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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 11

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

aMATT. IX. 35-38; X. 1, 5-42; XI. 1; bMARK VI. 6-13; cLUKE IX. 1-6.

b6 And he aJesus bwent about aall the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner sickness and all manner of sickness. [In the first circuit of Galilee some of the twelve accompanied Jesus as disciples (see Mark 16:15). As Jesus himself was sent only to the Jews, so during his days on earth he sent his disciples only to them.] 7 As ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. [It was set up about a year later, on the day of Pentecost, under the direction of the Holy Spirit-- Acts 2:1-4.] 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons: freely ye received, freely give. [Here is the true rule of giving. Paul repeats it at 1 Corinthians 16:2. If we would obey this rule, we would make this a happy world.] c3 And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, a9 Get you no gold, nor silver, cnor money; anor brass in your purses; cneither staff, nor wallet, afor your journey, cnor bread, neither have two coats. anor shoes, nor staff: for the workman is worthy of his food. [The prohibition is against securing these things before starting, and at their own expense. It is not that they would have no need for the articles mentioned, but that "the laborer is worthy of his food," and they were to depend on the people for whose benefit they labored, to furnish what they might need. This passage is alluded to by Paul ( 1 Corinthians 9:14). To rightly understand this prohibition we must remember that the apostles were to make but a brief tour of a few weeks, and that it was among their own countrymen, among a people habitually given to hospitality; moreover, that the apostles were imbued with powers which would win for them the respect of the religious and the gratitude of the well-to-do. The special and temporary commission was, therefore, never intended as a rule under which we are to act in preaching the gospel in other ages and in other lands.] b10 And he said unto them a11 And into whatsoever city or village ye shall enter, search out who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go forth. [The customs of the East gave rise to this rule. The ceremonies and forms with which a guest was received were tedious and time-consuming vanities, while the mission of the apostles required haste.] 12 And as ye enter [364] come into an house, salute it. 13 And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. [The form of salutation on entering a house was, "Peace to this house." The apostles are told to salute each house, and are assured that the peace prayed for shall return to them if the house is not worthy; that is, they shall receive, in this case, the blessing pronounced on the house.] bWheresoever ye enter into a house, there abide till ye depart thence. {c4 And into whatsoever house ye enter, there abide, and thence depart.} b11 And whatsoever place shall not receive you, and they hear you not [Jesus here warns them that their experiences would not always be pleasant], a14 And whosoever cas many as ashall creceive you not, anor hear your words, bas ye go forth thence, aout of that house or that city [The word "house" indicates a partial and the word "city" a complete rejection], {cwhen you depart from that city,} bshake off the dust that is under your feet {aof your feet.} cfrom your feet bfor a testimony unto them. cagainst them. [The dust of heathen lands as compared with the land of Israel was regarded as polluted and unholy ( Amos 2:7, Ezekiel 27:30). The Jew, therefore, considered himself defiled by such dust. For the apostles, therefore, to shake off the dust of any city of Israel from their clothes or feet was to place that city on a level with the cities of the heathen, and to renounce all further intercourse with it.] a15 Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city. [For comment on similar remarks, see 2 Samuel 12:20, Matthew 6:16, Matthew 6:17). When an apostle stood over a sick man to heal him by a touch or a word, he was about to send him out of his sick chamber, and just before the word was spoken, the oil was applied. It was, therefore, no more than a token or symbol that the man was restored to his liberty, and was from that moment to be confined to his chamber no longer. Comp. James 5:14. This practice bears about the same relation to the Romish practice of extreme unction as the Lord’s Supper does to the mass, or as a true baptism does to the sprinkling of an infant.]

[FFG 362-369]

Verses 2-30

aMATT. XI. 2-30; cLUKE VII. 18-35.

