“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
Be careful − this passage isn’t hanging out there all by itself; the scene has not changed from 18:1-5, this is Jesus continuing to speak to their question of who will be the greatest in the Kingdom. In case you missed the last section, they asked the question and Jesus called for a little child to join them and told the disciples that unless they become like that little child they cannot enter the Kingdom, and then He goes on to say the words in our passage above. Thus, the “little ones” are those who have become like a little child so they could enter the Kingdom.
It would also do us well to recall the larger context in which Jesus is trying to teach the disciples about His messianic mission, which was to die for the redemption of Mankind, and how His example would be one of selfless devotion to the will of God, setting self and selfish motives aside completely in doing so, and of course by extension, He is telling them that they should do the same. With all of this in mind, read the verses again, and they are easy to understand…
OK, you’ve got me; it is easy to understand if you realize that He was using just a touch of hyperbole.
A person in the Kingdom who sets self-centered motives aside to serve God may well appear to be weak in the eyes of this world, but this world would be mistaken, for such a person is acting with the strength of God, which is quite different than the world’s strength. Such a person may try to cause the “little one” to stumble along the way, and they may well succeed, but in doing so, they will encounter the very wrath of God in the process, and things will become dire for them in the end.
If we, the “little ones” should find that anything in our lives causes us to stumble, then it is to our great benefit to cut that thing off from our lives, even if that would seem to be a great loss, even if that seems to be very painful or difficult, and it is here that Jesus uses the hyperbole of body parts. Of course, He is not teaching the disciples to mutilate themselves! He is trying to make His point, and this is not the only place He uses hyperbole in doing so. What is His point? “Self” has got to go!