Through the Bible in a Year: Matthew 18 to 23

Another large commentary. Give the Bible priority! Just look up on this page what you want to look up.

Matthew 18:1-10: The Little Ones

There’s so much to learn from Jesus’ statements about children here!

If you are going to become committed and holy before God, at some point you will struggle with Pharasaism. In other words, you will be like the Pharisees, and you will be constantly trying to justify yourself so you look good in front of others while being very judgmental for everyone else. Whether you realize it or not, you will want to "bend" the Word of God just enough that you don’t feel like you’re disobeying God, but you won’t have any such mercy on anyone else.

These ideas are all lumped together here. Jesus doesn’t only tell us that we must become like children, he also tells us not to make the ones who have already become like children to stumble. Don’t trip them up. Don’t make it difficult on them. Help them!

The judgments on those who bring stumbling are severe!

Matthew 18:6-10: God’s Judgment

In today’s world, it is good to remember that Jesus never shied away from judgment. Clearly, he believed and taught, over and over again, that following God is worth great effort. As he said back in Matthew 7, a section we did not discuss in the commentary, it is a narrow road that leads to life, and there are few who find it (v. 14).

Matthew 18:12-14: The Lost Sheep (Advanced)

Here’s one for the pastors and leaders and something for us all to think about. If you are the leader of a "flock" of people, and one of them leaves … do you even know? Can you really leave the 99 to go find the one, or do you not even know the one so that he or she can simply slip off unnoticed.

The Good Shepherd knows the name of each of his flock (Jn. 10:27). In fact, at some point, he has a new name for each of them (Rev. 2:17).

Today, we often do not have a flock. We have an outreach meeting that anyone can attend. There’s a membership list, but there is no "feeding" meeting that is just for the members, the flock that is supposed to be fed and watered by the shepherds God has raised up.

I point this out because it wasn’t always this way. Our modern system is a reaction to the influx of people created when hundreds of thousands of Romans followed the emperor into the church in the fourth century. We’ve never revamped it, and we’ve continued to run our churches as though the entire population of our nations is supposed to be part of the Christian meeting.

That’s not how Jesus saw it. He had outreach, and he had a flock whom he knew, and he noticed if one went missing.

We are a body knit together … by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope. We meet together as an assembly and congregation so that we may offer up prayer to God. With united force, we wrestle with him in our supplications. This violence God delights in. We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, and for the delay of the final consummation.
     We assemble to read our sacred writings if any peculiarity of the times makes either warning or reminder needed. Whether or not such is needed, with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, and we make our confidence more steadfast. We confirm good habits by nothing less than repeatedly instructing ourselves in God’s precepts. In the same place exhortations are also made, and rebukes and sacred censures are administered.
     It is with great gravity that the work of judging is carried out among us, which is appropriate to those who feel assured that they are in the sight of God. You have the most notable example of judgment to come when anyone has sinned so grievously as to require his severance from us in prayer, in the congregation, and in all sacred intercourse.
     The tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honor not by purchase, but by established character. (Tertullian, Apology 39, c. A.D. 200; wording updated by me)

Matthew 18:15-19: Maintaining Relationships in the Church

Everyone knows this passage. How many really use it?

At Rose Creek Village, we made a determination to actually follow this advice of Jesus. To say it was life-changing would be an understatement.

Just as a shepherd should go seek the one if he wanders away from the one hundred, so we should make the shepherd’s job easier and stay together! Every time our relationships fall apart, we are wandering!

When we struggle with relationships, we usually want to separate or to resort to private counseling with a church leader. That is not Jesus’ advice. "Have it out, just between the two of you alone" (v. 15, Kingdom New Testament). If you need help, get it from one or two others, and only after you have safely determined with the help of an unbiased brother or sister or two, then you can safely take it to the church and its leadership.

Matthew 18:15-19: "Binding and Loosing" (Advanced)

Much is made of "binding and loosing," especially in charismatic and "Word of Faith" denominations. I’m going to step out on a limb here and flat out disagree with what they do.

I suspect most Bibles include verses 18-19 right in the same section as verses 15-17. They should.

There is a link between the idea of binding and loosing and the idea of the forgiveness of sins, and it is tied to the church. John 20:22-23 carries the same idea, using slightly different words.

"Binding and loosing" can best be understood as "God will back the church up when it makes a decision together as discussed in Matthew 18:15-19." He gives the same promise to the apostles as builders of the church in John 20:22-23. Something similar is being practiced in 1 Corinthians 5 when judgment is made on the rebellious, they are turned over to satan, and later when they are restored.

There is just no Biblical precedent or example for binding and loosing demons or binding and loosing anything else. There are no examples of people praying and making binding or loosing proclamations. There are plenty of examples of demons being cast out in the Scriptures, and no one ever binds or looses anything when they do so.

