Lectionary Calendar
Friday, March 1st, 2024
the Second Week of Lent
There are 30 days til Easter!
Attention!
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Matthew 18

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

The disciples’ dispute over who is the greatest in the kingdom arises from misunderstanding the Messianic kingdom and its nature. Like other Jews of their day, they think Christ’s reign will be one of earthly hierarchy, conquest, and dominion. They anticipate an immediate overthrow of the Romans. The disciples believe that if Jesus is the Messiah, He will have a cabinet of men at His side. In their zest for position and self-aggrandizement, they want to be part of this special group.

The apostles are so caught up in their desire for glory and prestige that they are impervious to much of what Jesus has previously said about His death and suffering. MacArthur notes: "They demonstrated no concept of humility, very little compassion, and certainly no willingness to take up their own crosses and follow Christ to death as they had been taught" (95). MacArthur further says, "Their insensitivity and selfishness is thus demonstrated as all the more sinful because it occurred at times when Jesus was speaking of His own suffering and death" (95).

Why does the dispute arise? Have nine disciples become jealous of Peter, James, and John after suspecting Jesus has revealed something exclusively to them on the mount of transfiguration? Have the eleven become jealous of Peter because of his dominant role? Have they misunderstood Jesus’ play on words at Caesarea Philippi about "the Rock"? Or is it just human nature manifested in jealous rivalry between equals? Regardless of the reason, the tension is neither healthy nor pleasing to Jesus. Even after this episode, the contention is not wholly settled. Matthew 20:20-28 indicates another bout of animosity arises over Salome’s request that her sons, James and John, sit on the right and left hand of Jesus in His coming kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). This is a request Jesus dismisses as not being His to grant.

Matthew’s account omits certain details that Mark and Luke include (Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48). Collectively the three gospels reveal the following points:

1. The dispute apparently begins earlier while they are still on the road en route to Capernaum (Mark 9:33).

2. Matthew says the disciples come to Jesus and ask, "Who is greatest?" Mark, however, indicates that Jesus initiates the subject by asking them what they have been arguing about (9:33).

3. Embarrassed by their actions, the disciples refuse to answer Jesus’ question.

4. Jesus’ omniscience and divinity is proved in that He knows what they are arguing about, even though they refuse to tell Him.

5. Jesus uses an object lesson to teach about humility. With a twist of irony, Jesus uses a small child to settle the disciples’ childish dispute.

Verse 2

And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,

Jesus has just given Peter an example of humility by submitting to the temple tax. Now the Master calls a small child to Himself in order to demonstrate the same lesson. It is impossible to know the child’s age. The word Matthew uses (paidion) can sometimes refer to an infant or even a toddler. In this case, the child is probably old enough to walk since Jesus "called the child unto him." Some believe the child is one of Peter’s household where Jesus is probably staying (Robertson 145; MacArthur 95; Broadus 381). One late tradition of the ninth century suggests the child is Ignatius, later martyred about A.D. 115. This tradition, however, is without authority (Plummer 248; Broadus 381).

Mark’s account provides a beautiful glimpse into Jesus’ loving nature by saying, "And when he had taken him in his arms" (9:36). Not even children escape the loving caress of the Master’s hand.

Verse 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.

The child in Jesus’ arms stands in stark contrast to the powerful dignitaries the apostles hope to become. Fowler is correct in observing that at this point the child becomes the ideal or standard by which the disciples are to judge themselves (688).

And said, Verily I say unto you: Jesus begins with a solemn introductory formula in order to underscore the importance of His message. "Verily" (amen) is Jesus’ way of telling His disciples that what He is about to say is of the utmost truth and importance.

Except ye be converted: "Except ye be converted," comes from the Greek word strepho and literally carries the idea of "turning around" or making an "about face." In the Bible, "turning" and "repenting" are closely connected. Repentance is a change of mind while conversion (turning) is a change of action. Both are absolutely necessary for salvation. Peter tells those in Acts 3:19, "Repent therefore and be converted (turn), that your sins may be blotted out" (see also Acts 11:21; Acts 15:19; and Acts 26:18). Paul uses the same idea in writing to the Thessalonians when he says, "…how you turned from idols to serve the living God" (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

McGarvey says that in this case the disciples are not to turn from sin in general but rather from the specific sin of pride that has given rise to their dispute (Commentary on Matthew 156). In other words, by pursuing the path of self-advancement, the disciples have placed themselves on the slippery slope of spiritual ruin. Their only hope is to turn around and head back toward those qualities (repentance and humility) that first put them into a relationship with Jesus. Lenski calls these primer qualities the "portals of the kingdom" (680). If the apostles persist in their current thinking, they will not even be allowed entrance into the kingdom. Fowler says, "In one breath-taking motion He swept these ambitious aspirants out of the throne room and clear back to the gates of the Kingdom!" (690).

and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven: Entrance into the kingdom requires "childlikeness." When it comes to kingdom admittance, those without humility need not apply. Jesus suggests much the same in the sermon on the mount by saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (5:3). Unless one is willing to approach God on His terms, leaving all personal status behind, the kingdom is unattainable. Status buys neither entrance nor place in God’s world.

Verse 4

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

There are many qualities that we love about children: their simplicity, frankness, unpretentiousness, teachability, and desire to serve. Jesus singles out humility for His point of comparison. Humbling oneself is the principal quality required by those who seek to enter Jesus’ kingdom. But what does He mean by this point, and how does it specifically relate to little children?

Because little children often possess the same foibles as adults (that is, greed, pride, etc.), Jesus’ teaching is not simply one about the absence of pride. For example, if a parent gives one toy to two children, greed will supplant humility. Therefore, the real point of Jesus’ statement is not to be found only in the issue of "pride" but in the issue of "status." In other words, Jesus demands that His power-hungry apostles revisit a time in life when they had no status—a return to the humility associated with childhood. Because children are totally dependent on their parents for nourishment, clothing, and care, they are naturally inferior in society. Often they even acutely feel that inferiority. What child, for example, does not long to grow up so he can attain certain adult privileges? No matter how much children are cherished, they are yet relegated in society to a position of subordination. Thus, Jesus’ point goes beyond "childlike character" to that "childlike status" the apostles think they have outgrown. Each one wants to be above the other so much that that they even argue about it. Lenski notes, "We bring our children up, God brings his children down. Many have thought that children must first grow up to manhood before they can enter the kingdom; Jesus reverses this process: these twelve must go back and become little children" (681).

Verse 5

And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

Jesus makes it clear that He and His followers are intimately connected. To receive one of Jesus’ disciples in His name is, in reality, to receive Him. Likewise, to reject one of His disciples is to reject Jesus.

It is significant that this statement continues Jesus’ teaching about children. Very likely Jesus still has the child of verse 2 on His lap and thus uses the situation to continue the profound object lesson. Having taught that discipleship requires a loss of status, Jesus quickly adds the corollary: Loss of status brings status! With a twist of divine irony, Jesus points out that those who abandon their worldly position to be God’s children actually attain greater position. What greater honor than to be a child of the King?

