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)
(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.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.
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 Mr 9:33-50.Matthew 18:1-6 Christ proposes a little child to his disciples for a
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.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).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.—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.
 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.
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