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Where two or three are gathered… About Prayer or Judgement? Misunderstanding regarding Matthew 18:20

Mat 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Quoted by people in congregations around the world this particular verse is taken to mean that God is present in the midst of two or three people who are engaged in Prayer. But the context of the passage provides a different picture. At the onset I wish to say that I do not disagree that God hears the prayer of two or three people gathered in His name. But we would also agree that He also hears us when we are alone. So what then is the meaning of Yeshua‘s words in Matthew 18:20? Let’s look at the context of the passage.

Mat 18:1-4 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Our journey starts with a question that the Disciples ask. “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”. To which Messiah says that all must convert (Turn Around – Strepho – G4762) meaning repent and turn back to God as humble little children to be called great in the Kingdom of God.

Mat 18:5-7 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!

Now Christ regards a believer who has turned to God as a “little child” and speaks of not “offending” (cause to stumble / lead to sin – Scandalizo – 4624) them, meaning leading them away from God. Yeshua bemoans such people who make others stumble. So far this passage sounds eerily familiar to what He said in Matthew 5:19 “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Here He explained who would be great in the Kingdom of God. In both places warnings are set towards those who lead His Children away from His word.

Mat 18:8-10 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

Yeshua’s words continue in the same line of thinking. If a hand or foot meaning a fellow believer makes others stumble it is better to cut those limbs off, as otherwise the whole body could be in danger of missing everlasting life. He further explains that even if it is an eye meaning a person in leadership who is causing the body to stumble, it is better for the eye to be removed rather than the whole congregation being led away from His Kingdom. Yeshua expressly speaks to the disciples not to belittle/disesteem the new believers, calling them “little ones” as they are of great worth to God. This is an instruction from Christ to His Disciples to be vigilant of the body, so that no part or individual becomes a threat to the whole; especially those who could stumble easily. He would reconfirm this thought in verses 15-17.

Mat 18:11-14 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

Yeshua brings the parable of the Shepherd to show how much He cares for the lone soul. He is still advising the Disciples how much they should care for even the newest of the believers – the “little ones”.

Mat 18:15-17 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

In the same thought as removing the limb or the eye, Messiah explains of how this task should be carried out. First the issue should be brought to light one on one. If the person refuses the counsel, then two or three witnesses should confirm it to the individual. If the person still refuses to change his/her ways, then it is brought forward to the whole congregation/assembly after which the person is cut off from the assembly if corrective measures are not taken. It is important to note that Paul gives the same advice to the Corinthians in two instances (1Cor 5:1-5, 2Cor 2:5-11).

Mat 18:18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:18 speaks of “Binding” and “Loosing” which were the terms used in First Century Judaism for “Prohibiting” and “Permitting”. The power to prohibit and permit was in the hands of the Pharisees in the first century as per the writings of  Josephus:

War of the Jews Book I, Chapter 5, Section 2  …and became themselves[the pharisees] the real administrators of the public affairs: they banished and reduced whom they pleased; they bound and loosed at their pleasure….

There is further proof to say that the belief of God agreeing with earthly rulings were also prevalent in First Century Judaism as seen in the Talmud below:

Talmud Makkot 23b …There are three matters that the earthly court implemented and the heavenly court agreed with them, and these are they: Reading the Scroll of Esther on Purim, and greeting another with the name of God, and bringing the first tithe to the Temple treasury in Jerusalem…

In the case of the passage in question, Yeshua is giving this authority to His Disciples over His Congregation. They could prohibit or permit anything in the assembly according to God’s Word and it would be seen as valid before God. The greatest example for this would be Acts 15. The same teaching is seen again in the second epistle of Clement to James where it mentions that Peter had named Clement of Rome (35 – 100AD) as his successor giving him the power of binding and loosing, as seen below.

Clementine Homilies – Introduction – Epistle of Peter to James, Chapter 2 Wherefore I communicate to him the power of binding and loosing, so that with respect to everything which he shall ordain in the earth, it shall be decreed in the heavens. For he shall bind what ought to be bound, and loose what ought to be loosed, as knowing the role of the Church.

Upto this point we have seen the teaching revolving around the congregation, taking care of the new believers and how to manage believers who disrupt the assembly. Yeshua gives the authority of such decisions to the Disciples here, and moves on to say…

Mat 18:18-20 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

As we come to the verse in question, we see that Yeshua gives authority of communal life to His Disciples and says even if two of them agree on earth regarding such issues, the Lord Himself stands amongst their midst. Such requests/decisions will be agreed upon by the Father in Heaven, as they are made from the standpoint of God’s Word. The same idea can be seen again in Jewish sources:

Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:2 But two who are sitting together and there are words of Torah [spoken] between them, the Divine Presence rests with them, as it is said (Malachi 3:16): “Then those who feared the Lord spoke one with another, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for those who feared the Lord and for those who thought upon His Name.”

