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Mat 18:3

He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless
you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.1

18:3 Childlikeness, not childishness, is essential to conversion and hence to entrance into the
kingdom of God. Children are normally characterized by simplicity, profound trustfulness, and
honesty. Such qualities in a man lead him to Christ and conversion.
2

The greatest in the kingdom


(18:1–9)
The disciples ask Jesus about their status in the kingdom of heaven. What sort of people is God
looking for?
In answer, Jesus shows his disciples a little child. God is looking for people who will
abandon their obsession with power, influence and ambition. Instead, like children, they will
simply love and trust their Father. These ‘little ones’ (faithful people of all ages) are the greatest
in the kingdom of God. They are the ones Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount — the
‘meek’ and ‘poor in spirit’ (Matthew 5:3–10). Anyone — inside or outside the church — who
harms their faith by misleading or tempting them will be severely punished.
3

78. Lessons in humility (Matt 17:22–23; 18:1–14; Mark 9:30–50; Luke 9:44–50)
Despite Jesus’ statement to his disciples that he was heading towards humiliating suffering and
death (Matt 17:22–23; Mark 9:30–32; Luke 9:44–45), they were arguing among themselves
about who would have the important places in his kingdom. Jesus rebuked them, explaining that
the way to spiritual greatness is through choosing the lowest place and serving others. To enter
the kingdom of God, people must humbly accept that they have no more status than a child.
Receiving Christ is not concerned with prestige as in the case of those who receive an earthly
king. It is as humble an act as receiving a small child (Matt 18:1–5; Mark 9:33–37; Luke 9:46–
48).
If people want to be disciples of Jesus, they should not despise those who appear weak and
insignificant. Indeed, they should take severe action against themselves to remove from their
lives anything that might cause them to follow their own desires instead of submitting to Jesus.
Wrong desires prevent people from receiving Jesus and lead only to hell (Matt 18:6–9; Mark
9:42–48). God will test and cleanse the disciples, but if they want to be useful for him in leading

1
The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Mt
18:2-4
2
Believer's Study Bible. electronic ed. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995, S. Mt 18:3
3
Knowles, Andrew: The Bible Guide. 1st Augsburg books ed. Minneapolis, MN : Augsburg, 2001, S. 426
people to Jesus, they must cease their quarrelling and make sure that they themselves are pure in
heart (Mark 9:49–50).
Jesus’ disciples should have a loving concern for the weak, the helpless and the lost. They
should not want any to miss out on his salvation (Matt 18:10–14). They must love others, and not
act like those who tried to stop a man from casting out demons in Jesus’ name because he did not
belong to Jesus’ apostolic group. The man feared God, and God used him to deliver people from
the power of evil. He was not an enemy of Jesus, and the apostles were not to despise him or
hinder him in his work. If people do acts of kindness to others, and do them with the right
motives, God will reward them no matter how insignificant those acts may appear to be (Mark
9:38–41; Luke 9:49–50).
4

A. Concerning Humility (18:1–6)


Chapter 18 has been called the discourse on greatness and forgiveness. It outlines principles
of conduct that are suitable for those who claim to be subjects of Christ the King.
18:1 The disciples had always thought of the kingdom of heaven as the golden age of peace
and prosperity. Now they began to covet positions of preferment in it. Their self-seeking spirit
found expression in the question, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
18:2, 3 Jesus answered with a living object lesson. Placing a little child in their midst, He
said that men must be converted and become as little children to enter the kingdom of
heaven. He was speaking of the kingdom in its inward reality; in order to be a genuine believer a
man must abandon thoughts of personal greatness and take the lowly position of a little child.
This begins when he acknowledges his sinfulness and unworthiness and receives Jesus Christ as
his only hope. This attitude should continue throughout his Christian life. Jesus was not implying
that His disciples were not saved. All except Judas had true faith in Him, and were therefore
justified. But they had not yet received the Holy Spirit as an indwelling Person, and therefore
lacked the power for true humility that we have today (but do not use as we should). Also they
needed to be converted in the sense of having all their false thinking changed to conform to the
kingdom.
18:4 The greatest person in the kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself as a
little child. Obviously the standards and values in the kingdom are exactly opposite those in the
world. Our whole mode of thinking must be reversed; we must think Christ’s thoughts after Him
(see Phil. 2:5–8).
18:5 Here the Lord Jesus glides almost imperceptibly from the subject of a natural child to a
spiritual child. Whoever receives one of His humble followers in His name will be rewarded as
if he had received the Lord Himself. What is done for the disciple is reckoned as done for the
Master.
18:6 On the other hand, anyone who seduces a believer to sin incurs enormous
condemnation; it would be better for him to have a great millstone tied around his neck and
be drowned in the ocean’s depths. (The great millstone referred to here required an animal to
turn it; a smaller one could be turned by hand.) It is bad enough to sin against oneself, but to

4
Fleming, Donald C.: Concise Bible Commentary. Chattanooga, Tenn. : AMG Publishers, 1994, c1988, S.
427
cause a believer to sin is to destroy his innocence, corrupt his mind, and stain his reputation.
Better to die a violent death than to trifle with another’s purity!
B. Concerning Offenses (18:7–14)
18:7 Jesus went on to explain that it is inevitable that offenses should arise. The world, the
flesh, and the devil are leagued to seduce and pervert. But if a person becomes an agent for the
forces of evil, his guilt will be great. So the Savior warned men to take drastic action in
disciplining themselves rather than to tempt a child of God.
18:8, 9 Whether the sinning member is the hand or foot or the eye, better to sacrifice it to
the surgeon’s knife than to let it destroy the work of God in another person’s life. Better to enter
into life without limbs or sight than to be consigned to hell with every member intact. Our Lord
does not imply that some bodies will lack limbs in heaven, but merely describes the physical
condition at the time a believer leaves this life for the next. There can be no question that the
resurrection body will be complete and perfect.
18:10 Next the Son of God warned against despising one of His little ones, whether children
or any who belong to the kingdom. To emphasize their importance, He added that their angels
are constantly in the presence of God, beholding His face. Angels here probably means guardian
angels (see also Heb. 1:14).
18:11 While omitted in RSV and most other modern Bibles, this verse about our Savior’s
mission is a fitting climax to this section, and it has wide manuscript support. 38
18:12, 13 These little ones are also the object of the tender Shepherd’s saving ministry. Even
if one out of a hundred sheep goes astray, He leaves the ninety-nine and searches for the lost
one till He finds it. The Shepherd’s joy over finding a straying sheep should teach us to value
and respect His little ones.
18:14 They are important not only to the angels and to the Shepherd, but also to God the
Father. It is not His will that one of them should perish. If they are important enought to
engage angels, the Lord Jesus, and God the Father, then clearly we should never despise them,
no matter how unlovely or lowly they might appear.
5

18:1–5 WHO IS THE GREATEST?


OVERVIEW: Because the disciples had observed that the same tax had been paid for Peter and the
Lord, they inferred that Peter might have been set over all the other apostles. Thus they asked
who is greater in the kingdom of heaven (JEROME, CHRYSOSTOM). The child called by Jesus into
the middle of the disciples is analogous to the lowly work of the Holy Spirit (ORIGEN). What
children are in their simplicity, let us become through a holy way of life: as children innocent of
sin and thus as one who is great in the kingdom of heaven (JEROME, EPIPHANIUS THE LATIN).
One who receives such a person will receive Christ (JEROME).
18:1 Who is Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?

RSV Revised Standard Version


38
(18:11) It is omitted by the NU text, but contained in the majority of mss. (M).
5
MacDonald, William ; Farstad, Arthur: Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments. Nashville
: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995, S. Mt 18:1
WHETHER PETER IS FIRST. JEROME: We must seek for reasons for individual sayings and
actions of the Lord. After the coin was found, after the tribute paid, what do the apostles’ sudden
questions mean? Why precisely “at that time” did the disciples come to Jesus saying, “Who is
the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Because they had seen that the same tax had been paid
for both Peter and the Lord. From the equal price they inferred that Peter may have been set over
all the other apostles, since Peter had been compared with the Lord in the paying of the tax. So
they ask who is greater in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus, seeing their thoughts and understanding
the causes of their error, wants to heal their desire for glory with a struggle for humility.
COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 3.18.1.1
WHY THEY WERE UPSET. CHRYSOSTOM: The disciples experienced some human weakness;
therefore the Evangelist also shows this, adding “in that hour,” when he honored Peter more than
all others. For though Peter was a firstborn son along with James and John, he did nothing
similar for them. Then being ashamed to admit what they felt, they did not openly say, “Why
have you honored Peter above us?” or “Surely he is not greater than us?” When they became
ashamed, they asked less definitely, “Who then is greater?” When they had seen the three
honored above the rest, they had felt nothing of the kind. But when one took the highest honor,
then they were hurt. Apparently it was not for this alone but piling up many feelings they became
incensed. For Jesus had said to Peter, “I will give you the keys,”2 and “You are blessed, Simon
Bar-Jonah,”3 and to Peter here he instructed, “Give it to them for me and for yourself.” And
seeing the great freedom allowed him elsewhere they were upset. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW,
HOMILY 58.3.4
18:2 A Child in the Midst of Them
THE IMAGE OF INNOCENCE. JEROME: He called a child to him to ask its age or to show the
image of innocence. Or perhaps he actually set a child in their midst—he himself, who had not
come to be served but to serve—to show them an example of humility. COMMENTARY ON
MATTHEW 3.18.2.5
18:3 Unless You Become Like Children
THINK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AS A CHILD. ORIGEN: Beside this obvious explanation6 let another
be given as well. As an act of theological and ethical reflection, let us ask what sort of a child
Jesus called to him and has set in the midst of the disciples. Think of it this way: The child called
by Jesus is the Holy Spirit, who humbled himself. He was called by the Savior and set in the
middle of the disciples of Jesus. The Lord wants us, ignoring all the rest, to turn to the examples
given by the Holy Spirit, so that we become like the children—that is, the disciples—who were
themselves converted and made like the Holy Spirit. God gave these children to the Savior
according to what we read in Isaiah: “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given

11
CCL 77:156.
22
Mt 16:19.
33
Mt 16:17.
44
PG 58:568; NPNF 1 10:359.
55
CCL 77:156.
66
Previously Origen proposed the literal interpretation of the Gospel text, identified as “more sound”
(ha- plousteros), because it was suitable for believers who were still beginners in the faith.
me.”7 To enter the kingdom of heaven is not possible for the person who has not turned from
worldly matters and become like those children who had the Holy Spirit. Jesus called this Holy
Spirit to him like a child, when he came down from his perfect completeness to people, and set it
in the middle of the disciples. COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 13.18.8
18:4 Humble as a Child
RETURN TO THE SIMPLICITY OF CHILDREN. HILARY OF POITIERS: The Lord teaches that we
cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless we revert to the nature of children, that is, we must
recall into the simplicity of children the vices of the body and mind. He has called children all
who believe through the faith of listening. For children follow their father, love their mother, do
not know how to wish ill on their neighbor, show no concern for wealth, are not proud, do not
hate, do not lie, believe what has been said and hold what they hear as truth. And when we
assume this habit and will in all the emotions, we are shown the passageway to the heavens. We
must therefore return to the simplicity of children, because with it we shall embrace the beauty of
the Lord’s humility. ON MATTHEW 18.1.9
HUMBLING ONESELF. JEROME: “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in
the kingdom of heaven.” Just as this child whose example I show you does not persist in anger,
does not long remember injury suffered, is not enamored inordinately by the sight of a beautiful
woman, does not think one thing and say another, so you too, unless you have similar innocence
and purity of mind, will not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. Or it might be taken in
another way: “Whosoever therefore humiliates himself like this child is greater in the kingdom of
heaven,” so as to imply that anyone who imitates me and humiliates himself following my
example, so that he abases himself as much as I abased myself in accepting the form of a servant,
will enter the kingdom of heaven. COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 3.18.4.10
18:5 Receiving Christ
WHO RECEIVES SUCH A CHILD. JEROME: Whoever receives one such child in my name receives
me. Whoever lives so as to imitate Christ’s humility and innocence, in him Christ is taken up.
And he is careful to add—so that when the apostles heard of it, they would not think that they
had been honored—that they would not be taken up for their merit but for the honor of the
master. COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 3.18.5.11
WHAT IT MEANS TO BECOME A CHILD. EPIPHANIUS THE LATIN: Here the Lord not only
repressed the apostles’ thoughts but also checked the ambition of believers throughout the whole
world, so that he might be great who wanted to be least. For with this purpose Jesus used the
example of the child, that what he had been through his nature, we through our holy living might
become—innocent, like children innocent of every sin. For a child does not know how to hold
resentment or to grow angry. He does not know how to repay evil for evil. He does not think
base thoughts. He does not commit adultery or arson or murder. He is utterly ignorant of theft or
brawling or all the things that will draw him to sin. He does not know how to disparage, how to

77
Is 8:18.
88
GCS 40:226–27; ANF 9:485.
99
SC 258:74–76.
10 10
CCL 77:157.
11 11
CCL 77:157.
blaspheme, how to hurt, how to lie. He believes what he hears. What he is ordered he does not
analyze. He loves his parents with full affection. Therefore what children are in their simplicity,
let us become through a holy way of life, as children innocent of sin. And quite rightly, one who
has become a child innocent of sin in this way is greater in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever
receives such a person will receive Christ. INTERPRETATION OF THE GOSPELS 27.12
18:6–9 TEMPTATIONS TO SIN
OVERVIEW: The millstone stands for blind toil, for pack animals that are driven around in the
circle with their eyes closed (HILARY OF POITIERS). When temptations come unaware, the
situation is analogous to a sick person enjoying excellent care but refusing to follow the
physician’s regimen (CHRYSOSTOM). Woe is pronounced upon those who voluntarily subject
themselves to temptations. But the disciples, who are not attached to the things of the world, do
not voluntarily enter into these temptations (ORIGEN). The whole world is not equally full of
temptation to sin, but it is all filled with the possibility of fruitful action. It is “the world who
knew him not” upon which woe is pronounced, not the world which Christ has reconciled to
himself. To say figuratively it is full of chaff does not imply that it contains nothing good
(AUGUSTINE).
The metaphor of cutting off limbs is really about friends and relatives who constantly cause
temptation. For nothing is so harmful as bad company (CHRYSOSTOM). If at some time it happens
that the eye so changes that it becomes a temptation to sin for the whole body, it would be better
for it to be ripped out from the whole body than for the whole body together with the soul to be
condemned (ORIGEN). If the hands or feet of the church (that is, any priest or deacon), either
through heretical faith or depraved living, has brought temptations to sin on the church, the Lord
orders that such be plucked from the body of the church and thrown out (CHROMATIUS).
6

Summary
637
The chapter must be considered a unit.
Under the general heading or title Kindness toward the Little Ones and the Forgiving Spirit
toward All the subdivisions with their main teachings may be summarized as follows:
Be Kind to the Little Ones:
Become like them (verses 1–5)
Guard them, preventing them and yourselves from falling into temptation (verses 6–9)
Regard them highly; and if they wander away, go and find them and bring them home (verses 10–
14).

12 12
PL Supp 3:866–67.
6
Simonetti, Manlio: Matthew 14-28. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 2002 (Ancient Christian
Commentary on Scripture NT 1b), S. 66
637
I can see no reason to adopt the view of H. W. Ridderbos, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 38, 39, that Matthew
combined several sayings of Jesus, spoken at different occasions, into one discourse. Solid proof for this
position has not been supplied. For the most part the ideas follow one another very naturally. If in a few
cases the connection should not be immediately clear room must be left for the possibility that the
evangelists did not have the space to report everything (John 20:30; 21:25).
Show the Forgiving Spirit toward All:
Church Discipline should be a matter of last resort: “If a brother sins against you, go and show him
his fault while you are alone with him, etc.” The steps in discipline (verses 15–20).
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (verses 23–35), in answer to Peter’s question, “Lord, how
often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
1. Be Kind to the Little Ones
(a) Become like them 1. At that moment the disciples came to Jesus, asking, Who then is
greatest in the kingdom of heaven? In the light of Mark 9:33, 34 it is evident that Matthew
abbreviates. In all probability the disciples had not intended to reveal to Jesus what they had
been discussing on the way to his home. But the Lord knew, and wanted them to make a clean
breast of it. For other instances of Christ’s penetrating knowledge see 17:25; John 1:47, 48; 2:25;
21:17; but see also Mark 13:32; (cf. Matt. 24:36). So Jesus asked, “What were you discussing on
the way?” Embarrassed silence followed. Then they came out with it: they had been “arguing”
(Luke 9:46) about rank or status, and their question had been as it was even now, “Who then is
greatest638 in the kingdom of heaven?”
It seems strange that almost the first recorded result of Christ’s second announcement (17:22,
23a) of his rapidly approaching departure in Jerusalem should have been the disciples’
“quarrelling for the lead”639 in the kingdom. How quickly their sorrow (17:23b) caused by
Christ’s prediction of his deep humiliation had given way to their craving for exaltation! Yet,
such men as these Jesus had chosen to be his disciples! For such as these—see also p. 246 f.—he
was going to lay down his life! When we consider this we see more clearly the greatness and
sovereign (by men wholly unmerited) character of God’s electing love. Cf. Ps. 103:14; 115:1;
Ezek. 16:1–14; Dan. 9:7, 8; I John 4:19; and N.T.C. on Eph. 1:4.
2–4. So he called to himself a little child, had him stand in the midst of them.… What
Jesus did at this occasion revealed not only his thorough understanding of the nature of the
kingdom and of the way of entering it, but also his tenderness toward the little ones. What he
said deserved all the praise that has ever been ascribed to it, and far more than that. But was not
the amazing glory of the Mediator’s soul revealed also in his restraint, that is, in what he did not
do and did not say? He did not even scold his disciples for their callousness, their insensibility
with respect to his approaching agony, the non-lasting character of their grief, their quickness in
turning the mind away from him to themselves, their selfishness. All this he passed by, and
addressed himself directly to their question.
It is pleasing to note the frequency with which the presence of children around Jesus and/or
his love for them is mentioned in the Gospels. See Matt. 14:21; 15:38; 18:3; 19:13, 14 (cf. Mark
10:13, 14; Luke 18:15, 16); 21:15, 16; 23:37 (cf. Luke 13:34). Undoubtedly children felt

638
Here the adjective μείζων, though literally “greater,” clearly has the sense of a superlative, as in I Cor.
13:13: “greatest of these is love.” The last example also shows that this comparative form does not
always need to be preceded by the definite article to be equal in force to a superlative. On the
substitution of a comparative form for a superlative, in Koine Greek, see Gram.N.T., pp. 281 and 667.
639
See A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vol. III (on chapters 18–28), Cincinnati and New York
(no date), p. 1.

N.T.C. W. Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary


attracted to Jesus, wanted to be with him. Whenever he wanted a child there was always one
present, ready to do his bidding, to come when he called him. So also here. To speculate who this
child was is useless. The point is that this was indeed a child, endowed with all the favorable and
amiable qualities generally associated with childhood in any clime and at any time.
The Lord calls this little one to his side, and places him “in the midst of” all these “big” men,
perhaps in such a position that the child faced them while they were arranged in a crescent before
him. The child was not afraid, for it stood by the Lord’s very side (Luke 9:47), and was then
taken up in his arms (Mark 9:36), where he would feel perfectly at ease and able to look up into
the face of Jesus.
The Master looked at his disciples and said, I solemnly declare to you, unless you turn
and become like the little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. What he
meant was this: “You have been arguing about the question who will be greatest in the kingdom
of heaven, as if you were sure of already being in it and of being destined for its future
manifestation in glory. But if you continue in your present state of mind and heart, each of you
being eager to be higher than his fellows and to lord it over them, you will be excluded; you will
then most certainly640 not even enter it.”
Jesus demands that the disciples turn, that is, that they be converted from their worldly
ambition, their coarse selfishness. Of course, they cannot do this in their own power. They must
pray the prayer found in Jer. 31:18, “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art Jehovah my
God.” Only when the divine act of causing a person to be reborn (born “from above”) has taken
place, is conversion, as an act in which man himself takes part, even possible (John 3:3, 5).
That this turning—from self to God; from sin to grace—implies “becoming like the little
children” is clear from the juxtaposition of the words, for Jesus said, “unless you turn and
become like the little children, etc.” This poses the question, “Exactly what did he mean when he
solemnly declared (see on 5:18) that with a view to entrance into the kingdom of heaven (see on
4:23; 13:43) the disciples must become like the little children?”
Among the favorable qualities which we generally associate with the little ones the following
are perhaps the most outstanding: simplicity, frankness, obedience, unpretentiousness, humility,
trustfulness. The fact that they are weak, very limited in strength and knowledge, and that they
do not deny this, endears them to us. All of these traits may well have been in the mind of the
Savior when he told the disciples that if they wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven they must
become like the little children. Nevertheless, it is especially humility or, if one prefers, humble
trustfulness (see verse 6: “who believe in me”) which the Savior emphasizes in the present
passage. This is evident first of all from the preceding context, which requires that the disciples’
striving to be the greatest make place for willingness to be the least; then also from the
immediately following passage (verse 4); note the words: “whoever becomes humble like this
little child”; and finally, from such parallels as 20:20–28; 23:11, 12; Mark 9:35, 42; Luke 18:14;
22:24–30. See also John 13:1–20 and I Peter 5:5, 6. Salvation, whether in its initial, continuing,
or final stage, must always be accepted as an undeserved gift, even the faith by means of which it
is accepted being also a gift. See N.T.C. on Eph. 2:8. Thus all human boasting is excluded (Rom.
3:27). God alone receives the glory.
Christ’s negative statement (verse 3) implies the positive: Therefore whoever becomes
humble like this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It was a
reaffirmation of a lesson Jesus had been teaching right along. He had taught it by means of the