The practical lesson of this verse is clear. Listening to Jesus’ disciples is like listening to Him, and rejecting His disciples means rejecting Jesus. On one occasion Jesus tells His disciples, "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me" (Luke 10:16). Further proof of this axiom is found in the conversation that Jesus has with Saul on the road to Damascus. Jesus challenges Saul who was on his way to persecute believers, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4 NKJV). In persecuting Jesus’ servants, Saul was attacking Him.

The application extends beyond that of non-believers’ treatment of Christians. The same general truth applies to a Christian’s attitude toward fellow believers. The word "receive" (dechomai) carries the idea of deliberately and readily taking something or someone to oneself. MacArthur notes the word was often used of welcoming honored guests and meeting their needs with special attention or kindness (103). Thus, for all practical purposes, this verse applies to Christian hospitality. To reject a fellow believer is to reject Jesus. This fact is the reason Peter says, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling" (1 Peter 4:9 NIV). Paul expresses the same idea in Romans 12:13, 1 Timothy 3:2, and Titus 1:8. When members of the Lord’s church, either from unwillingness or busyness, have the opportunity to open their home to fellow Christians and yet refuse, they reject Jesus. Notice Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-40. Such warning is all too relevant in a society where hospitality has become rare.

Verse 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.

But whoso shall offend: The opposite of "receiving" is "offending," but both are deliberate acts toward the believer. The same arms that warmly embrace God’s children can also be used to throw stumbling blocks in the disciples’ path. Jesus will show in picturesque fashion that such evil action against one of His followers deserves the severest penalty

The word Jesus uses here for "offend" is from the verb skandalizo, which means to "cause to stumble, fall, or ensnare" (see notes on 5:29). So, when one puts anything in front of a believer that causes him to be distracted, trip, or fall in his Christian walk, then he "offends" that person.

one of these little ones which believe in me: Perhaps with a child still on His lap, Jesus continues the illustration about children. Here, however, "little ones" refers to believers. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day are especially guilty of offending would-be-followers of the Master. Jesus reserves the harshest criticism for these leaders.

it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea: Those who cause offense deserve the severest death. Several things are significant in this curse.

1. Jesus teaches these things while in the seaside village of Capernaum (17:24). His audience can look just a few yards away to the Sea of Galilee and imagine exactly what Jesus is describing. They can imagine themselves slipping in horror beneath the depths of the sea.

2. The phrase Jesus uses for "millstone" (mulos onikos) denotes a heavy or large millstone—literally, one "pulled by a donkey." In Near Eastern culture, there were two types of grinding mills. The first was the relatively small hand mill that women used each morning in the preparation of daily food (24:41). The other to which Jesus refers here was much larger. The top stone of this mill often weighed hundreds of pounds and needed to be pulled by a donkey. The top stone of this mill had a middle hole through which grain could be fed and crushed as it is turned. Hendriksen notes that the presence of this hole explains the phrase "be hung around his neck" (690).

3. It was not uncommon for Greeks and Romans to use drowning as a form of execution. The victim is taken to a remote part of the sea, a heavy stone is tied onto him, and he is pushed overboard to drown. Though rare in Jewish circles, Josephus notes this type of execution was used at least once in Galilee (Antiquities XIV, XV, 10). Such a pagan form of execution is unimaginably horrible to the Jews, perhaps more dreaded than crucifixion (MacArthur 105). Thus, the thought of having not just a "stone" but a "millstone" around one’s neck makes the illustration painfully picturesque.

4. Jesus does not simply say the offender deserves to drown in the depths of the sea (literally, the sea of the sea). Instead, Jesus intensifies the illustration by saying, "It would be better." The fate that awaits the offender would be even worse than drowning. There is a fate worse than death: eternal doom.

5. To some Near Eastern cultures, the "depths of the sea" or "abyss" represent death, destruction, evil, and even hell. If this understanding applies here, the illustration takes on an even more ominous tone.

Verse 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!

Jesus here recognizes the inevitability of offenses. Since God’s children live in a fallen world, there will always be those who place stumbling blocks in their way. MacArthur is correct in saying that the world is constantly setting sin traps for its favorite victims: God’s children. Lenski adds, "The world will always set deathtraps for them and bait them in all sorts of ways, and some believers will be caught" (689).

God looks at those who deliberately set out to trap His children like a natural father looks at the bully who constantly abuses his child. Both fathers feel the pain and hurt of their children when they fall. So why then does God allow such "scandal" to go on? The answer is found in God’s providential love and timing. In the parable of the wheat and tares, the owner of the field tells his reapers to let both grow together until harvest (13:24). At the harvest, the tares will be bound and burned. The same is true here. While Christians would like their Father to rid them of all temptations and snares, this is not His will (1 Corinthians 5:9). By allowing good and evil to coexist, God provides more opportunity for His children to prove their faithfulness to Him. Were there no evil to avoid, there would also be no choice of whether or not to serve God. There is coming a day, however, when God’s judgment will be poured out on all who cause offense. Jesus pronounces the severest of woes on such offenders.

Verses 8-9

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. 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.

While offenses often come because of others’ scheming, the child of God is still not exempt from responsibility. The believer must do whatever it takes to rid his own life of those things that cause him to stumble.

The verses before us are interesting on several accounts. Note the following points:

1. It is possible for the believer to recognize those things that cause him to fall.

2. It is possible to do something to rid himself of those things that cause him to fall.

3. Sometimes the believer’s own body (that is, lusts, appetites, flesh) is the cause of his fall.

4. Sometimes the action that must be taken to fix the problem is radical, extensive, painful, and final.

5. Eternal gehenna awaits those who refuse to rid sin from their lives.

Jesus’ instructions here and in the next verse are basically the same as in Matthew 5:29-30 but in reverse order (see notes on 5:29–30; Mark 9:47-50 also elaborates on the issue).

Jesus is not teaching that we should literally mutilate our bodies. Mutilation of the flesh will not necessarily purify the heart. Even if one were to cut off his foot, his mind might still "run" to evil. Even if one were to pluck out one eye, he still might sin with the other. Jesus is simply using hyperbole to illustrate the necessity of ridding oneself of anything that causes him to stumble—no matter how precious or valuable that thing might seem. In reality, nothing exceeds the value of one’s soul. McGarvey says, "Better to undergo all conceivable self-denial and suffering in this life, than to be cast into that fire" (Commentary on Matthew).

"Cast it from you" demonstrates that one must not only rid himself of the problem, but that he must "totally" remove himself from the environment that causes the problem in the first place. Too many Christians temporarily remove sin from their lives; but because they do not "cast" it away, they find themselves taking up the same old habits and so end up tripping over the same old stumbling blocks.

Verse 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.

The overall theme of this chapter is the value of God’s child. Recall that the disciples are feuding about which of them is greatest (verses 1–5). Masterfully, Jesus shows that such debate is evil because each of God’s children is precious. Verse 6 demonstrates this value by describing the punishment awaiting those who cause little ones to stumble. Verses 7–9 show the believer is so valuable he must not allow his own soul to be lost. Now in an ascending climax, Jesus shows that angels care about God’s children (verse 10); Jesus, the Good Shepherd, loves and seeks those who stray (verses 11–13); and God, the Gracious Judge, wants all to be saved (verse 14). Likewise, verses 15–20 give the procedures to follow when a precious soul goes astray, and verses 21–35 conclude by teaching that the repentant wanderer is valuable enough to deserve forgiveness.

