Jesus said this to the religious leaders of His day in Matthew 23:13, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear before we go any further. The term “Kingdom of heaven,” used by Matthew is not referring to heaven. This term is only used in the gospel according to Matthew. Matthew was an astute Jew, who believed and followed the Jewish tradition that it was blasphemous to refer to God by name. All of the other writers of the Gospels plus Paul used the correct term….Kingdom of God. Therefore, Matthew is referring to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God in scripture never refers to heaven.
As I stated in an earlier article concerning this subject, a woe, used by Christ, represents His righteous anger. The term “woe” used by Christ comes from His heart of love that is broken by the stubborn blindness of God’s people. Today the Lord is still angry and heartbroken over this issue.
The real issue in this woe is the Kingdom of God. The Lord said then, and He is saying now, that the religious leaders have shut up the Kingdom of God to those who want to come into the Kingdom. Religious leaders have done so primarily because they themselves do not go into the Kingdom. This may also be because they are not knowledgeable of the Kingdom or they do not want to put their current status in jeopardy. In addition, Jesus scolded the religious leaders who would not allow their congregants who are about to enter, to go into the Kingdom of God.
A clearer understanding of the Kingdom is needed to truly understand this woe. First of all, John the Baptist preached the same sermon over and over. His primary message was, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” John the Baptist was referring to Jesus Christ and since He has come, the Kingdom of God is at hand. When John said repent he was talking about changing your way of thinking because the Kingdom of God is here, Repentance involves a change in attitude about God and sin. Repentance does not arise in man himself, but is the result of God’s mercy leading a person to it. John the Baptist was preparing the way for Christ, who represented the Kingdom of God, by encouraging God’s people to change their way of thinking about religious matters. Today the people of God need to change their way of thinking about what church is all about.
John recorded that there is only one requirement a person must meet in order to see or enter into the Kingdom of God. According to John 3:3-5, that person must be born again. So today, the Lord is saying, the church leaders of our day, have shut up the kingdom to and to those believers who are close to finding and entering into the Kingdom, or should I say, those believers who are close to understanding that their church is not a reflection of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, that the #1 priority of every believer is to seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness. And as a result all that you will ever need will simply be added or given to you. I am a living witness that this is true! The church should be that place where we can seek and find the Kingdom of God. When was the last time you heard a sermon or attended a revival about the Kingdom of God. John the Baptist preached that the Kingdom of God is at hand. But Jesus specifically said in Matthew 12:28 that the Kingdom of God is come unto you. Notice that when Jesus spoke, He did not use the term, Kingdom of heaven.
Because the Kingdom of God has come and is here, Jesus was able to tell the masses in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The church and it’s members are to come to Christ and His Kingdom. Many church members are being worn out by church and they will find rest if they come to the Kingdom of God. The yoke Jesus is referring to is the Kingdom of God which is easy and the burden of it is light.
Jesus said in John 10:10 that He has come to give us life and life more abundantly. He was referring to the Kingdom of God, for when a person seeks and find the truths about the Kingdom, he/she will have life and have it more abundantly. Later on in that same area of passage, Jesus said there is only one shepherd and one sheepfold. He said that he that is a hireling is not the shepherd. and the sheep is not his own. Your Pastor, who is paid with a salary, is not your shepherd or under-shepherd and you do not belong to him/her. In the Kingdom of God, Jesus is the only one we are accountable to because He died for us sheep and once you change your way of thinking, (repent), you will always see yourself as a citizens of the Kingdom and not a member of a local church. Your local church is only the place where you worship God and learn about God’s Kingdom.
As I stated in my most recent published book, the Old Testament gave us the first truth about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is comprised of a Kingdom of Priest which is a holy nation. Now, you may not be a priest and a holy person in the eyes of others, put according to Exodus 19:6, you are to God. In Exodus 19:5 God said if you do this…then I will do that. Jesus Christ has eliminated the if and the then! Peter made it more clearer, in the New Testament when he said believers are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a peculiar people who should show forth the praises of God, who have called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. According to the word in I Peter 2:5, we together make up a spiritual house. God today only dwells in this spiritual house of believers who see themselves this way and see themselves as members of the Kingdom of God. Our responsibility today is to offer to God spiritual sacrifices that are only acceptable to him, which are outlined throughout the teachings about the Kingdom in the New Testament. For example we are to offer God, as members of His Kingdom sacrifices of praise and not just when the choir gets us excited.
Finally, Christ said in Luke 4:43 that He was sent to earth by God to preach the Kingdom of God. Dying on the cross and being raised from the dead was a necessary means to that end. No wonder, Jesus was so angry with the religious leaders of His day and angry with our leaders of today. Jesus sent our His 12 disciples in John 9:1-2 to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God. After Jesus Christ rose from the dead, Acts 1:1-3 tells us that Jesus spent His last 40 days on this earth, “speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” In the passage found in Acts 8:9-12, God reveals that every preacher or leader, should be preaching the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As he said over 2,000 years ago, He is saying now…..woe unto you, if you are not doing so!
Gilbert Owens is a native of Roseboro and writes for the Sampson Independent.