640
Note οὐ μή, strengthening the negation.
first four beatitudes (see on 5:3–6). He had stressed it in connection with the praise which he had
heaped upon the centurion (8:5–13) and upon the Canaanite woman (15:27, 28). He was
constantly teaching it by means of his own example (Matt. 12:15–21; 20:28; 21:5; Luke 22:27;
John 13:1–20; cf. II Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:5–8). And now there was this humble little child, still
looking trustfully into the eyes of the Master! Let the disciples—yes, let everyone (note
“whoever”)—then become like this child. Let them learn that the only way to ascend is to
descend. Do they wish to become great? Then let them become little! Do they wish to rise? Then
let them sink! Do they wish to rule? Then let them serve! Or, as a Dutch poem (Te worden als
een kindeke), of which I here offer my free translation, has it:
Make me, O Lord, a child again,
So tender, frail, and small,
In self possessing nothing, and
In thee possessing all.
O Savior, make me small once more,
That downward I may grow,
And in this heart of mine restore
The faith of long ago.
With thee may I be crucified—
No longer I that lives—
O Savior, crush my sinful pride
By grace which pardon gives.
Make me, O Lord, a child again,
Obedient to thy call,
In self possessing nothing, and
In thee possessing all.
5. And the person who in my name welcomes one such little child as this, welcomes me.
That the truth here expressed applies not only to the lambs of the flock but also to all who by
grace have become like them was made clear in 10:40 (see on that passage). By welcoming any
of those who belong to Jesus Christ, no matter how insignificant he may appear to the world
roundabout, we are welcoming Jesus Christ himself, for it is impossible to separate the Lord
from those whom he considers his own (Acts 9:4, 5; 22:7; 26:15; Rom. 8:35–39).
(b) Guard them, preventing them and yourselves from falling into temptation Accordingly,
Jesus continues: 6. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it is
better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck and he be drowned in the
depth of the sea. Here the Savior places the negative (not welcoming the little ones but causing
them to sin) over against the positive (welcoming them) of the preceding verse. It is clear that the
Lord is speaking about possibilities that may, and often do, arise when some “worldly” (see
verse 7) person, whether within or outside of the visible church, commits the grave sin of trying
to lead one of God’s true children astray. He is saying that even if the sin be planned against only
one of those so precious in God’s sight, physical death for such a planner—yes, death of the
most gruesome kind—would be preferable.641
The evil to which Jesus here refers, namely, causing someone else, one of God’s dear
children, to sin, clearly refers to placing in his path enticements to do wrong, traps, beguiling
allurements,642 as is clear from verse 7.
Jesus, then is saying that it is preferable for such an evil person that a heavy (literally donkey-
drawn) millstone be hung about his neck and he be drowned in the depth of the sea (literally
“that he be plunged down into the sea,643 into the sea of the sea”); that is, that with this heavy
millstone around his neck, making drowning doubly sure, he be taken far away from shore to the
place where the splashing waters of the turbulent sea or ocean are very deep, and that he there be
plunged into this watery grave from which return is absolutely impossible.
The millstone of which Jesus speaks is the top-stone of the two between which the grain is
crushed. The reference is not to the handmill but to the much heavier stone drawn by a
donkey.644 In the middle of the top-stone, whether of a handmill or of a donkey-drawn mill, there
is a hole through which grain can be fed so as to be crushed between the two stones. The
presence of this hole explains the phrase “that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck.”645
To summarize, what Jesus is saying in verses 1–6 is this, that, instead of striving to become
greatest in the kingdom of heaven (verse 1), in the process of attempting this hurting others
instead of guarding them (verse 6), the disciples should rather learn to forget about themselves
and to focus their loving attention upon Christ’s little ones, upon the lambs of the flock and upon
all those who in their humble trustfulness (or trustful humility) resemble these lambs. By
welcoming them they will be welcoming their Lord (verse 5). This they will learn to do if they
themselves also become like the little children, even like this little one whom Jesus has taken
into his arms. That is the only way to greatness in the kingdom of heaven (verses 2–4).
On the subject of a. hurting others by leading them into temptation (verse 7, cf. verse 6), or b.
allowing oneself to be misled (verses 8, 9) Jesus continues as follows: 7. Woe to the world
because of its temptations. Those who tempt others to sin and do not repent of this terrible evil

641
The verb συμφέρω (here συμφέρει: third per. sing. pres. indic.) means basically to bring together;
hence, to help, to be profitable or advantageous. When it is associated with an alternative—as here, the
alternative in this case being a. refraining from carrying out the plan and instead suffering gruesome
physical death (verse 6), or b. carrying it out and therefore facing “the everlasting fire” (verse 8), “the
hell of fire” (verse 9)—the meaning be preferable, be better than results. See also Matt. 5:29; 19:10;
John 11:50; 18:14.
642
In connection with the verb σκανδαλίζω (here σκανδαλίσῃ third per. sing. aor. subj. active) see above,
footnote 293 on p. 303.
643
For the verb καταποντίζω (here καταποντισθῇ, third pers. sing. aor. subj. passive, as is κρεμασθῇ) see
footnote 570 on p. 602.
644
See A. Deissmann, op. cit., p. 81.
645
See F. F. Bishop, Jesus of Palestine, London, 1955, p. 163.
show that they belong to “the world,” to mankind alienated from the life of God.646 Not all of
these people upon whom this prophetic curse—the very opposite of a beatitude (5:3–12)—is
pronounced are necessarily to be thought of as being from the start outside the kingdom, when
the latter concept is taken in its broadest sense. Even the disciples themselves must be on their
guard, as Jesus has shown just now (see verses 3, 6), lest they should belong to “the world” that
strives to lure God’s children into sin. The seriousness of committing this sin appears from the
fact that it was through temptation that sin entered the human realm (Gen. 3:1–6) and is still
spreading (I Tim. 6:9; James 1:12). Temptation is of the devil, the great tempter (Matt. 4:1; John
8:44; I Peter 5:8), whose “wiles” are many (see N.T.C. on Eph. 6:11). The substance of the curse
pronounced upon the world is indicated in verse 8 (“the everlasting fire”) and verse 9 (“the hell
of fire”).
It is, however, impossible in this present realm of sin to put an end to every temptation, every
enticement to sin: For temptations must come.… It is of the very nature of sin that it spreads. It
would be easier to stop water hyacinths from clogging the waterways of Florida than to prevent
temptations from clogging the tracks of the human race, including even the church. But though it
is impossible to eradicate temptations, by God’s grace it is possible to prevent oneself from
belonging to the company of the tempters. Hence Jesus adds, but woe to the man who is
responsible for the temptation, or, more literally, “through whom the temptation comes.”
Neither God’s eternal decrees nor the facts of history offer any excuse for the terrible sin of
enticing others to do wrong. See Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23.
By God’s grace it is also possible to overcome temptations in one’s own life: 8, 9. And if
your hand or your foot lures you into sin, cut it off and fling it away from you. It is better
for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the
everlasting fire. And if your eye lures you into sin, pluck it out and fling it away from you.
It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the
hell of fire. The admonition found in 5:29, 30 is here repeated, with slight variations; for
example, here in 18:8, 9 the reference to hand and foot is followed by that to the eye; in 5:29, 30
the reverse order is followed, the foot is not even mentioned, and instead of “eye” we find “right
eye.” So also here in 18:8, 9 the punishment is described as being thrown into the everlasting fire
… into the hell (Gehenna) of fire; in 5:29, 30 it is pictured as being thrown into or going down
into hell (Gehenna). Finally, here in 18:8, 9 it is made very clear that the Gehenna of everlasting
fire is the very opposite of “life,” that is, “life everlasting” with God in heaven (cf. the contrast
pictured in Matt. 25:46). But it is not upon these minor details that we should especially fix our
attention but upon the central meaning which is the same in both places. See, therefore, the
explanation of 5:29, 30.
Drastic action is necessary to overcome temptation, action made possible by prayer (Matt.
6:13; 26:41). The promise of victory is given in such passages as Matt. 7:7; I Cor. 10:13; Heb.
2:18; James 1:12.
It may seem as if Jesus has wandered away from the subject of guarding his “little ones,” and
not tempting them to sin. In reality, however, he has not, for is not taking drastic action against
the temptations by which Christ’s disciples themselves are assailed one of the best methods of

646
For the various meanings of the word κόσμος see N.T.C. on the Gospel according to John, Vol. I,
footnote 26 on p. 79. In Matt. 18:7 meaning (4), perhaps even the closely related meaning (6), is
probably indicated.
preventing themselves from enticing others? As to these “little ones,” Jesus further exhorts his
disciples as follows:
(c) Regard them highly; and if they wander away, go and find them and bring them home
10. Be careful that you do not scornfully look down upon a single one of these little ones,
for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in
heaven. At the root of all self-exaltation lies sinful pride, a looking down, or, as the Greek
literally expresses it, a thinking down upon others. The proper attitude is that conveyed so
touchingly by Paul: “in humble-mindedness each counting the other better than himself” (Phil.
2:3).
The words of Jesus are very emphatic. He warns the disciples constantly to see to it not to
make even a single one of those whom he considers his own the object of scorn or disdain, of
belittlement or contempt.
Much has been written about the words, “for I say to you that in heaven their angels.…” As
to “for,” this is easily explained as introducing the reason why no one must despise a single one
of these little ones. And as to “I say to you,” this probably means, “I declare to you with all the
authority at my command. I solemnly affirm.”
Now as to the “saying” itself, on its basis some have affirmed that each of God’s children has
his own “guardian angel” who remains with him for life, protecting him from harm and helping
him in various ways.647 In this precise form, however, the theory has no solid Scriptural support.
Passages to which an appeal has been made do not really confirm the theory. So, for example,
Gen. 48:16 does not refer to a created angel (see the context, verse 15). Dan. 3:28 must be
explained in the light of 3:25. As far as text and context are concerned this “angel” or “son of the
gods” who had been sent for the protection and encouragement of Daniel’s friends remains a
sublime mystery, and for that very reason can render no service in defense of the above-
mentioned theory. The “angel” who was with Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan. 6:22) is said to have
been God’s angel (an angel sent by God), not Daniel’s in the sense of being an angel who
remained with and took care of the prophet at all times. And as to Acts 12:15, the apostles’
outcry—“It is his angel”—at the appearance of Peter, who had been imprisoned and securely
guarded, but now suddenly stood before them no longer bound, must probably be ascribed to
overwhelming amazement coupled with a measure of superstitious fear.648 In Heb. 1:14 the
service which angels render to God’s children is ascribed in very general terms. Not a word is
said about each believer having his own guardian angel. Finally, even the apocryphal book Tobit
(see especially 5:4 ff.; 12:5), if it refers at all to Raphael as “guardian angel” in the sense defined
above, can hardly be regarded as a dependable basis for this doctrine. It may reflect a belief
pertaining to Zoroastrianism. So much for the “guardian angel” notion.
Other interpreters, in their explanation of Matt. 18:10, advocate the view that Jesus is saying
that the esteem in which “the little ones” are held in heaven is so high that “the most exalted
angels” had been commissioned by his Father to watch over them and to protect them.649 In favor

647
See S.BK. I, pp. 781 ff.; III, pp. 48 ff.; 437 ff.; Th.D.N.T., Vol. I, pp. 82, 86.
648
On this passage see F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of The Acts (The New International
Commentary on The New Testament), Grand Rapids, 1964.
649
Thus A. Maclaren, op. cit., on this passage. See also C. R. Erdman, op. cit., p. 147, who similarly opines
that the angels who protect the little ones are nearest to God’s throne.
of this view it has been argued that the words “for in heaven their angels always see the face of
my Father who is in heaven” are probably based on a custom prevailing at the time in Eastern
courts, where the men who were said to “stand before the king” and to “see his face” (cf. I Kings
10:8; II Kings 25:19) were officers who enjoyed their sovereign’s special favor, were near him,
were privileged to enjoy close fellowship with him, constantly awaiting his orders. They were
the men who were said to “sit first in the kingdom” (Esther 1:14). If this line of reasoning is
followed, then Jesus is saying to his disciples, “Do not regard as unimportant those who by ‘my
Father in heaven’—on this touchingly beautiful phrase and other similar ones see pp. 287, 326,
378, 543—are regarded so highly that he has appointed his most illustrious angels, those who as
it were stand nearest to his throne and constantly rejoice in his glorious presence, to keep watch
over them.”
It is not entirely certain that this Eastern custom actually underlies Christ’s words. Either
way, however, the difference in resultant meaning is not very substantial. Two qualifications
must, however, be borne in mind: a. the meaning cannot be “only his highest angels,” for this
would bring the passage into conflict with the rest of Scripture, in which angels rushing to the
defense and consolation of God’s children are by no means always characterized as only the
most exalted ones (cf. Ps. 91:11; Heb. 1:14); but rather as “his angels, including even the highest
ranking ones” (cf. Dan. 12:1; Luke 1:26); and b. the modifier “their” (in the phrase “their
angels”) must not, with some interpreters650 be explained as indicating the angels of those only
who are young in years, for that view fails to do justice to the contextual transition from the
expression “the little children” to “those who become like the little children” (see especially
verses 3 and 4). The little children are included, to be sure!
What, then, can be regarded as the correct interpretation? I have not been able to find any
better explanation of the passage than that offered by Calvin in his Commentary on A Harmony
to the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He interprets the words of Jesus to mean, “it is no
light matter to despise those who have angels for their companions and friends.… We ought
therefore to guard ourselves against despising their salvation, which even angels have been
commissioned to promote.… The care of the entire Church is committed to angels, to assist each
member as his needs require.”
To this, A. Kuyper651 adds two significant thoughts: a. Matt. 18:10 does not emphasize that
the angels speak to God in our behalf but rather that God through his angels takes care of his
chosen ones; and b. nevertheless, the care and watchfulness bestowed upon God’s children by
the angels is not of a merely mechanical or arbitrary character. On the contrary, as is clear from
such passages as Luke 15:10 (“There is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner who
repents”) and 16:22 (“Lazarus was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom”), the angels
bear the needs of God’s children on their very hearts, are deeply interested in them, and love
them. To this I would add: Do not also such passages as Dan. 10:11; Luke 2:13, 14; I Peter 1:12;
and Rev. 5:11, 12 point in the same direction?
Accord

650
E.g., W. C. Allen, op. cit., p. 196.
651
See his book De Engelen Gods, Kampen, 1923, pp. 280, 281.
7

EXPLANATORY NOTES
The Disciple as Child 18:1–4
As Peter and Jesus conclude their discussion of the temple tax (17:24–27), the other disciples
join them and pose a new issue, the issue of greatness. Mark’s account of the incident portrays
the issue as an outgrowth of a squabble among the disciples: Which of us is the greatest (cf.
Mark 9:33–37)? In Matthew, however, the disciples raise the issue as a theological question, an
inquiry about rank in the kingdom yet to come: Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
The question was one discussed by the rabbis as well, where greatness is often linked to the
teaching of the Torah. Jesus responds, however, in his own distinctive way.
Part of Jesus’ answer is the signlike action reported in verse 2: He places a little child in the
midst of the disciples, a person with no status or rank in the ancient world. Even without
comment, this gesture says a mouthful. Jesus nonetheless proceeds to interpret his action in
verses 3 and 4, which speak of children as a model for disciples to emulate. The pronouncement
in verse 3, which Matthew has adapted from Mark 10:15, appears to have been a widely
circulated saying (cf. the versions found in John 3:3, 5, and in G. Thom. 22).
In the phrase change and become like children, the verb for change could carry the technical
meaning of be converted, but here likely calls for a change in the way the disciple thinks and
acts. This reversal is further described in the saying in verse 4, where becoming like children is
equated with self-humbling, with assuming the stance of those who know that they are little (cf.
23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14). To become like children is thus to perceive ourselves afresh from the
dependent vantage point of a child, with no illusions of self-grandeur or self-sufficiency. To put
it another way, to become like children is to see ourselves as the poor in spirit of the Beatitudes.
Such a stance, Jesus says, is both a condition for entering the kingdom and a measure of
greatness in the kingdom.
Don’t Make Others Stumble 18:5–9
In verses 5 and 6 (cf. Mark 9:37, 42), child becomes a metaphor for one who follows Jesus. One
such child means a childlike disciple (not a child in the literal sense) and is equivalent to one of
these little ones who believe in me (cf. 10:42; 11:25). The concern in these verses is how we act
toward disciples who are as vulnerable as children. If we welcome weak disciples, act caringly
and hospitably toward them, we serve Jesus himself in and through them (cf. 10:40). If we cause
them to sin or stumble, however, the most dire judgment awaits us. (The great millstone around
one’s neck is the massive upper stone of a large mill turned by a donkey!)
The verb for cause to stumble or put a stumbling block before is skandalizō, which can mean
specifically entice another to sin or more broadly offend or be the downfall of someone. As
Senior suggests, the meaning here may encompass “a whole spectrum of obstacles thrown in the
way of the weak person” (1977:178). Skandalizō and the cognate noun skandalon (offense,

7
Hendriksen, William ; Kistemaker, Simon J.: New Testament Commentary : Exposition of the Gospel
According to Matthew. Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1953-2001 (New Testament Commentary 9),
S. 685

G. Gospel of Thomas (Early Christian Writings)


temptation, hindrance) are used several times in verses 5–9 and turn up frequently throughout the
Gospel (cf. 5:29–30; 13:21; 16:23; 17:27; 24:10; 26:31, 33).
Verses 7–9 elaborate on the judgment facing those who cause little ones to stumble. The
woe-saying in verse 7 appears in Luke as well (cf. Luke 17:1) and speaks apocalyptically of
impending “stumbling blocks.” Because the world is bent on its own evil course, it is inevitable
that stumbling will occur—but how terrible for those who cause that to happen! To avoid this,
disciples must be ready to take drastic action, as verses 8 and 9 indicate: If a part of the body
causes problems, Jesus says, it is better to remove it than let it lead to our destruction.
Here Matthew is drawing on Mark (cf. the three parallel sayings in Mark 9:43–47), using
sayings cited earlier in the discussion of adultery in the Sermon on the Mount (5:29–30). In the
context of chapter 18, the sayings can be interpreted in two different ways. According to some
writers, cutting off and tearing out refer to excommunication: The church must remove those
members whose behavior endangers the faith of others and the life of the community (cf. 1 Cor.
5:2, 13, and Dietrich Philips in Williams: 246). It is more likely, however, that the sayings call
for self-examination on the part of each believer: If any part of our life causes us to stumble, and
therefore makes us an obstacle to the faith of other Christians, we must do whatever it takes to
correct the situation (cf. the comments on 5:29–30).
8

Humility (Matt. 18:1–14)


Someone has accurately defined humility as “that grace that, when you know you have it, you’ve
lost it!” It has well been said, “True humility is not thinking meanly of oneself; it is simply not
thinking of oneself at all.”
The need for humility (v. 1). “Which one of us is the greatest?” was a repeated topic of
discussion among the disciples, for we find it mentioned often in the Gospel records. Recent
events would have aggravated the problem, particularly with reference to Peter. After all, Peter
had walked on the water, had been on the mountaintop with the Lord, and had even had his taxes
paid by means of a miracle.
The fact that Jesus had been sharing with the disciples the truth about His coming suffering
and death did not affect them. They were thinking only of themselves and what position they
would have in His kingdom. So absorbed were the disciples in this matter that they actually
argued with each other! (Luke 9:46)
The selfishness and disunity of God’s people is a scandal to the Christian faith. What causes
these problems? Pride—thinking ourselves more important than we really are. It was pride that
led man into sin at the beginning (Gen. 3:5). When Christians are living for themselves and not
for others, then there is bound to be conflict and division (Phil. 2:1ff).
The example of humility (vv. 2–6, 10–14). The disciples waited breathlessly for Jesus to
name the greatest man among them. But He bypassed them completely and called a little child
into their midst. This child was the example of true greatness.
True humility means knowing yourself, accepting yourself, and being yourself—your best
self—to the glory of God. It means avoiding two extremes: thinking less of yourself than you
ought to (as did Moses when God called him, Ex. 3:11ff), or thinking more of yourself than you

8
Gardner, Richard B.: Matthew. Scottdale, Pa. : Herald Press, 1991 (Believers Church Bible Commentary),
S. 275
ought to (Rom. 12:3). The truly humble person does not deny the gifts God has given him, but
uses them to the glory of God.
An unspoiled child has the characteristics that make for humility: trust (Matt. 18:6),
dependence, the desire to make others happy, an absence of boasting or selfish desire to be
greater than others. By nature, all of us are rebels who want to be celebrities instead of servants.
It takes a great deal of teaching for us to learn the lessons of humility.
The disciples wanted to know who was greatest in the kingdom. But Jesus warned them that,
apart from humility, they could not even enter the kingdom! They had to be converted—turned
around in their thinking—or they would never make it.
It seems that Jesus is, in these verses, blending two concepts: the human child as an example
of humility, and the child of God no matter what his age might be. As Christians, we must not
only accept the little children for Jesus’ sake; but we must also receive all of God’s children and
seek to minister to them (Rom. 14:1ff). It is a serious matter to cause a child to sin or to lead him
astray. It is equally as serious to cause another believer to stumble because of our poor example
(Rom. 14:13ff; 1 Cor. 8:9ff). True humility thinks of others, not of self.
Jesus explained that we can have four different attitudes toward the children and,
consequently, toward true humility. We can seek to become like the children (Matt. 18:3–4) in
true humility, as to the Lord. Or, we can only receive them (Matt. 18:5) because Jesus told us to.
If we are not careful, we will cause them to stumble (Matt. 18:6), and even end up despising
them (Matt. 18:10).
It is a dangerous thing to look down on the children, because God values them highly. When
we welcome a child (or a Christian believer), we welcome Christ (Matt. 18:5). The Father cares
for them and the angels watch over them (Matt. 18:10). Like the good shepherd, God seeks the
lost and saves them; and we must not cause them to perish. If the shepherd goes after an adult
sheep, how much more important is it that he protect the lambs!
In these days of child neglect and child abuse, we need to take Christ’s warning seriously. It
is better to drown with a heavy millstone around one’s neck, than to abuse a child and face the
judgment of God (Matt. 18:6).
The cost of humility (vv. 7–9). The truly humble person helps to build up others, not to tear
them down. He is a stepping-stone, not a stumbling block. Therefore, anything that makes me
stumble must be removed from my life, for if it is not, I cause others to stumble. Jesus had
uttered similar words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:29–30). Paul used the eye, hand, and
foot to illustrate the mutual dependence of members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:14–17).
Humility begins with self-examination, and it continues with self-denial. Jesus was not
suggesting that we maim our bodies, for harming our physical bodies can never change the
spiritual condition of our hearts. Rather, He was instructing us to perform “spiritual surgery” on
ourselves, removing anything that causes us to stumble or that causes others to stumble. The
humble person lives for Jesus first and others next—he puts himself last. He is happy to deprive
himself even of good things, if it will make others happy. Perhaps the best commentary on this is
Philippians 2:1–18.
9