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones: The word "despise" (kataphronesete) means to look down upon or treat with scorn, contempt, or disrespect. Robertson notes it literally means to "think down upon" with an assumption of superiority (147). The words "little ones" in this context primarily refer to "God’s spiritual children." In other words, Jesus warns His disciples about looking down on any fellow believer, let alone each other. Fowler is probably correct in suggesting that Jesus means the "weak disciples" and the "slow learners" of His kingdom whom others fail to assist while they "stumble forward toward perfection in Christ" (724).

for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven: Jesus’ words about angels have been the subject of much disagreement and debate. Unfortunately, this passage has been made the proof text for widely varying theories. In order to determine Jesus’ true meaning, we must examine the verse in its contextual setting. What can be determined from this verse?

1. Clearly, Jesus affirms the existence of angels not only here but in other places in Matthew’s narrative (13:39, 41; 16:27; 22:30; 24:31, 36; 25:31, 41; 26:53).

2. Jesus affirms that little ones have their angels.

3. Jesus does not address what angels specifically do for believers. His point is simply that even those believers regarded as insignificant are important enough to have "their angels face to face before God."

This verse does not teach that the believer is attended to by his own personal guardian angel. The most that might be argued is that believers as a class have their angels as a class. Notwithstanding, Jesus does not say what specific function the angels perform. Broadus says, "There is nothing here or elsewhere to show that one angel has special charge of one believer" (385). The indication is that angels are God’s ministering spirits to all Christians (Hebrews 1:14). While God occasionally assigns specific angels to deliver specific messages to specific people, we must not extend the idea beyond what is revealed (1:20; 2:13; Luke 1:11; Luke 1:26).

People often cite Acts 12:15 as proof that each believer has his own guardian angel. On this occasion, certain of those praying for Peter’s release from prison mistakenly take his presence at the door for "his angel." Two warnings, however, should be noted in connecting this passage to Jesus’ comment here in Matthew. First, the occasion of Peter’s mistaken identity might simply reflect erroneous theology on the part of immature first century Christians influenced by current Jewish notions (Broadus 385). Lenski says the account does not state a scriptural doctrine but only the superstitious ideas of those who are alarmed by Rhoda’s report (692). Second, it might be that those praying for Peter conclude that Herod killed him and that it is his "spirit" at the door. Thus, Luke’s use of the word aggelos (messenger) is not in reference to a personal guardian angel. How appropriate would it be to describe this angel as "guardian" if Peter is thought to be dead?

Edersheim suggests Jesus’ illustration is drawn from a popular rabbinic notion that only the chief angels stand before the face of God while others wait outside the curtained veil (Life, Vol. IV 122). Thus, if those angels before God are "their angels," then the value of these "little ones" is clear. Such a view is tempting, but there is no scriptural basis upon which to conclude that Jesus holds this rabbinic belief. On the contrary, 1 Kings 22:19 and Revelation 5:11; Revelation 7:11 indicate that all the angels are before the throne.

This verse might simply refer to the Oriental custom of kingly privacy. Traditionally and throughout history, only those of the highest dignity and consideration are admitted to the presence of the monarch. But here Jesus says that "their angels" have perpetual audience with the Monarch. Edersheim’s basic point stands true: Jesus’ words underscore the value of "little ones."

Verse 11

For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.

This verse is not found in the best manuscripts. Lenski says, "The textual evidence against this verse is so strong that we must cancel it from Matthew’s account" (693). Broadus says, "There can be no doubt that verse 11 is spurious here, being omitted by the earliest Greek manuscripts and several early versions and Fathers, and manifestly borrowed by copyists from Luke 19:10 where all documents contain it" (385).

Even so, the inclusion of this verse does not affect the truth, and the passage indeed underscores the theme of the entire chapter: the value of each and every individual soul. The thought of this verse, whether spurious or not, serves as an appropriate transition to Jesus’ next statement. No harm was done by copyists, and this verse is simply an indication as to the difficulties and procedure of textual transmission—a process that far too many "Authorized Version Only Advocates" wholly ignore.

Verse 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?

This parable is repeated more fully in Luke 15:4-7. Once again Jesus returns to one of His favorite subjects as He uses common Palestinian rural life to teach a great spiritual lesson about divine love and forgiveness (see 7:15; 9:36; 10:6, 16; 12:11–12; 15:24; 25:32–33;

26:31). Although there is no indication that any of Jesus’ apostles are former shepherds, every Jew is familiar with the occupation. Even today shepherding is an economic mainstay in Palestine. In Jesus’ day, sheep were important for necessities such as food and clothing and temple worship. Jesus’ lesson, however, goes beyond economic value.

The underlying lesson is about the eternal value of a person’s soul. In one sense, this parable is not about lost sheep but is about the beautiful devotion, love, and care of a committed shepherd.

A shepherd’s concern for his sheep is not based on the wealth they provide him, but rather on a genuine friendship and commitment between himself and his flock. The sheep trust the shepherd, and he takes care of their every need. If the sheep are cut or wounded, the shepherd pours in olive oil for medicine. If necessary, he even carries them back to the flock on his shoulders (Luke 15:5). Psalms 23 depicts such loving devotion. Jesus describes this intimacy by saying that the sheep know the shepherd’s voice, and he in turn knows each of them individually and is willing to die for them. Ultimately, Jesus is The Good Shepherd (John 10:1-14).

How think ye: This parable is so important that Jesus begins with this question. Jesus appeals to the people’s sense of propriety and wisdom. They know the typical shepherd will respond to a lost sheep just as Jesus describes. MacArthur notes that Jesus’ statement is a common phrase used by teachers to get their students’ attention so they might ponder carefully what is being taught (120).

if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine: "To leave the ninety and nine" underscores the careful vigilance of the shepherd. One hundred is obviously the total number in the shepherd’s flock and represents completeness. If even one goes astray, there is warrant for concern.

So it is in Jesus’ spiritual flock. Verse 14 underscores this point by saying that "God is not willing that any should perish." The shepherd feels tremendous devotion to the one missing sheep. It might seem amazing that a shepherd can so readily notice one missing sheep among so large a flock. We see the intimacy between sheep and shepherd. The shepherd knows the sheep by name; and when one is missing, he immediately senses it.

and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray: Shepherding in ancient times was dangerous for both sheep and shepherd. The steep and rugged Judean mountains are filled with ravines, gullies, caves, and crevices into which a sheep might wander or fall. While protecting his flock, the shepherd might come face to face with many dangerous wild animals. Recall that David killed both a lion and a bear as a young shepherd boy (1 Samuel 17:36). So deep is the shepherd’s love that he risks his own life on the dark and dangerous mountains. In like manner, Jesus’ love is so deep that He, too, risks it all on Mount Calvary.

