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Wednesday, July 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 11

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Verse 1

Jesus Appoints and Sends Out The Twelve To Proclaim The Kingly Rule of Heaven With Admonitions, Warnings And Final Promises (9:35-11:1).

In this section Jesus appoints and sends out His twelve Apostles. His purpose for them is that they might proclaim the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and reveal its presence on earth by the signs and miracles that will result as they evangelise (Matthew 10:1; Matthew 10:7-8). But He is full aware that their message will only be accepted by the minority as He has made clear in Matthew 7:13-27. So He warns them of two things. Firstly that they are not to expect total success in their evangelism, and secondly that they must expect to sometimes have a rough time of it.

In regard to the first He points out that their ministry will rather result in dividing the nation into two, splitting off those who respond to their message, from those who reject it. This was what they should have expected, for, as He had already taught, while some will choose to enter the narrow gate, they will be the comparatively few, while others will choose the broad gate, and they will be the many (Matthew 7:13-14). Some will choose to build on rock because they hear and respond to His teaching, others will choose to build on sand because they refuse to hear and respond (Matthew 7:24-27). And this was indeed something that had already been indicated by John’s teaching concerning the wheat and the chaff (Matthew 3:12). So whatever the disciples were expecting, Jesus was fully aware of the difficulties of the way ahead, and was not even expecting that the majority of the Jews would respond.

This is confirmed in His words to the twelve as He now sends them out for the first time. Rather than seeing all the Jews as responding to them, His clear indication is that they will split ‘Israel’ into two, or rather will cut off from Israel all who refuse to believe. This He demonstrates as follows:

As they go out some persons and towns will refuse to hear them and to make a response, and those who do refuse to hear them are to be cut off from the new Israel. The very dust of their houses or towns is to be shaken off from the disciples’ feet as a testimony against them in the coming judgment (Matthew 10:14-15). By this it is indicated that they are no longer accepted as a part of Israel. On the other hand this very fact confirms that others are expected to hear and respond.

Some will bring them before synagogue courts, and even Gentile secular courts because they will reject their message and hate them for it. This was the common lot of non-conformists in Palestine, compare Acts 8:1; Acts 22:4; Acts 26:9-11 (Matthew 10:17-18).

Families will be divided down the middle, with some responding to Jesus, and others persecuting them for doing so by demanding that they be treated as false prophets, compare Deuteronomy 13:1-11 (Matthew 10:21-22).

Indeed His Apostles must expect to be driven from town to town by persecution (Matthew 10:23).

Some will call them Beelzebub just as they have called Him Beelzebub, compare Matthew 9:34; Matthew 12:24; Matthew 12:27 (Matthew 10:25).

Some will seek to kill their bodies, compare 21-22 (Matthew 10:28).

Some will confess Him before men, and some will deny Him (Matthew 10:32-33).

He has not come to bring peace on earth -- but to divide even individual households into two opposing segments (Matthew 10:34-36).

People will have to choose between their loved ones and Him, and between taking up their cross or refusing to do so (Matthew 10:37-38).

People will have to choose between holding on to their lives, or ‘losing them’ by responding to Him (Matthew 10:39).

So it is clear from all this that Jesus was not expecting a mass movement by which most or all Jews would turn to Him and enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven. He was very much aware of the tensions in Galilean society, and the thoughtless fanaticism of many. And He recognised from the start that His Apostles’ preaching would bring bitter division, as some responded to His truth and some rejected it.

As we shall see later it was quite clear to Him that in setting up a new ‘congregation of Israel’ in the midst of the old, and thereby setting aside the unbelieving of old Israel, He was expressing a revolutionary new idea which would result in a new nation which could hardly be acceptable to the old regime. From then on the majority of ‘Israel’ would no longer be seen as Israel at all. The nation would be take from them and given to a nation producing its fruits (Matthew 21:43). For just as the Israel of Sinai were all cut off in the wilderness, and none, apart from rare exceptions, entered the land, being replaced by a new generation, (so that a ‘new Israel’ entered the land), so now God would cut off a large part of present Israel because of their rejection of their King, and form a new Israel from what remained. From then on they and they alone would be the true Israel, and it would be open to all who responded to Jesus Christ.

Many seek to argue that some of the words spoken in what follows could not have been spoken by Jesus at this time, given the circumstances in which they found themselves. They claim that none of these things described actually happened to the disciples on these preaching trips. But that is to make unwarrantable assumptions on the basis of our lack of knowledge, and by reading between the lines. We do not in fact know what problems the Apostles encountered on their journeys, and when we think of the stirring impact that their mission must have made (twelve effective wonder workers appearing among them, compare Luke 12:17) it must be considered quite possible, indeed probable, that some of them were dragged before synagogue courts, and even before Herod and local governors, and given a beating before they were then let go as a warning to them. So if we do want to read between the lines, it would seem reasonable to suggest that we should do so in terms of what is written in those lines. (We have nothing else to go by, and the Scriptures often describe commands and warnings while not describing how they were carried out and fulfilled, even though they were, e.g. Exodus 17:1-7).

And if some ask, why is it then not mentioned we have two replies. Firstly that the Gospels are concentrating on the presence and doings of Jesus Christ, and only cursorily mention the doings of Apostles, and secondly that, just as Matthew assumes that his readers will gather from these words that their mission actually was carried out (he does not actually say so), so he and the other evangelists may have assumed that their readers would recognise that these other things did also happen. We might also add that they were probably so used to it in their own ministries that they did not see it as anything unusual (note how James the leading Apostle could be martyred and it only be mentioned briefly so as to indicate an attack on the Apostles in Jerusalem. There was no interest in the actual martyrdom (Acts 12:2).

There is in fact nothing described in Jesus’ words, apart from His own firm demands on them, that would not be reasonably anticipated by someone who was familiar with the Law and the Prophets. Consider for example:

The treatment that was to be meted out to those who were seen as false prophets (Deuteronomy 13:1-11), which was the same as that described here.

What had happened to the Old Testament prophets (e.g. 2 Chronicles 24:21; Jeremiah 18:18; Jeremiah 37:15).

The prophetic warnings about what was to happen in the future (Micah 7:6; Isaiah 66:5; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10-12; Zechariah 13:7-9).

And we must ever remember Jesus’ deliberate tendency to exaggerate in order to bring home His point. We have only to consider the Sermon on the Mount to recognise the vividly exaggerated way in which He would lay out His case so as to prepare them for the worst (e.g. Matthew 5:22-26; Matthew 5:29-30). The One Who could give such warnings in such vivid terms would be likely to do the same here. And that is what we find. (Rhetoric must not always be take literally. It is intended to spur men on. Despite Churchill none of us ever fought the enemy on the beaches of the UK). But there is no reason to doubt that the persecution and family problems that He describes did actually happen and would go on happening, as they still do to some today. Families would treat converts to Jesus as ‘dead’ to the family, and there may well have been some cases of actual death. The fact that the Gospel writers saw them as simply a necessary part of their testimony, and therefore as not worth mentioning, should not make us say that they did not happen. For in the light of the way the Old Testament prophets were treated, what Jesus describes had to be anticipated. And this would especially be so given the fact that their erstwhile fellow missionary John was lying in prison, something almost totally ignored by the Gospels, and that the reputation of the Herod family for the arrogant treatment of their subjects was well known. We must therefore emphasise that there is nothing in Jesus’ words, (once toned down in order to take into account the deliberate exaggeration, and rhetoric), which could not have been their present experience, as we shall see further as we consider the text. The disciples had to expect the worst.

For Jesus would not have been fair to His disciples if He had not warned them of the dangers that lay ahead in these terms. They were the new prophetic men who were taking on the mantle of the prophets, and He must have expected them to be persecuted as the prophets had been (Matthew 5:11, compare Matthew 23:34-35). And this was especially so in view of His own words already on record from an early stage that He Himself expected a ‘taking away’ of Himself that would give His disciples reason for mourning (Matthew 9:15). Thus He clearly already had a dark foreboding about the future. And besides He had Himself already experienced what close neighbours could do at Nazareth when they objected to the truth (Luke 4:29), and how volatile the people could be. Had He not been Who He was He might well already be dead. And He already knew of the fervency of the feelings of the Pharisees against Him (Matthew 9:34). The Galileans were a fanatical people, and easily stirred in religious matters. Thus He would have had to be very shortsighted not to expect some kind of violent opposition from both the authorities and the people when His Apostles went out, especially as some of the Apostles might quite easily trespass on parts of Galilee where Gentile influence was more pervasive, in their aim to reach all Jews, even possibly causing a stir in Jewish parts of cities like Tiberias (which was mainly occupied by Gentiles), and may well in their enthusiasm not have been guarded in their words. In fact His aim to limit their preaching to Jews may well have had as one reason behind it His reserve against their reaching out further until they were better trained, on the grounds of what might be the consequences from the point of view of the reaction of the authorities, which might be too much for them at the present time, and that even though He was quite clear in His own mind that God had a welcome for Gentiles (Matthew 8:10-13; Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 4:24-27). For in view of the fact that He had already arranged for some Gentiles to hear the truth about Him (Mark 5:19-20; compare also John 4:4-42), even though in a way to which none could not object, we do need to have some explanation of why His concentration was so wholly on the lost sheep of the house of Israel. For we must remember that His early life had been sustained by gifts from Gentiles (Matthew 2:11).

