Friday, May 8, 2009

Matthew 18:20

A few days ago I sat listening to friends discuss what the Bible meant when it said, "...where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them." One said, "It means that Jesus Christ is with us somehow differently at different times, like during church when we're all worshipping Him. He's with us differently then. He's kind of like arrowing in on us." Another piped in and said, "Oh no, He's not with us differently because He's always the same." And yet another said, "But He's always with us. How can He be with us differently at times?"

So, I went home thinking about what was said.

First of all, no one had mentioned where that verse was found, so that was the first thing I looked up. Matthew. Okay, Matthew. That told me something right there. The vast majority of Matthew takes place before the cross, right? Did that make a difference in this case? I needed to look further. The verse in question was Matthew 18:20. Now, what was the entire chapter 18 of Matthew about? Who was speaking and to whom was he speaking? Jesus was speaking to His apostles about humility. Okay. Does everything Jesus said to them directly apply to us today? No. But did it in this case? I needed to look further.

So next, what were the verses just before talking about, say 15-19? Verses 15-17 were about confronting a brother who was sinning, first privately, then with one or two witnesses, and finally, before the whole assembly.

Then, verse 18 said, "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." Now what in the world did that mean and what did it have to do with anything just said?

Well, cross references to this verse were Matthew 16:19 and John 20:23.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven (Matt 16:19).

If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained (John 20:23).

Okay, things started becoming a little clearer to me as to what was going on here. It seemed obvious that this ability/authority had only been given to the apostles and not to us. They were being given special authority to act officially in Jesus' absence.

So then what about verse 19?

Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven (Matt 18:19).

I could only assume that this verse was linked to the verse(s) before it and was directed solely to the apostles.

This verse also parallels verses found elsewhere in the Gospels, e.g., Matt 21:21-22, Mark 11:23-24, John 14:12-14.

Have you ever noticed that the “whatsoever you ask believing” promises are found in only one small portion of the Bible — the Gospels (although they are alluded to in the Hebrew Christian epistles)? Never in the OT or in Paul’s epistles do we find that “all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” I don't think these promises were given to us. I believe Jesus was giving special powers to the apostles to perform miracles at that time. And in fact, in the beginning of Acts, we do see the them performing extraordinary miracles in His name. Of course, miracles were given to the Jews (Matt. 12:39; 16:1; Mark 8:11, 12; Luke 11:16; John 6:30). But when the gospel went out to the Gentiles, these miracles greatly decreased and soon entirely ceased.

So then, it seemed to me that Matthew 18:19 was saying that when two of the apostles agreed on something and asked the Father for it, it was given to them.

Okay, so I finally got to verse 20. Again, I could only assume it was linked to the verse(s) before it. It was only to the apostles; where two or three of them were gathered, Jesus would be in their midst. This was the only interpretation that made sense to me.

Keep in mind, also, that this was before the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. Today, God is always with us (in our midst) because as Christians, He indwells each one of us (Rom 5:5, 1 Cor 6:19, Eph 1:13, 1 Thes 4:8, 2 Tim 1:14). Our being gathered together does not make Him more or less with us, or with us any differently, than when we are by ourselves.

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