KINGDOM: Servants do their Master’s will, which is… (Matthew 7:21-23)
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
In this passage, Jesus starts out by making His main point unmistakably clear.
Many will claim/say/testify that He is their Lord, but will not choose to live according to that confession. In other words, they will say He is their Lord but refuse to obey Him.
There is a difference between those who say that He is their Lord and those who act like He is their Lord. Obedience to the Father’s will IS that difference.
Keep that simple thought in mind because things are about to get a lot more complicated.
Is this a case of “now and not yet?”
Here we have an instance where Jesus speaks of the “Kingdom of heaven” in what appears to be a future sense, as if He’s talking about a day yet to be seen when there will be an actual entrance into a realm of His making. We can see this in the phrases “will enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” (vs. 21 – it sounds like something that hasn’t happened yet) and “on that day” (vs. 22 – again, pointing to a time future to Him and His listeners).
Jesus appears to be speaking about the day those in question “enter” the Kingdom of heaven.
Since we’ve already seen from previous studies that the Kingdom of Heaven “arrived” in some way at the same time King Jesus arrived, it makes sense that in this case Jesus is describing a future date when the fullness or completion of the Kingdom will be realized. Depending on how you understand scripture’s teaching on the end of history, this could either refer to entrance into heaven, or entrance into the new heavens and new earth. Either way, it seems clear that a future event is in view here.
Theologians have long proposed that the Kingdom of heaven has a “now AND not yet” quality to it, that there are both current-day and in-the-future aspects of it. Though it may sound like a difficult concept at first, it’s one we adopt in other areas with no problem.
Consider the concept of your “life.”
There is the here-and-now aspect of life… as you read this study, right now, at a specific date on the calendar.
But there’s also the “then-and-there” aspect of it someplace out in the future — tomorrow, 10 years from now, the day you take your last breath. Those are all equally “your life” but are not in existence yet.
Extend the concept a bit more and there’s what we might call an “eternity future” aspect of your life that consists of all your life will be when you are in the presence of God for all eternity.
All of those time-and-place references could be in view when you speak about your “life,” it’s the context that will indicate which is actually in view in a particular conversation or description of it.
Statements like this, from the mouth of Jesus Himself, make us aware that there is indeed a similar “now AND not yet” aspect to the Kingdom of heaven.
Don’t fool yourself
So, it seems possible that people can…
- confess Jesus to be Lord or King verbally
- be involved with the ongoing community of people who are true Kingdom citizens
- even take part in activities of the Kingdom
…and yet, not be a citizen themselves. This becomes clear as we read more of Jesus’ comments about the situation…
22 On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
The individuals described have clearly been involved in what can reasonably be described as “Kingdom activity.” They prophesy in Jesus’ name, cast out demons in His name, and do many mighty works in His name.
But Jesus says He never knew them.
Why? He’s already told us… because they did not do the will of His Father (verse 21).
It is hard to see how the activities these people did, mentioned by Jesus Himself, are NOT the will of the Father. How would casting out demons (for example) even be possible apart from some legitimate form of relationship with Him? Yet, it appears to be so. Maybe.
This is admittedly splitting hairs, but Jesus never says whether the prophesying mentioned was legitmate, whether their exorcisms were truly effective, or whether the mighty works were done by the power of God. He doesn’t comment on the activities at all, other than to name them. That’s not His point, apparently.
He’s focused on something altogether different here.
That leads us to this point: Those who did the things described were clearly convinced that the things they did in Jesus name were legitimate, effective, and real. So much so that they believe themselves to have been “in the Kigndom” all the time, even though they were not.
Instead, Jesus says they were not doing the Father’s will all along.
This appears to be an issue of submission.
For example: How many of us, at some time during our teenage years, gave lip-service to our parents yet didn’t truly obey them from the heart? All of us. We may have actually DONE the things they asked us to do, but with an attitude that was far from submissive.
As is His bent 100% of the time, Jesus is addressing heart-level issues. THAT is where true obedience occurs. THAT is where the will of the Father is embraced and therefore, truly done in the right spirit and manner.
Given that heart-level motivations and attitude are in view here, we can better understand the harsh pronouncement Jesus makes to the self-deceived people described. Though they “looked” like legitimate Kingdom-citizens, they were really “workers of lawlessness.”
Self-interested, rebellious hearts are the fertile soil in which sin grows. Even if people in that state perform religious or “godly” deeds, their heart condition remains. It can not be overcome through religious behavior, however impressive it may be.
God’s will revealed
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Do you remember just a few sentences earlier in Jesus’ teaching, when He said that “the one who does the will of My Father, who is in heaven” is the one who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven?
And do you remember how I spent so much time considering why it was that those who claimed to do such powerful things in Jesus’ name were NOT seen as “doing the will of the Father?”