Once examined the whole passage is in fact seen to be a basic unity, being put together in the form of a chiasmus, the second half reflecting the first in reverse order, whilst also expanding on the thoughts contained in it.

Analysis of Matthew 9:35 to Matthew 11:1 .

a Jesus goes through all their towns preaching the Good News of the Kingly Rule of Heaven and healing disease and sickness, but when He saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd (Matthew 9:35-36).

b Then He says to His disciples, “The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the labourers are few. Pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He send forth labourers into His harvest”. And He called to Him His twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the public servant; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him (Matthew 9:37 to Matthew 10:4)

c These twelve Jesus sent forth, and charged them, saying, “Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, The kingly rule of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:5-8).

d Get you no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your purses; no food wallet for your journey; neither two coats, nor shoes, nor staff. For the labourer is worthy of his food” (Matthew 10:9-10).

e “And into whatever city or village you shall enter, search out who in it is worthy, and there stay until you go forth. And as you enter into the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you” (Matthew 10:11-13)

f “And whoever will not receive you, nor hear your words, as you go forth out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet, truly I say to you, It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city” (Matthew 10:14-15)

g “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, be you therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

h “But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you, yes and you will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:17-18).

i “But when they deliver you up, do not be anxious how or what you shall speak, for it will be given you in that hour what you shall speak, for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matthew 10:19-20).

j “And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated of all men for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end, the same will be saved” (Matthew 10:21-22).

k “But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next, for truly I say to you, You will not have gone through the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come (Matthew 10:23).

j “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his teacher, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more those of his household!” (Matthew 10:24-25).

i “Do not be afraid of them therefore, for there is nothing covered, that will not be revealed, and hid, that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak you in the light, and what you hear in the ear, proclaim upon the housetops” (Matthew 10:26-27).

h “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

g “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall on the ground without your Father, but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).

f “Every one therefore who shall confess Me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

e “Do not think that I came to send peace on the earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law, and a man’s foes will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36).

d “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who does not take his cross and follow after Me, is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37-38).

c He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

b “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever will give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, truly I say to you he will in no wise lose his reward” (Matthew 10:40-42).

a And it came about that when Jesus had finished commanding his twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities” (Matthew 11:1).

Note that in ‘a’ Jesus went all about their towns and saw the crowds that were thronging Him as being like sheep without a shepherd, and that in the parallel He goes out to preach and teaches in their towns. In ‘b’ He commissions His disciples for their preaching ministry and, calling them by name, gives them Kingly authority over evil spirits, death and disease, and in the parallel declares that because they go out in His Name their being received will be the same as if those who received them were receiving Him, and thus receiving Him Who sent Him. In ‘c’ they are to go to Israel freely giving of themselves, and in the parallel this is seen as losing their lives for His sake (compare Matthew 19:29). In ‘d’ they are to take no provisions with them because the labourer is worthy (axios) of his hire, and in the parallel such worthiness is spelled out. In ‘e’ they are to offer or withhold peace, and in the parallel He points out that for the majority His purpose is not to bring peace. In ‘f’ He warns of judgment on those who refuse their testimony, and in the parallel those who do not confess Him will not be confessed before His Father. In ‘g’ they are to go forth as sheep and to be as harmless as birds, and in the parallel they are treasured because they are more important than birds. In ‘h’ they will be brought before different types of court, and in the parallel they are not to be afraid of those who can kill the body but not the soul. In ‘i’ they are not to be anxious because the Spirit of their Father will speak in them, and in the parallel they are not to be afraid of men because Jesus Himself will tell them what to speak in the light and they will hear in their ear what they are to declare from the housetops. In ‘j’ households will be divided because of Him and they will be hated of all men for His Name’s sake, and in the parallel because men have called Him Beelzebub they will call them the same. And centrally in ‘k’ in the face of persecution they are to persevere with their ministry until He comes to them.

Verses 2-3

‘Now when John heard in the prison the works of the Christ, he sent by his disciples, and said to him, “Are you he who is coming, or should we look for another?” ’

In his prison John heard of ‘the kind of works that the Messiah was doing’, but what he heard did not fit in with his conception of the Messiah. That Jesus was the Messiah has already been stated in Matthew 1:1; Matthew 1:16-17. Thus this may be just Matthew’s interpretive comment, showing that he feels that he has by now quite definitely demonstrated that Jesus was the Messiah, and expects his readers to appreciate the fact. But it is quite possible that he wants us to know that that was also how John thought of Him, for John certainly saw Him as an ‘end day’ (apocalyptic) figure, ‘the Coming One’ (Matthew 3:11; compare Matthew 21:9; Matthew 23:39; John 6:14; John 11:27). But that was the point. He could not in that case quite understand what He was doing. (This was not the first time that John had been taken by surprise by Jesus (Matthew 3:14), revealing that he continually did not completely comprehend what the Coming One would be all about, and was required to respond in faith). So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus about Himself. Was He the Coming One, or should they be looking for someone else? That was the question. Could he expect instant action or had he to wait for another of a different kind from Jesus? He was not offended with Jesus. He just wanted to know. Perhaps he had been mistaken in his assumptions?

‘Another.’ The word indicates another of a different kind. What Jesus was doing did not quite fit in with his expectations.

What then was causing John’s difficulty? Perhaps it arose because he felt that it was time that Jesus commenced recruiting followers out of the great crowds that followed Him, so as to establish His Kingly Rule, something that He appeared not to be doing. On the other hand he had not even prepared in that way himself, which is against that suggestion. Even more possibly there may be a hint of what was in his thoughts when we consider what Jesus said later about the crowd’s view of Him, that he was an ascetic. Jesus had previously joined him in the wilderness. Perhaps John found it difficult to understand a prophetic figure Who now seemingly ate and drank with outcasts and sinners, held lightly to ritual (John was a priest from a priestly family), and discouraged His disciples from fasting. He had had no opportunity of discussing this with Him and it may well all have appeared to him very strange, for Judaism was a religion that took such things very seriously, and none more seriously than he had himself . Could such behaviour really reveal God’s Coming One? Perhaps there was even a hint in his words that he felt that Jesus should consider whether He was behaving quite as He should.

All this may have played a part, but Jesus’ reply suggests that He knew that his main problem lay in his misunderstanding of His ways. Thus Jesus knew that the way in which to satisfy him was to show him that, while not perhaps doing what John had expected, He was fulfilling what the Scriptures had promised, and what was more, Scriptures which were also connected with judgment.

‘He Who is coming.’ By this John may have meant the Messiah, or the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15 or Isaiah 61:1-3, or the coming Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6), all of whom were expected figures (see John 1:20; John 1:25). Or he may have had in mind some other expected figure. Some have traced the idea to Habakkuk 2:3 which speaks of something or someone who ‘will surely come’, and that ‘at the appointed time’. Others have thought of Genesis 49:10 and the ‘coming of Shiloh’ to gather the people, or of the Coming One of Psalms 118:26 Who will come in the name of the Lord. And still others of the Redeemer Who would come to Zion to turn away transgression from Jacob (Isaiah 59:20), which would tie in with the earlier citation of Isaiah 40:3 (see Matthew 3:3). But the fact that he expected the Coming One to pour out ‘Spirit and fire’ seems to point either to the Messiah (which could include some or all of the above), or alternatively to another, but more powerful, Elijah (compare 2 Kings 2:9-10; 2 Kings 2:15; 2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12, and see also Revelation 11:5). He may indeed have combined the two ideas in the light of Malachi’s prophecies (Malachi 3:1 b, Malachi 3:2; Matthew 4:5-6), and even have included some of the other concepts. For while Jesus saw John as the coming Elijah (Matthew 11:14), it was not how John saw himself (John 1:21), although we should remember that that was a reply to people who were thinking literally of Elijah returning (something which Jesus did not believe either). He saw himself as the one who was sent to prepare the way for God to act (Matthew 3:3; John 1:23; compare Malachi 3:1 a), with a Greater yet to come. And Matthew will shortly make clear to his readers precisely Who that Coming One is (Matthew 12:17-21).

We should note that, contrary to popular opinion, Jesus was already ‘drenching’ His Apostles in Holy Spirit as is evidenced by His giving to them the power to heal, cleanse lepers, raise the dead and cast out evil spirits (Matthew 10:8), which they could not have done without the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:28). But John might not have appreciated that, and he probably felt that the fire just did not appear to be on the horizon at all.

‘The disciples of John.’ We know almost nothing about the ‘disciples of John’. We do know that they fasted, and especially so because of what had happened to their leader (Matthew 9:14). It would appear therefore that they formed a recognised grouping similar to that of the Pharisees (and of the Essenes), loose but definite. And they possibly sought to pass on the teaching of John, and even to preach that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was coming. Of course those who like John the Baptist himself had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah would transfer their allegiance to Jesus, as Peter, James, John and Andrew had done, although these particular ones who now came to Jesus may have been waiting to see first what would happen their leader. But there would be many disciples of John who had responded to his message when they had come to Jerusalem for the feasts, and who were now scattered around the world, and back in their own homes. And many of them probably continued to look ahead and hope for what John had promised, without necessarily believing that Jesus was the fulfilment of what John had taught, or indeed knowing much about Jesus (for many of them Palestine was far away). Certainly there appear to have been largish numbers of disciples of John around the world with whom the later church came into contact (e.g. Acts 19:1-6).

