A Wise and Foolish Builder – Matthew 7:25-27

People of a certain age who grew up in going to Sunday School likely sang “the wise man built his house upon the rock,” using the hand motions and visual aids. I had a Sunday School teacher who had a paper house, and when the “rains came a tumbling down” we would blow on the house and knock it over. She also had a brick decorated to look like a house, so when the “rains came a tumbling down” we tried to blow down the brick house, probably hyperventilating in the process.

Because of this popular children’s song, we all know this very simple parable. In fact, the details of the parable are not difficult to understand at all. Jesus is quite clear, if you hear his words you much make the choice to either do them or not. The one who does them will stand, the one who does not will suffer a terrible disaster. Taken as a conclusion to the whole Sermon on the Mount (and the whole book of Matthew), the wise person will enter into the Kingdom of God at the final judgment, the foolish person will be left outside, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In fact, for those who have heard the teaching of Jesus, there are only two ways: to do the words or to refuse to do them. This “two ways theology” is based on the covenant in Deuteronomy or the wisdom literature (Psalm 1, for example).

Perhaps the children’s song has taken the edge of this parable. Jesus says you are either wise, doing his words, or foolish, not doing his words. As Scot McKnight has observed, this parable is “one of the severest in the entire Bible” (Sermon, 275).

The wise builder builds on the rock. Modern readers tend to think of a wise person (φρόνιμος) as possessing wisdom, sometimes mixing up wisdom and intelligence. But Jewish wisdom literature focuses on the ways in which a wise person acts in a particular situation.

For Matthew, the wise person is the one who responds properly to Jesus and his teaching. Matthew 10:6, the wise person is able to recognize a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Matthew 24:45 the wise servant hears what his master has said and is prepared. In Matthew 25:2, wise bridesmaids are prepared for a long wait.

Building one’s house on a solid foundation is simply the wise way to build a house. Often pastors will discuss the technical aspects of building a house on a solid foundation which goes down to the bedrock. To a large extent, this is all superfluous, since the point is the wise person builds a proper house in the proper place so that the house lasts for a very long time.

The wise person builds a house on a proper foundation, and as a result the house will be able to withstand the winds and storms.

In contrast to the wise person, the foolish builder builds their house on the sand. Why would anyone build on sand? They are foolish! Foolishness is not stupidity, but rather a conscious decision to reject the good and choose the wrong. In the Proverbs, foolishness is always a choice to not do the wise thing. The person knows what the right way to do things, but they choose to do otherwise. Think of every lazy thing you have done, but it worked. You need a screwdriver, but that is out in the garage so you use a butter knife instead.

When the storm comes, the wise builder’s house endures, the foolish builder’s house is a spectacular failure. The house of the foolish man is not damaged, but utterly destroyed. In the context of the Sermon on the Mount and almost all of the parables in Matthew, this anticipates the final judgment. The foolish person just does not suffer a slight setback, he is completely wiped out when the storm comes.

Although we tend to think of the Middle East as dry and arid, there are often torrential rains which cause flash floods. On November 5, 2015, torrential rains in Amman, Jordan caused flash floods in the city, sweeping away cards in the street. (Here is a video of a flash flood at Wadi Qumran).

Since Jesus is making a contrast between the wise and foolish, the disaster is what would be expected based on Jewish wisdom literature. In Proverbs, foolishness is always self-destructive (10:25; 12:7; 14:11). When Jesus told this parable, he may have had any one of these lines from Proverbs in mind. Any Jewish listener who were given a basic education in the synagogue would have known these sorts of verses, these are the sorts of verses a Jewish parent might quote when dealing with their rebellious teenager!

The challenge of Jesus is clear in this parable: the wise person build son the foundation of Jesus’s teaching beginning with the Sermon on the Mount. The foolish person will not build on that foundation. Jesus never promises his followers will not endure troubles in this world, the storms fall on both the wise and the foolish. But the wise are equipped to endure the storms of this life. These storms are not dystopian persecutions or attacks by satanic forces, but just the normal kinds of personal disasters we all face because the world is fallen: personal betrayals, financial setbacks, disease, death,

This is a challenge to the stereotypical contemporary American Christian who has a shallow faith and is quick to blame God when life is difficult.

