Who is the Greatest In the Kingdom of Heaven?
This is a rhetorical question used to illustrate a point.
We all know Jesus said the greatest in the kingdom is the one who teaches you to obey the Law given Moses. Matt. 5:19.
But this is erased from our minds by the Pauline Mantra that we are no longer under the Law which was just a tutor to bring us to Christ whom no longer binds us to the Law.
Let's do an exercise online which any of you can replicate which will show us whether Paulinists really have any answer to Matt 5:19.
I am just going to do a search online, and look at the first 10 articles on what "greatest" in the kingdom means in Matt 5:19, and let's see if Jesus is allowed to speak. At the very end, I will categorize the 10 results, and analyze what it signifies in the strength of this verse against Paulinists.
But please read / skim through each of the 10 views summarized below. You will hear first-hand extreme examples of contortions of Jesus' words. And you will see how blatant in one case is the dismissal of our Lord's authority in favor of Paul's authority over that of Jesus. That example should sicken any true follower of Jesus.
In the end, we will reach an important conclusion on how effective it is to cite this verse in a debate with Paulinists.
Before we start, guess now how many sites out of 10 will do the following:
a. apply Jesus literally;
b. dismiss Jesus' words to another dispensation in the past or future;
c. emphasize Paul's abrogation of the Law and then ignore or dismiss or contort Jesus' words such as contending that disobeying Jesus' emphasis on the Law does not impact one's salvation and we can still fully enjoy grace/release?
The answer surprised me, proving Matt 5:19 is a verse Paulinists cannot directly address.
Random Review of Websites
I did a google search on "greatest in the Kingdom of heaven" - see the google search results at this link.
So let's explore together those articles in the order they appear. This exercise will not only answer our main question but ask (a) whether Paulinists have largely ignored this verse contradicts Paul?; or (b) do they admit it, and explain it away somehow? One by one, we shall examine the articles on Matt 5:19, excluding only strictly sites that involve no commentary or interpretation.
Top link #1. 2011.
Excellent non-Pauline answer in this discussion. The writer cites Matt 5:17-19, and then says:
The greatest in the Kingdom of God are those who obey and teach the commandments of the Lord. “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.” (Dt 4:9)
The temptation will always be to do what is easy, comfortable and selfish. The Lord's commandments can be summarized in the following way: Do what is right; do what is good; do what is holy. In this way, the Lord will be with me in times of trouble for I will be with him in paradise.
Link #2: Torah Resources -- a link to a PDF.
Tim Hegg says that he admits he previously "never took seriously" Jesus' words in Matt 5:17-19. Id., at 1. Mr. Hegg says that "he takes it as a given that Paul does not disagree with nor contradict the teaching of Christ in this passage, though I recognize many scholars believe he does." (Page 2 fn. 1) Having put Paul to one side, Mr. Hegg then has a pro-Torah view, and says Jesus commends those who obey the Law. (Id., at page 13.)
Link #3: Yashua returns.
Essentially, this author ignores Paul and affirms that the "Greatest" passage means: "The difference between the true house of Israel and those heathen that are called by His name is the keeping of the commands per the covenant."
Link #4: Above and Beyond.
This gives a Pauline spin before the author tries to explain who is "greatest," by saying that we have perfectly kept the Law by Jesus' obedience:
Those who have believed in Christ have through Him met all the requirements of the Law. Therefore, if we want to live a supernatural life, we must go above and beyond. This can only occur when we depend on the perfect righteousness of Christ.
I respond to this as follows: The atonement of Christ is no more a permanent application of sinlessness than was atonement by goats and sheep. Jesus fulfilling the Law did not alter the nature of atonement so the recipient was now free to sin and never repent thereafter, and be accepted into heaven. Such a principle violates the Law, but Christ fulfilled the law's requirements of atonement -- yet He did not alter or abrogate the necessity of repentance, or the expiration of atonement upon one's deliberate sin thereafter.
The author of article #4, having convinced himself that even a disobedient person called "least" is perfected forever by atonement, then affirms both the 'least' and 'great' are promised heaven:
The kingdom of heaven is not going to be a classless society. Some people will be greater than others. Some will be called “great,” and others will be called “least.” This means that some individuals will have a higher standing than others. Everyone will not be equal. But please notice that disobedient disciples are still in the kingdom of heaven. Even those who break Jesus’ commandments and teach others to do the same have the free gift of eternal life that cannot be lost.
