During the Sermon on the Mount, as recalled in the Gospel of Matthew, (5:19) Yeshua says this (CJB):
So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
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Some versions of the Bible say the Kingdom of God, but the terms “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” are considered to be the same thing, which is where those who are saved by the Messiah will be when the Tribulation is over and the new earth and new heaven are formed.
In other words, eternity.
When I read this, I have to ask myself, how can someone who not only sins but teaches others to sin be called the least in heaven? I mean, if you are a sinner teaching others to sin, how can you even be allowed into God’s presence?
As far as I can see, this is the only place where Yeshua makes this statement in all of the Gospels.
So what does it mean? As with any interpretation, we can’t just look at the sentence, but at how that sentence fits into the general lesson or thought. Just before this, Yeshua talks about how he did not come to change the law and that not one of the even smallest elements of the law, i.e. commandments in the Torah, will be changed. Later, he warns everyone that if they aren’t more righteous than the Pharisees they will never enter the kingdom of heaven. We also have to take into account the constant complaint Yeshua had about the Pharisees, which was that they taught their own man-made traditions and laws superseded the mitzvot (laws) of God, as God gave them to us in the Torah.
So, when we look at all sides of this, we can see Yeshua wasn’t saying that anyone is able to enter heaven if they sin and teach others to sin, but that those who obey and teach that man-made regulations are more important than the law, while not directly breaking that law, are going to be least in the kingdom of heaven.
Placing the importance of a man-made tradition or ritual in lieu of what God said is a form of disobedience that isn’t, by definition, a sin because you aren’t really breaking the law, you are just obeying it in a different way than God said you should.
Okay, what the heck does that mean? Let’s look at the example Yeshua gave in Matthew 15:3-6 when he replied to the Pharisees accusing him of breaking the tradition of N’tilat Yadayim (handwashing before eating):
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father and mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition
The Pharisees said Yeshua was teaching his people to break the traditions, and by doing so were, in essence, accusing him of breaking the law. His reply indicated that they were the ones breaking the law, and not the law of men but the law of God, by teaching that the law of men was more important than the law of God.
Let’s try this again: a korban is something devoted or offered to God, such as one of the sacrifices in Leviticus 1-7, but in this case, Yeshua wasn’t talking about something that was associated with sin or guilt. And although there is no specific Torah statement that to not offer a korban is a sin, still and all, you don’t renege on that offer. For instance, Hannah prayed for a child and offered the child as a Nazir to God; after Samuel was born, if she hadn’t delivered Samuel to Eli, the Cohen HaGadol, that would have been a sin. But, if she had only asked for a child and never devoted it to God, raising Samuel herself would not have been a sin.
Now, the Pharisees taught that once you offered a korban to God you couldn’t then give it to your parents, even if they desperately needed it because that would be a sin. And what Yeshua said was if they refuse to give to their needy parents that which they offered as a korban to God, then they were violating the 5th commandment.
How can these completely opposite opinions be reconciled? I believe the korban in this example that is being offered was not already offered but was intended to be offered. I justify this interpretation because most of the offerings made were of an animal or grain, so once given it was sacrificed, burnt upon the altar, and there was no way it could be retrieved; but, if someone tells their parents they can’t have something they need because it is devoted to God (or, more accurately, because I intend to devote it to God), that is where Yeshua said they break the law.
It is not a sin to intend to devote something to God, then change your mind because there is a greater need for it elsewhere. For instance, your parents.
So, what we have here is that this passage doesn’t imply when we sin and teach others to sin, we can still get into heaven. If someone does and teaches others that you can commit adultery, fornicate to your heart’s desire, totally disregard the Shabbat, or any such obvious disobedience to the laws God gave us in the Torah, they are not going to get a free pass to eternity in God’s presence. However, if someone is trying to obey and teach others to obey the law, but they are confused and teaching traditions of men instead of God’s way, which is what God-loving Christians have been doing for millennia, then they may still get into heaven, but they won’t be given front-row seats. Instead of a mansion, they may get a shack.
That reminds me of a story….
A Catholic Cardinal dies and goes to heaven. He is told he will be led to the place reserved for him, and as he is walking he sees beautiful mansions, and in one of them was someone he knew had been a New York City taxi driver.
As he is led, the mansions become houses, the houses become condos, and he is finally told, “This is for you.” In front of him is a small shack.
He asks the angel, “Are you sure? I devoted my life to God and was a Cardinal, so why am I in a shack and some hack from the Big Apple in a mansion?”
The angel said, “When you preached, people slept, but when he drove, people prayed.”
We should do what God said we should do, the way God said we should do it, and always teach others to obey what God says in the Torah. The New Covenant writings are not commandments from God, they are commentary by human beings, referencing what God said in the Torah. What Yeshua was warning the people about in Matthew 5:19 is that you can disobey a commandment by God by following a man-made tradition that is actually designed to fulfill a commandment.
And, for the record, Yeshua never said all man-made traditions are bad- only those that are given precedence over God’s commandments.
So, nu? How can I know which is the right one to obey? The answer is you need to know which commandments are from God, and which are man-made, and the only way you will know that, for certain, is to read the Torah.
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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!