Matthew 7 Study Notes
7:1 Jesus did not intend to prohibit all acts of judgment. Elsewhere he commanded believers to discern the actions of others (v. 15; 18:15-20). What Jesus condemned is hypocritical judgment that focuses on the faults of others while excusing one’s own sins.
7:2 Jesus warned that those who use a harsh standard of judgment when evaluating others can expect God to use the same harsh standard when they face his judgment.
7:3-5 The splinter represents a small fault. The beam of wood represents a major moral fault. Those who correct the minor faults of others without attending to their own more serious faults are hypocrites. Believers do have a responsibility to help one another repent of sins but only after first dealing with their own serious sins.
7:6 What is holy probably refers to sacrificial meat. Dogs would devour it insensibly without appreciating its sacredness. In Jesus’s allegory, this sacrificial meat symbolizes his own sacred teachings. The dogs symbolize the wicked who disregard the value of his teachings. First-century teachers referred to pearls symbolically to speak of insightful and valuable teaching. Consequently, the pearls here symbolize Jesus’s teachings given by the disciples. Pigs were ritually unclean animals. They symbolize the wicked and unclean. Pigs eat spoiled food but have no appreciation for pearls, just as the wicked consume wicked pleasures but disregard the gospel. This contempt for the gospel is pictured by the pig trampling the pearls underfoot. That pigs may turn against the one offering the pearls shows that contempt for the gospel message can become contempt for the gospel messenger, as has often happened in history.
7:7-8 While some people interpret these verses as a promise that God will give disciples whatever they pray for, linguistic connections between these verses and other portions of the Sermon on the Mount suggest that Jesus promised that those who ask, search, and knock will be invited to enter his kingdom. The command to ask is tied to the promise of “good things” to those who ask in v. 11. In the Lukan parallel, these good things are interpreted as the Holy Spirit who transforms the disciple and makes him fit for the kingdom. Seek uses the same Greek verb as 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Since the word door is not in the Greek text of v. 7, and because ancient people knocked on gates as well as doors to request entrance (Ac 12:13), knock likely refers to knocking on the gate of the kingdom (mentioned in Mt 7:13-14).
7:9-10 Round loaves of bread resemble smooth, brown stones. Certain fish in the Sea of Galilee resemble snakes.
7:11 Jesus’s description of humans as you . . . who are evil disproves the modern concept that people are basically good. Although Jesus acknowledged that humans may perform gracious acts like providing for their children, he insisted that they do so contrary to their sinful nature. God’s gracious acts, on the other hand, express our heavenly Father’s perfect nature.
7:12 The word therefore suggests that the “Golden Rule” of this verse draws an application from the preceding section. Since the preceding verse describes God’s gracious and loving provision for others, the conjunction probably implies that following the Golden Rule shows the disciple’s resemblance to the heavenly Father (see notes at 5:44-45; 5:48).
7:13-14 The narrow gate symbolizes the exclusive nature of Christ’s kingdom. Entrance requires the disciple to do the will of the Father in heaven (v. 21). The gate that is wide indicates that hell grants unrestricted entrance and that many will enter through its gates. The difficult (lit “narrow”) . . . road may symbolize the life of hardship and persecution that the disciple must face. However, since Jewish literature often used the symbol of the road to represent a moral path (Jdg 2:22; Is 30:21; Jr 6:16; 2Jn 6) and because the law was portrayed as a narrow road from which a person was not to deviate (Dt 5:32; 17:20; 28:14; Jos 1:7; 2Kg 22:2), the narrow road probably represents Jesus’s morally restrictive teaching. The wide road permits travelers to meander and pursue worldly desires, but the narrow path requires travelers to stick to God’s will (Mt 7:21).
7:15-20 False prophets don sheep’s clothing to disguise the fact that they are ravaging wolves masquerading as true disciples. However, a prophet’s character and behavior (his fruit) indicates whether he is true or false. Other NT texts insist that a teacher’s doctrine must also be examined (1Jn 4:2-3). True disciples bear the fruit of good works, and this confirms their identity as Jesus’s disciples (Mt 7:21-23). The image of cutting down and burning a bad tree portrays the judgment and eternal punishment of false disciples. The test Jesus gives is not quick and easy but one that proves itself over time.
7:21-23 By referring to himself as Lord and depicting himself as the ultimate judge of humanity, Jesus implied his deity. True disciples affirm Jesus’s lordship, submit to his authority, and obey his commands. Jesus insisted that a person is confirmed as a true disciple not by prophecy, exorcism, or working miracles but by living a transformed life made possible by God. The disobedient lifestyles of lawbreakers are inconsistent with genuine discipleship. Jesus’s words, I never knew you, show that these were never truly disciples.
7:24-27 The adjectives wise and foolish describe a person’s spiritual and moral state, not his intellect. Whether one is considered wise or foolish is determined by his response to Jesus’s teaching. Since OT writers described God’s wrath using the image of a great storm (Is 28:16-17; Ezk 13:10-13), the storm that destroys the house on the sand is a picture of divine judgment. Hence, the person who hears and acts on Jesus’s teaching is prepared for judgment. The one who hears but doesn’t act on Jesus’s words will be destroyed in the storm of judgment.
7:28-29 Jesus amazed the crowds with an authority that surpassed that of other teachers. First-century Jewish teachers appealed to the authority of their rabbinic predecessors. However, Jesus introduced his teachings with the contrast, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you” (5:21,27,31,33,38,43). By this Jesus made clear that he had the authority to interpret the law independent from and even contrary to the Jewish oral tradition and the most esteemed rabbis. The words when Jesus had finished are important for understanding the structure of Matthew’s Gospel. See “Structure” in the Introduction to Matthew.