This entry is part 18 of 44 in the series: Troublesome texts
- ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 6:1f – Who were ‘the sons of God’?
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”?
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east?’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5 – Son? Servant? Male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’?
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Matthew 25:40 – Who are ‘these brothers of mine’?
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’?
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2:7 – No room at the inn?
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’?
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’?
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- 1 Timothy 2:15 – Saved through child-bearing?
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – the Saviour of all people?
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
Matthew 18:20 “Where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.”
Christians regularly appeal to this saying in order to reassure themselves that, no matter how few their numbers when they gather for public worship or for prayer, Jesus himself will be present.
Matthew Henry: ‘Every believer has the presence of Christ with him; but the promise here refers to the meetings where two or three are gathered in his name, not only for discipline, but for religious worship, or any act of Christian communion.’
Ryle: ‘There is comfort in these words for all who love to meet together for religious purposes. At every assembly for public worship,—at every gathering for prayer and praise,—at every missionary meeting,—at every Bible reading, the King of kings is present,—Christ Himself attends. We may be often disheartened by the small number who are present on such occasions, compared to those who meet for worldly ends…But we have no reason for despondency. We may boldly fall back on these words of Jesus. At all such meetings we have the company of Christ Himself.’
Hendriksen: ‘The Lord again assures his disciples that the gathering of believers for prayer and worship need not be one of “crowding worshipers.” Even two or three will receive a blessing as long as they gather in his name, that is, in close fellowship with him; hence, with his atoning work as the basis of their approach to God, at his direction, and in harmony with that which he has revealed concerning himself.’
There is, of course, nothing heretical about this, and it may even be a reasonable implication of the passage.
There is, indeed, great reassurance in the knowledge that our great God has promised to be with even small, weak and humble gatherings of his believing people. See Jud 6:15,16; 7:7; Ps 20:7; Isa 1:8,9; 57:15; Zep 3:12; Mt 18:10; Lk 12:32; 1 Cor 4:11-13.
But is this really what this passage is all about?
According to the interpretation just outlined, verses 19 and 20 begin a new section (so Morris), and contain precious promises concerning answered prayer (“It will be done…There am I with them”).
The context, however, determines that the main situation in mind is that of disagreements amongst believers. To be sure, as Green remarks, such things should be bathed in prayer, especially because such disagreements can be spiritual battles, not merely human misunderstandings.
It should be noted, however, that in this passage Jesus, is not talking primarily about prayer. He is talking about discipline. Blomberg notes that v19 is a simple restatement of v18. The expression “in my name” refers to authority, rather than to petition. The context has to do with confronting a brother with his sin: Jesus is saying that the decision of two or more representatives of the church will be ratified in heaven.
Osborne remarks that, in context, this saying ‘refers mainly to the decision of a church regarding a discipline situation. The “two or three” as in vv. 16, 19 are the witnesses confronting the guilty person. As they make their decision, certainly while in prayer, Jesus wants them to understand that he is with them, and the “heavenly Father” is guiding their verdict.’
Bruner acknowledges that, in the larger context, the saying may apply to meetings that concern discipline. But, he writes, ‘the sentence is so grand, and it is sufficiently removed from the preceding disciplinary instructions, that it should probably be interpreted as Jesus’ promise to be specially present in any group that makes his person paramount.’ This approach, however, seems to reverse the foreground and background of the saying.
A mediating position is possible: if the words of Jesus here refer to prayer for a sinning brother, then they might legitimately admit of a wider application (so NBC). France: ‘No doubt the primary application is to their prayer for the sinner of vv. 15–17, but the principle of Jesus’ presence among his people, and therefore of the efficacy of their agreed request, can hardly be confined to that specific situation.’