According to Jesus, The Kingdom of Heaven is a Gift- Not The Result of Human Religion or Righteousness

We have finished our current study of the previous section of Jesus’ sermon on the mount and are entering into Jesus’ closing application and final remarks. This section of Jesus’ sermon (7:7-29) follows the same overarching theme of the previous part of the sermon. Jesus has:

  • addressed his intended audience (5:1-12),
  • declared His commitment to the Old Testament Scriptures and instructed His disciples to be just as committed (5:13-20),
  • described how the Old Testament was misused in order to create a legalistic system of religion (5:21-48),
  • and described how and condemned the fact that a legalistic teaching of the Old Testament led to legalistic, works-based, practice (6:1-7:6).

In His closing application and final remarks, Jesus will proclaim the reality and the preeminence of grace in salvation as opposed to the legalism that He has been describing and condemning up to this point. He has followed the same structure of the Old Testament by first revealing human depravity and wretchedness and now promising grace for those who are truly repentant (4:17).

Matthew 7:7-12

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

The gift of the kingdom (v. 7-8)

These two verses are some of the most abused in all of culture and the organized church. I hear these two verses quoted most often to refer to the power of prayer and as a proof-text to try showing that God will give us whatever we ask for because prayer is powerful and God desires to give people whatever they ask for in faith. These two verses are used and abused by prosperity or word of faith preachers and teachers the world over. They are plucked from their context. As we may know, we can make any set of words out to say anything we desire if we remove them from context and imply meaning that simply isn’t there.

I wonder what Jesus is referring to when He refers to “it,” the thing that will be given, found, and opened? Over the years, people have done a pretty great job of assuming that “it” can refer to anything they want it to refer to. “it” is actually a pronoun that refers to something specific that has already been stated or implied. So, the best thing for us to do is look at Christ’s sermon again and see what object Jesus is referring to. This is an exercise that public schools teach in the fifth grade. I still remember having to go to the front of the classroom and diagram the syntactical structure of the sentences.

  • 4:17- The “kingdom of Heaven” is the direct object. The foundational truth upon which Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is built and the reason people are called to repentance rather than legalism is that the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. From the start, the kingdom of Heaven has been the reason, the goal, and the prize.
  • 5:1-12- The kingdom of Heaven is the thing that is promised along with the comfort, satisfaction, and eternal prosperity of the kingdom.
  • 5:19- Those who uphold God’s word above all else are promised a great place in the kingdom of Heaven.
  • 5:20- Jesus teaches that only those whose righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and pharisees will even enter the kingdom of Heaven.
  • 5:21-48- Jesus teaches about upholding the truth of His own word (c.f. 5:19).
  • 6:1-24- Jesus teaches that legalistic religion is a rejection of the reward He has been referring to throughout the sermon- the kingdom of Heaven.
  • 6:32-34- Jesus instructs His disciples to seek first the kingdom of Heaven and not worry about everything else that the Father knows we need and provides according to His own will.
  • 7:13-14- Jesus will continue His explanation on entering the kingdom of Heaven, eternal life.
  • 7:21-29- Jesus will share that not everyone will enter the kingdom of Heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is consistently the object of Christ’s sermon. When Jesus refers to “it,” He is referring to the kingdom of Heaven and there is no other way to correctly read this passage.

When Jesus instructs His disciples to “ask… seek… knock…,” He is referring back to language that He has already used in His sermon. In chapter 6, verses 33 and 34, Jesus instructed,

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Jesus is giving instruction, here, that He has already given in His sermon. He is repeating Himself and accompanying His instruction with a promise. Those who truly ask for, seek after, and knock will enter the kingdom of Heaven. In context, this asking, seeking, and knocking is contrary to any form of legalistic religion and consistent with true and sincere repentance.

There are a couple of things I want us to notice that the text does not say. First, it does not say, “keep on asking,” or “persist in asking, seeking, and knocking.” The language is simpler and more fitting to the overarching theme of Christ’s sermon- God knows what you need, do not babble, salvation is by grace and not by works. Second, it does not say that we should pray for everything we need or want and God will grant those things if we ask in faith. In fact, that would be a contradiction to what Christ has already taught concerning God’s providence in Matthew 6:33-34 (above).

God, the good father (v. 9-11)

In verses 9-11, Jesus uses an illustration by comparing God to a good father. Even a good father who is sinful and wretched gives his children what they need when they ask. Even a good father who is sinful and wretched will not trade what is good for his children for those things that will harm his children. How much more will God give what is good (the kingdom of Heaven) to those who truly ask Him.

This truth is the exact opposite of legalistic religion. God is the good Father who gives. When the kingdom is received as a gift, the heart is transformed by the reading of the Law. The whole point is that the kingdom of Heaven does not belong to those who believe that they can work for it or be good enough for it. The kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who see the Law, realize their insufficiency and inability, their unrighteousness, sinfulness, and wretchedness, repent, and ask for, seek after, or knock at the entrance of the kingdom of Heaven. They receive entrance into the kingdom as a gift of God’s amazing grace alone.

The Law’s true effect (v. 12)

Because the kingdom is received as a gift by grace alone, we treat people the same way that we want them to treat us, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Jesus reemphasizes what He has already taught in His sermon. The Law is not a checklist but a mirror. It draws God’s people into repentance and into salvation by His grace. Those who are not legalistic have no need to make sure others measure up (v. 1-6). So, grace affects our hearts and our actions and attitudes toward others. The Law and Prophets now take the place of accomplishing our sanctification in Christ as citizens of the kingdom of Heaven by grace. This is the best news. I’m not sure why so many people hide it and use the Sermon on the Mount to teach legalistic religion or some form of the prosperity Gospel. The message is different. It is meaningful. It is the message of God’s grace and forgiveness despite the fact that we couldn’t measure up. It is the message of God’s promise to sanctify His people by grace as they continuously receive His word.

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