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Is the Lord Jesus in the midst of believers only when they meet as assemblies, or is He in the midst when a family gathers for prayer, or a few of the saints do so at other times?

The answer to this question lies in the context of Matthew 18 where the Lord announces the wonderful fact that "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (v.20). In the immediate context the word "church" is used twice by the Lord Jesus (v.17). The gathering therefore in v.20 is a meeting of believers in the setting of a local assembly. This statement by the Lord is really the seed kernel of truth concerning the local assembly in the New Testament Scriptures.

The Lord Jesus is referring to a company of believers in assembly fellowship, for it is a place of shepherd care (vv.12-14). It is a place that can be appealed to if discipline needs to be carried out (vv.15-17). It is a place where the Lord has given power to the assembly to act in His Name in carrying out His word. It is a place that can act upon what heaven has already decided, working out God’s mind in the assembly (v.18). It is a place of collective prayer, for the excommunication of a person from an assembly is not an end in itself, but united prayer can be engaged in to see the disciplined one restored (v.19).

All these aspects in the verses cited apply to the fellowship and activity of a local assembly. This is certainly not to say that families cannot enjoy the Lord’s presence, but what we have in Matthew 18.20 is the only ground of gathering for Christians as a local assembly. This would not make sense if we applied it to any social or informal gathering outside the assembly. The Lord Jesus, then, is present in the assembly in a particular and specific sense, different from what may be experienced in the home sphere, for clearly He is the Living Centre of His people when gathered in His Name and it is He that exercises authority and control in the assembly. It should be pointed out that the gathering of v.20 is not restricted to a prayer meeting, but is applicable whenever the saints gather for a Scriptural meeting of the assembly.

John J Stubbs

Is the Sermon on the Mount only for Israel? In what way are our sins not forgiven if we do not forgive others (Mt 6.12)?

It is well known that the object of Matthew in writing his Gospel was to establish that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the promised Messiah and that He was the rightful heir to the throne of David; thus as Matthew writes, primarily to the Jews, he portrays Him as the King. A pious Jew might well ask – "If He is to rule, what will be the laws of His Kingdom?". These are set out in chs.5-7 (the so-called Sermon on the Mount) of this Gospel.

Some would give this discourse a specifically Christian interpretation. However, we cannot put into this "sermon" exclusively Church teachings and say that all that is found here is to be interpreted with the present dispensation in view. Indeed, much in this passage appears in connection with the earth. The Sermon on the Mount is the proclamation of the King concerning His Kingdom; that Kingdom is not the Church. It is the Millennial earth and the Kingdom to come in which Jerusalem will be "the city of the great King" (Mt 5.35). To those who would ask whether this sermon has exclusively in view the Millennial age, the answer is, "No!", if for no other reason than that there will not be the persecution of the godly in those days, whereas certain parts of chs.5-7 present times of stress and persecution.

The correct interpretation of these chapters will have in view not only the Millennium but also the days on earth following the Rapture of the Church, a period of at least seven years. Yet this does not exclude the application of the teaching here to ourselves who are His heavenly people.

As to the second part of the question, the verse quoted, "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Mt 6.12), forms part of "the disciples’ prayer" (often incorrectly referred to as "the Lord’s prayer"). The corresponding petition in Luke’s Gospel is "forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us" (11.4). In the judgment of the present writer, it would not be fitting, in this age of grace, to pray for forgiveness on the ground that we also forgive others. The present order, under grace, reverses this concept: "forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you" (Eph 4.32). Thus we forgive because we have been forgiven, not in order that we might be forgiven.

David E West

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