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Sun, Jul 27, 2014

44 - Which Path? [b]

Matthew 7:13-20 by Robert Dean
Shall I do this or that? Should I go here or there? So many choices. Listen to this lesson to learn about choosing between two gates, one that almost everyone likes and the other that few choose. Understand that the gate we choose determines first our eternal destiny and then many daily choices determine our quality of life after salvation. Find out who Jesus is referring to when He talks about false prophets being like wolves in sheep's clothing and that the fruits He is talking about are the words of the false prophets which lead people astray.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:49 mins 42 secs

Which Path?
Matthew 7:13-20
Matthew Lesson #044
July 27, 2014

One of the most important principles that we can come to understand from the Scriptures that impacts on everything else is the law of volitional responsibility that comes out of the first divine institution. And remember the divine institutions are those moral or ethical laws that God created with the creation of man as a social being that are embedded within reality. They are not something that man developed as a convention in order to help him face certain issues or details in life. These were absolutes, principles that are built into the very structure of the makeup of human beings. The first three were there before the fall; the next two came after the flood. The first three were designed to help man in perfection, the perfect state of the Garden of Eden, to survive in terms of being able to produce what God had given them responsibility for—the be fruitful, to multiply, to build the earth, to exercise dominion over all of God's creation.

The first divine institution was related to individual responsibility and it was depicted first and foremost by the issue of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God gave man everything they could possibly need in the Garden of Eden for sustenance; everything was there for their potential, for their development, for their sustenance. But God said there was one thing they could not do. There was only one way to sin in the Garden, and that was to disobey God and eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus they were placed from the very beginning with the importance of choice, individual responsibility. The choices we make determine the kind of people we are going to be. The choices we make determine the quality of life that we experience on this earth.

The first and foremost choice that we make is our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. That is the most important decision anybody can ever make—his faith in Christ. That determines their eternal destiny. It is that faith in Christ that moves us from individuals being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive and capable of having a relationship with God, and developing that relationship with God.

But after we make that decision to trust in Christ as our savior we have a second decision to make, and this is a decision we have to make daily and many times during the day. That is, we have to make a decision as to whether we are going to walk by means of the Spirit, live on the basis of God's provision of the filling of the Holy Spirit, or whether we are going to live our lives on the basis of the sin nature. These are the two most important decisions that Scripture presents.

We come to a passage now in Matthew 7:13-20, which addresses the question: Which path? There are two parts to this section we are looking at now. The first part is the issue of the choice between one gate and another gate: the wide gate, which leads to the broad way, and the narrow gate, which leads to a difficult path. Then we will go into the next paragraph, vv. 15-20, which gives the warning to beware of false prophets.

Here is the connection between the two. The false prophets that Jesus is focusing on here are clearly the scribes and the Pharisees. That is who He is contrasting throughout the Sermon on the Mount: the righteous kind of living that promoted by the scribes and Pharisees versus the kind of experiential righteousness that God expects of those who are obedient to Him. And this is the issue: the righteousness that God expects is the kind of righteousness that characterizes the narrow way; the kind of righteousness that the Pharisees promote is the kind of righteousness that characterizes the broad way.

If we just turn back to chapter five I want to focus on the introduction to the main section of the Sermon on the Mount. Chapter 5:17-20 gives that focus for orientation to this contrast between the two kinds of righteousness, and then the body continues down through 7:12. Verse 13 to the end of the chapter focuses on the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount.

In Matthew 5:19-20 Jesus contrasts two different kinds of people. 

Matthew 5:19 NASB "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others {to do} the same …"  This represents the Pharisees. They are teaching people by their false righteousness how to live actually in disobedience to the Law. "… shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven …" Notice they are still in the kingdom of heaven. "… but whoever keeps and teaches {them,} he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Remember that Jesus is talking to His disciples, believers, about the kind of righteousness that should characterize their life. He is not talking about how to get righteousness in terms of salvation. The Sermon on the Mount is not about how to get saved; it is about how saved (justified) people are supposed to live. The contrast is between those who teach to break the least of the commandments to those who teach obedience to the commandments, the right kind of righteousness.

Matthew 5:20 NASB " For I say to you that unless your [experiential] righteousness surpasses {that} of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." 

