We are one

Jesus’ final prayer for his disciples included a petition for his Father to keep them intimately connected to each other. He said, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). Jesus’ spiritual connection with his Father while he was on Earth made it possible for them to operate as if they were a single person. There was essentially no differentiation between the thoughts of the Father and the thoughts of the Son. Jesus’ request that his followers be one just as he and his Father were one meant that the totality of Christian believers would be acting as if they were a single entity, what is sometimes referred to today as the “body of Christ” or “the church.”

The primary reason Jesus wanted his disciples to experience the same kind of unity he had with his Father may have been so that they would work together to build God’s kingdom rather than through individual efforts. In order to understand the oneness that Jesus was praying for his disciples to receive, you would have to look at the result of the Holy Spirit’s coming on the day of Pentecost. It says in Acts 2:1-8:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord and in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?

The supernatural filling of the Holy Spirit resulted in a type of communication that was much more effective than what is possible today through language translation. In essence, what was happening was that the words were being spoken and heard without any translation being necessary. The meaning was understood perfectly as if there was no language barrier, even though the people came from different countries and spoke different languages.

Jesus explained that the reason he was asking his Father for the unification of all believers was so that they would be a testimony to everyone that he had indeed been sent by God to save the world (John 17:21). Jesus went on to say that unity would lead to the completion of his ministry and be a sign of God’s love for all who have accepted him as their savior (John 17:23). Jesus concluded his prayer with a petition for his disciples to be with him in heaven. He said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). This particular request was probably motivated by Jesus’ close connection with his apostles. Rather than making them wait until he returned to Earth, Jesus wanted his disciples to be reunited with him as soon as they were deceased. The apostle Paul suggested this would be the case when he said, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

An opportunity

The unfolding of the plot to kill Jesus was similar to any situation in which one person decides to betray another. Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve apostles selected by Jesus to be a part of his inner circle. These twelve men spent the majority of their time with Jesus during his three year ministry on Earth. The thing that set the apostles apart from the rest of Jesus’ followers was their intimate access to Jesus’ personal life. The apostles could ask Jesus any questions they wanted to and there were no secrets he kept from them. It was Judas’ intimate knowledge of Jesus’ pattern of behavior that enabled him to betray the man that had been his teacher from the winter of 28 A.D. when Jesus chose his twelve disciples to the spring of 30 A.D. when Jesus was crucified.

Luke’s gospel describes the situation this way:

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. (Luke 22:1-6, ESV)

Luke’s account of what happened suggested that Judas disassociated himself from Jesus and joined in with the chief priests and officers that wanted to kill him. The Greek word that is translated consented or communed with, sullaleo (sool-lol-eh´-o) is derived from a combination of the two words sun (soon) and laleo (lal-eh´-o). The Greek word sun denotes union; with or together, i.e. by association, companionship, or process (G4862). The Greek word laleo means “to talk” (G2980). The combination of these two words suggests that Judas agreed with everything the chief priests and officers were saying and perhaps even mimicked their sentiments about having Jesus put to death.

It was possible for Judas to promise to provide the chief priests and officers with an opportunity to arrest Jesus when no one was around because he knew where Jesus went when he wanted to be alone. Although the specific location was probably not designated at the time of Judas agreement, it is likely a date and timeframe were specified at the time Judas entered into his covenant with the chief priests and officers (Luke 22:5). Luke’s final statement, “And he promised, and sought opportunity to betray him unto them in the absence of the multitude” (Luke 22:6), may have meant that Judas was expected to go back to Jesus and find out where he planned to be at the appointed date and time. Satan’s involvement in the situation suggests that he was unaware of Jesus’ whereabouts.

