Matthew 7

Structure

Mt. 7:1-12 Dealing with People

Verse 1-7 Criticism

Verse 7-11 Encouragement to Prayer

Verse 7:12 Fulfilling the Law and the Prophets

Mt. 7:13–27 Responding to Jesus’ Words: Four Warnings
Three Narratives:

Verse 13-14 Two Gates

Verse 15-23 Two Trees/Fruit

Verse 24-27 Two House Builders: Hearing and Doing

Mt. 7:28-29 The Authority of the Teacher Recognized
 

Thesis

In verses 1-12, Christ censures the systems of judgments that men use – betraying their wicked hearts (Mt. 7:1-6). He also shows the need for persistent prayer as the exercise and barometer of true faith. It is closely related to your view of God (7:7-11). Finally, he sums up the prophets in a formulation of the golden rule. All this confirms that Christ is applying the law of God in a way that unveils the heart of man as it stands in contrast to the heart of God. Note especially the hints of the judgment in Mt. 7:1-6). This will figure more prominently in the verses to come.
 

Exposition of the Verses

Verse 1-7 Dealing with People

When Jesus speaks about judgment, is this to compensate the high standards that were laid out in the previous chapters, or hangs together with the command of forgiveness? Jesus mentions two extremes. The first one is a warning against judgmentalism (Mt. 7:1-5) and then Jesus gives a short but strong warning against gullibility (7:6), naiveté.
Verse 1 speaks about the many Pharisees that are judging others (Mt. 9:10–13; 12:1–8; cf. Luke 15:1–2; 18:9–14). The disciples must stick to the so-called “golden rule” of verse (Mt. 7:12). So what Jesus says here is directly linked to the previous commandments of forgiveness (Mt. 5:21–26), unconditional love for enemies (Mt. 5:43–48), and forgiveness to oppressors (Mt. 6:12, 14–15; cf. 18:21–22). Turner sees verse 1 as one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible, due to ethical relativism, meaning that people use it as an excuse not to mention right and wrong. His answer is, that “the existence of moral absolutes from which one can make absolute statements about right and wrong, good and evil.” Discipleship inevitably requires discerning “judgments” about individuals and their teachings (e.g., Mt. 3:7; 5:20; 6:24; 7:6, 16, 20; 10:13–17; 13:51–52; 18:15–20). Jesus himself makes such judgments (e.g., Mt. 4:10; 6:2, 5, 16; 7:21–23; 8:10–12; 13:10–13; 15:14; 23:1–7). It is the harsh judgment that is forbidden, a judgment that doesn’t look at your own fault, but only mentions those of others. The condemning one, the merciless one (Ps. 18:25–26; Rom. 2:1; 14:10; 1 Cor. 4:5; 5:12; James 4:11–12; 5:9). So all the Christian judgment must be constructive, noting with revenge and hatred, but only to build each other up in love.
Verse 2 starts with the conjunction γάρ (for), giving reason for the prohibition to judge. There is punishment to unlawful judging. Those who love others do not desire harsh punishments for them, as will God not harshly punish them harshly.
Jesus makes a somewhat humorous comparison to the removal of a log and a speck in the eye. It is about hypocrisy, as mentioned in Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; 15:7; 22:18; 23:13–15, 23, 25, 27, 29; 24:51. The word ἀδελφός again refers to another member of the Christian community. Looking closer to this example of the speck, we see how delicate the removal of an error is, and how carefully it should be done. This doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be corrected, but there should not be attention to another man’s failing when your own failing is much worse. The verse speaks about hypocrites, for it speaks of ‘failing to notice,’ which does not indicate deliberate deception but more a preoccupation with the self so that you don’t notice the mistakes in yourself.
The sixth verse of this chapter is a bit hard to understand. The verse refers here to two unclean animals. Dogs bite, dogs, who were considered to be wild, and swines, who are unclean animals they trample that which is holy. Jesus’s disciples must not be censorious (Mt. 7:1–5), but neither must they be oblivious to genuinely evil people. Some might argue that this verse forbids evangelizing to the Gentiles, because Gentiles are later compared to dogs (Mt. 15:26–27), but that commission was not yet given, so this is unlikely. A more likely setting for the saying is perhaps in the mixed character of the disciple community, in which weeds grow alongside the wheat (Mt. 13:24–30, 36–43), bad and good together (Mt. 22:10), and in which there are prophets and miracle-workers whom Jesus does not recognize (Mt. 7:21–23).
The disciples have be watchful when they bring the gospel, for preaching brings opposition and persecution. Yet they shouldn’t be naïve and gullible. If genuine introspection does not occur, a disciple may blunder on the side of judgmental hypocrisy or naive gullibility.
 

