11 As they were listening to this, He went on to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem, and they thought the kingdom of God was going to appear right away.
12 Therefore He said: “A nobleman traveled to a far country to receive for himself authority to be king and then return.
13 He called 10 of his slaves, gave them 10 minas, and told them, ‘Engage in business until I come back.’
14 But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We don’t want this man to rule over us!’
15 At his return, having received the authority to be king, he summoned those slaves he had given the money to so he could find out how much they had made in business.
16 The first came forward and said, ‘Master, your mina has earned 10 more minas.’
17 ‘Well done, good slave!’ he told him. ‘Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, have authority over 10 towns.’
18 The second came and said, ‘Master, your mina has made five minas.’
19 So he said to him, ‘You will be over five towns.’
20 And another came and said, ‘Master, here is your mina. I have kept it hidden away in a cloth
21 because I was afraid of you, for you’re a tough man: you collect what you didn’t deposit and reap what you didn’t sow.’
22 He told him, ‘I will judge you by what you have said, you evil slave! [If] you knew I was a tough man, collecting what I didn’t deposit and reaping what I didn’t sow,
23 why didn’t you put my money in the bank? And when I returned, I would have collected it with interest!’
24 So he said to those standing there, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has 10 minas.’
25 But they said to him, ‘Master, he has 10 minas.’
26 ‘I tell you, that to everyone who has, more will be given; and from the one who does not have, even what he does have will be taken away.
27 But bring here these enemies of mine, who did not want me to rule over them, and slaughter them in my presence.’”
A similar parable appears in Matt. 25:14-30. Yet these parables differ in several respects. The parable in Matthew is spoken after Jesus enters Jerusalem; the parable in Luke, while He is on His way there. The parable in Matthew is delivered on the Mount of Olives; the parable in Luke, in the home of Zacchaeus. Finally, the parable in Matthew is delivered to teach Jesus’ followers the necessity of improving the talents committed to them; the parable in Luke, primarily to correct the false notion that the kingdom of heaven would immediately appear.
Jesus is passing through Jericho and has dined in the home of Zacchaeus, chief of the tax collectors, amidst grumblings from onlookers that “He’s gone to lodge with a sinful man” (v.7). Upon Zacchaeus’ declaration of repentance, Jesus announces that salvation has come to his home, consistent with His words to the chief priests and elders in Matt. 21:31 that “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you!” Now, with the crowds listening and thinking that “the kingdom of God (is) going to appear right away” (v.11), Jesus tells the parable of the 10 minas.
The central theme of this parable is that the kingdom of heaven will come in its fullness at a later time. Jesus’ followers “thought the kingdom of God was going to appear right away” (v. 11). His parable corrects that shortsighted view. At the same time, the central theme feeds two other truths: first, the Jews would be judged for their rejection of the Messiah; and second, the King would hold His servants accountable for their stewardship.
The day is coming when all believers must “stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10 KJV). At that time, “each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). The apostle Paul writes that this judgment is like a fire that refines good works and consumes dead works (see 1 Cor. 3:11-15). For faithful believers who wisely use all that God has entrusted to them while He is in “a far country,” they will receive rewards, referred to throughout the New Testament as “crowns” (see 1 Cor. 9:25; Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Rev. 2:10).
The central character in this parable is the nobleman, who leaves the country to receive authority to be king and then returns. This clearly represents Christ, who tells His disciples He must “go away” (John 16:7) but promises to return (John 14:3). Like the nobleman who is “hated” by his subjects, who send a delegation after him saying, “We don’t want this man to rule over us” (v. 14), Jesus is “despised and rejected by men” (Isa. 53:3). Further, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Jesus gives His listeners a clear message that the kingdom cannot come in its fullness until He completes the work of salvation and goes to His Father in heaven, returning one day “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30).
An interesting side note is that in Judea in Jesus’ day, the Roman emperor had to formally recognize the right of a prince or king to rule. To acquire this authority, the prince or king had to travel to Rome. Archelaus, a son of Herod the Great, went to Rome to obtain a confirmation of the title his father had left him. Previously, his father had done the same thing to secure the aid ofAntony. Agrippa the younger, grandson of Herod the Great, also went to Rome to obtain the favor of Tiberius and to be confirmed in his government. So Jesus’ listeners clearly understood the concept of traveling to a far country to receive authority to be king.