Lazarus

Lazarus was the only man outside of Jesus’ intimate circle of disciples that was referred to as his friend. Because of their personal relationship, it says in John 11:3, “Therefore his sisters sent unto him saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” The Greek word translated lovest, phileo (fil-eh´-o) means to “have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling)” (G5368). Jesus’ attachment to Lazarus may have been a result of them spending a lot of time together, but it could also be that Jesus’ feelings stemmed from his compassion toward this man’s unfortunate circumstances. Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem where the cost of living was likely very high. There is no indication that Lazarus was married or had any other family members besides his two sisters Martha and Mary, who also appeared to be unmarried. It is possible Lazarus was about the same age as Jesus and had never been married because he was too poor to support a family.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he told his disciples, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4). The Greek terms translated glory and glorified have to do with the reputation Jesus gained through his self-manifestation (G1391/1392). In other words, how people interpreted his actions. It says in John 11:5-6, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” Jesus’ reaction to the situation showed that he was in complete control of his behavior in spite of his feelings about what was going on. Jesus knew Lazarus was already dead (John 11:14), therefore, he refrained from going to Jerusalem because it wasn’t necessary for him to be there right away. The problem was that Jesus’ presence in the city would have ignited the wrath of the Jews that had already tried to stone him (John 10:31). He may have avoided this by waiting to go to Bethany until after Lazarus’ burial.

The key to understanding Jesus’ decision to go to Bethany in spite of the danger that awaited him was his determination to do the will of his Father. We know it was God’s will for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead because he stated “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God” (John 11:4), but in order for him to do God’s will, Jesus had to put his own life at risk. Jesus’ motivation for doing what was expected of him was likely the love he felt for not only Lazarus, but also for his sisters Martha and Mary. When John stated that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (John 11:5), he wasn’t talking about the same kind of love that Martha and Mary identified when they asked Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:2). John used the Greek word agapao (ag-ap-ah´-o)which is an expression of God’s love. “In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others seek the Giver” (G25).

Jesus’ disciples expected him to be killed when he returned to the area in and around Jerusalem (John 11:16). Their trip toward Jerusalem had already been filled with numerous warnings of Jesus’ imminent death (Matthew 20:18, Mark 10:33). When Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus was dead, he added, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (John 11:15). Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was likely meant to be a preview of his own resurrection in order to demonstrate his power over the grave. Jesus wanted his disciples and everyone else to know that he had the ability to bring someone back to life that had been dead for several days.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is something Christians are expected to do. Jesus described it as an obligation, like something required of a slave or servant (Luke 17:9-10). One of the reasons Christians are expected to forgive others for the sins they commit against them is because they have received forgiveness from God. Jesus said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). It could be that God expects his children to forgive others because it is a basic principle of his kingdom, something that everything else depends on. Without forgiveness, salvation would be worthless.

Jesus told his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Luke 17:1, ESV). Jesus made it clear that sin was a part of life, but he also wanted his disciples to know there was a penalty for leading others astray. He said, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast  into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2, ESV). In order to avoid the temptation of sin, Jesus told his disciples, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3, ESV).

In a way,  you could say that forgiveness is a type of cure for sin. It’s like putting a bandage on an open wound. If there is no forgiveness, then the wound can get infected and might lead to death. The example Jesus gave of the brother that sinned repeatedly, but repented every time, may have been meant to convey the idea that sin is like an addictive behavior. It can take a while for it to be brought under control. As long as someone is aware that what he is doing is wrong, and wants to stop doing it, the bandage of forgiveness needs to continually be reapplied. The idea being that although it may take longer, the wound will eventually be healed.

Jesus’ disciples looked at forgiveness as an act of faith. In response to Jesus’ command to forgive him every time a brother repents, it says in Luke 17:5, “And the apostles said unto the Lord, increase our faith.” Rather than faith, Jesus implied forgiveness required a forced act of obedience. The only thing that would convince someone to do it would be harsh discipline. Jesus reminded his disciples that they were called to serve God and commanded to forgive others. He then concluded, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10, ESV).

 

 

Spiritual treasure

Jesus used a series of parables to teach his disciples the exorbitant value of the kingdom of heaven. He said:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Have you understood all these things?”  They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:44-52, ESV)

A scribe was a person that had the ability to read and write and was responsible for maintaining the documents associated with the Jewish religion. Jesus likened a scribe that had received spiritual instruction about the meaning of the documents he was managing to someone that manages a household because the ability to teach God’s word comes from an understanding of how everything fits together. Jesus implied that the treasure of God’s word is found when you connect the dots or put together the timeless truths of both the Old and New Testaments.

