How does one go about qualifying for the Kingdom?
We know righteousness is going to be a key factor so we’ll start there.
The definition of righteousness is the quality of being morally right or justifiable. Acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin.
Righteousness in our Church Age is obvious. We’re declared so by simple faith in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. This is because we’re indwelt, sealed by the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing our redemption. God, therefore, sees us in our future state, not as the sin-committing people we are currently.
What about being blameless? Blameless is found 47 times in the (NASB) Bible: 36 in the OT, 11 in the NT. Again, we understand our age, but 36 times in the OT? What’s that about?
How were the OT saints declared blameless when Jesus hadn’t even died yet? Was it by looking forward to His death on the cross as most Evangelicals believe today? Or was it something else?
Reminder: Just as important as understanding these terms is the need to always keep in mind who’s being spoken to and what time frame’s being spoken of. Context matters, folks!
So let’s take a look into the OT and see what God says about the righteous, the blameless, the upright in heart.
Take your time in reading these!
Regarding Abel, Hebrews 11:4 4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.
Genesis 6:9 These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.
Genesis 7:1 Then the Lord said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.
And why was Noah declared righteous? Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
Genesis 17:1 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless.”
And how could Abraham be blameless? Hebrews 11:8 8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.
Now for OT examples of Israel under the Law.
Deut. 10:16-21. Here’s 16. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. And 11:1 “You shall therefore love the Lord your God, and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments. Also 11:13-32.
Deuteronomy 18:13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God.
Psalm 4:3-5 3 But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him. 4 Tremble, and do not sin; meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. 5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord.
Psalm 7:8-12 8 The Lord judges the peoples; vindicate me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.
9 O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous; for the righteous God tries the hearts and minds. 10 My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart. 11 God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. 12 If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready.
Psalm 18:20-27 20 The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all His ordinances were before me,
And I did not put away His statutes from me.
23 I was also blameless with Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity.
24 Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes. 25 With the kind You show Yourself kind; with the blameless You show Yourself blameless;
26 With the pure You show Yourself pure, and with the crooked You show Yourself astute.
27 For You save an afflicted people, but haughty eyes You abase.
Psalm 24:3-6 3 Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.
5 He shall receive a blessing from the Lord
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6 This is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face— even Jacob.
Psalm 32:11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.
Psalm 34:11-22 11 Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. 15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry. [And on through v.22]
Psalm 37:16-22 16 Better is the little of the righteous
Than the abundance of many wicked. 17 For the arms of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord sustains the righteous.
18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
And their inheritance will be forever.
19 They will not be ashamed in the time of evil,
And in the days of famine they will have abundance.
20 But the wicked will perish; and the enemies of the Lord will be like the glory of the pastures, they vanish—like smoke they vanish away. 21 The wicked borrows and does not pay back, But the righteous is gracious and gives.
22 For those blessed by Him will inherit the land,
But those cursed by Him will be cut off.
Psalm 37:27-34 27 Depart from evil and do good,
So you will abide forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice and does not forsake His godly ones; they are preserved forever, but the descendants of the wicked will be cut off.
29 The righteous will inherit the land
And dwell in it forever.
30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
And his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
His steps do not slip.
32 The wicked spies upon the righteous and seeks to kill him. 33 The Lord will not leave him in his hand
Or let him be condemned when he is judged.
34 Wait for the Lord and keep His way,
And He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.
Psalm 51:16-17 16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
Psalm 106:3 How blessed are those who keep justice, who practice righteousness at all times!
Psalm 119:1-8 How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.
2 How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart.
3 They also do no unrighteousness; they walk in His ways.
4 You have ordained Your precepts, that we should keep them diligently.
5 Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes!
6 Then I shall not be ashamed when I look upon all Your commandments.
7 I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments.
8 I shall keep Your statutes; do not forsake me utterly!
Psalm 119: all of it!
Psalm 125:4-5 4Do good, O Lord, to those who are good and to those who are upright in their hearts. 5 But as for those who turn aside to their crooked ways, the Lord will lead them away with the doers of iniquity. Peace be upon Israel.
Isaiah 3:10 Say to the righteous that it will go well with them, for they will eat the fruit of their actions.
All of Ezekiel 18. Here’s part:
5 “But if a man is righteous and practices justice and righteousness, 6 and does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period— 7 if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing, 8 if he does not lend money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity and executes true justice between man and man, 9 if he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully—he is righteous and will surely live,” declares the Lord God.
30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord God. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. 31 Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.”
Ezekiel 33:10-20 Here’s 18. When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, then he shall die in it.
Hosea 6:6; 10:12-13; 12:6
Hosea 14:9 Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them.
Micah 6:6-8 With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves?
