Notes Matthew chapter 7
© copyright 1997 drs Gijs van den Brink
Do Not Judge 7:1-6
7:1 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. Jesus rejects condemnation and criticism (in the adverse sense, cf. Matt 5:21 ff) of a brother (v.3; brother in the sense of compatriot, neighbour, cf. Matt 5:22,43,47). For he who judges will himself be judged by God. The Lord alone knows the motives behind a man’s words and deeds and therefore judgement is reserved to Him. Jesus in contrast expects His disciples to be forgiving and merciful so that they may receive forgiveness and mercy too (Matt 5:7; 18:34-35; cf. James 2:12-13).
The context makes it clear that judgement is not used in the sense of discerning spirits. For Jesus warns against false prophets in vv.15-20 and even gives criteria for distinguishing them (see also commentary on Matt 16:19).
2. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you. This thought was common among the Jews, and Jesus emphasises this important principle. What a man sows, he shall also reap (Job 4:8; Prov 22:8; Gal 6:7). But although the rabbis understood this principle in the sense of a strict repayment for our words and deeds, we must conclude from v.1. that Jesus in fact recognised only two standards. On the one hand there is the standard of judgement (on the basis of repayment) and on the other, the standard of forgiveness, of mercy.
3-4. The example is deliberately exaggerated to capture the listener’s attention. The speck of sawdust is something insignificant, that can easily be blown into somebody’s eye, while the plank suggests a blinding error. With this example Jesus gives a reason why judgement is not possible for us. Our imperfection, especially in a lack of insight into our own faults, leads to unmerciful criticism of other peoples’ behaviour.
5. You hypocrite. A hypocrite is someone who wears a mask, a playactor who conceals his true nature or is blind to his own faults (see commentary on Matt 6:2).
Then you will see. Apart from a strongly-worded condition (‘You hypocrite, first take … out’), the verse in fact mentions a promise as well (’then you will see’): that the disciples will be able to help another person with his faults and shortcomings. Only if we are no longer filled with a critical spirit and with selfrighteousness, which blinds us to our own faults, but if we live in the forgiveness and grace of the Lord God (see commentary on vv.1 and 2) and know our own weaknesses, it will then be possible to admonish another person (cf. Matt 18:15-18) and help him to remove the speck from his eye.
6. The prohibition against judging others (vv.1-5) may ,however, not lead to an uncritical attitude. For this reason this verse contains a complementary admonition.
Do not give dogs what is sacred. ‘What is sacred’ must be considered concrete, just as the concrete example of the pearls, i.e., to mean the flesh used for sacrifices. Strict conditions were laid down (Exod 29:33; Lev 2:3; 22:10-16; Num 18:8-19). To give such flesh as food for dogs is a gross blasphemy for a Jew. Dog and pig are emblems of badness and uncleanliness (cf. I Sam 17:43; Phil 3:2; Rev 22:15; Lev 11:7; II Pet 2:22). What is sacred and the pearls are emblems of the holiness and costliness of the gospel, while the dog and pig are images of people hostile to the gospel.
If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces. If we act uncritically in the sense that we share out the treasures of the gospel indiscriminately, the Lord God is dishonoured (that which is holy given to dogs), and it can even be dangerous for us (giving pearls to pigs which attack us because of their disappointment). At the same time, Jesus limits what has been said in v.5b about doing away with another’s faults. The disciples must recognise the limitations of their ministry and must not think that they can overcome all opposition. Arousing faith is not the disciples’ achievement but a work of the Holy Spirit, dependant on the conversion of the person in question.
Answer to Prayers 7:7-12
7. Ask … seek and … knock. The verbs ask, seek and knock are used in a continuative sense, as is apparent from their grammatical form. These three words are normal circumlocutions for supplicatory prayer: asking, cf. Matt 18:19; Mark 11:24; John 11:22; seeking, cf. Deut 4:29; Isa 55:6; 65:1; knocking, cf. SB,I,458. The passive forms (it will be given to you, will be opened to you) are circumlocutions for God’s actions. Seek and you will find is reminiscent of Prov 8:17.
While the stress in v.8 is laid on receiving, finding and opening the emphasis here is on asking, seeking and knocking. We have to ask as a beggar who has nothing, to seek as someone on a journey who cannot find his way, or as someone who has lost something valuable, and to knock as someone on the outside who longs to be indoors. On the one hand these words presuppose God’s nearness, but on the other hand that the thing desired is not ready to hand.
8. Receives … finds … the door will be opened. This verse more or less repeats v.7, but now with all the emphasis on the certainty of God’s preparedness to answer. The Lord God does not differentiate between men. Everyone who prays, receives. The condition on which prayer (for good things v.11; cf. Luke 11.13) is heard is simple: ask! God always hears our prayers, but answers them in His way, in perfect fatherly love and wisdom (cf. v. 11).
