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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 14: Matthew 17:24-18:16, by Kevin M. Williams

These witnesses accompany you to listen to what is said. They hear your side of the story and then they hear the other person’s side of the story. They listen to the debate and they witness the goings-on. They ask probing questions in an effort to determine the truth of the matter. By its very nature, this exercise intimates to the alleged sinner that if they do not repent, there will be a third step. Potentially, out of fear of being exposed to the greater congregation they will come to true repentance.

If however, repentance does not occur, these witnesses then stand up before the congregation and explain what they witnessed. The congregation—and in many cases those appointed by the congregation, an elder or elders, or a pastor—using their collective wisdom decide the matter. Not you and not the witnesses.

“And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer” (Matthew 18:17).

For some congregations, this means the unrepentant sinner is to be “cut off.” Ironically, many of these same churches would say that though the Torah is no longer applicable, they would apply the Torah notion of “cutting off” sinners from their midst. Yeshua says no such thing. In fact, His admonition is full of grace. Who needed repentance and biblical instruction? It was the Gentiles and the tax-gatherers that did! Would they have a chance to hear and learn the errors of their ways if they were “cut off?”

Obviously their sin cannot be tolerated, and whatever steps need to be taken to protect others in the congregation need to be taken—diligently. Some congregations refuse to serve those under congregational discipline communion, and most remove them from any public service within the body and require them to undergo counseling. But Yeshua does not call for them to be cut off.

Does it ever reach that point? It can. There are instances where the unrepentant become completely disruptive and the house of worship becomes defiled. But kicking the person out is the last step, handing them over to “Satan for the destruction of his flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5). With the Torah as His sure foundation, what Yeshua is teaching is biblical jurisprudence.

“Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

Lift this verse out of context, and it can become a dangerous gavel to pound into law all variety of unsound doctrine. Following on the steps of the jurisprudence above, it is a gavel, but one that establishes rule of conduct. In other words, if a person in the congregation is found guilty of sin and is clearly unrepentant, and the decision is reached to begin congregational discipline, then that ruling is established in heaven as well. And if after time, the sinner repents and it is decided to admit him or her back into the congregation, then that sentence is “loosed in heaven.”

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Summer 2004

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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