Talmud, B’rakhot 6a From where is it derived that three who sit in judgment, the Divine Presence is with them? It is derived from this same verse, as it is stated: “In the midst of the judges He judges,” and the minimum number of judges that comprises a court is three. From where is it derived that two who sit and engage in Torah study, the Divine Presence is with them? As it is stated: “Then they that feared the Lord spoke one with the other, and the Lord listened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for them that fear the Lord, and that think upon His name” (Malachi 3:16). The Divine Presence listens to any two God-fearing individuals who speak with each other.

It is for the “Binding and Loosing” (Prohibiting or Permitting) powers that Yeshua bestowed upon His Disciples that He says He will be in agreement in their presence for such matters whether two or three are gathered. Prayer or other sorts of fellowship is not part of the context of this passage.

Conclusion
So we see that the phrase “For wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” is speaking regarding judgement and making Godly decisions. In this sort of situation, God stands in agreement with the Disciples. The decision taken by James and agreed upon by the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 is a perfect example of this. There is no doubt that God listens to our prayers whether we are alone or with one or more in fellowship. But according to context, the passage in question is not about prayer but judgements made before God.

Holy Communion and the Bread & Wine on the Table of Shewbread/Presence

As Christians we are all used to taking communion or partaking in the Lord’s Supper / Lord’s Table. It is a tradition that has been handed down through generations and is regarded as one of the most important customs carried out by Christians each sunday. Everyone understands the significance of the Bread and Wine being equaled to the Body and Blood of Christ. But do we really understand the real significance behind this Commemoration? Did it simply originate with Christ?

Now whether the Last Supper was a Passover Meal has been reviewed before here, so we will not be delving into that question again. The discoveries in that study led us to conclude that the Last Supper was a meal shared at the beginning of the 14th Day of the 1st Month of the Biblical Year. Although the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel seem to be contradicting each other, they all agreed that Christ died on the Passover and the Last Supper was held the night before. Even though the Last Supper seemed like a Passover seder, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the likeness of this theory. The Last Supper would have most probably been a Pre-Passover meal shared in celebration of the ushering in of the Passover day, and the upcoming Sacrifice, through which we came out of slavery to Sin, just as the Israelites came out of slavery to Egypt.

In this study we hope to find the reason behind Christ’s choice of Bread & Wine as a symbol and commemoration, and what it really means to partake of communion / Lord’s Supper / Lord’s Table.

This study is broken down into the following parts:
1. Christ speaks of the Body & the Blood
2. Covenants and the Covenant meals
3. The Table of Shewbread/Showbread
4. The Contents of The Table of Shewbread – Bread & Wine
5. The Table of the Lord
6. The Bread & Wine of the Old Testament and the New
7. Paul speaks of the Lord’s Table
8. Conclusion

1. Christ speaks of the Body & the Blood
On the eve before the Passover was killed, at the end of the 13th day and the beginning of the 14th day (The Biblical day starts at Sundown), Christ sat down with His Disciples to have His last meal – His Last Supper. The Day when the Passover Lamb was to be Sacrificed had begun. And as the Disciples were having their Supper, Yeshua – their teacher & master makes a parallel between His Body & Blood and the Bread & Wine that they consume.

Mat 26:26-28  And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Mar 14:22-24  And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.

Luk 22:14-20  And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

Joh 13:1-4  Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.

All 3 Gospels that record the breaking of bread and drinking of wine note the parallelism brought by Christ. Only John is silent in this sense, indicating that the Supper was before the Feast of Passover and moving onto the washing of feet after the meal. It is a fact that Yeshua equaled the bread to His Body and the wine to His Blood of the New Covenant. Even as Moses ratified the Covenant with Blood(Exo 24:8), Christ also ratifies the New Covenant with His Blood. So from the above we conclude as all agree:

The Bread = Yeshua’s Body
The Wine = Yeshua’s Blood

2. Covenants and the Covenant meals
Although Bread and Wine are not specifically mentioned we see that Covenants preceded with a meal between the two parties in celebration of the agreement at hand. We see such meals taking place between Abimelech/Isaac as well with God and the Elders of Israel. God wanted the elders of Israel to have a Covenant Meal after ratifying the Covenant with blood before Him.