9
Wiersbe, Warren W.: The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill. : Victor Books, 1996, c1989, S. Mt
18:1
4. INSTRUCTION CONCERNING HUMILITY (18:1-6) (MARK 9:33-37, 42; LUKE 9:46-48).
18:1-6. While still in the city of Capernaum, the disciples asked Jesus a question they had
undoubtedly been pondering among themselves: Who is the greatest in the kingdom of
heaven? The disciples were still anticipating an earthly kingdom and wondering what great
positions they would have. In response Jesus took a little child (paidion), who had no rights
according to the Law, and stood him in their midst. He told the disciples a change in their
thinking was necessary. Greatness in the kingdom was not based on great works or words, but
on childlike humility of spirit.
Jesus’ reply indicated they were asking the wrong question. They should have been
concerned about serving the Lord, not asking about positions in the kingdom. Their service
needed to be directed toward people, for Jesus spoke about welcoming a little child . . . in His
name. Little thought was directed in those days toward children, but Jesus did not overlook
them. In fact, He gave a stern warning concerning any who might place a stumbling block before
one of these little ones who believe in Him. (Interestingly little children can—and do—believe
in Jesus!) Causes . . . to sin translates the verb skandalisē, “to offend, or cause to fall,” a verb
Matthew used 13 times. It would be better for such an offender to have a large millstone hung
around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. A truly humble person does not
concern himself with position or power, but is concerned about active service, especially toward
those who are most in need.
5. INSTRUCTION CONCERNING OFFENSES (18:7-14).
18:7-11 (Mark 9:43-48). Jesus continued the previous discussion by talking about those
who cause offenses. It was obvious such individuals were present in Jesus’ time, but the
judgment of God (woe, twice, Matt. 18:7; eternal fire, v. 8; the fire of hell, v. 9; cf. 6:22) would
fall on them because they were failing to deal with the basic cause of their sin. Jesus was not
teaching self-mutilation, cutting off one’s hand or foot or gouging out one’s eye (cf. 5:29-30).
Doing that would not remove the source of offense, which is the heart (cf. 15:18-19). Jesus was
saying one must remove whatever offends. To keep from offending, radical changes are often
necessary. The disciples were reminded of the value the Lord places on these little ones
(mikrōn toutōn; cf. 18:6, 14). Children are important to God. It may be God has entrusted the
care of little children to a specific group of His angelic beings (their angels) who are in constant
touch with the heavenly Father (cf. Ps. 91:11; Acts 12:15). (Some Gr. mss. add the words of
Matt. 18:11, “The Son of Man came to save what was lost,” perhaps inserted from Luke 19:10.)
18:12-14 (Luke 15:3-7). In order to demonstrate the importance God attaches to little
children, the Lord gave the disciples an illustration. Suppose a man who owns 100 sheep
suddenly discovers only 99 are present. Will he not leave them and search for the one until he
finds it? In the same way God (your Father in heaven; cf. Matt. 18:10) is concerned about
these little ones (cf. vv. 6, 10) and does not want to lose any of them. Great care must be
exercised to avoid all offense.
10

INSIGHT

10
Walvoord, John F. ; Zuck, Roy B. ; Dallas Theological Seminary: The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An
Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, 1983-c1985, S. 2:61-62
Kingdom lifestyle (18:1). This entire three–chapter section is about the pathway to greatness
for Christ’s disciples. Teaching and events are interwoven to teach us how to live as citizens of
the present kingdom of Jesus. Most important to a kingdom lifestyle is responsiveness to Christ’s
word, especially to His word about preserving one another’s commitment to the Lord.
Ultimately, the key to living as citizens of God’s kingdom is to respond to His call to commit
ourselves to servanthood, as Christ served for the Father’s sake.
“Like little children” (18:2–5). Christ taught and performed miracles for three years in the
little Jewish homeland—and the adults of His time either overtly rejected His claims, or held
back, uncertain. Now He calls a little child and “had him stand among” the disciples. The child
responded to Jesus’ call when adults had not.
To be followers of Jesus, much less great in God’s kingdom, we must be like a little child in
our response to Christ’s word.
Causing little ones to sin (18:6–9). Jesus uses hyperbole to emphasize the importance of
maintaining “little oneness” in the community of faith.
We must do nothing that will discourage others from responding as a child to Christ’s word.
“Look down on” (18:10–11). Caring, not contempt, is our calling.
“Sheep” (18:12–14). Sheep were greatly valued in Palestine. But their weaknesses were well
known. Sheep were helpless, unable to defend themselves. And they were foolish, prone to go
astray. Jesus reminds us that we human beings share this last characteristic. As believers we and
others will stray. But when this happens, we are to be brought back into the company of God’s
sheep with rejoicing, not recriminations. Welcoming back those who have strayed is one way we
preserve “little oneness” in the community of faith.
11

NOTES ON CHAP. 18
Verse 1. At the same time] Or hour; but ωρα is frequently used to signify some particular time:
however, instead of ωρα, three MSS., all the Itala but four, and Origen, read ημερα, day. Origen
says both readings were extant in MSS. in his time.
Who is the greatest] Could these disciples have viewed the kingdom of Christ in any other light
than that of a temporal one? Hence they wished to know whom he would make his prime
minister-whom his general-whom his chief chancellor-whom supreme judge, etc., etc. Is it he
who first became thy disciple, or he who is thy nearest relative, or he who has most frequently
entertained thee, or he who is the oldest, merely as to years? Could this inquiry have proceeded
from any but the nine disciples who had not witnessed our Lord’s transfiguration? Peter, James,
and John, were surely more spiritual in their views! And yet how soon did even these forget that
his kingdom was not of this world! See Mr 10:35, etc.; Joh 18:10, etc. The disciples having lately
seen the keys delivered to Peter, and found that he, with James and John, had been privileged
with being present at the transfiguration, it is no wonder if a measure of jealousy and suspicion
began to work in their minds. From this inquiry we may also learn, that the disciples had no
notion of Peter’s supremacy; nor did they understand, as the Roman Catholics will have it, that
Christ had constituted him their head, either by the conversation mentioned Mt 16:18, 19, or by
the act mentioned in the conclusion of the preceding chapter. Had they thought that any such
11
Richards, Lawrence O.: The Bible Readers Companion. electronic ed. Wheaton : Victor Books, 1991;
Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996, S. 620
superiority had been designed, their present question must have been extremely impertinent. Let
this be observed.
Verse 2. A little child] But this child could walk, for he called him to him. Nicephorus says, this
was Ignatius, who was afterwards bishop of Antioch, and suffered martyrdom under, and by
command of, the Roman Emperor Trojan, in the 107th year of our Lord. But this good father is
not much to be depended on, being both weak and credulous.
Verse 3. Except ye be converted] Unless ye be saved from those prejudices which are at present
so baneful to your nation, (seeking a temporal and not a spiritual kingdom,) unless ye be clothed
with the spirit of humility, ye cannot enter into the spirit, design, and privileges of my spiritual
and eternal kingdom. The name of this kingdom should put you in mind of its nature.-1. The
KING is heavenly; 2. His SUBJECTS are heavenly-minded; 3. Their COUNTRY is heavenly, for they
are strangers and pilgrims upon earth; 4. The GOVERNMENT of this kingdom is wholly spiritual
and divine. See on Mt 3:2.
And become as little children] i.e. Be as truly without worldly ambition, and the lust of power,
as little children are, who act among themselves as if all were equal. The following saying from
the Boostan of the poet Saady is very appropriate. "The hearts of infants being free from avarice,
what care they for a handful of silver more than for a handful of dust?"
Verse 4. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself] So great is the disparity between the
kingdom of Christ and the kingdoms of this world, that there is no way of rising to honours in the
former, but by humility of mind, and continual self-abasement.
The same is greatest] Thus our Lord shows them that they were all equal, and that there could
be no superiority among them, but what must come from the deepest humility; he intimates also,
that wherever this principle should be found, it would save its possessor from seeking worldly
honours or earthly profits, and from seeking to be a ruler over his brethren, or a lord in God’s
heritage.
Verse 5. One such little child] As our Lord in the preceding verses considers a little child an
emblem of a genuine disciple, so by the term in this verse he means a disciple only. "Whosoever
will receive, i.e. show unto such a child-like, unambitious disciple of mine, any act of kindness
for my sake, I will consider it as done to myself."
Verse 6. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones] But, on the contrary, whosoever shall
cause one of the least of those who believe in me to be stumbled-to go into the spirit of the
world, or give way to sin-such a one shall meet with the most exemplary punishment.
Let those who act the part of the devil, in tempting others to sin, hear this declaration of our
Lord, and tremble.
A millstone] μυλος ονικος, an ass’s millstone, because in ancient times, before the invention of
wind and water mills, the stones were turned sometimes by slaves, but commonly by asses or
mules. The most ancient kind of mills among the inhabitants of the northern nations, was the
quern, or hand-mill. In some places in Ireland, Scotland, and the Zetland Isles, these still exist.
Drowned in the depth of the sea.] It is supposed that in Syria, as well as in Greece, this mode
of punishing criminals was practised; especially in cases of parricide; and when a person was
devoted to destruction for the public safety, as in cases of plague, famine, etc. That this was the
custom in Greece, we learn from the Scholiast on the Equites of Aristophanes, οταν γαρ
κατεποντουν τινας βαρος απο των τραχηλων εκρεμων. When a person was drowned, they hung a
weight, (υπερβολον λιθον, Suidas,) a vast stone about his neck. See the ancient Scholia upon the
Equites, lin. 1360, and Suidas, in υπερβολον λιθον. We find also that it was a positive institute of
the ancient Hindoo law. "If a woman," says the precept, "causes any person to take poison, sets
fire to any person’s house, or murders a man, then the magistrate, having bound a stone to her
neck, shall drown her." Halhead’s Code of Gentoo Laws, 4to. edition, page 306.
Verse 7. Wo!] Or, alas! ουαι. It is the opinion of some eminent critics, that this word is ever
used by our Lord to express sympathy and concern.
Because of offences] Scandals, stumbling-blocks, persecutions, etc.
For it must needs be that offences come] αναγκε γαρ εστιν ελθειν τα σκανδαλα, for the coming
of offences is unavoidable. Such is the wickedness of men, such their obstinacy, that they will
not come unto Christ that they may have life, but desperately continue deceiving and being
deceived. In such a state of things, offences, stumbling-blocks, persecutions, etc., are
unavoidable.
Wo to that man] He who gives the offence, and he who receives it, are both exposed to ruin.
Verses 8. - 9. If thy hand, etc.] See the notes on Mt 5:29, 30.
Verse 10. One of these little ones] One of my simple, loving, humble disciples.
Their angels-always behold] Our Lord here not only alludes to, but, in my opinion, establishes
the notion received by almost all nations, viz. That every person has a guardian angel; and that
these have always access to God, to receive orders relative to the management of their charge.
See Ps 34:8; Heb 1:14.
Always behold the face] Hence, among the Jews, the angels were styled ‫פנים‬ ‫מלכי‬, malakey
panim, angels of the face, and Michael is said to be ‫סר הפנים‬, sar ha-panim the prince of the
face. This is an allusion to the privilege granted by eastern monarchs to their chief favourites; a
privilege which others were never permitted to enjoy. The seven princes of Media and Persia,
who were the chief favourites and privy-counsellors of Ahasuerus, are said to See the king’s face.
Es 1:14; See also 2 Kings 25:19, and Jer 51:25. Our Lord’s words give us to understand that
humble-hearted, child-like disciples, are objects of his peculiar care, and constant attention. The
clause, εν ουρανοις, in the heavens, is wanting in several MSS., versions, and fathers.
Verse 11. For the Son of man, etc.] This is added as a second reason, why no injury should be
done to his followers. "The Son of man has so loved them as to come into the world to lay down
his life for them."
That which was lost.] απολωλος. In Re 9:11, Satan is called απολλυων, Apolluon, the destroyer,
or him who lays waste. This name bears a near relation to that state in which our Lord tells us he
finds all mankind-lost, desolated, ruined. So it appears that Satan and men have the nearest
affinity to each other-as the destroyer and the destroyed-the desolator and the desolated- the
loser and the lost. But the Son of man came to save the lost. Glorious news! May every lost soul
feel it! This verse is omitted by five MSS., two versions, and three of the fathers; but of its
authenticity there can be no doubt, as it is found in the parallel place, Lu 19:10, on which verse
there is not a single various reading found in any of the MSS. that have ever been discovered, nor
in any of the ancient versions.
Verse 12. Doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains] So our
common translation reads the verse; others, Doth he not leave the ninety and nine UPON THE
MOUNTAINS, and go, etc. This latter reading appears to me to be the best; because, in Lu 15:4, it
is said, he leaveth the ninety and nine IN THE DESERT. The allusion, therefore, is to a shepherd
feeding his sheep on the mountains, in the desert; not seeking the lost one ON the mountains.
Leaving the ninety and nine, and seeking the ONE strayed sheep:-This was a very common form
of speech among the Jews, and includes no mystery, though there are some who imagine that our
Lord refers to the angels who kept not their first estate, and that they are in number, to men, as
NINETY are to ONE. But it is likely that our Lord in this place only alludes to his constant
solicitude to instruct, heal, and save those simple people of the sea coasts, country villages, etc.,
who were scattered abroad, as sheep without a shepherd, (Mt 9:36, ) the scribes and Pharisees
paying no attention to their present or eternal well-being. This may be also considered as a lesson
of instruction and comfort to backsliders. How hardly does Christ give them up!
12

18:1. Not long after the episode closing the previous chapter (at that time), the disciples
raise the question concerning Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Their question
assumes a hierarchal pecking order in which status and clout are determined by one’s rank. Once
again they are “thinking the things of men,” and view their life in the kingdom in terms of status
and privilege, not self-denial and sacrifice. Their interest in prestige and power demonstrates that
they did not fully grasp Jesus’ recent prediction of his passion and sacrificial death (16:21;
17:22–23). Sadly, their preoccupation with such mundane concerns becomes evident when the
issue of greatness surfaces again later, just prior to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (20:20–28).
18:2. Jesus responds to the disciples by radically challenging and undermining their worldly
values. By means of a little child (παιδίον, paidion) Jesus illustrates a core value fundamental to
the kingdom. Jesus’ actions were not calculated to call attention to some innate quality within
children, such as innocence, humility, or being teachable. Rather, it is the status of children as
the “weakest, most vulnerable members of society”3 that is the focal point of Jesus’ illustration.
Children had no social clout or independent rights in the ancient world. They were utterly
dependent on others for their livelihood and protection. They had no illusion of greatness or
power according to worldly standards. Jesus’ use of a child was to remind the disciples that in
the kingdom greatness is measured by one’s own sense of vulnerability and helplessness, and
ultimate dependency upon God.
18:3–4. Rather than embrace the world’s standards of greatness, Jesus challenges his
disciples to change and become like little children. It is incumbent upon all disciples, if we are
to experience fully God’s reign, to exhibit a childlike indifference to worldly power and prestige.
To become “humble” like a child is to understand that in the kingdom one’s security and sense of
identity (=“greatness”) are grounded not in human accomplishments or accolades, but in a
relationship to God as Father.
18:5. The focus of vv. 2–4 is not about children per se, but about disciples who are viewed
by the world as without worth and significance. In v. 5 the emphasis is not upon receiving literal
children (cf. 19:13), but upon the reception of those disciples whom the world may view as weak
and dispensable. To exhibit a hospitable reception of a disciple is tantamount to welcoming Jesus

12
Clarke, Adam: Clarke's Commentary: Matthew. electronic ed. Albany, OR : Ages Software, 1999 (Logos
Library System; Clarke's Commentaries), S. Mt 18:1
3
Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary, p. 117.
(cf. 10:40–42; 25:40, 45). Unlike the world which extends honor only to those possessing fame
and power, in the kingdom the disciple emulates his/her Lord by welcoming the “least.”
2. Avoiding Offense (18:6–9)
6But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for
him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the
sea.
7“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must

come, but woe to the man through whom they come! 8If your hand or your foot causes you
to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than
to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you
to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to
have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
18:6. From the emphasis on the emulation of a childlike attitude (vv. 2–4), and the reception
of those the world may deem as less than worthy (v. 5), Jesus now emphasizes the extreme
measures to which one should go so as to avoid being instrumental in the downfall of a “little
one.” The repeated use of the term σκανδαλίζω (skandalizō=to stumble or fall into sin, vv. 6–9),
indicates that Jesus is concerned that among his followers there be a sensitive regard for the
vulnerability of others. It is a serious matter to contribute to the downfall of a fellow believer. To
illustrate the severity of God’s judgment upon one who causes another to fall, Jesus affirms that
it would be better for him to have a large millstone (=large, heavy stone usually turned by
donkey power) hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea, than to be
instrumental in causing a “little one” to fall. Drowning at sea is to be preferred to the
eschatological judgment that awaits the one who undermines the faith of those who believe in
Jesus.
18:7. Jesus recognizes that in a fallen world numerous factors may contribute to the downfall
of one of his disciples (cf. 13:37–43). Nevertheless, those who cause others to stumble will be
held accountable. Thus, while there is a certain inevitability in the course of things, there is never
a lessening of human responsibility (cf. 26:24, as in the case of Judas).
18:8–9. The language of these two verses is virtually the same as that recorded in 5:19–20.
Previously, Jesus used this hyperbolic emphasis to underscore the drastic measures to which one
should go in order to avoid lustful desires. In this instance, the language calls for drastic action
so as to avoid sin of any kind. It is far better to suffer a self-imposed limitation in this life than to
suffer the eternal loss of one’s very being. Once again the priorities of the kingdom demand
decisive action that may not square with worldly ambitions or the maintaining of our rights and
privileges. Priority must be given the eternal state, even if it means an earthly existence of
deprivation and repression.
3. Value of the “Little Ones” (18:10–14)
10“See
that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their
angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.a
12“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away,

will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?

a
Some manuscripts heaven. 11The Son of Man came to save what was lost.
13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the
ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing
that any of these little ones should be lost.
18:10–11. These verses reinforce the value and worth of every disciple by highlighting the
special relationship and care extended to them by the Father. Not only must Jesus’ followers
avoid any action that might cause a “little one” to be tripped up (skandalizō), they must not
exhibit a disdainful attitude that results in devaluing or belittling a little one. The reason is (gar)
that each of these little ones have a heavenly representative with direct access to the very
presence of God. Elaborate Jewish angelogy proliferated a number of ideas about angelic
involvement with God’s people.4 In Scripture angels are linked to God’s people as a nation (Dan
10:13; 12:1), and with individual churches (Rev. 1:20). While Jesus does not develop in detail
the role that angels may play in the life of the individual believer (cf. Heb 1:14), his words do
imply that every disciple benefits from an angelic representative who brings their situation
before the Father. The text, however, stops short of calling these angelic representatives
“guardian angels.” It should be observed that these angels are in heaven, not upon the earth
providing human protection. Nonetheless, Jesus’ point is that if angels are concerned with the
little ones then any maltreatment of them will surely not go unnoticed.
18:12. To illustrate the Father’s concern for every disciple Jesus tells a parable in which the
value of even one that has gone astray becomes the object of intense concern (vv. 12–14; cf.
Luke 15:4–7). The imagery of a good shepherd who pastorally cares for all the sheep recalls the
language of Ezekiel 34 where “the Sovereign LORD says: ‘I myself will search for my sheep and
look after them …’” (see 34:11–16). As noted earlier, the shepherd theme is important in
Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus (cf. 2:6; 9:36; 14:15; 15:29–39).
18:13–14. The shepherd in Jesus’ parable who seeks out even one sheep gone astray is
representative of the great value that God places upon the restoration and preservation of even
one little one who has wandered away. It is the finding and rescuing of one sheep gone astray
that produces a greater joy than remaining with the ninety-nine who stayed in the security of the
fold. For that reason the shepherd does not hesitate to focus his concern upon the lost sheep, in
order to experience the joy of restoration. Since it is God’s will that none of these little ones
should be lost, the disciples should exhibit the same regard, and go out of their way to assure the
eternal welfare of all that are a part of God’s flock. A disciple therefore will not despise that
which God so highly values.
13

(M) 18:1. In that hour came the disciples to Jesus, saying, Who then is greater in the
kingdom of the heavens?] The editor here returns to Mk 33, but omits the dispute and Christ’s
question (see above), for which he substitutes the statement that the disciples came with a
question. The ἄρα is probably intended as a link with the preceding incident. “Why is Peter

4
See D.F. Watson, “Angels,” ABD 1:248–255.
13
Chouinard, Larry: Matthew. Joplin, Mo. : College Press, 1997 (The College Press NIV Commentary), S.
Mt 18:1

M the Second Gospel.


