Matthew 18:1-4 The disciples ask Jesus who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. The question by the disciples was motivated by their selfish ambitions. We know this from Mark 9:33-37. They ask the question to settle the argument among themselves about who would be the greatest. Their question demonstrates that they still didn’t understand the nature of the King and the kind of Kingdom He was bringing.
A kingdom of humility and submission as opposed to a kingdom of worldly power and influence. These arguments persisted even on the night that Jesus celebrated His last Supper or Seder with them (Luke 22:24). Jesus took a child to illustrate the call to humility.
The Greek word is indicative of a very young child, probably a toddler. He then taught that entrance into the kingdom requires that we be child like. This process begins first by becoming converted. Both in the Greek and Hebrew this word means to turn 180 degrees in direction. Peter expressed this idea in his call to Israel (Acts 3:19). Conversion involves two ideas, turning and repenting. Repentance is turning to God with all your heart, soul and might.
King Josiah is an illustration of this (2 Kings 23:25). In the New Covenant, repentance is turning from sin to God and surrender to God. Repentance is really a condition for salvation (Matthew 4:17; Luke 24:47). This does not contradict that we are saved through faith. Faith alone is what justifies us, but justification is not the whole of salvation. Faith apart from repentance is not faith that brings life. (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Not only are we called to repentance but also we are called to be child like. This means we are to have a dependence on God as children are on their parents. Children are direct and unaffected, that is they don’t put on airs, they are real and transparent. They are unpretentious and not filled with selfish ambition.
Their primary goal in life is learning and having fun, dependent upon their parents to feed them, protect them, and guide them thorough life. That is how God wants us to be with Him. Children seem to be far more responsive to the things of God than adults are. They are aware of their sin and their need for a savior, and until they get older are eager to receive Jesus as their Lord and King. It is this kind of attitude that makes us fit for the Kingdom.
Matthew 18:5-7 Those who have the faith of a little child are connected to Jesus. The Messiah is permanently connected to His people. Receiving and blessing God’s children is equal to receiving and blessing Jesus. Christianity is not a religion as much as it is a relationship. We don’t go to church we are the church that is we are living stones part of a living building which is the Body of Messiah (1 Peter 2:5-9). When we welcome a believer who is a child of God we are welcoming the Messiah. In the same way, anyone who causes a believer to stumble or fall it is as though he is attacking the Lord Himself.
The consequences for such a sin was compared by what was then one of the most feared forms of death, drowning. A millstone was used for grinding wheat and weighed hundreds of pounds. The Romans were known to taken heavy stones and placed them around those to be executed at sea and through them overboard. It was as feared and perhaps more horrifying to the Jewish people of Jesus’ day than crucifixion. Jesus said that that kind of death would be easier than the punishment of someone who would cause one of God’s children to be hurt spiritually or physically (Zechariah 2:8).
False teachers cause His children to stumble, and their punishment is far greater than mere sinful self willed people, for they are responsible for leading God’s children astray. King Jeroboam was described repeatedly as the archetype of such a person causing God’s children to sin (1 Kings 16:31). There is a heavy indictment against the false shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34. In addition to direct means of causing God’s children to stumble their are subtle means as well.
Our testimony as Believers can cause people to stumble and hinder them from coming or growing in faith. The way we treat our children, with harsh criticism, favoritism, as was the case with Jacob and Joseph, or demanding things of them that are unrealistic (Ephesians 6:4). Sometimes by exercising our liberty in the Messiah we can cause brethren to stumble, and so Paul warned believers to be careful of this in Romans 14. Matthew 25:31ff relates how our actions to help or harm are as unto the Lord Himself.
We are called to stimulate one another to righteousness (Hebrews 10:24). This is our real calling as believers to build each other up that we might grow in our faith and service to God.
Matthew 18:10-14 Jesus goes on to warn his followers not only to avoid causing any of his children to stumble but also not to “despise” them. This word means to hold someone in contempt or disdain. This statement probably was made for the benefit of the disciples who were fighting with each other over who would be greatest in the kingdom. We are not to hold in disdain any of God’s children.
