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 Mark 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 Luke 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.
Matthew 18:2, Matthew 18:3
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 Psalms 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.
The greatest ... - That is, shall be the most eminent Christian shall have most of the true spirit of religion.
And whoso shall receive one such little child - That is, whoso shall receive and love one with a spirit like this child one who is humble, meek, and unambitious - that is, a real Christian.
In my name - As a follower of me, or because he is attached to me.
Whoso receives one possessed of my spirit, or who loves him because he has that spirit, loves me also. The word "receive" means to approve, love, or treat with kindness; to aid in the time of need. See Matthew 25:35-40.
Mark Mark 9:38 and Luke Luke 9:49 add a conversation that took place on this occasion, which has been omitted by Matthew. John told him that they had seen one casting out devils in his name, and they forbade him, because he followed not with them. Jesus replied that he should not have been forbidden, for there was no one who could work a miracle in his name that could lightly speak evil of him. That is, though he did not attend them though he had not joined himself to their society, yet he could not really be opposed to him. Indeed, they should have remembered that the power to work a miracle must always come from the same source, that is, God; and that he who had the ability given him to work a miracle, and who did it in the name of Christ, must be a real friend to him. It is probable, from this, that the power of working miracles in the name of Christ was given to many who did not attend on his ministry.
Whoso shall offend - That is, cause to fall, or to sin; or who should place anything in their way to hinder their piety or happiness. See notes at Matthew 5:29.
These little ones - That is, Christians manifesting the spirit of little children, I John 2:1, I John 2:12, I John 2:18, I John 2:28.
It were better for him that a millstone ... - Mills, anciently, were either turned by hand (see the notes at Matthew 24:41), or by beasts, chiefly by mules. These last were of the larger kind, and the original words denote that it was this kind that was intended. This was one mode of capital punishment practiced by the Greeks, Syrians, Romans, and by some other nations. The meaning is, it would be better for him to have died before he had committed the sin. To injure, or to cause to sin, the feeblest Christian, will be regarded by Christ as a most serious offence, and will be punished accordingly.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Matthew 18:4:
DISCLAIMER: Church of the Great God (CGG) provides these resources to aid the individual in studying the Bible. However, it is up to the individual to "prove all things, and hold fast to that which is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21). The content of these resources does not necessarily reflect the views of CGG. They are provided for information purposes only.