Jesus—His Life and Message: The Sermon on the Mount

November 1, 2016

by Peter Amsterdam

Four Sketches (Part 1)

Jesus’ teaching about the Golden Rule concludes His discourse on discipleship within the Sermon on the Mount. The wrap-up to the Sermon in the second half of chapter 7 consists of four short sketches; these express the right response to what He has taught throughout the Sermon, and warn of the consequences for failing to respond. Each example contrasts the right and wrong responses to motivate the hearers to make the right choice. Jesus makes His point with a number of paired alternatives—two paths, two trees, two claims, and two houses. Through these pairs He makes the point that there are two ways, and only two. As we’ll see, choosing one way results in life, good fruit, entrance into the kingdom of heaven, and stability. The other way ends in destruction, bad fruit, exclusion from the kingdom, and ruin.1

The first of the pairs says:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.2

In this illustration, two imaginary gates and roads are contrasted in their character (broad and narrow), in their popularity (followed by many or by few), and in their destination (destruction and life). Jesus uses the contrasts between the two roads to simply, clearly, and strongly point out the gravity of the choice—it determines one’s salvation and eternal future. We see similarities with Old Testament teaching in the choice of two ways:

Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.3 I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today.4

Jesus clearly put forth two options to those who have heard the Sermon: life or destruction. The question is whether one will go through the wide gate and walk the broad path with the crowd, or be one of the few who find the small gate and the narrow road that leads to life. The broad, well-traveled path, the one the majority of people choose without much thought about where it leads, ends in destruction. The narrow, less traveled, less popular road leads to a destination Jesus calls life.

In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, it is evident that the road which leads to life is more difficult than the other. It restricts and confines those on that path to what Scripture teaches as far as being godly, living right, obeying and glorifying God. The revealed truth of the Bible sets limits on what Christians may believe and how they may act, while teaching how to live in a manner which creates good relationships with others, and most importantly with God. The small gate and the narrow path are less obvious, as few find them. The difficulty of walking the narrow path is reflected elsewhere, such as when Jesus said:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.5 

The door or gate to the narrow road is Jesus. He said of Himself:

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.6

In some Bible translations, door is translated as gate.7 Jesus also said:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.8

John Stott commented on the wide gate and broad way:

Jesus taught that the easy way, entered by the wide gate, leads to destruction. He did not define what he meant by this, and presumably the precise nature of hell is as much beyond our finite understanding as the precise nature of heaven. But the terrible word ‘destruction’ (terrible because God is properly the Creator, not the Destroyer, and because man was created to live, not to die) seems at least to give us liberty to say that everything good will be destroyed in hell—love and loveliness, beauty and truth, joy, peace and hope—and that forever. It is a prospect too awful to contemplate without tears.9

The impression is that people make a choice about which gate they enter and which path they take. In this context, this seems to indicate that they aren’t ignorant or unaware that they are making a choice. As such, this picture seems to relate only to those who have had the opportunity of making a decision for or against Christ, while not addressing those who have never heard of Him or His message.

Jesus makes the point that individuals are faced with a choice to accept Him or reject Him. There are two gates, two paths, two groups, and two destinations. There’s no middle ground. This doesn’t mean that believers are to develop an attitude of superiority or to condemn others; rather, it should cause us to lovingly share the gospel and be an example of living its message. The message Jesus gives here and in the rest of the closing of the Sermon makes it clear that individuals make a choice as to which path they take; and as much as one may believe that the choice doesn’t matter, Jesus says it does, and the difference between the two options is massively important.

In the second of the four sketches, Jesus warns about false prophets/teachers/leaders.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.10

Throughout the Old Testament God spoke to Israel through true prophets, and their messages were often of warning and coming judgment. There were also false prophets who gave messages which were untrue, designed to please the hearers.

An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so …11 From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit …12 Among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness. ... This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.”13

Jesus warns against those who claim to speak the words of the Lord, but do so falsely, be they prophets, teachers, or leaders. There’s no way to know whether Jesus had a specific group of people in mind when He spoke these words, but the warning proved to be needed, as false teachers arose in the early church. The apostle Peter wrote:

False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.14 

The apostle Paul wrote:

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.15 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.16

As both Peter and Paul pointed out, Christians need to be aware that, sadly, there are some teachers and leaders who falsely claim to teach truth but lead others astray. There are religious leaders who put on a front in order to deceive others so as to further their own interests. Jesus describes them as those who disguise themselves as sheep but whose inner character is like ravenous wolves. He clearly states that such people exist and warns His followers to beware of them, and follows up with instruction on how to recognize them—by their fruits.