Verse 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.

And if so be that he find it: This phrase is not one of question but rather of certainty. Luke 15:5 says, "And when he hath found it." The shepherd searches as long as necessary to find the lost sheep. He does not simply wait to see if the sheep can find its way home. Neither does he say with anger, "You deserve to be lost since you wandered off!" Instead, the shepherd lovingly and patiently takes the initiative and searches for the one that carelessly wandered astray.

verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray: "He rejoiceth more of that sheep" does not mean the shepherd does not care about the ninety-nine sheep that are safe in the fold. Naturally, the shepherd loves all of his sheep and has joy over the ninety-nine, too. In a moment of crisis and urgency, however, the shepherd lets his emotions turn toward the one that was lost but now is found. Luke 15:5-6 says he lays it on his shoulders, brings it home, and gathers his friends for a great celebration. The shepherd holds no grudge of resentment. He does not punish the sheep, but instead lavishes all of his love upon it. Once lost among the perils of the mountain, this one precious lamb has been safely returned to the fold.

Verse 14

Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

This is the point of the parable. Just as the shepherd is unwilling to let even the most wayward of sheep perish, so also God is unwilling to let His children perish. Obviously, "little ones" refers to "sinning believers," as is clearly stated in Luke 15:7. Jesus might have had a little child on His lap throughout the entire discourse (18:2), but His point is primarily spiritual.

By saying "it is not the will of your Father," Jesus does not mean it is impossible for a child of God to be lost. The "will" is God’s "preferred will" (see also 2 Peter 3:9). Man has his own will. When these wills collide, God does not override man’s will in matters of personal obedience and salvation. The scriptures clearly point out that from the Garden of Eden man is free to decide. He may either accept God or reject His loving overtures.

The point of the passage is the same as that beginning in verse 3 and continuing through the entirety of the chapter. While the disciples struggle among themselves about who will be greatest, Jesus shows through a series of illustrations that all of God’s flock are valuable right down to the last wayward sheep. What right, then, do the disciples have to bicker and fight among themselves in a spiritual system that gives such incredible worth to even the smallest?

Verse 15

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother

In the previous parable, Jesus demonstrated the fact that our heavenly Father is a God of restoration. With great patience and love, the wandering sheep are restored to the safety of the fold. In the next series of verses (15–20), Jesus shows that His disciples should be concerned with restoration of the lost. Rather than bickering with one another about who is greatest, Christians should care for one another.

Too often these verses have been viewed as a cold, hard methodology or formula for "disfellowship." Such is not the tone of the passage at all. While the procedures Jesus outlines for discipline are to be followed to the letter, they are not designed to produce "disfellowship" but to produce "restoration." Previously, Jesus addressed the issue of offense, and now He tells them how to proceed when a brother sins against them (McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew 158). Broadus notes this instruction may be divided into two sections: (1) efforts to win back such a brother (verses 15–20) and (2) readiness to forgive great and often repeated offenses (verses 21–35) (387).

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee: "Thy brother" refers to any believer, male or female, who has for some reason sinned against a fellow Christian. "Sin" here is from the Greek word hamartano, meaning "to miss the mark." The phrase "against thee" shows the sin is a personal infraction against a single individual. It is unclear whether or not the offender realizes his offense, but the phrase "go and tell" literally means "reprove" and comes from the Greek elencho, meaning to expose or bring to light (MacArthur 128). The alleged offender is to be made aware of the problem and have his sin exposed.

go and tell him his fault: The "offended party" is to take the first step toward reconciliation. He is not to wallow in his pain or nurse a grudge but rather is to take proactive steps leading to resolution. This instruction does not mean that the guilty party has no responsibility, for Matthew 6:23 addresses the guilty party and instructs that he, too, take certain initiative. When we combine Matthew 6:23; Matthew 18:15, we see a picture of two parties rushing toward each other, meeting in the middle, not with clinched fists, but with open arms. How sad that this scene does not often occur.

between thee and him alone: This approach leads to restoration for several reasons. First, such an approach allows the two parties to sort out the details of the dispute and verify the validity of the complaint. The outline of action Jesus presents assumes the complaint is legitimate. Second, the approach is less confrontational and less embarrassing to the offender. Once he realizes he has sinned, he will be easier to reason with because he will realize others will never need to know about the infraction. Third, the privacy and singleness of the approach sets a more conducive tone for love and mutual understanding.

if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother: Since restoration is the desired result in each of these proceedings, Jesus says "thou hast gained thy brother." This gain is personal (saving friendship and brotherhood) and spiritual (saving him to God). "Gained" is from kerdaino, originally a term of commerce referring to financial profit or gain. Here it refers to the precious soul of an erring brother (see Proverbs 11:30; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20).

The context of this teaching is "real sin." In other words, Jesus is talking about that which can convincingly be shown to endanger Christian fellowship (Fowler 738). Jesus is not suggesting that we confront a brother or sister who does something that irritates us or demonstrates some minor fault. In fact, scripture indicates that petty grievances should be overlooked without malice, realizing each is imperfect before God. Longsuffering is a Christian virtue (1 Corinthians 13:5).

Verse 16

But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

But if he will not hear thee: It might be the offender will not accept his accuser’s complaint as legitimate. Before the accuser rushes to get others involved, he must ensure that the step outlined in the previous verse has failed. Lenski says he might need to go to the offender more than once. Lenski further notes that the phrase "will not hear thee" carries the idea of a definite refusal to hear and be convicted (700). Other parties are informed only when it is certain the dispute cannot be rectified by the two original parties.

then take with thee one or two more: Whether the offended party takes one or two witnesses seems to be his choice. Those chosen must be impartial, wise, and godly men (1 Corinthians 6:5). This is not the forming of a lynch mob or a gang. The witnesses’ role is not to force the offender into submission, nor are they to show favoritism between parties. Their role is one of wise counsel and impartiality toward the facts and proceedings of the case. These witnesses are present to verify that the sin actually took place and to make sure that the offender is properly and lovingly handled. Lenksi says, "In case the matter is ever inquired into, and any dispute or uncertainty arises, the case can be properly settled as to the facts by the two or three witnesses" (701). Broadus says, "These witnesses can declare what passed in the private interview" (388).

that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established: The principle Jesus sets forth has its roots in the Mosaic legal system. Moses commands that accusations be confirmed by two or three witnesses to ensure innocent people are not falsely accused (Deuteronomy 19:15). Every Jew, including the apostles, knows the precept; and on several later occasions, the apostles repeat the concept in bringing forth New Testament revelation (John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28).

Verse 17

And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

And if he shall neglect to hear them: If the offender refuses steps one and two, the church is to implement step three. There is one more chance for the offender to heed the voice of reason. This step calls for the matter to be brought before the church.

These three steps demonstrate again the truth of verse 14 in this chapter. God is not willing that any should perish and thus provides ample opportunity for restoration. As time passes, the process expands to involve more Christians. At first the rebuke is private. Then, with the addition of witnesses, it becomes semi-private. Only if these steps fail is the matter opened to public scrutiny.

tell it unto the church: By "church" (ekklesia), Jesus means the "assembly" or "congregation" of baptized saints. Jesus anticipates the congregations that His own apostles will establish after Pentecost.