But this is an error, as I explain at this link. Jesus truly says in the Greek original about the law loosener that "least he shall be called [by those] in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:17). It does not read in Greek (as commonly translated in English) as simply "least in the kingdom of heaven." Thus, exclusion from heaven of the 'least' is indicated because it is those in the kingdom who will call him least, and thus does not say the least is in the kingdom.
And that is underscored by verse 5:20 where Jesus says to "enter" heaven, one must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. Jesus meant by that to exclude any law-loosener because Jesus portrayed the Pharisees as law-looseners, both in Matt 23:23 -- they obeyed the lesser laws but ignored the more important laws about Justice, Mercy and Faith, as well as in Matthew 15:6 where Jesus said the Pharisees used oral tradition to loosen the true Law -- the written Law.
This author thereby offers the most typical means of how a Paulinist addresses the dilemma of 5:17-19, as I have personally encountered. But you can see, it is weak. It requires warping Jesus' point so that what Paul teaches, even though clearly faulted by Jesus as "not great," makes you still acceptable if you likewise teach against Torah-observance like Paul does or is construed to teach. By following Paul's doctrine, you supposedly only stand at an inferior level in heaven. But if that is the case, shouldn't that imply we ignore Paul so we are greater rather than not lesser in heaven as defined by our Lord Jesus? The author does not address that embarassing implication of what he is saying.
Having ignored that embarassing fact, the author ends by saying that we do not have to follow any rules from the Law and can live happy and free, only knowing we will enter heaven at the least rank:
Entering into the kingdom has nothing to do with keeping the rules like the scribes and Pharisees. It has to do with Jesus Christ fulfilling the rules for you. No person apart from Christ can produce the righteousness that God commands. In kind, it is His kind; in degree, it is what mathematicians would call “the nth degree.” It is beyond calculation! Without God’s kind of righteousness, no one will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Poor Jesus, He never gets to have any of His words heard any more. His words are warped so we should believe that he who "obeys and teaches the Law" (5:19) is not so great, but only He who has had atonement once applied is the "greatest" in the kingdom -- which according to Paulinists is all of themselves even though they do not obey or teach obedience to the Law. My my! What a deceived man cannot believe!
Link #5: Answering Questions from Matt 5:17-19 by Steve Cornell.
This is another one that relishes the ambiguous error in the KJV where "least in the kingdom of heaven" appears rather than "called least by those in the kingdom of heaven." So when we see the "least-greatest" contrast, the author comments:
Here we find some form of gradation within kingdom ranks — one is not excluded from the Kingdom for law breaking but reduced in rank.
Other than this comment, he gives no opinion.
Link #6: Student Daily Reflections
This simply takes the verse at face value, quotes it and then exhorts: "God wants us all to obey his commandments and lead others to follow him; he wants us to be called greatest in his Kingdom!"
Milton Terry, D.D., Professor Biblical Doctrine at Garrett Bible Institute, "Nature of the Kingdom of Christ," Biblical Dogmatics (1907) at 423 et seq.
Prof. Terry takes Jesus at face value. He wonderfully writes in pertinent part:
(4) The Greatest in the Kingdom. But other teachings of Jesus, aside from his parables, are equally explicit touching the spiritual nature of the kingdom of Christ....[H]e who is to be called great in the kingdom of heaven is one who carefully performs and teaches the commandments of God, even the least of them. (Matt. 5:19); for the surest evidence of love is a conscientious keeping of the commandments (John 14:15, 21; 15:10). The happy subject of the heavenly kingdom is not the man who is self-righteous and self-satisfied, but the one who feels a real spiritual want within his soul, and hungers and thirsts after the living God. Such are pronounced blessed, and are called “poor in spirit,” because of their own keen sense of insufficiency and need of help from above. “Theirs’ is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). For “the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity” chooses for his abode “the broken and humble spirit” (Isa. 57:15; Psa. 34:18; 51:17), and Jesus accordingly declared: “Except your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). This kingdom belongs rather to those “that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (5:10). The lovers of the truth and martyrs for its sake inherit the kingdom. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven” (7:21). It is exceedingly difficult, nay, impossible, for one who is bound up with great riches of this world to enter this kingdom (Mark 10:23). Such an one, in order to be perfect and to deposit his treasure in heaven, must deny himself, give what he has to benefit the poor, and thereby show the depth of his love for God and man. And the faithful disciple of Christ, who is ready to leave everything else to follow his Lord with a loving heart, “publishes abroad the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). He becomes a living gospel and epistle of the kingdom, and by his service of love will come to know its heavenly mysteries more and more.
Link #8: The Sermon on the Mount 5-7
Here it is -- what I was expecting -- a complete rejection of the applicability of the Sermon on the Mount (in which 5:19 appears) to us by relying upon Paul's doctrine of grace. So the author never deals with the issue of who is the 'greatest,' because it is irrelevant once Paul's words are given priority.
First, the author says Jesus was simply proposing a kingdom with Torah-based rules that if rejected by his audience then made it no longer God's will to have a kingdom with such rules, and God would turn to a Plan B - a lawless version to save people. First the author describes Plan A:
However, we must understand that much of it doesn't directly apply to this, the Age of Grace (Age of the Church). Just as the Old Testament dietary laws applied mostly to the Age of the Jews, the Sermon on the Mount applies mostly to the Age of the Kingdom. It is a declaration by Christ on just how the Messianic Kingdom will operate. It explains how a theocracy will function. In fact, He was offering to set up the Kingdom at that time, if He had been accepted.
Astonishing! But it gets worse. Jesus commands us something, and the author pooh-poohs it:
Although righteousness reflected in any age gives us the underlying basis of truth, there are few who would suggest a direct application of the Sermon on the Mount today in the Age of Grace. ...Matthew 5:42 says, "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."
Again, while we should give to the needy, we cannot simply lend money to everyone who asks for it. This type of lending without hesitation in the business world would quickly cause an economic catastrophe where companies (and individuals) could not survive financially, and it would ruin the world economy. In fact, this is what led to the housing collapse of 2008--Banks were giving mortgages to people with no down payment and little-or-no documentation, knowing full well that many of those people would be unable to afford to pay it back.
No, the Sermon on the Mount doesn't present Church Age truth. (Jesus spoke on the Church in John 15 through 17.) Also, the Sermon on the Mount contains no gospel presentation for securing righteousness, as well as no mention of the Holy Spirit, the Church, the body of Christ, or praying in the Lord's name.
So this author just dismisses a command from the Lord Jesus because Jesus is supposedly not talking to the Church age in which we live. The proof? The Holy Spirit or church is not mentioned! What a silly contention! Jesus was talking to the church. It is not left out when He is talking to the church itself! But what else can a Paulinist say?
Then this Paulinist can quote Matt 5:19, and appear he is affirming it, but you already were prepped to understand it does not supposedly apply until we are in the kingdom of heaven, which is supposedly not here yet. So he writes on Matt 5:19:
Our obedience to Christ will determine who is the least or the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Poor Jesus! His words are to be ignored until after our death, but if this author is wrong, Matt 5:20 said that "no one shall enter the kingdom of heaven unless their righteousness exceeds that of the Phariseees." Well, that looks like some behavioral test is applied PRIOR to when we might hope to enter the kingdom. Hence, the author's solution does not work. It actually can ensnare you to take your sin lightly, and find out when it is too late that the 'least-great' issue is not tested inside the "kingdom of heaven," but is tested on this side of the grave.
Link #9: Truth Magazine.
This magazine summarizes the passage in a fairly straightforward manner, and that's it. It says:
No matter how excellent one may be in other respects, whoever willfully disregards even the law's least commandment and teaches others to copy his example will be "least" .... On the other hand, whoever practices and teaches these commandments "according to Christ", shall be called great. One who will break any of the laws, displayed an improper attitude towards divine law. [One must have] True respect to enter this kingdom!
Great! Jesus got a word in edgewise around Paul's interfering doctrine!
Up to this point, I have gone 14 google pages deep, and the above is all you will find. But then hard work paid off and we found someone of good Christian sense finally---
Link #10: Bethel Church of God "Understanding Paul" (Eugene Oregon)
From the first paragraph, you gladly know this is going to expose that rejecting the plain-meaning of Jesus' lesson in favor of Paul is wrong. It reads:
Most church historians admit that the “primitive church” kept the Law of God, the Sabbath, and Holy Days, but disregard these by teaching that Paul was the Apostle who freed the Church from its Jewish cocoon. Accordingly, Christians have now been delivered from the Jewish yoke. There is [supposedly] no need to be concerned about what Jesus or the Apostles said about the law. The law is supposedly “done away.” But the fact is: Nothing could be farther from the truth.
And like I have repeatedly said, Second Peter is not complimentary of Paul at all, but finds fault in that Paul is difficult to understand. (See our page on Second Peter.) The Bethel Church of God similarly writes:
There is a revealing statement by the Apostle Peter regarding Paul’s writings. Peter wrote: “. . . Account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16). We can be certain that if Peter, a contemporary of Paul, said that Paul’s writings were difficult to understand, there is little chance that later theologians disposed to disregard the Law of God would be able to understand them at all.
And as I mentioned above, and explain elsewhere, Jesus does not say the least are in the kingdom in Matt 5:17, and the Bethel Church of God 'gets this' on its own. It likewise explains that it is those in the kingdom who call the Law-loosner "least," rather than the 'least' being in the kingdom. The Bethel Church of God states:
This text does not infer that those who break the commandments and teach men so will be in the kingdom of heaven, but they will be called the least by those who are there.
Then the same article simply quotes Matt 5:19 that the Greatest are those who teach the Law. They then interpret Paul by the clear words of Jesus. So they pit 5:19 against a myriad of Pauline words that speak differently. The article then tells us how to solve each dilemma: "In brief, the writings of the Apostle Paul can be understood in the light of other Scriptures." In other words, clear passages like 5:19 trump any verse of Paul.
Analysis of Top 10 Hits
Here is the answer to how many sites out of 10 do the following:
a. apply Jesus literally --70% -- Links #1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10;
b. dismiss Jesus' words to another dispensation in the past or future -- 10% -- Link #8;
c. emphasize Paul's abrogation of the Law and then ignore or dismiss or contorts Jesus' words such as that the consequence of disobedience to the law is one is still saved - 20% -- Links # 4, #5.
What explains that this verse is read most often just as it reads, despite Paul?
I conclude from this review that this is a verse that Paulinists know they cannot handle. So they ignore it. The field is filled with Biblical literalists because indeed that is what the Reformation stood upon.
Thus, this is a winning argument in any debate with a Paulinist -- we need to point to "greatest" in the kingdom are those who teach the Law. Jesus cannot get more clear than that!
Furthermore, this review reveals a crack that in one case of the 10, the Bethel Church of God saw the problem is caused by putting too much emphasis on Paul. They used 2d Peter to take the gas-pedal off of Paul's words, and put the emphasis back upon those of Jesus. A good start.
This proves to me that the Paulinists' world is beginning to crack. Jesus' words are gradually coming back into focus. How exciting a time. Imagine a world that finds Jesus again and obeys His lessons for life, and does not trample upon His blood by sinful disobedience to His words!
The Battle is the Lord's to Defend Holding Firm on Jesus' Words!
And all those who continue to refuse Jesus's words their meaning by wilful contortions will bear the consequences of God's injunction to obey a special prophet to come spelled out in Deuteronomy 18. Moses explained:
15 `A prophet out of thy midst, out of thy brethren, like to me, doth Yahweh thy God raise up to thee -- unto him ye hearken;
16 according to all that thou didst ask from Jehovah thy God, in Horeb, in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not add to hear the voice of Yahweh my God, and this great fire let me not see any more, and I die not;
17 and Yahweh saith unto me, They have done well that they have spoken;
18 a prophet I raise up to them, out of the midst of their brethren, like to thee; and I have given my words in his mouth, and he hath spoken unto them all that which I command him;
19 and it hath been -- the man who doth not hearken unto My words which he doth speak in My name, I require [it] of him. (YLT translation, repairing "Yahweh" for "Jehovah").
Blessings on Yahweh for His Word! Peter in Acts 3 said this passage applies to Jesus. Thus, God clearly says those who "do not harken to my Words which He speaks in My name" -- those who disobey Jesus' message -- will answer to God for every violation. In other words, God will use Jesus' words as a test of sin.