25 thoughts on “A Wise and Foolish Builder – Matthew 7:25-27

  1. I also have grown up in the church learning about this parable. However, we did not have paper and brick, but rather a flannel graph. I believe that this parable is taught to children because it is so simple and easy to understand. Jesus gives his listeners an ultimatum; be foolish or be not foolish. The people hear this and say that they obviously are going to choose to not be foolish. However, that is easier said than done. Building a house is a commitment, a long-term and life plan. Building on the sand is much easier to do than building on the rock. There is no drilling, no adhering, no dragging heavy supplies up to the rock. Building upon the rock is hard work, but it will last a lifetime. As previously stated in this post, Jesus never promised that building upon the rock will be easy or that there will be no trials. In Luke, Jesus calls his followers to pick up their cross in order to follow him (Luke 14:27). One of the better examples of Jesus describing trials for his followers is Matthew 5:10-12:
    Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
    The overall point of the parable is the fact that Christians are called to “build” their lives for the kingdom of God (Rock) and not the world (The sandy beach of Hawaii). McKnight sums up the parable in one simple short sentence, “…build on rock and the building will last; build on the sandier soil along the wadi and you will find your home in a heap” (p. 275). Building one’s life on Christ is the only solution for a world filled with storms. When building this life upon the rock, one is also building their home in heaven.

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    • This is a great post and I agree with everything you have said. I also agree with you how this is a very easily understood parable. We have two choices, either be wise and listen to God, or be foolish and ignore God. Building a house on a rock is more challenging but in the end it is worth all of the hard work. This is just like our relationship with Christ, it can hard but in the end we are reward with heaven and it is all worth it. “Jesus is calling his disciples into the way of righteousness” (McKnight, pg. 276). God wants us to conform to him. We are to follow Christ and he will be our rock and protect us from all of the storms of life.

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    • Great post! I love the way that you compared the difficulty of building a house on the rock that is Jesus rather than on the world which is like the sandy beaches of Hawaii. I feel like the small analogy you made clearly puts into perspective how easy and tempting it can be to build our houses on the sand and of the world. Everything within us is desiring for us to do the easy path and to go the easy way to build our houses in the world. Yet, Jesus is calling us to live a life that goes against the norm of the world and to build our houses on the rock. The rock is referring to Jesus and how we need to build our lives with Him as our foundation in our lives. Jesus never tells us that it is going to be easy but He does promise us that it will be worth it. I love the way that you ended your post by saying that, “when building this life upon the rock, one is also building their home in heaven.”

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  2. The parable of the wise and foolish builders is a popular one. There is so much we can take out of this parable. This parable is easy and understandable, that is why it makes sense this parable is taught to children. This parable teaches us something that is so deeper than just building a house on a rock rather than in the sand. This parable is about building our spiritual side of life on a strong formation, on a rock which means God. God is our rock in life and our foundation in life. If we build our life on a foundation of sand it will fall apart. Nothing will be sturdy or safe building a life on sand. Just like in the parable, the fool built his house on sand and a storm came and washed away the house. In our lives we go through storms everyday and we need that strong foundation that will get us through those storms. That rock (God) will protect us and keep us strong and sturdy as these hard times pass by. God tells us what kind of person we should be, he wants us to be like the wise man who builds his house on the rock. McKnight talks about how the wise hear and then do and the foolish hear and then not do. We should hear and then do what God wants. “The fundamental aim of the sermon is to present Jesus and his kingdom vision for his kingdom people, and the only acceptable response to this Sermon is to embrace him, to accept the challenge; that means to do what he says” (McKnight, pg. 276). It is our choice to choose which person we want to be, the wise man or the foolish man.

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    • Great insight here Maddie! As P. Long suggested, the wise and the foolish both go through storms in life. You explained that if we build our foundation on God who is our rock we will be able to get through those storms. As we all know, even if we build a strong foundation on God and His word, we still fail everyday. If we look at the imagery of this parable, if we are the house, and God is the foundation, when we sin does the house start to crack and bend in the wind even thought it’s foundation is strong? Or can there be at broken down house still on a strong foundation? Or as we fall into temptation does our foundation start to wither away too? My suggestion is that God only “leaves” or our foundation starts to crack if we ignore God’s presence during the difficult times in our lives. However, because obedience is something we have to do constantly, can our foundation start to crumble? McKnight ends this section by stating “The proper response is to declare who he is by the way we live” (277). This is a reminder that because Jesus has called us to be set apart (Rom. 12:2), we should not want to fall into foolishness as this parable suggests, obeying God in showing others what He can offer to them.

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    • Our foundation is built on God, he is our strength and our protector. It only makes sense to make him our foundation when he is the strongest and most powerful thing to ever exist. We would be foolish if we make earthly things our foundation and expect it to support us, when it is simply weak and incapable. The foolish people do not understand or change their ways, they stick to building their house on the sand, allowing destruction to come and ruin their homes, leading them into worry. The wise know destruction will try to come, so they prepare themselves. They prepare by going to the strongest foundation. We need to be wise and not foolish and understand that if we want to get through hard times we need to put our trust into the strongest foundation.