c18 And the disciples of John told him of all these things. a2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent by his disciples c19 And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them unto the Lord [John had been cast into prison about December, A. D. 27, and it was now after the Passover, possibly in May or June, A. D. 28. Herod Antipas had cast John into prison because John had reproved him for taking his brother’s wife. According to Josephus, the place of John’s imprisonment and death was the castle of Machærus (or Makor), east of the Dead Sea (Ant. xviii.; v. 1, 2). It was built by Herod the Great, and was not very far from that part of the Jordan in which John had baptized, so that it is probable that Herod resided in this castle when he went to hear John preach. We learn elsewhere that Herod felt kindly towards John, and this fact, coupled with the statement that John called two of his disciples to him, suggests that John must have been held as an honored prisoner with liberties like those accorded Paul at Cæsarea-- Acts 24:23], a3 and said unto him, {csaying,} Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another? [The prophets spoke of the Messiah as the coming one, and John himself had done likewise-- Matthew 3:11.] 20 And when the men were come unto him, they said, John the Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another? [This passage has been a puzzle to expositors from the very earliest times. Being unable to understand how the Baptist, being an inspired prophet and favored with visions of the supernatural, [278] could give way to skeptical doubts, they have exhausted their inventive genius to explain what John meant by his question. Among these many explanations the best is that given by Alford, viz.: that John wished to get Jesus to publicly declare himself for the sake of quieting all rumors concerning him, his fault being kindred to that of Jesus’ mother when she tried to hasten Jesus’ hour at the wedding of Cana ( John 2:4). But the plain, unmistakable inference of the text is that John’s faith wavered. The Bible does not represent the saints as free from imperfection. It does not say that inspiration is omniscience, or that visions and miracles remove doubts. It took two miracles to persuade Gideon; Moses harbored distrust ( Exodus 3:11-13, Exodus 4:1-17.), and was guilty of unbelief ( Numbers 20:12); Elijah despaired of God’s power ( 1 Kings 19:4-10); Jeremiah was slow of belief, and in his despondency cursed the day of his birth ( Jeremiah 20:7, Jeremiah 20:14-18). But the most instructive parallel is that of Simon Peter. He witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus, beheld the glory of God, and heard the voice of the Father ( Matthew 17:1-6); yet he sank below the Baptist, and denied the Lord with cursing; and no man has ever thought it at all incredible that he should do so. The trial of John’s faith, though not so clearly depicted as that of Peter, was perhaps equally searching. His wild, free life was now curbed by the irksome tedium of confinement. His expectations were not fulfilled. The unfruitful trees had not been cut down, the grain had not been winnowed, nor the chaff burned, nor should he see any visible tendency toward these results. Moreover, he held no communion with the private life of Jesus, and entered not into the sanctuary of his Lord’s thought. We must remember also that his inspiration passed away with the ministry, on account of which it was bestowed, and it was only the man John, and not the prophet, who made the inquiry. The inquiry itself, too, should be noted. It is not, Are you what I declared you to be? but, Being all of that, are you the one who should come, or must we look for another? John no doubt shared with all Jews the idea that Messiah was to set up an earthly kingdom, and seeing in Jesus [279] none of the spirit of such a king, he seems to have questioned whether Jesus was to be the finality, or whether he was to be, like himself, a forerunner, preparing the way for the ultimate Messiah. He did not grasp the thought that Jesus was both Alpha and Omega; that Jesus, the lowly servant of humanity, by service and sacrifice is evermore preparing the way for Jesus the King.] 21 In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he aJesus answered and said unto them, Go and tell John the things which ye hear and see: {chave seen and heard;} a5 the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings to them. [John himself, when thus questioned, had answered plainly, saying, "No" ( John 1:20, John 1:21), and he probably expected a like categorical answer from Jesus. The indirect answer of Jesus, ending with a beatitude, was well calculated to waken in John beneficial thoughtfulness, for it threw his mind back upon the prophecies of God, such as Isaiah 30:5, Isaiah 30:6, Isaiah 42:7, Isaiah 41:1-3, etc. It may be inferred that Jesus withheld answering the messengers and went on with his works of grace, that these might testify to John more potently than mere words of assertion. Jesus did not work miracles to gratify skeptical curiosity, but he did use them, as here, to strengthen wavering faith ( Mark 9:24, John 11:15, John 14:11); Jesus sums up his work in the form of a climax, wherein preaching the gospel to the poor stands superior even to the raising of the dead. Attention to the poor has always been a distinctive feature of Christianity. To care for the poor is above miracles. Modern Orientals are not impressed by the miracles of the New Testament as such. The sacred literature of India and China abounds in wonders, and with the people of these lands a miracle is little more than a commonplace. With them Christ’s love for the lowly is above the miracles. "Wonders and miracles might be counterfeited, but a sympathy with the suffering and helpless, so tender, so [280] laborious, so long continued, was not likely to be simulated. Such humanity was unworldly and divine"--Beecher.] 