The following post is the next installment of the Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy. However, this is more of a commentary on Matthew 18 and the kingdom of heaven rather than a discussion of the subject of prophecy. I am working through the book of Matthew and each quote from the old testament contained therein. The quote is found in Matthew 18:16, originally found in Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15. There is another phrase in Matthew 18:18 which was given to the disciples earlier by Jesus found in Matthew 16:19. This post will explore the authority of the kingdom of heaven, the authority of the disciples, the authority of the church, the authority of the nation of Israel, and how all of these relate to each other. Before we look at Matthew 18, we begin our study in Matthew 16:13-20.
The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven
As mentioned above, there is a quote from Deuteronomy given by Jesus in Matthew 18:16. It may not seem like much, but considering the overall context, it is very intriguing. “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” The original quote from Deuteronomy 19:15 reads, “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” The quote from Deuteronomy is how God’s authority is carried out through the nation of Israel. The quote from Jesus is how God’s authority is carried out through the church. But first, let’s look at Christ’s authority and how He bestows it upon the twelve disciples.
Immediately after Jesus quotes Deuteronomy, He demonstrates the seriousness of the decisions that they will be making in carrying out this authority by saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This is not the first time Jesus has proclaimed these words and this authority to His disciples. Back in Matthew 16:19 Jesus had said, “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The first mention of the church is in Matthew 16:18, immediately followed by the aforementioned statement. The second mention of the church is in Matthew 18:17, immediately followed by the aforementioned statement. Isn’t it interesting that the only two times in all the gospels that the word “church” is mentioned, that we find identical statements from Jesus?
The confession of Simon Peter proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah is what prefaces the words which state the intention of Christ to build His church and to give the disciples the authority of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says, “You are Peter, a stone. On this rock (Petra, a large rock) I will build my church.” Jesus doesn’t define this church that He is going to build, but does state that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. The authority of the church seems to be joined to the keys of the kingdom of heaven that are given. The keys are given to you singular, so it’s possible Jesus is talking to Peter and not all of the disciples. However, there is a difference between the two texts of Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 that can be detected in the King James Version. In 16:19 it reads, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Thou is the singular form of the word you. In Matthew 18:18 it reads, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Ye is the plural form of the word you. So whether Peter was given the keys or the 12 were given the keys, there is something in the authority of the church that is definitely in the plural according to the Matthew 18 passage as a whole.
It should be stated that Jesus Christ has this authority to give. Matthew has spent a considerable amount of time recording statements where Christ either asserts His authority or assumes His authority, especially in relation to the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 7:21-23 assumes that Jesus has the final say as to who enters the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 10 explains how Jesus sent out the twelve to preach the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. 10:40-42 notes that if someone receives a disciple of Jesus, they receive Jesus, and if they receive Jesus, they receive Him that sent Jesus, meaning the Father in heaven. Matthew 11:27 seems to be the most definitive statement of Christ’s authority to this point. “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” That’s interesting that the disciples are included in this statement of authority. All throughout Matthew 13 and the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven it is Christ who is the administrator of the authority, as the sower sowing the word of God, the owner of the field which is the world, and the Son of Man sending forth angels to harvest. Now here Jesus states He will give the keys to the kingdom of heaven, as if He alone holds the keys to entering the kingdom of heaven. Toward the end of this section Jesus will state that He will come in the glory of His Father with the angels, coming in His kingdom, see Matthew 16:27-28. Whatever authority Christ has, He is stating that He will give it to either Peter, or the twelve, or to the church as a whole.
The Nature of the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus never really defines the kingdom of heaven. There are parables and inferences, but He always ends up saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like….” Here in Matthew 18 we have something a little different. Here Jesus tells us who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The disciples want to know and it is quite possible that this is the occasion where they were disputing which of the twelve would be the greatest, see Mark 9:33-37. To demonstrate who is the greatest, Jesus chooses a little child as an object lesson. The little child is set in the midst of the disciples. Now Jesus begins speaking about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. Unless you be converted and become as little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever will humble himself as this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives a little one like this receives Jesus Himself. There are several things that are presumed in these statements of Jesus. First, we are in need of conversion. Being a part of the kingdom of God is not our natural state. Unless we are converted, and become as children, we will not enter it. Second, we are not child-like in many ways. Children are humble. We are naturally proud. Children know that others (adults) are above them. Adults assume they are above children. Jesus reverses all this. In order to be greatest, become the least. Finally, it would seem that Jesus is above all in the kingdom of heaven. However, receiving a little child is receiving Jesus. Would you like to spend time with the King? Invite a humble, little child over and receive him.