Verses 2-6

Jesus Assures John That He, Jesus, Is The Expected Coming One For Whom John Was Preparing The Way (11:2-6).

John, languishing in a dungeon in the Fortress of Machaerus, east of Jordan, (compare Matthew 4:12; Matthew 14:3-5), was clearly puzzled. He had come to prepare the way for the Coming One Who was promised, the One Who was to succeed him. And he had expected to hear of wonderful things happening. He had expected to hear of an even greater response of people than he himself had seen, with a powerful work of the Spirit of God taking place on them (Matthew 3:11-12), which would also result in fiery judgment being carried out on the ungodly (Matthew 3:7; Matthew 3:12), and this would include the king who had thrust him into this dungeon, and the introducing of God’s Kingly Rule (Matthew 3:11-12). But from the information that had reached him nothing highly unusual was happening at all. There did not seem to be any ominous stirrings. There was no sign of a righteous uprising like that spoken of at Qumran and by the Essenes. Everything just seemed to be going on almost as normal. He did not lose his faith in God’s promises. He was just perplexed, and wondered whether he had misinterpreted things. Perhaps he had been wrong in thinking that Jesus was the Coming One. Perhaps He was not the Coming One after all, and he must wait patiently for someone else? So he sent his disciples to Jesus to make enquiries.

In those days access to prisoners by close friends and relatives was allowed so that they could supply them with food and necessities (compare Matthew 25:36), and John appears to have been no exception. In his case his closest disciples had the courage to visit him and seek to sustain him, and it was these brave men who came to Jesus with John’s questions.


a Now when John heard in the prison the works of the Christ, he sent by his disciples, and said to him, “Are you he who is coming, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3).

b And Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear” (Matthew 11:4 a)

c “And see” (Matthew 11:4).

c “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up (Matthew 11:5 a).

b And the poor have good tidings preached to them” (Matthew 11:5 b).

a “And blessed is he, whoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me” (Matthew 11:6).

Note that in ‘a’ comes John’s question and in the parallel is Jesus’ assurance. In ‘b’ is reference to what John’s disciples hear, and in the parallel it is the proclamation of the Good News. In ‘c’ is reference to what they see, and in the parallel is a description of what they see.

Verses 2-12

The Messiah Has Come, And One Who Is More Than the Messiah, Overcoming the Powers of Satan, And While Rejected By The Many He Is Revealing Himself And Being Accepted By Babes And By The Meek and Lowly And Those Who Do The Will Of His Father Who Form His New Household (11:2-12).

Central to this whole section is Matthew’s declaration of Jesus as the One Who has come ‘fulfilling’ the Isaianic prophecy concerning the Servant of YHWH (Matthew 12:17-21). For justification of this statement see the chiasmus below. As such He comes as the One Who is pleasing to God, and has God’s Spirit upon Him, bringing hope to the Gentiles and a ministry of restoration to His own people, as He triumphantly establishes righteousness and truth. And it is around this, and men’s response to it, that the whole section is constructed.

Indeed if we compare the passages before and after Matthew 12:17-21 we see a distinct difference in their emphases. Prior to the declaration concerning the coming Servant the emphasis is on Jesus as:

The Coming One Who is fulfilling the Scriptures concerning Himself (Matthew 11:3-6), and revealing His authority (Matthew 12:1-16), and His essential Oneness with the Father (Matthew 11:25-27).

The pressing forwards against all opposition of the Kingly Rule of Heaven which is now present among them, and for which John, the greatest of the prophets, had prepared the way (Matthew 11:7-15), which is manifested by the work of the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:28).

Thus while the people as a whole may have expressed their dissatisfaction with John and Himself (Matthew 11:16-19), and have ignored the signs which reveal Who He is (‘if the works which have been done in you’), something which can only result in their final judgment (Matthew 11:20-24), and while the Pharisees may have turned against Him (Matthew 12:2; Matthew 12:14), there are those who are religiously speaking babes, but who have been enlightened by His Father, and have come to see the truth about Him (Matthew 11:25-27). To them He has revealed the Father, so that they may walk in oneness with Himself as the One Who is meek and lowly (Matthew 11:28-30).

However, once the declaration of Him as the Spirit anointed and beloved Servant of YHWH has been made (Matthew 12:17-21), we are suddenly faced with what lies behind all this opposition, the activities of the powers of evil (Matthew 12:22-32; Matthew 12:43-45). These are seen to be what is responsible for the unresponsiveness of the Jews, although only because their hearts are evil (Matthew 12:33-37). And this is accompanied by an assurance that these evil powers will be defeated by the power of the Spirit Whose presence in Him reveals that the Kingly Rule of God has come upon them as God’s prospective people (Matthew 12:28). Nevertheless many will sadly fail to respond and will therefore discover that their position becomes seven times worse than before (Matthew 12:43-45). The section then ends with Jesus introducing His new family (Matthew 12:46-50), His new household, the ones who have been delivered from the ‘despoiled’ household of Satan (Matthew 12:29). These form a new ‘household’ which again demonstrates that the Kingly Rule of Heaven is being established. Indeed we could see as lying behind this section the words spoken to Paul by God in Acts, ‘to turn them from darkness to light (Matthew 11:25-30), and from the power of Satan to God (Matthew 12:28-29)’.

But there are also a number of other themes in the section. The first is the theme of the misunderstanding of His ministry. The section opens with the puzzlement of John, the one who has announced Him (Matthew 11:2-6). It continues with the puzzlement of the people who can understand neither John nor Him (Matthew 11:16-19), nor His signs (Matthew 11:20-24). And that is followed by the puzzlement of the Pharisees (Matthew 12:1-15). But with that puzzlement comes Jesus’ assurance that the ones whom His Father have blessed will see and understand. Thus John will be blessed in this way in Matthew 11:6, and all Jesus’ disciples will be blessed in this way in Matthew 11:25-30. For they will come to see that He is the Servant of YHWH promised by Isaiah, Who coming as the chosen and beloved of YHWH. He will have His Spirit upon Him, and will accomplish His purpose in meekness and lowliness, finally restoring and bringing to a flame all God’s true people, which will also include the nations as a whole (Matthew 12:17-21). Satan will be put to flight and the eyes of the blind will be opened and their tongues released (Matthew 12:21-32) so that they will do and say what is true (Matthew 12:33-37), thus being revealed as His Messianic family (Matthew 12:46-50).

Another theme is that of Who Jesus is (a constant theme in the Gospel). He is the Christ (Matthew 11:2), the One Who has been announced by the new Elijah (Matthew 11:9; Matthew 11:14); the Son of Man (Matthew 11:19; Matthew 12:8; Matthew 12:32; Matthew 12:40); the chosen and beloved Servant of YHWH (Matthew 12:18); the Son of David (Matthew 12:23); the Spirit anointed One (Matthew 12:18; Matthew 12:28; Matthew 12:32); the One Whose Messianic signs should bring forth repentance (Matthew 11:20-24); the One Who is greater than Jonah or Solomon (Matthew 12:41-42). And in direct contrast are those who fail to respond to Him, ‘this (evil) generation’ (Matthew 11:16; Matthew 12:45); who behave like spoiled children (Matthew 11:16-19); who refuse to repent (Matthew 11:20-24); who criticise His actions (Matthew 12:2; Matthew 12:10); who include Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 12:2; Matthew 12:14; Matthew 12:24; Matthew 12:38), who are active against Him; and yet who think of themselves as ‘wise and understanding’ (Matthew 11:25; compare Matthew 11:19).

A further theme is the presence of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. It has been manifested by signs (Matthew 11:5), prepared for by John the Baptiser (Matthew 11:10; Matthew 11:14), is coming in forcefully (Matthew 11:12), and is manifested by the Son of Man’s Lordship over the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8), and by the Spirit’s working (Matthew 12:28) which evidences the fact that ‘the Kingly Rule of God has come upon them’.

And finally there is the theme of judgment. For although He has come to save, His very being here is a guarantee of coming judgment (John 3:19-21; John 12:47-48). It will come on those who see His signs and refuse to repent (Matthew 11:20-24); on those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit at work through Him (Matthew 12:32); on those who refuse to respond to His preaching (Matthew 12:41-42); and on those whose repentance ha only been half-hearted (Matthew 12:45).