The slaves are the followers of Christ, who expect to be made princes, judges and rulers at once if the kingdom comes in its fullness as Jesus enters Jerusalem. The apostles have dreamed of sitting next to Jesus in His kingdom, sharing His authority. But Jesus instead tells them they are slaves with much work to do. The number of slaves summoned – 10 – does not appear to have any special significance, much as the number of virgins in the parable of the 10 virgins does not reveal any profound truth other than that was the minimum number of people required to hold synagogue, have a wedding, etc.
The Hebrew maneh, or Greek mina, translated “pound” in some versions, is a measure of weight equal to about 1.25 pounds. When used in a monetary sense, it is about $34 in silver or $510 in gold by 1915 standards (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). A marginal note in the New American Standard Bible says one mina is equal to about 100 days’ wages. In any case, the nobleman tells his slaves to “engage in business” or put the money to work until he returns. “The pounds here denote the talents which God has given to his servants on earth to improve, and for which they must give an account in the day of judgment” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
The “subjects” symbolize the nation of Israel, and particularly the Jewish religious leaders, who have rejected Jesus as Messiah. They are fully aware that Archelaus had gone to Rome to obtain from Augustus a confirmation of his title to reign over the portion of Judea left to him by his father, Herod the Great. The Jews, opposing him, sent an embassy of 50 to Rome to ask Augustus to deny the title, but they failed. While Jesus is in no way of the same character as Archelaus, He is letting the Jewish leaders know that they have even less chance of successfully petitioning the Heavenly Father against Him than they had petitioning Augustus against Archelaus. Verse 27 may be seen as a dual prophecy in which Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora in 70 A.D., as well as the final judgment of unbelievers before the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15).
The rewards granted by the returning king should not necessarily be applied literally to the believer’s reward at the judgment seat of Christ. Faithful believers may or may not be given cities to rule over. The point is that our reward in heaven will be in proportion to our faithfulness in improving our talents on earth.
The response of the third slave, who was entrusted with one mina, calls for a closer look. He wraps his mina in a cloth, or napkin, trying to convince his master that he has taken great care of it. Many gifted people guard their abilities but never employ them in the work of the kingdom and thus will be in a similar situation at the final judgment. Next, notice how the slave thought of his master – as someone to be feared, tough and demanding. In fact, the word translated “tough” or “austere” is commonly applied to unripe fruit and means sour, unpleasant, or harsh. Further, his reference to his master as one who collects what he doesn’t deposit (v. 21) is used to describe a man who finds what has been lost by another and keeps it himself. “All this is designed to show the sinner’s view of God. He regards him as unjust, demanding more than man has power to render, and more, therefore, than God has a right to demand” (Barnes Notes on the New Testament).
The master tells the slave, “I will judge you by what you have said, you evil slave” (v. 22). Even though the master is neither unjust nor austere, the slave’s supposing that he is should have spurred him to be obedient to the master’s command. A sinner’s mischaracterization of God does not excuse him or her of accountability on the day of reckoning.
Finally, the master orders that the mina be taken away from the unfaithful slave and given to the one who earned 10 minas. Some are surprised at this and object, “Master, he has 10 minas” (v. 25). But the master’s response illustrates a kingdom truth: To every person who is faithful and improves what God gives him or her, God will give that person more. As for the evil slave, it is interesting to note that he is not slaughtered with the rebelling subjects (v. 27). Perhaps instead Jesus is telling us what Paul writes about in 1 Cor. 3:11-15, in which the believer who fails to build upon the foundation of Christ escapes the judgment, “yet it will be like an escape through fire.”
One day all believers will “stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10 KJV) and give an account of our stewardship. That judgment will not determine where we spend eternity, but how. We will have to give an answer for how we employed our time, talents, spiritual gifts, relationships, material possessions – all that Christ has entrusted to us while He has gone into heaven, preparing His return as King of kings and Lord of lords.
26 “The kingdom of God is like this,” He said. “A man scatters seed on the ground;
27 he sleeps and rises—night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows—he doesn’t know how.
28 The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the ripe grain on the head.
29 But as soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because harvest has come.”
Mark is the only gospel writer who records this parable, which Jesus tells after explaining the parable of the sower to His disciples (Mark 4:13-20) and after admonishing them to share His teachings with others (Mark 4:21-25). Commentators like Herbert Lockyer believe this parable “can be regarded as supplementary to the parable of The Sower, being designed to complete the history of the growth of the good seed which fell on the good ground. It is one of the three parables which reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom of God in terms of a sower’s work” (All the Parables of the Bible).
The central theme of this parable is that God is sovereign over His kingdom. Christ’s disciples are to labor faithfully in His fields, but it is God who gives the growth (see 1 Cor. 3:5-8).
The central character in this parable is the man who “scatters seed on the ground” (Mark 4:26). This represents all those whom God uses to establish His kingdom in the hearts of men. Christ has finished the work of redemption and has given to His followers the responsibility of carrying the gospel message to the entire world (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15). God the Father draws people to Christ and grants them everlasting life through the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, bringing the spiritually dead to new life in Christ. As Matthew Henry writes, “… we know not how the Spirit by the word makes a change in the heart, any more than we can account for the blowing of the wind, which we hear the sound of, but cannot tell whence it comes, or whither it goes” (Matthew Henry Unabridged). On this side of heaven, believers will never fully understand how God works to populate His kingdom, yet we are called to faithfully spread the good news of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, 24:14; Mark 1:14).
According to Herbert Lockyer in All the Parables of the Bible, “Our Lord was directing His disciples to the three stages of The Kingdom of God:”
1. The blade, or the kingdom in mystery (the church age);
2. The ear, or the kingdom in manifestation throughout the millennial kingdom;
3. The full corn, or the kingdom in its majestic perfection after God creates new heavens and a new earth.
While other commentators apply this parable to the believer’s personal spiritual growth, Lockyer’s interpretation seems to fit Jesus’ other parables of the kingdom of heaven. The Jews in Jesus’ day are expecting the kingdom to come in a singular, dramatic event. Yet Jesus teaches through His parables that the kingdom of heaven is both a present reality and a future hope, growing to full maturity over a long period of time.
Let’s look more closely at other elements in this parable:
- The seed. Most certainly this is “the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). As Jesus explains following the parable of the sower, “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11) – the good news that the kingdom has come in the Person of Jesus the Messiah and that all may enter into the kingdom by faith in Him, the Word (Logos, John 1:1).
- The ground. As in the parable of the sower, the ground symbolizes the human heart. The ground cannot sow and it cannot reap, but it may receive the seed. The starting place of the kingdom of heaven is the heart captivated by God. When Jesus says, “The soil produces a crop by itself” (v. 28), we are not required “to suppose that our Saviour meant to say that the earth had any productive power by itself, but only that it produced its fruits not by the power of man. God gives it its power…. So religion in the heart is not by the power of man” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
- The mystery of the growth. The sower sleeps, rises and does not know how the seed bursts forth into life and fruitfulness. In the same way, we do not understand the mysterious work of God in the hearts of men and women. Nor can we fully fathom His work in bringing the kingdom to full maturity. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways…. For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).
- The harvest. This may be looked upon as the consummation of all things (Matt. 13:39) – “the most glorious consummation when with the devil forever vanquished, and sin completely destroyed, and the emergence of a new heaven and a new earth, Jesus will surrender all things to the Father” (All the Parables of the Bible).
Just as Christ’s kingdom will grow to full maturity, God’s design for His children is that “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, [growing]into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:13).
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom.
2 Five of them were foolish and five were sensible.
3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them.
4 But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps.
5 Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’
7 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
8 But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’
9 The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’
10 When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived. Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut.
11 Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’
12 But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’
13 Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.”
Jesus is on the Mount of Olives with his disciples, responding to their questions about the future destruction of the Temple and the end of the age. Just before this, in Matthew 23, Jesus pronounces woes on the Jewish leaders for their hypocrisy. Then, leaving the Temple and crossing over the Kidron Valley, He tells His disciples that the Temple, a glistening monument to Jewish nationalism (but a stale house of worship where He was rejected as Messiah), would soon be demolished. Shocked by this prediction, His disciples ask him in Matt. 24:3, “When will these things happen (the destruction of the Temple)? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus responds in the rest of Matthew 24-25 in what is known as the Olivet Discourse. The parable of the 10 virgins comes in the middle of this message.
The central theme of this parable is that people should stay alert and be prepared for the return of Christ.
The central character in this parable is the bridegroom, or Christ, who is delayed in his coming for the bride, the church. Scripture often refers to the church as the bride and Christ as the bridegroom (Matt. 9:15; Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29). Believers are “espoused” or “betrothed” to Jesus, who promises He will come one day and take them to His Father’s house (John 14:1-3).
An understanding of the Jewish wedding custom is helpful in navigating this parable. In Jesus’ day, if a young man has acquired sufficient means to provide a marriage dowry – or payment for a bride – then his parents select a girl for him, call in a “friend of the bridegroom” (John 3:29) to represent them and begin negotiations with the bride’s father, who also selects a representative. If consent is given for the bride to be married, and if there is agreement on the amount to be paid, congratulations are exchanged, coffee is brought out and everyone drinks as a seal of the marriage covenant. Later, the families of the bride and groom meet. The young man gives the young woman a gold ring, some article of value, or simply a document in which he promises to marry her, saying, “See by this ring (or this token) thou art set apart for me, according to the law of Moses and of Israel.” The young man then leaves his bride-to-be, promising to return once he has prepared a place for her.
He then returns to his father’s home and, under his father’s supervision, prepares a wedding chamber for his bride. The period of betrothal normally lasts a year or more and may only be broken by obtaining a bill of divorcement. While the bridegroom works on the wedding chamber, the bride prepares herself for the wedding and remains chaste – covering her face with a veil in public to show she is pledged to be married.
At last, the father gives word to his son that all is ready and the night of the wedding arrives. The groom dresses as much like a king as possible. If he is wealthy enough, he wears a gold crown; otherwise, it is a garland of fresh flowers. The bride, meanwhile, goes through an elaborate and costly adorning. Every effort is made to make her complexion glossy and shining like marble. Her dark locks of hair are braided with gold and pearls, and she is decked with all the precious stones and jewels her family has inherited from previous generations.
The groom sets out from his father’s house to the home of the bride in a night-time procession attended by wedding guests bearing torches. The bride steps out to meet him, receives the blessing of her relatives, and then proceeds across town with the groom to his father’s home. A grand procession follows them. The invited guests who did not go to the bride’s home are allowed to join the march along the way, and go with the whole group to the marriage feast. Since the streets are dark, the guests need a torch or lamp, without which they may not join the procession or enter the feast.
There are demonstrations of joy all along the route. Family members hand out ears of parched grain to the children, musical instruments are played, and there is dancing and shouts of “Behold, the bridegroom comes!” At last they reach the home of the bridegroom’s father, where the specially built wedding chamber is prepared. Together they enter the suite and shut the door, and for seven days they stay inside, alone. Meanwhile, a seven-day celebration breaks out. At the end of the seven days, the bride and groom emerge, leave the father’s house and set out to establish their own home.
This is the context in which Jesus’ disciples hear the parable, so the truths about the bridegroom going away, preparing a place and returning are well-known, as are the elements of delay and surprise. This parable clearly is a teaching that Jesus, after His suffering, death and resurrection, would return to His Father, prepare a place in heaven for believers, and then call His bride to meet Him in the air in an event known as the rapture (1 Cor. 15:50-57; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The seven-day honeymoon perhaps depicts the seven years the church is in heaven while the tribulation takes place on earth. And the leaving of the father’s house after the honeymoon may picture the glorious appearing of Christ when He returns to earth with the saints, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling the earth with His bride.
It is interesting to note that the bride is not mentioned in this parable. While Scripture often refers to Christ’s church as His bride, the focus in this parable is on the bridegroom and the virgins, or attendants. It is not necessary for believers to be represented as both bride and bridal attendants, or this would present difficulties Jesus did not intend. Remember that His parables generally illustrate one key spiritual truth – and this parable warns all those who profess Christianity to make sure they are ready for Christ’s return.
Therefore, let’s see the virgins as professors of the faith, those who claim to know the Bridegroom and await His coming. Some are “wise” and some are “foolish” – not good and bad. There is at least a degree of goodwill, and good intentions, in the foolish as well as in the wise. The difference is in the depth of their commitment, which is evident by their readiness for the Bridegroom’s coming.
The wise virgins are those who truly know Christ and are known by Him. They understand that His coming may be delayed, so they are prepared with an abundance of oil, “that inward reality of grace which alone will stand when He appears whose eyes are as a flame of fire” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary). They may not be excused for slumbering while the Bridegroom tarries – even Christ’s closest followers could not stay awake one hour while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane – yet they persevere and are allowed into the marriage feast.
The foolish virgins are those who profess to know Christ but lack a genuine relationship with Him. They carry their lamps – an outward profession of their faith in the Messiah – but they lack the reserve of oil that is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. When the Bridegroom comes, their lamps are dark.
The supply of oil may be seen as that inward grace of Christ that has enduring character. Whereas God’s grace is given to all in a general sense, only those who have entered into a relationship with Him receive His Spirit Who, like the oil of the wise, is abundant and sufficient.
Nothing should be made of the fact that there are 10 virgins, other than that Jews would not hold synagogue, a wedding or another ceremony without at least 10 witnesses. The fact that five of the virgins are wise and five are foolish should not be taken to mean that half of all professing Christians are lost. There is folly in reading too much into the details of Christ’s parables.
All 10 of the virgins “slumbered and slept.” The word “slumbered” signifies “nodding off” or “becoming drowsy.” The word “slept” is the usual word for lying down to sleep. This denotes two states of spiritual stupor – first, “that half-involuntary lethargy or drowsiness which is apt to steal over one who falls into inactivity; and then a conscious, deliberate yielding to it, after a little vain resistance” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).
The lamps are of two general kinds. The first consists of rags wrapped around one end of a wooden pole and dipped in oil. The second, and most likely, consists of a “round receptacle for pitch or oil for the wick. This was placed in a hollow cup or deep saucer … which was fastened by a pointed end into a long wooden pole, on which it was born a loft” (Dr. Alfred Edersheim, quoted in Manners and Customs of Bible Lands).
When the bridegroom comes at last, the foolish virgins need oil, for their lamps are going out, and so they ask the wise for oil. The response of the wise is important in two respects. First, they deny the request for oil – not out of selfishness or a judgmental nature, but because all 10 virgins would be undone. Salvation is not to be acquired from believers but from God. Second, the wise virgins tell the foolish to buy their own reserve of oil. This does not imply that salvation may be purchased, only that the foolish need to acquire salvation the same way the wise did.
When the bridegroom comes, the wise are ready. They join the wedding procession with their blazing lamps and are welcomed in. The foolish come too late, after the door has been shut, and are excluded from the wedding feast. Today, believers and unbelievers populate the visible church; in a day to come, God will separate those who merely profess to know Christ from those who truly do.
There is no improving on the words of Jesus, “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour” when the Bridegroom will come (Matt. 25:13).
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 Then He called a child to Him and had him stand among them.
3 “I assure you,” He said, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me.
6 But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea!
7 Woe to the world because of offenses. For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes.
8 If your hand or your foot causes your downfall, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire.
9 And if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, rather than to have two eyes and be thrown into hellfire!”
(See also Mark 9:33-50 and Luke 9:46-50)
Jesus has been transfigured before Peter, James and John. These three disciples emerge as the inner circle of Jesus’ followers, with Peter declaring Jesus Messiah (Matt. 16:16) and John being called “the one Jesus loved” (John 13:23). As Jesus and His disciples approach Capernaum, the disciples bicker about their place in the kingdom, which they still expect to be an imminent and earthly one. Knowing their hearts, Jesus asks, “What were you arguing about on the way” (Mark 9:33)? So they ask plainly, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:1)?
The central theme of this parable is that humility is highly valued in the kingdom of heaven. As the disciples struggle to understand the “mysteries” of the kingdom – especially that the kingdom is both a present reality and a future hope – they wonder about their role in it. Some would seek to sit at Jesus’ right hand or left hand in the kingdom (Matt. 20:20-28), while others would desire to call fire down from heaven on those who refuse to welcome Jesus (Luke 9:51-56). Jesus calls a child and uses him to illustrate that such arrogant thinking has no place in the kingdom. Everyone must enter the kingdom as a child – humble, trusting, with no personal agenda – and once in the kingdom, no one should see himself or herself as more important than another. The entire value system of the kingdom of heaven is in stark contrast with that of Satan’s kingdom and of this present evil age.
The child is the central character in this parable. Jesus calls a young boy and says “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). The word “converted” means changed or turned. It means to turn from one habit of life, or set of opinions, to another. Despite Jesus’ teaching in previous parables, the disciples still seem to think the kingdom of heaven is coming imminently as an earthly kingdom. As a result, they jockey for positions in the king’s cabinet. Jesus tells them they must turn from their wrong thinking about the kingdom and set aside their sinful ambition and pride.
In what way are the disciples to become like children? “Children are, to a great extent, destitute of ambition, pride, and haughtiness. They are characteristically humble and teachable. By requiring the 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 should become like them. They should lay aside their ambitious views, and pride, and be willing to occupy their proper station – a very lowly one” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
When Jesus says “whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me” (Matt. 18:5) and “whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones …” (v. 6), He likely is referring not only to children but to new believers, who are humble and teachable, and who need spiritual nurturing. The apostle John refers to Christians as “children” or “little children” (1 John 2:1, 12, 18, 28).
In this teaching, Jesus addresses several facets of the kingdom: 1) entrance into the kingdom; 2) kingdom values; and 3) kingdom stewardship.
1) Entrance into the kingdom. Jesus says “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Entrance into the kingdom is by the new birth (John 3:3, 5), also known as regeneration, which is the work of the Holy Spirit imparting new life to the one who was “dead in … trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). No believer may take credit for the new birth but receives it with childlike wonder and gratitude. In the same vein, no one may enter the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13) through arrogance or ambition; rather, eternal life is received in gracious humility. In light of these truths, and the disciples’ boastful wrangling, Jesus challenges His followers to live like true citizens of the kingdom.
2) Kingdom values. Next, Jesus says, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). The things God values and the things people value are different. The values of the kingdom of Satan – summed up in 1 John 2:15-17 as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle” – have no place in the kingdom of heaven and will be done away with in the end. It is wise for children of the kingdom to value what pleases the King.
3) Kingdom stewardship. Jesus, who has given His disciples the keys to the kingdom, warns them to be good stewards of it: “And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me. But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me – it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt. 18:5-6). Millstones commonly are disc-shaped stones, two feet in diameter by six inches deep, used to grind grain. These millstones are turned by hand, but larger millstones are turned by mules. Binding millstones to people and casting them in the sea was one form of capital punishment practiced by the Greeks, Syrians and Romans. It would be better to die in this way and escape everlasting consequences, Jesus says, than to keep another out of the kingdom or to neglect or mistreat the children of the kingdom. This is why Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees they will receive greater damnation – because they not only refuse to enter the kingdom but strive to keep others out (Matt. 23:13).
Finally, Jesus tells His disciples to beware of “offenses” – things that produce sin: “If your hand or your foot causes your downfall, cut it off and throw it away … if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out and throw it away …” (Matt. 18:8-9). He is not teaching self mutilation, nor is He saying that in the resurrection some will have glorified bodies without hands, feet or eyes. Rather, Jesus is teaching the flip side of the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price. While the kingdom is of inestimable value, the things of this world may keep us from entering in. As Richard Glover, quoted in All the Parables of the Bible, puts it, “The hand of ambitious rudeness should be cut off; the eye of ambitious coveting should be plucked out; the foot of ambitious willfulness should be cut off.”
Matthew Henry provides further context: “Considering the cunning and malice of Satan, and the weakness and depravity of men’s hearts, it is not possible but that there should be offences. God permits them for wise and holy ends, that those who are sincere, and those who are not, may be made known. Being told before, that there will be seducers, tempters, persecutors, and bad examples, let us stand on our guard. We must, as far as lawfully we may, part with what we cannot keep without being entangled by it in sin.”
Jesus calls believers “children of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:38 KJV) while the New Testament writers stress that we are adopted sons and daughters of God. As such, we are of most value to the kingdom when we trust God to provide our needs and serve Him in simple, childlike faith. Pride has no place in the kingdom of heaven; Christ will abide no competitors to His sovereign Lordship.