Matthew 18:6-10 continues the discussion on the kingdom of heaven with an emphasis on “these little ones”, meaning children. Echoing the thought that all are in need of conversion, Jesus states that the entire world is under a curse. “Woe unto the world because of sin!” Therefore, gaining the kingdom of heaven should mean everything in order to escape this curse. If there is anything in the way of entrance to the kingdom of heaven, it needs to be dealt with. If your hand, foot, or eye would keep you out of the kingdom of heaven, cut them off. The reason being is that if you so much as offend (sin against) one of the little ones, you will be thrown into hell fire, and having a millstone around your neck would be preferable. Sinful flesh will keep you out of the kingdom of heaven and guarantee you a sentence in everlasting hell fire. Be careful how you treat these little ones because their angels look the Father in the face. The parable of the hundred sheep shows the lengths to which those wanting to reconcile should be willing to go. It is not the will of the Father that even one of these little ones should perish. That’s quite an all-encompassing love. Note the implication here that the kingdom of heaven is being contrasted with everlasting hell fire. Either be converted and enter the kingdom of heaven, or stay under the curse of the world and suffer forever in hell fire.
The parable in Matthew 18:21-35 should tell us much about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. We never have this description to tell us that it is a perfect place or free from sin. However, this parable tells us that forgiveness is essential for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. We simply must forgive each other. There is no room for grudges. We must be reconciled to each other. God has forgiven us, and we must forgive others. This is why the instruction on reconciliation contained in Matthew 18:15-20 is so important. When we seek to restore relationships we are acting as if the kingdom of heaven is a reality. Back in Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus had commanded that if you are in the act of worshiping God and remember that your brother has something against you, you are to stop, be reconciled to your brother first, then worship God. Now here the command is if your brother has wronged you. Either way, no matter whose fault it is, the burden is always on the disciple of Jesus to seek the kingdom of heaven and restore that relationship. The kingdom of heaven is a realm of forgiveness. It will be a Jubilee, anytime, anywhere. It will be a place of no grudges, no debts, only compassion and forgiveness. If you can’t forgive, you can’t enter.
Notice the location of the kingdom of heaven. Well, it doesn’t exactly say, but we have some clues. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” Those are the two locations mentioned in the passage. Disciples of Jesus are here on the earth making decisions on forgiveness. Those decisions are bound or loosed in heaven as well. Heaven is the location of the Father, see Matthew 16:17, 18:10. When we forgive, it affects heaven itself. Remember the prayer that the LORD taught us to pray. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” There is an anticipation that the kingdom of heaven will be established here on the earth. Notice the timing of the kingdom of heaven. Well, it doesn’t say exactly, but there are some clues. Matthew 12:32 tells us that there are some sins that will not be forgiven “neither in this age, nor in the age to come.” The kingdoms of this world are temporary. The kingdom of heaven is eternal. There will be an age to come after this age. The work of the kingdom of heaven done here on this earth during this age will affect the age to come. God’s kingdom will come. We look forward to God’s will being done here on earth as it is in heaven. So when Jesus states, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels… they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom,” we should understand this in the context of the age that is, and the age that is to come.
Jesus humbled Himself. Jesus came as a servant. Jesus came meek and mild as a little child. Jesus came and did the Father’s will. Jesus forgave. Jesus took the blame. Jesus came and presented the kingdom of heaven to the nation of Israel. That kingdom of heaven that was presented was a realm of repentance and forgiveness.
