The Gospel of Matthew
"E. Schuyler English: The Gospel According to Matthew"
The Book of MATTHEW
We have seen the Lord Jesus presenting the Kingdom of the heavens to His people, Israel. By proclamation and by power He demonstrated that He was the Messiah; but in His divine wisdom He knew that He would be rejected, and that "His Hour" was approaching. Consequently it was expedient that more and more He should draw His disciples to Himself that they might know Him, and that He might instruct them in the Way in which they were to go. It is always necessary that we know Him before we can make Him known to others. It was in Paul's knowing Him, "and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering" (Phil. 3:10), that he was so able to reveal Him to others. As Christians it is our duty to feed on the Word of God which reveals God's Son, so that we may be emptied of self, and then filled by the Holy Spirit to make Him known to our fellow men.
Our Lord did not cease to heal and comfort, in His ministry, for He will always meet our needs when we come to Him; but increasingly He revealed Himself to His disciples, and spoke of His coming death and resurrection, that they might be instructed in the things of God.
"At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of the heavens?"
At the same time, the disciples asked this question. In the preceding chapter we find that just before the miracle of the tribute money the Lord Jesus was talking to His disciples of His betrayal, death, and resurrection, as in Mark nine. At the same time the disciples asked, "Who, then, is the greatest?" In the verse before us the word then does not appear in the Authorized Version, but is included in both the Revised and the American Standard Versions. "Who, then?" You say You are going to die, Lord -- who, then, is the greatest? Do we not have here a striking example of the selfishness of man's heart, and of the love of God? These men who were so close to the Lord Jesus Christ had no thought of Him when He spoke of His coming death, but only of themselves. "Who, then, is the greatest?" No words of rebuke passed the lips of our Lord, for these were His own, but only loving counsel from Him Whose Name is Counsellor.
The disciples did not yet understand what was to happen in the Church Age. They were still expecting the establishment on earth at that time of the Kingdom which Messiah had come to offer. And so they sought the place of honour! May we learn from the teaching of the Word that every imagination of the thought of man's heart is only evil continually (Gen. 6:5), and may we bow humbly before our Lord, seeking His glory and not our own.
Matt. 18:2-5; 19:13-15
Lovingly the Lord Jesus called a little child into the midst of them, and said, "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of the heavens" (Matt. 18:3). Who shall be greatest? Why, you cannot enter into the Kingdom of the heavens unless you become as little children. How does a child come into being? By being born, of course. And to enter into the Kingdom of the heavens, to enjoy eternal life with God the Father and God the Son, one must be converted, turned about; one must be born again. "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of the heavens." Humble himself as this little child? Yes, humility and dependence -- that is the secret of greatness. Having been born again, we are to look in lowliness but in trust to our heavenly Father, as the child does to his earthly father. The new life will grow as a child grows, but nothing will stunt spiritual growth as much as confidence in self. Humble, willing to be chastened for our own development -- this is the pathway to greatness. "Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh who corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure: but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness" (Heb. 12:9, 10).
Further reference to the same subject is made by our Lord later, when "there were brought unto Him little children, that He should put His hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me: for of such is the Kingdom of the heavens" (Matt. 19:13, 14). He did not say of them, but of such -- the child is the type of the believer, the born-again one. Of such is the Kingdom of the heavens. And as He laid His hands upon them and blessed them, so He does for every child of God. We can be sure that our Lord did not just touch them with one or two fingers, but that He enfolded them within His arms. It is because He holds us in this way that He can say "neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand" (John 10:28).
"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones who 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 its offences! 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" (Matt. 18:6-8).
"Woe!" These are strong words that our Lord uttered. "The great thought here put before us is the identification of the Lord with every little one, every one who has become a little child, that is, who is born again. He is their Father and their Lord, closely identified with them. It reminds us of that beautiful word, 'He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye' (Zech. 2:8) ... and so honour done to one of the little ones is done unto Him; injury done to one of them is injury done to Him. What glory of the believer this reveals! How this fact should teach us how to behave one towards the other and not despise any one who is Christ's. How apt we are to do this. This one or that one is so little taught in the Word, he is so ungracious -- and with all our criticism we forget he is, after all, one of Christ's own" (A.C. Gaebelein).