The church should be able to influence its own members positively when they go astray. If the bonds of fellowship and friendship are strong, then an erring member will more naturally want to return to the fold. He will remember the genuine love of his spiritual family. If, however, those bonds have not been developed, the task could be much more difficult. When members are not in harmony with one another, either because of doctrinal differences or personal disputes, there is less motivation for the sinner to return. Especially is this situation true in the case of a new convert. He might respond, "The church was never concerned about me before. Why should I return? What right do you have to meddle in my affairs?"

but if he neglect to hear the church: Only one option remains if all of the above steps are followed and the sinner still refuses to repent.

let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican: To illustrate His point regarding unrepentant sin, Jesus uses two classes of people who are particularly despised in His day.

The term "heathen" (that is, Gentile) refers to one who is steeped in paganism. Certainly, God-fearing Gentiles, such as Cornelius (Acts 10), do exist in the New Testament days, but they are not the norm. As a class, Gentiles are excluded from God’s covenants, promises, and worship and are, therefore, outside the bounds of fellowship (Ephesians 2:11-13). But whereas Gentiles are such by birth, tax collectors are such by choice. Thus, in many ways, tax collectors are hated more and are considered outside the limits of normal Jewish fellowship.

Jesus is not condoning prejudice by naming these too classes. More than one Gentile and tax collector accept the Messiah. Matthew is himself a former tax collector as is Zaccheus. Jesus’ point is that a believer who persists in his evil ways is to be put out of the church and to be offered the same fellowship as an unbelieving, unrepentant outsider.

It may seem harsh to treat unrepentant sinners in the manner described. Such action, however, is for the protection of the flock.

hen a sinner has been rebuked with love and yet refuses to repent, he is no longer demonstrating the spirit of a sheep but rather of a wolf. To continue to allow the flock to fraternize with such a beast is to invite bloodshed.

While contextually the steps outlined in verses 15–20 refer to private disputes, similarities exist in cases of congregational discipline. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives an example of how a congregation was to react when one of its members persisted in sin. When a man of that congregation is accused of having an incestuous relationship with his stepmother, Paul commands he be removed from their midst (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). Paul warns that sin, like leaven, spreads (1 Corinthians 5:4-6).

Every time discipline is administered it must be for the purpose of restoration. Even if the disciplining process is not successful, additional opportunities should still be sought to bring the erring member back to Christ. While believers are not to fraternize with disfellowshiped brethren, they are not to treat them as enemies. Paul tells the Thessalonians to admonish the sinner as they would a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).

Verse 18

Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Verily I say unto you: "Verily" (literally, "amen, truly") underscores the solemnity of what Jesus is about to say.

Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven: This pronouncement repeats what Jesus gave to Peter earlier at Caesarea Philippi (16:19). Here, however, Jesus addresses the twelve. Furthermore, because the context of the passage is church discipline, the authority extends beyond the apostles to congregations that continue steadfastly in their doctrine (Acts 2:42). The church not only has the right but the responsibility to discipline to train its own.

McGarvey notes that "binding" is the infliction of penalty of non-fellowship, while "loosing" is withholding or removing of it in cases of penitence (Commentary on Matthew 159). Jesus explains that when done correctly, the decision has the full sanction of heaven.

McGarvey says it is from this fact that the act of excommunication derives its peculiar solemnity and its fearful effects (Commentary on Matthew 159).

It should be noted, however, that the church has no right to enforce anything that heaven has not already revealed through the inspired apostles (see John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:13; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 14:37). Neither pope, ecclesiastical council, pastor, nor preacher has the authority to act in violation of God’s written word.

This point is further demonstrated grammatically. "Shall be bound" and "shall be loosed" translate the future perfect passives and may be more accurately rendered "will have already been bound" and "will have already been loosed." In other words, the church is simply carrying out the directives that heaven has previously set. MacArthur is correct in saying, "The idea is not that God is compelled to conform to the church’s decisions but that, when the church follows Christ’s pattern for discipline, it conforms its decisions to what God has already done and thereby receives heaven’s approval and authority" (137) (see notes on 16:19).

Verse 19

Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

This verse repeats the basic truth of the previous verse. As noted in verse 18, when the collective church stands on the revealed Word of God, they have the sanction of heaven. This situation is also true of individuals. When even two believers conform to God’s will in a situation, God hears them. Jesus uses the number two because it is the least possible number of people required to create a fellowship of any sort (Fowler 754). Their solidarity in Christ, though few in number, carries tremendous influence with the Father. Here, again, we catch a glimpse of the theme that flows throughout the entire chapter: every child of God is of vast importance. The word "agree" is from the Greek sumphoneo and literally means "to sound together." It is the same word from which we get "symphony." The two are in perfect harmony with each other and with God.

We are not told who the "two" are. Some suggest they may refer to those who earlier were at odds with one another but have now been reconciled. Others believe the "two" refers back to the witnesses of verse 16 whose agreement about the facts of the case allows the proceedings to continue. Still, others see this statement as a general promise, not necessarily relating to church discipline but to the broader spectrum of Christian living. In other words, whenever or for whatever reason two or more are in agreement with each other and with God, their request will be granted.

Contextually, the teaching seems to address the discipline and restoration of the wandering sinner. It is hard to deny the underlying truth that God recognizes the requests of His children in all situations. Either way, God sanctions those who follow His word. This principle is found throughout scripture.

Verse 20

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

For where two or three: Jesus gives the same basic principle of the previous two. "Two or three" refers to sincere believers who are submissive to the will of the heavenly Father. Jesus adds one more witness to the two mentioned in verse 19. What a wonderful thought that God does not delight in the strength of numbers. Fowler says, "Two or three united with Christ are a majority" (757).

are gathered together: Contextually, to be "gathered together" refers to those who assemble for the purpose of "administering discipline." Inherent is the fact that they gather with complete unity.

in my name: This phrase qualifies the previous phrase. Those who gather do so with reference to Jesus and not to some other person or object (Broadus 389). They are thinking of Him, and He is the reason for their assembly. Their goal is to execute His will.

there am I in the midst of them: Jesus assures His presence to those who scripturally gather in His name (by His authority). In reality, Jesus’ words point forward to a time when He will be bodily absent but spiritually present in the actions of His body, the church (Broadus 390). Soon He will return to the Father, but His presence and guidance will be no less real.

Many extend the application of the promise of Jesus’ presence beyond the gathering together for matters of church discipline. Some, for example, see here an affirmation of the Lord’s presence at prayer meetings, worship services, etc., where only a handful are in attendance. Certainly the underlying principle that supports Jesus’ presence at discipline proceedings also supports His presence at any Christian gathering. When a gathering is scripturally conducted, Jesus is present regardless of the size. We must be careful, however, to interpret scripture in light of its contextual setting, and here Jesus has in mind the situation of church discipline.

Verse 21

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

Then came Peter to him, and said: In typical fashion, Peter speaks up (14:28; 16:16; 17:4; 17:24). Peter returns to the theme of verse 15 and asks the Lord to settle a nagging question.

Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him: Peter knows the restoration of an erring brother requires personal sacrifice (see verse 15). He also knows that a willingness to forgive puts him in a vulnerable posture. What if the offender feigns repentance only to turn around and trespass again? How much patience and forgiveness does the Lord require? Must he forgive forever? Are there limits to mercy? Peter’s expression "against me" betrays his self-centeredness.

The first of Peter’s errors in this scenario is his failure to realize Jesus is dealing with genuine repentance. Jesus is not suggesting that the kind-spirited believer deliberately set himself up as a "doormat" to be walked upon. When an erring brother repeatedly demonstrates a delight in sinning, and when it becomes evident that his alleged repentance is designed to mock his brother, then it is on that level that the sinner must be approached. The sinner’s rebellion is the first sin that must be addressed. Only then can the initial sin in question be dealt with.

Because most difficulties between Christian brothers are accidental, we should extend forgiveness without reservation. Better to be repeatedly wronged and forgive than to withhold forgiveness from one whom God has already forgiven.

till seven times: It is natural for humans to do only the minimum requirement. If we can put God in a box, or define our relationship with Him by enumerating a select group of legalistic laws, then we can appease our conscience. This is exactly what the lawyer tries to do in Luke 10:29 by asking, "Who is my neighbor?" Thus, in the spirit of true legalism, Peter’s question seeks to define the limits of required forgiveness. Plummer is right in saying, "The man who asks such a question does not really know what forgiveness means" (255). In God’s system, forgiveness is an attitude, not just an act. Forgiveness is not measured in the number of times it is extended. Like an artesian spring, forgiveness has its never-ending source deep within the heart of a believer. It is valued not just by its output but in its depth.

Peter has no control over how many times others wrong him, but he has absolute control over how he will respond. He is slow to learn that genuine, heartfelt forgiveness absolutely cancels the debt. Counting solves nothing. Furthermore, to cease forgiving and to start demanding justice is tantamount to requesting that God do the same to us. Since we will be forgiven as we forgive, no one is worthy of withdrawing his hand of reconciliation from his brother (6:12). To plead mercy for ourselves while demanding justice from others is hypocrisy.

By suggesting "seven," Peter probably thinks he is being generous. Jewish tradition limits forgiveness to three times. Justification for this tradition is allegedly found in passages like Amos 1:3; Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9 and Job 3:29. Furthermore, the Babylonian Talmud instructs, "When a man sins against another, they forgive him once, they forgive him a second time, they forgive him a third time, but the fourth time they do not forgive him" (Broadus 390).

With this teaching as the cultural backdrop, Peter probably approaches Jesus with confidence. Not only has he doubled the number, but he has added one more, thus making the total times to forgive the perfect number seven! Peter is unprepared for Jesus’ response. Not only will Jesus reject Peter’s suggestion, He will go on to tell a poignant story to illustrate what true forgiveness is.

Verse 22

Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: Jesus responds with a mild rebuke. If Peter imagines seven to be an appropriate picture of divine forgiveness, he is sadly mistaken. On a similar occasion, Jesus responds with "seven times in a day," yet the point is the same: unlimited forgiveness (Luke 17:4).

but, Until seventy times seven: It is unclear whether Jesus means seventy-seven times or 490 times. Broadus notes that the natural meaning of the Greek is "seventy times seven" but some of the best expositors (Origin, Bengel, Meyer) prefer "seventy-seven" because the same expression is found in the LXX translation of Genesis 4:24 where it can mean only "seventy-seven" times (390). Nevertheless, the number will be so great that it will be impossible for the human mind to keep track. Obviously, Jesus’ point is that His followers must display open-ended forgiveness.

Verse 23

Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.

Therefore is the kingdom of heaven: The familiar phrase "the kingdom of heaven" begins another masterful parable. Jesus shows that in the Messianic kingdom, forgiveness is paramount.

likened unto a certain king: While the story revolves around a king and his servants, the obvious application refers to God and His children. When God extends forgiveness to His children and they do not equally forgive others, they are held accountable. Plummer says, "The offenses of any man against us are utterly trivial compared with our offenses against God" (257).

which would take account of his servants: The scenario Jesus describes is probably one relating to tax gathering. At certain times during the year, a king would settle accounts with his servants. The word "servants" is from a Greek word (douloi) that literally means "slaves." Here, however, the term is used in the broadest sense and denotes governors and satraps over various provinces whose responsibility it was to administer the king’s affairs and collect taxes. In the East, it was common to call the court officials the slaves of the king (Broadus 391). MacArthur notes that in reality all citizens of a kingdom were slaves because total allegiance was required (147).

The settling of accounts that occurs here does not correspond to the final Day of Judgment because the forgiven man returns to his normal daily activities. After the king judges him, he has additional opportunity to prove his character—clearly impossible if this is the final reckoning.

Verse 24

And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.

And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him: We are not told why this man is unable to pay his master. Some conjecture the servant is guilty of negligence or maybe even embezzlement. The picture that Jesus paints, however, seems to be of a servant who recognizes his guilt and is reluctant to stand before his king. Nevertheless, he is summoned to give an account.

which owed him ten thousand talents: The ten thousand talents serves to underscore the tremendous debt the servant owes. As in verse 22 where Jesus says, "seventy times seven," the significance is not found in the exact number but in the contrast. In this case, ten thousand talents is an amount that no individual could possibly pay regardless of his position in the king’s court. The precise dollar value of ten thousand talents is difficult to establish since there are different types of talents. There are talents of silver and also of gold, with the value of each varying in different countries and periods in history. Various expositors suggest dollar equivalents, but the most graphic illustration is demonstrated when compared to the common laborer’s daily wage. Robertson says that a talent is equal to six thousand denarii (151). Since a single denari is a day’s wage for a common laborer, one talent represents six thousand days of labor. Thus, the common laborer will need to work sixty million days (just over 164,383 years) to earn the amount.

To further put this amount in perspective, note that the combined entire imperial taxes for one year for Judea, Idumea, Samaria, and Galilee amounted to less than one thousand talents (Robertson 150). Thus, the man’s debt is larger than the combined national taxes of these four provinces. Furthermore, in the building of the tabernacle, the workers used only twenty-nine talents of gold (Exodus 38:24). The total amount of gold given for Solomon’s temple was just over eight thousand talents (1 Chronicles 29:4-7). Also, the Queen of Sheba gave Solomon one hundred twenty talents as a royal gift (1 Kings 10:10). All of these amounts pale in comparison to the amount Jesus mentions in this parable.

Jesus’ point is that it would be impossible to pay off a debt of this magnitude. So it is with sin. However long one may live, there is insufficient time to work to pay one’s sin-debt. While the parable clearly notes the forgiven servant has certain responsibilities, it is abundantly clear that he cannot earn his forgiveness. It is not on the basis of his works or merit that he is granted reprieve, but rather his forgiveness comes solely because his master is gracious.