The Church and the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus said that He would build His church. The Greek word translated build in Matthew 16:18 is the same word used in Matthew 7:24 when the wise man built his house upon the rock, meaning the teaching of Jesus. The word means to build up from the foundation, or to establish. The establishment of the church goes hand in hand with the authority of the kingdom of heaven. As was mentioned previously, there are only two instances of the word “church” in all of the gospels. Both times they are in passages where this phrase appears: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” In Matthew 16:18-19, seemingly out of the blue, Jesus tells Peter and the twelve that He is going to build His church. The Greek word for church is ekklesia which in those days meant some assembly that was called out or called together for some purpose. So the intent of Jesus is to build the church and then give to Peter/disciples the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The gates of hades, the realm of the dead, will not be able to have power against this assembly. It seems that the church will be some type of assembly for those doing the work of the kingdom of heaven.
The Greek words for bind and loose have to do with putting someone in chains and setting someone free from prison. The keys of the kingdom of heaven allow those who have them to set people free or tie them up. Prisoners go free or people get put in chains. The disciples would have this authority. This is spelled out more clearly in Matthew 18:15-20. The work of the kingdom of heaven has to do primarily with reconciliation between people. If your brother sins, go to him, just the two of you, and try to “gain your brother.” However, we all know that this may not work. People are sinful, prideful, stubborn. If your brother will not hear you, then take one or two more the next time. The reason for this is because of the quote from Deuteronomy. I will dig into this more in the next section. If the additional witnesses see that the situation is still not resolved, then it goes before the church, the assembly. The witnesses will testify before the assembly that an attempt at reconciliation has been made and the person refused to hear.
If at this point there is still no reconciliation, then it is time for the church to exercise the authority of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The attempt has already been made twice to reconcile, once between the two, then once with additional witnesses. Here is the final attempt at reconciliation. (Note: even though the word reconcile does not appear in Matthew 18, I feel it is appropriate because of its usage in Matthew 5:24 which is a related passage.) It may be that in the presence of the assembly this relationship will be restored. This is the final attempt and so if conversion, humility, forgiveness are not a result, then a final decision will be made. This final decision will be to treat the person in the wrong as a heathen or a tax collector. (It’s kind of humorous that Matthew is the one writing this down. He knew how tax collectors were treated.) It seems understood that the person was once considered a part of the assembly, but this decision will put them out of the assembly permanently. Jesus states that the decision made here on earth by the church will have eternal ramifications. Whatever you all bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you all loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. If you all put the person out of the assembly here on earth, they will be out of the assembly in heaven. If they cannot forgive and be reconciled, they have no part in the kingdom of heaven.
Now in the context of church discipline, we have the verses which are so often taken out of context. If two of you agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by the Father in heaven. The context is that an entire process of attempted reconciliation has occurred in the assembly. Now two people can exercise authority to bring someone back into the assembly, or put them out from the assembly. Those two people can ask the Father in heaven to back their decision here on earth with authority from heaven. Jesus affirms that when these two or three gather in His name (for this purpose) that He is present. The authority of Christ is present to forgive and loose chains, or to see that no forgiveness has happened and to bind them showing that they are still in chains. This is the imagery that Paul is drawing from in I Corinthians 5:1-5. The Corinthian church should have exercised church discipline but had not. Paul affirms their authority to do this in I Corinthians 6:1-8. This is the sad portion in putting the person out from the assembly. However, II Corinthians 2:6-11 shows that there was repentance and forgiveness because of the punishment. II Corinthians 7:8-12 shows that the repentance was all encompassing, not just involving one or two individuals. Church discipline brought about a church-wide revival.
Israel and the Kingdom of Heaven
Here is where we explore why Jesus quotes from the law given to Israel as a source of authority for the church. When the nation of Israel left Egypt, God’s authority was present with them in a way that He was not with other nations, see Psalm 114:1-2. As Israel was to conquer the promised land, God’s reign would be with them forever and ever in some way, see Exodus 15:15-18. As the Israelites were entering the promised land, Moses reminded them that they had the authority to carry out God’s will. Back in Exodus 21:12-17, God had outlined several instances where the death penalty must be carried out. The first one mentioned is in the case of murder. This finds its roots back in the Noahic Covenant in Genesis 9:5-6. If someone kills a man who is made in the image of God, that man must be killed. In Deuteronomy, God is reminding them that they have the authority to put people to death, to end someone’s life. However, there may be someone falsely accused, so in Deuteronomy 17:6 there is the provision that only at the mouth of two or three witnesses shall someone be put to death. It can never happen with just one witness. Then in Deuteronomy 19:15, concerning weighty matters of one person sinning against another, there is the instruction that one witness is never sufficient. Every matter must be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses.