regarded as chief among us? Who is to be chief in the coming kingdom?” In order to form a
connecting link, the editor inserts ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ; cf. the insertion of ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ, 12:1.
For προσῆλθον, see on 4:3,
(M) 2. And He called a child, and placed him in the midst of them, and said.] Mk. has: “And
sitting down, He called (ἐφώνησε) the Twelve, and saith to them, If any one wishes to be first, he
shall be last of all, and servant of all. And He took a child, and placed him in the midst of them;
and having taken him into His arms, He said to them.” For the omission of ἐναρκαλισάμενος, cf.
19:15. In Mk. there now follows a series of sayings, 9:37–50, broken by a short paragraph of
incident, 38–40. The connection of these sayings is sometimes very obscure, and frequently
artificial. The transition, e.g., from 42 to 43 is difficult, and unless πυρί in v. 49 has the same
reference as in 48, the connection of thought seems to be broken there also. It is probable that
Mk. has strung together detached sayings or paragraphs. ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου of v. 37 would
remind the Evangelist of 38–40 and 41, both of which have a similar phrase vv. 39, 41. τῶν
τοιούτων παιδίων (= children) of v. 37 would bring to his remembrance v. 42 with its μικρῶν
τούτων τῶν πιστευόντων (= recent converts). And the σκανδαλίσῃ of 42 would suggest the
section 43–48, although this paragraph has no immediate bearing on the subject with which the
discourse started. Lastly, πυρί of v. 48 would suggest the (probably) quite different πῦρ of v. 49
(see Swete), and ἁλισθήσεται of this verse recalls to the Evangelist’s mind the saying about salt,
v. 50.
The editor of Mt., however, has treated the whole series of sayings as though it formed a
unity, only omitting some of the least harmonious verses. But just as he has made Mk 6:8–12 and
4 the basis round which to group a number of other sayings so as to form a discourse of some
length, so he has done here. The relation of Mt. to Mk. may be shown as follows. Passages in
brackets are added by Mt.:
Mt 18[3–4] for 3; cf. Mk 10:15.
5 = 9:37a.
omitted 37b.
omitted 38–40.
omitted 41.
6 = 42.
[7]
8–9 = 43–47.
omitted 48–50.
[10–35]
Mt 19:1a is a closing formula like that which closes the three previous great discourses in Mt
7:28, 11:1, 13:53.
Of the verses omitted, 37b has already found a place in 10:40; 38–40 are omitted because
they break the tenor of the speech; 41 has already been recorded in 10:42; 48–50 are probably
omitted on account of their difficulty. A saying parallel to v. 50 has already been recorded in
5:13. Of the verses inserted, 12–14 find a parallel in a different context in Lk 15:3–7; 6 finds a
parallel in a different context in Lk 17:2; 7 in Lk 17:1; 15 in Lk 17:3; and 21 in Lk 17:4.
(L) 3. Verily I say to you, Except ye turn and become as children, ye shall not enter into the
kingdom of the heavens.] That is to say, “in asking who shall be the greater, you have entered

L the Matthæan Logia.


upon a path which will not lead you to this end. The very question shows that you do not
understand what greatness is. You must turn back and recover the childlike temper which is
untempted to self-advancement. You must become again as children, i.e. unassuming. Otherwise,
so far from being great in the kingdom, you will never even enter it.” This verse anticipates Mk
10:15.
(L) 4. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this child, he shall be the great one in the
kingdom of the heavens.] That is to say, “greatness involves humility. To be great one must be
unassuming.”
(M) 5. And whosoever shall receive ore such child in My name receives Me.] Mk. has:
“Whosoever shall receive one of such children in My name receives Me.” By “receive in My
name” here is apparently meant to recognise in the humble, unassuming disposition of children a
feature of the Christlike character; cf. 11:29.They who recognise and welcome this characteristic
of childhood receive Christ, i.e. are in communion with Him.
The editor here omits Mk 37b–41. But it is noticeable that in 10:40, 42 he has parallels to the
first and last of these sayings.
(M) 6. And whosoever shall cause to stumble one of these little ones who believe in Me, it is
expedient for him that an ass’s millstone be hanged about his neck, and (that) he be sunk into the
deep sea.] Mk. has “And whosoever shall cause to stumble one of these little ones who believe in
Me, it is good for him rather if an ass’s millstone is placed about his neck, and he is cast into the
sea.”—ὃς δέ] for Mk.’s καὶ ὅς, as often.—τῶν πιστευόντων] In Mk. the thought of the discourse
has been turned by the insertion of vv. 38–40 from the consideration and treatment of children to
that of children in faith and belief.1 In Mt., who has omitted 38–40, the thought is still of
children. The editor retains Mk.’s τῶν πιστευόντων εἰς ἐμέ in spite of its incongruity. Mk. has
καλόν—μᾶλλον for συμφέρει. Mt. assimilates to 5:29, 30. Lk. in 17:1 has λυσιτελεῖ̀.—ἵνα
κρεμασθῇ] Mk. has εἰ περίκειται. So Lk. The ἵνα is an assimilation to 5:29–30.—καταποντισθῇ]
Mk. has βέβληται, Lk. ἔρριπται—πέλαγος τῆς θαλάσσης] Mk. has τὴς θάλασσαν, simply.
πιστεύειν εἰς occurs only here in Mt. In Mk. It is wrongly omitted by ‫ א‬D Δ a b ff i k. The
πιστευόντων εἰς ἐμέ there, immediately after vv. 38–41, can only refer to such as had confidence
in the power of Christ, like the man who cast out demons in His name even though he was not an
immediate follower of Christ. The construction does not occur again in Mk. nor in Lk. It is
common in Jn. The τῶν πιστευόντων εἰς ἐμέ in Mt. is incongruous, and is only explicable as
borrowed, i.e. not omitted, from Mk.
(L) 7. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! for there is necessity that stumbling-
blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling-block comes!] Lk 17:1 has:
ἀνέδεκτόν ἐστιν τοῦ τὰ σκάνδαλα μὴ ἐλθεῖν, πλὴν οὐαὶ διʼ οὗ ἔρχεται. The editor inserts the
saying here because of the verbal connection between σκάνδαλα and σκανδαλίσῃ of the previous
verse; cf. the juxtaposition of 6:16 (ἀφανίζουσι) and 6:19 ἀφανίζει. For κόσμος, cf. 5:14, 13:38.
(M) 8. And if thy hand or thy foot is causing thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast (it) from thee.
It is good for thee to enter into life maimed or halt, than having two hands or two feet to be cast
into the eternal fire.] Mk. has two separate sayings for the hand and the foot: “And if thy hand
should cause thee to stumble, cut it off. It is good for thee maimed to enter into life, than having
the two hands to go away into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if thy foot should be

1
Men like the Exorcist, vv. 38–40, or like him who merely gave a cup of cold water, v. 41, were “little
ones who believe in Me.” No stumbling-blocks were to be placed in their way.
causing thee to stumble, cut it off. It is good for thee to enter into life halt, than having the two
feet to be cast into Gehenna.” Mt. has the saying about the hand in 5:30. He combines here,
selecting βληθῆναι (Mk 45) rather than ἀπελθεῖν (43). In 5:29–30 he has both verbs. He
assimilates to 5:29 by substituting εἰ σκανδαλίζει for ἐὰν σκανδαλίσῃ (ίζῃ), and ἔκκοψον for
ἀπόκοψον, and by adding καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ; cf. Introduction, p. xxx. For “life,” see on 7:14.—
εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον] Mk. has: εἰς τὴν γέενναν, εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ ἄσβεστον. τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον, is an
assimilation to 25:41. αἰώνιος occurs again in 25:46 of κόλασις, and in 19:16, 29, 25:46 of ζωή.
On the idea of everlasting punishment, see Volz, Jüd. Eschat. p. 287. Cf. Ps.-Sol. 2:35 ἀπώλεια
αἰώνιος; Enoch. 91:9 “eternal judgement”; 27:3 “judgement—continually, for ever”;22:11
“punishment and torture for ever”; 67:13 “fire which burns for ever”; Josephus, Wars, ii. 164,
“everlasting punishment” (ἀϊδίῳ τιμωρίᾳ κολάζεσθαι); Ant. xviii. 14, “an everlasting prison”
(εἱργμὸν ἀΐδιον); Secrets of Enoch 10:6 hell is “an everlasting inheritance”; Jubilees 24:32
“eternal malediction”; Berakhoth 28b (Jochanan ben Zaccai) “All the more should I weep now
that they are about to lead me before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who lives
and abides for ever, and for ever and ever; whose wrath, if He be wrathful, is an eternal wrath;
and if He bind me, His binding is an eternal binding; and if He kill me, His killing is an eternal
killing; whom I cannot placate with words, nor bribe with wealth”; Baruch 85:12 “there will be
no opportunity of returning, nor a limit to the times.” In view of this general drift of
contemporaneous thought upon this subject, there is no justification for the attempt to weaken
the meaning of αἰώνιος in this Gospel. For the questions raised as to the duration of punishment
in the Rabbinical schools, see Volz.
(M) 9. And if thy eye is causing thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast (it) from thee. It is
good for thee with one eye to enter into life, than having two eyes to be cast into the Gehenna of
fire.] Mk. has: “And if thy eye should be causing thee to stumble, cast it out. It is good for thee
with one eye to enter into the kingdom of God, than having two eyes to be cast into Gehenna,
where ‘their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.’” Mt. assimilates to 5:29 by substituting
εἰ—σκανδαλύζει for ἐὰν—σκανδαλίζῃ, σοί for σέ, ἔξελε for ἔκβαλε, and by adding καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ
σοῦ̀. The addition of τοῦ πυρός after γέενναν is an assimilation to 5:22 and a substitute for Mk v.
48.
(L) 10. Take heed, do not despise one of these little ones; for I say to you, That their angels
in heaven always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.] The editor adds a saying which
clearly has reference to children, not to adult Christians of childlike faith, and is an additional
proof that in v. 6 he still had literal children in mind. The τῶν μικρῶν τούτων of v. 6 and of this
verse probably suggested the insertion of this saying here. See note on v. 7.—βλεπουσι τὸ
πρόσωπον] Cf. 1 K 10:8, 2 K 25:19, To 12:15. The “seeing the face” means that they stand in the
immediate presence of God. The verse gives an additional reason for reverencing the Christlike
qualities of children; cf. v. 6.
(L) 12. What think ye? if any man have a hundred sheep, and one of them stray, doth he not
leave the ninety-nine, and go to the mountains and seek that which has strayed?]
(M) 13. And if it happen that he find it, verily I say to you, that he rejoices more over it, than
over the ninety-nine which did not stray.] Lk 15:3–7 has a similar saying. The parable there
illustrates the divine love which seeks to reclaim sinners. In Mt. after v. 10 and before v. 14 it
apparently illustrates from another point of view the value of children in God’s sight. Their

Ps.-Sol. The Psalms of Solomon.


angels stand in His presence, and He cares for them as a shepherd does for his lost sheep. But
this can hardly be an original connection.
(L) 14. So it is not the will of (before) your Father who is in heaven, that one of these little
ones should perish.] Vv. 12–14 have probably been added here by the editor as a third saying
about τῶν μικρῶν τούτων; cf. vv. 6, 10. Even if vv. 10–14 be interpreted of children in faith, i.e.
recent converts, vv. 12–14 can hardly be in an original connection. They presuppose a context
such as that in Lk. where they would illustrate the divine love, not for children or for childlike
believers, but for sinners who had strayed away from His love. For θἐλημα ἔμπροσθεν cf. 11:26
εὐδοκία ἔμπροσθεν.
14

THE MIND OF A CHILD


Matthew 18:1–4
On that day the disciples came to Jesus. “Who, then,” they said, “is the greatest in the Kingdom of
Heaven?” Jesus called a little child and made him stand in the middle of them, and said, “This is the truth
I tell you—unless you turn and become as children, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Whoever humbles himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
HERE is a very revealing question, followed by a very revealing answer. The disciples asked who
was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus took a child and said that unless they turned
and became as this little child, they would not get into the Kingdom at all.
The question of the disciples was: “Who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
and the very fact that they asked that question showed that they had no idea at all what the
Kingdom of Heaven was. Jesus said, “Unless you turn.” He was warning them that they were
going in completely the wrong direction, away from the Kingdom of Heaven and not towards it.
In life it is all a question of what a man is aiming at; if he is aiming at the fulfilment of personal
ambition, the acquisition of personal power, the enjoyment of personal prestige, the exaltation of
self, he is aiming at precisely the opposite of the Kingdom of Heaven; for to be a citizen of the
Kingdom means the complete forgetting of self, the obliteration of self, the spending of self in a
life which aims at service and not at power. So long as a man considers his own self as the most
important thing in the world, his back is turned to the Kingdom; if he wants ever to reach the
Kingdom, he must turn around and face in the opposite direction.
Jesus took a child. There is a tradition that the child grew to be Ignatius of Antioch, who in
later days became a great servant of the Church, a great writer, and finally a martyr for Christ.
Ignatius was surnamed Theophoros, which means God-carried, and the tradition grew up that he
had received that name because Jesus carried him on his knee. It may be so. Maybe it is more
likely that it was Peter who asked the question, and that it was Peter’s little boy whom Jesus took
and set in the midst, because we know that Peter was married (Matthew 8:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5).
So Jesus said that in a child we see the characteristics which should mark the man of the
Kingdom. There are many lovely characteristics in a child—the power to wonder, before he has

14
Allen, Willoughby C.: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew.
New York : C. Scribner's sons, 1907 (The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the
Old and New Testaments 26), S. 192
become deadeningly used to the wonder of the world; the power to forgive and to forget, even
when adults and parents treat him unjustly as they so often do; the innocence, which, as Richard
Glover beautifully says, brings it about that the child has only to learn, not to unlearn; only to do,
not to undo. No doubt Jesus was thinking of these things; but wonderful as they are they are not
the main things in his mind. The child has three great qualities which make him the symbol of
those who are citizens of the Kingdom.
(i) First and foremost, there is the quality which is the keynote of the whole passage, the
child’s humility. A child does not wish to push himself forward; rather, he wishes to fade into the
background. He does not wish for prominence; he would rather be left in obscurity. It is only as
he grows up, and begins to be initiated into a competitive world, with its fierce struggle and
scramble for prizes and for first places, that his instinctive humility is left behind.
(ii) There is the child’s dependence. To the child a state of dependence is perfectly natural.
He never thinks that he can face life by himself. He is perfectly content to be utterly dependent
on those who love him and care for him. If men would accept the fact of their dependence on
God, a new strength and a new peace would enter their lives.
(iii) There is the child’s trust. The child is instinctively dependent, and just as instinctively he
trusts his parents that his needs will be met. When we are children, we cannot buy our own food
or our own clothes, or maintain our own home; yet we never doubt that we will be clothed and
fed, and that there will be shelter and warmth and comfort waiting for us when we come home.
When we are children we set out on a journey with no means of paying the fare, and with no idea
of how to get to our journey’s end, and yet it never enters our heads to doubt that our parents will
bring us safely there.
The child’s humility is the pattern of the Christian’s behaviour to his fellow-men, and the
child’s dependence and trust are the pattern of the Christian’s attitude towards God, the Father of
all.
CHRIST AND THE CHILD
Matthew 18:5–7, 10
“Whoever receives one such little child in my name, receives me. But whoever puts a stumbling-block in
the way of one of these little ones, who believe in me, it is better for him that a great millstone should be
hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned far out in the open sea. Alas for the world because
of stumbling-blocks! Stumbling-blocks are bound to come; but alas for the man by whom the stumbling-
block comes!
........
See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, their angels in heaven always look upon
the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
THERE is a certain difficulty of interpretation in this passage which must be borne in mind. As
we have often seen, it is Matthew’s consistent custom to gather together the teaching of Jesus
under certain great heads; he arranges it systematically. In the early part of this chapter he is
collecting Jesus’s teaching about children; and we must remember that the Jews used the word
child in a double sense. They used it literally of the young child; but regularly a teacher’s
disciples were called his sons or his children. Therefore a child also means a beginner in the
faith, one who has just begun to believe, one who is not yet mature and established in the faith,
one who has just begun on the right way and who may very easily be deflected from it. In this
passage very often the child means both the young child and the beginner on the Christian way.
Jesus says that whoever receives one such little child in his name receives himself. The
phrase in my name can mean one of two things. (i) It can mean for my sake. The care of children
is something which is carried out for the sake of none other than Jesus Christ. To teach a child, to
bring up a child in the way he ought to go, is something which is done not only for the sake of
the child, but for the sake of Jesus himself. (ii) It can mean with a blessing. It can mean receiving
the child, and, as it were, naming the name of Jesus over him. He who brings Jesus and the
blessing of Jesus to a child is doing a Christlike work.
To receive the child is also a phrase which is capable of bearing more than one meaning. (i) It
can mean, not so much to receive a child, as to receive a person who has this childlike quality of
humility. In this highly competitive world it is very easy to pay most attention to the person who
is pugnacious and aggressive and self-assertive and full of self-confidence. It is easy to pay most
attention to the person who, in the worldly sense of the term, has made a success of life. Jesus
may well be saying that the most important people are not the thrusters and those who have
climbed to the top of the tree by pushing everyone else out of the way, but the quiet, humble,
simple people who have the heart of a child.
(ii) It can mean simply to welcome the child, to give him the care and the love and the
teaching which he requires to make him into a good man. To help a child to live well and to
know God better is to help Jesus Christ.
(iii) But this phrase can have another and very wonderful meaning. It can mean to see Christ
in the child. To teach unruly, disobedient, restless little children can be a wearing job. To satisfy
the physical needs of a child, to wash his clothes and bind his cuts and soothe his bruises and
cook his meals may often seem a very unromantic task; the cooker and the sink and the work-
basket have not much glamour; but there is no one in all this world who helps Jesus Christ more
than the teacher of the little child and the harassed, hard-pressed mother in the home. All such
will find a glory in the grey, if in the child they sometimes glimpse none other than Jesus
himself.
THE TERRIBLE RESPONSIBILITY
Matthew 18:5–7, 10 (continued)
BUT the great keynote of this passage is the terrible weight of responsibility it leaves upon every
one of us.
(i) It stresses the terror of teaching another to sin. It is true to say that no man sins uninvited;
and the bearer of the invitation is so often a fellow-man. A man must always be confronted with
his first temptation to sin; he must always receive his first encouragement to do the wrong thing;
he must always experience his first push along the way to the forbidden things. The Jews took
the view that the most unforgivable of all sins is to teach another to sin; and for this reason—a
man’s own sins can be forgiven, for in a sense they are limited in their consequences; but if we
teach another to sin, he in his turn may teach still another, and a train of sin is set in motion with
no foreseeable end.
There is nothing in this world more terrible than to destroy someone’s innocence. And, if a
man has any conscience left, there is nothing which will haunt him more. Someone tells of an old
man who was dying; he was obviously sorely troubled. At last they got him to tell why. “When
we were boys at play,” he said, “one day at a cross-roads we reversed a signpost so that its arms
were pointing the opposite way, and I’ve never ceased to wonder how many people were sent in
the wrong direction by what we did.” The sin of all sins is to teach another to sin.
(ii) It stresses the terror of the punishment of those who teach another to sin. If a man teaches
another to sin, it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he
were drowned in the depths of the sea.
The millstone in this case is a mulos onikos. The Jews ground corn by crushing it between
two circular stones. This was done at home; and in any cottage such a mill could be seen. The
upper stone, which turned round upon the lower was equipped with a handle, and it was
commonly of such a size that the housewife could easily turn it, for it was she who did the
grinding of the corn for the household needs. But a mulos onikos was a grinding-stone of such a
size that it needed an ass pulling it (onos is the Greek for an ass and mulos is the Greek for a
millstone) to turn it round at all. The very size of the millstone shows the awfulness of the
condemnation.
Further, in the Greek it is said, not so much that the man would be better to be drowned in the
depths of the sea, but that it would be better if he were drowned far out in the open sea. The Jew
feared the sea; for him Heaven was a place where there would be no more sea (Revelation 21:1).
The man who taught another to sin would be better to be drowned far out in the most lonely of
all waste places. Moreover, the very picture of drowning had its terror for the Jew. Drowning
was sometimes a Roman punishment, but never Jewish. To the Jew it was the symbol of utter
destruction. When the Rabbis taught that heathen and Gentile objects were to be utterly
destroyed they said that they must be “cast into the salt sea.” Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews
14. 15. 10) has a terrible account of a Galilaean revolt in which the Galilaeans took the
supporters of Herod and drowned them in the depths of the Sea of Galilee. The very phrase
would paint to the Jew a picture of utter destruction. Jesus’ words are carefully chosen to show
the fate that awaits a man who teaches another to sin.
(iii) It has a warning to silence all evasion. This is a sin-stained world and a tempting world;
no one can go out into it without meeting seductions to sin. That is specially so if he goes out
from a protected home where no evil influence was ever allowed to play upon him. Jesus says,
“That is perfectly true; this world is full of temptations; that is inevitable in a world into which
sin has entered; but that does not lessen the responsibility of the man who is the cause of a
stumbling-block being placed in the way of a younger person or of a beginner in the faith.”
We know that this is a tempting world; it is therefore the Christian’s duty to remove
stumbling-blocks, never to be the cause of putting them in another’s way. This means that it is
not only a sin to put a stumbling-block in another’s way; it is also a sin even to bring that person
into any situation, or circumstance, or environment where he may meet with such a stumbling-
block. No Christian can be satisfied to live complacently and lethargically in a civilization where
there are conditions of living and housing and life in general where a young person has no
chance of escaping the seductions of sin.
(iv) Finally it stresses the supreme importance of the child. “Their angels,” said Jesus,
“always behold the face of my Father who is in Heaven.” In the time of Jesus the Jews had a
very highly-developed angelology. Every nation had its angel; every natural force, such as the
wind and the thunder and the lightning and the rain, had its angel. They even went the length of
saying, very beautifully, that every blade of grass had its angel. So, then, they believed that every
child had his guardian angel.
To say that these angels behold the face of God in heaven means that they always have the
right of direct access to God. The picture is of a great royal court where only the most favoured
courtiers and ministers and officials have direct access to the king. In the sight of God the
children are so important that their guardian angels always have the right of direct access to the
inner presence of God.
For us the great value of a child must always lie in the possibilities which are locked up
within him. Everything depends on how he is taught and trained. The possibilities may never be
realized; they may be stifled and stunted; that which might be used for good may be deflected to
the purposes of evil; or they may be unleashed in such a way that a new tide of power floods the
earth.
Away back in the eleventh century Duke Robert of Burgundy was one of the great warrior
and knightly figures. He was about to go off on a campaign. He had a baby son who was his heir;
and, before he departed, he made his barons and nobles come and swear fealty to the little infant,
in the event of anything happening to himself. They came with their waving plumes and their
clanking armour and knelt before the child. One great baron smiled and Duke Robert asked him
why. He said, “The child is so little.” “Yes,” said Duke Robert, “he’s little—but he’ll grow.”
Indeed he grew, for that baby became William the Conqueror of England.
In every child there are infinite possibilities for good or ill. It is the supreme responsibility of
the parent, of the teacher, of the Christian Church, to see that his dynamic possibilities for good
are realized. To stifle them, to leave them untapped, to twist them into evil powers, is sin.
THE SURGICAL EXCISION
Matthew 18:8, 9
“If your hand or your foot proves a stumbling-block to you, cut it off and throw it away from you. It is the
fine thing for you to enter into life maimed or lame, rather than to be cast into everlasting fire with two
hands or two feet. And if your eye proves a stumbling-block to you, pluck it out and throw it away from
you. It is the fine thing for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than to be cast into the Gehenna of
fire with two eyes.”
THERE are two senses in which this passage may be taken. It may be taken purely personally. It
may be saying that it is worth any sacrifice and any self-renunciation to escape the punishment of
God.
We have to be clear what that punishment involves. It is here called everlasting and this word
everlasting occurs frequently in Jewish ideas of punishment. The word is aiōnios. The Book of
Enoch speaks about eternal judgment, about judgment for ever, about punishment and torture for
ever, about the fire which burns for ever. Josephus calls hell an everlasting prison. The Book of
Jubilees speaks about an eternal curse. The Book of Baruch says that “there will be no
opportunity of returning, nor a limit to the times.” There is a Rabbinic tale of Rabbi Jochanan
ben Zaccai who wept bitterly at the prospect of death. On being asked why, he answered. “All
the more I weep now that they are about to lead me before the King of kings, the Holy One,
blessed is He, who lives and abides for ever and for ever and for ever; whose wrath, if he be
wrathful, is an eternal wrath; and, if he bind me, his binding is an eternal binding; and if he kills
me, his killing is an eternal killing; whom I cannot placate with words, nor bribe with wealth.”
All these passages use the word aiōnios; but we must be careful to remember what it means.
It literally means belonging to the ages; there is only one person to whom the word aiōnios can
properly be applied, and that is God. There is far more in aiōnios than simply a description of
that which has no end. Punishment which is aiōnios is punishment which it befits God to give
and punishment which only God can give. When we think of punishment, we can only say,
“Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” Our human pictures, and our human time-scheme,
fail; this is in the hands of God.
But there is one clue which we do have. This passage speaks of the Gehenna of fire. Gehenna
was the valley of Hinnom, a valley below the mountain of Jerusalem. It was for ever accursed,
because it was the place where, in the days of the kingdom, the renegade Jews had sacrificed
their children in the fire to the pagan god Moloch. Josiah had made it a place accursed. In later
days it became the refuse dump of Jerusalem; a kind of vast incineration. Always the refuse was
burning there, and a pall of smoke and a glint of smouldering fire surrounded it.
Now, what was this Gehenna, this Valley of Hinnom? It was the place into which everything
that was useless was cast and there destroyed. That is to say, God’s punishment is for those who
are useless, for those who make no contribution to life, for those who hold life back instead of
urging life on, for those who drag life down instead of lifting life up, for those who are the
handicaps of others and not their inspirations. It is again and again New Testament teaching that
uselessness invites disaster. The man who is useless, the man who is an evil influence on others,
the man who cannot justify the simple fact of his existence, is in danger of the punishment of
God, unless he excises from his life those things which make him the handicap he is.
But it is just possible that this passage is not to be taken so much personally as in connection
with the Church. Matthew has already used this saying of Jesus in a different context in Matthew
5:30. Here there may be a difference. The whole passage is about children, and perhaps
especially about children in the faith. This passage may be saying, “If in your Church there is
someone who is an evil influence, if there is someone who is a bad example to those who are
young in the faith, if there is someone whose life and conduct is damaging the body of the
Church, he must be rooted out and cast away.” That may well be the meaning. The Church is the
Body of Christ; if that body is to be healthy and health-giving, that which has the seeds of
cancerous and poisonous infection in it must be even surgically removed.
One thing is certain, in any person and in any Church, whatever is a seduction to sin must be
removed, however painful the removal may be, for if we allow it to flourish a worse punishment
will follow. In this passage there may well be stressed both the necessity of self-renunciation for
the Christian individual and discipline for the Christian Church.
THE SHEPHERD AND THE LOST SHEEP
Matthew 18:12–14
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the
ninety-nine, and go out to the hills, and will he not seek the wandering one? And if he finds it—this is the
truth I tell you—he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine who never wandered away. So it is not
the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish.”
THIS is surely the simplest of all the parables of Jesus, for it is the simple story of a lost sheep
and a seeking shepherd. In Judaea it was tragically easy for sheep to go astray. The pasture land
is on the hill country which runs like a backbone down the middle of the land. This ridge-like
plateau is narrow, only a few miles across. There are no restraining walls. At its best, the pasture
is sparse. And, therefore, the sheep are ever liable to wander; and, if they stray from the grass of
the plateau into the gullies and the ravines at each side, they have every chance of finishing up
on some ledge from which they cannot get up or down, and of being marooned there until they
die.
The Palestinian shepherds were experts at tracking down their lost sheep. They could follow
their track for miles; and they would brave the cliffs and the precipice to bring them back.
In the time of Jesus the flocks were often communal flocks; they belonged, not to an
individual, but to a village. There were, therefore, usually two or three shepherds with them. That
is why the shepherd could leave the ninety-nine. If he had left them with no guardian he would
have come back to find still more of them gone; but he could leave them in the care of his
fellow-shepherds, while he sought the wanderer. The shepherds always made the most strenuous
and the most sacrificial efforts to find a lost sheep. It was the rule that, if a sheep could not be
brought back alive, then at least, if it was at all possible, its fleece or its bones must be brought
back to prove that it was dead.
We can imagine how the other shepherds would return with their flocks to the village fold at
evening time, and how they would tell that one shepherd was still out on the mountain-side
seeking a wanderer. We can imagine how the eyes of the people would turn ever and again to the
hillside watching for the shepherd who had not come home; and we can imagine the shout of joy
when they saw him striding along the pathway with the weary wanderer slung across his
shoulder, safe at last; and we can imagine how the whole village would welcome him, and gather
round with gladness to hear the story of the sheep who was lost and found. Here we have what
was Jesus’s favourite picture of God and of God’s love. This parable teaches us many things
about that love.
(i) The love of God is an individual love. The ninety-and-nine were not enough; one sheep
was out on the hillside and the shepherd could not rest until he had brought it home. However
large a family a parent has, he cannot spare even one; there is not one who does not matter. God
is like that; God cannot be happy until the last wanderer is gathered in.
(ii) The love of God is a patient love. Sheep are proverbially foolish creatures. The sheep has
no one but itself to blame for the danger it had got itself into. Men are apt to have so little
patience with the foolish ones. When they get into trouble, we are apt to say, “It’s their own
fault; they brought it on themselves; don’t waste any sympathy on fools.” God is not like that.
The sheep might be foolish but the shepherd would still risk his life to save it. Men may be fools
but God loves even the foolish man who has no one to blame but himself for his sin and his
sorrow.
(iii) The love of God is a seeking love. The shepherd was not content to wait for the sheep to
come back; he went out to search for it. That is what the Jew could not understand about the
Christian idea of God. The Jew would gladly agree that, if the sinner came crawling wretchedly
home, God would forgive. But we know that God is far more wonderful than that, for in Jesus
Christ, he came to seek for those who wander away. God is not content to wait until men come
home; he goes out to search for them no matter what it costs him.
(iv) The love of God is a rejoicing love. Here there is nothing but joy. There are no
recriminations; there is no receiving back with a grudge and a sense of superior contempt; it is all
joy. So often we accept a man who is penitent with a moral lecture and a clear indication that he
must regard himself as contemptible, and the practical statement that we have no further use for
him and do not propose to trust him ever again. It is human never to forget a man’s past and
always to remember his sins against him. God puts our sins behind his back; and when we return
to him, it is all joy.
(v) The love of God is a protecting love. It is the love which seeks and saves. There can be a
love which ruins; there can be a love which softens; but the love of God is a protecting love
which saves a man for the service of his fellow-men, a love which makes the wanderer wise, the
weak strong, the sinner pure, the captive of sin the free man of holiness, and the vanquished by
temptation its conqueror.
15

