Robert N. Wilkin
Grace Evangelical Society
Final Destiny1 is a major expansion of Jody Dillow’s earlier work, The Reign of the Servant Kings. Chapters 18-22 deal with the Lord Jesus’ kingdom entry sayings. The author has been a friend of mine for thirty years. He has written for our publications and spoken at our conferences. A mutual friend who has adopted Dillow’s view of the entry sayings recently challenged me to show why that view is mistaken. While I have reflected on Dillow’s view of the entry sayings before, I realized they warranted a more thorough review.
I have chosen six of Dillow’s major points in chaps. 18-22 to illustrate why I believe this portion of Final Destiny misses the mark regarding what the kingdom entry sayings mean. Before we look at those six points, I will first delineate Dillow’s three understandings of the entry sayings.
II. THREE WAYS DILLOW UNDERSTANDS ENTRY SAYINGS
Dillow suggests that when the Lord talks about entering His kingdom, He means three different things. The context in each case determines which of the three meanings is meant.
First, entry sayings can refer to “a call to enter into personal salvation or soteriological entrance into the millennium.”2 We agree on this point.
Second, entry sayings are sometimes “a call to enter a rich life now by following the principles of the Sermon on the Mount.”3 I do not see any examples of this in any of the entry sayings.
Third, the kingdom entry saying can refer to “a call to greatness, that is, an abundant entrance into the kingdom.”4 I do not see this type of entry saying in the NT except in cases where the context specifically mentions a rich entrance, as in 2 Pet 1:5-11.5
I disagree with points two and three. All kingdom entry sayings refer to entering the coming kingdom of Christ.
III. QUESTIONABLE EXEGETICAL SUPPORT #1: BELIEVING FALSE PROPHETS IN MATTHEW 7:16-20, 21-23
Dillow maintains that Matt 7:21-23 refers to believers entering a rich life now. But that depends on showing that the people who prophesied, did miracles, and cast out demons in Jesus’ name were believers.
Dillow is right to see a connection between the false prophets in Matt 7:15-20 and those in Matt 7:22 who prophesied in Jesus’ name but are excluded from entering the kingdom (Matt 7:21, 23). But there is nothing in the context to suggest a shift. If the false prophets in vv 15-20 were unbelievers, then so were those in vv 21-23.
To prove that the false prophets in Matt 7:16-23 were believers, Dillow turns first to the Didache.6 However, Scripture interprets Scripture. The Didache is not Scripture. The writings of the church fathers totally miss the concept of grace.7
For NT support, Dillow turns initially to Titus 1:11, which refers to people who teach false doctrine. Are false teachers the same as false prophets in the OT or NT? The author cited no evidence of this. In addition, he gives no proof that the false teachers of Titus 1:11 are born again. Does the third person plural pronoun them in Titus 1:13 refer to the same people as referred to in vv 11-12? Possibly. If so, it is reasonable to take them as believers. If not, then those in vv 11-12 are most probably unbelievers.
Dillow also turns to Phil 1:15-17 and 2 Cor 2:17, neither of which refers to false teachers or false prophets.
Of course, born-again people can stray from the truth and become false teachers or even false prophets. But what evidence is there that the Lord was speaking of born-again people in Matt 7:15-20 and Matt 7:21-23? I did not see any evidence for that presented in Final Destiny. Barbieri comments on this portion of the Sermon on the Mount:
Those hearing this sermon must have wondered about the religious leaders…Jesus made it clear they were not good for they were leading others astray…They would be refused admission to the kingdom because Jesus had no personal relationship with them (vv. 21, 23).8
I could not find a commentator who suggested that these false prophets were born again.9 That does not prove that Dillow is wrong. However, when combined with lack of contextual support, this is telling. The most reasonable understanding of the entry saying in Matt 7:21-23 is that it concerns entering Jesus’ coming kingdom. This would fall in Dillow’s first category.
