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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 18

The Bible Study New TestamentBible Study NT

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Verse 1


Who is the greatest? They had been arguing this question on the road (Mark 9:34). They still thought of an earthly kingdom, in political terms. They must have argued this question of “greatness” many times (compare Luke 22:24-30).

Verse 2


Jesus called a child. He used the child to teach them a lesson. [This was a common way to teach: Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:0); Agabus tied his own hands and feet with Paul’s belt (Acts 21:11).]

Verse 3


Unless you change. This is a command to his disciples—something which they were to do themselves. It is not something which was to be done for them. Become like children. Humble, teachable, without selfish ambition, without sinful pride. If they were to enter the Kingdom of heaven, they should not waste time arguing about who is the greatest, and find out whether they would even be allowed to enter it.

Verse 4


The greatest. Humility is the key. There is a lesson here for us all. See 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Verse 5


And whoever welcomes. Christ comes to us in many forms. What we do to others, we do to him. See Matthew 25:31-46.

Verse 6


If anyone should cause. “Little ones” included not only children, but all the followers of Christ as well. The Jews (Matthew 16:21) would turn some away from faith in Christ. It would be better for that man. This was a common form of execution. The lesson is that being killed in this way would only involve death, while destroying the faith of these “little ones” would bring eternal punishment on that person.

Verse 7


How terrible for the world. There are many temptations to make people turn away from Christ. But this does not take away the punishment from the one who causes such things.

Verses 8-9


If your hand or your foot. Symbolic (Compare Matthew 5:29-30). If there were no other way to avoid sin, it would be a small price to pay to be able to enter life [that is, to lose hand or foot and so avoid the eternal fire]. He does not intend to say that anyone should injure themselves, but he uses this to show the importance of a holy life.

Verse 10


See that you don’t despise any of these little ones. In the Kingdom of heaven, there are no unimportant people! The Jews [Pharisees, teachers of the Law, Sadducees] believed they were the “elite” and the common people not worth trying to save. These Jews were shocked when Jesus went among ordinary people (Matthew 9:10-13; Matthew 11:19). God’s act in Christ makes salvation available to EVERY human being who will listen and come. Their angels in heaven. Who dares to despise these “little ones” when they have angels standing at the throne of God? [The service of angels is a basic doctrine in the scriptures. See 2 Kings 19:35; Psalms 91:11; Hebrews 1:14; Acts 27:23.]

Verse 11


For the Son of Man. Christ died for every human being (Hebrews 2:9). Jesus came into the world to save, not to judge (John 3:16-17). [HE WILL RETURN AS JUDGE!]

Verses 12-13


What do you think? This parable is to show how God feels about these “little ones” which the Jews despise. The shepherd takes time to look for the sheep that is lost. Jesus is the “Good Shepherd.”

Verse 14


Your Father in heaven. God through Christ came to “look for” his “lost sheep.” [Christianity is unique in showing God who comes down to man to act in history so that each man and woman is given the opportunity to come to him and receive life eternal.] JOY! (Luke 15:7).

Verse 15


If your brother sins against you. Compare Mark 9:38; Luke 9:49. A fellow believer who does you wrong in some way. Go to him. You are to go to him! Show him his fault. Have a quiet talk with him. He may not know how he has hurt you. If he listens to you. You will have won your brother back to yourself, by restoring peace and good will; and won him back to God, by showing him his sin and causing him to repent.

Verse 16


But if he will not listen to you. Then take one or two others to help talk over this thing.

Verse 17


Then tell the whole thing to the church. Only after the first two attempts have failed, do you then tell it to the church. [“Church” here means congregation. The first use of “church” is in Matthew 16:18] If he will not listen to the church. The church leaders [elders] had the right to exclude such a person from the fellowship of the group, with the purpose of causing him to repent. [Orthodox Jews would not even speak to foreigners and tax collectors.]

Verse 18


And so I tell all of you. What Jesus had said to Peter (Matthew 16:19), he now tells to them all. He said this again (John 20:23). Since the apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), the things which they prohibited and permitted would be the Plan of God.

Verses 19-20


Whenever two of you on earth. Just two [or more] form a “messianic community” [church, congregation]. The united prayers of this group will be heard by God. I am there with them. Jesus promises to be part of every group [messianic community] which meets in his name [through the Holy Spirit Ephesians 2:22]. His presence makes their prayer to be his prayer [he is the “go-between”].

Verse 21

21. Then Peter came to Jesus and asked. Jesus had just spoken about going to a brother who had sinned against you, to make peace. Peter wants to know just how far he is obligated to forgive someone. Seven times? The teachers of the Law said that one who repented should be forgiven up to a maximum of three times for the same sin. Peter thinks Jesus would require more, and so he says “seven times.”

Verse 22


Seventy times seven. This is a Jewish saying, which means an unlimited number. Jesus said later: “If he sins against you seven times in one day, and each time he comes to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:4). Our forgiveness must be just as unlimited as God’s! Notice God forgives only when we repent of our sin.

Verse 23


Because the Kingdom of heaven is like. He now uses a parable to explain this idea of forgiveness. A king who decided to check on his servants’ accounts. A king had people working for him who managed his money and his business. This king decides to check up on what his servants are doing.

Verse 24


When one of them was brought in. Notice he was brought in! His accounts were short millions of dollars. [Remember this is a parable.] The debt is beyond human ability to pay.

Verse 25


His master ordered him to be sold as a slave. This was the usual way of doing when a debt could not be paid. This man had used his king’s money, and now could not pay it back.

Verse 26


Be patient with me! This servant gets down on his knees and begs for mercy! I will pay you everything! This promise is beyond his ability to pay, but he may have believed that he could.

Verse 27


So he forgave him the debt and let him go. The king felt sorry for the man, and just like that, he “wrote off” the debt of millions of dollars. [10,000 talents might be worth $75,000,000 in 1974 dollars.]

Verse 28


And met one of his fellow servants. This one who had just been forgiven his huge debt, now meets a fellow servant who owes him a few dollars. [100 denarii would be worth maybe $180 in 1974 dollars.]

Verse 29


Be patient with me. The fellow servant also begs for mercy.

Verse 30


But he would not! No mercy, no delay—he has the fellow servant put in jail until the debt is paid. [The law allowed this to be done.]

Verse 31


They were very upset. The other servants saw what was being done, and it did not please them at all. So, they went to the master and told him what had happened.

Verses 32-33


You worthless slave! This man had already received mercy for his debt. He should have given the same mercy to his fellow servant!

Verse 34


He sent the servant to jail. Prisoners in the ancient world were sometimes treated cruelly. This servant was to be punished [tortured] until he should pay back the millions of dollars. Since he could not do this, he would be in prison permanently.

Verse 35


That is how my Father in heaven will treat you. Jesus says my heavenly Father. God will not be their Father, unless they imitate the spirit of Christ. The parable is to show that God forgives us the impossibly huge debt of sin [through our union with Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12)]. Therefore, we are expected to also forgive others. The central idea of this parable is that the way in which we forgive others is just the way in which God will forgive us! This answers Peter’s question: “Lord, how many times can my brother sin against me and I have to forgive him?”

Bibliographical Information
Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on Matthew 18". "The Bible Study New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ice/matthew-18.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.
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