6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me. [The scribes had stumbled and failed to believe in Jesus because he did not fulfill their ideal, or come up to their expectations. Jesus seeks to woo John from a like fate by the sweet persuasion of a beatitude. John must realize that it is better for the subject to fall in with the plans of the all-wise King, as he fulfills the predictions of God the Father, than for the King to turn aside and frustrate the plan of the ages to humor the passing whim of a despondent and finite mind.] c24 And when the messengers of John were departed, {a7 And as these went their way,} che aJesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John [The commendation of Jesus which follows was not spoken in the presence of John’s messengers. It was best that John should not hear it. We also do our work under the silent heavens and wait for the future plaudit, "Well done, good and faithful servant"], What went ye out into the wilderness to behold? a reed shaken with the wind? 8 But what went ye out to see? ca man clothed in soft raiment? aBehold, they that wear soft raiment cthey that are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts. {ahouses.} [After the departure of John’s messengers Jesus immediately clears the character of John of unjust suspicion. John, who had testified with such confidence as to the office and character of Jesus, now comes with a question betraying a doubtful mind and wavering faith. Was John then a vacillating man? Was he guilty of that lack of steadfastness which the world looks upon as intolerable in all who it esteems great? Was he blown about by every wind of public opinion like the tall reed (the Arunda donax) which skirts the Jordan, and which stands, bearing its beautiful blossoming top twelve feet high one moment, only to bow it to earth the next, the slender stem yielding submissively to the passing breeze? Was he a voluptuary about to condescend to flatter Herod and retract [281] his reproof, that he might exchange his prison for a palace? Those who had gone to the wilderness to see John had found no such man, and John was still the John of old. One act does not make a character, one doubt does not unmake it. John was no reed, but was rather, as Lange says, "a cedar half uprooted by the storm."] 9 But wherefore went ye out? {c26 But what went ye out to see?} ato see a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. [The Matthew 11:10 shows us that John was a messenger as well as a prophet. Prophets foretold the Messiah, but John was the herald who announce him. John was miraculously born, and was himself the subject of prophecy. Great as was John in popular estimation, that estimation was insufficient.] 10 This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, Who shall prepare thy way before thee. [This quotation is taken from Malachi 3:1, where it reads "my messenger . . . before me." But Mark ( Mark 1:2) concurs with Matthew and Luke in the reading given here. From the change in the words it appears "that Christ is one with God the Father, and that the coming of Christ is the coming of God"--Hammond.] 11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater {cthere is none greater} athan John the Baptist: yet he that is but little in the kingdom of heaven {cof God} is greater than he. [We find from this passage that all true greatness arises from association, relation and contact with Jesus Christ. To be Christ’s forerunner is to be above teacher and prophet, Levite and priest, lawgiver and king, and all else that the world estimates as great. If all greatness be thus measured by contact of Christ, how great must Christ be! But the least in the kingdom is greater then John. "This shows: 1. That John was not in the kingdom of God. 2. That, as none greater than John has been born of women, no one had yet entered the kingdom. 3. That, therefore, it had not yet been set up; but as John himself, Jesus, and the Twelve under the first commission, preached, was ’at hand’. [282] 4. All in the kingdom, even the humble, have a station superior to John’s" (Johnson). Farrar reminds us of the old legal maxim which says, "The least of the greatest is greater than the greatest of the least," which is as much as to say that the smallest diamond is of more precious substance than the largest flint. The least born of the Holy Spirit ( John 1:12, John 1:13, John 3:5) is greater than the greatest born of women. They are greater in station, privilege and knowledge. The dispensations rise like lofty steps, and the lowest that stand upon the New Testament dispensation are lifted above the tallest who rest upon the dispensation of Moses. This is perhaps prophetically suggested by Zechariah-- Zechariah 12:8.] c29 And all the people [the common peopple, and not the rulers] when they heard, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. [They justified or approved the wisdom of God in sending such a prophet as John and establishing such an ordinance as baptism.] 