IV. QUESTIONABLE EXEGETICAL SUPPORT #2: THE WILL OF THE FATHER IN JOHN 7:17 IS OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST’S TEACHINGS
Another way Dillow supports his view that Matt 7:21-23 refers to believers who have strayed and who have failed to enter a rich life now is to show that “the will of the Father” used in Matt 7:21 refers to obeying God’s commands given in Scripture.10 Dillow suggests that when the Lord Jesus refers to those willing to do His will in John 7:17, he is referring to those willing to obey God.
By contrast, if the will of the Father refers to believing in Jesus, then those excluded from the kingdom would be unbelievers. Which interpretation makes more sense?
John 7:17 uses the expression, “His will.” This refers to the will of God the Father. But that understanding of John 7:17 is inconsistent with Dillow’s Free Grace views. Dillow does not given any explanation of what John 7:17 means, or how his understanding of the will of the Father in that verse would impact its meaning. After quoting it, he writes, “Doing ‘His will,’ in this context, refers to obedience to Christ’s teachings.”11 If so, the Lord was teaching that a willingness to obey God’s commands is a precondition of coming to faith in Christ and being born again.
In John 7:17, the Lord said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” The issue here is doctrine, not practice. If the will of the Father is to believe in His Son, as the Lord already said in John 6:40, then “willing to do His will” here is specifically a willingness to believe in Jesus. Compare John 5:40, “but you are unwilling to come to Me [= unwilling to believe in Me, see John 6:35] that you have life.” The issue here is unwillingness to believe in Jesus, not unwillingness to obey. After all, the legalistic Jews were obviously willing to obey God’s commands.
Brown comments, “Doing God’s will is more than ethical obedience; it involves the acceptance through faith of the whole divine plan of salvation, including Jesus’ work (5:30).”12 Evidently Brown’s Catholicism moved him to bring up ethical obedience, but he clearly sees that the point is believing in Jesus.
Lenski comments, “This will of God is faith on our part. ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he did send,’ John 6:29; compare 6:40.”13
It is true that some commentators see in John 7:17 a requirement of a commitment to good works to believe and be born again. Carson says,“a seeker must be fundamentally committed to doing God’s will [in order to be born again].”14 Borchert writes, “They were work-oriented people (see comments at 6:28–29); so Jesus argued that if they had done God’s work (thelēma autou poiein, ‘do his will’), they would have known that his teaching was from God (7:17).”15 These all reflect the teaching of Lordship Salvation. But Dillow, who disagrees with Lordship Salvation, is nonetheless interpreting the verse in a way that is consistent with Lordship Salvation.
V. QUESTIONABLE EXEGETICAL SUPPORT #3: ENTERING THE KINGDOM IS OFTEN ADOPTING A KINGDOM LIFESTYLE NOW
The passage that Dillow cites first and discusses the most to prove his point is Matt 5:19-20. According to the Lord’s words in v 19, to be called great in the kingdom one must obey and teach God’s commands. Dillow springboards from that to understand entering the kingdom in Matt 5:20 is “to enter into the way of the life of the future kingdom in the present by submitting to the Lordship of Christ.”16
The word your in “your righteousness” in v 20 is plural. One interpretation is that the Lord is speaking of the national salvation of Israel, which requires both repentance and faith.17 The nation will not enter the kingdom until it is a righteous nation. That is clearly taught in many other texts (e.g., Matt 3:2; 4:17; 24:13; Rom 10:13).
The more common understanding is that the Lord is talking about the positional righteousness which all who believe in Jesus need in order to enter the eschatological kingdom. No one will enter Christ’s coming kingdom apart from the imputed righteousness of Christ.
Yet another view is that the Lord is talking about actual personal righteousness which those who believe in Christ will have when they gain glorified bodies.18
But the idea that the Lord is talking about entering a kingdom lifestyle now is foreign to the use of the expression entering the kingdom.19
In Matt 19:23-30, in the aftermath of His encounter with the rich young ruler, the Lord equates entering the kingdom with being saved. He spoke of how difficult it was “for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:24). In answer to the question that followed, “Who then can be saved?” (v 25), the Lord answered, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).
