Luke 16:14-17: The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. 16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.
“All these things” in verse 14 refers to Jesus’ immediately preceding teachings about the shrewdness of the dishonest manager (16:1-9), faithfulness or unfaithfulness with “little” as a predictor of what one would do with “much” (16:10-12), and the impossibility of serving both God and money (16:13). Since the Pharisees loved money they responded with contempt to Jesus’ words on the subject.
Jesus responded to the Pharisees by reminding them of the righteous judgment of God. God does not “exalt” the same things people do. People tend to exalt wealth, power, and prestige. Religious people will sometimes go to great lengths to impress others with their piety (Mt. 6:1-2, 5, 16; Mt. 23:5-12). But none of this impresses God. In fact, greed, the selfish and abusive use of power, and religious showmanship are abominations to Him.
This warning is one we need to hear. The temptations to use religion to improve our reputation or influence, or as a means of financial gain (1 Tim. 6:5), are very real. We must guard our hearts against the desires for recognition, praise, and reward. For, Jesus reminds us that God knows our hearts. God knows our deepest thoughts and desires. This stark truth that we are “naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13) should motivate us to submit our inner lives to God and strive for purity of heart. A pure heart is an undivided heart – a heart that is united in walking in God’s truth, fearing his name, and thanking and glorifying Him (Ps. 86:11-12).
Two aspects of Jesus’ words in verses 16-17 are straightforward: the Law and the Prophets “were until John” but the ministry of the Baptist commenced the beginning of the fulfillment of all that the Law and the Prophets pointed toward – the coming of the Kingdom of God. Secondly, Jesus concluded by referring to the permanence of the Law: heaven and earth would sooner pass away than the words of the Law. This statement, as well as Jesus’ teaching in Mt. 5:17-20, demonstrates the abiding relevance and authority of the Law for life in God’s kingdom.
Between these two well-understood statements there is this word from Jesus: “since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.” What does it mean that “everyone forces his way” into the kingdom of God?
Numerous interpretive options have been offered: 1) a person must exert at least as much effort to enter God’s kingdom as did those people who, in the first century, were trying to bring it about by force of arms. 2) In order to enter God’s kingdom, one must make a violent – that is a radical and life-changing – decision. 3) The phrase suggests the conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil. 4) With a passive translation – “everyone is being forced” – which is grammatically possible, the phrase would refer to the fact that Satan tries hinder people from entering the kingdom and that they must be ‘forced’ to do so through ‘urgent, demanding preaching.’
Deciding among these options is difficult, but here I opt for the passive rendering as in the New English Translation: “and everyone is urged to enter it.” The problem in this immediate context is not that people are trying to scratch and claw their way into God’s Kingdom, but rather that the Pharisees are rejecting the Kingdom by ridiculing Jesus (v. 14). Further, often in Luke Jesus speaks about, or interacts with, people who refuse to enter the Kingdom for one reason or another (Luke 9:51-62; Luke 10:13-16; Luke 14:15-24, Luke 18:18-30). In light of this it makes sense to view Jesus’ statement here as a word about the urgency of the call to enter the Kingdom: people need to recognize that their response to God’s rule is a life or death issue and so quit putting money, family concerns, social obligations, and other things ahead of what matters most. Of course, Jesus’ doesn’t ‘force’ us into his kingdom, but he does urgently call for our repentance and allegiance in the clearest and most uncompromising terms: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26-27).
Take time now to seek God. This brief prayer can help you get started: “Heavenly Father, help me to remember each day that you know my heart. Grant me a pure heart, one that is not focused on justifying myself before people, but is instead focused on pleasing and honoring you. And Lord, help me to remember how urgent the message of your Kingdom is. Help me to share this message boldly, and may your Spirit open people’s eyes so that they can see that “now is the day of salvation” and that putting other things before your Kingdom is a sin with eternal consequences. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”