You can safely ignore the binding and loosing path and quit being confused by it.

If this isn’t all clear enough, then notice Matthew 18:21. Obviously, Peter thinks that Jesus is still on the subject of sins being forgiven. He was not distracted by binding and loosing, nor distracted by the promise that God would back up what any two of us on earth agree on. He knew the subject remained the forgiveness of sins.

Matthew 18:21-22: Abundant Mercy

You will need this for the future. If Jesus asks us to be willing to forgive our brother 70×7 every day, then how merciful do you suppose he will be with us if we repent? Surely God is more merciful than we are, not less!

Lamentations 3:23 says that God’s mercies are new every morning. Isaiah 55:7 says he will "abundantly" pardon if we will forsake our way. Let us believe that and rise in joy to serve him anew each day.

Matthew 18:23-35: We Must Forgive Others

God does not forgive those who do not forgive others. You will find Jesus emphasizing this throughout the Gospels, and he’s already said it once in our reading, at Matthew 6:14-15.

Matthew 19:1-9: Divorce

God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16), and Jesus explains why here.

Divorce happens, but it should happen very rarely in the church. That is especially true because of what we read today! If your marriage has problems, get help! Call for a brother, a sister, or even better, another couple that knows how to work through difficulties.

For you that are not married, practice that now with your friends, just as Jesus commanded. You will learn to save relationships with your single friends, and later, you will learn to save your most important earthly relationship of all.

Let me boast here. Through obeying Jesus’ command about getting help at Rose Creek Village, our children have learned both the importance of relationships and methods for saving them. I would argue that the majority of our teenagers could sit down and counsel a married couple on saving their marriage better than most trained professionals.

I’m sticking to that boast, confident it’s true.

Obedience to Jesus provides a wisdom that can be obtained nowhere else, not even in the greatest schools of our land.

Matthew 19:9: Divorce and Remarriage Today (Advanced)

Jesus says that a person that divorces and remarries has committed adultery. All of us need to take a stronger look at how quickly we feel free to divorce. We need to be followers of Jesus in this area, too.

However, on the other side, there are some who teach that if a person is divorced and remarried, they must split up their current marriage (and possible family), and either return to their first spouse or remain unmarried.

One can imagine the awful mess this would cause! Not to mention the emotional destruction!

Jesus’ teachings are for the church and the kingdom of God. When a person comes to Jesus, their entire past is wiped out. They are new creatures, buried and raised again from the dead (Rom. 6:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:17-18). Paul even ties this idea of our death to being divorced from the Law of Moses (Rom. 7:1-6).

"But if you have married a wife, you have not sinned" [1 Cor. 7:28]. That is because to one who, before believing, had been "loosed from a wife," she will not be considered a second wife who, subsequent to believing, is the first. For it is at believing that our life begins. (Tertullian, On Monogamy 11, c. A.D. 200)

Paul delves much further into this in 1 Corinthians 7, and we will talk more about that there.

God is not an inflexible God, looking to strike down marriages and families because of bad decisions in the past. There is nothing in the Gospels, in the apostles’ letters, or in the writings of the early church that ever even discusses breaking up marriages because of this passage of Scripture. Because divorce was common in ancient Rome, the fact that breaking up marriages is never mentioned is a powerful—in fact, irrefutable—argument from silence.

Matthew 19:1-9: Why the Pharisees Asked

It’s probably good to know that the issue of whether divorce was just okay or whether it should be strongly avoided was a conflict between two major rabbinical schools. This was not just a random question.

Jesus, in a sense, took a side. He did not choose one side over the other, he simply gave the truthful answer from God.

Matthew 19:10-11: Eunuchs (Advanced and Mature)

The disciples suggest that if divorce is so difficult, it might be better not to get married. Jesus doesn’t object to this, but he does say it’s "only for those to whom it has been given." 1 Corinthians 7:7-9 says exactly the same thing.

You probably know that there is mandatory celibacy in the main branches of Roman Catholic leadership, and it’s held in honor in other ancient churches. The tradition of encouraging celibacy among leaders is very ancient. It certainly dates back to the third century. I would say that my own readings of the writings of the second century church indicate that celibacy, except for the purpose of having children, was encouraged among all Christians, leaders and non-leaders alike! (e.g, Justin, First Apology 29, c. A.D. 155).

However, I am also convinced from history and Scripture that this was the influence of Greek philosophy, not apostolic teaching. We have just seen Jesus saying that only some people are so gifted, and only they should avoiding marrying. We referenced Paul saying the same thing.

Marriage is a deterrent to impurity, and there is nothing impure about it (1 Cor. 7:2-9; Heb. 13:4).