9. Disciples argue about who is greatest (18:1–6).


Other Gospels report that the disciples begin arguing about who will be greatest in God’s
kingdom. In fact, elsewhere in the Gospels the brothers James and John ask to sit at the right and
left of Jesus in his new kingdom. But here, the story picks up with the disciples coming to Jesus
and asking him to settle their dispute about who is greatest.
Jesus calls over a child and says, “The greatest person in the kingdom of heaven is the one
who makes himself humble like this child.”
That must have silenced the men, for they likely realized that a humble person wouldn’t even
ask the question they had gotten so worked up about. Pride may be a desirable attribute on Planet
Earth, but not in the kingdom of God. Pride is self-serving. Humility is self-giving.
16

The Law Of Precedence In The Kingdom


‘At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of
heaven? 2. And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them, 3. And
said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not.
enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little
child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5. And whoso shall receive one such little
child in My name receiveth Me. 6. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe
in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were
drowned in the depth of the sea. 7. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be
that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8. Wherefore if thy hand
or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee; it is better for thee to enter into
life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9.
And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into
life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. 10. Take heed that ye
despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always
behold the face of My Father which is in heaven. 11. For the Son of Man is come to save that
which was lost. 12. How think ye! if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone
astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that
which is gone astray? 13. And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of
that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. 14. Even so it is not the will of
your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.’—Matt. 18:1–14.
MARK tells us that the disciples, as they journeyed, had been squabbling about pre-eminence
in the kingdom, and that this conversation was brought on by our Lord’s question as to the
subject of their dispute. It seems at first sight to argue singular insensibility that the first effect of