Verse 7-11 Encouragement to Prayer

The three words “ask” (cf. Mt. 6:8; 18:19; 21:22), “seek” (cf. Acts 17:27; Deut. 4:29; Ps. 105:4; Prov. 1:28; 8:17; Isa. 65:1; Jer. 29:13), and “knock” are all imperatives that refer to prayer. Matthew 7:7-8 give a promise for those who ask, seek and knock. Prayers in faith will be answered, and the Father decides in what way this answer is given. See references to John in which Jesus tells the disciples that the prayer of believers will be answered (John 14:13–14; 15:7, 16; 16:23–24), as well as the confident expectation of Mt. 17:20; 18:19; 21:22. According to France, the imperative form does not just mean a request which “passes by” but rather means “Keep on asking … keep on seeking … keep on knocking ….” Turner agrees that these prayers should be “enjoining habitual, iterative prayers.” Perseverance in prayer is essential to receive an answer from heaven. James 4:2 puts it as follows: “You do not have because you do not ask.”
“Our Father” has many times shown the fatherly attributes of God, and here His good attributes are put in sharp contrast to a horrible cynical act of parenthood, in which the parent replaces something good and necessary for the child with something harmful. So the threefold imperatives are followed by two rhetorical questions (Mt. 7:9–10; cf. Luke 11:11–12) that lead to a lesser-to-greater argument (Matt. 7:11). Sinful parents give their children good things, how much more does the heavenly Father care? (See also the picture presented in Isa. 49:15).
The tone of these verses is kind and reassuring after the many prohibitions and prepares the disciples for God answering prayers. “Your heavenly Father knows,” we don’t have to be anxious, because the things we do in private are known to God. And he will not just give, but “Your heavenly Father will give good gifts.”
 

Verse 7:12 Fulfilling the Law and the Prophets

Verse 12 is about biblical ethics. The conjunction is οὖν (therefore), with which Jesus comes to a climax of what He had previously said. Jesus does not single out two commandments but summarizes the entire law of God. The first commandment that Jesus gives is further mentioned in chapter Mt. 22:37–40, while the command to love the neighbor as yourself is found in Lev 19:18, and summarizes the law and the prophets.
Paul’s teaching that love for the neighbor fulfills the law so that “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:8–10), and “the whole law is fulfilled in this one saying, ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Gal 5:14); note also James’ singling out of the love of neighbor as “the royal law” (Jas 2:8). Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets, and therefore he now summarizes it in two main sections, loving God, and loving man.
 

Mt. 7:13–27 Responding to Jesus’ Words: Four Warnings

Thesis: In this section Christ enforces the teaching he has brought forward this by urging true faith in himself as the Gate and the Way to the gospel kingdom of the Father to the end that one might be an authentic rather than an inauthentic citizen of the kingdom (what). He does this in a way reminiscent of what Moses did in Deuteronomy and Joshua, as well as Solomon in the way that he speaks in the sapiential traditions (Proverbs – two ways [wisdom, folly], houses, etc.) (how). He does this because he is bringing forth the covenant of God to bear on the people in a way that will either bringing them into the kingdom (by faith in Him), or keep them from the kingdom in unbelief and works-righteousness, emphasizing that mere profession, mere religion –though common – is a most onerous state to be in (why). The effect of the whole is that Christ sets himself forth as the true Covenant of God, who ought to be believed in for truth participation in the kingdom (whereunto).
 

Ethical Dualism in Matt. 7:15–23

Matthew 7 Discipleship Lawlessness
Two gates/ways (Mt. 7:13–14) Narrow gate Wide gate
Difficult way Broad way
Life Destruction
Few Many
Two trees/fruits (Mt. 7:15–23) True prophets (implied) False prophets
Sheep Wolves
Good trees Bad trees (thorns, thistles)
Good fruit (grapes, figs) Bad fruit
Life (implied) Judgment (fire)
Doing the Father’s will Saying “Lord, Lord …”
Two builders/foundations (Mt. 7:24–27) Wise person Foolish person
Hears/obeys Jesus Hears/does not obey Jesus
House built on rock House built on sand
House stands during flood House falls during flood

 

Verse 13-14 Two Gates

The following paragraph deals with the two roads, the broad way and the narrow way. Only a few go on the narrow path, those are the ones whom Jesus had spoken off in the Beatitudes. Those who will be persecuted, humbled, mocked, those who will persevere till the end. The two ways go opposite directions, and there is radicalism in this message. It is either life, or total destruction. Other references (Jer 21:8; cf. Ps 1:6; also Deut 11:26–29) speak of the same contrasting ways of life. Luke 13:23–24 gives the question, “so only few will be saved?” The answer is “yes,” for Christ speaks of a “finding” of the way. The way to destruction is obvious, the way to life is hard to find.
 