Gen 26:26-30  Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army. And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you? And they said, We saw certainly that the LORD was with thee: and we said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee; That thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace: thou art now the blessed of the LORD. And he made them a feast, and they did eat and drink.

Exo 24:1-11  And he said unto Moses, Come up unto the LORD, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off. And Moses alone shall come near the LORD: but they shall not come nigh; neither shall the people go up with him. And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do. And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words. Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.

After this Meal Moses straight away ascended the mountain and received instructions from God, of which the first was on making a Tabernacle for God. And one of the integral parts in this tent of meeting, was a table which stood in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle.

3. The Table of Shewbread/Showbread
The “Table of Showbread” as it is called in some of our English Translations, is one of the lesser known articles in the Tabernacle. The “shulchan lechem paneem” mentioned in Exo 25:30 can be directly translated as the “Table(shulchan) of the Bread(lechem) of Faces(paneem)” and is also translated in some of our English Bibles as Table of Bread of the Presence(because God was meeting face to face). The Table was one of the 3 Items mentioned to be placed inside the Holy Place of the Tabernacle alongside the Altar of Incense and The Golden Lampstand(Menorah).

Exo 25:23-30  Thou shalt also make a table of shittim wood: two cubits shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, and make thereto a crown of gold round about. And thou shalt make unto it a border of an hand breadth round about, and thou shalt make a golden crown to the border thereof round about. And thou shalt make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings in the four corners that are on the four feet thereof. Over against the border shall the rings be for places of the staves to bear the table. And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be borne with them. And thou shalt make the dishes thereof, and spoons thereof, and covers thereof, and bowls thereof, to cover withal: of pure gold shalt thou make them. And thou shalt set upon the table shewbread before me alway.

Exo 40:22,23  And he put the table in the tent of the congregation, upon the side of the tabernacle northward, without the vail. And he set the bread in order upon it before the LORD; as the LORD had commanded Moses.

2Ch 29:18  Then they went in to Hezekiah the king, and said, We have cleansed all the house of the LORD, and the altar of burnt offering, with all the vessels thereof, and the shewbread table, with all the vessels thereof.

Heb 9:2  For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.

4. The Contents of The Table of Shewbread – Bread & Wine
The Table inside the Holy Place had twelve Loaves of Bread. Each loaf was made of two tenth deals (Approximately 3.5Kg) which would have made each loaf quite large in size. The Table also carried dishes, spoons, bowls and covers(qasah-cups) to cover(Nawsak-Pour) Drink Offerings. Prepared every Sabbath, the 12 Loaves of Bread signified the 12 Tribes of Israel as it is set in order before YHVH being taken from the Children of Israel by an Everlasting Covenant. The 12 loaves together represented the whole of Israel. When the new loaves were set on the Sabbath the old ones were taken away, and none but the priests were allowed to eat them. The Drink Offering for which the Cups were placed on the table, carried Wine; as the Drink Offerings were made exclusively with Wine(Exo 29:40, Lev 23:13, Num 15:5,7,10, Num 28:14). The Table of Presence/Showbread was also known as “The Table” & “The Pure Table”.

Lev 24:5-9  And thou shalt take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes thereof: two tenth deals shall be in one cake. And thou shalt set them in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before the LORD. And thou shalt put pure frankincense upon each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire unto the LORD. Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. And it shall be Aaron’s and his sons’; and they shall eat it in the holy place: for it is most holy unto him of the offerings of the LORD made by fire by a perpetual statute.

Num 4:7,8  And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and covers to cover(Nesek-Drink Offering) withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon: And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet, and cover the same with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put in the staves thereof.

Exo 37:16  And he made the vessels which were upon the table, his dishes, and his spoons, and his bowls, and his covers to cover withal, of pure gold.

1Ki 7:48  And Solomon made all the vessels that pertained unto the house of the LORD: the altar of gold, and the table of gold, whereupon the shewbread was,

2Ch 13:11  And they burn unto the LORD every morning and every evening burnt sacrifices and sweet incense: the shewbread also set they in order upon the pure table; and the candlestick of gold with the lamps thereof, to burn every evening: for we keep the charge of the LORD our God; but ye have forsaken him.

1Ch 9:32  And other of their brethren, of the sons of the Kohathites, were over the shewbread, to prepare it every sabbath.