The eternal fire of these verses is not for us; the Lord, in speaking of the Kingdom of the heavens here, was speaking of the Kingdom of Matthew thirteen, professing Christianity. Those who offend and are to be cast into Hell fire are the professors of the Kingdom. The believer is never lost; "There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). But the warning can be taken into our hearts, too. We cannot be honoured or used of Him if we put a stumbling block in our brother's way, nor can we enter into fulness of life if a hand, a foot, or an eye offend. "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. For if ye live after the flesh ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Rom. 8:8, 10, 13).
"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 Who is in Heaven."
"For the Son of Man is come to save that which was "lost" (Matt. 18:11). The word seek is left out of this verse, for the Lord had been speaking of children. Seek indicates that the object is actively wandering, and that is not so in the case of children of whom the Lord was speaking. But that our Lord does seek is clearly shown in the verse which follows: "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? And if so be that he find it, Verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth. ..."
Yes, the Son of Man, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, came to earth to seek and to save the lost. He died on the Cross that we might live in Him, that ours might be everlasting life. It is not His will, nor the will of our Father Who is in Heaven, that one of the little ones should perish, or one of the grown up ones. He died that you might live. "Ye must be born again." Have you received Him as your Saviour; have you yielded to Him as your Lord? "I am the Door of the sheep, ... by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture."
Our Lord had been drawing His disciples to Himself, to a fuller knowledge of His will. He had been teaching them the essentials of salvation: one must become as a little child to inherit the Kingdom, one must be born again; the Son of Man came to seek and to save, not the righteous but the lost, for it is not His will that one should perish. And in the passage before us He told His disciples of forgiveness. Who better can teach forgiveness? He Who is "the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His Person," Who upholds "all things by the word of His power" came to earth and purged us of our sins -- God is the ultimate in forgiveness. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
"Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass (sin) against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee thou hast gained thy brother" (Matt. 18:15).
Moreover; here was an indication that that which was to follow had a bearing on that which had preceded, and was an additional detail of importance. The discussion had been on who should be the greatest, and our Lord had pointed out that he who humbled himself and became as a little child should be great; that he who took care to put no stumbling block in the path of another should be great; that greatness was by humility, for it is only because it is not the will of our Father Who is in Heaven, that any should perish, that any are saved.
"Moreover, if thy brother sin against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone." Here was another rule of greatness, forgiveness of the trespasses of a brother. God alone is great; He alone knows how to forgive. And let us remember that these words were spoken to the disciples, believers. This was not merely the granting of permission for certain action; it was a command from the lips of the Lord Jesus. "If thy brother sin against thee, go and tell him his fault." We are not to tell someone else -- there is no excuse to gossip here. "Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; then if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." If he will hear, he is gained back into fellowship.
"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" (Matt. 18:16). The Lord commanded that first we should endeavour to establish peace between a brother in the Lord and ourselves by talking directly to the brother who has trespassed, alone. But then if he will not hear, we are not to take him before the assembly, nor to refuse to fellowship with him, before his sin has been established before two or three witnesses. This is a fulfilment of the law: "One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established" (Deut. 19:15).
The Lord Jesus Christ died to forgive us our sins, past, present, and future. Our only condition for such forgiveness is that we confess that we are sinners and receive His sacrifice. And so He has commanded believers that they shall give every opportunity to one of His own children to repent of iniquities, that they may be in full fellowship with Him and with the saints.
"And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church (ecclesia-assembly); but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen and a publican" (Matt. 18:17). God's loving grace is wonderful to behold. As through the ages He has given man every opportunity to be restored, so here, our Lord has commanded that we should not refuse to fellowship with an offender until every resource to restore him has been tried. The members of His Body are to be forgiving, as He was forgiving. You will recall a further instruction to believers in Galatians 6:1: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye who are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." We know from the previous command of our Lord that this restoration is dependent upon repentance. Knowing God's love, and that the brother of whom the Lord was speaking was a child of God, we know that this letting him be unto thee as an heathen and a publican is not as the measure of ostracism except to chasten, that that one may be brought to a consciousness of his sin and God's grace, and may be restored. Such surely is God's will for those whom the Lord came to seek and to save. There is no place for hardness or coldness in the Church; we cannot be hard, when we consider ourselves, lest we also be tempted. It is only by God's grace when we are not the offending ones.
