Jesus wasn’t joking in the below listed verses in Matt. 18:1-9. One could say he was using a “hyperbole” (Greek hyperbole “exaggeration”) which means to exaggerate to create emphasis or effect as a rhetorical device or figure of speech, or one could also suggest he meant exactly what he said.
Matt 18:1 1At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
Mark 9:42–48 describes Jesus’ words in a similar way, and Gehenna is described “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched”.
Jesus speaks to his own believing disciples. He doesn’t say that sinning results in reduced gifts in heaven but rather that we are risking to end up in hell which is rather serious. Maybe we prefer a Jesus who turns a blind eye to our sins, but this only works IF we repent from them (and thereafter live in righteousness). Only then are the past sins removed. It’s amazing that God has arranged so that we can be completely cleansed from our sins and get access to his Kingdom! Jesus went through a lot of suffering to make this possible. So, does Jesus suggest that we should cut off body parts if they make us sin? Yes, I believe he does, but think about it…When we stand there ready to chop off a hand with an ax, wouldn’t we rather CONFESS our sins, REPENT and avoid sinning?! Wouldn’t that be a much better alternative? This is an offer provided to us by Jesus. John says:
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Now, THAT is a much better alternative and it doesn’t contradict what Jesus says in Matt 18:8. Note that Jesus doesn’t say “If you have sinned you must as a punishment cut off that body part that made you sin”. We shouldn’t think that Jesus wants us to cut off body parts when we have sinned because that is not what he is saying. That wouldn’t make the sin be undone. He rather means that there are no acceptable excuses to sin IN THE FUTURE. Whether we are talking about kleptomania, mythomania, pyromania, gluttony, fraud, adultery, outlived homosexuality or alcoholism, there are no valid excuses to continue with those sins, and we can’t blame our sins on anyone or anything. We can never excuse our sins with “I’m born this way” or that we don’t have a choice because we just obeyed our bodies. Paul says:
1 Kor 9:27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
Who in their right mind would say “I know I could confess my sins and repent and I would be cleansed from all my sins BUT I prefer to chop my hands off to make absolutely sure I won’t sin with them again”? That would be rather foolish. It’s not certain that it will always be easy to avoid living in the flesh, but all things are possible for Jesus. Without the aid from the Holy Spirit it might be difficult to bring our bodies into subjection, but if we let ourselves be guided by Him we can make it. Prayers, fasting, persistence and support from other christians might very well be needed.
Matt 5:27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
Notice that it’s a sin “to lust” after a woman. It’s not a sin to accidentally meet a woman and find her amazingly attractive, and you might be forced to be around pretty girls on a daily basis at work or somewhere else. It’s a sin to look at a woman in reality or on pictures/films with the aim “to lust”, and it’s a sin to intentionally seek situations that can make you be tempted and which can lead to sin. Even if we avoid clear traps and tempting situations, Satan might still present them to us. We can’t escape from living in this world. A tempting thought doesn’t have to be a sin in itself. Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert and I’m sure he desired to get something to eat and had such pictures in his head when the devil brought up the topic. It would have been a sin for Jesus to eat during a time when eating was not allowed, but despite the tempting thought he still chose to not give in for it and sin. God sees our hearts and he knows very well what we do or don’t do to avoid tempting situations, and also what we do to get out of difficult situations that we are already in and which we never even asked for. God doesn’t ask for the impossible.