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  3. The parable of the wise and foolish builders is a popular one. There is so much we can take out of this parable. This parable is easy and understandable, that is why it makes sense this parable is taught to children. This parable teaches us something that is so deeper than just building a house on a rock rather than in the sand. This parable is about building our spiritual side of life on a strong formation, on a rock which means God. God is our rock in life and our foundation in life. If we build our life on a foundation of sand it will fall apart. Nothing will be sturdy or safe building a life on sand. Just like in the parable, the fool built his house on sand and a storm came and washed away the house. In our lives we go through storms everyday and we need that strong foundation that will get us through those storms. That rock (God) will protect us and keep us strong and sturdy as these hard times pass by. God tells us what kind of person we should be, he wants us to be like the wise man who builds his house on the rock. McKnight talks about how the wise hear and then do and the foolish hear and then not do. We should hear and then do what God wants. “The fundamental aim of the sermon is to present Jesus and his kingdom vision for his kingdom people, and the only acceptable response to this Sermon is to embrace him, to accept the challenge; that means to do what he says” (McKnight, pg. 276). It is our choice to choose which person we want to be, the wise man or the foolish man.

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    • Great post Maddie I really liked how you mention how this parable teaches more than what it is saying going beyond the context. I like how you mention that this parable is about building our spiritual side of life on a strong formation, on a rock which means God. I definitely agree with what you are saying there because God has his plan for each an every one of us even though we may think it can be a struggle sometimes.

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  4. This parable is such a good life lesson whether or not we actually use it as a warning to build a solid foundation in God’s word and obey what He commands us. It makes me think of the game of life where each player starts out with the same amount of money and resources, and you have to decide if you want to take the easy route by not spending money and go straight into finding a job, or spend a lot of your money and take extra time to get an education in hopes of getting a better paying job. I am not trying to say that those who actually decide not go to college are foolish, but in the game, it seems as those who take the short cut end up paying for that in the end. Everyone who has access to God’s word has the same opportunity to follow Jesus’ teachings, but those who hear and take action will be able to withstand when trial comes. McKnight quotes Martin Luther on this topic of the worthlessness of listening if no action is taken. “The doctrine is a good and a precious thing, but it is not being preached for the sake of being heard but for the sake of action and its application to life.” McKnight also points to James 1:22-25 which talks about a man who looks in the mirror and immediately after forgets what he looks like. When we look into God’s law it should cause us to want to change, and do what it says instead of ignoring it. This verse says that those who do this will be blessed in what they do, or in the case of Mathew 7, the will be able to withstand the storms of life.

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    • Mary, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this parable. I love the way that you compare it to the Game of Life. It is such a good example of what this parable is trying to teach us. People know what the right decision would be, however, people still choose to take the short cut. Being wise is a choice, and so is being foolish. So why do so many people choose to be foolish? As Bible students, we have all the access that we could possibly need to learn what the wise decisions would be to make, yet we still knowingly make the wrong decisions. People will justify what they are doing; when in reality, what they are doing is being a fool. We need to choose to be wise in our decisions and follow what Jesus is telling us in His Sermon on the Mount.

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  5. This is a very common parable for children to hear in the church. It is so simple. Jesus’ message is so clear. The wise man will listen to the word of God and follow Him while the foolish man will do the opposite. “The only acceptable response to this Sermon is to embrace him, to accept the challenge; that means to do what he says” (McKnight, p. 276). Doing what Jesus says is the only acceptable response for Christians to take. While this message is so easy to understand, this does not mean that it is so easy to follow. It seems so simple yet so many people fail to do so. Being wise is a choice, and so is being foolish.

    The final thing that I would like to bring up is the importance of the difference between foolishness and stupidity. Dr. Long does a great job of explaining this difference in his post. Often times people use these words flippantly which has distorted our understanding of them. Foolishness is doing something even though you know it is the wrong thing to do. This major difference is what makes this parable so applicable to us. It gives us the choice of being wise or foolish.

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    • Great post Nick! I love how you quoted McKnight’s application to our Christian lives “do what he says” (p. 276). Often times we like to tell other people what we should do according to Jesus, which is correct; but we also forget that we ought to do it ourselves as well. I love how you put that it is a choice. I’ve heard many Christians that fall off the tracks say that they just did not see it coming, however the Bible is very clear that it is what you decide to do, not random circumstances that just happen to you. Great post!

