Could you please explain Matthew 5:19 where Christ says that certain people will be “least” in God’s Kingdom. Will they be in the Kingdom or not?


Here are Christ’s words, in context, quoted from Matthew 5:17-19:

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 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.”

First, we would recommend that you read or re-read our Q&A on the issue as to what Christ meant with His statement that He came to fulfill the Law. We point out that Christ did NOT come to abolish the Law—referring to the spiritual Law of the Ten Commandments and the statutes and judgments which explain the Law. Rather, He came to magnify the Law and fill it up with its intended spiritual meaning.

But what did Christ mean when He said that those who break one of God’s least commandments and teach men to do likewise will be called least in the Kingdom?

Literally, the wording is: “least shall be called in the kingdom of heaven…”

In other words, those in the Kingdom of God will call them “least.” The Kingdom of God is the Family of God. So, the Family of God will call someone least who practiced and taught the abrogation of the Law—although he knew better. This is not to be understood in the sense that he will be in the Family, but that in the Family, he is viewed as the least. In fact, as there are many who teach the abolishment of God’s Law, all of them would have to fall into the category of “least.” If they were all in God’s Kingdom, then they would all be “least” in the Kingdom. But only one could be “least” among all the others. Rather, as we will see, he will not enter the Kingdom or Family of God, but Christ explained that the Family of God will look down on such a person as being the least of all teachers. This conclusion also follows from Matthew 5:20, where Christ says that we will NOT enter the Kingdom of God if our righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees.

Many commentaries agree with this understanding.

Vine, “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,” explains that “called the least” describes an estimation of the person. He will be the least-esteemed or regarded as the least.

The New Jerusalem Bible states that he “will be considered the least…” The German Pattloch Bible translates that he will be viewed as the least.

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible points out that “he shall not be in the least esteemed, but shall be cast out as a worthless man… he shall not enter [the Kingdom]…”

The Geneva Study Bible adds:

“[Christ] begins with the true expounding of the Law, and sets it against the old (but yet false) teachings of the scribes: He is in no way abolishing the least commandment of his Father. [The one who teaches against it] shall have no place [in the Kingdom].”

Matthew Poole’s Commentary points out:

“Whosoever shall in his practice violate but one of the commandments of God, which the Pharisees judge of the least, and which possibl[y] are so compared with others, and shall teach men that they may do as he doth, making such false interpretations of the law as may warrant such a practice, he shall be accounted of the least value and esteem… and shall never come into the kingdom of glory…”

This commentary makes an interesting and important point. It explains that Christ is addressing the PRACTICE of living and teaching wrong things—not an occasional slip-up. As we will see, this practice must be fully understood; that is, the person doing and teaching wrong things knows better; he does it willfully and in complete rejection of God’s Word.

As Christ continues to point out in Matthew 5:21-30, the Pharisees might have taught that it was wrong to kill, but Christ went much further and explained that it was already wrong to hate—and the Pharisees had most certainly a big problem with THAT understanding. Some might want to conclude and teach that the commandment against hate would be one of the “least” of God’s commandments, if at all. But Christ responds by saying that no one will enter the Kingdom of God with that kind of a perception and conduct. Paul later lists hatred as a deed of the flesh, excluding one from entry into the Kingdom (Galatians 5:19-21, especially verse 20).

Some might say that persons violating and teaching against God’s Law will be in the Kingdom, but that they will have a lesser reward than others. But Christ did not say that they will be called “lesser” or that they will have a “lesser” reward; rather, He declared that they will be called “least” or, as some put it, “THE least” by comparison.

Such a person won’t be there; he is going to be looked down upon and esteemed by the Kingdom of God—the Family of God—as the least… or less than nothing. If we are not trustworthy in the least, we will not be given the true riches (Luke 16:10-13).

