Matthew 18:10-14Theme: Shepherding.In this week’s lessons we see God reclaiming the lost. LessonThis parable fits into the context of Matthew 18. At the beginning of the chapter the disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v. 1). Jesus answers: (1) the one who is humble, like a little child (vv. 2-9); (2) the one who cares for the weak or lost believer (vv. 10-14); and (3) the one who forgives other people (vv. 15-20).
Howard Vos traces the progression like this:
Disciples who wish to be great are told that first they must accept and show kindness to other believers (vv. 5-9), facilitating their Christian walk and doing everything possible to avoid being a stumbling block to them. Second, they are not to despise or show contempt for other believers but are to offer help to those who may be in danger of going astray or who may have gone astray (vv. 10-14). Third, they are taught what to do if one Christian sins against another (vv. 15-17).1
This is a pattern of behavior entirely opposite to how the world usually thinks of personal greatness or success.
The first verse of this section makes clear that Jesus is talking about new or weak believers, still using the image of little children. It is an introduction to what he is going to say about the lost sheep. “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones,” he says. “For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (v. 10).
This is the Bible verse above all others that people have turned to for the idea of guardian angels, though there is not much in the Bible to support that idea elsewhere. Hebrews 1:14 refers to “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” The first three chapters of Revelation refer to the angels of the seven churches, though it is not certain that these are meant to be spirit beings. The “angels” may be the pastors of these churches. None of these verses proves clearly that each individual believer has a specific angel assigned to him or her.
What then does Jesus’ reference to the angels of these little ones always seeing the face of God mean? John Broadus probably has it right when he refers this to angels as a class.
However humble in the estimation of worldly men, believers have angels as their attendants, sent forth to serve God for their benefit (Heb. 1:14), and these angels of theirs enjoy in heaven the highest dignity and consideration, like persons admitted to the very presence of a monarch and allowed, not once but continually, to behold his face.2
The point is that the angels have access to the presence of the Father at all times on behalf of “these little ones.”
Yet it is not the angels who are important in this passage. They may be interceding on behalf of weak or wandering Christians, an encouraging thing to know. But what is really important here is that it is God who is compared to the shepherd who seeks and finds the lost sheep. Why should we focus on angels when it is God who is our Savior?
1 Howard Vos, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 129.2 John A. Broadus, Commentary on Matthew (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990), p. 384.
Explain the progression of Matthew 18 and how this parable fits in.
Who are the children to whom Jesus is referring?
How does J. Broadus interpret the reference to ministering angels?