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  6. We know that storms are coming. Just because we are in Christ does not mean we never experiencing grief, heart break, addiction, selfishness, etc. Sometimes I feel sorry for people who believe that Christians never go through trials because they are seriously missing the point. We not only know that we will experience a storm, but we expect them to come. The difference for us is that we trust in Jesus to guide us to deliverance. I once heard an analogy that said God isn’t the umbrella to shield me from the storm, He is the anchor to steady me in the storm. It really is a choice. We can choose to build our life on sand or on the Rock. We can make the conscious effort to grow a deeper dependence on the Lord. Every day we can pay attention to our heart and ask ourselves if we are dying to ourselves in order to be secure in Christ. When I think of this passage I am reminded of the song “Build My Life” by Passion. Some of the lyrics go like this: “I will build my life upon your love it is a firm foundation. I will put my trust in you alone and I will not be shaken.” God is our protector. 1 Corinthians 10:13b says, “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. When you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Why do we struggle fully believing this? We feel like we have to go at it alone and we end up sinking so far deep into the sand that we can barely see the light. God has proven Himself time and time again, so why do we choose to not trust Him? One word: Folly. It is impossible for us to not be foolish because we are imperfect, sinners. The beauty behind it all though is that Jesus was perfect in our place. We have the opportunity to seek righteousness. We can be in right standing with God, but again, we have to make the choice to build our life to last. We have to be wise in our construction. Most importantly, we have to be broken by our sin and realize how unworthy we are. Otherwise, the gospel will never taste as sweet. McKnight writes, “Jesus is calling his disciples to a new way to righteousness” (276). Meaning we need to be on the lookout. We have to interact with the Holy Spirit inside of us, requesting protection and discernment in order for us to be prepared to make wise decisions and to be transformed by the gospel.

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    • I like how you said that since we are Christians that does not mean we will not experience grief. Christians are aware of the struggles that will come and when they do come they take their struggles and worries to God, who is bigger than any of their problems. As Christians we need to understand and be aware of what will happen and prepare ourselves, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Yes, we must build on the strongest foundation but we also have to make sure we are doing it with the right mindset. I think that people can fall to just going through the motions. If a Christian is acting one way, someone else might copy them just because they see how beneficial the Christian came out of the situation. But the difference is, the Christian new the reason behind their actions, whereas the nonChristian did not.

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  7. The parable of the wise and foolish builder is certainly very popular and its simplicity makes it easy for everyone to understand. There will be storm after storm hitting us in life; grief, stress, depression, problems at work or school, and everything in between that make us need a strong foundation. If we don’t have a strong foundation in Christ and we chose to build our house too fast, avoiding the hard work, we will easily fall. But building our house on a firm foundation takes work, and “maintaining the property” or constantly building up our faith, takes time and effort, but as we have that spiritual foundation, we will find ourselves secure in the storm. McKnight summarizes the aim of parable by simply stating that it is to present Jesus and his kingdom vision, and the response to this is to embrace him, accepting the challenge, which I think the challenge is to accept the mission and the work that it involves, to build our lives on a solid foundation with Christ (McKnight, p. 275). Isaiah 43:2 reminds us that God will carry us through the storm, and we can take refuge in him.

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    • That is very true. We have to have a strong foundation rooted in the word of God in order to withstand what life throws at us. Jesus commands us to take up his cross daily and to follow after him. With him, we are able to have this hope and the strength to get through the tough times. James 1:2 even states that we should “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that they testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Without that solid foundation, we are not able to fulfill this verse and to develop perseverance.

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  8. The parable of the wise and foolish builder is an easier parable to understand it is also simple so everyone can understand the message it is giving. This message is very easily understandable but it is maybe not as easy to follow. Christians do experience grief everyone goes through some kind of grief in their life it just a matter of growing up. With that being said it matter how you accept and take control of that grief whether it is handling it on your own or taking it to God. In Mcknight, it says that “The fundamental aim of the sermon is to present Jesus and his kingdom vision for his people, and the only acceptable response to this Sermon is to embrace him, to accept the challenge; that means to do what he says.” (Mcknight 276). Mcknight is trying to tell us I think whatever the struggle may be it something we have to accept and we have to be reminded that God will carry us through what we are experiencing whatever it may be we just have to have faith in God.

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  9. This parable is a short simple parable that is easily remembered. I use this parable when teaching taekwondo. I tell the students that I’m instructing that without proper foundations they will not stand firm, and will fall when facing an opponent. Another thing about this parable is that almost anyone can get what the main point of this parable is. When we have a strong biblical foundation, we will know what to do and who to turn to when life hits like a hurricane. “Anyone who hears Jesus’ words and does not do them is a fool (McKnight pg. 275).” The difference between the two builders is that the wise builder is like the one who heard the words and the teaching’s of Jesus. While the foolish builder is like the person who heard the teaching’s and words of Jesus but did not listen to what he said. The wise builder listened to Jesus and because of that he had a strong faith in God and built his life upon that faith. And because of that his house was not destroyed when the storm came. As for the foolish builder he heard but didn’t listen, instead he decided to follow what was easy. He listened to what the world had to say and because of that he built his foundation on the sand. Something that will not last and is easily swept away.

