Matthew 18:1
At the same time came the disciples to Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
XVIII.

(1) Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?—St. Mark records more fully that they had disputed about this in the way, that our Lord, knowing their thoughts (Luke 9:47), asked them what had been the, subject of their debate, and that they were then silent. We may well believe that the promise made to Peter, and the special choice of the Three for closer converse, as in the recent Transfiguration, had given occasion for the rival claims which thus asserted themselves. Those who were less distinguished looked on this preference, it may be, with jealousy, while, within the narrower circle, the ambition of the two sons of Zebedee to sit on their Lord’s right hand and on His left in His kingdom (Matthew 20:23), was ill-disposed to concede the primacy of Peter.

Matthew 18:1. At the same time — When Jesus had just foretold his own sufferings, death, and resurrection; came the disciples, saying, Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? — Which of us shall be thy prime minister in the kingdom which thou art about to set up? which they still thought would be a temporal kingdom. That this was their meaning, appears evident from the parallel passages, Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48, (where see the notes.) So that just after the Lord Jesus had predicted that he should be rejected of the Jewish nation, condemned, and crucified, the apostles were entertaining worldly and ambitious views, striving for wealth, honour, and power, and contending with one another which should be greatest! Such is human nature, blind, unfeeling, selfish, ambitious, covetous, contentious about the little, low, perishable things of this present short-enduring world! It is true, our Lord’s late prediction concerning his sufferings (Matthew 17:23) had made the disciples at first exceeding sorry; but their sorrow was of short duration: it soon went off, or their ignorance quickly got the better of it.18:1-6 Christ spoke many words of his sufferings, but only one of his glory; yet the disciples fasten upon that, and overlook the others. Many love to hear and speak of privileges and glory, who are willing to pass by the thoughts of work and trouble. Our Lord set a little child before them, solemnly assuring them, that unless they were converted and made like little children, they could not enter his kingdom. Children, when very young, do not desire authority, do not regard outward distinctions, are free from malice, are teachable, and willingly dependent on their parents. It is true that they soon begin to show other dispositions, and other ideas are taught them at an early age; but these are marks of childhood, and render them proper emblems of the lowly minds of true Christians. Surely we need to be daily renewed in the spirit of our minds, that we may become simple and humble, as little children, and willing to be the least of all. Let us daily study this subject, and examine our own spirits.See also Mark 9:33-41; Luke 9:46-50.

Who is the greatest in the kingdom, of heaven? - By the kingdom of heaven they meant the kingdom which they supposed he was about to set up - his kingdom as the Messiah. They asked the question because they supposed, in accordance with the common expectation of the Jews, that he was about to set up a temporal kingdom of great splendor, and they wished to know who should have the principal offices, and posts of honor and profit. This was among them a frequent subject of inquiry and controversy. Mark Mar 9:34 informs us that they had had a dispute on this subject in the way. Jesus, he says, inquired of them what they had been disputing about. Luke Luk 9:47 says that Jesus perceived the thought of their heart an act implying omniscience, for none can search the heart but God, Jeremiah 17:10. The disciples, conscious that the subject of their dispute was known, requested Jesus to decide it, Matthew 18:1. They were at first silent through shame (Mark), but, perceiving that the subject of their dispute was known, they came, as Matthew states, and referred the master to him for his opinion.

CHAPTER 18

Mt 18:1-9. Strife among the Twelve Who Should Be Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, with Relative Teaching. ( = Mr 9:33-50; Lu 9:46-50).

For the exposition, see on [1323]Mr 9:33-50.Matthew 18:1-6 Christ proposes a little child to his disciples for a

pattern of innocence and humility.

Matthew 18:7-9 He warns them to avoid offences, though at the

expense of a hand, a foot, or an eye,

Matthew 18:10-14 and not to despise the little ones, whom it is the

Father’s will to save.

Matthew 18:15-20 He teacheth how to treat an offending brother,

Matthew 18:21-35 and how oft to forgive him, by the parable of a king,

who punished one of his servants for refusing that

mercy to his fellow which he had experienced from his

lord in a larger degree.

Mark, who relates also the same history more largely, Mark 9:33, saith, that this discourse was in the house at Capernaum, and that our Saviour began with them, asking them what they had been discoursing of by the way. That they held their peace, for they had been in the way arguing one with another who should be the greatest; they might at the same time also ask Christ the question. Luke, in whom we find the same history, speaketh of it only as a question that had arisen among themselves, Luke 9:46. It had been the matter of their thoughts in the way, yea, and of their more private discourse also. Luke saith, Jesus knew the thoughts of their hearts. We had need set the Lord at all times before our eyes, for we are always in his sight. He encompasses all our paths, as the psalmist saith. In the way, when we think also we cannot be overheard, he heareth us, and will call us to account for our travelling thoughts and discourses. They were at first ashamed to tell the Lord what they had been thinking and discoursing upon, for Mark saith, Mark 9:34, they held their peace. But by and by they propound the question to Christ himself; so saith Matthew, What do they mean here by the kingdom of heaven? or what gave them occasion to such a discourse? It is most probable that they did not in this question intend the kingdom of glory; but either the church, or gospel dispensation; or (which indeed is most likely) that earthly kingdom which the Jews thought the Messiah should exercise on the earth. The general error of their nation, about a secular kingdom, which the Messias, when he came, should exercise upon the earth, restoring the kingdom to Israel, as they phrase it, Acts 1:6, seemeth to have infected them; so as though in this they differed from the unbelieving Jews, that they owned Christ to be the promised Messiah, and the Christ the Son of God, yet they looked for a temporal kingdom which he should administer. Three times we find them in this mistake; here, and Matthew 20:21, and at our Saviour’s administration of the supper, Luke 22:24; and by Acts 1:6 it should seem that till Christ’s ascension they were not fully instructed in the nature of Christ’s kingdom, but expected that after his resurrection this kingdom of his should have began; and therefore they say,

Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? Some think that that which at this time raised their jealousy and stirred up their ambition, was our Saviour’s promising Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 16:19, and paying tribute for him, Matthew 17:24-27. But neither of these could be, for had not the keys been given equally the question had been determined, they needed have reasoned no more. He that had the keys was certainly to be the greatest; and for the paying of tribute, it was too minute a thing to cause such a jealousy. Besides, this discourse of theirs was by the way to Capernaum, where he now was; that was after he came to the house. But they doubtless fancied a temporal kingdom of the Messiah, in which places would be bestowed; and Christ, by his discourse about the tribute, had asserted himself a King’s Son; and they conceived that after his death and resurrection (which Christ had lately been speaking of) this his kingdom would begin, which also agreeth with what we have Acts 1:6: they therefore thought it now time to speak for places. They had been arguing the point amongst themselves, and could not come to a resolution. Some of them were Christ’s near kinsmen (such was James, Galatians 1:19). Some of them had more extraordinary parts; he named two of them, on this account, the sons of thunder. To others he had showed a more particular kindness; John is called the beloved disciple; Peter, James, and John were taken up to the mount to see his transfiguration. These things might cause some emulation and suspicions; they therefore come to our Saviour to be resolved.

1. How slowly do we conceive, and how hardly do we come to understand, spiritual things! We are of the earth, and we are earthly.

2. How prone are we to seek great things for ourselves, neglecting our higher spiritual and eternal concerns! This text lets us see, that even the best of men are subject to earthly mindedness, ambition, emulation, and hardly brought truly to understand, believe, and seek the things which are above.

Let us now observe how our Saviour behaveth himself towards his disciples upon this question, and what answer he makes to it.

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus,.... When the receivers of the half shekel had spoke to Peter about his master's paying it, and Christ and he had conversed about it, by whose orders he had taken up a fish out of the sea, and from it a piece of money, which he had paid for them both; just at this time came the other eleven disciples to the house where Christ and Peter were: saying,

who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Mark says, that the disciples disputed this point in the way; and that when they came to Jesus, he put the question to them, what they had been disputing about: and Luke takes no notice of any question put by one or another; but observes, that Christ perceiving the thoughts of their hearts, in order to rebuke, and convince them, took the method hereafter mentioned. All which is reconcilable, and of a piece: the sum is this; that as they were in the way to Capernaum they fell upon this question, which, being known to Christ, the omniscient God; when they came to Capernaum, and to the house where he was, and knowing that the same thought was in them, he asked them what they had been talking of by the way; upon which they were silent; but calling them nearer to him, and they finding that the matter was known, took courage to put the question to him, and desired to have his sense of it. The Vulgate Latin reads, "who dost thou think"; and the Arabic version, "who in thy opinion", &c. The occasion of this could not be the respect shown to Peter, in paying the half shekel for him; for this conversation was begun in the way, and before this was done, or, at least, before they knew it: rather it might be occasioned by his promise of giving the keys of the kingdom of heaven to him; or by his taking him, and James, and John, so lately to the mountain with him, where he was transfigured before them; though it seems best to ascribe it to the mention Christ had made of his resurrection from the dead: for as Dr. Lightfoot, Hammond, and others, have observed, something of this kind generally followed any account Christ gave of his death and resurrection, as Mark 9:31 and this thought of an earthly kingdom still continued, when they saw him risen, Acts 1:6 for they had been taught, that the resurrection, and the kingdom of the Messiah, would be at the same time (x). And, by the kingdom of heaven, they meant, not the kingdom of glory in another world, but the kingdom of the Messiah in this; and which they looked upon to be a temporal one, though they call it the kingdom of heaven; not only because Christ often used this phrase, but because the times of the Messiah, and his reign, were frequently so called by the Jews; See Gill on Matthew 3:2. Now, what they wanted to be satisfied in was, who should be advanced to the post highest in that kingdom next to the Messiah; and, as they doubted not but it would fall on one of them, to have the most honourable post, and the place of the greatest trust, they were desirous of knowing who it should be.

(x) Vid. Poceck. not. miscell. ad. Port. Mosis, p. 103, 104, 105, 106.

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 18:1. Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ] the account of Matthew, which is throughout more original in essential matters than Mark 9:33 ff. and Luke 9:46 ff., bears this impress no less in this definite note of time: in that hour, namely, when Jesus was holding the above conversation with Peter.

τίς ἄρα] quis igitur (see Klotz, ad Devar. p. 176). The question, according to Matthew (in Mark otherwise), is suggested by the consideration of the circumstances: Who, as things stand, is, etc.; for one of them had just been peculiarly honoured, and that for the second time, by the part he was called upon to take in a special miracle. Euthymius Zigabenus says well: ἀνθρώπινόν τι τότε πεπόνθασιν οἱ μαθηταί.

μείζων] greater than the other disciples in rank and power.

ἐστίν] they speak as though the approaching Messianic kingdom were already present. Comp. Matthew 20:21.Matthew 18:1-14. Ambition rebuked (Mark 9:33-50; Luke 9:46-50; Luke 15:3-7; Luke 17:1-4).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).Matthew 18:1. Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ, in that hour) when they had heard of the freedom of the children, declared in ch. Matthew 17:26 (which accounts for the use of ἄρα, then, in this passage); and when they had seen that Peter, James, and John (ch. John 17:1), had been all summoned to the Mount.—τίς ἄρα, κ.τ.λ., who then, etc.) They put the question indefinitely in words, but in their own hearts they think of themselves.[803]—ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν, in the kingdom of heaven) See that thou enter there: do not enquire beforehand what are the several portions allotted to each therein.

[803] In Mark 9:33-34, and Luke 9:46-47, the fact is stated with some little change in the form in which the circumstances appear; namely, the disciples, after that they had disputed on the way, and were on that account set to rights by our loving Saviour, were at first silent: but then, all having been convened together by the Saviour, some finally proposed the question to Him. Harm., p. 381, 382. Comp. Michaelis in der Einleitung, etc., T. ii., p. m. 911, etc.—E. B.Verses 1-35. - Discourse concerning the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and the mutual duties of Christians. (Mark 9:33-50; Luke 9:46-50.) Verses 1-4. - The greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Verse 1. - At the same time; literally, in that hour. The narrator connects the following important discourse with the circumstances just previously related. Peter had completed the business of the didrachma, and had rejoined the body of disciples. These, according to St. Mark, had disputed about precedency on the way to Capernaum. Fired with the notion that their Master would ere long publicly assert his Messianic claims, which, in their view, implied temporal sovereignty and secular power, they looked forward to becoming dignitaries in this new kingdom. Three of them had been honoured with special marks of favour; one of them had been pre-eminently distinguished: how would it be when the coming empire was established? This had been the subject of conversation, and had given rise to some contention among them. Christ had marked the dispute, but had said nothing at the time. Now he gives them a lesson in humility, and teaches the spiritual nature of his kingdom, in which earthly pride and ambition find no place. From St. Mark we learn that Jesus himself took the initiative in the discourse, asking the disciples concerning their disputation on the road; and, when they were ashamed to answer, he added, "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all." Our Gospel here takes up the story. The paradox seemed incomprehensible; so they put the question, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? The Greek is, Τίς ἄρα μαίζων ἐστὶν κ.τ.λ.; who then is greater? Vulgate, Quis, putas, major est? The illative particle "then" refers to what is recorded in St. Mark (Mark 9:34), or to some such difficulty in the querists' mind. They make the inquiry in the present tense, as though Christ had already selected the one who was to preside; and by the kingdom of heaven they mean the Messianic kingdom on earth, concerning which their notions did not yet rise above those of their contemporaries (comp. Acts 1:6). The comparative in the original, "greater," is virtually equivalent to the superlative, as it is translated in the Authorized Version. Such a question as the above could not have been asked had the apostles at this time recognized any absolute pre-eminence in Peter or acknowledged his supremacy. The Rev. inserts then after who, thus restoring the Greek ἄρα, which the A. V. overlooks. Who then? Who, as things stand. Since one of our number has been doubly honored in being called "the rock," and in being appointed to take part in a special miracle, who then is greatest?
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