30 But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God, being not baptized of him. [The counsel of God was that the nation should be brought to repentance by John, that it might be saved by Jesus; but the Pharisees frustrated this plan so far as they were concerned, by their proud refusal to repent. All who followed their example shared their unhappy success. It is noteworthy that Jesus emphasizes baptism as the test as to whether men justify or reject God’s counsel.] a12 From the days of John the Baptist until now [a period of about three years] the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and men of violence take it by force. [Jesus here pictures the kingdom of heaven as a besieged city. The city is shut up, but the enemies which surround it storm its walls and try to force an entrance--an apt illustration which many fail to comprehend. The gates of Christ’s kingdom were not opened until the day of Pentecost ( Acts 2:22-36.), but men hearing it was about to be opened sought to enter prematurely, not by the gates which God would open when Simon Peter used the keys ( Matthew 16:19), but by such breaches as they themselves sought to make [283] in the walls. Examples of this violence will be seen in the following instances ( John 6:15, Matthew 20:21, Luke 19:11, Luke 19:36-38, Luke 22:24-30, Acts 1:6.) The people were full of preconceived ideas with regard to the kingdom, and each one sought to hasten and enjoy its pleasures as one who impatiently seizes upon a bud and seeks with his fingers to force it to bloom. The context shows that John the Baptist was even then seeking to force the kingdom.] 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14 And if ye are willing receive it, this is Elijah, that is to come. 15 He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. [The Old Testament was the work of a long series of prophets, and this series was closed by John the Baptist. But John differed from all the others in the series; for they prophesied concerning the kingdom, while John turned from their course to preach that the kingdom was at hand, and thereby incidentally brought upon it the assaults of violence. As to John the Baptist being the prophetic Elijah, see Matthew 13:24-43. In the Matthew 13:24 Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man who sowed good seed," but in the Matthew 13:37 he says "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man," thus making the kingdom of heaven like the entire parabolic picture, and not the mere subject of its leading verb. Others say that John came mourning and Jesus came piping, and that the Jews were satisfied with neither. This was the older view, and had not expositors been confused by the grammatical difficulties above mentioned, it would never have been questioned. For the context favors it, and the whole trend of Scripture demands it. It was God in his messengers--his prophets and his Son--who came to set the world right. It was these messengers who took the initiative and who demanded the changes. It was the people who sulked and refused to comply with the divine overtures. The whole tenor of Christ’s teaching--the parables of the supper, etc.--represents the Jews as being invited and refusing the invitation. It was John and Jesus who preached repentance, but there was no instance where any called on them to repent. Jerusalem never wept over an intractable Jesus, but Jesus wept over the people of Jerusalem because they "would not." Jesus and John each besought the people to prepare for the kingdom of God, but the people sneered at one [285] as too strict and at the other as too lenient, and would be won by neither. To justify them in rejecting God’s counsel, they asserted that John’s conduct was demoniacal and that of Jesus was criminal, thus slandering each. But the lives or works of Jesus and John were both directed by the wisdom of God, and all those who were truly wise towards God--children of wisdom (see Acts 21:3, Acts 27:3), and Tyre became a Christian city, while Tiberias, just south of Capernaum, became the seat of Jewish Talmudism. Sackcloth was a coarse fabric woven of goat’s or camel’s hair, and was worn by those who mourned. It was called sackcloth because, being strong and durable, it was used for making the large sacks in which rough articles were carried on the backs of camels. Such sacks are still so used. Ashes were put upon the head and face as additional symbols of grief. Jesus here uses these symbolic words to indicate that these cities would have repented thoroughly.] 22 But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. 23 And thou, Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? thou shalt go down unto Hades: for if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in thee, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say unto you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. [Several great truths are taught in this paragraph. We note the following: 1. Every hearer of the gospel is left either much more blessed or much more wretched. 