15
Barclay, William, lecturer in the University of Glasgow (Hrsg.): The Gospel of Matthew : Volume 2.
Philadelphia : The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975 (The Daily Study Bible, Rev. Ed), S. 174
16
Everyday Relevance: Your Bible Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee. : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006,
S. 316
His reiterated announcement of His sufferings should have been their quarrelling for the lead; but
their behaviour is intelligible if we suppose that they regarded the half-understood prophecies of
His passion as indicating the commencement of the short conflict which was to end in His
Messianic reign. So it was time for them to be getting ready and settling precedence. The form of
their question, in Matthew, connects it with the miracle of the coin in the fish’s mouth, in which
there was a very plain assertion of Christ’s royal dignity, and a distinguishing honour given to
Peter. Probably the ‘then’ of the question means, Since Peter is thus selected, are we to look to
him as foremost? Their conception of the kingdom and of rank in it is frankly and entirely
earthly. There are to be graded dignities, and these are to depend on His mere will. Our Lord not
only answers the letter of their question, but cuts at the root of the temper which inspired it.
I. Entrance Into His Kingdom By A Living Example.
He shows the conditions of entrance into and eminence in His kingdom by a living example.
There were always children at hand round Him, when He wanted them. Their quick instinct for
pure and loving souls drew them to Him; and this little one was not afraid to be taken by the
hand, and to be afterwards caught up in His arms, and pressed to His heart. One does not wonder
that the legend that he was Ignatius the martyr should have been current; for surely the
remembrance of that tender clasping arm and gentle breast would not fade nor be fruitless. The
disciples had made very sure that they were to be in the kingdom, and that the only question
concerning them was how high up in it they were each to be. Christ’s answer is like a dash of
cold water to that confidence. It is, in effect,’ Greatest in the kingdom! Make sure that you go in
at all, first; which you will never do, so long as you keep your present ambitious minds.’
Matt. 18:3 lays down the condition of entrance into the kingdom, from which necessarily
follows the condition of supremacy in it. What a child is naturally, and without effort or merit, by
reason of age and position, we must become, if we are to pass the narrow portal which admits
into the large room. That ‘becoming’ is impossible without a revolution in us. ‘Be converted’ is
corrected, in the Revised Version, into ‘turn,’ and rightly; for there is in the word a distinct
reference to the temper of the disciples as displayed by their question. As long as they cherished
it they could not even get inside, to say nothing of winning promotion to dignities in the
kingdom. Their very question condemned them as incapable of entrance. So there must be a
radical change, not unaccompanied, of course, with repentance, but mainly consisting in the
substitution of the child’s temper for theirs. What is the temper thus enjoined? We are to see here
neither the entirely modern and shallow sentimental way of looking at childhood, in which
popular writers indulge, nor the doctrine of its innocence. It is not Christ’s teaching, either that
children are innocent, or that men enter the kingdom by making themselves so. But the child is,
by its very position, lowly and modest, and makes no claims, and lives by instinctive confidence,
and does not care about honours, and has these qualities which in us are virtues, and is not puffed
up by possessing them. That is the ideal which is realised more generally in the child than
analogous ideals are in mature manhood. Such simplicity, modesty, humility, must be ours. We
must be made small ere we can enter that door. And as is the requirement for entrance, so is it for
eminence. The child does not humble himself, but is humble by nature; but we must humble
ourselves if we would be great.
Christ implies that there are degrees in the kingdom. It has a nobility, but of such a kind that
there may be many greatest; for the principle of rank there is lowliness. We rise by sinking. The
deeper our consciousness of our own unworthiness and weakness, the more capable are we of
receiving the divine gifts, and therefore the more fully shall we receive them. Rivers run in the
hollows; the mountain-tops are dry. God works with broken reeds, and the princes in His realm
are beggars taken from the dunghill. A lowliness which made itself lowly for the sake of
eminence would miss its aim, for it would not be lowliness. The desire to be foremost must be
cast out, in order that it may be fulfilled.
II. The Question Has Been Answered, And Our Lord Passes To Other Thoughts
Rising Out Of His Answer.
Matt. 18:5 and Matt. 18:6 set forth antithetically our duties to His little ones. He is not now
speaking of the child who served as a living parable to answer the question, but of men who have
made themselves like the child, as is plain from the emphatic ‘one such child,’ and from Matt.
18:6 (‘which believe on Me’).
The subject, then, of these verses is the blessedness of recognising and welcoming Christlike
lowly believers, and the fatal effect of the opposite conduct. To ‘receive one such little child in
My name’ is just to have a sympathetic appreciation of, and to be ready to welcome to heart and
home, those who are lowly in their own and in the world’s estimate, but princes of Christ’s court
and kingdom. Such welcome and furtherance will only be given by one who himself has the
same type of character in some degree. He who honours and admires a certain kind of excellence
has the roots of it in himself. A possible artist lies in him who thrills at the sight or hearing of fair
things painted or sung. Our admiration is an index of our aspiration, and our aspiration is a
prophecy of our attainment. So it will be a lithe one’s heart which will welcome the little ones,
and a lover of Christ who receives them in His name. The reception includes all forms of
sympathy and aid. ‘In My name’ is equivalent to ‘for the sake of My revealed character,’ and
refers both to the receiver and to the received. The blessedness of such reception, so far as the
receiver is concerned, is not merely that he thereby comes into happy relations with Christ’s
foremost servants, but that he gets Christ Himself into his heart. If with true appreciation of the
beauty of such a childlike disposition, I open my heart or my hand to its possessor, I do thereby
enlarge my capacity for my own possession of Christ, who dwells in His child, and who comes
with him where He is welcomed. There is no surer way of securing Him for our own than the
loving reception of His children. Whoso lodges the King’s favourites will not be left unvisited by
the King. To recognise and reverence the greatest in the kingdom is to be oneself a member of
their company, and a sharer in their prerogatives.
On the other hand, the antithesis of ‘receiving’ is ‘causing to stumble,’ by which is meant
giving occasion for moral fall. That would be done by contests about pre-eminence, by
arrogance, by non-recognition. The atmosphere of carnality and selfishness in which the
disciples were moving, as their question showed, would stifle the tender life of any lowly
believer who found himself in it; and they were not only injuring themselves, but becoming
stumbling-blocks to ochers, by their ambition. How much of the present life of average
Christians is condemned on the same ground I It is a good test of our Christian character to ask—
would it help or hinder a lowly believer to live beside us? How many professing Christians arc
really, though unconsciously, doing their utmost to pull down their more Christlike brethren to
their own low level! The worldliness and selfish ambitions of the Church are responsible for the
stumbling of many who would else have been of Christ’s ‘little ones.’ But perhaps we are rather
to think of deliberate and consciously laid stumbling-blocks. Knowingly to try to make a good
man fall, or to stain a more than usually pure Christian character, is surely the very height of
malice, and presupposes such a deadly hatred of goodness and of Christ that no fate can be worse
than the possession of such a temper. To be flung into the sea, like a dog, with a stone round his
neck, would be better for a man than to live to do such a thing. The deed itself, apart from any
other future retribution, is its own punishment; yet our Lord’s solemn words not only point to
such a future retribution, which is infinitely more terrible than the miserable fate described
would be for the body, but to the consequences of the act, as so bad in its blind hatred of the
highest type of character, and in its conscious preference of evil, as well as so fatal in its
consequences, that it were better to die drowned than to live so.
III. Matt. 18:10–14 Set Forth The Honour And Dignity Of Christ’s ‘Little Ones.
‘Clearly the application of the designation in these closing verses is exclusively to His lowly
followers. The warning not to despise them is needed at all times, and, perhaps, seldom more,
even by Christians, than now, when so many causes induce a far too high estimate of the world’s
great ones, and modest, humble godliness looks as dull and sober as some russet-coated little
bird among gorgeous cockatoos and birds of paradise. The world’s standard is only too current in
the Church; and it needs a spirit kept in harmony with Christ’s spirit, and some degree of the
child-nature in ourselves, to preserve us from overlooking the delicate hidden beauties and
unworldly greatness of His truest disciples.
The exhortation is enforced by two considerations,—a glimpse into heaven, and a parable.
Fair interpretation can scarcely deny that Christ here teaches that His children are under angel-
guardianship. We should neither busy ourselves in curious inferences from His reticent words,
nor try to blink their plain meaning, but rather mark their connection and purpose here. He has
been teaching that pre-eminence belongs to the childlike spirit. He here opens a door into the
court of the heavenly King, and shows us that, as the little ones are foremost in the kingdom of
heaven, so the angels who watch over them are nearest the throne in heaven itself. The
representation is moulded on the usages of Eastern courts, and similar language in the Old
Testament describes the principal courtiers as ‘the men who see the King’s face continually.’ So
high is the honour in which the little ones are held, that the highest angels are set to guard them,
and whatever may be thought of them on earth, the loftiest of creatures are glad to serve and
keep them.
Following the Revised Version we omit Matt. 18:11. If it were genuine, the connection
would be that such despising contradicted the purpose of Christ’s mission; and the ‘for’ would
refer back to the injunction, not to the glimpse into heaven which enforced it.
The exhortation is further confirmed by the parable of the ninety and nine, which is found,
slightly modified in form and in another connection, in Luke 15. Its point here is to show the
importance of the little ones as the objects of the seeking love of God, and as so precious to Him
that their recovery rejoices His heart. Of course, if Matt. 18:11 he genuine, the Shepherd is
Christ; but, if we omit it, the application of the parable in Matt. 18:14 as illustrating the loving
will of God becomes more direct. In that case God is the owner of the sheep. Christ does not
emphasise His own love or share in the work, reference to which was not relevant to His
purpose, but, leaving that in shadow, casts all the light on the loving divine will, which counts
the little ones as so precious that, if even one of them wanders, all heaven’s powers are sent forth
to find and recover it. The reference does not seem to be so much to the one great act by which,
in Christ’s incarnation and sacrifice, a sinful world has been sought and redeemed, as to the
numberless acts by which God, in His providence and grace, restores the souls of those humble
ones if ever they go astray. For the connection requires that the wandering sheep here should,
when it wanders, be’ one of these little ones’; and the parable is introduced to illustrate the truth
that, because they belong to that number, the least of them is too precious to God to be allowed
to wander away and be lost. They have for their keepers the angels of the presence; they have
God Himself, in His yearning love and manifold methods of restoration, to look for them, if ever
they are lost, and to bring them back to the fold. Therefore, ‘see that ye despise not one of these
little ones,’ each of whom is held by the divine will in the grasp of an individualising love which
nothing can loosen.
Self-Mutilation For Self-Preservation
‘If thy hand or thy foot causeth thee to stumble, cut it off; and cast it from thee.’—Matt. 18:8,
R.V.
No person or thing can do our characters as much harm as we ourselves can do. Indeed, none
can do them any harm but ourselves. For men may put stumbling-blocks in our way, but it is we
who make them stumbling-blocks. The obstacle in the path would do us no hurt if it were not for
the erring fool, nor the attractive prize if it were not for the hand that itched to lay hold of it, nor
the glittering bauble if it were not for the eye that kindled at the sight of it. So our Lord here,
having been speaking of the men that put stumbling-blocks in the way of His little ones, draws
the net closer and bids us look at home. A solemn woe of divine judgment is denounced on those
who cause His followers to stumble; let us leave God to execute that, and be sure that we have no
share in their guilt, but let us ourselves be the executioners of the judgment upon the things in
ourselves which alone give the stumbling-blocks, which others put before us, their fatal power.
There is extraordinary energy in these words. Solemnly they are repeated twice here,
verbatim; solemnly they are repeated verbatim three times in Mark’s edition. The urgent
stringency of the command, the terrible plainness of the alternative put forth by the lips that
could say nothing harsh, and the fact that the very same injunction appears in a wholly different
connection in the Sermon on the Mount, show us how profoundly important our Lord felt the
principle to be which He was here laying down.
We mark these three points. First, the case supposed, ‘If thy hand or thy foot cause thee to
stumble.’ Then the sharp, prompt remedy enjoined, ‘Cut them off and cast them from thee.’ Then
the solemn motive by which it is enforced, ‘It is better for thee to enter into life maimed than,
being a whole man, to be cast into hell-fire.’
I. First, Then, As To The Case Supposed.
Hand and foot and eye are, of course, regarded as organs of the inward self, and symbols of
its tastes and capacities. We may perhaps see in them the familiar distinction between the
practical and the theoretical: —hand and foot being instruments of action, and the eye the organ
of perception. Our Lord takes an extreme case. If members of the body are to be amputated and
plucked out should they cause us to stumble, much more are associations to be abandoned and
occupations to be relinquished and pleasures to be forsaken, if these draw us away. But it is to be
noticed that the whole stringency of the commandment rests upon that if. ‘If they cause thee to
stumble,’ then, and not else, amputate. The powers are natural, the operation of them is perfectly
innocent, but a man may be ruined by innocent things. And, says Christ, if that process is begun,
then, and only then, does My exhortation come into force.
Now, all that solemn thought of a possible injurious issue of innocent occupations, rests upon
the principles that our nature has an ideal order, so as that some parts of it are to be suppressed
and some are to rule, and that there are degrees of importance in men’s pursuits, and that where
the lower interfere and clog the operations of the higher, there they are harmful. And so the only
wisdom is to excise and cut them off.
We see illustrations in abundance every day. There are many people who are being ruined in
regard to the highest purposes of their lives, simply by an overindulgence in lower occupations
which in themselves may be perfectly right. Here is a young woman that spends so much of her
day in reading novels that she has no time to look after the house and help her mother. Here is a
young man so given to athletics that his studies are neglected—and so you may go all round the
circle, and find instances of the way in which innocent things, and the excessive or unwise
exercise of natural faculties, are destroying men. And much more is that the case in regard to
religion, which is the highest object of pursuit, and in regard to those capacities and powers by
which we lay hold of God. These are to be ministered to by the rest, and if there be in my nature
or in the order of my life something which is drawing away to itself the energy that ought to go
in that other direction, then, howsoever innocent it may be, per se, it is harming me. It is a wen
that is sucking all the vital force into itself, and turning it into poison. And there is only one cure
for it, and that is the knife.
Then there is another point to be observed in this case supposed, and that is that the whole
matter is left to the determination of personal experience. No one else has the right to decide for
you what it is safe and wise for you to do in regard to things which are not in themselves wrong.
If they are wrong in themselves, of course the consideration of consequences is out of place
altogether; but if they be not wrong in themselves, then it is you that must settle whether they are
legitimate for you or not. Do not let your Christian liberty be interfered with by other people’s
dictation in regard to this matter. How often you hear people say, ‘I could not do it’; meaning
thereby, ‘therefore he ought not to do it!’ But that inference is altogether illegitimate. True, there
are limitations of our Christian liberty in regard to things indifferent and innocent. Paul lays
down the most important of these in three sentences. ‘All things are lawful for me, but all things
are not expedient.’ ‘All things are lawful for me, but all things edify not’;—you must think of
your brethren as well as of yourself. ‘All things are lawful for me, yet will I not be brought under
the power of any’; keep master of them, and rather abstain altogether than become their slave.
But these three limitations being observed, then, in regard to all such matters, nobody else can
prescribe for you or me. ‘To his own Master he standeth or falleth.’
But, on the other hand, do not you be led away into things that damage you, because some
other man does them, as he supposes, without injury. ‘Happy is he that condemneth not himself
in that thing which he alloweth.’ There are some Christian people who are simply very
unscrupulous and think themselves very strong; and whose consciences are not more
enlightened, but less sensitive, than those of the ‘narrow-minded brethren’ upon whom they look
askance.
And so, dear friend, you ought to take the world—to inhale it, if I may so say, as patients do
chloroform; only you must be your own doctor and keep your own fingers on your pulse, and
watch the first sign of failure there, and take no more. When the safety lamps begin to burn blue
you may be quite sure there is choke-damp about; and when Christian men and women begin to
find prayer wearisome, and religious thoughts dull, and the remembrance of God an effort or a
pain, then, whatever anybody else may do, it is time for them to pull up. ‘If thy hand offend
thee,’ never mind though your brother’s hand is not offending him, do the necessary thing for
your health, ‘cut it off and cast it from you.’
But of course there must be caution and common-sense in the application of such a principle.
It does not mean that we are to abandon all things that are susceptible of abuse, for everything is
so; and if we are to regulate our conduct by such a rule, it is not the amputation of a hand that
will be sufficient. We may as well cut off our heads at once, and go out of the world altogether;
for everything is capable of being thus abused.
Nor does the injunction mean that unconditionally we are to abandon all occupations in
which there is danger. It can never be a duty to shirk a duty because it is dangerous. And
sometimes it is as much a Christian man’s duty to go into, and to stand in, positions that are full
of temptation and danger, as it is a fireman’s business to go into a burning house at the risk of
suffocation. There were saints in Caesar’s household, flowers that grew on a dunghill, and they
were not bidden to abandon their place because it was full of possible danger to their souls.
Sometimes Christ sets His sentinels in places where the bullets fly very thick; and if we are
posted in such a place—and we all are so some time or other in our lives—the only course for us
is to stand our ground until the relieving guard comes, and to trust that He said a truth that was
always to be true, when He sent out His servants to their dangerous work, with the assurance that
if they drank any deadly thing it should not hurt them.
II. So Much, Then, For The First Of The Points Here. Now A Word, In The Second
Place, As To The Sharp Remedy Enjoined.
‘Cut it off and cast it from thee.’ Entire excision is the only safety. I myself am to be the
operator in that surgery. I am to lay my hand upon the block, and with the other hand to grasp the
axe and strike. That is to say, we are to suppress capacities, to abandon pursuits, to break with
associates, when we find that they are damaging our spiritual life and hindering our likeness to
Jesus Christ.
That is plain common-sense. In regard to physical intoxication, it is a great deal easier to
abstain altogether than to take a very little and then stop. The very fumes of alcohol will
sometimes drive a reclaimed drunkard into a bout of dissipation that will last for weeks;
therefore, the only safety is in entire abstinence. The rule holds in regard to everyday life. Every
man has to give up a great many things if he means to succeed in one, and has to be a man of one
pursuit if anything worth doing is to be done. Christian men especially have to adopt that
principle, and shear off a great deal that is perfectly legitimate, in order that they may keep a
reserve of strength for the highest things.
True, all forms of life are capable of being made Christian service and Christian discipline,
but in practice we shall find that if we are earnestly seeking the kingdom of God and His
righteousness, not only shall we lose our taste for a great deal that is innocent, but we shall have,
whether we lose our taste for them or not —and more imperatively if we have not lost our taste
for them than if we have—to give up allowable things in order that with all our heart, and soul,
and strength, and mind, we may love and serve our Master. There are no half-measures to be
kept; the only thing to do with the viper is to shake it off into the fire and let it burn there. We
have to empty our hands of earth’s trivialities if we would grasp Christ with them. We have to
turn away our eyes from earth if we would behold the Master, and rigidly to apply this principle
of excision in order that we may advance in the divine life. It is the only way to ensure progress.
There is no such certain method of securing an adequate flow of sap up the trunk as to cut off all
the suckers. If you wish to have a current going down the main bed of the stream, sufficient to
keep it clear, you must dam up all the side channels.
But it is not to be forgotten that this commandment, stringent and necessary as it is, is second
best. The man is maimed, although it was for Christ’s sake that he cut off his hand, or put out his
eye. His hand was given him that with it he might serve God, and the highest thing would have
been that in hand and foot and eye he should have been anointed, like the priests of old, for the
service of his Master. But until he is strong enough to use the faculty for God, the wisest thing is
not to use it at all. Abandon the outworks to keep the citadel. And just as men pull down the
pretty houses on the outskirts of a fortified city when a siege is impending, in order that they may
afford no cover to the enemy, so we have to sweep away a great deal in our lives that is innocent
and fair, in order that the foes of our spirit may find no lodgment there. It is second best, but for
all that it is absolutely needful. We must lay’ aside every weight,’ as well as ‘the sin which so
easily besets us.’ We must run lightly if we would run well. We must cast aside all burdens, even
though they be burdens of treasure and delights, if we would ‘run with patience the race that is
set before us.’ ‘If thy foot offend thee,’ do not hesitate, do not adopt half-measures, do not try
moderation, do not seek to sanctify the use of the peccant member; all these may be possible and
right in time, but for the present there is only one thing to do—down with it on the block, and off
with it! ‘Cut it off and cast it from thee.’
III. And Now, Lastly, A Word As To The Solemn Exhortation By Which This
Injunction Is Enforced.
Christ rests His command of self-denial and self-mutilation upon the highest ground of self-
interest. ‘It is better for thee.’ We are told nowadays that this is a very low motive to appeal to,
that Christianity is a religion of selfishness, because it says to men, ‘Your life or your death
depends upon your faith and your conduct.’ Well, I think it will be time for us to listen to
fantastic objections of this sort when the men that urge them refuse to turn down another street, if
they are warned that in the road on which they are going they will meet their death. As long as
they admit that it is a wise and a kind thing to say to a man, ‘Do not go that way or your life will
be endangered,’ I think we may listen to our Master saying to us, ‘Do not do that lest thou perish;
do this, that thou may’st enter into life.’
And then, notice that a maimed man may enter into life, and a complete man may perish. The
first may be a very poor creature, very ignorant, with a limited nature, undeveloped capacities,
intellect and the like all but dormant in him, artistic sensibilities quite atrophied, and yet he may
have got hold of Jesus Christ sad His love, and be trying to love Him back again and serve Him,
and so be entering into life even here, and be sure of a life more perfect yonder. And the
complete man, cultured all round, with all his faculties polished and exercised to the full, may
have one side of his nature undeveloped—that which connects him with God in Christ. And so
he may be like some fair tree that stands out there in the open, on all sides extending its equal
beauty, with its stem symmetrical, cylindrical, perfect in its green cloud of foliage, yet there may
be a worm at the root of it, and it may be given up to rottenness and destruction. Cultivated men
may perish, and uncultured men may have the life. The maimed man may touch Christ with his
stump, and so receive life, and the complete man may lay hold of the world and the flesh and the
devil with his hands, and so share in their destruction.
Ay! and in that case the maimed man has the best of it. It is a very plain axiom of the rudest
common-sense, this of my text: ‘It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than to go into
hell-fire with both thy hands.’ That is to say, it is better to live maimed than to die whole. A man
comes into a hospital with gangrene in his leg; the doctor says it must come off; the man says, ‘It
shall not,’ and he is dead to-morrow. Who is the fool—the man that says, ‘Here, then, cut away;
better life than limb,’ or the man that says, ‘I will keep it and I will die’?
‘Better to enter into life maimed,’ because you will not always be maimed. The life will
overcome the maiming. There is a wonderful restoration of capacities and powers that have been
sacrificed for Christ’s sake, a restoration even here. As crustaceans will develop a new claw in
place of one that they have thrown off in their peril to save their lives, so we, if we have for
Christ’s sake maimed ourselves, will find that in a large measure the suppression will be
recompensed even here on earth.
And hereafter, as the Rabbis used to say, ‘No man will rise from the grave a cripple.’ All the
limitations which we have imposed upon ourselves, for Christ’s sake, will be removed then.
‘Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf be unstopped; then shall the
lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.’ ‘Verily I say unto thee, there is
no man that hath left any’ of his possessions, affections, tastes, capacities, ‘for My sake but he
shall receive a hundredfold more in this life, and in the world to come, life everlasting.’ No man
is a loser by giving up anything for Jesus Christ.
And, on the other hand, the complete man, complete in everything except his spiritual nature,
is a fragment in all his completeness; and yonder, there will for him be a solemn process of
stripping. ‘Take it from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents.’ Ah! how much of that for
which some of you are flinging away Jesus Christ will fade from you when you go yonder. ‘His
glory shall not descend after him’; ‘as he came, so shall he go.’ ‘Tongues, they shall cease;
knowledge, it shall vanish away’; gifts will fail, capacities will disappear when the opportunities
for the exercise of them in a material world are at an end, and there will be little left to the man
who would carry hands and feet and eyes all into the fire and forgot the’ one thing needful,’ but a
thin thread, if I may so say, of personality quivering with the sense of responsibility, and preyed
upon by the gnawing worm of a too-late remorse.
My brother, the lips of Incarnate Love spoke those solemn words of my text, which it
becomes not me to repeat to you as if they were mine; but I ask you to weigh this, His urgent
commandment, and to listen to His solemn assurance, by which He enforces the wisdom of the
self-suppression: ‘It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to be cast
into hell-fire.’
Give your hearts to Jesus Christ, and set the following in His footsteps and the keeping of His
commandments high above all other aims. You will have to suppress much and give up much,
but such suppression is the shortest road to becoming perfect men, complete in Him, and such
surrender is the surest way to possess all things. ‘He that loseth his life’—which is more than
hand or eye—for Christ’s sake, ‘the same shall find it.’
17

40
Who is Greatest in the Kingdom?
Matthew 18:1–9
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of
heaven?”

17
Maclaren, Alexander: Expositions of Holy Scripture. Heritage Educational Systems, 2008; 2008, S. Mt
17:25-18:8
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth,
unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone
causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large
millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but
woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off
and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or
two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw
it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the
fire of hell.”

W hat was it that Shakespeare wrote?

Be not afraid of greatness: some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have
greatness thrust upon them.
Twelfth Night, act 2, scene 5
Pity the disciples! They were with true greatness in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He
was great as only God is great. They were not. They had not been born great. They had not
achieved greatness. They had not had greatness thrust upon them. Yet they wanted so much to be
great.
They were thinking of an earthly kingdom that would be established by Jesus, whom they
now believed to be the Messiah, and they were wondering which of them would be the greatest
when Christ’s kingdom came. Luke says they were arguing about it and that Jesus knew what
they were thinking (Luke 9:46–47). Mark adds that they had been on their way to Capernaum,
and when they got to Capernaum, Jesus asked what they had been arguing about. They were
silent, probably because they were embarrassed by their worldly thoughts (Mark 9:33–34).
Matthew says they then asked Jesus directly, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
(Matt. 18:1).
This question becomes the catalyst for a new direction in Jesus’ private teaching of these
men, which takes place in Matthew 18–20. This new direction has to do with what the citizens of
the kingdom should be like, the fourth of six collections of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel. Earlier
collections included the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), the commissioning of the
disciples (Matthew 10), and the seven parables of the kingdom (Matthew 13). The others are in
Matthew 23 and Matthew 24–25. Matthew 18 is a collection of teachings gathered from talks
given over the course of Jesus’ ministry, as more than likely were the earlier collections.
The Disciples’ Question
In some ways, the disciples’ question was amazing. For one thing, Jesus had already taught
about the type of people who would be citizens of his kingdom: “the poor in spirit,” “the meek,”
“the merciful,” and so on (Matt. 5:3, 5, 7). Even more amazing is the fact that almost
immediately before this Jesus had explained that he would be betrayed and killed (Matt. 17:23).
Matthew says they “were filled with grief,” but their grief didn’t last long. They were convinced
Jesus was the Messiah, and the Messiah was going to establish a glorious earthly kingdom.
Therefore they began to anticipate who would be greatest in that kingdom and to jockey for
position.
The kind of kingdom they were thinking about becomes clear in Acts 1, where they ask
Jesus, even after the resurrection, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to
Israel?” (v. 6). John Stott notes, “The verb restore shows that they were expecting a political and
territorial kingdom; the noun Israel that they were expecting a national kingdom; and the
adverbial clause at this time that they were expecting its immediate establishment.”1 They were
wrong on all counts. The kingdom was going to be a spiritual kingdom of those who were saved
from sin through faith in Jesus. It was for all people, not just the people of Israel, and it was to
develop over time as God, through the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit,
brought individuals to faith.
But those were concepts the disciples would need to learn later. In this chapter Jesus is
concerned about teaching what the citizens of the kingdom must be like, since at this point the
minds of the disciples are still miles away from genuine Christianity.
Entering the Kingdom
What will the citizens of the kingdom be like? “They will be something like children,” Jesus
explains, as he calls a little child to him and sets the child in the center of the group.
Children have some characteristics that the people of God are not to copy. Children do not
know very much; they lack the ability to focus on one thing for long periods of time; and they
are foolish and easily deceived. We are not to be childlike in those ways. Children have positive
characteristics too, such as open-mindedness and trust, though Jesus was not thinking of those
here either. Jesus was thinking about humility, which he makes clear in verse 4: “Therefore,
whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” He stresses
humility because humility is the exact opposite of the disciples’ greedy pride.
D. A. Carson says, “The child is a model, in this context, not of innocence, faith, or purity,
but of humility and unconcern for social status. Jesus assumed that people are not naturally like
that; they must change to become like little children.”2
The use of a child as an illustration is striking and is typical of the teaching devices Jesus
used so often and so well. But it is the words that are important, more than the illustration, and
the words are more than striking. They are shocking, for two reasons.
1. Jesus changed the nature of the question. The disciples had been asking about greatness in
the kingdom they believed Jesus would establish. They assumed that greatness was all they had
to worry about. They assumed they would be in the kingdom. But instead of answering them
only on that level, Jesus explains that unless they possessed a nature that was entirely different
from what they were betraying by their question, they would not even enter the kingdom. Forget
about who was going to be most important, Jesus said. What they needed to worry about was
being there at all!
This response is similar to the way Jesus answered people who asked him why God allowed
some apparently innocent people to be killed by Herod’s soldiers or others to be killed when the
tower of Siloam fell on them. Jesus said they were asking the wrong question. They should not

1
John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: To the Ends of the Earth (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press,
1960), 41.
2
D. A. Carson, God with Us: Themes from Matthew (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1985), 112.
ask why others had suffered but why they themselves had not, since they were sinners. The
question should have been, “Why am I not in hell at this moment?” (Luke 13:1–5).
Obviously, we have much to learn if we are to learn the ways of God.
2. Jesus insisted on the disciples’ conversion. D. A. Carson made this point in the words I
quoted earlier. To enter the kingdom people must possess the humility of children, but to do so
they need to be radically changed. People are not humble by nature. We are self-seeking, selfish,
and driven by pride. What do we need if we are to become humble, trusting what God has done
for our salvation and not what we can accomplish for ourselves? The answer is clear: We need to
“turn” or “be converted,” which is God’s work. We need to pray the prayer of Jeremiah 31:18:
“Turn me, and I shall be turned, for you are the LORD my God” (my translation). We “must be
born again” (John 3:7).
How do we know if we are converted? The evangelical bishop John Ryle said, “The surest
mark of [any] true conversion is humility.”3 It is when we humble ourselves and trust Jesus alone
to save us that we can be sure we are converted.
The Danger of Harming Others
In the first three verses of this section, Jesus uses children as examples of humility, which he
demands of those who would be saved. In the next two verses, however, he seems to think of
children not in terms of their humility but as those who are weak or helpless. He is not thinking
of children literally, however. He is thinking of believers who, because they have become like
children in their humility, have come to “believe in me” (v. 6). Jesus is concerned about and
warns about harming such believing persons spiritually.
Let me make that point again. When Jesus speaks of “one of these little ones who believe in
me” (v. 6), he is not speaking of children literally, though he does not exclude them. He is
speaking of normal believers, and he warns against placing harmful obstacles in a true believer’s
way.
This should be a frightening matter for a person who thinks it is somehow fun to get a
Christian to sin. Such a person will provoke a Christian to anger or excessive loose talk,
sometimes even to overt sinful behavior. When he succeeds in this, he is pleased and feels
vindicated: “If I have been able to get this Christian to sin, what I do must be all right, or at least,
he is no better than I am.” A person can feel good about that. But Jesus says that instead of
feeling good, such a person should be terrified. In fact, it would have been far better for him that
a large millstone had been hung around his neck and he had been thrown into the sea to drown
than that he should have lived long enough to harm a new or weak believer. If you have ever
mocked a Christian, tempted a Christian, or discouraged a Christian from serving Christ, you
should tremble before these categorical statements by the Lord.
Yet religious people can do this same harm too. We need to remember Paul’s denunciation in
Romans 2:17–24. He had been arguing that everyone, not just obviously depraved people, needs
the gospel, and at this point he turns to those who consider themselves religious. In Paul’s day
the most religious of all people were Jews, and they made eight important claims: (1) God has
given us his law, and (2) he has entered into a special relationship with us. (3) Because we have
been given his law, we know his will, and thus (4) we approve only the most excellent of moral
standards. Therefore, (5) we are guides for the blind, (6) light for those who are in the dark,

3
John Charles Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. Matthew (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1974),
220.
(7) instructors for the foolish, and (8) teachers of spiritual infants (vv. 17–20). Strikingly, each of
these claims was absolutely true, and Paul admits it.
But knowledge of the ways of God is not enough! God judges according to truth and not
according to appearances, according to what men and women actually do and not according to
their mere professions.
Paul then brings forth three examples of the Jew’s “superior” way: the eighth of the Ten
Commandments (against stealing), the seventh of the Ten Commandments (against adultery),
and a statement joining the first and second of the Ten Commandments (concerning the right
worship of God). The Jews of Paul’s day considered these good examples of the superior
religious way of life they followed, as opposed to the godlessness of the heathen. But what Paul
tells the Jews is that God is not satisfied with knowledge of the right way only. He is concerned
with deeds, exactly what Paul has told the moral pagan (Rom. 2:6–16), and by that standard a
Jew is condemned exactly as a pagan is condemned. A Jew judges another, but he is judged out
of his own mouth because he himself has done what he condemns.
When Paul comes to the end of this paragraph, he quotes the Old Testament to show that
“God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (v. 24; see Isa. 52:5 and Ezek.
36:22). This is always the case when religious persons violate the upright standards they
proclaim. They become a stumbling block to others. Jesus warns about this in Matthew 18, and it
is as true for us today as it was in the first Christian century. “Be warned,” Jesus says. If you are
living like this, it would be better for you that a large millstone had been hung around your neck
and you had been drowned in the sea than that you had lived to harm one of Jesus’ little ones.
That is what happens when people try to become great, of course. They put themselves ahead
of others, particularly the small and the weak. They trample on them to get to the top. “What
Jesus is saying in verses 1–6 is … that, instead of striving to become greatest in the kingdom of
heaven (v. 1) [and] in the process of attempting this hurting others instead of guarding them
(v. 6), the disciples should rather learn to forget about themselves and to focus their loving
attention upon Christ’s little ones, upon the lambs of the flock and upon all those who in their
humble trustfulness … resemble those lambs.”4
Determinism and Free Will
It is difficult to know whether verse 7 belongs with what comes immediately before or with
what comes after because it applies to both passages. It is a standout verse that deals with the
matters of sin, determinism, human responsibility, and free will.
It is not difficult to understand why Jesus said this or why Matthew added it to his collection
of Jesus’ teachings at this point. Sinful people want to excuse their behavior by saying that they
just can’t help what they are doing. In our day this usually takes a materialistic form. I do bad
things because of my genetic makeup, or because of the bad neighborhood in which I grew up, or
because I wasn’t properly loved and cared for by my parents. In religious circles it sometimes
takes a theological form. I sin because God has ordained it; it isn’t my fault. In Paul’s day some
people used this argument to approve of increased sinning. God has willed to bring good from it,
so “let us do evil that good may result” (Rom. 3:8).
Interestingly enough, Jesus does not deny the determinism, though that is not the best word
to describe the Bible’s teaching in this area. He acknowledges that this is an evil world and that