The Whole Section Can Be Analysed As Follows

a He is questioned as to whether He is the Coming one, and replies, ‘Tell John what you see’, that is, the Messianic signs. He then stresses to the crowds the greatness of John the Baptist, but points out that the coming of the Kingly Rule of Heaven transcends John, and that it is now coming forcefully - the new age is here (Matthew 11:2-15).

b This generation, who have come to see John and Jesus, and have declared that they do not fit in with what they want - for on the one hand they criticise John for being an Ascetic, and on the other they criticise Jesus for being a Winebibber - are like children playing games. Wisdom is justified by her works (what she produces) (Matthew 11:16-19).

c Diatribe against Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, who are contrasted with Tyre, Sidon and Sodom (Gentile cities), for having rejected what they have seen. It will be worse for the cities of Israel in the Day of Judgment than for them (Matthew 11:20-24).

d On the other hand what is hidden from the wise is revealed to babes. Only the Father truly knows the Son, and only the Son truly knows and reveals the Father, and those to whom He has chosen to reveal Him - (what is in the heart of God is being revealed through His sent One, His Word) (Matthew 11:25-27).

e Jesus calls His disciples to “Come to Me - receive My yoke - I am meek and lowly in heart - My yoke is easy, My burden light” - and His people will be known by what they are (Matthew 11:28-30).

f Challenge in the cornfield - Jesus gives the example of what David did and of what the priests do in the Temple - but now One greater than the Temple is here, and One greater than David, for He is the Son of Man, Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8).

g He heals the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, symptomatic of Israel’s state - but the Pharisees being blind plan to destroy Him - Jesus withdraws and continues His healing signs, but urges the crowds to silence concerning them (Matthew 12:9-16).

h By all this Jesus is fulfilling the Isaianic prophecy of the Servant of YHWH. Behold My Servant - My Spirit is on Him - He will gently restore His people and in Him will the Gentiles hope (Matthew 12:17-21).

g He heals a demon possessed, blind and dumb man, symptomatic of Israel’s state - “is not this the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:22-23).

f The Beelzeboul controversy - one greater than Satan is here to spoil Satan’s goods and reveal by His casting out of evil spirits by the power of the Spirit that the Kingly Rule of God has come upon them (Matthew 12:22-30).

e The unforgivable sin is to reject the Spirit’s testimony to Him manifested through the openly revealed power of God. If a tree is good its fruit is good - if it is not good its fruit will not be good - a tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 12:31-33).

d What is in the heart comes from the mouth revealing the truth about men - they are justified or condemned by their words (Matthew 12:34-37).

c Scribes and Pharisees seek a sign - but only the sign of the prophet Jonah will be given - it is the sign of the resurrection - Nineveh and Sheba (Gentiles) will rise in judgment against them because they have not repented, because a greater than Jonah, and a greater than Solomon is here (Matthew 12:38-42).

b An unclean spirit leaves and returns with seven worse than himself, so that the last state worse is than the first - so it will be with this generation (Matthew 12:43-45).

a His natural mother and brothers are replaced by the Messiah’s new family, those who do the will of His Father in Heaven. The new community is founded, the new age is here (Matthew 12:46-50).

Note that in ‘a’ the emphasis is on the fact that the new age is here and is revealed by a new attitude, and the same applies in the parallel. In ‘b’ the present generation come out to seek John and Jesus and are dissatisfied with both, for opposing reasons, and receive neither to their hearts - wisdom is evidenced by what it produces, and in the parallel we see the other side of the picture, the evil spirit leaves them alone for a time, but when they remain empty (because they have not responded to either John or Jesus) returns and takes possession with seven other worse spirits. This is what is happening to this generation. In ‘c’ comparison is made between the cities of Israel and their rejection of Jesus’ revelation of Himself, which will reveal them to be in a worse state than the cities of the Gentiles, and in the parallel comparison is made between the response of Israel to Jesus, and the response of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba (representing Gentile cities) to Jonah and Solomon, which will count against Israel in the judgment. In ‘d’ we have a vivid description of the truth of God dawning in men’s hearts and being revealed through Jesus (through Whom God is speaking, revealing the heart of God) Who knows God and makes Him known, and in the parallel this is compared and contrasted with what comes from men’s hearts and is revealed through their words. In ‘e’ those who are His will reveal themselves by what they are as a result of coming to Him, and in the parallel a tree is known by its fruit, revealing what it is. In ‘f’ Jesus as the Son of David is greater than David the King (Matthew 1:6) and is greater than the Temple, and as the Son of Man He is Lord of the Sabbath (demonstrating the presence of the Kingly Rule of God), and in the parallel He is greater than Beelzeboul the prince of devils, and in casting out devils by the Spirit of God is demonstrating that the Kingly Rule of God has come on them. In ‘g’ Jesus heals the man with the withered hand (symptomatic of Israel) on the Sabbath but the Pharisees prove themselves blind (see Matthew 23:16-17; Matthew 23:19; Matthew 23:24; Matthew 23:26), while the crowd whom He heals are commanded to be dumb, and in the parallel He heals a man possessed by an evil spirit that makes a man blind and dumb, (symptomatic of Israel,) being thus recognised as the Son of David by the crowds while the Pharisees are blind. Centrally in ‘h’ He is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecies as the Servant of YHWH, Who will bring justice and truth to the Gentiles, and Who will deal gently with His people, restoring the broken reed and bringing to flame the smoking flax (compare Matthew 11:25; Matthew 11:28-30), until He victoriously brings in justice and truth. In His Name will the Gentiles hope (compare Matthew 12:41-42).

The section opens with Jesus sending to John the Baptist in prison the evidence that He is the Coming One (Matthew 11:2-6), which He follows up by informing the crowds of the greatness of John, and of the even greater thing that has happened in the coming in Him of the Kingly Rule of Heaven which is forcing its way on men against all opposition (or is being forcefully entered by men) (Matthew 11:7-15). He then upbraids them for their inconsistency (Matthew 11:16-19), and warns the cities where He has preached the most, of the judgment that awaits them because of their failure to respond in repentance, which makes them worse that the Gentiles (Matthew 11:20-24). In contrast with this He commends to His Father those who have had revealed to them the truth about Him, and reveals his own relationship to the Father as the Son Who alone knows the Father, and Who as such will reveal the Father to the disciples (Matthew 11:25-27), something which He then connects with an appeal for His followers to become meek and lowly like Himself (Matthew 11:28-30). We have in this an echo of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-9) in which the blessing of God has resulted in His people being meek and lowly, and an echo of the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount in which He has given His revelation of the Father (Matthew 5:44 to Matthew 7:21). We should note the way in which this is presented. From Matthew 11:2-24 His words are spoken out to those who are outside the Kingly Rule of Heaven, but when He begins to deal with questions concerning those who are within the Kingly Rule of Heaven, His words go upwards. They are a colony of Heaven (Philippians 3:20). Two incidents are then described (Matthew 12:1-16) which reveal His Messianic right to determine what shall be done on the Sabbath. In these, as the Son of Man, He is revealed as Lord over the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8), and brings out the blindness and hard-heartedness of the Pharisees.

Up to this point then the emphasis has been on the rejection by the many of the revelation of God given in the light of His Messianic works, an indication that they walk the broad way to destruction (Matthew 11:16-24; Matthew 12:1-16), and on the comparatively few who have seen the truth about Him, and whom He calls to walk in His ways in the narrow way (Matthew 11:25-30). And it is at this point that Matthew introduces the quotation from Isaiah 42:1-4, which he sees as being ‘fulfilled’ in Jesus. In this he emphasises that Jesus is among them as God’s chosen and beloved Servant (compare Matthew 3:17), who is totally pleasing to Him in what He is doing (Matthew 11:26) and Who, empowered by the Spirit (Matthew 3:11-12; Matthew 3:16; Matthew 12:28), will bring righteous truth to the Gentiles (Matthew 11:21; Matthew 12:41-42), and by His patient working as the One Who is meek and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:28-30), among those who will respond, will send forth righteous truth until total success is achieved, and all in promises which include hope for the Gentiles (as indicated in Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 12:41-42). So there is in Matthew no thought of doubt or fear in what might seem outward failure, for God’s mighty spiritual warrior is at work bringing salvation and deliverance.

Following this Old Testament revelation concerning Jesus’ ministry there then comes a change in emphasis. Previously all has been about declaration, response, scepticism and opposition. But now the atmosphere changes and it is as though Jesus lifts up the stone of the world in order to reveal what is happening in the darkness beneath it. The forces of evil are shown to be at work in Israel behind the scenes. They are first emphasised in that they are seen as causing blindness and dumbness, for Jesus now casts out a blind and deaf and dumb spirit (Matthew 12:22-23), just as a blind and deaf and dumb Spirit needs to be cast out of Israel. He then explains in more depth that He is present by the Spirit of God to cast out the powers of evil and ‘spoil’ Satan’s household revealing the presence of the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 12:28-29 compare Matthew 12:18). Teaching is then given connected with this which looks below the surface to the heart of man, and reveals what is beneath, teaching concerning the fact that what men are in their hearts will inevitably be revealed by what they say, by which also they will be judged (Matthew 12:33-37); and He follows it with a warning that He will give no spectacular signs (other than those presented in His ministry as described to John the Baptist) apart from one already given by God, a fore-presentation of His coming resurrection as the Son of Man (Matthew 12:40), as illustrated by what happened to the prophet Jonah (Matthew 12:39-40).