In his section on entering the kingdom, Dillow does not discuss Matt 19:25 or the connection between entering the kingdom and being saved. But he does briefly comment on it in his chapter on the rich young ruler. There he says that the salvation being asked about in Matt 19:25 was the saving of one’s soul as discussed in Matt 16:24- 26.20 That is a dubious conclusion. It involves taking the rich young ruler as already being born again and asking about eternal rewards, not about being in the kingdom. Both of these are highly unlikely. When the disciples ask, “Who then can be saved?” the most natural understanding is that they wonder how anyone can have everlasting life, not how anyone can have fullness of everlasting life.
Dillow understands the ruler’s question about having eternal life (Matt 19:16) to mean that he “wants to be one who ‘has eternal life abiding in him’ (1 Jn. 3:15). He wants a firm grip on it.”21 He also says the ruler may have been a believer.22 But if so, would that be a natural way for a believing first-century Jew to ask about abiding in Christ and about eternal rewards? We are never told that the disciples, who were surely more advanced than this man, asked about having eternal life in any sense, especially not in terms of fullness of life.
I do not find a single case in the NT where entering the kingdom is entering into a kingdom lifestyle now. Nor did Dillow give any examples where it clearly means that.
I found it surprising that in this section Dillow distinguishes between “final salvation” and “initial salvation.”23 Salvation is final when one believes in Christ, if by salvation we mean regeneration (e.g., John 3:16-17; 11:26). There is no such thing as a separate and subsequent final salvation. That is the language of works salvation and Lordship Salvation.
VI. QUESTIONABLE EXEGETICAL SUPPORT #4: THE WORD YOUR IN MATTHEW 5:20 MUST REFER TO SAVED DISCIPLES
As mentioned above, your (humōn) in Matt 5:20 is plural. It could well refer to national Israel. The kingdom will not come, and Israel will not enter it, until all the adults in the nation are both believing and repentant (i.e., in fellowship with God and thus having a greater righteousness than the legalistic observances of the scribes and Pharisees).
Or it might refer to individuals collectively. No one will enter the coming kingdom without the imputed righteousness of Christ.
Or it could even refer to individuals and to their actual righteousness in the life to come. Those from this age who will enter the kingdom will be believers who have been glorified. Their personal righteousness will exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.
Dillow suggests that only the eleven saved disciples are in view.24 Judas is not to understand this as directed at him. Nor are Jesus’ other unsaved disciples in view (cf. John 6:64). Nor are the people in the multitude (Matt 5:1) being addressed.
While that is certainly possible, it is unlikely.
First, there is nothing in the context of Matt 5:20 to indicate that entering the kingdom refers to something that born-again people needed to attain. The most natural understanding would be that the Lord is talking about who will enter the kingdom and who will not.
Second, the word humōn occurs 62 times in Matthew. Rarely does it ever refer specifically to believers.25
Third, in the preceding verse the Lord spoke of those who would be called least in the kingdom of heaven. France comments, “While vv. 17–19 have confronted those who are tempted to set the law aside, v. 20 confronts those who are so preoccupied with its literal observance that they miss the whole point of the fulfillment to which it is pointing.”26 In contrast to His discussion of those who will be least in the coming kingdom, the Lord spoke in v 20 of those who would not be in the kingdom of heaven at all.
Morris understands this righteousness as imputed and sees in the Lord’s words a call to live consistently with one’s new position:
Their righteousness is a given righteousness. Nowhere do we get the idea that the servant of God achieves in his own strength the kind of living that gives him standing before God. But when he is given that standing, Jesus looks to him to live in accordance with that standing.27
Similarly, Barbieri writes:
The righteousness they were currently seeking—that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law—was insufficient for entrance into the kingdom Jesus was offering. The righteousness He demanded was not merely external; it was a true inner righteousness based on faith in God’s Word (Rom. 3:21–22). This is clear from what follows.28
Dillow’s first option fits best here as well.
VII. QUESTIONABLE EXEGETICAL SUPPORT #5: THE KINGDOM IS NOT NOW, YET FAITHFUL BELIEVERS HAVE ALREADY ENTERED IT
I appreciate the fact that Dillow makes a point of rejecting already, not yet eschatology. However, in his discussion of entering the kingdom, Dillow says some believers have already entered it. I realize Dillow thinks entering the kingdom does not actually refer to entering the kingdom, but as entering into a kingdom lifestyle. However, if living that lifestyle is a form of entering the kingdom, and that lifestyle can be lived now, then in some sense the kingdom is now. This is an already, not yet eschatology.