7 Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Habakkuk 2:4 “Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith.
In the Tribulation Zephaniah 2:3 Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who have carried out His ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.
Still in the Tribulation Zephaniah 3:12-13 “But I will leave among you a humble and lowly people, and they will take refuge in the name of the Lord. 13 “The remnant of Israel will do no wrong and tell no lies, nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths; for they will feed and lie down with no one to make them tremble.”
Zechariah 7:8-10 8 Then the word of the Lord came to Zechariah saying, 9 “Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; 10 and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’
Zechariah 8:16-17 16 These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. 17 Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,’ declares the Lord.”
Malachi 3:18 18 So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. [The whole book of Malachi focuses on this.]
So what have you just seen? Examples of Old Testament folks declared righteous/blameless/upright in heart due to faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus? Is that what you saw?
Or did you see faith in the Father shown by obedience to His directives; outward actions of love demonstrating internal love? Don’t go by what your commentaries say — what did you see??
There are so many references in the Old Testament that I cannot possibly get them all. I’ve skipped over 2/3rds of the OT books and I already have pages of passages!
So instead of showing you more, I’d like to close out this section on the OT references with this: Deuteronomy is a great place to go to see the connection between being righteous, blameless, and upright in heart and what God was requiring from Israel under the Law. It rehashes Israel’s past, it talks about their entry into the Promised Land, it talks about their future. At each juncture, the same requirements are given.
Entry into the land. Deut. 6:5-7, 17-18, 25; 7:9-11. Here’s 6:5-6 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 17-18 17 You should diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you. 18 You shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may be well with you and that you may go in and possess the good land which the Lord swore to give your fathers, 25 It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us. 7:9-11 also. [Also Ezekiel 20:16 shows that the problem was ‘their heart continually went after the idols.’]
Key chapters: 10 and 11. Here’s 10:12-13 12 “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?
That just summed up everything in two verses.
And if Israel doesn’t do the above, then, among other things, they’ll be exiled. We know they didn’t obey Deut. 10:12-13 so off they went into captivity.
Do they want to be returned to their land? Then Deut. 30:1-14. Here’s 1-3 and 6-10: “So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, 2 and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons,3 then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.
6 “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. 7 The Lord your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. 8 And you shall again obey the Lord, and observe all His commandments which I command you today. 9 Then the Lord your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; 10 if you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. [Please open your Bible and read the entire passage.]
Are you seeing it?
It’ll be the same thing during the future Tribulation for them to enter the (postponed) Kingdom as we saw back in Zephaniah.
So once again, key concept for Israel in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 10:12-13 12 “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?
Now for the New
So the OT closes and we open the New Testament. Does the Lord no longer hold Israel to the above-mentioned standards? Do different rules apply now?
John the Baptist. Matthew 3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And 8 Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And 10 The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
My paraphrasing of John is: Okay, Israel. Time’s up. The Kingdom is just around the corner. Repent. And if you’ve repented, SHOW it!
Jesus tells them the same thing.
The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best way to show this, so that’s all we’re going to use for this article. You can find many other passages where Jesus spoke on this same subject if you’ll just look.
Let’s remind ourselves of the context.
Remember, the timing of the Sermon on the Mount is early in Jesus’ ministry to Israel. This isn’t Tribulation talk after His rejection. He’s explaining how to enter the Kingdom that He’s saying is at hand. The Kingdom is coming! Prepare! Get ready — Israel!
Specific context is found in the end of chapter 4. 23 Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. 24 The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. 25 Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.
What follows next in Matthew 5-7 is that very same gospel mentioned in 4:23 — how to qualify for that Kingdom!
Matthew 5:1-12 The Beatitudes
All these traits/behaviors/actions…
poor in spirit, mourn, gentle, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, reviled/persecuted, speak evil of you
…are demonstrations of what’s on the inside.
get the Kingdom, comforted, inherit the earth, satisfied, receive mercy, shall see God, sons of God, get the Kingdom, reward is great
…obviously, entrance into the Kingdom.
These first 12 verses show the requirements that form the foundation for the entire Sermon that follows.
If you read the previous OT passages quoted above, these traits/behaviors/actions should sound very familiar!
Isaiah 56:1-2 Thus says the Lord,
“Preserve justice and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come
And My righteousness to be revealed.
2 “How blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who takes hold of it;
Who keeps from profaning the sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
13. You, blessed people of Israel, are the salt. But you must maintain that saltiness.
14-16. You, blessed people of Israel, are the light. Give light, shine so that others may see your work and glorify God.
Now we get into the hard stuff.
17-19. This is key. We know Jesus fulfilled the Law by keeping it perfectly so the Father would accept His sacrifice on behalf of all who believe, but that’s not the meaning of this passage.