4
William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 690.
“the things that cause people to sin … must come” (v. 7, emphasis added). We can even rightly
say that God has determined that it should be so, at least passively, since God is not the
originating cause of sin. Yet at the same time Jesus is equally insistent that the person who sins
or causes others to sin is responsible.
It is impossible in this fallen evil world to avoid enticements to sin, but woe to the one
through whom the enticements come. That is the point. The judgment of such a person will be
just, and the judgment will be most severe if the enticement causes one of Jesus’ own followers
to stumble. Remember that when you look into your heart and examine your actions. Woe to
such a person, Jesus says. Woe is the word the Bible uses to lament the terrible end of a person
who is judged by God in “eternal fire” or “the fire of hell” for his or her sins (vv. 8–9).
The Need for Self-Discipline
This is not only a warning about harming another believer, however. We can also harm
ourselves, and it is to this point that Jesus turns in verses 8 and 9: “If your hand or your foot
causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled
than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to
sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two
eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”
These verses are an almost exact repetition of Matthew 5:29–30, from the Sermon on the
Mount. Jesus was talking about adultery in the Sermon on the Mount, and he was teaching that
adultery or any other sin should be taken seriously. Sin is so serious that any inclination toward it
must be dealt with radically. What should be done? Many people know that because of these
verses the early church father Origen had himself castrated in order to avoid sexual temptation.
But this is not exactly what Jesus means, since here, in Matthew 18:8–9, Jesus explains his
reference to hands and feet (v. 9 adds “eyes”) by speaking of “things that cause people to sin”
(v. 7). He means, get rid of whatever is tempting you to sin: suggestive movies, especially the
kind you can rent at video stores and bring home to watch privately; the daily talk shows that
wallow in depravity almost endlessly; books that urge you to get ahead by stepping on others; or
talk that promotes racial bias. Get rid of the poison. Protect your mind from the defilement.
Of course, in the final analysis the answer to any problem is not merely to run away,
especially since it is so difficult to avoid temptations in our culture. The real answer is a love for
God and the transformed mind and heart that flow from it.
Did They Get It?
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus answered the question, and we have
been trying to understand Jesus’ answer. But here I want to follow up by asking, Did the
disciples get it? Were they actually turned and changed to become like little children?
We know they didn’t get it right away, because they are still fighting for the top position two
chapters later. On that occasion the mother of James and John came to Jesus asking that one of
her sons be chosen to sit at his right hand and the other son be chosen to sit at his left hand when
he came into his kingdom (Matt. 20:21). They had probably put her up to it. So when the other
disciples heard what she had asked Jesus, “they were indignant with the two brothers” (v. 24).
They wanted those positions themselves.
What did Jesus do? He got them together and went through it all again. “You know that the
rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not
so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and
whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (vv. 25–28).
As long as Jesus was with them, they didn’t get it. But when he died, they did, for they
understood at last that he had given himself for them and had bought their salvation at the cost of
his own life. And they really were changed.
It is beautiful to see. The disciples were all guilty of this self-advancing spirit, according to
the Gospel. But among the many who were guilty, James and John stand out as the most guilty
because of their compliance with the efforts of their mother to get them the first places. Yet think
what happened to them! At one time Jesus called them “Sons of Thunder,” no doubt because of
their arrogant, boisterous attitudes (Mark 3:17). On another occasion they wanted to call down
fire from heaven to destroy a village of the Samaritans that did not receive them (Luke 9:54).
They were changed when they finally got their minds off themselves and onto Jesus.
We are not told much about James, but he must have changed. We do not hear of him
struggling for prominence after the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord, and he eventually
died for Jesus, being executed by King Herod (Acts 12:1–2). John lived to be a venerable old
man, known at last as the “apostle of love.” He spoke humbly when he said, “This is how we
know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for
our brothers” (1 John 3:16). If Jesus can turn a “son of thunder” into an “apostle of love,” he can
conquer your pride and teach you humility so that you can become like one of Jesus’ “little
children.” He needs to, if you are to belong to his kingdom.

41
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
Matthew 18:10–14
“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in
heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he
not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds
it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not
wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones
should be lost.”

M any images in the Bible convey the protecting care of God for his
people, but probably no image is more greatly loved than that of the shepherd and his sheep.
What Christian can consider God as a shepherd without thinking of the Twenty-third Psalm:
“The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (v. 1 KJV)? Or the tenth chapter of John, where
Jesus applies the image to himself: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his
life for the sheep” (v. 11)?
Yet it is not only in these well-known passages that the image occurs. A psalmist wrote, “We
are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (Ps. 100:3). Isaiah said about God,
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
Isaiah 40:11
The image also occurs several times in Matthew. The first was in chapter 2, which cites this
prophecy from Micah:
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.
Matthew 2:6, quoting Micah 5:2
In chapter 9 Matthew wrote of Jesus’ compassion for the crowds “because they were harassed
and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36; see Mark 6:34). In chapter 26 he
reports Jesus as saying, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ ”
Matthew 26:31, quoting Zechariah 13:7
As far as the rest of the New Testament is concerned, Hebrews describes Jesus as “that great
Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20), and Peter calls him the “Chief Shepherd” to whom the undershepherds
are accountable (1 Peter 5:4).
The Eighth Parable
The notable thing about Jesus’ use of this image in Matthew 18 is that here it is a parable.
Parables were an important teaching device for Jesus. Seven of them were introduced in chapter
13, and although this is the first Jesus used since that chapter, we will encounter eight more in
Matthew 18:23–35; 20:1–16; 21:28–32, 33–46; 22:1–14; 25:1–13, 14–30, and 31–46.
A parable is a story drawn from real life that makes a single or at most a few spiritual points.
It differs from a fable, which is not drawn from real life. In Aesop’s fables, for example, animals
or inanimate objects talk. Again, a parable differs from an allegory in which nearly everything
stands for something else. The best-known example of an allegory is Pilgrim’s Progress by John
Bunyan.
This parable is found again in Luke 15:3–7, but the setting and points are different in the two
Gospels. In Luke, Jesus answers the teachers of the law who are criticizing him for associating
with known “sinners.” Jesus uses the parable to explain that he is associating with sinners in
order to save them, just as a shepherd exerts himself for a lost sheep and rejoices when he finds
it. He calls the lost but found sheep a “sinner who repents” (v. 7). In Matthew, Jesus is teaching
his disciples, and the point he makes is that they must be like shepherds in their care for other
believers, particularly the weakest ones.
This parable fits into the context of Matthew 18. At the beginning of the chapter the disciples
ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v. 1). Jesus answers: (1) the one
who is humble, like a little child (vv. 2–9); (2) the one who cares for the weak or lost believer
(vv. 10–14); and (3) the one who forgives other people (vv. 15–20).
Howard Vos traces the progression in this way:
Disciples who wish to be great are told that first they must accept and show kindness to other
believers (vv. 5–9), facilitating their Christian walk and doing everything possible to avoid being
a stumbling block to them. Second, they are not to despise or show contempt for other believers
but are to offer help to those who may be in danger of going astray or who may have gone astray
(vv. 10–14). Third, they are taught what to do if one Christian sins against another (vv. 15–17).1
This is a pattern of behavior entirely opposite of the pattern the world associates with
personal greatness or success.
Ministering Angels
The first verse of this section makes clear that Jesus is talking about new or weak believers,
still using the image of little children. It serves as an introduction to what he is going to say about
the lost sheep. “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones,” he says. “For I tell
you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (v. 10).
People have turned to this Bible verse above all others for the idea of guardian angels, though
there is not much in the Bible elsewhere to support that idea. In Daniel the archangel Michael
appears as a protector of the Jewish people (see Dan. 12:1). Hebrews 1:14 refers to “ministering
spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” The first three chapters of Revelation refer
to the angels of the seven churches, though it is not certain whether these are meant to be spirit
beings. The “angels” may be the pastors of these churches. None of these verses proves clearly
that each individual believer has a specific angel assigned to him or her.
What does Jesus’ reference to the angels of these little ones mean then? B. B. Warfield had
an interesting idea. He thought it refers to the spirits of the little ones after death and that this is a
reminder of their eternal security or destiny. The problem with this interpretation is that the verse
speaks of “angels,” and we certainly do not become angels when we die.
John Broadus probably has it right when he connects this to Christians as a class. “However
humble in the estimation of worldly men, believers have angels as their attendants, sent forth to
serve God for their benefit (Heb. 1:14), and these angels of theirs enjoy in heaven the highest
dignity and consideration, like persons admitted to the very presence of a monarch and allowed,
not once but continually, to behold his face.”2 The point is that the angels have access to the
presence of the Father at all times on behalf of “these little ones.”3
The Shepherd and His Sheep
Yet it is not the angels who are important in this passage. They may be interceding on behalf
of weak or wandering Christians, an encouraging thing to know. But what is really important
here is that God is compared to the shepherd who seeks and finds the lost sheep. Why should we
focus on angels when God is our Savior?
The parable tells us many important things about God.
1. God cares for us individually. When I see a hundred sheep in a meadow, I cannot begin to
imagine how a shepherd can distinguish one sheep from another and miss one if it is caught by a
predator or wanders off. All sheep look alike to me. But I am told that shepherds know their
sheep. They know them individually, and, what is more, their sheep know them and respond to

1
Howard Vos, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 129.
2
John A. Broadus, Commentary on Matthew (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1990), 384.
3
Careful readers will note that in most translations verse 11 (“For the Son of Man has come to save that
which was lost”) is omitted. Some ancient manuscripts have this verse, which is why it appears in some
translations, but the majority do not. The verse was probably added to Matthew mistakenly from the
parallel passage in Luke 19:10.
their voices. Jesus was building on this fact when he told the people of his day, “I am the good
shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know
the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15).
We know that God knows his people individually and cares for them individually because
when he calls them to faith he calls them “by name” (John 10:3). We see this clearly in the
earthly ministry of Jesus. Think of Matthew himself. We are told that Jesus “saw a man named
Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and
followed him” (Matt. 9:9). Here was a lost sheep who had been given to Jesus by the Father.
Jesus called him by name, and when he did, Matthew recognized his Master’s voice and
followed him.
Zacchaeus was another lost sheep. He was a little man who could not see Jesus as he passed
by because of the large crowd of people. So he climbed a tree to get a better view. “When Jesus
reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay
at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly” (Luke 19:5–6).
An even more powerful example occurred in Bethany. The brother of Mary and Martha was
sick. Word was sent to Jesus, but Lazarus died before Jesus arrived. But Jesus stood before the
tomb and cried loudly, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). And he did! Lazarus was another of
Jesus’ lost sheep, and he responded by returning from the dead.
Or how about Mary. Mary was weeping in the garden where Jesus had been buried following
his crucifixion. He spoke to her, but she supposed him to be the gardener. Then he spoke her
name: “Mary.” Immediately she knew him. Her doubts and sorrow fled, faith rose up, and Mary
cried, “Rabboni!” which means Teacher (John 20:16).
It is always that way. If you are a believer, it is because God called you individually, and
when you heard him call you by name, you turned from trusting yourself and trusted him instead.
That is the kind of relationship God has with his people. It is an individual relationship. He
knows you, even you. If he called you by name when you first believed on Jesus, you can be sure
that he will exercise that same individual care in keeping you and seeking you if you wander
away. You may be one in a hundred, but you are the one he will go to find and bring home.
2. God understands our weaknesses. I have never taken care of sheep or even had anything to
do with them, except for seeing them in fields from time to time. But I am told that sheep are
stupid creatures, probably the most stupid animals on earth. One way they show their stupidity is
by so easily wandering away. They can have a good shepherd who has brought them to the best
grazing lands, near an abundant supply of water, but they will still wander off to where the fields
are barren and the water undrinkable. Again, by contrast, they are creatures of habit. They will
stay in the same spot, grazing on the same land, until every blade of grass and every root is eaten,
the fields ruined and themselves impoverished. This has actually ruined land in many sheep-
raising areas of the world.
The wonderful thing is that God does not berate us for being stupid. The Bible says, “He
knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14).
3. God seeks us when we stray. Doesn’t God have anything better to do than to hunt for lost
sheep? He does other important things too, of course. He runs the universe. He directs the flow
of history. He sets up kings and brings kings down. But there is a sense in which all these other
actions are only a backdrop for the drama of salvation, which means that seeking and saving lost
sheep are the most important things God does.
Jesus is described as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
This means God created the world as a stage upon which the drama of salvation would be acted
out. Moreover, when Jesus came, he described his mission by saying, “The Son of Man came to
seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Indeed, when the drama is over and the curtain has
come down on the final act, the angelic audience and those who have been saved will praise the
author and chief actor, crying,
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!” …
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
Revelation 5:12–13
We should remember one more thing: God does not wait for us to come to him, because we
would not. “There is no one who … seeks God” (Rom. 3:11). “But God demonstrates his own
love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
4. God rejoices when we repent and return to him. The Greeks believed God cannot have
emotions because, if he did and if we are the cause of his emotions—whether grief, anger,
sorrow, love, or dismay—then to that extent we would have power over God and control him.
That may be reasonable as philosophy, but it is not the Bible’s teaching. The Bible says that God
grieves over sin and rejoices when a sinner is reclaimed. Jesus makes this explicit in the parable,
saying of the great shepherd, “He is happier about that one sheep [that is found] than about the
ninety-nine that did not wander off” (Matt. 18:13).
In the fifteenth chapter of Luke three stories tell about something that was lost. The first is
the parable of the lost sheep, the parallel to the story we are studying (vv. 1–7). The second is a
story about a lost coin (vv. 8–10). The last, which is the best known, is the story of the prodigal
son (vv. 11–32). He too was lost, having squandered his inheritance on wild living. But at last he
came to his senses and went back to his father to confess his sin and seek a place as his servant.
We think of this as a story chiefly about the son; we even call it the parable of the prodigal son.
But it is actually about the father, who represents God. The father was longing for his son,
waiting for his return, and when he saw his son coming, the father ran to him, threw his arms
around him, and kissed him. Then he said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it
on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s
have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is
found” (vv. 22–24).
Never think that if you go back to God, you will find him reproachful, angry, distant, or
vindictive. Everything God has done is for your salvation, and no one in all the universe will be
happier at your repentance than God.
5. God’s pursuit of the lost is effective. We might suppose, if all we are thinking about is the
parable of the prodigal, that the son might not have returned and that the love of the father might
have been frustrated. But that is not what Jesus was getting at. In the first two parables in Luke
15 the shepherd finds the lost sheep and the woman finds the lost coin. Jesus is emphasizing
God’s joy over recovering whatever had been lost. This is what he means in Matthew too, for in
Matthew 18 Jesus says, “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should
be lost” (v. 14). And, of course, they are not. The Father seeks for them until he finds them and
brings them home.
Remember that in Matthew Jesus is teaching the disciples how they are to care for weak
believers, the “little ones” who are in view throughout the chapter. He is not teaching that all
people will be saved, the doctrine known as universalism. He is teaching about the perseverance
of the saints, the belief that not even one of those who has been given to Jesus by God will
perish.
This is what Jesus teaches in John 10, the chapter we think of most often when we think of
Jesus as our shepherd. In this chapter, after he has spoken of how he will call his sheep and how
they will hear his voice and follow him, Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never
perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater
than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (vv. 28–30). I
call this clinching the nails, just as a carpenter drives nails through two pieces of wood and then
bends the points of the nails over sideways into the wood. It is a way to secure the joint.
“I give unto them eternal life”—that is the nail. “They shall never perish”—that is the clinch
by which the doctrine is made fast.
“No one can snatch them out of my hand”—that is the second nail. “My Father, who has
given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand”—that is
the second clinch.
It is difficult to imagine how anyone could be made more secure than that. And if you think
of being held by two hands—one hand Jesus’ and the other the Father’s—you can remember that
God the Father and God the Son still have two hands free to defend you.
The Elder Brother
I want to go back to the story of the prodigal son, because one part of it is a picture of what
we often wrongly do. It is a contrast to what Jesus was urging when he said in the chapter we are
studying, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones” (v. 10).
We are told that when the prodigal son came back, his older brother was not home. He was in
the fields. But when he came in, heard the rejoicing, asked what it was about, and was told that
the younger son had come back, he refused to go in. The father came out for him, but the son
argued, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you
never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of
yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf
for him” (Luke 15:29–30).
Many find it easy to sympathize with the older son, but the only reason we do is because we
often see ourselves in his shoes. We suppose that we are not like the prodigal. We have been
faithful, hardworking, obedient. But we have not. Or if we have, it is only because God has
already sought and found us. And it is probably true that we have also often wandered away and
been brought back.
What were the disciples thinking about when Jesus told them about the lost sheep? They had
been arguing about which of them should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. With that in the
immediate background, presumably they were thinking of themselves as among the ninety-nine
who were still on the hillside and were wondering which of the ninety-nine would be the “top
sheep.” As long as they were thinking of such things, they would never be concerned for the one
who was lost, and they would never do anything to help find him or her.
Who will be greatest? We should be beginning to understand the answer to that question by
now. The greatest believer is the one who is most like the Shepherd, who gave himself for us.
Like little children? Yes. But like the Shepherd too. We are never more like God than when we
exert ourselves to help others, and if God rejoices over the one we help to bring home, he is
probably rejoicing over what we are doing too.
18

18
Boice, James Montgomery: The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 2001, S. 374
Matthew 18.1–5.
SECTION HEADING: “Who is the Greatest?” For some translators, changing from a question to
statement will be easier to express: “The disciples ask Jesus who is the most important.” Another
option is “Jesus tells who is the most important (or, greatest) in God’s kingdom.”
Matthew 18.1–19.2 is generally recognized by New Testament scholars as a document of
guidelines for conduct within the Christian community. Although “child” (verses 2, 4, 5),
“children” (verse 3), and “these little ones” (verse 6) serve as the point of departure for Jesus’
instructions, the real application of the chapter is to the believers of Matthew’s day who are
referred to by these terms. In the first part of the chapter there are parallels to both Mark and
Luke (Matt 18.1–5 has Mark 9.33–37 and Luke 9.46–48 as parallels, and Matt 18.6–9 has Mark
9.42–48 and Luke 17.1–2 as parallels), and later there are other parallels to Luke (Matt 18.10–14
is parallel to Luke 16.3–7, and Matt 21–22 is parallel to Luke 17.3–4). But the place that the
chapter occupies within the framework of the Gospel and the arrangement of the material within
the chapter indicate that it is best understood as a “handbook for Christian discipleship.”
Matthew 18.1.
Matthew departs from Mark by the inclusion of the discussion about the Temple tax (17.24–27).
Now in this brief narrative he again adopts the Marcan scheme of events, though the differences
in presentation are such as to suggest that Matthew has concentrated on the question of rank in
the Kingdom rather than on the actual rivalry of the Twelve.
At that time (so also TEV, NEB) is literally “In that hour” (see comment at 8.13). GeCL
translates “about this time.” The function of the phrase is to indicate that the following event
took place in immediate sequence to the discussion of the Temple tax. Translators can also say
“Shortly after that” or “A short time later.”
The disciples came to Jesus is a fairly literal rendering of the Greek text. For many languages it
will be better to translate “Jesus’ disciples came to him.” In some, translators will find “went”
more natural than came.
The question of the disciples, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? is not easy to
restructure meaningfully. GeCL translates “Who will be the greatest in God’s new world?” and
INCL has “Who will be considered the greatest among God’s people?” Greatest here means
“most important” or “of highest rank,” so translators must avoid a translation that will refer to
size.
Kingdom of heaven was discussed at 3.2. This question of the disciples can be rendered “When
God’s rule is established, who will be the most important in it?” or “Of the people who are part
of God’s reign, who is the most important?” or “Who is the most important person in God’s
kingdom?”
Matthew 18.2.
And calling to him a child is unusual word order for English speakers; TEV introduces Jesus by
name and restructures: “So Jesus called a child.” The question put to Jesus by the disciples in
verse 1 is answered both by deed (verse 2) and word (verses 3–5). Matthew implies that the child
was present in the house at the time, so that Jesus was not required to get up and go outside to

