20 In v. 19 prayer was expressed as a direct transaction between the two on earth and God in heaven. But now a third party is introduced into the scene. The wording makes sense only as a forward look to the presence of the risen Christ among his earthly followers. Its thrust is thus similar to that of 28:20, but whereas there the presence of Jesus “with you” is expressed in relation to the new post-Easter situation, here it is, remarkably, already in the present. The perspective is thus that of Matthew’s church rather than of the disciple group during Jesus’ ministry. The saying is linked to v. 19 with a “for,” which indicates that this is the basis for expecting united prayer to be answered: it is not just the prayer of the two who agree, but also that of Jesus who is “among them” because they have come together “in his name,” that is as his disciples representing him (cf. on v. 5, and cf. 10:40–42). While Jesus is on earth his disciples are his brothers and sisters (12:49–50) but even when he is no longer on earth he remains spiritually present as the focus of their unity.
This verse and 28:20 give fuller expression to the idea which we have seen to be probably implicit in Matthew’s adoption (and translation) of the title Immanuel, “God with us”, in 1:23. See above, p. 49, for this theme of being “with you” as a significant element in Matthew’s christology and ecclesiology. It echoes the OT theme of God dwelling among his people (cf. Ezek 43:7; Joel 2:27; Zech 2:10–11). When Jesus is the subject, it depends on the expectation, already firmly set before us in 16:21; 17:9, 23, that his mission will not finish with his earthly death but will be continued through his resurrection. The disciple community will continue even after that to be not merely the followers but also the companions of Jesus. His spiritual presence among them is the source of their authority to declare the will of God and to expect God to hear their prayers. And that presence is promised not to a formally convened ecclesiastical council, but to any two or three of his people who meet as his disciples.13
This saying is regularly compared to a rabbinic motif found especially in a saying from the early second century ad in m. ʾAbot 3:2 (cf. 3:6): “If two sit together and words of the Law are between them, the Shekinah rests between them” (i.e. God is present with them). W. D. Davies, Setting 225, therefore calls Matt 18:20 “a Christified bit of rabbinism.” The idea of spiritual presence is similar, and may represent a tradition of thought already present at the time of Jesus, but what makes the present saying remarkable by comparison is that the one present is not the more abstract concepts of the Law or the Shekinah, but the human figure of Jesus.15
The Mediator (18:20)
‘For [gar] where two or three come together in my name, there am I in their midst.’ These ‘two or three’ are the witnesses of 18:16b. The reason they gather is to pray to the Father (the gar links verse 20 to 19) concerning the sinful brother. Moreover, they assemble in Jesus’ name (eis to emon onoma). This means that they acknowledge his presence: they believe 1:23 (‘Immanuel … God with us’) and 28:20 (‘I am with you all the days’). Jesus assures such people that he is indeed ‘there’ (ekei), ‘in their midst’ (en mesō autōn). Gathered as they are in his ‘name’, and knowing that the Father has enthroned him at his own right hand and granted him universal authority (22:44; 26:64; 28:18), they ask him to voice their requests to the Father (John 16:23–24; Heb. 4:14–16). That Jesus meets with them for this very purpose is clear from the flow of Matthew 18:19b–20: ‘it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together … there am I in their midst.’ The disciples ask that Jesus, having heard their prayers ‘on earth’ (18:18–19a), speak on their behalf to his ‘Father in heaven’; and that Father and Son, having concurred in their judgment (how could it be otherwise?), will cause their will to be done on earth as in heaven.
The promises of 18:19–20 are related more directly to the issues of sin, repentance and forgiveness addressed in 18:15–18 and again in 18:21–35. But Jesus’ assuring words have a broader application, as is clear from verse 19a: ‘concerning any matter about which they ask.’ They may pray, for example, that persons be healed through Jesus’ name (Acts 4:30), or that demons be expelled in his name (Acts 16:18), or that non-believers be saved by that same name (Acts 4:12). And if the Father grants a request on which two or three disciples agree, how might he respond to a whole congregation that has prayed ‘with one accord’ (homothymadon) for the sinful brother or about another matter embraced by the promises of Matthew 18:19–20?
18:20 where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. The “two or three” draws from the language of Deuteronomy 19:15 but also reflects the nature of Matthew 18 as providing community regulation and teaching. As such, it is not simply a cap to the “church discipline” section (18:15–20) but provides a culminating word for the first half of the Community Discourse. “At the thematic center of the Community Discourse, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ presence with his people as the hope for their common life” (1:23; 28:20).
20. To the little infirmities, which from the remains of indwelling corruption, may, and will, occasionally break out, how precious is the direction of Jesus. Oh! that it were more generally adopted in the Church of Christ! And what an unanswerable argument doth the Lord here leave upon record, for the constant meeting together of his whole body, both in private and public ordinances. Zech. 2:5, 10, 11. Matt. 20:28.
Ver. 20.—The promise is applied to the public prayer of the congregation, as we see in what is called “the prayer of St. Chrysostom” in the English Prayer-book. Are gathered together. For the purpose of worship. It is a simpler form of the word used in Heb. 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” In my Name (εἰς τὸ ἐμὸν ὄνομα); literally, into my Name; i.e. with love to me, yearning for union with me, and acting for my glory. This would imply decent and orderly meeting for the highest ends. There am I in the midst of them. Christ promises a real, actual presence, though invisible, as true as when he appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, as true as when the Shechinah shone in tabernacle or temple. The rabbis had a saying that if two sat at table and conversed about the Law of God, the Shechinah rested upon them. The promise in the text, of course, implies Christ’s omnipresence and omniscience. This is his blessing on united, congregational prayer.
20. For where two or three are assembled in my name. This promise is more extensive than the former; for the Lord declares that he will be present, wherever two or three are met together in his name, to guide them by his counsel, (Ps. 73:24,) and to conduct to a prosperous result whatever they shall undertake. There is therefore no reason to doubt that those who give themselves up to his direction will derive most desirable advantage from his presence. And since it is an invaluable blessing to have Christ for our director in all our affairs, to bless our deliberations and their results; and since, on the other hand, nothing can be more miserable than to be deprived of his grace, this promise ought to add no small excitement to us to unite with each other in piety and holiness. For whoever either disregards the holy assemblies, or separates himself from brethren, and takes little interest in the cultivation of unity, by this alone makes it evident that he sets no value on the presence of Christ.
But we must take care, first of all, that those who are desirous to have Christ present with them shall assemble in his name; and we must likewise understand what is the meaning of this expression; for we perceive how ungodly men falsely and impudently, as well as wickedly, cover their conspiracies with his sacred name. If therefore we do not wish to expose Christ to their ridicule, and at the same time to overturn what he has here promised, we must know first of all what is meant by this phrase. It means that those who are assembled together, laying aside every thing that hinders them from approaching to Christ, shall sincerely raise their desires to him, shall yield obedience to his word, and allow themselves to be governed by the Spirit. Where this simplicity prevails, there is no reason to fear that Christ will not make it manifest that it was not in vain for the assembly to meet in his name.
In this is displayed the gross ignorance of the Papists, who exclaim that Councils could not err, and that all ought to abide by their decisions, because, as often as two or three are assembled in the name of Christ, he is in the midst of them. But we ought first of all to inquire whether those persons, as to whose faith, and doctrine, and dispositions, we are in doubt, were assembled in the name of Christ. When the Papists leave out or perplex this matter, who does not see that they dexterously confound the distinction between holy and profane assemblies, so that the power of doing any thing is taken from the Church and conveyed to the sworn enemies of Christ? Let us therefore know that none but the pious worshippers of God, who sincerely seek Christ, are encouraged to entertain the confident hope that he will never leave them. Disregarding the bastard and abortive Councils, which out of their own head have woven a web, let Christ alone, with the doctrine of his Gospel, be always exalted amongst us.