Verse 25

But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

But forasmuch as he had not to pay: At reckoning time, the servant stands helpless before his master. Whether through embezzlement or by general mismanagement, the servant has accumulated a bill that is beyond two hundred lifetimes to pay.

his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made: We should not suppose that liquidation of the servant’s estate and the selling of his family is sufficient to begin paying off the debt. Obviously, the king’s decree is designed as punishment rather than payment.

The king’s order to sell an innocent family along with the guilty debtor seems unjust. If the king represents God, then how can He, as righteous Judge, hold innocent people responsible for crimes they do not commit? This question gives us pause.

Many commentators claim the punishment is simply a part of the imagery of the parable (Ellicott 265). Ancient kings often did many things objectionable to Christian mores and sentiment. They possessed absolute control over their subjects and could follow their whims for nothing more than vengeance’s sake. Furthermore, in ancient times a man’s wife and family were his legal property and could be sold along with the rest of his estate (Robertson 151; Plummer 256). Additionally, Jesus might simply be describing what He observes in pagan society and is not condoning the king’s unjust and terrible decree. He uses it to underscore the severity of the crime.

But there might be more to the king’s statement than is initially apparent. Although we must be careful not to stretch the parable too far, we must consider the possibility that the king is indeed fair. If the debtor’s family has been lured into the scheme, then their collusion cannot be excused. Fowler suggests the entire family has conspired together to use the influential and lucrative position of the man of the house to take advantage of the good king (767). If so, then the king’s decree may not be harsh at all.

Because Jesus’, and likewise Matthew’s, audience is Jewish, it is interesting to look at the parable in light of Mosaic Law. Exodus 22:3 specifically mandates that insolvent thieves be sold into slavery. Thus, if the above scenario is correct, it follows divine legislation exactly.

Exodus 22:3, however, seems to be the only text that specifically justifies the practice of selling debtors into slavery. While 2 Kings 4:1 records an incident where a deceased man’s creditors are about to enslave his two children, the particulars of the case are neither stated nor justified. Keil and Delitzsch suppose the case Jesus mentions follows Leviticus 25:39-40, but this reference is improbable since the context of Leviticus is the selling of one’s own self not his children (Vol. 3 309). Leviticus 25:46 specifically prohibits Israel from ruling over one another with rigor. Even if one does indenture himself to a fellow Israelite, it is only until the year of Jubilee. Furthermore, he is not to be treated as a slave but as a hired servant (Leviticus 25:39; Leviticus 25:42; Leviticus 25:46). Masters must follow strict humanitarian rules.

Verse 26

The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

The dishonest servant has been caught. The evidence against him is so strong he neither offers excuse nor denies the charges. Having nothing to make even the slightest token payment, he prostrates himself in Oriental fashion in an attitude of reverence and throws himself on the monarch’s mercy. "Have patience with me and I will repay all."

The promise is laughable. Not only is he unable to pay "all," but he is unable to pay "any." His idle cry betrays both the terror and hypocrisy of his heart. Is this not, however, the typical response of a sinner who, feeling conviction of his sin, imagines he can amass some sort of personal goodness wherewith he may buy forgiveness? But as with chapter five, verse 3, Jesus shows we are totally bankrupt before His Majesty. The sin-debt each owes is so massive that one cannot hope to be saved without the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ.

Verse 27

Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

This verse is the ultimate picture of God’s divine love. Unimpressed by the empty promises of the debtor and in full realization he will never be repaid, the gracious king forgives the debt.

The word "debt" translates the Greek word daneion and means "loan." In other words, rather than calling it embezzlement, the king graciously chooses to call it a "loan" and promptly forgives it. The king removes the debt and its consequences and rescinds the order to sell the man and his family.

Once again Jesus’ point is the divine love of God. Although man has nothing to pay, and although in reality his feeble promises of compensation mock God, the King of heaven chooses to forgive through His Son’s death. Paul writes to the Romans, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (5:8 NKJV).

Verse 28

But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.

But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants: If ever a servant should understand "forgiveness," it is this man who has been dismissed from the king’s court and has had all of the charges dropped. We would imagine that he would leave the king’s presence with deep gratitude and rejoicing, ready to share the king’s goodness with others.

With a masterful twist of irony, however, Jesus exposes the real character of the forgiven man. Not only is he ungrateful for the immediate reprieve he has gained but he has an evil heart. No sooner is he released from his debt than he finds someone who owes him.

Notice the contrast Jesus now paints. The first servant is summoned before a king who has real power. The second debtor stands before one whose power is, at best, the result of delegated authority. Additionally, the forgiven debtor has no case to plead because it is humanly impossible to pay his debt. The second debtor, however, could make arrangements to pay what he owes because the amount is so small. The first is met with graciousness from one far greater than he. The second is accosted by an equal who thinks he is superior.

which owed him an hundred pence: Though the amount that Jesus now states is small by comparison, the lesson is huge. Obviously, the truth under consideration is the trifling amount others owe us in comparison to what we owe God. "One hundred pence" (hekaton denaria) more specifically means "one hundred denarii." In other words, it is 1/60,000 of that forgiven of the avaricious creditor in verse 24. Although the sum amounts to about three months’ wages (one denarius equals one day’s wages; therefore, one hundred denarii equals one hundred days’ wages equals a little more than three months), it is still a manageable sum and could be repaid.

and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest: Again, the contrast between the king and the greedy servant is glaring. The king meets the embezzler with gracious dignity and composure. In contrast, the forgiven embezzler flies into a rage. He grabs his fellow servant by the throat, perhaps even without a greeting, and begins to throttle him. Broadus notes that Roman law allows a creditor to seize his debtor and drag him before the judge, and Roman writers repeatedly speak of a man’s twisting the neck of his debtor until blood flows from his mouth and nostrils (392).

How sad that our infractions mean so little to us while the infractions of others mean so much. How sad that in our hypocrisy we are willing to embezzle the Creator of the Universe but are at the same time unwilling to overlook the miniscule debts of others. What a tragedy that with greedily outstretched hands we hoard forgiveness yet with stingy tyranny withhold from others.

Verse 29

And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

Notice the similarity of this second servant’s actions to those of the first (verse 26). The servant who just minutes earlier raised himself from the king’s palace floor now condemns his fellow servant. In a spirit of arrogant ungratefulness, he is unmoved by what essentially were his own words.

How different the cries of mercy sound when they fall from the lips of others. All too often human ears are trained to hear only their own whimper, and human hearts bleed only for themselves. There is often an utter failure to realize that the pleas of others are nothing more than the softened echoes of what should be our wail to God.

The promise to pay all is not unreasonable. As noted in the previous verse, the sum amounts to only about three months’ wages. While an appropriate payment plan might require frugality, the task is not impossible.

Verse 30

And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

The small amount of the debt makes it illegal to sell the man into slavery. Instead, the creditor has him sentenced to prison and forced labor to work off his debt (Hendriksen 707). McGarvey says that in some cases this is more painful and hopeless than slavery (Commentary on Matthew 161).