TEV Today’s English Version

NEB New English Bible

GeCL German common language version


call for a child. As was customary for Jewish teachers who were engaged in giving instruction,
Jesus probably had been sitting, and there is no hint in the text that he moved from this position
when calling the child.
The phrase calling to him does not mean that Jesus called out loud to the child, as if he or she
were far away, but means simply “summoned” or “asked to come to him.” There are languages
where direct discourse will be natural, as in “Jesus said to a child there, ‘Come here.’ ”
Child is the same word used in 2.8 (see there).
He put him in the midst of them (TEV “had him stand in front of them”) may be transformed into
direct discourse: “And said to the child, ‘Stand here in front of these people’ ” or “... ‘Stand here
where all of these people can see you.’ ” A causative form may be employed: “and caused him
....” One may also translate “and placed him in front of his disciples” or “... where all of his
disciples could see him.”
Matthew 18.3.
As both RSV and TEV indicate, this verse is a continuation of the sentence begun in verse 2. For
many languages it will be advisable to begin a new sentence with verse 3.
Truly, I say to you translates the same expression used in 5.26, except that you is plural here. Its
function is to place heavy emphasis upon the saying which follows.
Unless you turn and become like children does not refer to a return to the state of childhood in all
its respects. As TOB’s footnote correctly indicates, the contrast is between the pretentious
attitude of the disciples and the lack of pretention on the part of a child. Children are humble and
unconcerned about status, whereas the disciples are each hoping for the highest position within
the kingdom. Phps translates “unless you change your whole outlook and become like little
children”; Brc is similar: “unless you change the whole direction of your lives ....” In place of the
negative form, a positive statement may be substituted: “You must completely change your
attitude and ....”
There are translators who have felt that they should make the basis of the simile like children
explicit by using an expression such as “become humble like children are” or “become
unpretentious the way children are.” However, if as we suggest above, turn is translated with an
expression such as “change your lives,” then it is not necessary to fill out the comparison like
this. “Unless you change and take the attitude a child has” can be sufficient.
Translators can use “a child” or children, whichever fits the context better.
You will never enter the kingdom of heaven may also require considerable restructuring. GeCL
has “then you will never enter into God’s new world.” Other translations have said “then you
will never become a part of God’s kingdom” or “then you will never be one of the people under
the rule of God.” By changing “unless” to “only if,” InCl is able to use a positive statement:
“only if you change and become as children, can you become a part of God’s people.”
Matthew 18.4.
Whoever humbles himself like this child: as a comparison of RSV and TEV will immediately
indicate, TEV reverses the order of the two clauses in this verse. Like this child may prove

RSV Revised Standard Version

TOB Traduction oecuménique de la Bible

Phps Phillips

Brc Barclay
difficult because it lacks an explicit comparison. Brc (“It is the man who thinks as little of his
importance as this little child”) and Phps (“It is the man who can be as humble as this little
child”) both attempt to spell out the meaning clearly, as does NAB (“Whoever makes himself
lowly, becoming like this child”). One may also translate: “Who becomes as humble as this
child” or “... as a child.”
The person who humbles himself accepts a position of low status, considers himself insignificant,
or is meek. The examples of Brc and NAB above are good renderings.
For greatest in the kingdom of heaven, see comments at verse 1.
Matthew 18.5.
In several translations (RSV, NJB, NAB) a new paragraph is introduced with verse 5. This is
apparently done on the basis of the assumption that (1) child serves as the connecting link
between the two paragraphs, and that (2) the application of Jesus’ teaching begins with verse 5.
On the other hand, it is just as logical to propose that the verse forms a natural conclusion to the
discussion of who is the greatest, and that “one of these little ones” of verse 6 is actually the
connecting link between the two paragraphs.
Whoever may be “any person who,” or it can be restructured slightly in a phrase like “If someone
welcomes a child like this one in my name, that person welcomes me.”
Receives was discussed in 10.40. “Welcomes” (TEV) or “accepts” are the most common ways of
expressing the word here.
One such child (TEV “one such child as this”) is fairly representative of what appears in most all
translations. “A child like this one” is also common. Child may refer either to an actual child or,
more probably, to “the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child” of verse 4. By
means of a footnote NJB indicates that the second of these two alternatives is intended here.
In my name is a literal rendering of the Greek text; Mft and Phps, who are among the very few
who avoid a literal translation, have “for my sake.” One may also translate “because of me” or
“because he is one of my disciples.”
Receives me is translated “welcomes me” by TEV, NJB, NAB, NIV (similarly Phps). The picture
is that of welcoming or accepting a person into one’s group or home. Translators normally render
receives me with the same verb they used at the beginning of the verse for receives one such
child.
Matthew 18.6–9.
SECTION HEADING: “Temptations to Sin” is drawn from verse 7 of RSV. One possible
rendering is similar to the TEV translation of that verse; for example, “Things that make people
sin” or “Things which lead people to sin.” Another way of handling it is to say “Jesus warns
about causing others to sin.” As we point out below, not all translators will begin a new
paragraph and have a section heading here.
Matthew 18.6.

NAB New American Bible

NJB New Jerusalem Bible

Mft Moffatt

NIV New International Version


In the text, verse 6 is a continuation of the sentence begun in verse 5, but TEV has begun a new
paragraph here and even has a section heading. Some translators will begin new paragraphs at
the beginning of verse 7 or verse 8. The key factor in determining where to begin the paragraph
is the translation of one of these little ones, discussed below. If translators interpret the phrase to
refer to children, then they will not begin a new paragraph here. However, our opinion (see
below) is that the expression is figurative and refers to believers. Beginning a new paragraph is a
natural result of this interpretation.
The verb causes ... to sin (see comment on 5.29), used three times in verses 6–9, together with
the related noun “temptations to sin” (see comments on 13.41), used three times in verse 7,
reveal the theme that unites this series of sayings which represent a major thrust of the Gospel
(5.29–30; 11.6; 15.12; 16.23; 17.27; 24.10; 26.31–35). TEV combines who believe in me with
the literal “causes ... to stumble” and translates “should cause one of these little ones to lose his
faith in me.” GeCL 1st edition is similar: “whoever destroys the childlike faith which someone
has in me.” The broader interpretation of RSV (causes ... to sin) is certainly possible, but the
context strongly suggests that the specific nature of the sin has to do with causing a fellow
believer to lose faith in Jesus. Mft seems to walk a line midway between these two
interpretations: “But whoever is a hindrance to one of these little ones who believe in me.”
Most translations have dropped the literal “stumble” noted in the RSV footnote because of the
strong possibility it will be understood literally. It is possible, however, in at least a few
languages to retain the form with an expression such as “stumble into sin” or “stumble in their
belief (in me).”
For those who prefer the interpretation of causes ... to sin followed by GeCL 1st edition and
TEV, “cause ... to lose his faith in me,” it may be necessary to use a verb to express “faith,” as in
“causes one of these little ones to stop believing in me.”
One of these little ones (see comment at 10.42) renews the theme which was inaugurated by the
mention of “child” in verses 4–5, though the meaning of these little ones is clearly figurative and
refers to Jesus’ disciples. Therefore it would be inaccurate to translate “one of these little
children.” However, “one of these little ones” in a translation will probably still seem to be
referring to children. “One of these people, like children to me” will perhaps convey the
meaning, but translators may be more comfortable with a translation similar to that in GeCL
(cited above), possibly “Those people who do trust in me like children, if someone causes them
to lose their faith, it would be better for that person to have a huge millstone tied around his neck
and be thrown into the deep part of the sea.”
Although there are numerous places where Matthew associates faith with Jesus, this is the only
place in the entire Gospel where he uses the phrase in me (meaning “in Jesus”) for the object of
faith. This observation underscores the significance that Matthew attaches to the message of the
chapter: there can be no greater sin than to cause one of these “little ones” to lose faith in Jesus.
The illustration in the second half of the verse describes precisely how enormous that sin really
is.
A great millstone (TEV “a large millstone”) is literally “a donkey millstone,” referring to the
large stone that was turned by a donkey, rather than to the small stone used at a handmill.
Needless to say, even the best swimmer would drown with such a stone tied around his neck. In
areas where readers will not know what a great millstone is, translators can say “a large stone” or
“a large stone for grinding grain.” But translators will need to be sure readers don’t think of a
small stone for grinding grain by hand.
To have ... fastened ... and be drowned may be translated impersonally as “to have someone tie ...
and drown him” or “... and cause him to drown.” Another way to express it is “It would be better
for that person if someone tied a large millstone around his neck and threw him into the deepest
part of the sea.”
In the depth of the sea (TEV “in the deep sea”) may also be phrased “in the deepest part of the
sea.” Depth is used only here in Matthew, and outside the Gospel it is used just once (Acts 27.5).
The noun refers to the open sea, the deepest part of the sea.
Matthew 18.7.
Woe (TEV “How terrible”): see comment at 11.21.
The world here speaks of “the people of the world” as opposed to “God’s people.”
The noun translated temptations to sin (literally “stumbling blocks,” or better, “traps”) in its
initial occurrence, and temptations in its other two occurrences in this verse, is discussed in
13.41, and the corresponding verb in 5.29 and 18.6.
Sin often needs a subject, in this case, the people of the world. Brc has restructured in a helpful
way: “The tragedy of the world is the existence of the things which make men sin.” Similar
translations are “How terrible it is that there are things in the world that make people sin” and
“The terrible thing about the world is that there are things that lead people to sin.”
For it is necessary that temptations come can be rendered as “It is inevitable that there will be
things that cause people to sin,” “Things that make people give up their faith are always going to
happen,” “We cannot avoid having things happen that could cause us to sin,” or “Things that can
cause us to sin must happen.”
By whom temptation comes is translated “for the one who causes them” by TEV and “for the one
who is guilty of it” by GeCL 1st edition. Brc translates the last part of the verse “but tragic is the
fate of the man who is responsible for the coming of such a thing!”
The phrase the man by whom is not referring to one specific individual, but means “any person
who causes someone else to do wrong.” “But how terrible it will be for someone who is the
cause of another sinning” will be one way to render the idea of this sentence. The verse can be
“There are bound to be things that make people sin, but the person who is responsible for those
things has a terrible fate in store.”
Matthew 18.8–9.
These two verses are similar to 5.29–30; therefore, only a few additional comments need be
made: (1) The body parts differ. In 5.29–30 the arrangement is “right eye ... right hand”; here it
is your hand or your foot ... eye. (2) The place of final punishment is described in slightly
different terms. In 5.29–30 it is “hell” as opposed to eternal fire ... fire of hell of the present
passage. (3) The expression enter life, absent from the earlier passage, is used twice here.
The expression enter life is difficult, because for many readers it will mean simply “enter into
this life,” that is, “be born.” The reference is to eternal life, and GeCL translates “to live with
God” (verse 8) and “to live eternally” (verse 9). INCL translates both times as “to live with
God.” “To receive real life” or “to have the life that doesn’t end” are also good. TOB provides a
footnote, indicating that the meaning is eternal life, and at the same time noting that the word
“life” is used in the same sense as in 7.14; 19.16, 29; 25.46.
The majority of translators and commentators understand both eternal fire and hell of fire as
reference to the place of final destruction. Phps, however, wrongly distinguishes between the
two: “the everlasting fire ... the fire of the rubbish-heap.” One way to avoid a false distinction is
to render eternal fire by “hell, where the fire doesn’t go out (or, burns forever)” and hell of fire
as “the fire of hell” or “hell, where the fire is.” For more comments on the terms hell and
“Gehenna,” see also 5.22, 29.
19

19
Newman, Barclay Moon ; Stine, Philip C.: A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. New York : United
Bible Societies, 1992 (UBS Helps for Translators; UBS Handbook Series), S. 557
18:1-35 The Community Discourse
This is the fourth of Matthew’s major discourses, as indicated by the use of the concluding
formula (19:1). Like the other Matthean discourses, it is compiled from three sources, namely,
Mark, Q, and M. As usual, the context is provided by Mark, who in 9:33-37 records the
disciples’ dispute about who was the greatest among them. This provides Matthew with the
opening of the discourse (Matt. 18:1-5). Matthew then combines this saying with the other
Marcan saying about little children (Matt. 18:3-4; = Mark 10:15). Matthew then picks up the
warning against “scandals” (offenses) from Mark 9:42-48 and reproduces it in Matt. 18:6-9. He
next introduces the Q parable of the lost sheep (Matt. 18:10-14; = Luke 15:3-7), followed with
the unit on reproving fellow church members (Matt. 18:15-18), the opening saying of which is
from Q (Matt. 18:15; Luke 17:3). The rest of the unit (Matt. 18:16-18) is an elaboration of the
first saying, perhaps from M (note in v. 17 the word “church”—Gk. ekklēsia—also found in the
M addition to Peter’s confession; see commentary above on 16:17-19). The saying about binding
and loosing (18:18), which in 16:19 is applied to Peter alone, is addressed here to the disciples at
large (“bind and loose” are here plurals). See also the introduction (18:1) of the discourse, which
shows that it is addressed to “the disciples.” Next comes the promise of Christ’s presence (18:19-
20) from M. The saying about reconciliation from Q (18:21-22 = Luke 17:4) serves as the
introduction of the concluding parable of the unmerciful servant, which is from M and does not
altogether suit the context in which Matthew has placed it, namely, of repeated forgiveness.
Some have questioned the appropriateness of the title, “Community Discourse” (alternative
designations are “Community Rule” or “Church Order”) on the ground that, strictly speaking,
only 18:15-17 deal with church discipline and that other topics normally found in church orders
are missing, such as the appointment and duties of church officers. But since most of it concerns
relationships within the community, “Community Discourse” seems a fairly neutral title that
does not claim too much.
In our detailed comment we shall confine ourselves to the parables and to selected sayings in
the discourse (see also the Short Essay “The Church in Matthew”).
18:10-14, The Parable of the Lost Sheep.
Luke places this parable in quite a different context than Matthew, using it to justify Jesus’
conduct in eating with the outcasts, which is probably the context in which Jesus first told it.
Matthew ties it in with church discipline. The lost sheep represents erring fellow Christians.
When such a one goes astray (apostatizes), the community must expend every effort to get that
person back into the fold. This places a limit on the exercise of church discipline, which is dealt
with in the next unit and which, as we shall see, stands in tension with the parable.
20

Q Qumran

v. verse

Gk. Greek
20
Mays, James Luther ; Harper & Row, Publishers ; Society of Biblical Literature: Harper's Bible
Commentary. San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1996, c1988, S. Mt 18:1
Concern for the Little Ones (18:1–14)
Matthew transposes the dispute of Mark 9:33–37 into the less embarrassing question, “Who
then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Only the “then” indicates that the question has a
prior history. The fact that the issue is raised is sufficient in itself to indicate that the appetite for
prominence was a problem for the earliest followers and for Matthew’s church. The modern
church is by no means immune to the disease.
In the Markan narrative Jesus sets a child in their midst, and declares, “Whoever receives one
such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent
me” (Mark 9:37). Since Matthew has already used a very similar saying in his missionary
discourse at 10:40, he omits the last clause, which he apparently regards as more pertinent to the
matter of extending hospitality to missionaries. He precedes it, however, with two very important
sayings that help to interpret what it means to “receive” a child in Christ’s name.
The first of these appears to be Matthew’s reformulation of Mark 10:15, “Truly, I say to you,
whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Since the meaning
of “receive the kingdom” is not self-evident (it probably means “receive the gospel of the
kingdom”), Matthew or his source drastically alters this clause to read: “unless you turn and
become like children.” The importance of this saying is witnessed by the fact that it occurs also
in the Fourth Gospel, reformulated in John’s own idiom: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is
born anew, one cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). John explains this as meaning that
one must be born “from above” by means of baptism and the operation of the Holy Spirit (John
3:5). Matthew’s understanding is not so easily determined, but on the basis of the new context
into which he places the saying we may conjecture that “turning around” and “becoming like
children” are equivalent expressions, both referring to abandonment of the standards and values
of the “natural” world and submission to God’s values. In a world left to its own devices people
are continually trying to lord it over one another: the rich over the poor, the intelligent over the
simple, adults over children, man over woman, whites over blacks—on and on goes the list. “But
not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one
who serves” (Luke 22:26).
Various suggestions have been made concerning what was originally meant by “become like
children.” Innocence has been proposed, but children beyond infancy can hardly be described as
innocent. As parents ruefully testify, each child illustrates the truth of original sin! Children are
naturally (and necessarily) self-centered; only gradually do they learn to consider others and
obey the rules that make for happy relationships. Since young children are, however, innocent
with respect to adult sexuality, some second-century Christians who were horrified by rampant
sexual immorality found in this saying support for their prohibition of all sexual activity.
Fortunately, their view was never widely received.
A more helpful suggestion is that “become like a child” means to become as teachable as
children. In order to participate in God’s kingdom, one must be ready to learn God’s ways and
live accordingly. Still another possibility is that the point in mind is a child’s total dependence on
its parents for food, shelter, and care. To enter the kingdom one must learn all over again what it
means to be helplessly dependent on a Parent who can be trusted to the uttermost as no human
parent can be. This dependency should be neither servile nor infantile, but simply a humble
acknowledgment that God is sovereign and his rules must be obeyed. A third proposal, which
takes its cue from the context, is that Jesus’ followers are here told that they must assume the
status of a child, that is, they must join the lowest rank of a stratified society. Those who are
infected with the world’s appetite for lording it over others are here informed that this lust must
be completely surrendered.
Humility was not a virtue but a vice for many pagan moralists. To them it smacked of a
servility appropriate to slaves, women, and children but indecent among free men. Christians
turned this view on its head by treating humility as the antonym not of a proud self-confidence
but of haughtiness and arrogance. Precisely because Christian churches were countercultural,
bringing men and women, slave and free, rich and poor into the same “club,” this attitude was
essential to the church’s existence. Paul warns Roman Christians not to be haughty but to
associate with the lowly (Rom. 12:16) and urges the Philippians: “In humility count others better
than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). To Matthew also, this attitude is indispensable to the Christian
fellowship. The saying of verse 4 anticipates the fuller statement of 23:12, where it is insisted
that hierarchy is to be renounced and all believers treated as equals.
Because of the new context that Matthew has created for the saying of verse 5, “Whoever
receives one such child in my name receives me,” we are probably to understand “receive” as
meaning not “extend hospitality to,” as in 10:40, but “accept as infinitely valuable,” that is, treat
as warmly as if receiving Jesus into one’s home. The only ambiguity in Matthew’s saying is
whether “one such child” refers to an actual child or to an adult who has turned and become like
a child. Both understandings are possible, but perhaps the balance of probability lies with the
literal interpretation, in view of the way children are treated in 19:13–15. Children have value
not because they are potential adults but because they are already persons whom Jesus
champions. To “receive” them is to receive him. Conversely, to reject or mistreat them is to treat
him with disdain.
Even if we were correct in regarding verse 5 as referring to actual children, the following
verse has undoubtedly moved from the literal to the figurative; the little ones are explicitly
defined as people who believe in Jesus, and this can best be understood as referring to adults. It
is frequently proposed that “these little ones” here and in verses 10 and 14 designates any
followers of Jesus, as in 10:40. On the basis of the present context, however, it would appear that
the “little ones” are particularly vulnerable to temptation and apostasy. Perhaps Matthew is
thinking of new believers, whose initial enthusiasm exceeds their understanding of and
commitment to the new way of life taught by Jesus. He may have in mind young Christians, who
are susceptible to pressure from their Jewish or pagan families. Perhaps he envisions people who
have no special gifts or charm, humble folk who are easily ignored in any group and who always
remain on the periphery of the fellowship.
In any event, the “little ones” are believers who are in danger of being “scandalized,” that is,
fall away from Christ (skandalizō is so used in 13:21; 24:10). Those responsible for causing little
ones to fall away are threatened with eternal perdition. No hint is given concerning whether the
skandalon (stumbling block) of verse 7 is laid before the humble believers by an outsider or an
insider. Presumably both possibilities are in view; a vulnerable Christian can be drawn away by a
non-Christian or driven away by a fellow believer.
Scholars debate whether the hand, foot, and eye of verses 8–9 are to be understood as in
5:29–30, where severe self-discipline is urged as a defense against sexual immorality, or as
figurative references to members of the body of Christ, who must be excommunicated (“cut off”)
because they place stumbling blocks before other Christians. Neither interpretation is completely
satisfying. The second is less probable because of the second person singular (“If thy hand or thy
foot offend thee”). Probably we should not take the references to the body literally. Believers are
here warned to exercise proper self-discipline, since the end result of continually yielding to
various temptations may well be turning away from Christ. While each individual sin can be
confessed and forgiven, to abandon Christ is to put oneself beyond the sphere of God’s forgiving
grace. In view of the context, we may see in these verses another dimension of responsibility.
Christians who encourage weak believers to join them in various forms of harmful behavior must
consider what the end result will be. To use a modern example, church leaders must exercise
restraint in the consumption of beverage alcohol not only to guard themselves against the sin of
committing murder by automobile but also because of the influence of their example.
The parable of the lost sheep has a very different function in Luke’s Gospel, where it serves
to justify Jesus’ association with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 15:1–7). Because these Jewish
outcasts symbolize the Gentiles for Luke, the parable also speaks in a veiled way of the Gentile
mission that Jesus’ followers will undertake in his name. At both levels it is an evangelism
parable. In Matthew’s Gospel, however, the parable speaks of the need to keep backsliding
Christians in the church’s fellowship. This is indicated not only by the context in which he places
the parable but also by the introduction and conclusion that frame it (vv. 10, 14); both speak
explicitly of “these little ones” and intimate that they have infinite value in the sight of the Father
in heaven.
The opening imperative of verse 10 is sharply put and unambiguous: “See that you do not
despise one of these little ones.” No member of the fellowship, no matter how weak or marginal,
is to be treated as inferior, because even the lowliest Christian has a guardian angel of the highest
status, that is, an “angel of the presence.” Since it was assumed in contemporary Judaism that
only a few angels were permitted to be in the immediate presence of God (“see God’s face”), this
statement attributes the highest importance to the little ones, an importance that is confirmed by
the conclusion in verse 14: it is God’s will that not one of them should perish, that is, be denied
entrance to the kingdom of heaven.
Unfortunately, this parable has become so familiar to us that it no longer shocks us. What
kind of shepherd would be so utterly foolish that he would abandon his flock to the hazards of
the hills in order to search, perhaps unsuccessfully, for a single sheep? And why would a
shepherd rejoice more over such a wayward sheep than over the more dependable members of
the flock? Jesus, the master parable teller, intended to shock his audience into insight. Only such
a foolish shepherd can represent God’s concern for each of his straying children.
Most modern congregations surely deserve the sharp warning of verses 10–14 as much as
Matthew’s. How easy it is for the active members of a church to ignore those who play no
leadership role and contribute only modestly to the budget! A Brooklyn minister, visiting one of
his inactive members, was told, “Those people over at the church make me feel like a nobody.”
How many thousands of others there are whose experience has been the same! The foolish
shepherd must weep at our continuing disdain for the little ones of his flock.
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21
Hare, Douglas R. A.: Matthew. Louisville : John Knox Press, 1993 (Interpretation, a Bible Commentary
for Teaching and Preaching), S. 208