A. Jesus and John the Baptist.
1. (1-3) John the Baptist’s disciples ask a question on behalf of John to Jesus: are You really the Messiah (the Coming One)?
Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities. And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
a. When Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples: According to Bruce, to preach in their cities does not refer to the cities of the disciples, but the cities of Galilee. In this way Jesus gave His commissioned disciples room to do their work.
b. He sent two of his disciples: It is also possible – but perhaps less likely – that John did not ask this question for his own sake, but for the sake of his disciples – he wanted them to go to Jesus and ask the question for themselves, causing them to focus their attention on Jesus.
i. “John’s arrest was mentioned in Matthew 4:12; the full story of his imprisonment will wait until Matthew 14:3-12.” (France)
ii. “Herod Antipas of Galilee had paid a visit to his brother in Rome. During that visit he seduced his brother’s wife. He came home again, dismissed his own wife, and married the sister-in-law whom he had lured away from her husband. Publicly and sternly John rebuked Herod. It was never safe to rebuke an eastern despot and Herod took his revenge; John was thrown into the dungeons of the fortress of Machaerus in the mountains near the Dead Sea.” (Barclay)
c. Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another: John 1:29-36 and other passages indicated that before this, John clearly recognized Jesus as the Messiah. His present doubt may be explained because perhaps he himself had misunderstood the ministry of the Messiah. Perhaps he thought that if Jesus were really the Messiah, He would perform works connected with a political deliverance of Israel – or at least the deliverance of John, who was in prison.
i. It is possible that John made a mistaken distinction between the Coming One and the Christ, the Messiah. There is some indication that some Jews of that time distinguished between a prophet to come promised by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15) and the Messiah. The dominant note here is one of confusion; John’s long trial in prison has confused him.
2. (4-6) Jesus’ answer to John the Baptist’s disciples: tell John that prophecy regarding the Messiah is being fulfilled.
Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
a. Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: Jesus wanted to assure both John and his disciples that He was the Messiah. But He also reminded them that His power would be displayed mostly in humble acts of service, meeting individual needs, and not in spectacular displays of political deliverance.
i. We might phrase John’s question like this: “Jesus, why aren’t You doing more?” Morgan answered this: “To all such restless impatience, He utters the same warning…For the most part, the way of the Lord’s service is the way of plodding perseverance in the doing of apparently small things. The history of the Church shows that this is one of the lessons most difficult to learn.”
ii. “Why is it that, in these days, it is said that the miracles are rather a trial of faith than a support of it? An unbelieving generation turns even food into poison.” (Spurgeon)
b. Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me: Jesus knew that the focus of His ministry was offensive to the expectation of the Jewish people, who longed for political deliverance from Roman domination. But there was a blessing for those who were not offended because of the Messiah who came against the expectation of the people.
i. “A friend has turned these words into another beatitude – The blessedness of the unoffended.” (Meyer)
ii. “Blessed is he who can be left in prison, can be silenced in his testimony, can seem to be deserted of his Lord, and yet can shut out every doubt. John speedily regained this blessedness, and fully recovered his serenity.” (Spurgeon)
3. (7-15) Jesus speaks about John.
As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.’ Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
a. A prophet… and more than a prophet: Jesus reminded them that John was God’s chosen herald of the Messiah, not a man-pleaser or a self-pleaser. He was in fact more than a prophet, because he alone had the ministry of serving as the Messiah’s herald. For that, he was the greatest of prophets and the greatest of men (among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist).
i. This is he of whom it is written: Matthew noted that this ministry of the Messiah’s herald was prophesied in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1.
ii. Though some might put John in a bad light because of his seeming doubts regarding Jesus, Jesus Himself spoke quite highly of John. “John had often borne witness to Jesus; now Jesus bears witness of John.” (Carson)
· John was steady, not shaken easily like a reed.
· John was sober, in that he lived a disciplined life, not in love with the luxuries and comforts of this world.
· John was a servant, a prophet of God.
· John was sent, as the special messenger of the Lord.
· John was special, in that he could be considered the greatest under the Old Covenant.
· John was second to even the least in the kingdom under the New Covenant.
b. He who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he: Though John was great, he was not born again under the New Covenant. This is because he lived and died before the completion of Jesus’ work at the cross and empty tomb. Therefore, he did not enjoy the benefits of the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Hebrews 8:6-13).
i. “As we may say, as a rule, that the darkest day is lighter than the brightest night; so John, though first of his own order, is behind the last of the new or Gospel order. The least in the Gospel stands on higher ground than the greatest under the law.” (Spurgeon)
c. The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force: Jesus’ reference to violence refers to both the intensity of spiritual warfare surrounding the ministry of Jesus and His herald, and also to the intensity required to persevere in following God and His kingdom.
i. The exact sense of this has been greatly debated, and is made more difficult by complicated grammar. Carson probably gives the best sense of both expressions. “The kingdom has come with holy power and magnificent energy that has been pushing back the frontiers of darkness. This is especially manifest in Jesus’ miracles and ties in with Jesus’ response to the Baptist…The kingdom is making great strides; now is the time for courageous souls, forceful people, to take hold of it.” (Carson)
ii. The kingdom will never be received passively. It is always founded on God’s work on our behalf, but God’s work will always produce a response in us. “They are not lazy wishes or cold endeavours that will bring men to heaven.” (Poole)
iii. “Frequently complaints are made and surprise expressed by individuals who have never found a blessing rest upon anything they have attempted to do in the service of God. ‘I have been a Sunday-school teacher for years,’ says one, ‘and I have never seen any of my girls or boys converted.’ No, and the reason most likely is you have never been violent about it; you have never been compelled by the Divine Spirit to make up your mind that converted they should be, and no stone should be left unturned until they were. You have never been brought by the Spirit to such a passion, that you have said, ‘I cannot live unless God bless me. I cannot exist unless I see some of these children saved.’ Then, falling on your knees in agony of prayer, and putting forth afterwards your trust with the same intensity towards heaven, you would never have been disappointed, ‘for the violent take it by force.’” (Spurgeon)
d. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John: Jesus saw an era ending with John; all the prophets and the law anticipated John and his ministry as a herald. There is a sense in which John spoke for every prophet who heralded Jesus’ coming.
i. Under the Old Covenant, every other prophet announced, “The Messiah is coming.” John alone had the privilege of saying, “The Messiah is here.”
e. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come: John may also be seen as Elijah, in a partial fulfillment of Malachi 4:5. John was not actually Elijah, but he served in the same spirit and power of Elijah, thus fulfilling his “office” (Luke 1:17). Because John was Elijah in this symbolic sense, Jesus added “if you are willing to receive it.”
i. Elijah did come in fact during Jesus’ ministry, during the transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). But in further fulfillment of the Malachi 4:5 promise, Elijah will come again before the Second Coming of Jesus, likely as one of the two prophets of Revelation 11:3-12.
ii. If John the Baptist’s ministry was like that of Elijah, we remember that Elijah became depressed and discouraged also.
iii. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! “A proverbial form of speech often used by Jesus after important utterances, here for the first time in Matthew.” (Bruce)
4. (16-19) Jesus rebukes those who refuse to be pleased by either John the Baptist’s or Jesus’ ministry.
“But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying:
‘We played the flute for you,
And you did not dance;
We mourned to you,
And you did not lament.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”
a. But to what shall I liken this generation: Jesus here considered the nature of His current generation, and how they were choosy and uncertain in receiving God’s message and His messengers.
b. We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we mourned to you, and you did not lament: The idea is that those who have a heart to criticize will find something to criticize. Many people wouldn’t be pleased with either John or Jesus.
i. “They refused to hear God’s voice in either form, the somber or the joyful, in judgment or in mercy, if it did not accord with their conventions. There was no pleasing them.” (France)
c. A friend of tax collectors and sinners: Jesus quoted the criticisms of others against Him. Though these words were meant to condemn, they have become wonderful. Jesus really is a friend of… sinners.
i. “A malicious nick-name at first, it is now a name of honour: the sinner’s lover.” (Bruce)
d. But wisdom is justified by her children: However, the wise man is proved to be wise by his wise actions (her children). Jesus had especially in mind the wisdom to accept both Jesus and John for what they were and what they were called to be.
i. People might criticize John, but look at what he did – he led thousands of people into repentance, preparing the way for the Messiah. People might criticize Jesus, but look at what He did – taught and worked and loved and died like no one ever has.
B. The condemned and the accepted.
1. (20-24) Jesus rebukes the cities that did not repent in light of both John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’ own ministry.
Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
a. He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: Because most of His mighty works were done in these cities, they experienced a greater light, which also required a greater accountability.
i. This principle – greater light means greater responsibility – means that the western world has a tremendous accountability before God. The west has had an access to the gospel that no other society has, yet remains in desperate need of repentance.
ii. “Unresponsiveness to the voice of God is the characteristic of this generation, and will be its downfall.” (France)
b. It will be more tolerable: When Jesus said that it will be more tolerable for certain cities in the day of judgment, He implied that there are in fact different degrees of judgment. Some will be punished more severely in the final judgment than others.
i. “There are degrees of felicity in paradise and degrees of torment in hell (Matthew 12:41; 23:13; cf. Luke 12:47-48), a point Paul well understood (Romans 1:20-2:16). The implications for Western, English speaking Christendom today are sobering.” (Carson)
ii. “If Turks and Tartars shall be damned, debauched Christians shall be double-damned.” (Trapp)
c. Chorazin… Bethsaida… Capernaum: God’s judgment was fulfilled against these cities. Each one of them was destroyed long ago and has been desolate for generations upon generations.
i. We don’t read in the gospels of the great works Jesus did in Chorazin or Bethsaida, but we are told something in John 21:25: And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. What Jesus did in Chorazin and Bethsaida are among those unwritten works. This is a good reminder that the gospels are a true account of Jesus’ life, but He did much that was not included in the gospel records.
ii. “Capernaum, his own city, the headquarters of the army of salvation, had seen and heard the Son of God…therefore he mourned to see Capernaum remain as hardened as ever.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “These cities did not attack Jesus Christ; they did not drive him from their gates; they did not seek to crucify him; they simply disregarded him. Neglect can kill as much as persecution can.” (Barclay)
2. (25-27) Jesus praises those who do receive His message.