The short summary in these verses is Jesus’ way of dealing with that question. He’s defining what “will of My Father” He was talking about.
First off, let’s notice that this section is indeed a continuation of the same topic. We can see this by the way Jesus introduces it; “Everyone then…” – the word “then” indicates that He’s tying this section of teaching to the section He just finished. It’s a continuation, in other words.
So what does He say about it that clarifies what He meant by “the will of My Father?” He focuses on what He means through the use of two opposite outcomes. Though He doesn’t use the same wording (the will of My Father in Heaven), He clearly describes a very positive, desirable outcome, contasted with the exact opposite, undesirable outcome — and in so doing He outlines the “will of My Father” He has been talking about.
THE ONE WHO DOES THE WILL OF THE FATHER is the person who hears Jesus’ words and obeys them.
This person is likened to a wise man who is engaged in an building project and knows enough to dig and dig and dig until he finds the bedrock under all the dirt. THAT is where he builds the foundation of his home, because he knows the rest of his construction will be strong as a result.
What does this housebuilding represent?
The children’s Sunday School song based on this passage of scripture is not wrong when it says, in verse three, “So build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Clearly, a life that is lived in alignment with Jesus’ instruction is one that is strong, stable, and secure. This is the true Kingdom citizen, the person allowed into the Kingdom introduced at the beginning of this teaching (vs. 21).
But we can’t wrap up our consideration of this passage just yet because Jesus isn’t finished. He goes on to describe a very negative, undesirable outcome for those who do not hear and obey His teaching. In doing so, He adds a detail that we must not miss. It’s the detail that clarifies what “will of My Father” was missed by those who thought they were Kingdom citizens all along, but were not.
Not only is a person who does not hear and obey Jesus’ teaching building a life that is inherently weak, unstable, and insecure — that person is also building a life that will eventually collapse. In Jesus’ words, “great was the fall of it.”
When Jesus’ original hearers (His 12 disciples and possibly the gathered crowd) listened to these words, they would not have picked up the nuance because they did not possess the knowledge of New Testament teaching that we do. So, like many of Jesus’ teachings, the people who originally heard Him say this were impacted by His authoritative style and the spiritual profundity that His teaching seemed to have, but were still confused (Matthew 13:13 points this out).
The nuance I’m speaking about is this; A life that experiences a “great fall” to the point of destruction, like Jesus describes, is one that is not lived by faith in Jesus, but rather according to “works,” whatever they may be. Isn’t that the argument the supposed-but-not-really Kingdom-citizens make? “Didn’t we DO all these things in Your name?” Jesus’ response is unapologetic and unyielding; “I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Why did Jesus not know them?
Because, as the New Testament goes on to clarify, faith is the means by which people come into relationship with Jesus, and the heavenly Father through Him. The people in question had no faith, they were depending on their own righteous deeds. The irony is that in so doing, they weren’t doing righteous deeds at all. Jesus says they were “workers of lawlessness.”
Oh, the massive bunny-trail-that’s-not-a-bunny-trail we could go down here!
Are we to conclude that those who truly obeyed the law in Old Testament times only did so by faith? The short answer: yes, it appears so (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans chapter 4 – all of it).
The Kingdom is populated by those who trust what the King says
One of the things a discerning reader of the gospels will notice is that Jesus always puts Himself at the center of everything. Yes, I just said “always” and “everything” in the same sentence — lots of extremes here, where they deserve to be.
He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He is the door for the sheep (John 10:9-16). And so many more wonderful images that convey His position of centrality to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Even in earthly kingdoms, the King defines the nature and mission of the Kingdom. Why should we expect the Kingdom of Heaven to be any different in that regard, especially when its King is the holy Son of God, third person of the Trinity?
And why should we be surprised that the people He declares to be true Kingdom citizens are those who have expressed and demonstrated loyalty to Him, those who “hear(s) these words of Mine and does them”?
Would you join me in this prayer?
Works done by and through faith in You is what I want to fill my life with, Jesus. Teach me first what that looks like. Then empower me with Your living Spirit to do it. I want to hear Your commendation when I stand before You in Your Kingdom. I want You to receive glory from being central in my life, expressed for all to see by the way I live it.
Kingdom Insights (cumulative list)
The Kingdom of heaven/God was long anticipated by the Jewish people (and others)
Entrance into the Kingdom requires repentance
The entrance of the Kingdom brought the Messiah and judgment
The Kingdom began with the advent of Jesus and continues growing, even today
The Kingdom of heaven is characterized by humility and righteousness
Those who enter the kingdom must do so by the righteousness of Jesus
Kingdom citizens are to be praying for the Kingdom to come and grow
Trust enables us to focus on the Kingdom first