Note this statement by Dillow: “How is it possible that we are in the kingdom now in view of the fact that Jesus and John the Baptist told that global judgment would precede the arrival of the kingdom?”29 Later he adds, “Jesus invites his believing followers to enter the kingdom of heaven.”30
VIII. QUESTIONABLE EXEGETICAL SUPPORT #6: THE WILL OF THE FATHER IN MATTHEW AND JOHN IS PRIMARILY GOOD WORKS
Dillow argues that most of the references to the will of the Father refer to obeying His commands, not to believing in His Son. Even so, he does take John 6:40 as referring to believing in Jesus.
However, far from being rare, a study of that expression shows that nearly every use of the expression the will of the Father refers to believing in Jesus.
Matthew 7:21-23. Most naturally the will of the Father here is to believe in His Son. Notice that the people who are rejected here contend that they have done many mighty works “in Your name.” The Lord does not dispute their claim about works done. Instead, He says that they did not do the will of the Father, and as a result they will be excluded from the kingdom.
Eaton says, “This is not a passage about examining ourselves… Actually the text we have before us quite clearly deals not with ourselves but exclusively with the false prophets! It is ‘You shall know them by their fruits,’ not ‘You shall know yourself by your fruits.’”31 Eaton further says that the will of the Father refers here to believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.32
One of Dillow’s proofs that the will of the Father here refers to obeying His commands is “John 5:30 where the will of God [is] related to doing and not believing.”33 Yet that is not a good comparison. In Matt 7:21-23, the issue is the will of the Father for a human to enter Christ’s kingdom. But in John 5:30, the will of the Father is what He wants His Son to do in His earthly ministry. It is comparing apples and oranges. What Jesus needed to do to fulfill His ministry is far different from what humans need to do to be guaranteed entrance into His kingdom. He had to live a sinless life. We do not. He had to be arrested, beaten, mocked, spat upon, scourged, and killed on the cross. We do not need to do those things to be guaranteed kingdom entrance.
Matthew 12:50. The Lord indicated that His spiritual family is made up of those who do the will of the Father. We do not become children of God by doing good works. We do so by believing in Him (John 1:12).
Matthew 21:31. The will of the father in the story refers to those who said that they would not go into the vineyard to work, but then who changed their minds and went. That might make us think that this verse refers to obeying God’s commands. Yet when the Lord applies the story, He refers to believing in Him, not to obeying God’s commands: “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him” (Matt 21:32, emphasis added).
John 5:39-40. Here the will of the Father is clearly that people believe in His Son for everlasting life. Compare John 6:35, where coming to Jesus is a figure for believing in Him.
IX. PRACTICAL PROBLEMS WITH DILLOW’S INTERPRETATION OF THE ENTRY SAYINGS
There are at least four practical problems with Dillow’s understanding that the entry sayings of the Lord have multiple possible meanings.
Opens the Door to Lordship Salvation. Dillow understands many of the entry saying texts the same way in which Lordship Salvation advocates do, with the exception that he suggests entering the kingdom refers to entering into a kingdom lifestyle or entering into greatness. If someone initially accepts his interpretation and then later becomes convinced that entering the kingdom in these contexts refers to actually entering at all, then the person will likely cease being Free Grace.
Introduces an Unreliable Hermeneutic. If we can understand entering the kingdom to refer to entering a rich life now, then those who adopt this hermeneutic may decide to apply it to other phrases. Maybe reigning with Christ does not refer to future rulership in His kingdom, but to present reigning with Christ in this life. Maybe being Christ’s partners refers not to sharing in His future kingdom rule, but to being His partners now. Maybe being joint heirs with Christ refers not to ruling over cities in the life to come, but to being spiritual rulers in this life.
Might Lead to Assaults on the Free Grace Position. What Dillow does with the kingdom entry sayings does not deal with contexts or parallel texts. Lordship Salvation people would surely say Dillow’s view is untenable. But, of course, they would not restrict their criticism to Dillow, but that his position on the entry sayings illustrates the weakness of the Free Grace position.
