Within this chapter, verses 1-12 fit together somewhat loosely, but the paragraphs in verses 13-27 make more sense together. Most first-century Jewish people believed they were saved by virtue of descent from Abraham (3:9). Yet Jesus regards the assumption of salvation as a deception; most of his contemporaries were unsaved (7:13-14). Those who led them showed by their lives that they were not God's true representatives (vv. 15-20); indeed, many professing servants of Jesus will themselves be banished from God's presence in the judgment (vv. 21-23), for only those who truly obeyed his teaching will stand (vv. 24-27). When one compares the great numbers of people today who cavalierly identify themselves as Christians yet never consider the claims of Christ, one shudders to realize how deadly such deception remains. May we present Christ's radical claims boldly so that more professing Christians may reckon with the reality of his lordship.
Jesus' image of the narrow way should have made sense to his hearers (v. 13). Greek, Roman and Jewish writers often employed the image of the two paths in life (for example, Sen. Ep. 8.3; 27.4; Diogenes Ep. 30; Deut 30:15; Ps 1:1; m. 'Abot 2:9), and those particularly concerned with the future judgment especially employed the image of the two ways, the narrow one leading to life and the broad one to destruction (as in 4 Ezra 7:3-16, 60-61; 8:1-3; Test. Ab. 11A; 8B).
Some people's assurance of salvation is a delusion (Mt 7:13-14). To enter the narrow gate of the kingdom we must knock, that is, request that God make us citizens of his kingdom (vv. 7-8). The difficulty of Jesus' way includes embracing by repentance both persecution (5:10-12) and the ethics of the kingdom taught in the Sermon on the Mount.
Most Jewish people in Jesus' day were religious; respecting God and keeping his commandments were an important part of their culture. These would be the many people of whom Jesus' hearers would think when they heard him. Yet Jesus, like a few contemporaries who were particularly scrupulous (4 Ezra 7:45-61; 8:1-3), declared that most people were lost. Jesus intends his words to jar us from complacency, to consider the genuineness of our commitment to him.
One wonders how many members in our churches today assume that they are saved when in fact they treat Jesus' teachings lightly-people who give no thought to their temper, their mental chastity, their integrity and so forth during the week (compare 5:21-48), then pretend to be religious or even spiritually gifted in church. Do we have the courage to communicate Jesus' message as clearly as he meant it to be conveyed, to warn ourselves and others that it is possible for people to assume they are saved and yet be damned? Some texts in the Bible provide assurance to suffering Christians that the kingdom is theirs; this text challenges "cultural Christians," those following only Christian tradition rather than Christ himself, to realize that they need conversion.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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