What Christ is talking about is a wrong Way of Life—a continuing practice of sin and rebellion against God. Unless somebody repents of such conduct, He will not enter the Kingdom of God. God will not allow willful rebels to become part of His Family. Christ is referring to persons who commit the unpardonable sin by rejecting God’s Law—including commandments which are regarded by them as less important—and who teach men to behave likewise (Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26-31).

For example, some may think that it does not matter to God whether we observe the Fourth Commandment and keep the weekly Sabbath (from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset), and that we can worship Him instead on Sunday or just about any day—or no day in particular. If someone is ignorant about these matters, then God will forgive him upon repentance. But Christ is warning us that once we understand the truth and subsequently fall away from it, practicing evil and teaching men so, we will never enter the Kingdom of God.

(For more information on the unpardonable sin, please read our free booklet, “Do We Have an Immortal Soul?,” pages 28-36.)

Even though Christ addresses in Matthew 5:19 mainly those who sin willfully against God, it is also true that as long as people—especially “ministers”—practice sin and give man a “license” to sin by their wrong teaching, they will not enter the Kingdom, until they repent of it and live and teach God’s Way of Life. But they can be led to repentance (while those who commit the unpardonable sin have fallen away from the truth which they had understood, and refuse irrevocably to repent). But even after repentance, belief, proper baptism and receipt of the Holy Spirit, God’s true disciples will still slip up in word and deed.

When generally living and teaching the truth, they will again obtain justification and forgiveness for their sins upon repentance (1 John 1:5-10). So, Christ was not referring to a person in Matthew 5:19 who does not know the truth, or if he does, who sins occasionally in deed or in word (James 3:2, 5-6, 8, 10). Rather, He is addressing people who knew the truth and fell away from it, never willing to return to God. And He says that God’s people will “call” or “esteem” those as the very least.

1 Corinthians 6:4 explains too that outside judges are ESTEEMED “least” by the Church. Also, Luke 16:15 states that “what is highly ESTEEMED among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Finally, kings of the Gentiles and world authorities are “CALLED” benefactors (Luke 22:25), but they are not viewed in such way by God (compare verse 26). But Christ’s disciples will be great in the Kingdom, even though they are “called” least today (Luke 9:48).

Some may look at Christ’s statements about John the Baptist and conclude that those who teach against the Law will be in the Kingdom, even though they might be called least. But this is not what Christ meant. Christ said that there was no greater prophet than John the Baptist, but that the one who is least IN the Kingdom will be greater than he (Luke 7:28; Matthew 11:11). That is, as long as John was in the flesh, anyone in the Kingdom—even if looked on as least—will be greater than the human being, John the Baptist. This is the case as everyone entering the Kingdom will be a Spirit being and an immortal member of the God Family. Here, Christ is just drawing a comparison: Anyone in the flesh, including the greatest of all prophets, will not be as great as the “least” immortal member in God’s Kingdom.

But John the Baptist will be in God’s Kingdom too, and he will not be the least of the least, below every other member in God’s Family. He was the “Elijah” to come to prepare the people for Christ’s first coming. He was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. To conclude that he would be the least of all in God’s Kingdom—less than the least—would truly be ludicrous. In addition, this passage cannot be used to conclude that the ones who teach against God’s Law and encourage people to do likewise will still be, as the least, IN the Kingdom.

In our free booklet, “Is That In the Bible? The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation,” we explain who will not be in the Kingdom of God. We say in Chapter 26 (“Outside Are Dogs and Sorcerers”):

“Revelation 22:14–15 states the following: ‘(14) Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. (15) But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.’

“This passage describes a time AFTER the heavenly Jerusalem has descended to earth (described in Revelation 21)—AFTER ‘anyone not found in the Book of Life’ had been ‘cast into the lake of fire’ (Revelation 20:15). ‘Death and Hades,’ that is, all physical humans not written in the Book of Life, had already been ‘cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death’ (Revelation 20:14).

“Revelation 22:19 adds that ‘if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book [better: Tree] of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.’…”

“… we read in an earlier passage, in Revelation 21:8, that those who have committed the unpardonable sin will have been thrown into the lake of fire, to be burned up and destroyed. [Revelation 21:8 reads: ‘But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.’]

“The lists of sins in Revelation 21:8 and Revelation 22:15 are very similar, indicating that these passages address the same kinds of people…”

We see that those who take away from God’s Word in deed and word (“whoever loves and practices a lie” and “all liars”) will NOT be in the Kingdom of God. God does not say that they will be there, but just as the least. Continuing:

“The Commentary on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, states: ‘As all the filth of the old Jerusalem was carried outside the walls and burnt there, so nothing defiled shall enter the heavenly city, but be burnt outside (cf. ch. 22:15).’

“The Broadman Bible Commentary explains Revelation 22:15, as follows: ‘The blessedness of the righteous is seen more clearly in John’s contrast with those outside. Outside does not mean that the wicked are milling around the exterior of the walls of the holy city. It means that they will never be inside the city; they are [or better: were cast into] the lake of fire (20:15). The term could have some reference to life in the present world; the righteous already know a habitation with God; the wicked are already outside.’

“In fact, the Bible speaks repeatedly about those who are ‘outside’—who are not a part of the Church. We read in 1 Corinthians 5:12–13: ‘For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore put away from yourselves the evil person.’ Compare, too, Colossians 4:5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:12.

“The Greek word for ‘outside,’ ‘exo,’ which is used in those passages and in Revelation 22:15, can also mean ‘without.’ In Matthew 13:47–48, it is translated as, ‘away’: ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to the shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad AWAY.’

“The meaning is clear: Those who are ‘bad’—those who practice the sins described in Revelation 22:15, as a way of life, without a willingness to repent—will be ‘outside’ or ‘without’ or ‘away from’ the holy city and the Kingdom of God. Many Scriptures show that those people will not inherit or enter the Kingdom (compare 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Galatians 5:19–21; and Ephesians 5:5). Note that the lists of sins, as set forth in 1 Corinthians, Galatians and Ephesians, are very similar to the sins mentioned in Revelation 21:8 and 22:15, including sexual immorality, idolatry, sorcery and murders. All of these lists address the same kinds of people.”

We need to remember that sin is the transgression of God’s Law (1 John 3:4, Authorized Version). All the Scriptures, quoted above, list different categories of sin—all in violation of God’s Law—and those who practice these things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. In addition, those who teach those things to others—that it is alright to behave in that way—will not inherit the Kingdom of God either. Especially the list in Galatians 5:19-21 addresses sinful teaching—sins which one commits with his mouth, including dissensions and heresies. To preach that we do not have to keep the Law today is heretical. And Paul says very clearly that those who engage in such teaching will not be in God’s Kingdom. Continuing:

“Christ said in Luke 13:28: ‘There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out [and thrown into the lake of fire, compare Matthew 13:41–42].’…

“Moffat translates Revelation 22:15 in this way: ‘Begone, you dogs, you sorcerers, you vicious creatures, you murderers, you idolaters, you who love and practice falsehood, every one of you.’ Other translations render the Greek word ‘exo’ (i.e., ‘outside’ or ‘without,’) as ‘excluded.’ Those who refuse to repent will be EXCLUDED from access to the Kingdom of God and the holy city. They will be destroyed in the lake of fire, which is the second and final death, from which there is no resurrection back to life.”

Those who commit the unpardonable sin will not be in God’s Kingdom, but they will be burned up. Remember that the examples of wrongful conduct include liars—those who teach wrong things, including the false doctrine that Christ did away with the Law, and that we are under no obligation to keep it. 1 John 2:4 explains that the one “who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Those who willfully practice the way of sin by rejecting God’s Law and teach men to violate God’s Law will not be in God’s Kingdom. They will be outside or excluded. In the Kingdom or Family of God, those people will be called or esteemed least, as everyone committing the unpardonable sin is viewed by God and His Family as the least of all people.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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