We have looked at that phrase "enter the kingdom of heaven" several times and seen that it has basically three meanings in Scripture. One meaning is to gain salvation—justification, phase one. This is how it is used when Jesus is talking to Nicodemus and says unless you are born again you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. The second way in which it is used has to do with experiencing all of the present time fullness of the spiritual life, entering into the richness of life that will characterize the future kingdom. Then the third way is the way that is related to entering into that spiritual life. In Acts chapter fourteen when Paul is teaching in Lystra the Scripture says he was teaching them (he is teaching those who were already believers) the principles on entering the kingdom of heaven. They had already entered in terms of that first meaning to get justified, so there it is a clear indication that that phrase "enter the kingdom" has this additional meaning of entering into the fullness of spiritual life, which results in the second meaning which is experiencing the present time blessings as opposed to entering into it in terms of future rewards.

So what Jesus comes back to at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount is a reminder that there are these two options. And every day we are faced with these options. Which path are we going to take? Are we going to take the path to life or are we going to take the path to death? Now this isn't about life in terms of eternal life, i.e. being saved from the penalty of sin; this is talking about the fullness and richness of life in terms of being saved from the power of sin in the present life. So there are two options described here. They are described in the next verse.           

Matthew 7:13 NASB "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. [14] For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it."

Jesus is taking something that is very common in the experience of the listeners. That is, he is using an illustration from the gate. There was a broad gate on the left and a small hole on the right which was the narrow gate. At night they would close the broad gate for safety.

As we look at this verse it is a reminder that what Jesus is essentially saying in this illustration is that God has one way. We know that that is an expression of the exclusivity that is taught in Scripture. Scripture certainly teaches that there is only one way to heaven: John 14:6. This is one of the things about biblical Christianity that really irritates and angers unbelievers, those who are not Christians. It is because in the unsaved world there is the hope that there are many paths to God and that we all basically worship the same God and believe the same thing; we just call God by different names and our way of getting there if different, but all roads eventually lead to God. What Scripture teaches is the opposite of that. Actually that shows a lot of disrespect as well as ignorance of Christianity because the Scripture teaches a way of exclusivity; that there is only one way to God. This is made clear in the Scriptures from the very beginning of the Old Testament.

From the very beginning from Adam's fall there was only one way for believers to come to God and to have a relationship with God, and that was on the basis of a substitutionary sacrifice. Immediately after Adam sinned, after God outlined the consequences of sin, He then clothed them. Because they realized that they were naked and ashamed and had attempted to solve their problem on their own by sewing together fig leaves, God resolved that problem through more permanent clothing and he gave them clothes made from the skins of animals. In order to have clothes from the skins of animals you have to kill the animals. There is a lot that is not overtly stated in that passage but has to have taken place. God would have had to show them how to properly kill an animal. That would have been a sacrifice. He would also have had to show them how to skin the animal and properly treat and prepare the hide so that it was soft and supple and they could work with it.

It is assumed that Cain and Abel has already been instructed on the importance in bringing a sacrifice in an offering to God and this had to have taken place before Genesis 4:1. So God would have taught them the foundation for sacrifice. This is reinforced by the statement in Hebrews chapter eleven where it says that Abel brought a better sacrifice. He knew that it was a better sacrifice because God had instructed him. From the very beginning there was only one way to God. God defines how we come into His presence. Then a few chapters later we see that there was only one way to survive the flood—to be on the Ark with Noah. There was only one way into the Ark, only one door on the Ark. This typifies only one way of salvation, only one way to be delivered.

We see that when we come to the time of the Exodus there was only one way to survive the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn. A lamb without spot or blemish had to be sacrificed and the blood applied to the doorposts of the house for God to pass over the house and not take the life of the firstborn.

When they left Egypt there was only one way to escape from the Egyptian army, and that was the path that God laid out for them by parting the waters in the Red Sea. When they came to Mount Sinai they were given instructions on building the tabernacle and there was only one way to God in the tabernacle. There was only one entry point. And there was only one kind of lamb, and that was a lamb without spot or blemish.

All of these are examples or types from the Old Testament which foreshadow and teach something about the salvation work of Christ, that there is only one way to God in terms of justification, i.e. being saved from the penalty of sin. But the Old Testament also speaks that there is for the believer only one way to life, to really experience the fullness of life that God has for the believer after justification by faith, and that is to follow the Torah. Torah means instruction, and God gave instruction to Israel viewing them as a redeemed people because they all trusted in Him in terms of the Passover meal and crossing the Red Sea. They were viewed as all being a redeemed nation and the Law was given to a redeemed people as to how a redeemed people were supposed to live. And again and again throughout the Law the people were exhorted to obey the Law because that was the way to life.

