The verse Matthew 18:20 states “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” This is a powerful promise from Jesus that whenever believers gather together in His name, He is present among them. But what is the deeper meaning and significance of this verse? Let’s explore it in more detail.
The Context of Matthew 18:20
To properly understand any verse, it’s important to look at the surrounding context. Matthew 18 contains Jesus’ teachings on relationships within the church community. Jesus gave instructions on how to handle conflict among believers, the importance of seeking after those who wander from the faith, and the role of forgiveness and accountability.
Verse 20 comes as part of a concluding thought after Jesus explained the process of confronting sin within the church. He highlights the authority given to the church to bind and loose, meaning to hold people accountable or offer forgiveness based on their repentance (v. 18). He then notes how prayer among believers carries special power – “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (v. 19).
Verse 20 follows this with an additional promise: Jesus will be present wherever two or three gather in His name. So in its immediate context, this verse relates to Jesus’ instructions on relationships and discipline within the Christian community. His presence is promised in the midst of the difficult but necessary work of confronting sin and offering forgiveness.
The Key Words in Matthew 18:20
To grasp the full meaning of this verse, it helps to look closely at the key words and phrases:
“For where two or three are gathered…” – The number two or three stresses how Jesus is present even in the smallest of gatherings. Christianity is lived out in community, no matter how small.
“in my name…” – This means to gather with Jesus as the focus and with a desire to honor Him. It is not just a casual gathering, but a purposed assembly in the name of the Lord.
“there am I among them” – Jesus promises His actual presence among His people whenever they assemble in His name. He is not merely present in spirit, but present “among them.”
So in summary, when even just a couple believers gather together with a focus on Jesus, He promises to be personally present right there with them.
The Significance and Blessing of Jesus’ Presence
What does it mean to have Jesus present among His gathered people? It carries deep spiritual significance and blessing:
Guidance – Jesus promised His disciples “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). His presence means He will guide, direct, and counsel His people.
Teaching – Jesus said “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” while giving teaching on relationships in the church. His presence is manifest through the teaching of His Word.
Discipline – Church discipline is hard but Jesus’ presence brings wisdom and sobriety to the process. He guides His people in upholding holiness.
Conviction – Being in Jesus’ presence brings conviction of sin that leads to repentance (James 4:8). It promotes godly sorrow and desire for righteousness.
Forgiveness – Jesus’ presence allows us to forgive as we have been forgiven and restore those who repent just as He restores us.
Power – There is supernatural power when God’s people gather together (Acts 4:31). Jesus’ presence releases this to accomplish His work.
Worship – God inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). Jesus’ presence allows us to encounter God profoundly in worship.
Prayer – Coming to God through Jesus gives power and right standing in prayer (John 14:13). His presence fuels effective, fervent prayer.
Communion – The Lord’s Supper is special communion with Jesus when His people gather together (1 Cor. 10:16). His presence is palpable at the table.
Unity – Jesus prayed His people would be one as He is with the Father (John 17:20-23). His unifying presence creates oneness.
Gifts – The various spiritual gifts are manifest when God’s people meet together (1 Cor. 14:26). Jesus empowers and directs their use.
So Jesus’ promised presence brings innumerable blessings. Believers can have confidence that when they gather together – no matter how small – Christ is truly with them.
Examples of Jesus’ Presence among His People
The Bible contains many examples of Jesus fulfilling His promise to be present when His followers gather in His name:
The Lord’s Supper – Jesus instituted this sacrament, saying “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (Matt. 26:26-28). Through the bread and cup, His presence is known at the Communion table.
Pentecost – The Spirit was poured out on believers gathered together prayerfully in the upper room (Acts 2:1-4). Jesus’ power was manifest among them.
Persecution – When Peter and John were released after being arrested and threatened, they gathered with believers and prayed. The place was shaken and all were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:23-31). Jesus’ presence strengthened and empowered them.
Cornelius’ House – While Peter was preaching the Gospel to Cornelius’ household, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all those listening (Acts 10:44-46). Jesus confirmed His acceptance of the Gentiles.
Macadonian Vision – Paul and his companions gathering to worship and fast received the vision directing them to preach the Gospel in Macedonia, changing the course of their ministry (Acts 16:9-10). Jesus guided them.
Thyatira Church – When rebuking them for tolerating false teaching, Jesus says “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze, knows your works” (Rev. 2:18-19). He was present, aware of their compromise.
Ephesian Church – Jesus praised this church for their perseverance and faithful labor. Though they had abandoned their first love, His presence remained among them as they boldly contended for the faith (Rev. 2:2-3, 6).
Throughout history we see Jesus present by His Spirit when His people gather, even in the smallest of groups, fulfilling His promise in Matthew 18:20.
How Should This Verse Impact Us?
Knowing that Christ Himself is present whenever believers gather together in His name is incredibly motivating and reassuring. Consider how it should impact us:
Value Small Gatherings – We don’t have to wait for large crowds to experience Jesus’ presence. He is with us in our small group Bible studies, prayer meetings, discipleship relationships, and Christian fellowship. Even when just 2-3 meet, He is there!
Gather Expectantly – When God’s people meet, we should come with expectation that Jesus will be present to bless, empower, and work. We should never just go through the motions but actively seek His presence.