The law and government of Israel were to be the pattern for law and government in every nation. Here was a nation whose God was the LORD. Their ways of governing are God’s ways of governing. God punishes sin, but He does it fairly. No one is to be accused unfairly. Justice was available for everyone, but also liberty if you had committed no crime. Every nation on earth has a governmental system that has some measure of authority from God. Some follow it more closely, but all have seen this fundamental concept in this passage in Deuteronomy 19:15. Weighty matters must be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses.
The LORD, the God of Israel, was saying, “You have the authority to put people to death. You have the authority to punish people appropriately for their sins. Do not pity them when they are punished because there is guilt of innocent blood. But, do not believe just one person. Always have two or three witnesses. Other nations will see this and learn. You are a peculiar treasure above all.” God bestowed the authority upon the nation of Israel.
Now in the book of Matthew, the Tax Collector is documenting the authority that God is bestowing upon the church. There is both continuity between the authority that God had bestowed upon the nation of Israel, and the idea that God is doing something new. Although the name of Israel does not appear in Matthew 16-18, in the entire narrative of Matthew’s gospel, it is difficult to miss. Jesus had specifically stated in Matthew 10:5-6, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles…. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In Matthew 15:24 He told a Gentile, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” What Jesus was doing here in Matthew 16-18 in building His church, bestowing the authority of the kingdom of heaven, and outlining reconciliation and forgiveness of sins was entirely within the context of the nation of Israel. Not long after this Jesus will tell the twelve disciples, “In the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye (you all) shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” It is revealed here in Matthew 19:28 why Jesus chose twelve, highlighting the significance of that number.
Here is the significance of the quote from Deuteronomy 19:15. Jesus was transferring the authority originally granted to the nation of Israel to the church. The church in this context is the believing remnant of the nation of Israel, namely, those that had repented at the preaching of John the Baptist and the preaching and miracles of Jesus. They had entered the kingdom of heaven and now Jesus was granting them the authority of the kingdom of heaven. The authority was no longer to put people to death physically, but to either grant them eternal life or bind them in eternal death. Jesus was withdrawing the authority of the physical nation of Israel as the center of the world in relation to government and laws, and setting forth the church as the ultimate authority, His representatives here on earth to preach the gospel and possess the very keys to the kingdom of heaven. LORD willing, I will have more on this when I examine the quote from Psalm 118:22-23 in Matthew 21:42. Immediately following in Matthew 21:43 Jesus states, “The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” Jesus quotes Deuteronomy to show that in like manner to the law of Israel and the seriousness of the consequences for disobeying, the authority that the church has is just as serious. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word will be established.” He also quotes it to show the continuity in the same way that He showed continuity between the law and His teachings in Matthew 5:17. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Jesus came to fulfill the authority of the kingdom of heaven by building His church, giving unto them the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Now real church business, that is, the ministry of reconciliation, is above all in importance. There is nothing more important than reconciling people to each other, and to God.
Peter will later exercise the authority given to him to open up the way of salvation to the Gentiles. The usages of the keys of the kingdom of heaven are documented in the book of Acts. Gentiles now are fellow heirs, benefactors of the commonwealth of Israel, partakers in the covenants, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Israelites and Gentiles are together in one body doing the work of the kingdom of heaven. As I look at the world around me, I am longing for that place where there are no grudges, no debts, only forgiveness. Rebuke will be received and brothers will be gained. It will be one big Jubilee, forever and ever. But in the here and now, we preach and point, we invite and see people humbled and converted. And heaven is a different place because of it.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman