By Christopher VanDusen
All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible
Vss. 5-6) Not only is the one who imitates the humility of the child the most honorable and admirable in heaven’s kingdom, but Jesus adds that to welcome such a person “in Jesus’s name” is to welcome Himself. To do something “in the name of Jesus” is to do so while representing Jesus, and acting on His behalf. The disciples could do this because they belonged to Jesus, and obeyed Him as their Teacher. So, if they welcomed someone that Jesus considered greatest in heaven’s kingdom, they would be welcoming another representative of Jesus, who is the Greatest in the kingdom.
In contrast, Jesus warns that it’s better to die the most certain death than to make a believing “little one” “stumble”. Jesus has already referred to the concept of “stumbling” in the Sermon on the Mount, in chapter 5. There, He implies that you need to “remove” any part of your body that causes you to stumble in order to enter paradise, and receive eternal life at the end of your life. If you don’t do this, your “stumbling” could lead you on to the path that ends in eternal punishment. In itself, the term “stumble” refers to falling down while attempting to walk. It’s part of the metaphor of following Jesus being like a journey on the road to heaven. If one stumbles while on this road, he risks falling off, and ending up in hell. Hence, walking along this road represents obeying, following, and imitating Christ, while stumbling pictures the failure to obey Christ, and thus, to sin. Therefore, causing a humble follower of Jesus, symbolized by a child, to stumble, means to cause him to sin. Doing so is worthy of God’s judgment, so it would be better to die swiftly and certainly, than spiritually harm a humble disciple. Dying by drowning would also deprive a person of honor and respect, since his body couldn’t be given a proper Jewish burial.
Vss. 7-9) Now Jesus warns his disciples to guard against their own stumbling, using the same language that He used in the Sermon on the Mount. He begins by expressing the great suffering and damnation that the world experiences because of the “stumbling blocks” that come from it. This is what He means by the word, “woe”. He’s pronouncing a curse on the world for causing His followers to stumble.
By “world”, Jesus doesn’t only mean here the people of the world, but also the evil forces that Satan and people’s evil bent, or flesh, use to cause people to sin. This is clear from the fact that He says the world’s stumbling blocks come “through” people. Although He says it’s unavoidable that there will be stumbling blocks on His followers’ path, He again expresses the damnation and curse that people who lay stumbling blocks will suffer.
Therefore, Jesus begins to urge His disciples for at least the second time to do whatever’s necessary to avoid being tripped up by the world’s stumbling blocks. He begins with their hands and feet. He tells them to cut these body parts off if they’re the things that make them sin. Obviously, He’s not speaking literally, since to follow His advice would be foolish, as well as useless. Rather, in Jewish thought, one’s hands and feet represented what a person did, including where he went. Hence, Jesus is saying that any activity that causes one to sin must be stopped and removed from one’s life in order to “enter life”, or paradise. He implies that failing to remove these sin-causing activities will result in a professing disciple being “cast into the eternal fire”, or the fire that burns forever. This fire symbolizes the place of God’s wrath, justice, and punishment against sinners. Second, Jesus urges His disciples to remove any “eye” that causes them to sin. Obviously, here the “eye” represents what they look at. If they are to enter life, and avoid being thrown “into the fiery hell”, they must remove any visual temptation they find causes them to sin. The original word Jesus used for “hell” was gehenna, which was the name for the burning garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. It symbolized the place of destruction and ruin for sinners.
In verse 10, Jesus returns to His warning on how to treat His humble followers by commanding His disciples to guard against “despising” one of the “little ones”. The Greek word for “despise” doesn’t simply mean “to hate”, but to “count as nothing”, or to consider someone unworthy of respect or love. The reason He gives for avoiding this mistreatment is that their “angels in heaven continually see the face of [His] Father who is in heaven”. All throughout Scripture, angels are described as being God’s servants for the benefit of His people. So here, Jesus is implying that the angels assigned to His humble followers are their protectors and guardians. He says that they “continually” see God’s “face” to picture the fact that they know how the Father is feeling and thinking about them. Thus, if those who are most cared for by His Son are hurt spiritually, then the Father will have compassion on them, and be offended by the one who hurts them, motivating Him to bring judgment on the offender. This judgment will evidently come in the form of angelic activity, since it’s the fact that their angels know how God feels that ought to discourage Jesus’s disciples from hurting the humble.
Although verse 11 isn’t found in early manuscripts, it would logically contribute to Jesus’s argument, since it declares the basis of His concern for His humble followers. He, as the prophesied messianic Son of Man of Daniel 7, came into the world to “save” “the lost”. The reference to “the lost” clearly connects this saying to Jesus’s next teaching about lost “sheep”.
This section can be applied to believers in Christ in at least four ways.
1. Welcoming other believers into our lives is a reflection on how we treat Christ.
2. Making believers sin is one of the worst sins we can possibly commit, and will bring God’s discipline if not corrected immediately.
3. All known stumbling blocks from our flesh must be removed from our lives to ultimately enter life and avoid hell.
4. Despising weak believers brings God’s judgment. The most seemingly insignificant followers of Christ must be loved, respected, and cared for.