9-10. The examples in vv.9-11 are powerful justifications of the principle laid down by Jesus in vv.7-8. Bread and fish were the usual food in these parts (on the shores of the Sea of Gennesaret); cf. Matt 14:17; 15:34; John 6:9. The loaves were round, flat, and not very big. They could well be compared to stones. In the same way a snake and a fish ( e.g., eel, lamprey) could easily be exchanged, on account of the external similarity.
11. In comparison with God, even the best parents and the disciples are bad (i.e., unwilling to do good), but these imperfect people do give good gifts to their children. How much more will our Heavenly Father, who is good in the true meaning of the word, give good things to them who pray to Him for them? It is absolutely certain that the Lord, in His perfect fatherly love, will give His children His good gifts, i.e., the saving gifts of His Kingdom (cf. Isa 52:7; Heb 9:11; 10:1; Luke 11:13). For this reason His words in vv.7 and 8 are at the same time an encouragement to prayer in faith and trust, without doubting. It is the aspect of mistrust that links vv. 1-6 to vv. 7-11.
12. These words are called ’the golden rule’ (cf. Luke 6:31). They are also found in Judaism, although expressed negatively. Hillel said, ‘Do not do to your neighbour what you consider damaging. This is the whole law, and everything else is a commentary’ (SB I,460). In the apocryphal Book of Tobit (Tob. 4:15) the following is to be found: ‘Do to no man what thou hatest.’ But while Judaism formulated the rule in a negative way and was content with a command not to damage the neighbour, Jesus urges us to love our neighbours in a positive and absolute sense. He wants us to love our neighbours, irrespective of how they treat us. This is the law of life in the Kingdom of God and at the same time a visible sign of being a child of God (cf. 1 John 3:14-22); it is therefore also the answer to the question of doubt in vv. 7-11.
The Narrow Gate 7:13-14
13-14. That it is not easy to obey the command of v.12 is illustrated in the pictures of these verses. The gate and the road are synonymous images. We are concerned with the gate and the road which afford entry to the city. The wide gate and the broad way on which many people are walking depict the way leading to destruction (judgment). The strait gate and the narrow way on which few are walking is the way of life (i.e., eternal life, Matt 19:16; 25:46.
Strait and narrow express the thought that eternal life is difficult to acquire. The way to this life demands the sacrifice of self-denial and discipleship. Jesus does not accentuate entry but stresses the choice of the strait gate. He encourages His disciples to have the courage to separate themselves from the crowds, who reject Him, and to go with Him and a small flock along the way that will bring them to the future city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
By Their Fruit You Will Recognize Them 7:15-20
15. False prophets. Just as there are two ways (vv. 13-14) there are two kinds of signposts. A true prophet is the mouthpiece of God. But those who are not called by God, the false prophets, speak their own words in their own strength. We encounter many examples of false prophets in the OT (including 1 Kings 22:6-28; Jer 6:14; 8:11; Ezek 22:28; Zeph 3:4). In the NT too we read of false prophets (Matt 24:11, 24), false brothers (2 Cor 11:26), false apostles (2 Cor 11:13), false teachers (2 Peter 2:1), false witnesses (Matt 26:60) and false Christs (Matt 24:24).
They come to you in sheep’s clothing. The false prophets will appear in sheep’s clothing, i.e., they will represent themselves as prophets and members of the congregation, the flock. But in reality they are ravening wolves, i.e., the greatest enemies of the flock and the shepherd. Jesus is already warning here for spiritual oppression that will come in the form of deception by false prophets (Matt 24:11,24). The fulfilment of these words has been confirmed by the NT epistles (see above).
16. By their fruit you will recognise them. Fruits here are not the result of a way of behaviour, but the words and deeds, the lifestyle, by which the nature of the prophet may be discerned (cf. Matt 3:8; 12:33-34). The principle characteristic of the life of a false prophet is self-interest (cf. Micah 3:5; John 10:12-13). He teaches to gain prestige and promulgates his own thoughts and ideas.
17-18. Here Jesus reveals a spiritual principle based on a law in the natural world: the fruit of a tree must be of the same sort as the tree itself. The nature of a man’s heart will be revealed by his words and deeds.
19-20. It is the fruits, words and deeds, as a natural consequence of the disposition of the heart, which determine the divine judgment (i.e., not words and deeds alone), cf. Matt 3:8, 10; 12:37; Luke 19:22.
Saying Lord, Lord 7:21-23
21. Lord, Lord. Lord as an address to Jesus in the gospels does not imply the confessional ‘Jesus is Lord’ (in other words, His godhead), but is in content similar to ‘Rabbi’ or ‘Master’. The title was often used to lend authority to a teacher who also performed miracles.
The present tense of ‘say’ and ‘do’ differentiates those who are meant here from the ‘many’ of v. 22 (‘in that day’). We are concerned here with people who reverently addressed Jesus as Lord in order to bring an urgent request to Him, as so often happened in those times (e.g., Matt 8:2,6,25). Such a relationship is not enough to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus has already discussed in great detail in this Sermon on the Mount what doing the Father’s will entails (Matt 5:13-7:12).