This leads on to a comparison between the Gentiles who responded to Jonah and Solomon, and the present generation of Jews. The acceptance by the Gentiles of the messages of Jonah and Solomon are contrasted with the Jews’ lack of response to a greater than Jonah and Solomon Who is now here (Matthew 12:41-42), an attitude which He then illustrates by the parable of the spirit who left a man, but who in the end, because the man’s heart remained empty and unresponsive towards God, returned to the man with seven spirits worse than himself (Matthew 12:43-45). And this is specifically said to represent ‘this evil generation’ (Matthew 12:45). So the point behind all this is that Jesus, having come by the power of the Spirit as God’s chosen One, is putting the spirit world of evil to flight in Israel, but that a Judaism that fails to respond to His coming and to His words, can only expect to end up in a much worse condition than they were before He came, with their minds darkened by the powers of evil.

The coming of the new age is then finally illustrated by Jesus’ own attitude towards His earthly family and His heavenly family (Matthew 12:46-50). The earthly has been replaced by the heavenly. Those are now His brother, sister and mother who do the will of His Father Who is in Heaven (Matthew 12:50).

Having surveyed the whole we must now examine the section verse by verse, commencing with chapter 11. It will be noted that chapter 11 also falls into a pattern:

a The Coming One and the Kingly Rule of Heaven are revealed to those who see the signs of the Messiah (Matthew 11:2-15).

b In contrast are those who refuse to see and respond either to John or to Jesus because they are like children playing games (Matthew 11:16-19).

b This is followed by His condemnation of those who fail to read the signs that have been given by Jesus and whose future is therefore bleak (Matthew 11:20-24).

a This is then followed by an indication of His special relationship with those who do read the signs, hear His words and follow Him (Matthew 11:25-30).

Verse 4

‘And Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see,” ’

Jesus responds to their request by telling them to take a message from Him to John. They were to spell out the detail of what was happening. They were to tell John what they heard and saw, and He gives them the message word for word, for He knows that John will hear and understand, for he is one who is blessed by God.

‘Hearing and seeing’ is very important in Matthew. It has in mind hearts that are responsive to the truth (Matthew 11:15; Matthew 13:9; Matthew 13:17), or, in the negative, hearts that are not responsive (Matthew 13:14-15; Matthew 5:8; Matthew 10:27). And Jesus knows that John will hear and see.

Verse 5

“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 preached to them.”

We have already noted how all these ‘signs’ have been fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus as outlined in Matthew 8:1 to Matthew 9:35. See introduction to Matthew 8:1. Jesus is here thus recounting to John the details of His ministry. They are also the signs that His Apostles will perform, something which stresses their importance in the Messianic ministry (Matthew 10:8). And He words His reply so as to make clear that it has in mind the prophecies of Isaiah, and are also a reminder of the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. For ‘the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, --- and the deaf hear’ we can compare Isaiah 35:5-6, ‘the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped, then will the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will sing.’ We can also note Isaiah 29:18-19, ‘and in that day shall the deaf hear --- and the eyes of the blind will see --’, where he is speaking of spiritual truth, the verbal similarity thus being a direct hint to John that like those of whom Isaiah was speaking he is to see and understand. And these were events which were to take place at the time of the restoration of Israel, and would accompany the fact that God would also judge His people (Isaiah 35:4). They were therefore very relevant to John’s view of the Coming One, This connection between these Isaianic promises and the Messiah is also found at Qumran. Note also in Jesus’ words ‘the dead are raised up’ which echoes Isaiah 26:19 ‘your dead shall live’.

This healing ministry of Jesus again looks back to Matthew 8:17 where ‘He bore our afflictions and carried our sicknesses’. But we may also compare it with Matthew 12:17-20 where He cares for the bruised reed and the smoking flax. It is swallowed up between the two, stressing the Servanthood of Jesus

However, ‘the lepers are cleansed --- and the dead are raised up’ was probably also intended to indicate that a greater than Elijah and Elisha was here. The remarkable healing of a leper by Elisha (although in his case indirectly - 2 Kings 5:0), and the raising of the dead by both Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:32-37), were seen as outstanding and memorable miracles which demonstrated their uniqueness, for they were the only examples of such miracles. So to heal lepers and raise the dead in the plural as to be greater than Elijah and Elisha. And that Jesus in other ways fulfilled even more abundantly what they had begun will later come out in the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand, for which compare the feeding of one hundred in 2 Kings 4:42-44. And they too were men of the Spirit (2 Kings 2:9; 2 Kings 2:15), another connection with Matthew 12:17-20. So Jesus is certainly depicting Himself as greater than Elijah and Elisha combined. He sums up in Himself all the wonders of the prophets.

‘And the poor have good tidings preached to them.” This is an echo of Isaiah 61:1, thus identifying Jesus with the anointed Prophet in a passage which is also accompanied by a warning of coming judgment (Isaiah 61:2), which is again a point of contact with Matthew 12:17-20. Thus Jesus’ words were to be recognised by John as indicating that Jesus really was the Coming One in three aspects, the Coming One of Isaiah, the Coming One Who was greater than Elijah, and the Coming Prophet and bearer of Good News, and their contexts would confirm to John that the judgment that he was expecting would indeed at some stage inevitably follow (notice Jesus’ certainty concerning John’s knowledge of the Scriptures).

Note how the six items are split into two pairs of healings, followed by the raising of the dead and the proclamation of Good News, each of the last two standing on its own (the split distinguished by the use of ‘and’ (kai)). He is thus the overall healer and cleanser, the raiser of the dead and the proclaimer of the Good News.

Verse 6

“And blessed is he, whoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.”

And then He adds a rider to what He has said so as to remind John that although he may not understand, he must trust and believe. He must not stumble over the fact that Jesus is not exactly what he was expecting, for great prophet that he was, even his understanding was limited by his background and expectations. This reference to Jesus being a possible stumbling block links Him with Isaiah 8:24-25 where God Himself is the stumbling block.

Yet this is more than a rider, it is a reply to John’s question. By accepting Jesus for what He is and truly believing, he will prove that he has been greatly blessed by God, and will continue to be blessed (note the echo of the beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-9). As in Matthew 5:3-9 ‘blessed’ means ‘blessed by God’. That is why He knows that John will take His words to heart and be comforted, because it will result from God acting in blessing on him (as in Matthew 11:25.

Verse 7

‘And as these went their way, Jesus began to say to the crowds concerning John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?” ’

Jesus begins to impress on the crowds the greatness of John. He questions them as to what it was about John that caused them to flock to see him. What made them go into the wilderness? Certainly not just a reed (or a reedbed) shaking in the wind. That was too common a sight. Or was it the weakness and frailty of the reed that Jesus had in mind? A reed was helpless before the wind, and vulnerable (1 Kings 14:15), but possibly Jesus wants them to acknowledge that John was not like that. Note the connection with the later quotation from Isaiah in Matthew 12:20. There the Servant will deal tenderly with the broken reed. He has not come only for such as John.

Verses 7-15

Jesus Expresses His Full Appreciation of John But Points Out That Now Something Even Greater Has Come, The Coming In Force Of The Kingly Rule of Heaven (11:7-15).

Having sent His assurance to John Jesus now turns to the crowds, both in order to vindicate John and also to bring out an even more important fact, that what John had pointed to was now here. He declares that John is the greatest of all the prophets, because he has introduced what other prophets could only look forward to. As the introducer of the Coming One he is thus set in status above them all. He is the one promised in the Scriptures, the preparer of the way (Matthew 3:3; compare Isaiah 40:3), the coming Elijah (Matthew 11:14 compare Malachi 4:5).

But now what he has introduced is coming into fruition. The Kingly Rule of Heaven is forcefully coming in (Matthew 11:12). And all who enter that Kingly Rule will be greater than John, for they will enjoy a status that he as the introducer could not have. They will be directly servants of the King. And to be such a servant is to be the greatest in the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 20:26; Matthew 23:11). Precisely how forcefully His Kingly Rule will come in will shortly be revealed in Matthew 12:22-32. And it is coming in through Jesus (Matthew 12:28) in His manifestation of His power through the Spirit over all the forces of darkness.


a And as these went their way, Jesus began to say to the crowds concerning John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in delicate clothing? Behold, those who wear delicate clothing are in kings’ houses” (Matthew 11:7-8).

b “But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and much more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:9).

c “This is he, of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, Who will prepare your way before you’ ” (Matthew 11:10).

d “Truly I say to you, Among those who are born of women there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist. Yet he who is least in the Kingly Rule of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).

c “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingly rule of heaven has been forcefully advancing (or ‘suffers violence’), and men of violence take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).

b “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John” (Matthew 11:13).

a “And if you are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:14-15).

Not that in ‘a’ the question is as to what is basic about John, and in the parallel we discover it is that he is the coming Elijah. In ‘b the question is whether he is a prophet, and in the parallel mention is made of all the prophets. In ‘c’ he is to prepare the way for the coming king, and in the parallel the kingly rule of the king advances. Centrally in ‘d’ is the ‘greatness’ of all who are under the Kingly Rule of Heaven.

Verse 8

“But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.”

Note how well the pictures fit together, on the one hand the humble reed, on the other the mighty courtier. The one is found in the wilderness, but is hardly worth gong out to see, the other might be worth going out to see, but is not found in the wilderness. John was, however, neither and both. He was both worth going out to see, and was in the wilderness. For he was a prophet of God. He was not a thing to be blown about, nor an arrogant man of earthly authority and power, living at ease and in luxury. He was a true prophet of a kind that Israel had been waiting for.

