The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Matthew 18

Mat 18:1

WHO IS THE GREATEST IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN?: Cp 2Ki 5:22,26: the disciple Gehazi seeks "greatness" and wealth. Don't many of our little ecclesial disputes have their roots in this question? This dispute did not cease altogether until Christ's death (Mar 10:35; Luk 22:24-30).

Suggestion: the special three at the Transfiguration (Mat 17:1) arouse envy in others.

Mat 18:2

HE CALLED A LITTLE CHILD: When Jesus called, he came!

Mat 18:3

UNLESS YOU CHANGE: Jesus is telling BELIEVERS to be converted! -- to change their outlooks from selfishness to humility. (Cp the pride and boasting of the disciples: Mat 20:20.)

Mat 18:4

Astounding! The smallest child = Christ, and Christ = God!

HUMBLES HIMSELF LIKE THIS CHILD: A free and natural recognition of inferiority. Cp 1Pe 2:2; 1Co 14:20. Cp also Mark 10:14 with Mark 10:24.

Mat 18:5

"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Mat 25:40).

Mat 18:6

CAUSES... TO SIN: "Skandalon" = to cause to stumble, or sin. "Offend" in AV. Sw Mar 9:43,45. Related Engl "scandal".

A LARGE MILLSTONE: "Mulos onikos" = lit, a millstone of a donkey, ie one turned by a donkey: cp sw Luk 17:2; Rev 18:21,22. For putting a small stone in another's path, he shall have a LARGE stone tied about his neck! A Greek and Roman punishment of prisoners: cp Rev 18:21.

Mat 18:8

The body parts represent those acts which they may perform.

Mat 18:9

HELL: "Gehenna".

Mat 18:10

"Personal" angels are mentioned or alluded to in Heb 1:13,14; Psa 34:7; Dan 10:12; and Zec 3:7. It would appear that even (or especially!) the little children have THEIR angels! Thus there is angelic and providential care even before baptism. Apart from its spiritual significance to the "little ones" who are believers, who should be "like" little children, Jesus seems to be saying that even small children -- themselves unbaptized -- may such care:
"Unnumbered comforts to my soul
Thy tender care bestowed,
Before my infant heart conceived
From whom those blessings flowed."

And the words of the Psalmist in Psa 22:9,10 suggest the same: "Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust [or 'kept me in safety': AV mg; RSV] in you even at my mother's breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God."

"The face of my Father" suggests Jacob in Gen 28:17-19; 32:30: first realizing that he was in the "house of God" (Beth-el), and then later seeing the "face of God" (Peniel) after wrestling through the long night. We may see a "Beth-el" wherever a child is found!

Mat 18:12

WILL HE NOT LEAVE THE NINETY-NINE...?: It is not necessary to assume that he left them unattended; they could have put in the care of another shepherd temporarily.

Mat 18:13

HE IS HAPPIER ABOUT THAT ONE SHEEP...: If Christ and his Father be so, then we should be the same!

Mat 18:15

See Lesson, Mat 18:15-17.

Vv 15-17: "We have, therefore, to accept it as an obligation from Christ that if we have done wrongfully to a brother, the recollection of his grievance against us should be a barrier to our approaches to God till the matter has been put right by reconciliation. There is, of course, such a thing as unjust accusation. The remedy in that case is in Mat 18:15, unless we prefer the other course, of silently and patiently taking wrong, which in some cases is the preferable one" (SC 249).

Mat 18:17

THE CHURCH: Why does Jesus refer to the "ecclesia" when there is no ecclesia at that time? Two reasonable possibilities, either or both of which may apply: (1) Jesus knew that his words would have effect during all the time after churches or ecclesias would be established... so he used the word "ecclesia" in something like a prophetic sense. (2) In the immediate context, "ecclesia" could refer to the "assembly" at the local synagogue. "In the Jewish synagogue there was a bench of elders, before whom trials of this kind were brought" (Barnes). That this command of Jesus has a Jewish context in the first place may also be inferred from the use of "pagan" and "tax collector" later in verse -- ideas that Jews might typically think of.

TREAT HIM AS YOU WOULD A PAGAN OR A TAX COLLECTOR: "Oh what trouble these words have wrought down through the ages.. and what trouble might have been stifled if brethren had only followed the spirit of the words as they are found in context here from vv 12-17. How much strife might have been avoided if only men [and women too] had kept their thoughts about the sins of others between the parties involved, instead of trying out those juicy gossipy bits on others first. And to 'count one as a heathen man and a publican'? Why... are not 'heathen men and publicans' the very candidates for conversion that Jesus spent so much time with? The message here must surely be that we individually need to redouble our efforts and help effect that desired conversion which often comes long after the baptism has taken place" (CY).

Mat 18:20

Jesus in the midst of: (1) thieves: Joh 19:18; (2) his disciples: Joh 20:19; (3) the teachers of the Law: Luk 2:46; (4) two or three: Mat 18:20; (5) the lampstands: Rev 1:13; (6) the throne: Rev 5:6.

WHERE TWO OR THREE COME TOGETHER: Cp context, Deu 19:15-18: two or three witnesses seeking the truth -- in unity and love -- by resolving differences and settling wrongs.

Mat 18:21

Only adults bear grudges and seek revenge.

SEVEN TIMES: The rabbis said, only three!

It is essentially wrong ever to count the times of forgiveness, for in counting we are remembering -- not forgetting!

Mat 18:22

SEVENTY-SEVEN TIMES: Cp the 77 times of vengeance of Lamech in Gen 4:24. Or, if 70 times 7, then cp Dan 9:24: 70 sevens "to put an end to transgression / sin / wickedness"!

Mat 18:25

Selling into slavery, or indentured service, so as to satisfy debts: Exo 21:2; Lev 25:39.

Mat 18:28

The difference is between perhaps $1,000 (v 28) -- more than just "small change", but certainly payable -- and many millions of dollars (v 24)!

Mat 18:33

SHOULDN'T YOU HAVE HAD: "Was it not BINDING on you to have...?" Cp Mat 16:19; 18:18.

Mat 18:35

HEAVENLY FATHER: Our heavenly calling (Heb 3:1), by a heavenly Father (Mat 18:35), through a heavenly word (Joh 3:12), presents to us a heavenly status (Eph 2:6), as we await a heavenly image (1Co 15:48,49), to be a heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22), in a heavenly country (Heb 11:16), within a heavenly kingdom (2Ti 4:18). All this constitutes Christ's brethren as a heavenly people of God!

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