Markby Robert M. Solomon
If anyone gave the disciples (″you″, v. 41) a cup of water, he would be rewarded, but if he caused ″one of these little ones-those who believe in me-to stumble″, he would be severely punished (v. 42). The ″little ones″ referred to the disciples and to all who would follow Jesus. To illustrate, the little child (vv. 36-37) was probably still there. Woe to anyone who would mislead vulnerable disciples, such as the little child and other new converts.
It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone (these were used to grind grain with the help of a donkey, unlike the smaller versions used in the kitchen) tied around the neck (v. 42), which would result in physical death. To be thrown into hell would be a far worse experience.
Jesus then turned the disciples' attention from rewards to sacrifice. It is better to sacrifice a sinning hand or foot or eye than to go to hell with it (vv. 43-47). The striking instruction to cut off hands and feet or to pluck off eyes is not to be taken literally. One can still sin without a hand, foot, or eye if the root of sin is not dealt with. The imagery points to the necessity of self-denial-of not offering parts of one's body to sin (Romans 6:13). One must deny the sinning part its sinful tendencies. The antidote to the sinning parts is to sacrifice the whole self to God (Romans 6:13) as a living sacrifice (12:1). Every part must be consecrated to God. It is better to sacrifice temporary pleasure for future glory than to give in to temptation and suffer eternally for it.
Jesus quoted Isaiah 66:24 (the last verse in that book) to describe hell (v. 48). The metaphors used emphasise eternal punishment in hell. Jesus then taught that ″everyone will be salted with fire″ (v. 49). In the Old Testament, salt was added to sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13). Fire represents the purifying of our faith (cf. 1 Peter 1:7) and salt probably represents the trials and testing added through suffering and persecution. Suffering would be an essential part of discipleship (to make us holy) and we must be prepared to sacrifice anything, even our lives, in order to remain faithful to the Lord. We must remain ″salty″ (v. 50)-which would result in peace-for us and others.
Read Matthew 23:15. How can new converts be dangerously led astray? Is this happening today? What can you do about it?
How can you consecrate each part of your body and life to Jesus? How can you deny yourself when you are tempted to sin?