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  10. As mentioned above there is not a lot of room for interpretation on this parable. It is taught to children for a reason. The point of the whole parable is basically Jesus calling anyone who hears what He says and rejects it, a moron. I particularly love how McKnight so eloquently puts it, “Anyone who hears Jesus’ words and does not do them is a fool.” (McKnight 275). The parable is a challenge to those who hear it, saying they can take Jesus’s advice and build their lives around it, or they can ignore it. They both will suffer but who’s live will be destroyed? The home with a foundation, or the home built on nothing?

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  11. I did not grow up in the church, so I heard this parable at a very late age. Probably around 17 years old. I never really took this quite literal because of that. However, I did not understand the difference between wisdom and intelligence as you have stated above. I think that this is very dangerous territory. Wisdom is God given and Christ Centered. Intelligence can encompass anything and everything worldly, so it would be easy to buy into that and put your foundation into this “sand” so to speak. I think that when it comes to this proverb, we always misconstrue preparation with doubt. It is wise to be prepared; to be ready and equipped. I have often been told when I have tried to prepare for things in the past that I was exhibiting a lack of trust in God or that I was showing doubt. This is not the case, however. Preparation is a part of wisdom and that firm foundation. You are prepared and ready for when the storm comes, fully knowledgable of where your strength comes from and what your foundation is built upon. And yes, this is one of the more aggressive parables in the Bible, but this is one of the most vital points that we cannot stress enough when it comes to our relationship with God. On top of that, Jesus is directly telling us that the only firm foundation is in God. We are told that “Anyone who hears Jesus’ words and does not do them is a fool” (McKnight pg. 275). It is so easy to settle for placebo sand nowadays. Things that look nice and promising, and maybe even include a little bit of Jesus in it. But, that is simply not a firm foundation. It’s just flimsy and temporary support and until things get rough.

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    • “Anyone who hears Jesus’ words and does not do them is a fool” (McKnight pg. 275). I think it’s very important to notice the difference between stupidity and foolishness. It’s a new concept to me, and I see a lot of value in knowing the difference. I think with this, growing in knowledge of God’s word brings more responsibility. The more you know about what you should do and do not do it, the more foolish we are. I wonder if there is almost a counter-effect when doing both at the same time, for example: “Sophie has been reading her Bible a lot more lately, therefore she has more knowledge about the things she should not do. This increases the chances of doing something wrong, because she has more knowledge. However, because she has more knowledge she will find it easier to obey God’s word”. I don’t know… Either way, knowing more about God only gives us more responsibility because we know more things we should and should not do.

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  12. I think its important to keep in mind that even Christians experience grief and go through hard times. Often many people cant figure out why bad things happen to good people and its to only bring us closer to God as we are supposed to seek his comfort because he is bigger than any problem we may face and have. Sometimes God also gives us things we cant handle just to bring us closer to him. With this being said we must build and be brought up in a great foundation “Train a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it.” is a good example of this.

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  13. Reading the song that you put at the very beginning brought me back to my Sunday school days. We used to sing that song all of the time, without even knowing the real meaning of the parable that Jesus was talking about. I think that it is important to understand that even followers of Jesus will experience hardships in the world. We live in a broken world. There is evil everywhere we look, and with that, there will be hardships. The thing that keeps Christians on their feet though when hardships do occur is the hope that comes with Jesus Christ. McKnight states that “Jesus begins each parabolic unit by telling his listeners exactly what sort of person he has in mind” (McKnight 274). Jesus lays out the foundation of the person that he has in mind. He has given us guidance as to how we will be able to withstand hardships when life throws them at us. We are told to hear the words that Jesus speaks as well as put them into action (Matthew 7:24). James tells us later on in his book that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). We are called to be both hearers and doers of the word of God.

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  14. The storm in the parable is more specific than general troubles in life. Jesus in Matthew frequently speaks of an eschatological moment during which his followers must endure uncertainty and persecution (Matthew 24). Afterwards, the faithful will be exalted.

    The moment is presented as God’s judgement upon Israel. Jesus calls this judgement Gehenna, an allusion to Jeremiah and the Babylonian desolation of Jerusalem. The parable’s image of a house then, along with the Olivet Discourse, direct the hearer to the looming destruction of the Temple and its ramifications.

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