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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-30


The Disciples of the Baptist

1. Tours of Jesus after dismissing His apostles. The apostles started on their mission about five weeks before the second Passover of the ministry (28 a.d.) and were away about a month. Jesus spent the interval partly in Galilee and partly in Jerusalem, whither he went to keep the Feast of Purim at the beginning of March (John 5:1). He rejoined the Twelve shortly before the Passover (John 6:4), and immediately afterwards fed the five thousand (Mark 6:30; Luke 9:10). St. Matthew does not mention the return of the Twelve, nor does he adhere to the chronological order of events.

2-6. Deputation from the Baptist (Luke 7:18). John, knowing that his end was near, and that many of his disciples were jealous of the success of the new teacher, and disbelieved His claims, sent certain of them to Jesus, that by seeing His works and hearing His words they might be convinced of His Messiahship. The objections which the disciples of John brought against Jesus (besides the want of strictness in His life), were (1) that He did not openly proclaim Himself the Messiah, (2) that He did not work the mighty signs and wonders which were generally expected of the Messiah. The importance of the occasion, and the obvious sincerity of the enquirers, induced Jesus to depart somewhat from His ordinary policy of reticence. By a reference to Isaiah 6:1, He declared plainly enough, and yet not too plainly, that He was the Messiah, He worked a number of miracles in their presence in proof of His Messianic claims (Luke 7:21), and finally sent them back to John with a message in which He expressly mentioned His miracles, and promised a blessing to those who should attach themselves to Him. The spectacle of Christ's miracles must have been particularly impressive to the disciples of John, who worked no miracles (John 10:41).

It is very generally held by recent writers that John himself, as well as his disciples, was doubtful about our Lord's Messiahship. This is not impossible. The ideals of Jesus diverged so widely from those of John, that the Baptist, hearing of them only by report, would have a difficulty in understanding them. We must allow, moreover, for the depressing effect of a long and rigorous imprisonment. On the other hand, it must be remembered that the NT. always represents not John himself, but his disciples, as doubtful about the claims of Jesus, and that Jesus makes this deputation the occasion of one of the strongest eulogies upon John that the NT. contains.

2. Sent two of his disciples] RV 'sent by his disciples' Only St. Luke gives the number.

5. See Isaiah 61:1 and Isaiah 35:5. The dead are raised up] This implies a larger number of such miracles than the three mentioned in the Gospels. St. Luke appropriately places the deputation immediately after the raising of the widow's son. The poor have the gospel, etc.] Some translate this 'the poor preach,' as if Christ alluded to the poverty of the apostles.

6. Blessed is he who, in spite of all hindrances, shall find himself able to believe in me as the Messiah.

7-19. The praise of John the Baptist (Luke 7:24). Lest the purpose of the question of John, 'Art thou he that should come?' should be misunderstood, Jesus hastens to assure the people that John is no reed shaken by the wind, who does not know his own mind, but a prophet, and more than a prophet. He then deplores the blindness of 'this generation,' i.e. the party of the scribes and Pharisees, who can discern the greatness neither of John nor of Himself.

8. John was no sycophant or flatterer, making friends with the great and wealthy for the sake of sharing their luxury and ostentation.

9. RV 'But wherefore went ye out? To see a prophet?' More than a prophet] John was more than a prophet, (1) because of his personal relation to Jesus as His Forerunner; (2) because he actually pointed out and baptised Jesus; (3) because his teaching was a nearer approach to the teaching of Jesus than that of any of the prophets.

10. Before thy face] In the original of Malachi 3:1, from which these words are taken, Jehovah Himself speaks of His own coming, 'Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me.' All the evangelists change this into an address of Jehovah to the Messiah, 'shall prepare thy way before thee' (Mark 1:2; Luke 1:76; Luke 7:27), Which shows that they borrowed it not directly from Malachi, but from some common source in which the change or paraphrase had already been made.

11. He that is least] Jesus means that the meanest and least endowed Christian is greater in privilege than the greatest men of the Old Dispensation. The Baptist, though so near the kingdom, was not within it.

12, 13. St. Luke introduces these vv. in a quite different connexion: see Luke 16:16 (a rebuke to the Pharisees).

12. From the days of John] Jesus gives John the credit for the multitudes of repentant sinners who are now crowding into the kingdom, and in their eagerness to enter may be compared to soldiers attempting to storm a town.

13. The preparatory dispensation of the Law and the Prophets lasted till John. John first announced the kingdom as something present.

14. Jesus states, as again in Matthew 17:12 (cp. Luke 1:17), that John was the Elijah whom the Jews expected in accordance with Malachi 4:5. He hints that they may be unwilling to believe it, partly because of the position in which John now is, but more particularly because they expected a personal return of Elijah himself, and not another prophet with similar authority: see on Matthew 17:10.

15. He that hath ears] A frequent observation of Jesus, indicating that only those whose hearts are prepared can receive spiritual truth (Matthew 13:9; Luke 8:8; Revelation 2:7, etc.).

16-18. Jesus rebukes 'this generation,' i.e. the Pharisees and scribes (see Lk), who are pleased with neither John nor Himself, by comparing them to children in the streets playing at weddings and funerals, and falling out over their play. Like the children the Pharisees are only playing—playing at religion with empty ceremonies which no earnest man can take seriously. Like the children they are also peevish and irritable, unable to agree as to what they really do want from a religious leader. The asceticism of John, which corresponds to the wailing in the game, did not please them, nor does the joyous, full, human life of Jesus, which corresponds to the piping for the dance. Since they are not in earnest themselves, nothing that is really earnest can please them.

19. But wisdom is (or, 'was') justified of her children] i.e. the superiority of the religion of the Baptist and of Jesus is proved by the lives of their disciples, which show more signs of genuine piety than those of the Pharisees. 'Wisdom' is here the religion of John and of Christ. 'Her children' are their disciples, who have been mentioned (Matthew 11:12) as crowding into the Kingdom of Heaven, while the Pharisees remained outside. (See Lk.) RY reads, 'Wisdom is justified by her works,' but the meaning is the same. 'Her works' are the holy lives of Christ's and John's disciples.

20-24. The woes upon Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum(Luke 10:12 cp. Matthew 10:15). These were the cities in which 'most of His mighty works were done,' and yet nothing is said in the Gospels of any ministry at Chorazin, and of Bethsaida we only know that the five thousand were fed there. Chorazin lay 4 m. NE. of Capernaum, inland, but not far from the lake. There are said to have been two Bethsaidas, one E. of Jordan near the head of the lake, where the five thousand were fed, generally called Bethsaida Julias, the other near Capernaum, W. of the lake. The latter is mentioned Mark 6:45 (cp. John 6:17), and probably in John 1:44; John 12:21

23. And thou, Capernaum] Jesus adapts to Capernaum the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 14:13) upon Babylon and its king. Shalt be brought down to hell] (lit. 'Hades'). In themselves the words might simply mean that Capernaum shall cease to be a city and become desolate, as it is at present; but the context suggests that the condemnation of its unbelieving inhabitants in the Day of Judgment is also alluded to.

24. See on Matthew 10:15.

25-30. Christ's relation to the Father and to mankind (Luke 10:21). A sublime utterance, this 'pearl of the sayings of Jesus' (Keim), 'one of the purest and most genuine,' 'one of Johannean splendour' (Meyer), 'an aërolite from the Johannean heaven' (Hase). As a rule in the synoptists the relation of Jesus to mankind is the theme of the discourses, but here the divine Sonship of Jesus is affirmed in terms which cover the whole doctrine of the Fourth Gospel. 'This passage,' says Prof. Sanday, 'is one of the best authenticated in the Synoptic Gospels. It is.. part of that “collection of discourses,” in all probability the composition of the apostle St. Matthew, which many critics believe to be the oldest of all the Evangelical documents. And yet once grant the authenticity of this passage, and there is nothing in the Johannean Christology that it does not cover. Even the doctrine of preëxistence seems to be implicitly contained in it.'

25. At that time] Since St. Luke connects this utterance with the return of the Seventy, which he alone records, it is probable that St. Matthew intends to connect it with the return of the Twelve, which, however, he does not mention. Yet he implies it, for at the beginning of the next chapter the Twelve are again introduced.

Hast hid (RV 'didst hide') these things] Jesus thanks God that the simple gospel which the Twelve have preached has been understood and gladly received by the simple and unlearned people (babes) of the villages and towns through which they had passed, but has been misunderstood and rejected by the 'wise and prudent' (RV 'wise and understanding'), i.e. by the scribes and Pharisees who think themselves such. Jesus is glad that the scribes and Pharisees have not declared themselves disciples. He does not wish to enrol them among His followers until they have given up their arrogance, and become as babes.

27. All things are (or 'were,' or 'have been') delivered unto me of my Father] Having just called the Father 'Lord of heaven and earth' (Matthew 11:25), He now declares that the same authority belongs to Himself, because all created things have been committed to Him by God. This supreme authority over the universe which was committed to Him at the creation, was exercised by Him in some degree even during the humiliation of His life on earth (John 3:35; John 13:3; John 17:2), and was fully restored at His resurrection (Matthew 28:18) with all the glory pertaining to it. Such power could not be committed to a creature, and the possession of it by Christ can only be explained by assuming that He is, as the Fourth Gospel and the Epistles represent Him as being, the creator and sustainer of the universe.

No man (RV 'no one') knoweth the Son, but (RV 'save') the Father] lit. 'fully knoweth.' Men can know other men, but only God Hiniself can know Jesus. 'None but the Almighty Father has full, entire possession of the mystery of the Person and Office of the Son: it is a depth hidden from all being but His, whose purposes are evolved in and by it' (Alford).

Haraack in his 'What is Christianity?' says: 'Here two observations are to be made: Jesus is convinced that he knows God in a way in which no one ever knew Him before, and he knows that it is his vocation to communicate this knowledge of God to others by word and by deed—and with it the knowledge that men are God's children.'

Neither (fully) knoweth any man (RV 'any one') the Father, save the Son] Not only does Jesus alone fully know the Father, but He alone can reveal Him: cp. John 1:18; John 6:46; John 10:15.

28-30. Jesus invites to Himself all who feel the burden of sin, and who find their lives and even their religion a toil to them. He will release them from the yoke of mechanical religion, make them humble and meek like Himself, and give them pardon and peace.

28. Come unto me] He does not say 'unto God,' but 'unto Me,' making Himself the dispenser of grace and the centre of Christian devotion. That labour] that find life a toil to them. Are heavy laden] with the burden of sin, from which they can find no relief in the unspiritual and burdensome ordinances of Judaism and Pharisaism: cp. Acts 13:39; Romans 3:28; Romans 8:4; Hebrews 7:19. I will give you rest] Again not 'God,' but 'I' will give you rest—rest in this world and in the next—rest that comes from peace with God and pardon for sin, which I am empowered to give (Matthew 9:6).

29. Take my yoke upon you] My yoke does not consist of a multitude of burdensome ordinances like that of the Law and of the Pharisees. It can hardly be called a yoke at all, it is so light. True, there are certain ordinances which every Christian must observe, but they are few and simple. The essence of My religion is that men should be humble, and meek and loving and tender-hearted as I am, not hard and proud like the Pharisees. Practise these things, and you will find your lives easy, your religion a joy, and your souls at rest.

The 'Yoke of the Law' was a common phrase among the rabbis to express the burdensome nature of its ordinances: cp. Acts 15:10. 'Why tempt ye God, that ye should put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?'

I am meek] Jesus says this while making Himself the object of the religious devotion of the whole human race. Obviously, therefore, His claim to be meek and lowly can only be justified, if He be truly divine.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 11:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/matthew-11.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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