WHAT DOES MATTHEW 18:19-20 REALLY MEAN?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“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.” This verse, Matthew 18:19, is commonly used to teach that where two Christians pray in agreement, their prayer request will be answered without exception. They can pray for anything and have the assurance that God will hear them and grant their request. Is this really what this verse teaches?
Interestingly, the next verse is also used in a bizarre manner: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). How should we take this verse? Today, it is taught that where two or three Christians are gathered, God mysteriously manifests Himself. When these two or three Christians disband, God allegedly leaves too. (And just where does He go?! Is that an implication of loss of salvation?!)
Verses 15 through 20 are one unit, so the key to understanding Matthew 18:19-20 is to get the thought flow of all six verses: “ 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.  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.”
Firstly, we note the context—the local assembly of Jewish believers, Israel’s little flock. Please note that, contrary to popular belief, the “church” of verse 17 is not the Church the Body of Christ or a local assembly of Christians today. It refers to Israel’s believing remnant, her kingdom saints, those who have accepted Jesus as Messiah. In verse 18, the Bible talks about whatever is bound on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven. Of what phrase is this reminiscent? Jesus had uttered similar words in Matthew 16:19 when discussing the divine authority He had given to Peter and the other 11 apostles of the Jerusalem Church.
We read in Matthew 16:16-19 about the Messianic Church: “ And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.  And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
With this fresh in our minds, we return to Matthew 18:15-20 to expound. Re-scanning the text, we understand that it is how rebellious believing kingdom Jews were to be corrected from their error. In short, the passage describes authority in the Messianic Church. If a believing Jew is disorderly, he or she should be reprimanded before the leaders of the kingdom church, particularly the 12 apostles. Remember, once Jesus Christ leaves planet earth in Acts chapter 1, He leaves the 12 apostles to function in His absence. On the day of Pentecost, Acts chapter 2, He will send the Holy Spirit on them. The Spirit of God will empower them to continue preaching and doing what He had preached and done for the previous three years in Matthew through John. To take official action in Jesus Christ’s absence, two or three kingdom Jews in the leadership position had to agree. These verses have nothing to do with Gentiles in the Dispensation of Grace and members of the Church the body of Christ claiming prayer promises and spiritual breakthroughs. But, those verses did have a fascinating impact on us!
SUPPLMENTAL: THE QUORUM THAT AFFECTED US
Oddly, people who enjoy stressing Matthew 18:19-20 in the context of prayer promises, usually never bother to study and learn how that passage sheds great light on the famous Acts-15 Jerusalem Council that Paul described in Galatians chapter 2: “ But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:  But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;  (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)  And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.  Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.”
When James, Cephas (Peter) and John—note three individuals leading the Jerusalem Church—were deliberating how to address Paul’s ministry amongst the Gentiles, they agreed to loose themselves from their Gentile commission (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). These three apostles turned Gentiles over to Paul and Barnabas. Jesus Christ Himself by the Holy Ghost—in the apostles/persons of James, Peter, and John—further validated Paul’s ministry as being a part of God’s plan. Thus, the expression is fulfilled, “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.”
» What is “the Lord’s house?”
» Is the Church the Body of Christ the “church” spoken of in Matthew 16:18?
» Who was Judas’ replacement—Matthias or Paul?