At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
a. I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth: We sense a strong note of joy in Jesus’ communication with His Father. The persons of the Trinity speak and commune with each other with joy.
i. “The use of the word ‘answered’ is suggestive, revealing the perpetual fact of communion existing between Christ and God. The note of praise was the response of Christ’s heart to the secret of Jehovah.” (Morgan)
b. You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes: Jesus was happy that God had chosen the unlikely – seen by the world as babes – to respond to His message of the kingdom. This should be seen in the larger context of the rising rejection of Jesus and His messengers starting in Matthew 9.
i. It also reminds us that if we do respond to Jesus, it is because the Father has revealed these things to babes like us.
c. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him: Since Jesus referred to Himself as the Son, we have another staggering self-focused statement from Jesus. Here He proclaimed that only He had a true relationship with God the Father, and that the Father could only be known through the Son (to whom the Son wills to reveal Him). These are astonishing self-claims.
i. Matthew 11:27 reveals much to us about the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
· There are no secrets between the Father and the Son.
· There is no one who knows the Son as well as the Father does.
· There is no one who knows the Father as well as the Son does.
· The Son chooses to reveal the Father to some.
ii. There is an important difference in the way that the Son knows the Father, and the way we may know Him. We know God the Father because He stoops low to us to make Himself known. God the Son knows God the Father because they are equal in nature, completely compatible with one another.
3. (28-30) Jesus’ invitation.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
a. Come unto Me: Jesus showed His authority when He says come unto Me. This invitation is unthinkable in the mouth of anyone else but God, and woe to the men who call people to themselves instead of to Jesus!
i. “‘Come’; he drives none away; he calls them to himself. His favorite word is ‘Come.’ Not, go to Moses – ‘Come unto me.’ To Jesus himself we must come, by a personal trust. Not to doctrine, ordinance, nor ministry are we to come first; but to the personal Saviour.” (Spurgeon)
b. All you who labor and are heavy laden: Jesus directed His call to those who were burdened. He called those who sensed they must come to Him to relieve their need instead of living in self-sufficiency.
i. According to Carson, labor implies the burdens we take upon ourselves, and heavy laden implies the burdens others put upon us.
ii. Heavy laden suggests the same thought as Matthew 23:4, where Jesus spoke against the religious leaders of His day as those who bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders.
c. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me: Jesus made a wonderful offer, inviting us to take My yoke upon you and learn from Me. We must come as disciples to learn, willing to be guided by His yoke – not merely to receive something.
i. According to Adam Clarke, the ancient Jews commonly used the idea of yoke to express someone’s obligation to God. There was the yoke of the kingdom, the yoke of the law, the yoke of the command, the yoke of repentance, the yoke of faith, and the general yoke of God. In this context, it is easy to see Jesus simplifying and saying, “Forget about all those other yokes. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.”
ii. When someone looks at the yoke of Jesus from a distance, it is easy to get all kinds of wrong ideas about it. But if we would just listen to what Jesus said – “take My yoke upon you” – we would take it, and see what kind of yoke it is.
· The yoke of Jesus is easy and light as compared with the yoke of others.
· The yoke of Jesus is easy and light as long as we do not rebel against it.
· The yoke of Jesus has nothing to do with worries that are forbidden to us.
· The yoke of Jesus does not include the burdens we choose to add to it.
d. For I am gentle and lowly in heart: Jesus revealed His nature when He described Himself as gentle and lowly of heart. It is His servant’s heart, displayed throughout His ministry, making Him qualified to be the one who bears our burdens.
e. And you will find rest for your souls: Jesus described His gift to His followers as rest for your soul. This unmatchable gift – both powerful and profound – should be considered the birthright of those who come to Jesus and are His followers. They should believe that something is wrong if they don’t experience rest for your souls.
i. “You will find rest for your souls is an echo of the Hebrew text of Jeremiah 6:16, where it is the offer of God to those who follow his way; Jesus now issues the invitation in his own name!” (France)
f. My yoke is easy and My burden is light: Jesus summarized this wonderful call with this assurance. The yoke is easy and the burden is light because He bears it with us. Borne alone, it might be unbearable; but with Jesus it can be easy and light.
i. When training a new animal (such as an ox) to plow, ancient farmers often yoked it to an older, stronger, more experienced animal who bore the burden and guided the young animal through the learning process.
ii. “The word easy is in Greek chrestos, which can mean well-fitting. In Palestine ox-yokes were made of wood…The yoke was carefully adjusted, so that it would fit well, and not gall the neck of the patient beast. The yoke was tailor-made to fit the ox.” (Barclay)
iii. This isn’t a call to a lazy or indulgent life. There is still a yoke to bear and burden to carry. Yet with and in Jesus, they are easy and light. “Jesus’ yoke is easy, not because it makes lighter demands, but because it represents entering into a disciple-relationship.” (France)
iv. If your yoke is hard and your burden is heavy, then we can say that it isn’t His yoke or burden, and you aren’t letting Him bear it with you. Jesus said it plainly: My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission