Matthew 18:3
And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
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(3) Except ye be converted.—The English word expresses the force of the Greek, but the “conversion” spoken of was not used in the definite, half-technical sense of later religious experiences. What was needed was that they should “turn” from their self-seeking ambition, and regain, in this respect, the relative blamelessness of children.

Ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.—The force of the words as spoken to the Twelve can hardly be exaggerated. They were disputing about precedence in the kingdom, and in that very dispute they were showing that they were not truly in it. It was essentially spiritual, and its first condition was abnegation of self. Even the chief of the Apostles was self-excluded when he gloried in his primacy. The words at least help us to understand the more mysterious language of John 3:3; John 3:5, as to the “new birth” of water and the Spirit, which one, at least, of the disputants must, in all likelihood, have heard.

Matthew 18:3-4. And said, Verily I say unto you — What I say is an undoubted and most important truth, a truth which you ought not only firmly to believe but seriously to lay to heart: except ye be converted — Turned from these worldly and carnal views and desires; and become like little children — “Free from pride, covetousness, and ambition, and resemble them in humility, sincerity, docility, and disengagement of affection from the things of the present life, which excite the ambition of grown men,” ye shall be so far from becoming the greatest in my kingdom, that ye shall not so much as enter into it. Observe well, reader, the first step toward entering into the kingdom of grace is to become as little children: lowly in heart, knowing ourselves utterly ignorant and helpless, and hanging wholly on our Father who is in heaven, for a supply of all our wants. We may further assert, (though it is doubtful whether this text implies so much,) except we be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God: except we be entirely, inwardly changed, and renewed in the image of God, we cannot enter into the kingdom of glory. Thus must every man be converted in this life, or he can never enter into life eternal. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself — He that has the greatest measure of humility, joined with the sister graces of resignation, patience, meekness, gentleness, and long-suffering, shall be the greatest in Christ’s kingdom: whosoever rests satisfied with the place, station, and office which God assigns him, whatever it may be, and meekly receives all the divine instructions, and complies with them, though contrary to his own inclinations, and prefers others in honour to himself, — such a person is really great in the kingdom of heaven, or of God.

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.Except ye be converted - The word "converted" means changed or turned.

The verb means to change or turn from one habit of life or set of opinions to another, James 5:19; Luke 22:32. See also Matthew 7:6; Matthew 16:23; Luke 7:9, etc., where the same word is used in the original. It sometimes refers to that great change called the new birth or regeneration Psalm 51:13; Isaiah 60:5; Acts 3:19, but not always. It is a general word, meaning any change. The word "regeneration" denotes a particular change the beginning to live a spiritual life. The phrase, "Except ye be converted," does not imply, of necessity, that they were not Christians before, or had not been born again. It means that their opinions and feelings about the kingdom of the Messiah must be changed. They had supposed that he was to be a temporal prince. They expected he would reign as other kings did. They supposed he would have his great officers of state, as other monarchs had, and they were ambitiously inquiring who should hold the highest offices. Jesus told them that they were wrong in their views and expectations. No such things would take place. From these notions they must be turned, changed or converted, or they could have no part in his kingdom. These ideas did not fit at all the nature of his kingdom.

And become as little children - Children are, to a great extent, destitute of ambition, pride, and haughtiness They are characteristically humble and teachable. By requiring his disciples to be like them, he did not intend to express any opinion about the native moral character of children, but simply that in these respects they must become like them. They must lay aside their ambitious views and their pride, and be willing to occupy their proper station - a very lowly one. Mark says Mark 9:35 that Jesus, before he placed the little child in the midst of them, told them that "if any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all and servant of all." That is, he shall be the most distinguished Christian who is the most humble, and who is willing to be esteemed least and last of all. To esteem ourselves as God esteems us is humility, and it cannot be degrading to think of ourselves as we are; but pride, or an attempt to be thought of more importance than we are, is foolish, wicked, and degrading.


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.

See Poole on "Matthew 18:4".

And said, verily I say unto you,.... You may take it for a certain truth, and what may be depended upon, that

except ye be converted or turned; from that gross notion of a temporal kingdom, and of enjoying great grandeur, and outward felicity in this world; and from all your vain views of honour, wealth, and riches,

and become as little children: the Arabic renders it, "as this child"; that is, unless ye learn to entertain an humble, and modest opinion of yourselves, are not envious at one another, and drop all contentions about primacy and pre-eminence, and all your ambitious views of one being greater than another, in a vainly expected temporal kingdom; things which are not to be found in little children, though not free from sin in other respects,

ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven: ye shall be so far from being one greater than another in it, that you shall not enter into it at all; meaning his visible, spiritual kingdom, which should take place, and appear after his resurrection, upon his ascension to heaven, and pouring forth of the Spirit: and it is to be observed, that the apostles carried these carnal views, contentions, and sentiments, till that time, and then were turned from them, and dropped them; for, upon the extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, they were cleared of these worldly principles, and understood the spiritual nature of Christ's kingdom; which they then entered into, and took their place in, and filled it up with great success, without envying one another; having received the same commission from their Lord, and Master: so that these words are a sort of prophecy of what should be, as well as designed as a rebuke to them for their present ambition and contentions.

And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be {b} converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

(b) An idiom taken from the Hebrews which is equivalent to repent.

Matthew 18:3. Εἴ τις ἀπέχεται τῶν προαιρετικῶν παθῶν, γίνεται ὡς τὰ παιδία, κτώμενος διʼ ἀσκήσεως, ἅπερ ἔχουσι τὰ παιδία ἐξ ἀφελείας, Euthymius Zigabenus.

To turn round (στραφῆτε, representing the μετάνοια under the idea of turning round upon a road), and to acquire a moral disposition similar to the nature of little children—such is the condition, without complying with which you will assuredly not (οὐ μή) enter, far less be able to obtain a high position in, the Messianic kingdom about to be established. The same truth is presented under a kindred figure and in a wider sense in John 3:3; John 3:5 ff.; the divine agent in this moral change, in which child-like qualities assume the character of manly virtues, is the Holy Spirit; comp. Luke 11:13; Luke 9:55.

Matthew 18:3. ἐὰν μὴ στραφῆτε: unless ye turn round so as to go in an opposite direction. “Conversion” needed and demanded, even in the case of these men who have left all to follow Jesus! How many who pass for converted, regenerate persons have need to be converted over again, more radically! Chrys. remarks: “We are not able to reach even the faults of the Twelve; we ask not who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, but who is the greater in the Kingdom of Earth: the richer the more powerful” (Hom. lviii.). The remark is not true to the spirit of Christ. In His eyes vanity and ambition in the sphere of religion were graver offences than the sins of the worldly. His tone at this time is markedly severe, as much so as when He denounced the vices of the Pharisees. It was indeed Pharisaism in the bud He had to deal with. Resch suggests that στραφῆτε here simply represents the idea of becoming again children, corresponding to the Hebrew idiom which uses שׁוּב = πάλιν (Aussercanonische Paralleltexte zu Mt. and Mk., p. 213).—ὡς τὰ παιδία, like the children, in unpretentiousness. A king’s child has no more thought of greatness than a beggar’s.—οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε, ye shall not enter the kingdom, not to speak of being great there. Just what He said to the Pharisees (vide on chap. Matthew 5:17-20).

3. be converted] Literally, be turned. The Greek word is used in a literal sense, except here and Acts 7:39; Acts 7:42.

shall not enter] much less be great therein.

Matthew 18:3. Καὶ εἶπεν, and said) By asking who is the greatest? each of the disciples might offend himself, his fellow-disciples, and the child in question. The Saviour’s words (Matthew 18:3-20) meet all these offences, and declare His own and His Father’s anxiety for the salvation of souls. We perceive hence the connection between the different portions of His speech.—ὡς τὰ παιδία, as little children) They must possess a wonderful degree of humility, simplicity, and faith to be proposed as an example to adults. Scripture exhibits everywhere favour towards little children.—οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε, ye shall not enter) So far from being the greatest, ye shall not even enter therein. He does not say, “ye shall not remain,” but, “ye shall not enter,” so as to repress their arrogance the more.

Verse 3. - Except ye be converted στραφῆτε); i.e. turned from proud, ambitious thoughts of worldly dignity. There is no question here about what is popularly known as conversion - the change from habitual sin to holiness. The conversion here spoken of is confined to a change in the present state of mind - to a new direction given to the thoughts and wishes. The apostles had shown rivalry, jealousy, ambition: they must turn away from such failings, and learn a different lesson. Become as little children. Christ points to little children as the model to which the members of his kingdom must assimilate themselves. The special attributes of children which he would recommend are humility, unworldliness, simplicity, teachableness, - the direct contraries of self-seeking, worldliness, distrust, conceit. Ye shall not enter. In the sermon on the mount Christ had said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). To all who are not such the gate opens not. That virtue which was unknown to pagan antiquity, the opposite character to which was upholden as the acme of excellence, Christ here asserts to be the only passport to his ideal Church on earth or its eternal development in heaven. Not the self-esteeming, proud man (μεγαλόψυχος) of Aristotle's worship ('Eth. Nic.,' 4:3), but the humble (ταπεινὸς), the lowly, the self-depreciating, is the man who can realize his position in the spiritual world, and shall be admitted to its blessings and benefits. St. Paul has summarized the ideal character of the members of the kingdom in 1 Corinthians 13, especially vers. 4, 5, and 7. Matthew 18:3Be converted (στραφῆτε)

The word converted has acquired a conventional religious sense which is fundamentally truthful, but the essential quality of which will be more apparent if we render literally, as Rev., except ye turn. The picture is that of turning round in a road and facing the other way.

Shall not enter (οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε)

But the double negative is very forcible, and is given in Rev. in nowise. So far from being greatest in the kingdom of heaven, ye shall not so much as enter.

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