Verse 9

“But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and much more than a prophet.”

Why then did they go out into the wilderness? Was it to see a prophet? Yes, it was. And indeed it was to see more than a prophet, it was to see the special prophet whom God had sent to prepare the way for God to finally act to bring about the consummation.

Verse 10

“This is he, of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, Who will prepare your way before you.’ ”

‘It is written.’ This always signifies words which have the authority of God because they come from the Scripture. What is so written is God’s truth.

And what was written? That the prophet that they had gone out to see was the one announced beforehand by Scripture, the very messenger of God, who was sent by Him to announce the coming of His Chosen One. The words are taken from Malachi 3:1 as affected by Exodus 23:20, and are as found in both Mark and Luke. But they are slightly different from LXX. For while LXX has God sending a messenger to prepare the way for Himself, here the messenger is sent to prepare the way for His Messiah, that is, for Jesus. This application of verses which speak of God to Jesus is common in the New Testament. It is interpretive translation. But for Jesus to so casually apply it to Himself brings out the unique status that He claimed as ‘the Son’ (Matthew 11:27).

Verse 11

“Truly I say to you, Among those who are born of women there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist. Yet he who is least in the Kingly Rule of heaven is greater than he.”

And then Jesus makes clear that in Himself a new age has begun. It is the time of consummation (even if it will last for two thousand years and more). The Kingly Rule of Heaven is now being established on earth (it has always been established in Heaven - Psalms 22:28; Psalms 103:19; Psalms 93:1, etc). And the one who is least in the Kingly Rule of Heaven is greater than John, for John is a figure of the old age, preparatory to the Kingly Rule, but not under it. Indeed he is the greatest of all born in that age. For of men born of women none has arisen who was greater than John the Baptist. And what this statement is telling us is not that he is greater than Moses, and Elijah, and David per se, (such comparisons would be odious), but that he is greater than them all because he is the Introducer of Jesus. He has a higher office than all the others, and it is that which gives him his greatness, that he is the one appointed to prepare the way for Jesus, and declared to be such in Scripture. And let us consider what that tells us about the greatness of Jesus. It tells us that He towers above them all, and that all point to Him.

And yet, and here is the remarkable thing, even the one who is least under the Kingly Rule of Heaven is ‘greater than John’. That must make us pause. How can that be? And the reply is that John, and all who came before him pointed ahead to the day when the King would come. But they had no place in the Kingly Rule of Heaven on earth, for the King had not yet come. But now all who come under the Kingly Rule of Heaven on earth, by responding to and submitting to Jesus the King, are becoming His servants by being the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16), and are bringing men and women into His Kingly Rule, and there is no greater status than that.

Some have seen ‘he that is least (or youngest)’ as applying to Jesus, so that it is He Who is greater than John the Baptist. But that would not have needed to be said. It was intrinsic in the fact that John had prepared the way for Him. What was startling was that a new age had begun in which all who served God had a unique greatness, the greatness of personal service to the King (Matthew 20:25-28; Luke 22:24-27; Mark 9:34-37) and of being involved in the new salvation. The greatness lay in their status, just as John’s greatness lay in his status. It is telling us that all true status in the world is to be measured against the position of men in the light of Jesus.

But we must note what being in the Kingly Rule of Heaven involves. It is not the same thing as being a member of the Christian church (although it is the same thing as being a living member of Christ’s body). Being in the Kingly Rule of Heaven involves being in genuine submission to the King. Many outwardly appear to be in the Kingly Rule of Heaven who are in fact ‘sons of the Evil One’ (Matthew 13:38). But it is only the ‘sons of the Kingly Rule’ (Matthew 13:38) who are really within the sphere of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, for they alone truly serve the King.

Of course it is important to remember here that greatness in the Kingly Rule of Heaven is not to be measured by earthly standards. True greatness in the Kingly Rule of God is evidenced by unflagging and totally unselfish service (Matthew 20:25-28). It is found in self-denial, in the taking up of the cross to follow Jesus. It is found in being ‘the least’, the one who serves (Mark 9:35; Luke 22:24-27). And once a man truly does that, he is truly great with a greatness that is unsurpassed. It is the greatness of privilege. He has a status beyond all others.

It may be asked, does this mean then that John was not included in the Kingly Rule of Heaven? And the answer is that in his office as the preparer of the way, he was not included in the Kingly Rule of Heaven on earth. For it was Jesus Who brought in the Kingly Rule of Heaven on earth after John was imprisoned. He was announced as King after His baptism, but He did not begin to take on the role until John was put in prison. It was true evidence of His graciousness that while John was still preaching Jesus played a subordinate role to him. He preached alongside him and was concerned when more began to seek to Him rather than to John (John 3:22-24; John 4:1-3). It was only when John was imprisoned that Jesus began to introduce the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Mark 1:14-15), as revealed in His mighty works, consolidating what John and He had begun, and revealing the Kingly Rule as now present (Matthew 12:28). John could never as a prophet be a part of the Kingly Rule on earth (even though his followers possibly could - Matthew 21:31-32), for he was pointing towards it, and for him to enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven would have involved him becoming officially subordinate to Jesus. And that was something that Jesus in His graciousness would not allow. He was, however, along with all the prophets, certainly an inheritor of the Kingly Rule in Heaven (Luke 13:28).

Verse 12

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingly rule of heaven is forcefully advancing (or ‘suffers violence’), and men of violence are taking it by force.”

A number of questions are immediately raised by this verse, although the problems of exact interpretation do not take away from its central meaning, which is that the Kingly Rule of Heaven is ‘now’ manifested on earth, and is either 1). forcefully advancing in the face of all opposition, or 2). is being forcefully entered by those who are becoming Jesus’ disciples, or 3). is being subjected to the violence of its opponents. This fact of the present existence of the Kingly Rule of Heaven must not be lost sight of in the discussion that follows.

The probable meaning of this is that the triumphant establishment of God’s Kingly Rule (the word means not His Kingdom but His Kingship) on earth has begun, being advanced each time someone genuinely becomes a disciple, that is, ‘comes to Christ’, and is taken up and appropriated by His saving power (or in other terms is ‘truly converted’). It will not finally result in the world becoming ‘the Kingdom of God’. Rather the Kingly Rule of God is among them or ‘within them’ (Luke 17:21). The world as a whole will continue in rebellion (Jesus made that clear from the start - Matthew 7:13-27. He never thought that all the Jews would accept His Kingly Rule). And when the King calls the world into judgment, it is then that those who are His will enter ‘the life of the age to come’ in Heaven (Matthew 25:46), while those who have refused to respond will enter into everlasting punishment.

With regard to the three main alternatives suggested the idea that the Kingly Rule of Heaven is being violently attacked by opponents does not fit the context. While it is true that John has suffered at the hands of Herod it was in fact a personal matter. John had rebuked Herod for stealing his brother’s wife. But it was not an actual attack, except indirectly, on the Kingly Rule of Heaven. It is true that such hostility is indicated in chapter 10, but while the disciples might well have suffered under it, why mention it here out of the blue, except possibly in 12b as an after-comment?

But what is rather true here is that in the process of vindicating John we have just been told of the one who is least in the Kingly Rule of Heaven who is greater than John. And we would then inevitably ask, why? Further information and explanation concerning its establishment therefore fits the context. Furthermore we would also expect some evidence in respect of the success of John’s ministry which accorded with the Scripture quoted in Matthew 11:10, an indication of what he had accomplished by his preparing of the way, as demonstrated by a comment on the advancement of the cause of the One for Whom he had prepared the way. That would therefore support either the meaning that that Kingly Rule is now ‘forcefully advancing’ or the idea that it is being ‘entered violently’ by those who are responding. This last idea is certainly supported by Luke 16:16, spoken on another occasion, but the problem with this is that there is no hint in Matthew of violence in relation to entry into the Kingly Rule, apart possibly from the description of the way as ‘afflicted’ in Matthew 7:14. The emphasis is more on meekness and lowliness. (But see the next paragraph below). However there is certainly a clear indication of the violent advancement of the Kingly Rule of God in Matthew 12:28-29 where Jesus speaks of Himself as defeating and binding the strong man Satan through the power of the Spirit so that He might release his captives (spoil his goods). This would suggest therefore that we should translate ‘forcefully advancing’, with that in mind.

And as well as these factors another factor has to be taken into account, and that is that the idea of the Kingly Rule being ‘forcefully advanced’ is found in Pharisaic teaching. They spoke of bringing in the end of the age ‘by force’ through fasting and study of the Law. Thus the idea of spiritually ‘violent’ methods bringing in God’s Kingly Rule is not limited to Jesus, and this might suggest that Jesus is here speaking of advancing the Kingly Rule of Heaven through His emphatic teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and the response to it by His disciples, fitting in with the idea in Luke 16:16. We might therefore see His words as referring to the Kingly Rule forcefully advancing through the ‘violent’ spiritual activity of Him and His disciples, both in His teaching and in their opposition to evil spirits.