In the Old Testament there was only one way to live and that was the Torah. There was only one way to fight. When the Israelites went into the land God gave them specific instructions as to how they were to defeat the enemy at Jericho and how they were to defeat the enemy at Ai. At Ai in they were told not to take any spoil or any money for themselves, and they were told to follow God's instructions to the letter. What happened was that one man took some spoil and plunder and buried it under his tent so that nobody else would know. Because of that they were defeated in the battle at Ai. There was sin in the camp and they had to deal with the disobedience to God. God was not going to give them victory over their enemies unless they were doing it the one way that God said to do it. The battle was clearly the Lord's. 

When they went through the wilderness there was only one way to live and to gain food and that was to eat the manna, the bread of life that God gave them in the wilderness. They had to follow God's specific instructions and that meant that each morning they went out and gathered up the manna that had miraculously appeared over night. They were to take just enough for that day. If they took more than enough for that day—teaching the day-to-day dependence upon God—then it would spoil. There was only one way to survive through the wilderness and that was through the provision of God. Then there was only one tabernacle and later only one temple—only one way to worship God.

So the principle of exclusivity runs through the Old Testament in two ways: that important decision on how to have eternal life (salvation from the penalty of sin) and also only one way the believer after salvation is to live.         

So if we take Matthew 7:13, 14 out of context we might think that this is talking about salvation, phase one. There is only one way to be justified, and there are many people who when teaching the Sermon on the Mount believe that that is what this is talking about, i.e. that it is talking about having the right kind of righteousness for justification (imputed righteousness). They will say that this is teaching that there is only one way to gain that righteousness, and that is by faith in Christ. Of course, that is true. But is that what this passage is teaching in this context? As I have pointed out in this study, Jesus is not teaching His already-saved disciples on how to be justified. He is teaching His already-saved disciples the kind of righteousness that should be evident in Israel in order for the kingdom to come in. Because at that time and place in history Jesus has come to appear to Israel and to proclaim the message, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. They had to be ready spiritually for the kingdom. Just because they are justified doesn't mean they are spiritually qualified for the kingdom to come in. And they weren't.

If we look at Deuteronomy chapter thirty, after Moses has outlined the fact that if Israel will obey they will be blessed in their life in the land but if they disobey God will remove them from the land. And then we see many times from the beginning of chapter thirty there is the promise that eventually they will repent and turn back to God. After God has brought all these curses upon them they will turn back to God and God will return them from all the corners of the earth to the land that He promised them through His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and then they will experience in their obedience to Him the richness of His blessing. After having said that in Deuteronomy 30:1-14 Moses challenges them with the choice. He is addressing those who are already believers.

Deuteronomy 30:15 NASB "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity" There is volitional responsibility here. He is not talking about justification but about how they are to live after justification. The problem with Israel was that they disobeyed God in their spiritual life, and because of their failure in their spiritual life they eventually were taken out of the land and were scattered throughout all of the nations. This is not saying that all the Jews throughout history were saved. They had two issues they all had to resolve. One was their standing before God, which was justification, and the second was how they were to live as justified people.

Subsequent generations failed on both parts, but it wasn't just enough to be justified in order to experience the blessing of God. They had to live righteousness according to the Mosaic Law. They had to live in obedience or God would remove them from the land. That is what Moses is talking about.

Deuteronomy 30:16 NASB "in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it."

He is not talking to unbelievers here on how to get justified because justification was never by works; it is always by faith. What he is saying talking to them as believers is this is how they are to live. 

Deuteronomy 30:17 NASB "But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, [18] I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong {your} days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it."

Look at that word "perish". The contrast here is between life and perishing. We often think of that word "perish" as a term that relates to eternal condemnation. In the New Testament the Greek word is used to refer to not only destruction in this life but also eternal condemnation.

Deuteronomy 30:19 NASB "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants"

This is the same message that Jesus is giving in the Sermon on the Mount, and what He is focusing on here is that those who are saved need to choose the path of life to grow to spiritual maturity and not just be satisfied with the fact that their eternal destiny is going to be heaven instead of the lake of fire. They need to grow to spiritual maturity. They need to choose the path of life and not the path of death. This choice between one path or another path is seen all through the passages in the Old Testament.

