are confident they have the right tickets – we prophesied in your name Jesus! We did a lot of things “in your name”. Jesus doesn’t even get drawn into the conversation. “I never knew you. Get out of here – lawbreakers”. How do we process this? Miracle working prophesying exorcists not making it through the door? What hope is there for the rest of us? 

Literary context

It’s helpful at this point to look at some literary context. These verses are situated right at the end of the extended body of Jesus’ teaching known as the sermon on the mount. It would not be unexpected that this might be some kind of summary of what has gone before. We have already discovered (see Mt 5:17-20) how Jesus views the Law. Jesus is all about fulfilling the law (Mt 5:17), not breaking it, so it makes sense that he did not want to be around the law-breakers of Mt. 7:23. And what law have they broken? Jesus summed up the whole law in two commandments – loving God and loving your neighbour (Mt 22:37-40, Rom 13:8-10 ). Paul gets it down to one: 

For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbour as yourself. (Gal.  5:14).

Do not owe anyone anything,  except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet;  and whatever other commandment—all are summed up by this: Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbour. Love, therefore, is the fulfilment of the law. (Rom. 13:8–10)

False Prophets

So who are these false prophets then, and how may they be identified? It is someone who comes singing the right songs and with a good command of the lingo, but totally lacks a love motivation. They are there, yes even in the church, to serve their own appetites, to take and eat, rather than love and nourish. Likely too that they advocate and promote a route along that broad road.  They have not entered by the narrow gate, they are not familiar with the narrow way. No wonder Jesus says to them “I never knew you”. 

Wrapping up

Jesus has laid out his manifesto in Matthew 5-7. Now he is asking the question – are you on board with living like this? Do you want to live like a citizen in this kingdom? It’s all about this way of love – that is actually what the narrow road is.

So, “entering the kingdom” – is it a future thing or a now thing? Jesus appears to be teaching that you have to be living in it now in order to enter it later. And this narrow gate?  It’s your decision to intentionally participate in Jesus’ project for this world in this life by loving your neighbours, based on your whole life trajectory of joining Jesus in his kingdom work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *