Matthew 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ?Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?? 2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: ?I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 ?And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 ?Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell..
1. To understand the meaning of “kingdom” in Matthew 18:1 (and vv. 3, 4), we need to consider in its context of 18:1-9.
2. Here “kingdom” has some kind of substantive relationship with the words “enter life” and “eternal fire” and “fire of hell.”
3. The focus is on entering into the kingdom; and that means kingdom is in some sense not entered into for those persons to whom he is speaking. Thus, in some sense it is future. But, an emphasis here is on the conditions needed in order to enter: those who enter are those who are humble and those who discard what impedes entry.
4. With the near parallel thoughts in 18:8-9, futurity seems clinched. Even those who are followers are not guaranteed spots without the necessary conditions met. Jesus gives a rather terse response to his followers who inquire about greatness.
5. Still, as one orients one’s life toward this Jesus who leads into the kingdom, that kingdom begins to make itself manifest in the here and now.
6. The kingdom in this passage, again not clearly defined, seems to me to be the eschatological conditions of promise.