We can disagree with them but not be contemptuous of them. Then Jesus makes a remarkable statement “For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Their angel denotes that children of God are assigned angels to guard over them (Psalm 91:11-12; Hebrews 1:14). Jesus is so concerned for all of his “sheep” that if one of them is missing he will leave the flock to find that one which was lost. This is along the lines of the “Good Shepherd” motif of Ezekiel 34, and John 10:11ff.
Matthew 18:15-17 Here and in Matthew 16:18 are the only references to “the church” in all of the four Gospels. Government is charged with discipline in civil matters. But in the spiritual arena, each local congregation must assume the exercise of its own discipline. Yeshua provided a program whereby the local assembly could protect its own sanctity and admonish an erring brother. The system involved three possible encounters with a brother overtaken in a fault.
After the individual approach by one brother, one or two additional brethren are to be taken to confront the wayward brother. Only if this failed was the matter brought before the entire congregation. Furthermore, this last action involved two steps, the first being an appeal and admonition from the church, and the second, the exercise of the ban.
The entire procedure was to prevent exclusion from the church. Few cases would ever proceed beyond the first and second provisions. Even when a case demanded the ultimate drastic action of exercising the ban, the intent was redemptive. The disbarment from fellowship would hopefully awaken the rebellious person. On the other hand, the reputation of God’s people would be protected if no repentance was forthcoming in the erring brother (1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; Galatians 6:1-2).
Belief in a God who is all love and no judgment, all grace and no justice, all forgiveness and no condemnation is idolatry. That is worshiping a man made God. If there is no sin and judgment of sin then Jesus died without reason or purpose. There is no need for atonement and sacrifice. The sacrificial system provides the solution to man and God. God is love and does not desire to punish us, but is holy and must punish sin. Discipline is a demonstration of God’s love for us (Hebrews 12:4-12). Discipline is exercised to bring a brother back to the faith and correct walk. Separation from an unrepentant brother is to be more radical than from sinful unbelievers. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). The purpose of such action is to win the erring brother back (2 Corinthians 2:5-8).
Matthew 18:18-20 – The authority of discipline is given that when two or three are gathered, Jesus is present among us. The context for this is discipline not prayer. This is not a blank check for asking God anything that we desire and that He is bound by His word to grant it. The context is God’s agreement regarding the decision of two believers in matters of discipline when so-called believers are acting in ways that contradict God’s Word.
Matthew 18:21 – In light of Jesus’ teaching about discipline in the church, Peter wondered how many times Christians were obliged to forgive fellow believers who persisted in wrongdoing. How many times should they be allowed to repent and be restored to fellowship? We are greatly indebted to Peter for his habit of asking questions. His questions brought out so much teaching from the Lord.
God blesses those who ask sincere questions of Him, because He blesses those who sincerely seek to know Him and His truth. “You will seek Me and find Me,” he said through Jeremiah, “when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). How often must I forgive him?” Peter thought he was being gracious when he suggested a limit of seven times, which was more than twice that allowed by Jewish tradition. Using references in Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13;Job 33:29, the rabbis had taken a repeated statement by God against neighboring enemies of Israel and made it into a universal rule for limiting God’s forgiveness and, by extension, also man’s.
If God forgives men only three times, they reasoned, it is unnecessary and even presumptuous for men to forgive each other more times than that. Rabbi Jose ben Hanina, for instance, said, “He who begs forgiveness from his neighbor must not do so more than three times.” Rabbi Jose ben Jehuda said, “If a man commits an offense once, they forgive him; if he commits an offense a second time, they forgive him; if he commits an offense a third time, they forgive him; the fourth time they do not forgive him.”
Peter probably thought Jesus would be impressed with the seemingly generous suggestion of up to seven times. Compared to Jewish tradition, it was generous and no doubt was based on Peter’s growing understanding of Jesus’ teaching and personal example of compassion and mercy. Realizing that the Lord’s graciousness was in marked contrast to the self-centered legalism of the scribes and Pharisees, Peter doubled their narrow limit for forgiveness and added one more time for good measure, but Peter was still thinking like the scribes and Pharisees.