He first uses a metaphor of gathering grapes from thorn bushes and figs from thistles. We know that fruits such as grapes and figs don’t come from plants with thorns. He then moves on to trees, making the point that trees produce only the kind of fruit which reflects their basic character; an unhealthy, diseased tree produces inferior quality, bad fruit, while a healthy one brings forth good fruit.

What is the good fruit that Jesus is speaking about? The fruit has to do with conforming to what He has taught throughout the Sermon. It’s righteousness, holiness, humility, trusting the Father, coming to Him in prayer, obedience to Jesus’ words, love, generosity, doing away with hypocrisy, etc. It’s living, believing and teaching in a manner which aligns with the teachings of Jesus, of Scripture, which demonstrates true allegiance to God. It’s true discipleship.

False prophets, teachers, or leaders reveal themselves through their beliefs, character, and conduct. If they don’t teach what Scripture teaches, if they don’t exhibit the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control17and if they don’t reflect the nature and character of Christ, then no matter how well they teach or lead, it’s legitimate to question whether they are a good tree or not. Of course, no one is perfect, and we all fall short of the mark, but mistakes are not what Jesus is talking about here. He’s specifically addressing how to recognize those who, while professing to love Him, believe in Him, and represent Him to others, are in fact wolves in sheep’s clothing. As He said elsewhere:

Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.18

It’s rather sobering to read that false prophets, teachers, and leaders who bear bad fruit (because of their wrong motives, and not practicing what they preach and teach) are like trees which don’t bear good fruit and therefore get cut down and thrown into the fire. It certainly is a serious warning to all of us to walk the walk in our faith rather than to just talk the talk. As followers of Jesus we are responsible to know, believe, and live Christ’s teachings, and this is especially true of those of us who teach and lead others in the faith. 


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

Bailey, Kenneth E. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Biven, David. New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus. Holland: En-Gedi Resource Center, 2007.

Bock, Darrell L. Jesus According to Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 1: 1:1–9:50. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1994.

Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996.

Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Carson, D. A. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987.

Charlesworth, James H., ed. Jesus’ Jewishness, Exploring the Place of Jesus Within Early Judaism. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997.

Chilton, Bruce, and Craig A. Evans, eds. Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. Boston: Koninklijke Brill, 1999.

Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.

Elwell, Walter A., ed. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Elwell, Walter A., and Robert W. Yarbrough. Encountering the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Evans, Craig A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27–16:20. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.

Evans, Craig A., and N. T. Wright. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Flusser, David. Jesus. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1998.

Flusser, David, and R. Steven Notely. The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Gnilka, Joachim. Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.

Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.

Green, Joel B., and Scot McKnight, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Guelich, Robert A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 1–8:26. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989.

Jeremias, Joachim. The Eucharistic Words of Jesus. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990.

Jeremias, Joachim. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1996.

Jeremias, Joachim. Jesus and the Message of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

Jeremias, Joachim. New Testament Theology. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.

Jeremias, Joachim. The Prayers of Jesus. Norwich: SCM Press, 1977.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 1. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.

Lewis, Gordon R., and Bruce A. Demarest. Integrative Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.

Manson, T. W. The Sayings of Jesus. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957.

Manson, T. W. The Teaching of Jesus. Cambridge: University Press, 1967.

McKnight, Scot. Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

Michaels, J. Ramsey. The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Milne, Bruce. The Message of John. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960.

Pentecost, J. Dwight. The Words & Works of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Sanders, E. P. Jesus and Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

Sheen, Fulton J. Life of Christ. New York: Doubleday, 1958.

Spangler, Ann, and Lois Tverberg. Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Stassen, Glen H., and David P. Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003.

Stein, Robert H. Jesus the Messiah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Stein, Robert H. The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, Revised Edition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978.

Talbert, Charles H. Reading the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.

Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Witherington III, Ben. The Christology of Jesus. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.

Witherington III, Ben. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.

Wood, D. R. W., I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, and D. J. Wiseman, eds. New Bible Dictionary. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Wright, N. T. After You Believe. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2010.

Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996.

Wright, N. T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Yancey, Philip. The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

Young, Brad H. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.

1 Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World, 129–30.

2 Matthew 7:13–14 NAU.

3 Jeremiah 21:8.

4 Deuteronomy 11:26–28.

5 Mark 10:25.

6 John 10:9.


8 John 14:6.

9 Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount.

10 Matthew 7:15–20.

11 Jeremiah 5:30–31.

12 Jeremiah 6:13 NIV.

13 Jeremiah 23:14,16 NIV.

14 2 Peter 2:1–3.

15 Acts 20:29–30.

16 Titus 1:10–11.

17 Galatians 5:22–23.

18 Matthew 12:33–34.