Matthew 19:16-22: The Rich, Young Ruler

I won’t comment on the rich, young ruler. The story speaks for itself.

We should comment on Jesus asking why the ruler called him good. There is really no doubt that the point he is making, hoping the young man will pick up on it, is that the rich, young ruler is not as good as he thinks he is!

The man does not know that Jesus is the Son of God, the living Word of God come to earth, so Jesus did not bother explaining that he himself really was good. That would have just made the young man miss the lesson he needed to learn.

Jesus is good and perfect. This was not a momentary flash of low self-esteem on the part of our Savior.

Matthew 19:23-26: Rich Men and Heaven

You’ve already read that storing up treasure on earth is a danger to your heart (6:20ff). Jesus drives this home. It’s a miracle to save a rich man.

Most of us who are western lavish in wealth, and we are becoming, I fear, less and less aware that it is so. You are not impoverished until you have not enough food, not enough clothes, and not enough shelter. And I may be exaggerating on the shelter.

Get a different view of riches! Most of the world already has that different view.

In case you’re interested, Clement of Alexandria wrote a tract called "Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved", which you can read online for free. I’ve also put an Amazon link to the right for another set of early writings that describe early Christianity in general from a firsthand perspective. I have produced my own modern English versions of early Christian writings as well. Mine can be read online free.

Rich Men (Advanced)

Let me take one more shot at modern preachers, in this case, the prosperity movement, which should be heavily opposed by every true Christian.

Under the old covenant, God had an earthly, fleshly kingdom. Riches and long life were a sign of blessing under the old covenant.

The new covenant is a spiritual covenant with better promises and a spiritual, everlasting kingdom. Every fleshly blessing of the old covenant finds its fulfillment in a spiritual blessing in the new covenant. Our riches are heavenly, our long life is eternal, and it has nothing to do with whether we are in this body or on this earth.

Prosperity preachers use old covenant teachings to con people into giving them money, promising them that by giving they, too, can be rich. If it actually worked (which it does not), the result would be that this would tie their hearts to earth and make it impossible for them to enter the kingdom of heaven until God miraculously delivered them from their love for money.

We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can bring nothing out. Therefore, let us be content with food and clothing. Those that want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which drown people in destruction and punishment. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. When people have longed for it, they have erred from the faith and skewered themselves with many sorrows. But you, o man of God, flee these things! (1 Tim. 6:7-11)

Matthew 19:27-30: The Disciples’ Reward

The reward speaks for itself. Note, though, that though Matthew doesn’t specifically emphasize it, Luke specifies that the that the "many times as much" (v. 29, NASB) is in this present time, not just in heaven (Luke 18:30).

Entering the church, the gathering of the disciples together, is entering a family of people whose regard is for eternal things. They share, not because it is commanded but because that is what families do.

The family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you [Romans], create fraternal bonds among us. One in heart and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. (Tertullian, Apology 39, c. A.D. 200)

We who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into a common stock and share with every one in need (Justin, First Apology 14, c. A.D. 155).

Matthew 20:17-19: Jesus’ Prophesies His Death and Resurrection

Remember when you read Jesus’ statements about his death that his apostles really didn’t understand how that could happen. Peter had rebuked Matthew, only to be called "satan" in return, the last time Jesus said these things.

We are used to the idea of Jesus dying on the cross to save us. The apostles were not. No one had ever prophesied a Messiah who would die, rise from the dead, then raise up a worldwide, spiritual kingdom composed of Jews and Gentiles together.

Jesus statements puzzled them (Luke 18:34).

Matthew 20:20-28: James and John Ask for Special Status

The story speaks for itself, but we should hear Jesus’ words about how authority works in the kingdom of God. Jesus carefully points out that it is contrary to the way the nations do things. Therefore it will be contrary to our human nature, and we need to walk with the Spirit of God so that we can learn how to carry authority spiritually.

The starting lesson is easy: serve and never stop serving. Have the best interest of others in mind, and not your ease of leadership!

Matthew 21:12-16: Cleansing the Temple

I skipped the triumphal entry, thinking it speaks for itself. But notice the difference between the way Jesus treats the excited crowd and the way he treats the spiritual businessmen.

Often, we want to quiet the crowds that have gotten "emotional." Jesus thinks that’s impossible, and that even the rocks will cry out if you don’t let people have their zeal for God.

But spiritual businessmen? Be very careful how you attempt to traffic the things of God for your own benefit.

Matthew 21:18-22

Be very careful here that you don’t stumble by fretting over the future of a fig tree. There are spiritual lessons in this passage. Jesus gives one of them, but we should also learn lessons about the importance of bearing fruit and not putting on a show.

Matthew 21:23-46

This passage could sound like a question and two parables. It is not. Together, they are a showdown between the Pharisees and Jesus, and Jesus not only stands up to them boldly, but he makes clear what the end of the battle will be. The kingdom of God once belonged to the Israelite nation, but after the destruction of the prophets first, then the Son, which was soon to come, the kingdom would be taken from them and given to a new nation.

The new covenant is on its way. Jesus has been teaching about it the entire Gospel, but it will soon go into effect for all the world.

Both parables are an answer to the Pharisees’ attack.

Notice, too, that Jesus’ method of answering the Pharisees will change regularly, depending on the situation. This is near the end of his ministry. It is time for him to die, and he is confronting them with the truth, knowing that they will kill him.

At other times, he would say, "My time has not yet come," and he would wait. At times he confounded the Pharisees and lawyers who questioned him, and at other times he didn’t even answer, leaving them apparently thinking they were right. (We see this especially in the Gospel of John.)

There is not a "right" way to speak for God.

Remember, we are a spiritual people, in whom the Spirit of God dwells. The Word of God is planted like a seed and growing within us. We must be like Jesus, and we must answer as the Spirit leads. Remember the martyr Stephen, and the way he spoke (Acts 6:8-10).

Matthew 22:1-11: The Wedding Feast

As I have said, we must be careful about constructing endtime scenarios in which we trust. On the other hand, we must not ignore Jesus’ statements about the end times. We must be those who can read the end times, and parables like this teach us how to be prepared.

Parables like this can teach us for years and decades. Let’s get them inside of ourselves, and be like the clean animals of the old covenant (Lev. 11:2-3). Let us "ruminate" on them, not just chewing them once, but bringing them back over and over again, until they become part of us and God can constantly be teaching us from them.

The other part of the clean animals, by the way—splitting the hoof—has to do with walking in the things we’ve ruminated on. Animals with split hoofs have a better grip on the ground, and it symbolizes both separating from the world and walking carefully in the things we have learned.

Matthew 22:15-45: Jesus Questioned

As I pointed out above, Jesus, the living Word of God, is of course superb at answering his detractors perfectly every time. He confounds the questioner, and he teaches the listeners, all at the same time.

Matthew 22:41-45: Jesus Asks His Own Question

Jesus’ question should not be as hard for us as it was for the Pharisees. We know who Jesus is! He is both man and God, and thus he is both son of David and Lord of David.

This was not, however, a question any Jew would have been able to answer until Jesus revealed the answer.

Matthew 23:1-12: Spiritual Authority

Jesus’ words in this passage are not much different than his words in Matthew 20:20-28. A person walking in God’s authority ought to know all this without having to be directly told.

Matthew 23:9: Call No Man Father (Advanced)

This passage is so abused by Protestants that there is no way to avoid commenting on this. (Of course, the abuse by the Protestants has not stopped Roman Catholics from ignoring this verse and continuing to use the title "Father" on a widespread basis.)

The problem is that Protestants seem to have one narrow focus on the word "father." Exactly how is the title "Reverend Jones" any better than "Father Jones" in the context of this passage?

Both are wrong, and in both situations God’s Word is being ignored for the traditions of men. There’s no dancing around that; no one can miss that this passage is addressing both situations. Both Reverend Jones and Father Jones have something to learn about authority in the kingdom of God versus authority among the nations. They’re both missing it.

Don’t follow in the footsteps of those who heed tradition. Follow in the footsteps of those who obey the Word of God. Don’t be called father, reverend, teacher, etc. as a title.

The issue is the love of honor (23:5-7). Paul was a father to Timothy, and Timothy was a son to Paul (1 Tim. 1:2). Paul was a father to all the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:15). But Paul was not addressed as "Father Paul," nor even addressed as "Apostle Paul," though in the third person we refer to him as "the apostle Paul" in order to distinguish him from other Pauls.

It is okay for people to say you are a teacher, or a gifted healer, or even a father in the church. Wearing a title in the church as though it makes you superior to others is the issue Jesus is addressing in this passage, whatever that title may be.

Matthew 23:13-37

Everything leading up to this chapter has given the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders a chance to avoid this tongue-lashing from God himself.

They didn’t, and here it comes.

The rest of the Gospel, which we will cover tomorrow, covers the response of the Jewish leaders and the setting up of the new spiritual kingdom based on a new covenant with better promises.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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2 Responses to Through the Bible in a Year: Matthew 18 to 23

  1. Dan says:

    Hi Shammah,

    I think the reason Jesus asked the rich young ruler, “Why do you call me good?” was to find out if he regarded Jesus as the Son of God (and therefore good), who was about to declare to him God’s eternal truth, or just a good teacher, whose wisdom he could take or leave inconsequentially.

    • Shammah says:

      Well, as you can tell by my commentary, I disagree with you. However, you’ve now given people an alternative to consider, and that’s usually a good thing.

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