Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be likened to a wise man, who built his house on the rock; and the rain came down and the rivers came and the winds blew and fell upon that house, and it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. And everyone hearing these words of mine and not doing them will be likened to a foolish man, who built his house on the sand; and the rain came down and the rivers came and the winds blew and struck against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
In a brief exchange with Daniel Kirk about the apocalyptic character of the story that is being told in the New Testament I touched on Jesus’ parable of the two houses, which is found at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:24-27). We usually understand this passage as a description of the choice that individuals make in responding to Jesus, but I think this misses the narrative and apocalyptic thrust of Jesus’ teaching.
I pointed out in Re: Mission: Biblical mission for a post-biblical church (44), which unlike The Coming of the Son of Man is still available online, that Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:15-27 closely parallels the argument of Ezekiel 13:8-16.
Jesus warns his followers to look out for false prophets, who “come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves”, who say, “Lord, Lord”, but do not do the will of God. Then he tells the story of a great storm that will destroy the house that has not been built on the rock of obedience to the word of Jesus as the true prophet to Israel.
Similarly, Ezekiel denounces the “false prophets” who mislead Israel into believing that there is peace when there is no peace, that Jerusalem was safe from the threat of war. When the people build a wall, the false prophets smear it with whitewash, but a great storm will come and destroy the wall, and people will ask, “Where is the coating with which you smeared it?”
Therefore thus says the Lord God: I will make a stormy wind break out in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and great hailstones in wrath to make a full end. And I will break down the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you shall perish in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord. (Ezek. 13:13-14; cf. Is. 28:17)
The storm that destroys the wall and exposes the folly and disobedience of the false prophets is the judgment of God against Israel. Daniel speaks in similar terms of the destruction of the city and the temple by an invading army:
And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. (Dan. 9:26)
Jesus develops the argument in a slightly different direction, but I would suggest that his teaching has essentially the same frame of reference and same intent. A devastating storm and flood of judgment is coming against Jerusalem, against Israel’s “house”—not a final judgment, but the historical judgment of war and material destruction. Anything that is not built on the rock of Jesus’ teaching will be swept away. Only the new community of his obedient followers will survive.
The same point is made in the saying that immediately precedes this section about a wide gate leading to destruction and a narrow gate leading to life (Matt. 7:13-14), behind which, I would argue, is Jeremiah 21:8-10:
And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war. For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the Lord: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.’