22. Many will say to me on that day. Even at this time Jesus says that He will be the Judge of the world in times to come. ‘That day’ is the day on which the Lord will come in glory and the Judgment will take place (v. 19; Matt 25:31 ff., cf. Zech 14:6).
The ‘many’ are those who stand out above the mass of worshippers by their achievements without being doers of the divine will. They are the false prophets of vv. 15-20. The fact that ‘many’ are mentioned indicates that the danger from false prophets is very great. The false prophets call on the name of Jesus (‘in your name’), as do the true prophets, cf. Jer 14:14-15;kq 27:15; 29:9; Zech 13:3; Mark 9:38; Luke 9:49; Mark 13:6; Matt 24:5; Luke 21:8; Mark 13:22; Matt 24:24. Some succeeded in expelling evil spirits (Mark 9:38-40) but others did not (Acts 19:13-16). That these men bring forward their works ‘on that day’ may indicate that they claim to have achieved something exceptional. But they have deceived themselves and used the name of Jesus without submitting to His lordship.
23. Then I will tell them plainly. The Greek word for ’telling plainly’ (homologe) is in a way a simple juridic concept often used in connection with judgment (cf. Acts 24:14; 1 Tim 6:12); it means ‘admit openly, declare freely’.
I never knew you. These words were used by the rabbis when they excommunicated someone (SB I,469). It does not mean, therefore, that Jesus has not seen or seen through the false prophets, but that they are outsiders to Him, strangers, who are shut out of the Kingdom of God (cf. Matt 25:12). For this meaning of ‘know’ see Amos 3:2 and Rom 11:2. Jesus rejects them with a quotation from Ps 6:8 as workers of iniquity (cf. Matt 13:41-42; 23:28; 24:12).
The House on the Rock 7:24-27
24. Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice. Just as the parable (vv. 24b-27) does not speak of building a house after laying the foundations, so Jesus does not mean a second condition for receiving salvation when He uses doing after hearing. The two, hearing and doing, are inseparable (cf. James 1:21-27) and may be summarised in one term: the obedience of faith (cf. Rom 1:5; 16:26). Living is building, and whoever builds on the Lord Jesus has found the unshakable foundation to his life.
[The future tense in the KJV (= TR) ‘I will liken’ links to vv. 22-23 and means that what the parable means will happen in the future.]
25. The Greek text speaks in unusually strong terms here. It deals with a cloudburst and winds of hurricane strength. These are not unusual in Palestine in the winter (cf. Job. 1:19; Isa 28:16-17). This violent storm is a picture of the crisis that will come before the Son of Man returns in glory (cf. Matt 24:37-39). But anyone who builds his life on the Lord Jesus in the obedience of faith will stand firm in times of oppression and even during the last great persecution.
26-27. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice. Anyone who hears Jesus’ words but does not do them does not build on Him. He is building his life on something outside Jesus and this is always sandy ground. It is ground that appeared to afford safety as long as the sun was shining. But when the rain and the storms came the house could not withstand the violence of the onslaught. We clearly see here that what will reveal itself at the day of crisis already exists and is hidden in the days before.
As the law of Moses concluded with pointing towards the choice between life and death (Deut 30:15-20), so does Jesus conclude His Sermon on the Mount with pointing at the choice between salvation and judgment. In so doing He also witnesses to His divine authority. While it was taught in Judaism, ‘Whoever hears and does the words of the torah, builds on firm ground,’ (SB I, 469), Jesus says, ‘Whoever hears and does My words….’
The Effect of Jesus’ Sermon on the Crowds 7:28-29
28. When Jesus had finished … The formula ‘when Jesus had finished …’ or more literally in the KJV ‘and it came to pass when Jesus had ended (these sayings)’ is used in the same way by Matthew after each of the five longer discourses of Jesus that he relates (Matt 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).
An extremely strong Greek term (ekplssomai) is used for the astonishment of the people: to be beside oneself, to be frightened to death or struck dumb with amazement (Bauer, s.v.).
29. He taught … not as their teachers. The scribes were originally those who copied the scriptures, but from the time of the Babylonian exile they became increasingly a separate group in society, which also interpreted Scriptures and taught from them.
When the crowds heard Jesus, they encountered another form of authority. Jesus did not speak about truths on the authority of traditions but spoke as the only authority with direct power from God (cf. Matt 21:23-27) cf. Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32.
The verbal form of ‘he taught’ indicates a continuous or often repeated action and may best be translated ‘He continued to teach them (the crowds)’. Matthew wishes to make it clear to the reader that the Sermon on the Mount, although intended primarily as instruction for the disciples and only secondarily for the crowds listening on (see commentary on Matt 5:1), was an example of Jesus’ teaching to the people of Galilee (Matt 4:23).