Jesus’ parable of the unrighteous steward (Luke 16:1-13) showed that the Bible teachers of his day were unwilling to make sense of what he was teaching them in light of the many prophecies that were given hundreds of years earlier about the coming of the Jews Messiah. It wasn’t that these men were unable to connect the dots, it was that they saw no value in the old Hebrew manuscripts and therefore, had missed the references to Jesus’ coming (Luke 16:1-2). The Jewish religious system had become outdated and needed to be refurbished, but there were no one willing to take on the challenge of searching through the Old Testament scriptures to discover the truth.

At the heart of the problem Jesus’ was addressing was a desire to obtain material wealth, rather than the riches of the kingdom of heaven. In Jesus’ parable, when the unjust steward was told he was going to be fired (Luke 16:2), he went to all his master’s debtors and reduced the amount they owed him (Luke 16:5-7), so that when the steward became unemployed, they would welcome him into their homes (Luke 16:4). Jesus commended the unjust steward, “because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8).

Jesus’ reference to “children of this world” and “children of light” (Luke 16:8) was not a distinction between believers and unbelievers. He was referring to believers that are using their worldly intelligence and experience to make decisions rather than spiritual discernment. The reason Jesus commended the man who used his practical skill to get himself out of trouble was because he had actually practiced a spiritual principle without knowing it, the forgiveness of debt. Jesus argued, “If ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:11). In other words, the real treasure of heaven or truth of God’s word is given to those who know what to do with it.

First priority

Jesus taught that God’s kingdom must be given first priority. In his parable of the great supper, Jesus described the result of putting a lower priority on spiritual activities. The men that were originally invited to a great supper or banquet excused themselves from attending because they had other things to do. As a result, the host had his servant bring in others who were willing to accept his invitation (Luke 14:21). At the conclusion of his parable, Jesus stated, “For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper” (Luke 14:24). In other words, the men that were originally invited, but didn’t come, wouldn’t be invited back to the man’s (Jesus’) house.

Jesus went on to explain that there was a cost to discipleship. He told the large crowd listening to him, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Jesus wasn’t talking about the free gift of salvation that God offers to the world. His invitation to “come to me” had to do with his work of transforming the Earth. Jesus said, “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Before Jesus’ death, the cross was not associated with sacrifice. It was an emblem of severe punishment for crimes that were committed against the Roman government. What Jesus likely meant by “bear his cross,” was a willingness to go against the dictated behavior of human authorities. Today we might think of this as doing what is politically correct or following the prescribed rules of our culture.

Jesus used two examples to drive home the point that God would finish the work he started because he had already set aside the spiritual resources he needed to complete it. Just as the host of the banquet was able to fill his dining hall with alternate guests (Luke 14:22-23), God’s kingdom is open to anyone that is willing to serve him. Jesus concluded his lesson with an admonition to his listeners to keep a continual focus on being useful to God. He said, “Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?” (Luke 14:34).

The Greek word translated savour, moraino (mo-rah´-ee-no) was being used figuratively by Jesus to describe someone that is stupid or foolish (3471/3474). Moraino is related to the word musterion (moos-tay´-ree-on) which stands for a secret or mystery “(through the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites)” (3466). Musterion is a unique word in the New Testament. “It denotes, not the mysterious (as with the Eng. word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit.” Jesus probably used the word moraino in connection with salt losing its flavor so that we would understand that our usefulness to him has to do with our supernatural understanding of God’s kingdom.

Relationship with God

One of the things that was radically changed when Jesus came to Earth was a person’s ability to have a relationship with God. Because God had never been physically present with them, it was very difficult for the Israelites to understand his way of doing things. Probably, the most difficult barrier Jesus had to overcome was the preconceived ideas the Jews had about their Messiah and his mission to save the world. Reconciling the differences between God’s intentions and the expectations of his people took a significant amount of Jesus’ time and became one of his primary goals during his three year ministry. As he prepared to return to heaven, Jesus focused on leaving a lasting impression on his disciples and preparing them for the time when they would once again be physically separated from him.