Psalm 119:30 NASB "I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances {before me.}" This is not talking about salvation, it is talking about after salvation choosing the faithful way, choosing the way of righteousness, the way of the Law in order to live the life will enable them to experience the riches of God's blessing.  

Other passages such as Proverbs 2:20; 3:6 indicate the ongoing choice between these two paths.  

This is clearly seen in Proverbs 12:26 NASB "The righteous is a guide to his neighbor, But the way of the wicked leads them astray." This is addressing believers. They need to choose who their friends are because one can influence you in a wrong direction and the other can influence you in the right direction.

Proverbs 12:28 NASB "In the way of righteousness is life, And in {its} pathway there is no death." Again, the believer makes his choice after salvation.

Proverbs 16:25 NASB "There is a way {which seems} right to a man, But its end is the way of death." This is not talking about justification; it is talking about a way of life. Are we going to make doctrine and the study of God's Word the priority of our life, and the application of it the priority of our life, or are we going to choose the path of death.

This is seen again in Jeremiah 6:16 NASB "Thus says the LORD, 'Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls'. But they said, 'We will not walk {in it.}'" That is the rebellious generation of Jeremiah's day and their decision to reject the Torah.

As we look at our passage in Matthew 7:13, Jesus commands us to enter the narrow gate. He explains why: "for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction…" This isn't a one-shot decision; this is an ongoing continuous decision we have to make every day. The broad way leads to destruction. Many think that because it uses this word APOLEIA it is a word indicating eternal condemnation. The verb that is used is APOLLUMI, which has the same idea—to ruin, destroy or to lose something.

The noun APOLEIA is used eighteen times in the New Testament. It is used six times with reference to eternal condemnation. These passages clearly state that: John 17:12; Philippians 1:28; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 17:8, 11. The 2 Thessalonians 2:3 passages talks about the "son of perdition", and in Revelation 17:8 & 11 it talks about the Antichrist and false prophet going to perdition.

Seven times that word is used of temporal ruin or possibly physical death: Philippians 3:19; 1 Timothy 6:9; Hebrews 10:39; 2 Peter 2:1, 3; 3:16. These all talk about the person who may have something that is ruined right now in time or he ruins his life by his bad decisions. He may be a believer who makes bad decisions and thus ruins his life.

Three times it is used for something that is physically destroyed: Matthew 26:8, the only other times this word is used in Matthew other than Matthew 7:13, and there it refers to just physical waste, something that is physically destroyed. It is used that way in Mark 14:4; Acts 8:20. Then we have the passage in Matthew 7:13. Many of the passages where the noun is used in the New Testament do not refer necessarily to eternal condemnation. The verb is used 84 times in the New Testament. It is used two previous times in the Sermon on the Mount when it talks about plucking out the eye and destroying it, or cutting off your hand and destroying it—clearly not talking about eternal condemnation. So the context which uses the word doesn't use it for eternal condemnation. It is only used three times as describing eternal condemnation and that is all in the Gospel of John. John 3:16—"perish". Also John 10:28; 17:12. The other times it is used in the Gospels are all talking about temporal destruction. While it can mean to suffer eternal condemnation it is never used that way in the Gospel of Matthew. Most of the time it refers to either physical destruction or physical death (Matthew 8:25; 2:13; 12:14). Peter was concerned about perishing by drowning (Matthew 8:25). Herod wanted to destroy the infant Jesus, talking about His physical death (Matthew 2:13). The Pharisees wanted to destroy Jesus (Matthew 12:14).   

In all of these passages in the New Testament the word simply means physical destruction. The word "destruction" there doesn't mean eternal condemnation and there is no support for that meaning in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is simply saying that if you choose the path in life that is easy it leads to destruction.

In contrast, in verse 14 Jesus says: NASB "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it."

Some people may think that this is eternal life. But the way to get eternal life isn't difficult, is it? You don't have to work for it; you don't have to put forth any effort. Jesus did all of the work. The path to eternal life that is being saved from the penalty of sin is an easy path. It is simply putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. But the path of obedience, the Christian life that comes after salvation is a challenge. It is a challenge each and every day to make that choice between life and death. Do we really want to have the fullness, the richness of life that Jesus promised? Remember, Jesus said: "I came not like a thief to steal and destroy, but I came to give life and to give it abundantly." So if we want to have that rich abundant life that Jesus came to offer we have to choose the narrow gate and the narrow way, which is difficult. And Jesus then concludes by saying: "There are few who find it".

