Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?Ch. Matthew 18:1-4. A Lesson in Humility. The Kingdom of Heaven and Little Children
Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48.
1. At the same time] “in that hour.” The preceding incident and our Lord’s words had again excited hopes of a glorious kingdom on earth.
greatest] Literally, greater (than others).
And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,2. set him in the midst of them] St Mark adds, “when He had taken him in His arms.”
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.3. be converted] Literally, be turned. The Greek word is used in a literal sense, except here and Acts 7:39; Acts 7:42.
shall not enter] much less be great therein.
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.4. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself] He who shall be most Christ-like in humility (see Php 2:7-9) shall be most like Christ in glory.
And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.5, 6. Christ’s Little Ones. Mark 9:37The thought of Jesus passes from the dispute among His disciples to the care of His little ones, the young in faith, who, if they have the weakness, have also the humility of little children.
whoso shall receive] It is a sacrament of lovingkindness when Christ Himself is received in the visible form of His little ones. To receive is to welcome, shew kindness to.
a millstone] Literally, a millstone turned by an ass, and so larger than the ordinary millstone. Cp. Ovid (Fasti vi. 318): “Et quæ pumiceas versat asella molas.”
The manner of death alluded to appears to have been unknown to the Jews. But Plutarch mentions this punishment as being common to Greece and Rome. Cp. Juv. Sat. xiv. 16, 17, where, as in other places, it is named rather than the cross as a swift and terrible penalty for crime.
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.
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!7–9. Of Offences. Mark 9:43-48From offences—hindrances to the faith of Christ’s little ones—the discourse proceeds to offences in general—every thing that hinders the spiritual life.
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.8, 9. Cp. note ch. Matthew 5:29-30.
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.
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.10–14. Christ’s care for His Little Ones illustrated by a Parable. Luke 15:3-7After a brief digression (Matthew 18:7-9), Christ’s love for His young disciples again breaks out in words. Let no one despise them. They have unseen friends in the court of heaven, who are ever in the presence of the King himself. There, at any rate, they are not despised. It was for them especially that the Son of Man came to earth.
For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.11. This verse is omitted in the Sinaitic and the Vatican MSS., and is consequently rejected by Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Tregelles. However, it falls in precisely with the train of thought, and is almost required to connect Matthew 18:10; Matthew 18:12.
The expression and the imagery of the parable recall Ezekiel 34; comp. also ch. Matthew 15:24. In Luke the parable is spoken with direct reference to publicans and sinners, whom the Pharisees despised, and who are the “little ones” of these verses. Such differences of context in the Gospels are very instructive; they are, indeed, comments by the Evangelists themselves on the drift and bearing of particular sayings of Christ.
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?12. This parable is followed in Luke by the parable of the Lost Drachma and that of the Prodigal Son which illustrate and amplify the same thought.
doth he not leave the ninety and nine] St Luke adds “in the wilderness.”
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.13. of that sheep] Rather, over that sheep.
Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
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.15. go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone] See Leviticus 19:17, where the words “not suffer sin upon him,” mean “thou shalt not incur sin through him,” i. e. by letting him go on unrebuked in his sin. Tell him his fault, rather, convict him; the same Greek word is translated rebuke, Levit. loc. cit. St Luke has a different Greek word with a similar meaning.
gained] i. e. won over to a better mind,—to Christ. Cp. 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, and 1 Peter 3:1.
15–35. Forgiveness of Sins. Luke 17:3-4God’s forgiveness of sinners suggests the duty of forgiveness among men.
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.
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.17. tell it unto the church] The word “church” (Grk. ekklesia) is found only here and ch. Matthew 16:18 in the Gospels. In the former passage the reference to the Christian Church is undoubted. Here either (1) the assembly or congregation of the Jewish synagogue, or rather, (2) the ruling body of the synagogue (collegium presbyterorum, Schleusner) is meant. This must have been the sense of the word to those who were listening to Christ. But what was spoken of the Jewish Church was naturally soon applied to the Christian Church.
a heathen man and a publican] Jesus, the friend of publicans and sinners, uses the phrase of His contemporaries. What Jesus says, Matthew the publican records.
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.18. Taking up the word “Church,” Jesus passes from its present meaning—the ruling body in the synagogue—to its meaning in the future. The ruling body is the Christian Church.
Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven] What was spoken to Peter alone is now spoken to all the disciples, representing the Church. “Whatsoever you as a Church declare binding or declare not binding, that decision shall be ratified in heaven.”
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.19. The slight digression is continued. Christ thinks of His Church. Not only shall your decisions be ratified, but your requests shall be granted, provided ye agree.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.20. two or three] In the smallest gathering of His followers Christ will be present. A derivative (synaxis) of the Greek word in the text came to be used among the early Christians for their assemblies, especially in reference to assembling for the Lord’s Supper. Synaxarium, derived from the same verb, meant a Service-book.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?21. till seven times?] The Rabbinical rule was that no one should ask forgiveness of his neighbour more than thrice. Peter, who asks as a scribe a scribe’s question, thought he was making a great advance in liberality and shewing himself worthy of the Kingdom of heaven. But the question itself indicates complete misunderstanding of the Christian spirit.
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.22. Until seventy times seven] i. e. an infinite number of times. There is no limit to forgiveness.
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.23. a certain king, which would take account of his servants] The picture is drawn from an Oriental Court. The provincial governors, farmers of taxes, and other high officials are summoned before a despotic sovereign to give an account of their administration.
would] “chose,” “resolved:” all is subject to his sole will.
servants] i. e. subjects, for all subjects of an Eastern monarch are “slaves.” The scholar will remember how often Demosthenes makes a point of this.
And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.24. ten thousand talents] Even if silver talents are meant, the sum is enormous—at least two million pounds of our money. It was probably more than the whole annual revenue of Palestine at this time; see Joseph. Ant. xii. 4, 4. The modern kingdoms of Norway or Greece or Denmark hardly produce a larger national income.
The vast sum implies the hopeless character of the debt of sin.
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.25. he had not to pay] He had wasted in extravagance the provincial revenues, or the proceeds of taxation.
The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.26. worshipped him] The imperfect tense in the original denotes persistence.
Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.27. forgave him the debt] With the almost reckless generosity of an Eastern Court that delights to exalt or debase with swift strokes. The pardon is free and unconditional.
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.28. found] perhaps, even sought him out.
one of his fellowservants] By this is meant the debt of man to man, offences which men are bound to forgive one another.
an hundred pence] i. e. denarii. The Denarius was a day’s wages (ch. Matthew 20:2). The sum therefore is about three months’ wages for an ordinary labourer, by no means a hopeless debt as the other was; see note ch. Matthew 26:7.
And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.29. besought] Not the same word as “worshipped,” Matthew 18:26. The word in the text would be used by an equal addressing an equal.
And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.31. when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry] This seems to point to the common conscience of mankind approving or anticipating the divine sentence.
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:32. desiredst] The same Greek word is translated “besought,” Matthew 18:29.
Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?33. Cp. the Lord’s Prayer, where forgiveness of others is put forward as the claim for divine pardon.
And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.34. The acquittal is revoked—a point not to be pressed in the interpretation. The truth taught is the impossibility of the unforgiving being forgiven, but the chief lesson is the example of the divine spirit of forgiveness in the act of the king. This example the pardoned slave should have followed.
So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.35. from your hearts] A different principle from the Pharisee’s arithmetical rules of forgiveness.
their trespasses] The MS. authority is against these words.