A direct benefit of Jesus being present with them was that his disciples could ask him questions and get his opinion about things that were difficult for them to understand. Although many things were still confusing to them, Jesus’ disciples were given private lessons that could help them decipher God’s will and his plan of salvation for the world. One of the things his disciples noticed was Jesus’ constant communication with his heavenly Father. Because they were aware that Jesus was praying for them and was asking God to do certain things that he couldn’t do himself, the disciples understood that prayer was a vital part of having a personal relationship with God. They also knew the time was coming when they would have to carry on without Jesus, so one of his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1).

And he said unto them, “When ye pray, say, Our Father which are in heaven, Hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so  in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” (Luke 11:2-4)

A key aspect of this prayer was the way Jesus instructed his disciples to address God. When Jesus referred to God as “Our Father,” he was in a sense making his disciples equal with him because they were all on the same level from a relationship standpoint, God’s children. The three things Jesus instructed his disciples to ask for: daily bread, forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from temptation; showed them that their relationship with God was meant to be a way for them to benefit from his divine resources and sovereign control over the universe.

After sharing his template for prayer, Jesus told his disciples that they could depend on God and shouldn’t hesitate to ask him for the things they needed. Jesus explained that God is more reliable than a neighbor that has extra resources and told them, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened: (Luke 11:9-10). The progressive verbs Jesus used; ask, seek, and knock, probably had to do with the enhanced quality of a relationship with God over time. You could say there was a certain amount of boldness that could be expected the more intimately one got to know his heavenly Father. Jesus suggested that God would never say no to anything his children asked for, but then he clarified what he said with this statement, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:13). In other words, we should be asking God for spiritual, not physical resources.

Justification

One of the advantages God built into his plan of salvation was a provision for all sinners to be acquitted of every charge brought against them when God judges the world. In other words, by their admission of personal wrong doing, sinners are by default guilty, but through the justification provided them, they are declared innocent by God (1344). In order to qualify for this justification, a person must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and accept his payment of their debt to God through his death on the cross. Once justification takes place, the sinner is awarded eternal life and entrance into God’s kingdom. The believer’s one-way ticket to heaven can only be redeemed on an individual basis and is thought to be irrevocable after salvation has been received.

As the Savior of the World, Jesus was given authority over demonic forces and enabled to accomplish certain tasks on earth that no mortal man was able to. For instance, Jesus rebuked a devil that possessed a lunatic boy and caused him to depart from him (Matthew 17:18) and he restored the sight of a man born blind (John 9:7). In addition to the many miracles he performed, Jesus also taught his followers about the kingdom of heaven and forgave the sins of people considered to be hardened criminals (John 8:11). In preparation for his departure, Jesus sent out seventy of his disciples to spread the good news that Israel’s Messiah had arrived. After they returned, the disciples reported, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name” (Luke 10:17).

Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to understand the significance of the justification that he was making available to everyone. Although they had the power to perform miracles because of Jesus’ authority in the spiritual realm, the primary purpose of justification was so that people could go to heaven when they died. Jesus explained, “I  beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall be any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:18-20). The book of life that Jesus referred to is a permanent record of each person’s salvation (Revelation 3:5).

Following Jesus’ interaction with his disciples, a lawyer asked him the question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25). Essentially, what this man was asking was how he could get to heaven without being justified by Jesus. The lawyer understood God’s commandments and thought he had lived according to them. He basically stated that he needed to love God and his neighbor as himself (Luke 10:27). It says in Luke 10:29, “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus used the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) to show this man that it wasn’t enough for him to just refrain from harming others, he needed to demonstrate his love to anyone in need in order to earn his own way into heaven.

Our debt to God

Following his teaching about the lost sheep, Jesus dealt with the issue of forgiveness in response to a question he received from one of his disciples. Peter said, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Peter’s brother Andrew was also a disciple of Jesus and was most likely the person Peter was referring to when he asked Jesus this question. It could have been that these brothers were the two disciples that had argued about who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1, Mark 9:34). Peter had gone with Jesus up into a mountain and witnessed his transfiguration (Matthew 17:1), but Andrew was left behind and was likely involved with the remaining disciples failed attempt to cast a demon out of a lunatic boy (Matthew 17:16). If Peter and Andrew were typical brothers, they probably fought a lot and were very competitive toward each other. Peter may have thought seven times was a reasonable limit or a sufficient amount of tolerance based on he and his brother’s track record of fighting. In response to Peter’s question about how many times he should forgive his brother, Jesus said, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). In other words, Jesus was saying Peter shouldn’t have limits to his forgiveness. He should continuously forgive Andrew, even if his brother committed the same offense against him over and over.

Jesus told a parable to express the type of forgiveness God shows us compared to the forgiveness we are expected to show each other. He said, “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which ought him ten thousand talents” (Matthew 18:23-24). A talent was a measure used to weigh gold and silver and was equal to 75 lbs. The sum of 10,000 talents was meant to represent an astronomical amount of debt that no one would ever be able to repay. Today 10,000 talents of silver would be worth $168,300,000 and 10,000 talents of gold $13,833,600,000. In spite of the impossibility of him being able to do so, the man who owed the king the money said, “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all” (Matthew 18:26). In response, it says in Matthew 18:27, “Then the lord of the servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” Jesus went on to say that the man who was forgiven his enormous debt went out and found a man that owed him 100 pence, the equivalent of $3.47 in silver or $285.47 in gold today, “And he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest” (Matthew 18:28). The man begged him to be patient and promised to pay it back, but the man that had been forgiven the 10,000 talent debt would not, “but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt” (Matthew 18:30).

In order to drive home the point of his parable, Jesus told his disciples that the man that had owed 10,000 talents was brought back before the king and his sentence was reversed. Jesus said:

Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? and his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. (Matthew 18:32-34)

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated tormentors, basanistes (bas-an-is-tace’) means a torturer (930). Basanistes is derived from the word basanizo (bas-an-id’-zo) which represents a painful type of labor (928). This was likely meant to be a reference back to Jesus’ comment in Matthew 18:6 about having a millstone hanged about one’s neck and being cast into the sea because of an offence toward a young child or baby Christian. Jesus concluded his parable with the warning, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:35). The implication being that God will hold us accountable for out debt to him (Jesus’ death on the cross) if we do not forgive others and he has forgiven us.

 

Conversion

Jesus told his disciples, “Verily, I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become like little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The Greek word Jesus used that is translated converted in this verse, strepho (stref’-o) is typically translated as turn or turned. Strepho means “to turn quite around or reverse” (4762). At the time when Jesus spoke these words, there was a little child standing in the midst of his twelve apostles and they were discussing who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What Jesus likely meant by becoming like little children was the reversal of his disciples spiritual development. He wanted them to start from the beginning and learn all over again what they knew about God.

Jesus said emphatically, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). The word humble had a specific connotation to God’s people because of their history as slaves in Egypt. The Greek word Jesus used, tapeinoo (tap-i-no’-o) is used figuratively to express humiliation and it suggests that he wanted his disciples to be willing to humiliate themselves in order to please God. Mark’s record of this conversation indicated a responsibility on the part of Jesus’ disciples to keep themselves from leading others into sin by way of their bad behavior (arguing about who was the greatest Mark 9:34). Jesus said, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believeth in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42). This may have been a picture of the typical burial of a worthless servant.

Jesus’ lesson about true discipleship was an extension of his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in which he warned against anger, adultery, and divorce. Jesus was intentionally reminding his disciples that the slightest infraction of the law was considered to be enough to bring judgment against an individual. Jesus said about the sin of adultery, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:28-29). Jesus’ repetition of this illustration (Matthew 18:9) of the drastic measures that needed to be taken in order to avoid sin in his lesson about true discipleship was no doubt meant to jolt his disciples back into reality and make them aware of the fact that their status in God’s kingdom was not based on spiritual accomplishments. Conversion, “turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us” (7725) is a lifelong process that ultimately brings us to the conclusion that our only purpose as members of God’s kingdom while we are alive on earth is to preach the gospel to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 9:16).