As we wrap up I want to look briefly at this next section. It is pretty easy to understand and fairly self-explanatory. Jesus gives a common illustration.   

Matthew 7:15 NASB "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves."

"Beware" is a command to pay attention, to be alert for danger—present active imperative, indicating continuous action in the Christian life. The term "sheep" is often used to describe God's people. It is used that way in passages such as Psalm 95:6,7 – v.7 "For He is our God and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand".

This illustration of shepherds and sheep is further developed in Jeremiah 23:1 NASB "Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!" declares the LORD.

He is condemning the leaders of Israel as false prophets. It is an important passage as a background to Matthew 7:15-20. In the context of verse 15 Jesus is warning that there are false prophets. He is applying this to the Pharisees. They are the false prophets, the ones who are teaching a false view of experiential righteousness based on a superficial view of the Law.

Jesus continually challenges the people with regard to the wrong teaching of the Pharisees. In chapter twenty-three He has a conversation with the Pharisees and pronounces eight woes upon the scribes and the Pharisees. Seven times in Matthew He calls them hypocrites. Twice He calls them blind guides and fools. He calls them whitewashed sepulchers. He calls them serpents and a brood of vipers. Jesus was not very kind, not very politically correct, and not sensitive to the feelings of the Pharisees. He was focused on truth and exposing their error. There is this same kind of warning in the Old Testament.

Jeremiah 23:16 NASB "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the mouth of the LORD'."

Note: "They are leading you into futility". That is the end result. The passage we are looking at talks about the fruits of the false prophets. In Matthew 7:16 Jesus says: "You will know them by their fruits." Jeremiah says that the words of the prophets will make you worthless.

Many people interpret vv. 16-20 as the quality of life or the characteristics of a person's life. They will interpret these verses in this way: 'You will know them by their fruits'. You look at a person's life and you can tell whether or not he is a Christian. Many of us have made that mistake at one point or another in our life. We say: "How in the world can that person be a Christian?" But salvation is not based on what kind of works we do, it is based on our faith in Jesus Christ alone.

In contrast, what the Lord is condemning here is the words of the prophets, not their lifestyle. 

Jeremiah 23:26 NASB "How long? Is there {anything} in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even {these} prophets of the deception of their own heart …" The focus is on the content of what they are saying, not the quality of their life.

Jeremiah 23:32 NASB "Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams," declares the LORD, "and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting …" The fruit of the false prophet is destruction in the life of the people. They take the broad way instead of the narrow way. So in Matthew 7:16-20 Jesus uses the agricultural illustration but the fruit that He is talking about is what they say, not what they do.

Matthew 7:16-18 NASB  "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn {bushes} nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit."

Then He talks about divine judgment on them.

Matthew 7:19 NASB "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." Remember He is talking in the dispensation or age of Israel when they are under the Mosaic Law. What was the penalty for being a false prophet? Death! So being thrown into the fire here is not talking about the eternal lake of fire, it is simply a metaphor for destruction.

Matthew 7:20 NASB "So then, you will know them by their fruits."

There were two tests of the truthfulness of a prophet given in Deuteronomy. The first is given in Deuteronomy 13:1-5. There it recognizes that there will be prophets and dreamers who will see visions, and miracle workers who will rise up and perform these miracles. They will have these signs and wonders. And Moses says the sign or wonder comes to pass. It really takes place. Then they give a message, and the message is let's go serve other gods which you have not known. So their message is a false message even though they had miracles and signs and wonders. Moses said: "you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

The test is: Are you going to follow the miracle worker who is teaching the wrong thing, or are you going to follow the person who just teaches the Word and teaches the truth. He is not flashy, he is not putting on a dog and pony show; he is teaching the Bible verse by verse. 

Deuteronomy 13:4 NASB "You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. [5] But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death …" Judgment shall come to the false prophet. That is what Jesus is saying in Matthew 7:19.

The second test is given in Deuteronomy 18:20 NASB "But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die."

This is the test that whatever the prophet says comes to pass. The way you would know that he has really spoken by God:

Deuteronomy 18:21 NASB "You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' [22] When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him." 

So the challenge before each of us from this passage is that every day you and I have to decide: Are we going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Are we willing to take the difficult way and pursue biblical truth? Are we going to make the study of the Bible and the application of doctrine the number one priority in our life, or are we going to pursue life on our own terms and end up on the path to destruction?