Weakens an Otherwise Outstanding Book. Final Destiny is Dillow’s magnum opus. It has 1,060 pages in which he covers all the tough texts in the NT. His discussion of the kingdom entry sayings is inconsistent with the excellent exegetical work done in the rest of the book.34
Dillow presents a different way to explain the kingdom entry sayings. Unfortunately, his creativity is inconsistent with the simple meaning of the passages he is discussing. David Cooper, founder of the Biblical Research Society, famously wrote:
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.35
The kingdom entry sayings make common sense as referring to entering the coming kingdom. All who do the will of the Father, which is to believe in His Son, will enter His eschatological kingdom. The believer has Christ’s righteousness imputed to him and so his righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you will enter His kingdom. You will not enter it in this life, because the kingdom is not yet here. But your future entrance to that glorious kingdom is assured.
1 Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of the Servant Kings, 4th rev. ed. (N.p.: Grace Theology Press, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018).
2 Ibid., 271.
5 If 2 Pet 1:10 is considered an entry saying, then it would be the lone NT example. However, it is not a saying of the Lord Jesus, which is what Dillow is considering, and it does not speak merely of an entrance into the kingdom but a rich entrance into the eternal kingdom. It is the word rich that reveals something more than mere kingdom entrance is in view.
6 Dillow, Final Destiny, 315-16.
7 See Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1948, 1996).
8 Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 34.
9 See, for example, R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 292-95; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 178–81; Craig Blomberg, Matthew (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 132–33.
10 Dillow, Final Destiny, 314.
12 Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John (I–XII) (New York: Doubleday, 1966), 316, emphasis added.
13 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961) 544, emphasis added.
14 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 312.
15 Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 284.
16 Dillow, Final Destiny, 264. See also p. 254.
17 Argued by Brian Vranicar in an unpublished paper for Rocky Mountain Bible Seminary.
18 Dr. Craig Blaising expressed this view to me during a visit we had while discussing my doctoral dissertation. He was one of the three advisors for my dissertation.
19 However, in his book The Way that Leads to Life: The Radical Challenge to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount (Geanies House, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1999), Michael Eaton takes the position Dillow does. Possibly Eaton was the source of Dillow’s newfound view on the kingdom entry sayings (except that Eaton does not suggest that Matt 7:21-23 concerns entering a kingdom lifestyle). Eaton says that in Matt 5:20 Jesus “is speaking of our actual life, the way we live. There is an actual righteousness which far outstrips that of the scribes and Pharisees. If we live in the way Jesus wants, we shall experience the kingdom of God” (p. 63, emphasis his; see also p. 67).
20 Dillow, Final Destiny, 355.
21 Ibid., 349.
22 Ibid., 344.
23 Ibid., 263 (and 285) and 266, respectively.
24 Ibid., 247.
25 The only clear examples in Matthew 5 would be in the Beatitudes, in Matt 5:11, 12, and in the salt and light analogy in Matt 5:16. But then a shift occurs in v 17, and the Lord is giving general remarks in the rest of chap. 5.
26 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 191. France sees the fulfillment in terms of personal righteousness which flows from a proper mindset. However, his comments also are helpful for those who understand v 20 as referring to the believer who receives the imputed righteousness of Christ.
27 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 111. Keener sees the Lord as referring to personal righteousness guaranteed by the new birth (Craig S. Keener, Matthew [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997], s.v. Matt 5:20).
28 Barbieri, “Matthew,” 30, emphasis his.
29 Dillow, Final Destiny, 255, emphasis mine.
30 Ibid., 258.
31 Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life, 191.
32 Ibid., 193, 194.
33 Dillow, Final Destiny, 313.
34 His discussion of repentance and salvation is also inconsistent with the fine exegetical work elsewhere. See the review by Robert N. Wilkin at https://faithalone.org/journalarticles/book-reviews/final-destiny-the-future-reign-of-the-servant-kings/.
35 This citation can be found at bibletruths.org. See https://www.bibletruths.org/the-goldenrule-of-interpretation/. Last accessed December 9, 2020.