2. That the miracles which Jesus wrought were calculated to lead men to repentance, for they demonstrated his authority to demand that man should repent. 3. That even among those who stand condemned at the judgment there is a difference, and that it shall be more tolerable for some than for others. 4. That God takes account of our opportunities when he comes to measure our guiltiness ( Matthew 5:21, Matthew 5:22, Matthew 10:15, Luke 11:47, Luke 11:48, John 9:41, John 15:22-24, Romans 2:12). Capernaum was the most favored spot on earth, for Jesus made it his home. He therefore speaks of it figuratively as being exalted to heaven. Hades means the abode of the dead. It stands in figurative contrast to heaven and indicates that Capernaum shall be brought to utter ruin. Though Jesus was not displeased with the walls and houses, but with those who dwelt in them, yet the uncertain sites of these cities are marked only by ruins, and present to the traveler who searches among [287] rank weeds for their weather-worn stones the tokens of God’s displeasure against the people who once dwelt there. In less than thirty years these three cities were destroyed. Sin destroys cities and nations, and permanent temporal prosperity depends upon righteousness. The history of the destruction of Sodom in the time of Abraham is well known. As it was one of ( Numbers 13:22) the oldest cities of any great importance in Palestine, this reference to its remaining is the more striking, showing that its destruction did not come from the mere operation of natural law, but as a divine punishment meted upon it for its sins--a punishment which might have been avoided by repentance ( Jonah 3:10). There is hope for the greatest sinner if Sodom might thus escape.] 25 At that season [while these thoughts of judgment were in his mind] Jesus answered [replying to the thoughts raised by this discouraging situation--this rejection] and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding [the selfish and shrewd; the scribes and Pharisees, wise in their own conceit-- John 9:40, John 9:41], and didst reveal them unto babes [the pure and childlike; the apostles and their fellows who were free from prejudice and bigoted prepossession. God hid and revealed solely by his method of presenting the truth in Christ Jesus. The proud despised him, but the humble received him]: 26 yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight. [This is a reiteration of the sentiment just uttered. It means "I thank thee that it pleases thee to do thus." The Son expresses holy acquiescence and adoring satisfaction in the doings of Him who, as Lord of heaven and earth, had right to dispose of all things as it pleased him.] 27 All things have been delivered unto me of my Father [ John 3:35. All things necessary to the full execution of his office as Lord of the kingdom were entrusted to Jesus, but for the present only potentially. The actual investiture of authority did not take place until the glorification of Jesus ( Matthew 28:18, Colossians 1:16-19, Hebrews 1:8). The authority thus delivered shall be eventually returned [288] again-- 1 Corinthians 15:28]: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him. [Here again are many important truths taught: 1. While we may have personal knowledge of Jesus, we can not know him completely. His nature is inscrutable. And yet, in direct opposition to our Lord’s explicit assertion, creeds have been formed, defining the metaphysical nature of Christ, and enforcing their distinctions on the subject which Jesus expressly declares that no man understands, as necessary conditions of church membership in this world, and of salvation in the world to come. "It would be difficult to find a more audacious and presumptuous violation of the words of Jesus than the Athanasian Creed, with its thrice repeated curses against those who did not receive its doctrines" (Morison). 2. We can have no correct knowledge of God except through revelation. 3. Jesus begins the revelation of the Father in this world, and completes it in the world to come. 4. By this exclusive claim as to the knowledge of the Father, Jesus asserts his own divinity. 5. Christ’s exalted power comes by reason of his exalted being.] 28 Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. [The preceding remarks are prefatory to this invitation. The dominion which Jesus exercises, the nature which he possess, and the knowledge which he can impart justify him in inviting men to come to him. The labor and the rest here spoken of are primarily those which affect souls. That is, the labor and the heavy burden which sin imposes, and the rest which follows the forgiveness of that sin. Incidentally, however, physical burdens are also made lighter by coming to Jesus, because the soul is made stronger to bear them. The meekness and lowliness of Jesus lend confidence to those whom he invites that no grievous exactions will be made of them. "Taking the yoke" is a symbolic expression. [289] It means, "Submit to me and become my disciple," for the yoke is symbolic of the condition of servitude--see Jeremiah 27:11, Jeremiah 27:12, Isaiah 9:4, Acts 15:10, Galatians 5:1, 1 Timothy 6:1.]

[FFG 278-290]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Matthew 11". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/matthew-11.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.
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