Desire Unity – If even two or three unified can bring Christ’s presence, how much more the entire body of Christ coming together in purpose and spirit? We must lay aside petty differences and pursue genuine unity.
Make Christ Central – When we gather in His name, focused on Him, He has promised to be present. We must exalt Christ alone in our singing, preaching, praying and lives.
Rely on His Power – Ministry, discipline, conviction, forgiveness – all are hard. But we do not labor alone. However small our gathering, Jesus’ presence brings supernatural power.
Trust His Guidance – Jesus guides through His written Word and active presence. As we gather together submitted to Him, we can trust His leadership even when facing big decisions or unclear circumstances.
What an amazing promise! The all-powerful, ever-present Son of God draws near whenever His people meet together. May Matthew 18:20 fill us with faith and motivation as we gather in the name of Jesus.
Jesus’ Promise in Other Gospel Accounts
Matthew 18:20 is not the only place Jesus made such an incredible promise. Let’s look at a couple other examples:
Matthew 28:20 – At the very end of Matthew’s gospel, as Jesus commissions his disciples, He tells them, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” What follows is the story of the small band of disciples gathering together in Jerusalem, waiting, praying, and eventually receiving the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Even in their fear and uncertainty, Jesus was indeed present as promised.
John 14:18-20 – Jesus reassures His disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Here Jesus promises His continued presence even after the crucifixion. Through the Spirit, He would remain with them. And this promise extends to all believers!
John 20:19-23 – After the resurrection, the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors. Jesus came and stood among them saying, “Peace be with you.” He showed them His hands and side, commissioned them, and even breathed on them to receive the Holy Spirit. What a powerful demonstration of His promised presence, even in their fear and doubt.
Acts 18:9-10 – While in Corinth, God spoke to Paul in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you.” The Lord then reassured Paul that there were many people in that city He had chosen to know Him. Jesus encouraged Paul by reminding him of His empowering presence as he gathered to preach the Gospel.
Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus fulfilling His promise to be present when His followers gather together. What confidence this should give us! When we meet together in His name, we do not go alone.
Warnings about Gathering without Christ’s Presence
Jesus and other New Testament writers warned about the danger of gathering together while lacking a focus on Christ:
Matthew 12:43-45 – Jesus uses an analogy of a demon who returns with more wicked spirits to a house that was empty, swept clean and put in order. He warns that a generation that has received blessing, cleansing and order but remains empty of His presence is in a precarious place. Their worship is hollow and leaves them vulnerable.
Matthew 23:13-36 – Jesus rebuked the teachers of the law and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Though they honored God with their lips, their hearts were far from Him. They focused on external adherence to the law but neglected justice, mercy and faithfulness. Their gatherings lacked a submission to God’s Word and presence.
1 Corinthians 11:17-22 – Paul scolds the Corinthians for their divisions and factions when they came together to eat. Selfishness and disregard for one another at the Lord’s Supper made their gathering unacceptable. They were not seeing Christ’s presence among them.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 – Paul warns that a time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine but gather around teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear. When the focus shifts from Christ to our preferences, His presence lifts.
Hebrews 10:19-25 – The writer of Hebrews encourages believers to draw near to God, hold fast to faith, and stir one another to love and good works through meeting together. The emphasis is on Christ-centered gathering that actually accomplishes God’s work in one another.
The warnings are clear: meeting together in name only – focused on tradition, ritual, preferences or even selfish ambition – carries great danger. We must gather together with Jesus as the center and with a desire for His presence and purposes if we want to experience the blessing He promises.
Promises of God’s Presence beyond Matthew 18:20
While Matthew 18:20 contains an amazing promise specifically when believers gather together, the broader Bible is filled with promises of God’s presence with His people in all circumstances:
Exodus 33:14-15 – God promised Moses “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” His presence would lead them and give them favor in the Promised Land.
Deuteronomy 31:6 – As Joshua was to lead Israel after Moses’ death, the Lord commanded him: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
1 Chronicles 28:20 – David charges his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.”
Psalm 46:1 – “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” He promises to be our helper and strength, especially in times of need.
Isaiah 41:10 – “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Matthew 1:23 – The angel tells Joseph that Jesus would be called “Immanuel which means, God with us.” Through Christ, God drew near and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).
Matthew 28:20 – As mentioned above, as Jesus sends out His disciples He promises “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What amazing promises of God’s nearness both in our corporate gatherings and in the everyday moments of life. As Charles Spurgeon said, “It is impossible for us to lose sight of [God’s] presence with us. Let us seek Him always. The Lord is near to all who call upon him.” Let us continually seek His presence.
Matthew 18:20 contains an incredible promise and blessing from Jesus Christ. He pledges to be present whenever even just two or three of His followers gather together in His name and with a focus on Him. This reality can encourage us to value small gatherings, seek unity, and make Christ central in all we do as a community of believers. When He is present as promised, we experience guidance, conviction, power, and transformation.
But we must heed the warnings not to gather together in name only, focused instead on tradition, preferences or selfish ambition over truly meeting with Jesus. May we gather often before God together, expectant and dependent on the supernatural presence of Christ in our midst according to His certain promise in Matthew 18:20.