Verse 15-23 Two Trees/Fruit

The following picture is derived from animal and plant life, and speaks of the false prophets that come on the road of the disciples. To stay on the straight and narrow way, disciples must exercise discernment between the true (cf. Mt. 10:41; 23:34) and the false (cf. Mt. 24:11, 24) prophets who come to them. Christ will uncover these false prophets in the end (Mt. 24:21-23). The Old Testament speaks of these prophets too, e.g. in LXX Zech.13:2 and often in Jeremiah, who found himself frequently pitted against the more popular prophets who proclaimed “Peace” when there was no peace (Jer 6:13–14; 28:1–17). Also in the New Testament, Acts 20:29, there are many warnings against the damage that false teaching could do to the life and health of the Christian congregations. The imagery of wolves dressed as sheep speaks of their destructive intentions hidden behind innocent looks, but also portrays God’s people as a flock (cf. Mt. 9:36; 10:6, 16; 15:24; 18:12–13; 25:32–33; 26:31): they want to be accepted as belonging to God’s people. For wolves as a metaphor for those who abuse their position of leadership among God’s people cf. Ezek 23:27–28; Zeph 3:3–4, in each case in association with false prophets. People cannot always be taken at face value, even not if they claim to be in the name of God (1 Cor 14:29, 37–38; 2 Thess 2:1–3; 1 John 4:1–6).
Verse 16 gives the key to the command of verse 15, how to recognize a false prophet, and changes its metaphors to the plant world, speaking of testing fruit. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit. It is by looking at the fruit of a believer’s life that the quality of the tree will be revealed. Also prophets will be tested by their behavior, and their true nature will be revealed.
“Fruits” is an ethical metaphor that is used often in Matthew. In Mt. 3:8 it represents behavior which demonstrates true repentance, in Mt. 12:33 probably the words by which a person’s true allegiance is revealed, in Mt. 13:8, 23 a lifestyle which responds to the preaching of the word; in 21:19 fruitlessness illustrates the failure of the temple establishment, and in Mt. 21:33–43 the fruit of the vineyard represents the life and loyalty which God expects of his people. This bearing fruit concerns every area of Christian living, also the false teachers. The New Testament often speaks of the development of a fruitful life, and the destructiveness that false teaching brings. It is a dangerous slope, though in the beginning it might seem harmless, false doctrines can slowly poison the tree. The consequences are severe —they are chopped down and burned (cf. Ezek. 31:12; Dan. 4:14; Luke 13:6–9. John the Baptist had warned concerning this eschatological judgment (Matt. 3:8–10; cf. Mt. 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8–9; 25:41; John 15:6).
 

The Chiastic Structure of Matt. 7:16–20

A ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν ἐπιγνώσεσθε αὐτούς. (Mt. 7:16)

From their fruit you will recognize them.

B μήτι συλλέγουσιν ἀπὸ ἀκανθῶν σταφυλὰς ἢ ἀπὸ τριβόλων σῦκα;

They don’t gather from thorn bushes grapes or from thistles figs, do they?

C οὕτως πᾶν δένδρον ἀγαθὸν καρποὺς καλοὺς ποιεῖ, (Mt. 7:17)

Similarly, every good tree good fruit bears,

D τὸ δὲ σαπρὸν δένδρον καρποὺς πονηροὺς ποιεῖ.

and the bad tree evil fruit bears.

C′ οὐ δύναται δένδρον ἀγαθὸν καρποὺς πονηροὺς ποιεῖν (Mt. 7:18)

It is not able a good tree evil fruit to bear

D′ οὐδὲ δένδρον σαπρὸν καρποὺς καλοὺς ποιεῖν.

neither a bad tree good fruit to bear.

B′ πᾶν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται. (Mt. 7:19)

Every tree not bearing good fruit is cut down and into the fire it is thrown.

