Brett has a great question that I’ve not ever been asked:
I am hoping someone there can help resolve a problem passage that is found in Matt 23:13. In this verse the surface level seems to teach that people who desire to go to heaven can be prevented by unbelievers. How can it be that unbelievers can overpower God’s plan, and some who desire to have a relationship with God not find it because of Satanic religion? I just have to be overlooking something. This just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
Can you please clarify it for me? I spent hours on the internet and can’t find anyone who wants to engage in this verse. Luke 11:52 is apparently a parallel verse to this, but that sheds no more light on this tough text.
I have never seen Matt 23:13 as a problem verse. But Brett raises a valid question. How is it that unbelieving self-righteous legalists hinder people from going into Christ’s kingdom?
In Matt 23:13, the Lord Jesus said, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
I’ve always understood that to mean that those who proclaim a false evangelistic message confuse people and make it harder for them to believe in Jesus for the free gift of everlasting life. But does that accurately explain what it means to “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men” and to not “allow those who are entering to go in”?
In The Grace New Testament Commentary, Haller writes, “As spiritual leaders they are to be the doorkeepers to the kingdom, but they deserve judgment because they block others from gaining a knowledge of the truth (cf. Luke 11:52). The scribes and Pharisees assist Satan in his work of blinding the minds of those who do not believe lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine on them and they would be saved (2 Cor 4:3-4; cf. Matt 13:4, 19; 2 Cor 11:2-3, 13-15)” (“Matthew,” in Vol. 1, p. 105).
Barbieri likewise writes, “Their antagonism toward Jesus had caused many to turn away from Him. Many Jews were looking to their leaders for direction. Their failure to accept Jesus as Messiah had placed a stumbling block in the paths of their countrymen. For this they stood condemned” (“Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 74).
Morris says, “There were people in Galilee and Judea who heard Jesus gladly and were ready to respond to his teaching. But some of them had respect for the scribes and the Pharisees, the respected teachers of Israel, and when these revered leaders tried to discredit Jesus, they believed them. They had been in the process of entering, Jesus says, but the religious leaders stopped them” (Matthew, p. 579).
As I have reflected on this verse, I have come up with an idea that I think fits the context of Matthew 23 better.
Commentators may be wrong in understanding the issue of entrance into the kingdom here to be individual, not corporate. They equate this kingdom entrance to regeneration. However, this entering might be corporate. At the end of this very chapter, Matthew 23, Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often I wanted to gather your children together…but you were not willing” (vv 37-39). I think it likely that Jesus was speaking about the coming of the kingdom for that generation of Jews. Compare Matt 3:2 and 4:17.
Notice the puzzling words, “nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” Who are “those who are entering” (tous eiserchomenous)? It seems likely that those who believed in Jesus for everlasting life are “those who are entering.” If that is right, then the religious leaders of Israel were keeping born-again people from going into the kingdom now. They were not keeping people from being born again. Yes, they made it more difficult for people who regarded them as authoritative. But, they could not keep anyone from believing in Christ. Over 500 came to faith in Jesus during His ministry. Another 3,000 came to faith in Him in Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Anyone in that generation who believed in Him would one day enter the kingdom. But by causing the nation to reject her Messiah, they were not allowing anyone to enter the kingdom at that time (Matt 23:37-39). It is just a dozen years less than two thousand years since the time when the kingdom could have come.
If I am wrong and the issue here is regeneration, then “those who are entering” should be understood as those who are seeking to enter. If that is the correct view, then we must admit that false teachers can only successfully keep people from being born again in cases where those seeking to enter are not diligently seeking. We know from Matt 7:7-11; Acts 17:27; and Heb 11:6 that all who diligently seek Him will find Him.
Great question, Brett.