Sermon on the Mount – What kind of people will receive eternal life?

This is the second in a series of articles that explain why, if Jesus said that “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law” (Matt. 5:18), the church council in Acts 15, a decade or two later, decided that Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law. The current article provides an overview of the Sermon of the Mount as the necessary context to answer this question.  The articles in this series are:

1. Jesus came to fulfill the Law.
2. Sermon on the MountCurrent article
3. Not the smallest letter shall pass from the Law.

SUMMARY

Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to teach His followers what kind of people they must be. For example, He listed the types of people that are blessed, exhorted His followers to be “the salt of the earth,” warned against sins such as murder and adultery, and urged His hearers to be reconciled to their enemies and even to love their enemies.

In this way, Jesus taught His hearers what kind of people they must be to be saved and, therefore, to be rewarded with eternal life. This is implied by the many indications in this sermon to:

      • The end-time judgment;
      • The future “kingdom of heaven;”
      • Your reward in heaven” and
      • The broad way “that leads to destruction.” 

IMMORTAL SOULS

Many people from all religions believe that people have immortal souls and will, therefore, never die. However, Jesus’ statement that “the way is broad that leads to destruction” (7:13) implies that He did not believe that people have immortality. Rather, He said,

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

Jesus’ descriptions of hell, and the worm that does not die, must, therefore, be understood symbolically. See the article on Eternal Life.

JUDGED BY THEIR DEEDS

Since Jesus taught people how to live to be saved, He believed that people will be judged by their deeds. Many Christians believe that God saves people irrespective of what kind of people they are. They get this idea mostly from Paul’s writings. However, as a search on the word “deeds” will show, Paul, in various places, stated that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13) by grace, we might add. Jesus similarly taught, “not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matt. 7:21).

– END OF SUMMARY – 

WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE THEY MUST BE

Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to teach His followers what kind of people they must be.  For example:

He began the sermon by listing the types of people that are blessed, such as “the gentle,” and “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:3-12).

He then exhorted His followers to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (5:13-16). In other words, their influence on other people must be to preserve life.

After the verses on which this article focusses (5:17-20), He taught on sins such as murder, anger, insulting other people, adultery and divorce, making oaths, revenge, doing good things to be seen by other people, trust in earthly riches and a critical spirit.

In contrast to these sins, Jesus urged His hearers to seek to be reconciled to their enemies, to love their enemies (5:38-47) and to “forgive others for their transgressions” (6:14).

He also addressed the worries of this world and advised His hearers to trust God: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” “Will He not much more clothe you?” (6:25-34)

View The Sermon on the Mount for a good discussion.

TO RECEIVE ETERNAL LIFE

In this way, Jesus taught His hearers what kind of people they must be to be saved and, therefore, to be rewarded with eternal life. There are many indications in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus’ focus was on the end-time judgment and eternal life. These include:

Judgment – “In the way you judge, you will be judged” (7:2; cf. 5:22, 25).

Enter Kingdom of Heaven – “Not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (7:21; cf. 5:3, 19, 20).

Reward – “Your Father … will reward you” (6:18; cf. 6:1, 5, 6) and “your reward in heaven is great” (5:12).

Destruction and hell – “The way is broad that leads to destruction” (7:13). “The way is narrow that leads to life” (7:14). That “destruction,” Jesus said, is in “the fiery hell” (5:22; cf. 5:29, 30). “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (7:19). 

THE BOOK OF REVELATION

The striking similarities between Jesus’ sermon and the “new earth” (Rev. 21:1), as described in the Book of Revelation, further support the conclusion that Jesus said all these things to prepare people for the final judgment:

He said, “those who mourn … shall be comforted” (5:4) and “the gentle … shall inherit the earth” (5:5). Similarly, on the “new earth,” God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes” and “there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev. 21:1, 4).

The pure in heart … shall see God” (5:8). Similarly, on the “new earth,” “they will see His face” (Rev. 22:4) and “God Himself will be among them” (Rev. 21:3). 

The peacemakers … shall be called sons of God” (5:9; cf. 5:45).  Similarly, on the “new earth,” “I will be his God and he will be My son” (Rev. 21:7).

Jesus said, “it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (5:29; cf. 5:22; 7:19). Similarly, in Revelation, the “abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).

PEOPLE ARE NOT IMMORTAL

Many people from all religions believe that people have immortal souls and will, therefore, never die. Christians obtain this mostly from Jesus’ teaching on hell and from the book of Revelation, for example:

Jesus described “hell” as “the unquenchable fire … where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48).

However, as shown in the article on Eternal Life, Paul taught that only God’s people will receive eternal life. This is, actually, also what Jesus taught.  He said,

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

Jesus’ descriptions of hell, and the worm that does not die, must be understood symbolically.  Hell is to see your husband or wife and children and even your pets in perfect health and to know you must die because of the person that you have become. In the presence of the Lamb and His angels (Rev. 14:10 – not in the presence of Satan), they will suffer when they realize God did everything in His power to save them to this eternal and beautiful life, but they refused to come to Him. Now, to protect the happiness of the universe, God must “destroy both soul and body in hell.

Those that remain will never forget this extreme emotional torment, symbolized by the “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11). God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 21:4), but they will never forget the ones they love.

JUDGED BY DEEDS

Since Jesus taught people how to live to be saved, He believed that people will be judged by their deeds.

Some Christians think that God saves people irrespective of what kind of people they are. This is another topic about which preachers get worked up about. They get this idea mostly from Paul’s statements that man is not saved “by the works of the Law” (e.g. Gal. 2:16) but by grace. However, “the works of the Law” refer to the ceremonial rituals of the Jewish Law. It does not describe what kind of person one is. 

In this regard, we find a fundamental distinction between “works” and “deeds” in the New Testament. As a search on the word “deeds” will show, Paul stated in various places that people will be judged by their deeds. (e.g. Rom. 2:6; 4:6-7; 8:13; 2 Cor. 5:10). “The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13), but without deserving eternal life by their deeds. “The doers of the Law will be justified” by grace, we might add. This is also what Jesus taught. In this sermon, He said, “not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (7:21; cf. 5:3, 19, 20). Remember also the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31-).  Make no mistake, we will be judged by our deeds, but saved by grace.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

Jesus came to fulfill the Law. – A study of Matthew 5:17-18 – Jesus did not come to abolish but to fulfill the Law and the prophets. What are “the Law and the Prophets” and how did Jesus fulfill them?

Sermon on the Mount – Jesus taught His followers what kind of people they must be to be rewarded with eternal life. Jesus did not believe that people have essential immortality and taught that they will be judged by their deeds.

Not the smallest letter shall pass from the Law.  Jesus said that not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Why then did the Acts 15 Church Council, a decade or two later, decide that Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law? Paul’s letter to the Galatians explains the decision.

Articles on Galatians – Since Galatians explains the decision of the Church Council, these articles are, in a sense, part of the series on Galatians.

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