While everything the wicked creditor does is legal, his own actions prove to be his undoing, bringing condemnation on himself. Because he refuses mercy and demands strict justice, he will ultimately receive the same. Fowler correctly observes that this wicked man’s great sin is legalistic score keeping (772).

Verse 31

So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.

The fellow servants mentioned are probably other court officials who are there when the embezzler is forgiven. Upon seeing his unwillingness to forgive others, their sense of justice is aroused. They are deeply grieved. Rather than take the matter into their own hands, they respond by giving a full and complete account to their lord, the king.

In interpreting Jesus’ parables, one must not read more into the narrative than is intended. Parables are stories taken from real life and designed to move us toward a clear conclusion. Not every point needs to be assigned a spiritual equivalent (see the discussion on 13:3). In this verse, however, it is tempting to question who the "reporting servants" are. Do they have spiritual equivalency? Are they Christians who, after seeing their fellow believers abusing one another and being helpless to stop it, cry out to God in prayer? Or, as Fowler suggests, are they angels who, having the immediate audience of God, take the cries of their "little ones" before Him? (773). If so, then is there a connection between this verse and Jesus’ previous discourse?

The answer might be unclear, but the point is not. Whatever injustice one perpetrates will not escape the notice of the King of heaven. God’s all-seeing eye will hold all accountable for what they do.

Verse 32

Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:

Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him: This is not just another summons to appear before the king so that the offender might be given another chance. This is the final reckoning. Having refused to amend his ways, the previously forgiven offender now faces his final judgment. We are not told how much time elapses between the offense and the summons. The point, however, is not "immediacy" but "certainty." Just as life is brief and we soon stand before God in judgment, so here the evil servant is quickly summoned before his master. Even if a great amount of time elapses, the king remembers. So it is with the King of heaven. The Lord is not slack concerning His promises but will one day demand a full accounting (2 Peter 3:9).

O thou wicked servant: The king’s first words are haunting. He is not only a king of mercy, he is a king of justice, and now justice must be served.

I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: This statement again underscores the good heart of the king. Not merely a part, but the whole of the debt was forgiven. In kindness, the good king had heard the cries of his wicked servant. Now the only sound the evil servant will hear will be his lord’s sentence of doom. There is no need to protest. Time has run out.

Verse 33

Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?

The question is rhetorical. Obviously, the wicked servant should have had compassion on his fellow servant. Fowler observes that the king does not scold the servant for wanting to get back his one hundred denarii but rather condemns him for his unmerciful attitude (774). There is nothing wrong with expecting our fellow believers to fulfill their promises. In fact, every Christian’s word must be true, as Jesus demonstrates in chapter five, verse 37. But it is wrong to approach any fellow servant of God with an unmerciful attitude. He who does not show mercy burns that bridge over which he himself must pass.

Verse 34

And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.

And his lord was wroth: The king now unleashes all of his anger upon the wicked servant. This is not unjustified anger but righteous indignation.

and delivered him to the tormentors: He does not simply deliver him to the jailers but to the "torturers" until he should pay all that was due. The word "torturers" (basanistais) means inquisitors or executioners whose task it is to elicit the truth by whatever means necessary.

till he should pay all that was due unto him: How should we interpret this phrase? Does the king reinstate the original debt of ten thousand talents? If so, then is the king just for holding his servant accountable for that which he has already been forgiven? How are we to understand forgiveness in this context? The answer substantially affects our understanding of God’s forgiveness.

Proponents of "eternal security" suggest the original debt is not reinstated. They postulate that it would be impossible for the wicked servant to be further culpable for a debt of which he was forgiven. Thus, according to this view, the phrase "all that he owed" simply refers to a new debt: some change of attitude that the king now expects. The king delivers the wicked servant to the torturers until the servant changes his mind and decides to amend his ways. In practical terms, the doctrine states that when believers forget they are forgiven, and when they refuse to forgive others, God brings hardship, pressure, and difficulties on them until they genuinely repent. Thus, according to the doctrine of "eternal security," the repayment refers simply to the proper duty a believer owes the Lord (MacArthur 155).

Nevertheless, while God certainly allows life’s difficulties to chastise His children, this is not the point of the parable. Jesus’ story is terribly anti-climatic if all that the king has in mind is a change of heart. If by reinstating the original debt the king is thought to be unjust, then what of God, who by the above doctrine’s own admission, deliberately brings "torture" on His wayward children to prompt change? "Torture" seems an inappropriate word choice if all Jesus means is "life’s difficulties." Obviously, "torturers" refers to the eternal punishment of hell fire.

The debt that verse 34 refers to is beyond payment. This is the point of the parable’s dramatic conclusion. Jesus wants His hearers to know that the wicked servant’s failure to show mercy has revisited the king’s severity upon himself. It is too late to beg for forgiveness.

Likewise the same fate overtakes Jesus’ hearers if they do not forgive each other. The only legitimate contextual interpretation is one that sees the debt of which Jesus speaks in this verse as the ten thousand talents of verse 24. If not, then how might Jesus’ audience know that He has "another debt" in mind? To assume some "new debt" heretofore unmentioned and undefined is unwarranted and forces an unnatural explanation on verse 34.

Fowler makes the interesting observation that the question of whether or not God ever holds one accountable for previously forgiven sins actually comes down to an understanding of "justice" (776). By appealing to law and strict justice in the treatment of others, the wicked slave, in effect, reopens his own case. By refusing to be merciful, he demonstrates contempt for the very thing the king has previously offered him. If the wicked servant prefers "justice" over "mercy," then the king will oblige. Justice will be served and the full punishment inflicted. Fowler says, "In reality, God simply lets every man choose by what standard he would be judged" (776). The issue is not so much whether or not God really forgives past sins because He does (Hebrews 8:12). But since forgiveness is conditional (Hebrews 10:26), and since Jesus and James both prove that God cannot forgive an unforgiving heart (Matthew 6:12; James 2:13), the real issue is what shall we do with "mercy"? When one spurns mercy, God has no choice but to administer justice.

Verse 35

So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you: Ultimately, the point of the parable is clear and practical. If we do not genuinely forgive our fellow man, God will punish us just as the king punishes his wicked servant. Like the man who owes the ten thousand talents, all of us stand before God as trespassers and embezzlers. So guilty are we that neither time nor talent suffice to repay the sin-debt. In mercy and compassion, however, the King of heaven offers pardon through His Son, Jesus Christ. By contrast, debts our fellow man owes us are miniscule. When we show contempt for God’s mercy by not extending the same to others, God holds us accountable.

if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses: Forgiveness is not simply a formula of words or procedures that we follow. Genuine pardon stems from a heart in tune with God and in touch with man. Ultimately, every problem the disciples have is a heart problem. All of their struggles with envy, pride, and forgiveness come from deep within themselves. Proud hearts led to their earlier dispute about greatness, and now it has given rise to Peter’s question about forgiveness. With a superb twist of irony, Jesus demonstrates that the only indisputable claim any disciple has to greatness is the greatness of their debt toward God.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 18". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-18.html. 1993-2022.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile