Does Matthew 5:19 teach that law breakers will be in heaven?

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By BibleAsk Team


To understand Matthew 5:19 and its implications regarding salvation and law-keeping, it’s crucial to examine the verse within its broader biblical context, as well as considering various theological perspectives and interpretations. This exploration will delve into the text of Matthew 5:19, its surrounding verses and theological implications, particularly focusing on whether it teaches that law-breakers will be in heaven, according to the Word of God.

Biblical Context: Matthew 5:19 (NKJV)

Matthew 5:19 states: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

This verse is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where He delivers teachings on various aspects of Christian living and the kingdom of God. In this particular verse, Jesus addresses the importance of obeying God’s commandments and the consequences for those who either keep or break them.

Interpretation:

  1. Importance of Commandments: Jesus begins by emphasizing the significance of God’s commandments. He does not nullify or abolish the Law but rather fulfills it (Matthew 5:17). Therefore, His teachings should be seen as building upon the foundation of the Law rather than contradicting it.
  2. Consequences of Breaking Commandments: Jesus acknowledges that there are consequences for breaking even the least of God’s commandments. However, the nature of these consequences is debated among theologians. Some interpret this to mean that those who habitually break God’s commandments and lead others astray will have a diminished status in the kingdom of heaven, while others suggest that it may imply exclusion from the kingdom altogether.
  3. Role of Teaching: Jesus also addresses the role of teaching in relation to commandment-keeping. Those who not only obey God’s commandments but also teach others to do so will be esteemed highly in the kingdom of heaven. This highlights the importance of discipleship and passing on the teachings of Jesus to others.

Misunderstanding:

Some believe that this verse says that a person called the “least” will still be in the kingdom of heaven. But if we read the next verse we will have a better understanding of the context. “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20, NKJV).

Here, Christ in no way implied that one, who broke the commandments and taught others to do so would go to heaven. Rather, he clearly shows the attitude that the kingdom will take toward lawbreakers—the evaluation that will be placed upon their characters. This point is made clear in verse 20, where the “scribes and Pharisees,” who broke the commandments and taught others how they might do so, will be excluded from the kingdom.

The religious leaders loved the appearance of keeping God’s law but they did not keep it from the heart. They put burdens on the people that they themselves did not keep (Matthew 23:4). Jesus rebuked them “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—[a]the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do” (Mark 7:8, NKJV).

Jesus made it clear that, far from releasing men from the precepts of the moral law, He was even more strict than the official leaders of the law, the scribes and rabbis, for He granted no exceptions at any time. All commandments were equally and permanently binding for all believers in all ages. Christ set forth six specific examples in the Sermon of the Mount that make a clear the distinction between outward acts and the motives that prompt them. For example: He regarded anger without a cause or hate to be the same as murder and lust in the heart as adultery.

Theological Implications:

  1. Salvation by Grace: The interpretation of Matthew 5:19 must be understood within the broader framework of salvation by grace through faith. While obedience to God’s commandments is important for believers, it does not serve as the basis for salvation, which is a gift received through faith in Jesus Christ. Obedience to the law doesn’t bring salvation but is simply the fruit of it (Romans 3:31). 
  2. Discipleship and Teaching: The verse underscores the importance of discipleship and teaching within the Christian community. Believers are called not only to obey God’s commandments themselves but also to teach others to do the same.
  3. Warning Against Legalism: Matthew 5:19 serves as a warning against legalism and self-righteousness. While obedience to God’s commandments is important, it must be motivated by love for God and others rather than a desire for self-justification.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, Matthew 5:19 presents a teaching by Jesus regarding the importance of obedience to God’s commandments and the consequences for those who break them. This verse emphasizes the significance of moral obedience for believers and the role of teaching in passing on the teachings of Jesus.

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

Categories Law

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