It is stated in the Mishnah ” teaches that they(priests) used to lift it up and exhibit the Shewbread thereon to those who came up for the Festivals, saying to them, Behold the love in which you are held by God! –Menachoth 96b & 29a. Why did the Priests say “Behold the love in which you are held by God!”? The table represented the Covenant God had made with Israel – the bread resembling Israel while the Wine most probably resembled the Blood of the Covenant.

5. The Table of the Lord
The Table of Showbread was also known as the “Table of the Lord”, and God Himself calls it “My Table”. The Table of Showbread was the only Table that had any connection to God. Built according to specific instructions by God, this Table was where He came face to face (hence “Lekhem-Pawneem” which means Bread of the Faces commonly translated as showbread or bread of the presence) with Israel. The other main feature of the table was the Drink offering which is Wine – known as the Blood of grapes(Gen 49:11, Deut 32:14). The Bread and Wine on His Table signifying coming face to face or having Fellowship with His Children in remembrance of His Covenant was surely an integral part of the Tabernacle. Every Sabbath, the bread was renewed and the Table with its bread and wine was before the face of God continually.

Mal 1:7  Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible.

Mal 1:12  But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the LORD is polluted; and the fruit thereof, even his meat, is contemptible.

Eze 44:16  They shall enter into my sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table, to minister unto me, and they shall keep my charge.

Eze 41:22  The altar of wood was three cubits high, and the length thereof two cubits; and the corners thereof, and the length thereof, and the walls thereof, were of wood: and he said unto me, This is the table that is before the LORD.

6. The Bread & Wine of the Old Testament and the New
According to Lev 24:8 the Table was set on behalf of the Children of Israel by the Everlasting Covenant. If the Wine kept on the Table of Shewbread symbolized the Blood of The Covenant and the Bread symbolized the Children of Israel, Then the Bread and Wine symbolized in the Old Testament Scriptures and the New Testament writings could be categorized as below.

Old Testament Scriptures

New Testament Writings

Bread symbolizes Israel

Bread symbolizes Christ’s Body

Wine symbolizes the Blood of the Mosaic Covenant

Wine symbolizes the Blood of the New Covenant

7. Paul speaks of the Lord’s Table
Paul speaks of the Lord’s Table in connection with a specific issues that the Corinthian Congregation was having – Eating meat from the markets which could have been selling animals which were sacrificed at pagan temples (which was common at that time). A more detailed study on this subject can be read here. Paul speaks of the “cup of blessing” and the “communion of the blood of Christ”. The “Bread” and the “communion of the body of Christ”. and then he says we are the body of Christ. According to the above comparisons of Bread in  the Old Testament and New, it could be said that Yeshua equated His body to the body of Israel. In other words we are all His body and a part of Israel – God’s Chosen people. Paul also speaks of Israelites by birth who partake in the altar (which is the tabernacle). Why did Paul bring a connection of the Tabernacle to the blood and body of Christ? Was it because he understood the origins of the Communion we partake? Was his reference to the “Lord’s Table” one which spoke of the Table of Shewbread?

1Co 10:15-21  I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

8. Conclusion
While we are used to calling Communion as the “Lord’s Table”, the only Table of the Lord in the Scriptures was the Table of Shewbread, specifically made according to designs given by God. The Table of Presence as it is also called, was a Table in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle of God which carried Bread which symbolized Israel and the Drink Offering of Wine which probably Symbolized the Blood of the Covenant. The Table was to be before God continually with fresh loaves of Bread added each Sabbath. The Table represented a meeting of Faces(as it is called shulchan lechem paneem – Table of Bread of Faces) as in Communion/Fellowship and was a kind of eternal Covenant Meal where God remembered Israel and the Covenant He had with them. While Yeshua used the Bread and Wine to be equaled to His Body and Blood, the reason probably originated from the Original Lord’s Table. He was equaling Israel that He was going to reign over someday(Acts 1:6, Luk 1:33) to be His Body and equating the Blood He shed to the Blood of The Covenant, just as Moses ratified the Covenant with the Blood of the Covenant(Exo 24:8). As we partake of communion / Lord’s Supper / Lord’s Table we do remember the Covenant God has made with us and that we are His Body/His People. The Bread and Wine has deeper roots in the Scriptures than we thought, being connected to the Mosaic Covenant as well as the renewed Covenant. As often as we eat the bread and drink the wine, let us remember that we are His Body and we are saved only through the Blood of the Covenant which was shed for us. Let us partake of it without having any uncleanness as the Aaronic Priests also did. Let us remember God’s Love for us, and that His Covenant is before His face continually, forever.