A′ ἄρα γε ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν ἐπιγνώσεσθε αὐτούς. (Mt. 7:20)

So, then, from their fruit you will recognize them.

 
So, then, from their fruit you will recognize them. Jesus explains this further in Mt. 7:21 where He speaks of the final judgment where the works and the fruits of everyone will be examined. The Father will be the eschatological judge. Jesus speaks here for the first time of His Father, (formerly “your father” or “our father”) and will further be followed in Mt. 10:32–33; 11:27; 12:50; 15:13; 16:17; 18:10, 19; 20:23; 25:34; 26:29, 39, 42, 53). This is the first instance where “Lord” (κύριος) is used in reference to Jesus. God the Father has often be named “Lord,” but never before Jesus Himself. This term refers to a superior social status, often used for an employer or slave owner.
The authority of Jesus is clear in this verse. He who explains the law, and came to fulfill it is now the judge over who may enter the Kingdom and who will be left out. Yet Jesus’ eye is on the glory of God, for it is obedience to the Father that will determine whether the believer is sincere in his/her faith. In Mt. 12:50 the same phrase “do the will of my Father who is in heaven” is used to describe those who truly belong to the disciple group, and the use there of family imagery (Jesus’ brother, sister and mother).
Verse 22 speaks in detail of this final day. Many will call upon Jesus and will have acted in His name, but it won’t be enough. Turner says, that their problem is not inactivity: there is fruit, but the fruit is not good or genuine (cf. Mt. 13:24–30, 36–43, 47–50). The will of the Father ought to be the greatest aim of believers. The verse is quite strange in comparison to Mark 9:40 where Jesus says that “Whoever is not against us is on our side.” According to France, Matthew is more cautious about fringe supporters, and is unable to accept charismatic activity, even charismatic activity “in the name of Jesus,” as itself evidence of being on the right side.
Verse 23 applies the general principle of judgment to the specific claim of charismatic activity. Jesus response to false teachers and those who profess Christ with words but not deeds is “I never knew you.” “To know” is a deep knowing, (Amos 3:2) which implies intimacy in the relationship of God and His people. The end of verse 3 speaks of the people whom this concerns: workers of lawlessness (see also Ps. 6:8). The word here is “ἀνομία” which means they who do not take the law seriously and do not live in obedience to it. Jesus came to fulfill the law (Mt. 5:17–20), and so antinomians who disregard the law are not genuine disciples no matter how many spectacular deeds they perform.
This whole passage (Mt. 7:15-23) speaks of good works and the rejection of “cheap grace.” Also Paul stresses the importance of good works (Rom. 2:13; 3:8; 8:25; 11:22; 13:14; Gal. 5:6; Eph. 2:10; 4:17; Col. 1:23; Titus 2:7, 14; 3:8, 14). In Matthew 10, Christ will again speak of prophets who will be prophets of righteousness. For Christ, it is not at all about charismatic gifts but of spiritual fruit of righteousness.
 

Verse 24-27 Two House Builders: Hearing and Doing

The sermon concludes with a third picture of the two choices regarding the kingdom (see Luke 6:47-49). The storms of which Jesus speaks is the storm of the judgment, and not the storm of life. The point is not, as in 1 Cor. 3:10–15, the suitability of the building material, but the solidity of the foundation. The picture of the two gates/ways portrays the end of life’s journey as either life or destruction (Matt. 7:13–14). The picture of the two trees/fruits portrays the bad trees (false prophets, Mt. 7:15, 22) as thrown into the fire (repudiation on the last day, Mt. 7:19, 23). Here in Mt. 7:24–27 judgment is portrayed as a storm (cf. Prov. 10:25) and resulting flood where lives/houses either withstand or succumb to the scrutiny of divine justice.
 

Verse 28-29 The Authority of the Teacher Recognized

The attention now turns to the crowd. They are astonished by Jesus teaching, which is mentioned in Mt. 7:28 and further explained in Mt. 7:29. What they are amazed of is the fact that he makes his own statements form the Torah, and not human authority. He Himself claims to be the agent of his words and standards and this was something the people weren’t used to.
The periphrastic tense “he was teaching them” (rather than “he had taught them”) suggests that Matthew intends us to think of the crowd’s astonishment as applying not only to this discourse but to Jesus’ continuing teaching in Galilee. Later on, Jesus’ authority will be further supported by His many miracles. It is clear that by His authoritative teaching He surpasses the authority of the scribes and teachers, and makes Himself the object of the people’s allegiance.