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” (Matt 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” (Matt 5:13-16). In other words, their influence on other people must be to preserve life.

After the verses on which this article focusses (Matt 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 (Matt 5:38-47), and to “forgive others for their transgressions” (Matt 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?” (Matt 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” (Matt 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” (Matt 7:21; cf. 5:3, 19, 20).

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

Destruction and hell – “The way is broad that leads to destruction” (Matt 7:13). “The way is narrow that leads to life” (Matt 7:14). That “destruction,” Jesus said, is in “the fiery hell” (Matt 5:22; cf. 5:29, 30). “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 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” (Matt 5:4) and “the gentle … shall inherit the earth” (Matt 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” (Matt 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” (Matt 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” (Matt 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. 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” (Matt 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. See, Man is judged by his deeds; not justified by the works of the law.

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.

The Letter to the Galatians was written before Acts 15 Church Council.

Excerpt: Galatians was written after the great disagreement between the believers in Antioch (Acts 15:2; Gal 2), but before the Church Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15; therefore somewhere in AD48-50.  The letter to the Galatians, therefore, represents Paul’s argument before the Church Council, and the Church Council decision substantially made an end to the dispute in the letter to the Galatians. 

SUMMARY

Both Galatians and Acts 15 mention a visit by Paul to Jerusalem and a dispute between Paul and other Jewish Christians in Antioch, but the two cities are mentioned in reverse sequences:

The visit to Jerusalem in the letter to the Galatians was a private meeting with a small number of important people, while the visit to Jerusalem in Acts resulted in a large public meeting with a formal church council decision.  For this and other reasons, these were two different visits to Jerusalem.

But the two disputes in Antioch are the same.  Both were caused by men that came from the church headquarters in Jerusalem and taught that, unless you (Gentile Christians) are circumcised, you cannot be saved.

On this basis a threefold sequence is proposed:

      1. First an informal visit to the leaders in Jerusalem,
      2. Followed by the public dispute in Antioch,
      3. which was resolved through a formal Council decision in Jerusalem.

Since the letter to the Galatians does not mention the Jerusalem decision, it must have been written before that decision, therefore somewhere in AD48-50.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

To prepare for a discussion of the early development of the church, this page reconciles events in Jerusalem and Antioch, described in Acts, with the events in the same cities, described in Galatians.  This will help to determine where the letter to the Galatians fits into the early development of the church.

DATES

See here for a table with dates for key events in the early church.  As indicated by this table, chronologists do not always exactly agree on the dates, but they more or less agree.  For that reason, the dates in this article are all approximated.

LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

The letter to the Galatians mentions:

  • A visit by Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-10)
  • Followed by a dispute between Paul and other Jewish Christians in Antioch (Gal 2:11-24)

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

Acts mentions the two cities in the opposite sequence:

      • First a dispute between Paul and other Christians in Antioch (Gal 15:1-2)
      • Followed by a visit by Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem (Gal 15:4-30)

TWO DIFFERENT VISITS TO JERUSALEM

Some argue that Paul’s visit to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1-10 is the same as his visit to Jerusalem in Acts 15.  There are similarities, such as:

      • The key issue in both visits is whether Gentile Christians must be circumcised (Gal 2:3; Acts 15:5).
      • In both Barnabas went with Paul (Gal 2:1; Acts 15:2).

DIFFERENCES

However, the details of the two visits are too different to refer to the same visit:

      • In the letter to the Galatians, Paul took Titus along as an example of the work he does under the Gentiles (Gal 2:1, 3), but there is no mention of Titus in Acts 15.
      • According to Galatians, Paul went to Jerusalem “because of a revelation” (Gal 2:2), but in Acts, it was because of a decision of the brethren in Antioch (Acts 15:2).
      • In Galatians, Paul visited “those who were of reputation” “in private” (Gal 2:2). According to Acts, “they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders” (Acts 15:4), and the entire church council, consisting of the “apostles and the elders” (Acts 15:6, 22) decided the matter.
      • Galatians indicates that “those who were of high reputation” (Gal 2:6, 9) simply “gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship” (Gal 2:9). In Acts there was a formal church council decision, where-after leading men from the Jerusalem church were chosen to go with Paul and Barnabas with a formal letter explaining the decision “to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles” (Acts 15:23).

OTHER INDICATIONS

Further indications that the visit to Jerusalem in Gal 2:1-10 cannot be the council decision in Acts 15, include:

    • If the visit to Jerusalem in Gal 2:1-10 was the same as in Acts 15, then the council decision was taken before the incident in Antioch in Gal 2:11-24 and therefore before the letter to the Galatians was written. But this is very unlikely because Paul would then have mentioned the Jerusalem decision in the letter to the Galatians because the entire purpose of Galatians is to argue against the circumcision of Gentiles.
    • If Gal 2:1-10 was the same as the Acts 15 church council meeting, then James would not have sent men afterward to Antioch to preach the circumcision of Gentiles (Gal 2:12).  Also, Peter and the other Jews would not have responded in Antioch the way they did (Gal 2:12-13).

It is therefore proposed that these two visits to Jerusalem were not the same.

ONLY ONE DISPUTE IN ANTIOCH

It is rather proposed that the two disputes in Antioch (Gal 2:11-21; Acts 15:1-2) are the same.  Both disputes were caused by “men (that) came down from Judea” (Acts 15:1) (“from James” Gal 2:10) and taught “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1) (“the party of the circumcision” – Gal 2:12).

SEQUENCE OF EVENTS

On that basis the following sequence of events is proposed:

      1. Knowing that a dispute would burst out in the open, the Spirit first led Paul to informally visitthose who were of reputation” (Gal 2:2) in Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-10).
      2. This is followed by the dispute in Antioch, described in both Galatians 2:11-24 and Acts 15:1-2.
      3. This is followed by the more formal visit to Jerusalem, to resolve the dispute through a formal Council decision (Acts 15:4-30)

WHEN WAT THE LETTER TO THE GALATIANS WRITTEN?

We are now able to date Galatians relative to these three events.  Since Galatians mentions the dispute in Antioch but does not mention the Jerusalem decision, and since that decision is critical for the topic in Galatians, namely whether Gentile Christians must be circumcised and live like Jews, it is proposed that Galatians was written by Paul while on his way to Jerusalem after the Antioch incident.  Since the Jerusalem council decision is dated to AD48-50 (about 20 years after Christ’s death) it means that Galatians was written during those same years.  It would make Galatians the earliest of Paul’s letters.

This conclusion corroborates with the information in Gal 2:1-10, namely that the first visit to Jerusalem was “after an interval of fourteen years” (Gal 2:1). The key event mentioned in the previous chapter is Paul’s Damascus-conversion (Gal 1:16) in AD35. It is, therefore, possible that the first visit to Jerusalem in Gal 2:1-10 was “fourteen years” after AD35, which will bring it to AD49.  On the assumption that the Antioch-dispute and the Jerusalem church council decision happened within a year or two after the first visit, the Jerusalem council meeting could have been in AD50.

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