17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
He’s speaking of keeping commandments in the Kingdom! The Kingdom of Heaven, the Millennium, is the Kingdom that was at hand. It is NOT the Church Age in any way, shape or form! It is the Kingdom that the Jews had been waiting for. In that Kingdom – whether it came shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection (if they would have accepted Him as King) or whether it was to be postponed (if they rejected Him, which they did), regardless – there will be Law in the Kingdom. We’ll see some differences between the OT Law pre-death and the Kingdom Law post death in a minute. [See also Jeremiah 31:31-34.]
So now when verse 20 comes along…
20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
…hopefully you won’t say, “Oh, what Jesus means is that no one ever can have their righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees because all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”
Is that what you said?
If so, read Isaiah 64 – all of it! Read the entire chapter and then see if you’ll still misinterpret v.6! Go ahead!
This chapter, and all of Isaiah, is entirely in a Jewish context. Israel had, once again, forsaken God. V.5-7 You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness, who remembers You in Your ways. Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, we continued in them a long time; and shall we be saved?
6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on Your name, who arouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have delivered us into the power of our iniquities.
This is all about Israel, folks. They knew to do good, but didn’t do it! Remember all those OT passages you just read?!?!?
20. So your righteousness [Israel] must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.
He. Means. Exactly. What. He’s. Saying.
There was no righteousness in what the scribes and Pharisees were doing. Remember Deuteronomy 10? Though they performed ‘righteous’ acts, nothing on the inside was right with them. Everything was for others to see. No love for God or others; just of themselves. Check out Matthew 23. God was not pleased at all. No qualifying for the Kingdom there!
So now the rest of the chapter are the examples of the Law that will exist in the Kingdom until heaven and earth pass away.
33-37. false vows
38-42. eye for an eye
“You have heard” in each topic is OT law.
“But I say to you” in each topic is what will be required in the Kingdom.
See how clear the Bible is once you remove your preconceived notions that we, the Church, are the audience of every section of the Bible!
Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
Did you see it?
Yes, practice your righteousness, Israel, you who are looking to enter the Kingdom, but not to be noticed and receive honor for yourself from others.
The internal reason for doing good matters! God cares about WHY you’re doing things.
1-6. giving and prayer are the examples used.
7-15. example of how to pray. And PLEASE don’t read the prayer in v.8-13 and stop there. 14-15 are proof Jesus is still talking about Israel and the Kingdom.
16-18. same thing as 1-6, but in regards to fasting. Do it for and to God alone.
19-24. seem pretty self-explanatory to me.
25-34. are summed up in v.33.
More Kingdom principles.
1-12. seem pretty clear also, with 12 as the clincher. 12 “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
13-14. narrow gate
15-20. false prophets will be known by their fruit.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
The Wise Man Built His House on the Rock
I used to sing the song about this passage as a kid. I was taught that it meant I had to have Jesus as my Savior or else I’m gonna suffer in the end. Though it’s true that I have to have Him as my Savior to be saved from eternal punishment, this passage isn’t about that, nor is it to me!
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine [what I’ve just been speaking about] and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
Context has not changed. It’s still about Israel. It’s Jesus summing up the words He spoke throughout the Sermon on the Mount. Israel, do what He says and qualify for the Kingdom!
We, the Church, the Body of Christ in the Church Age, need to stop making the Bible say something it’s not. Let’s just read what’s there without twisting it all up to make it match our Church Age doctrine.
These passages are not about faith in Jesus. They are not about the cross, or His death, burial and resurrection. This is NOT TO THE Church!
These passages are to Israel, telling them to demonstrate their faith in God by obeying Him. Not outwardly, not for show, but from the heart out of love for Him!
Mark 7:6-8 [Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees.] And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
7 ‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’
8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”
You’ve seen it all along. Outward actions of obedience are not acceptable if inward thoughts/desires didn’t produce them. God knows the difference.
- Love and obey Me, Israel.
- Love and obey Me, Israel.
- Enter My rest.
After the Church Age books of Romans through Philemon, where we see none of the above-mentioned requirement to demonstrate one’s faith to enter the Kingdom (because we’ll enter it in our glorified bodies), Hebrews through Revelation pick right back up again with God giving Kingdom instructions to His people, Israel. Therefore, in these books (Heb. – Rev.) you’ll see the same requirements He gave them previously.
And as John closes out Revelation, which is still outside our Church Age, we see a mirror image of the OT passages to Israel we read earlier. Revelation 22:10-14 10 And he *said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.”
12 “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.
Context matters, folks. Time frame matters.
Church Age believers are pre-qualified for the Kingdom because the indwelling Holy Spirit is our guarantee. No one else has that.
Let’s get it right while we still can.
God bless you.