He was thinking in the measurable and limited terms of law, not the immeasurable and unlimited terms of grace. Law keeps count; grace does not. Therefore Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” He did not mean 490, He simply picked up on Peter’s number and multiplied it by itself and then by ten, indicating a number that, for all practical purposes, was beyond counting.
Perhaps Jesus had in mind Lamech’s arrogant boast that “if Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:24). The inclination of sinful man is to return evil for evil without limit. God’s standard is just the opposite; Jesus said to return good for evil without limit.
Matthew 18:23-35 – The Example of Forgiveness is found in this parable. Jesus introduces the parable by specifically stating that it is about the kingdom of heaven, whose true citizenship includes only believers. Not only that, but He tells the parable as a direct response to Peter’s question about forgiving a brother (Matthew 18:21), which in turn was a response to His teaching about discipline within the church (Matthew 18:15-20).
Peter himself obviously was a believer, and his reference to “brother” indicates a fellow believer, especially in light of the fact that chapter 18 focuses on believers. Jesus is illustrating the need for believers to forgive each other. In the present parable Jesus presents the attitude of God, concerning forgiveness of and by His subjects, the slaves.
Slaves is here used in the sense of those in submission to a king, as all subjects of ancient monarchies were, regardless of their rank or wealth. The first slave was obviously of high rank and probably possessed considerable personal wealth, whereas the fellow slave whom he refused to forgive the debt was relatively poor. A king usually appointed governors, or satraps, over the various provinces of his kingdom, and their primary responsibility was to collect taxes on his behalf.
It was probably in regard to such taxes that the king … wished to settle accounts, and the man who owed the king ten thousand talents was probably such a tax-collecting official. In any case, he was a person with great responsibility who owed a great amount of money to the king. The occasion was perhaps the regular, periodic time that the king had established to settle accounts with His governors.
The accounting could not represent God’s final judgment, because, after he was judged, the man would have had no more opportunity either to forgive or to be forgiven. Just as “seventy times seven” represents a limitless number of times, ten thousand talents represents a limitless amount of money. Historical records give considerable light on the immense value that ten thousand talents would have had in Jesus’ day. It has been determined that the total annual revenue collected by the Roman government from Idumea, Judea, Samaria, and Galilee was about 900 talents.
Based on those figures, ten thousand talents amounted to more than eleven years of taxes from those four provinces. From the Old Testament we learn that the total amount of gold given for use in the Temple was just over 8,000 talents (1 Chronicles 29:4,7) and that “the weight of gold which came in to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold” (1 Kings 10:14).
The Greek word used here literally means ten thousand, because it was the largest numerical term in the Greek language it was also used figuratively to represent a vast, uncountable number. In that sense it has the same connotation as the English myriad, which is derived from it. It is therefore sometimes translated “countless” (1 Corinthians 4:15) or “myriads” (Revelation 5:11).
Jesus’ point in this parable, therefore, was that the man who owed the king ten thousand talents owed an incalculable and a debt that could not be paid. That incalculable, debt that could not be paid, represents the debt for sin that every man owes God. When the Holy Spirit convicts a person of his sin (John 16:8), that person is faced with the fact that the extent of his sin is beyond comprehension and humanly impossible to pay. Like Paul when he saw his sin in the clear light of God’s law, every convicted sinner has a glimpse of the utter sinfulness of sin (Romans 7:13).
Life is a stewardship from God to be used for His glory. Unbelievers take life from God, and, rather than returning it to Him wisely invested for His glory. Regardless of how much harm a sin does to other people, it is first of all an offense against God. In his great penitential psalm David declared, “Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight” (Psalm 51:4). Every sin ever committed is committed against God. And every sin is committed in His sight, just as surely as if it were committed, were that possible, before His very throne in heaven.
The slave, then, represents the unbeliever who has been given the knowledge of God (Romans 1:18ff.), life from God (Acts 17:25), and the opportunity to give God what is due Him (Romans 11:36;Colossians 1:16) but squanders God’s property in sin.