There follows one of the great and precious promises of the Word, which has been of comfort to the Church through the centuries: "If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father Who is in Heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:19, 20). First, these words relate to the conditions of which our Lord had been speaking. The effort to restore one who has sinned is to be in love and prayer to the Father. It is not to be done in bitterness, but in the grace of the Lord Jesus, among those who are spiritual. Secondly, in our Lord's words is established the fact that His presence was no longer to be confined to a tabernacle or a temple, but where two or three of His own are gathered together in His Name. In His Name! If it is not in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, then no church building, no matter how magnificent nor how dedicated, contains the presence of the Lord. But when two or three are gathered together in His Name, then, whether in a church, or a house, or a room, or wherever, "there am I in the midst of them." Born-again believers are new creatures in Christ, Who indwells them, and Whose presence is a promise in their gatherings together unto His Name.
But while this great promise refers directly to the case at hand, it is not limited. On that day to His disciples, today to you if you are a believer, the promise holds touching anything. "If two or three of you agree touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father Who is in Heaven. For when two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them." What wonderful works may be accomplished by the united prayer of believers of the same mind, gathered together unto His Name.
"Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, until seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:21, 22). Peter, again the spokesman for the disciples, attempted, it would seem, to indicate how very often he was willing to forgive, how generous he was. Scattered throughout Rabbinical teaching may be found references to forgiveness, that one is to forgive a brother once, twice, and in some cases even three times, but never more than that. Peter was willing to go much farther than the teaching! But the Lord showed him how little he knew of the limitless grace of God. Seven times? No, seventy times seven; and that is the privilege of the believer: "Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Col. 3:13). How has God the Father forgiven us? He has blotted out all our transgressions and will remember them no more; in like manner we Christians are to be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven us (Eph. 4:32).
"Therefore is the Kingdom of the heavens likened unto a certain King. ..." We have mentioned in our early studies that there are two meanings in the Gospel according to Matthew of "the Kingdom of the heavens;" one, the earthly Messianic rule of the Lord Jesus from the throne of His father David, which He offered to Israel and which was rejected, but which will be established when He comes again in glory to reign during the Millennial Age; the other, professing Christianity, of which the Church is a part, the mystery revealed in the parables of Matthew thirteen. We believe for reasons which we shall set forth, that "the Kingdom of the heavens" of the parable before us refers to our Lord's Messianic rule during the Millennium, and not to professing Christianity in this age, as do the previous Kingdom parables.
First, here our Lord is mentioned as a certain King. In Matthew thirteen, where the parables in which He is pictured mention Him, it is as a sower, a man, a merchant man, an householder. But these references to Him are made of a period when He was on earth presenting the Kingdom, or absent but not yet ascended to the throne of David. Secondly, the teaching of the parable under study tells us of a King Who forgave a servant a debt of ten thousand talents (about ten million dollars, more than he could ever pay) but later was wroth at that servant because on his part he refused to forgive a debt of one hundred pence (less than twenty-five dollars) "and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due." Such cannot be the action of the Lord dealing with sin during the Age of Grace, when forgiveness means blotting out, remembering no more, for that would be contrary to all Scripture. Thirdly, the parable has to do with forgiving us as we forgive others. Now the so-called Lord's Prayer, the prayer that the Lord Jesus taught to His disciples when He unfolded the constitution of the Kingdom of the heavens, recorded in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:9-13, is a Kingdom prayer; that is, it was included in the manifesto of the Kingdom as it shall be when He rules in Jerusalem. And in that Kingdom prayer He taught: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." We know that in the Age of Grace we are forgiven by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not because we forgive someone else. Forgiveness on our part today is the result, not the cause, of Christ's forgiving us (Eph. 4:32).
With this light upon the parable before us, it becomes clear that the dealing of the King with His unforgiving servant is a picture of how justice shall be measured in the Millennium. It has nothing to do with the Christian, who will never be judged for his sins, but only for rewards according to his works, and who will not be at that time a servant, but a co-ruler with Christ.
"So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses" (Matt. 18:35). The parable is completed in verse thirty-four. The Father is the Judge here, not the Lord. This, then, cannot be the judgment of the believers' works; nor is it for believers' sins, for we know that "there is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). This judgment therefore has to do with professors, not possessors, who show by their lives that they are none of His.
How it constrains us, partakers of the divine nature, to have the mind of Christ, forgiving others, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven us.