“Jesus is the most polarizing person in human history.”
My friend Ken said this to me recently, and it has stuck with me ever since. Modern people don’t know where to pigeon-hole Jesus. Was he a good teacher? Was he a religious zealot? Was he God in the flesh? Was he a swindler? Was he even real?
The Jesus of the Gospels made some very serious claims. In light of these claims, C.S. Lewis argued that you can’t brush off Jesus as a good moral guy in the first century. If he did exist and did make these claims, then he either lied about them on purpose, believed something that was crazy, or spoke God’s honest truth.
One of Jesus’ most radical claims can be summarized as:
“What you do with me determines your eternal destiny.”
Let’s look at four examples where Jesus made this claim in the Gospel of Matthew.
(1) You Will Be Separated From God If I Don’t Know You.
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:22-23).
Here Jesus gives us a glimpse of what some people will say to him on the Day of Judgment. We shouldn’t skip over the fact that Jesus is present at the judgment of others, implying that Jesus didn’t have to be judged himself. Jesus also seems to be implying that he is the one judging, which is something only God has the authority to do!
These people did many great things in Jesus’ name, but still didn’t make it into heaven. Why? According to Jesus, it was because he never knew them. Doing many spiritual things in Jesus’ name and calling Jesus “Lord” doesn’t get you into heaven. Jesus must know you on a personal level.
Jesus claimed that if he doesn’t know you, then you will separated from him and from God on the Day of Judgment.
(2) If You Deny Me, I Will Deny You.
“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
We often see the cartoon version of heaven where Peter (Why is it always Peter?) is standing at the pearly gates on a cloud with some kind of ancient book. He looks at what you have done in this ancient book and he then tells you if you get into heaven. Here Jesus paints a much different picture. He stands before the Father as the gatekeeper.
Would it matter if Jesus denied you before the Father if he was just a teacher or a prophet? No, it wouldn’t. The only way it would matter is if Jesus was more than a man. It would only matter if Jesus was the key to getting in.
If Jesus denies you before the Father, it is implied that the Father will deny you from His presence as well.
(3) I Reveal the Father To Whomever I Choose.
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).
There are three audacious claims that Jesus makes here:
(1) All things have been given to me by God.
(2) As the Son, I am the only one who knows the Father.
(3) I reveal the Father to whomever I choose.
Those who heard Jesus (the Jews) believed that God is sovereign and that He would never give “all things” to someone else. Also, they wouldn’t say that only one person truly knows the Father. And they would definitely never say that knowing God depends on one man’s decision to reveal Him. No wonder Jesus was crucified as a blasphemer!
Ironically, Matthew places this passage right before the well-known verse, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (11:28). This shows how radical Jesus’ teachings were. He welcomes all to come to him, but it is his choice to reveal the Father.
We prefer a Matthew 11:28 Jesus instead of a Matthew 11:27 Jesus. We prefer a Jesus who only offers us rest, if we care to receive it. Verses like Matthew 11:27, however, don’t let you classify Jesus like that.
Jesus claimed that you can’t get to the Father unless he shows you the way.
(4) If You Take Care of Me in This Life, I’ll Take Care of You in The Next.
Matthew saves the most sobering teaching for last. Imagine hearing this teaching from the mouth of Jesus:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’” (Matthew 25:31-36).
In the account, the righteous standing before Jesus were confused. They didn’t remember doing these things for Jesus and asked him when these things happened. Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (25:40).
In other words, the sheep and the goats will be separated based on how they treated the least of these and ultimately Jesus. Once again, what you do with Jesus determines whether or not you enter “into eternal punishment” or “into eternal life” (25:46).
Taking Jesus Seriously
In several ways, Jesus claimed that what you do with him determines your eternal destiny. He claimed that if he doesn’t know you, then you won’t be with him forever. He claimed that if you deny him on earth, he will deny you before the Father in heaven. He claimed that you cannot know God unless he shows you the way. Finally, he claimed that if you didn’t take care of him in this life, then he won’t take care of you in the next.
The claims of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew leave us with four options:
(1) Believe that Jesus never said these things.
(2) Believe that Jesus lied, either intentionally or unintentionally.
(3) Believe that Jesus was insane.
(4) Believe that Jesus was telling the truth.
Jesus’ radical claims are very challenging to wrestle with. Many people don’t take his claims seriously at all, even those who believe in him! But if you believe that Jesus made these four claims and believe that he is telling the truth, then that should change everything.
It’s time to take Jesus seriously.