20. For where two or three are gathered together in [or ‘unto’—εἰς] my name, there am I in the midst of them. On this passage—so full of sublime encouragement to Christian union in action and in prayer—observe, first, the connection in which it stands. Our Lord had been speaking of church-meetings, before which the obstinate perversity of a brother was, in the last resort, to be brought, and whose decision was to be final—such honour does the Lord of the Church put upon its lawful assemblies. But not these assemblies only does He deign to countenance and honour. For even two uniting to bring any matter before Him shall find that they are not alone, for My Father is with them, says Jesus. Next, observe the premium here put upon union in prayer. As this cannot exist with fewer than two, so by letting it down so low as that number, He gives the utmost conceivable encouragement to union in this exercise. But what kind of union? Not an agreement merely to pray in concert, but to pray for some definite thing. “As touching anything which they shall ask,” says our Lord—anything they shall agree to ask in concert. At the same time, it is plain He had certain things at that moment in His eye, as most fitting and needful subjects for such concerted prayer. The Twelve had been “falling out by the way” about the miserable question of precedence in their Master’s kingdom, and this, as it stirred their corruptions, had given rise—or at least was in danger of giving rise—to “offences” perilous to their souls. The Lord Himself had been directing them how to deal with one another about such matters. “But now shows He unto them a more excellent way.” Let them bring all such matters—yea, and everything whatsoever by which either their own loving relationship to each other, or the good of His kingdom at large, might be affected—to their Father in heaven; and if they be but agreed in petitioning Him about that thing, it shall be done for them of His Father which is in heaven. But further, it is not merely union in prayer for the same thing—for that might be with very jarring ideas of the thing to be desired—but it is to symphonious prayer [as the word signifies—συμφωνήσωσιν], to prayer by kindred spirits, members of one family, servants of one Lord, constrained by the same love, fighting under one banner, cheered by assurances of the same victory; a living and loving union, whose voice in the Divine ear is as the sound of many waters. Accordingly, what they ask “on earth” is done for them, says Jesus, “of my Father which is in heaven.” Not for nothing does He say, “of my Father”—not “your Father;” as is evident from what follows: “For where two or three are gathered together unto my name”—the “My” is emphatic [εἰς τὸ ἐμὸν ὄνομα] “there am I in the midst of them.” As His name would prove a spell to draw together many clusters of His dear disciples, so if there should be but two or three, that will attract Himself down into the midst of them; and related as He is to both the parties, the petitioners and the Petitioned—to the one on earth by the tie of His assumed flesh, and to the other in heaven by the tie of His eternal Spirit—their symphonious prayers on earth would thrill upwards through Him to heaven, be carried by Him into the holiest of all, and so reach the Throne. Thus will He be the living Conductor of the prayer upward and the answer downward.
20. For where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them. The expression “two or three” is a development of “two” in the preceding verse. 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. For the concept “name” see also on 6:9; 7:22; 10:22, 41, 42; 12:21; 18:5.
The promise is, “There am I in the midst of them.” The expression “Jehovah (“God” or “I”) in the midst of you (“her,” “us”)” is in Scripture generally associated with the impartation of strength, direction, protection, and consolation: “to help, to comfort, and to bless.” See such passages as Ps. 46:5; Isa. 12:6; Jer. 14:9; Hos. 11:9; Zeph. 3:5, 15, 17; Zech. 2:10. Similar is “I am (“will be”) with you” (Gen. 28:15; Deut. 31:6; Josh. 1:5; Judg. 6:16, etc.). We can safely conclude therefore that in the present passage the meaning is the same. It is in that favorable sense that Jesus is spiritually in the midst of his people gathered for prayer and worship.
Most comforting is also the fact that Jehovah—and this holds also for Jesus Christ—though great and infinite, in his tender love condescends to that which is small, weak, humble, and by the world generally despised (Judg. 6:15, 16; 7:7; Ps. 20:7; Isa. 1:8, 9; 57:15; Zeph. 3:12; Matt. 18:10; Luke 12:32; 1 Cor. 4:11–13). This explains “where two or three are gathered, etc.” See also on Matt. 1:23, p. 141.
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 Chamblin, J. K. (2010). Matthew: A Mentor Commentary (pp. 897–899). Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor.
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