‘From the days of John the Baptist until now.’ The phrase ‘the days of John the Baptist’ refers to the time of his preaching ministry. During that time he had proclaimed that ‘the Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3:2), and was calling men to repent in readiness for it. That had been the introductory phase. But to John the Kingly Rule of Heaven was still in the future. He saw it as something yet to happen. He did not see himself as establishing the Kingly Rule of Heaven, or his followers as coming under ‘the Kingly Rule of Heaven’. That was to happen when the Coming One arrived Who would baptise men with Holy Spirit and fire, gathering the wheat into the barn, and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:11-12). He was thus in his own eyes the last of the prophets prior to the establishing of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. And that is why Jesus could say that the one who was least in the Kingly Rule of Heaven was ‘greater’ (in privilege and status) than he.

But Jesus probably did see the Kingly Rule of Heaven as having begun to be established while John was preaching. For He tells the chief priests and elders (and possibly the Pharisees - Matthew 21:45) that while they have delayed responding to the Kingly Rule of God, public servants and sinners ‘are going into the Kingly Rule of God before them’ because they believed the preaching of John. And they are doing it by responding to the commands of the Father and thus doing the will of the Father (Matthew 21:28-31, compare Matthew 7:21). And then He points out that, in spite of this, the chief priests and elders, with the Pharisees, will still will not enter it (Matthew 21:31-32). All this emphasises that entering under the Kingly Rule of Heaven was in His eyes for them a present experience. It was not something that awaited the future.

Whether Jesus meant by this that they actually entered the Kingly Rule of God under John’s ministry, or are entering it now under His own ministry as a result of having believed John’s message, is not made clear, although the overall impression in context is that they heard John, believed his words, and began to do the will of the Father and thus entered under the Kingly Rule of God. But either way Jesus saw them as entering the Kingly Rule of God at that time.

What is therefore certain is that the Kingly Rule of Heaven is being established now that John is in prison, for ‘from the days of John the Baptist until now’ the Kingly Rule had begun to forcibly advance. The forcible nature of the advance is explained in Matthew 12:28-29. The powers of darkness are being put to flight, and Jesus pictures it in terms of ‘spoiling’ Satan’s household, that is entering it and seizing some of his possessions. It was indeed only after John was imprisoned that we are told that Jesus advanced into Galilee and began to cast out evil spirits. On the other hand He had certainly performed some miracles earlier (John 2:11; John 2:23; John 3:2).

The question of whether the Kingly Rule of Heaven began to be established during John’s ministry or awaited Jesus’ sole ministry is a technicality, for without question John, who came ‘in the way of righteousness’, had a part to play in its establishment, whether in a preparatory way or more. But whichever way it was the important thing to recognise is that in one way or another the Kingly Rule of Heaven began with Jesus’ presence as God’s chosen and beloved One (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 12:18) to Whom John pointed.

And along with that would come the forcefulness of men who eagerly pressed into it (Luke 16:16). The timing is similar in Luke 16:16, ‘the Law and the prophets were until John, since then the Kingly Rule of God is preached and every man presses into it (enters it violently)’. This division between ‘the Law and the Prophets’ and ‘the Kingly Rule of God indicates either that the Kingly Rule began to be preached by John, with men then pressing into it, or that it began after he had ceased preaching. It depends how we interpret ‘since’ (whether as inclusive or exclusive). But either way the present tenses indicate that it is ‘now’ happening. Note that to become a disciple here involves ‘violence’. The past has to be thrust aside, genuine repentance has to take place, life has to begin anew, the cross has to be taken up because the bearer has become a revolutionary against all that his old life stood for, and Jesus must be followed. That was why Paul could liken it to the journey through the wilderness, with gross sin needing to be thrust aside (1 Corinthians 10:1-13 in the context of Matthew 9:24-27).

‘Men of violence are taking it by force.’ Note the present tense. It was happening while Jesus was speaking. Unlike ‘forcefully advancing’ in the first part of the verse, which is elsewhere used in both good and bad senses, the words used here are regularly used elsewhere for indicating actions which are on the whole harmful. This probably therefore indicates the opposition that was building up as depicted in Matthew 12:2; Matthew 12:14, which results from its own forcible advancement, and may also have in mind the persecution that the disciples had suffered while out on their mission (Matthew 10:16-23) and the imprisonment of John the Baptist (Matthew 4:12; Matthew 11:2). Alternately it may like Luke 16:16 refer to the violence which was necessary on behalf of the disciples in order to put the past aside and follow Jesus, the words being seen as ‘purified’ by the context.

Note On Some Of The Interpretations Of Matthew 11:12 .

As will be appreciated this verse has had many interpretations. This partly arises because it so clearly presents the picture of the Kingly Rule of Heaven as being presently established, which conflicts with various beliefs about the Kingly Rule still being in the future. We do not need to enter into that here, for any interpretation that avoids the sense of a present Kingly Rule here is forced. Whatever it means it clearly must refer to a present Kingly Rule of Heaven which in one way or another is being affected by present events. That is demanded by the present tenses (both here and in Luke 16:16), which while not necessarily conclusive are almost so, and even more by the context. For the context demands a present application.

The first problem, which we have already considered, is as to whether the timing of the commencement of the Kingly Rule was during the ministry of John, or only after it was completed. The fact that in Matthew 11:11 John is depicted as not being under the Kingly Rule of Heaven (because those who were, were greater) suggests that it commenced after John was imprisoned. Thus this suggests that when John proclaimed the Kingly Rule of Heaven as ‘at hand’ he was thinking of its arrival in the near future, not as it being ‘within reach’. But once Jesus began to preach it and cast out evil spirits after John was imprisoned, He certainly meant that it was within reach. It had ‘come upon them’ (Matthew 12:28). Public servants and sinners were entering it by beginning to obey the will of the Father (Matthew 21:28-32), while in spite of that the chief priests and the elders (and Pharisees) were refusing to enter it (Matthew 21:32).

But like all transitional periods, especially when one is taking over from another, the point of changeover is not necessarily fixed (although the imprisonment of John was certainly one turning point). Preliminary battles take place before the moment arrives when kingship is spoken of as beginning to be established. And that is what happens here.

The huge distinction made here in chapter 11 between John as a member of the old age, and the coming in of the new age, unquestionably supports the exclusion of John from being in the present Kingly Rule of Heaven on earth, as does the fact that those within it are greater than he. On the other hand there can be no doubt that he played an important part in the preliminaries that led up to its establishment. His preaching in a sense commenced the movement that led up to the establishment of the initial group that formed the nucleus of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and those who believed his words certainly at some stage entered under the Kingly Rule of Heaven. So any disagreement on this point is marginal.

The next main problem is that in Greek both the middle and the passive tense can be represented by the same form of the verb. Thus here we can translate ‘the Kingly Rule of Heaven is forcibly advancing’ (middle), or ‘the Kingly Rule of God is suffering violence’ (passive), depending on which we choose. And this latter can then refer either to the violent entry of those who enter it forcibly, or advance it forcibly, or to the activity of the enemy in attacking it. The Lucan ‘parallel in Luke 16:16 suggests that the activity of true converts is in mind, for there ‘the Kingly Rule of God is preached and everyone enters it violently’. But while the verse in Luke can be seen as ‘parallel’, it must not be seen as the same saying simply altered around (or vice versa). There is no genuine reason for doubting that it is a distinctive saying about a subject that Jesus no doubt emphasised a number of times, looking at it from a slightly different angle.

The decision must therefore be made in the light of the context, and the context is that of entering under the Kingly Rule of Heaven. ‘He who is least in the Kingly Rule of Heaven’ in the previous verse has undoubtedly entered it, while the idea of violent opposition to the Kingly Rule is totally absent from the near context. Furthermore Jesus’ words sent to John also point to men and women experiencing the power of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 11:5), and the assumption must be that many therefore enter it. And additionally to this the verse is enclosed within two descriptions of the activity of John the Baptist as preparing the way for the Coming One, as men prepare the way for a King (Matthew 11:10; compare Malachi 3:1), and as his being the coming Elijah of Malachi 4:5 (compare Luke 1:15-17) whose remarkable preaching would prepare the people’s hearts ready for the Lord’s coming, and this in a context of violent activity (Malachi 3:1-3; Malachi 3:11; Malachi 4:1-2). All this points to Matthew 11:12 a as centrally indicating the ‘violent’ advancement of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, rather than its being under attack. That is not, however, to exclude the possibility that a counterattack follows as possibly depicted in 12b. Indeed Luke in the same context replaces Matthew 11:12-15 with, ‘when they heard this all the people and the public servants justified God having been baptised with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptised by him’ (Luke 7:29-30). That may well be Luke’s way of interpreting this difficult verse for Gentile readers indicating the forceful onward movement of God’s Kingly Rule of 12a by its result in terms of the response of the people and the public servants who press into it, and the negative counterattack of 12b in terms of the Scribes and Pharisees. This would give Luke’s support to the above interpretations.

On the other hand some would argue that Luke 16:16 is decisive, for that too refers to the ‘violent way’ in which men become disciples. It is true that the word used for violence here in Matthew 11:12 b always elsewhere has a negative sense, and that the context nowhere else indicates violent activity on behalf of the disciples (indeed the opposite), but Jesus is well known for suddenly using unexpectedly exaggerated language in order to make His particular point (e.g. Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:25-26; Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 7:6), so that it must often be read taking its significance from the main idea without reading into it all the negative aspects that might be there.

One argument set up against this whole interpretation is that in the context the advance of the Kingly Rule of Heaven is not seen as violent. It is by healing, raising the dead and preaching the Good News (Matthew 11:5). It is by bringing men under Jesus’ yoke as the One Who is meek and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:28-30). And the Servant is depicted as acting in the way of gentleness and compassion in reaching out to the bruised reed and the smoking flax (Matthew 12:19-20). But that is to overlook the wider context where actual active violence is described in the activity of the One Who, acting by the power of the Spirit, demonstrates that the Kingly Rule of Heaven has come by entering the strong man’s house and binding the strong man and then plundering his goods, that is, by despoiling the household of Satan and releasing his captives. Here is the Kingly Rule of Heaven advancing violently indeed.

We must also remember what we saw above about the fact that the idea of the Kingly Rule being ‘forcefully advanced’ is found in Pharisaic teaching. As we saw they spoke of bringing in the end of the age ‘by force’ through fasting and study of the Law. They saw these as powerful spiritual weapons for use in the establishing of their aims (compare Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Thus the idea of the use of spiritually ‘violent’ methods for bringing in God’s Kingly Rule is not limited to Jesus, and this might suggest that Jesus is here speaking of advancing the Kingly Rule of Heaven through His emphatic teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and the response to it by His disciples, fitting in with the idea in Luke 16:16, and through His attack on the evil spirits (Matthew 12:28-31) who corrupt this evil generation (Matthew 12:45).

So that is surely what Jesus has in mind in Matthew 11:12 a. This is especially so as Satan’s counterattack is then described in Matthew 12:43-45 as taking place on those who have benefited by Jesus’ activity but have not allowed His word to fill their empty hearts (Matthew 12:41-42).

End of note.

Verses 13-14

“For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, who is to come.”

Again we have the emphasis on the fact that the new age has come. The prophets and the Law prophesied until John. That is, the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures led up to the time of John because he is the last of the prophets, the Elijah who was due to come. All were therefore in the end preparing for the coming of Jesus. The thought that the prophets and the Law were now achieving their end would have been quite startling to the Jews. To them the prophets and the Law were the basis of all their beliefs (at least theoretically). That somehow Jesus was now achieving what they were pointing to, and capping them off, would have huge significance. He was not destroying the Law or the prophets but fulfilling then (Matthew 5:17).

Note the prophets are unusually mentioned first (contrast Luke 16:16) because the emphasis is on the prophetic movement ending with John, but the Law is included (that is all the books of Moses) because it was an important part of that prophecy. It was indeed the basis and starting point from which the prophets themselves made their pronouncements. And now the long series is seen as having come to an end in John, the promised Elijah. What happens from now on is the fulfilment, as Matthew constantly makes clear.

‘Until John.’ The ‘until’ may be seen as including or excluding John. But it is doubtful if we can exclude John from being one of the prophets, even though the last and greatest. That would not, however, prevent John being the connecting link between the two ages, issuing out the old, and introducing, in a preliminary way, the new.

What the doubt was about was whether they themselves would believe it, firstly because they were expecting Elijah’s literal return (he had not died but had been taken up into Heaven), and secondly because if they did accept it they would have no choice but to recognise in Jesus Himself, the Coming One. And certainly some did believe that John was the intended Elijah (as had been made clear at John’s birth), and some did enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven. And when Paul first arrived in Rome the offer of the Kingly Rule of God was still being made, to both Jew and Gentile, an offer closely connected to their response to Jesus Christ (Acts 28:23-24; Acts 28:31), an offer that was indeed made continually throughout Acts (Matthew 1:3; Matthew 8:12; Matthew 14:22; Matthew 19:8; Matthew 20:25). So there is no way in which it can be said that the idea of the Kingly Rule of Heaven was set aside to await the future.

Some have argued that John could not be the fulfilment of Malachi 4:5 because he was not successful enough, but that is to underestimate John’s impact. ‘There went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem’ (Mark 1:5). Even granted the exaggeration, that is some impact, and it would have been even moreso when people visited Jerusalem at the feasts. The widespread nature of his success comes out in the fact that decades afterwards disciples of John were still found around the Roman world.

Nor is there anywhere any suggestion that Jesus did ever offer the Kingly Rule of Heaven to Israel in a way that could either be accepted or rejected as though it was a whole take it or leave it deal. Right from the start He offered the Kingly Rule of Heaven as being available to those who would respond, knowing full well that they would only be a minority (Matthew 7:13-27). He never expected wholesale acceptance, even though He was grieved that the cities of Galilee that were closest to Him on the whole refused to repent. But that was because of His compassion and because His heart longed for them, not because He was really expecting them all to respond. The only change of tack that He would make was that He would offer it to others because those to whom it was first offered had not on the whole accepted it (Matthew 21:42) (but that was in fact in accordance with His expectations as Matthew 7:13-27 demonstrates).

Verse 15

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Jesus then finishes His words concerning these things by calling on all whose ears were open to take notice of what He was saying. This in itself confirms that He did not expect that all would hear and respond. He was always aware that the flock to whom the Kingly Rule was being given would be a small one (Luke 12:32). But it was important that all be urged to hear, with the inherent warning of the danger of not genuinely hearing. For this phrase see also Matthew 13:9; Matthew 13:43.

Verse 16

“But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces, who call to their fellows and say,

We piped to you, and you did not dance,

We wailed, and you did not mourn.”

In Matthew 11:10 we had a quotation indicating what Jesus likened John the Baptist to. It was solemn and powerful. He was the preparer of the way, preparing the way for Jesus, the Coming One. Now we have a quotation showing how the people saw John the Baptist and Jesus, as wanting them to play weddings and funerals. It is unbelievably weak and pathetic. It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast.

It is regularly said that these words were probably part of well known children’s games, and that may be right, but there is little point in trying to invent different types of game and then obtaining illustrations from them. We must rather take the words at face value, which no doubt Jesus intended us to do. What then is He saying? He is describing His generation, apart from those who had become, or were thinking of becoming, His disciples, and describing how they liked to pull people’s strings and then criticise them for not responding. The children are depicted as sitting in judgment on their fellows. In the same way the people are sitting in judgment on John and Jesus.

We are probably to see the call to dance as being directed at John. In other words they were ridiculing his asceticism. While those who flocked to him at least initially admired him, or were at least interested in him as a prophet, many of them would not like what he said, and then the criticisms would begin (in order to justify their rejection of his message), backed up by their leaders (compare John 5:35). So they were now seen as retaliating by telling him that he was a sobersides, and, because he lived in the desert and lived strangely, a demon. The desert was a place for demons (Isaiah 13:20-22; Isaiah 34:13-14).

The call to mourn was probably directed at Jesus, as they considered that He was too frivolous. Once again the reasons would be similar. They wanted him to behave more like John had done, and more like their own pious Pharisees did. And when He did not they mocked Him for being given to much wine and being a glutton. They could not see outside the walls of their own built up ideas, and thus they were not satisfied whatever John and Jesus did, for the truth was that they were trying to find excuses for not listening to them.

‘This generation.’ This description is usually used of those of Jesus’ generation who refused to respond to His words. Compare Matthew 12:41-42; Matthew 12:45. They are always seeking signs (Matthew 12:39). They are those who think themselves wise and understanding (compare Matthew 11:25), but are really foolish, and doomed to judgment (Matthew 23:36; Matthew 24:34). They are blind leaders of the blind.

Verses 16-19

Jesus Charges The People Of His Generation With Not Taking John’s Or His Message Seriously, But Behaving Like Children At Play (11:16-19).

The sudden change of subject here is very vivid. He has been describing the great events towards which John’s ministry has been built up, and has indicated their successful advancement, and now He examines the response of His generation towards them. They have rejected both John and Himself. In spite of what was at first the huge popularity both of John (Matthew 3:5; Matthew 3:7; Mark 1:5; Mark 1:9) and of Jesus (Matthew 4:23-25) and the general eager expectancy (Luke 3:15), the tide has begun to turn. Disillusionment has begun to set in. The first excitement is tapering off, although we must beware of too much gloom. And that situation is now depicted here. Note how in this the Gospels make quite clear the oneness between Jesus and John, although that having been done all the attention turns on Jesus.

The solemn declaration of Matthew 11:10, of which he could say ‘it is written’ is replaced by a child’s song sang at play. (Like Nero they are playing while Rome burns). The greatness of John is now treated with mockery. John is seen as being even worse than a blown reed in the desert, he is a demon among the thorns and thistles (Isaiah 34:13-14). Jesus is living the life of men in soft clothing in His life of ‘luxury’.

Jesus here charges the people with inconsistency. They are not satisfied, however prophets behave. On the one hand John is criticised for being an ascetic, and on the other hand He Himself is criticised for being a good-time boy and a friend of the unworthy. Not all, of course, criticised both. Some hurled one criticism and some another. It was mainly the Scribes and Pharisees who criticised Jesus for eating with public servants and sinners (Matthew 9:10-11), and interestingly all these parties are mentioned by Luke 7:30 in a similar context to this. Undoubtedly some more orthodox Jews also joined with them in their criticism. So here Jesus criticises the whole generation, apart from those who have responded to Him, for their careless attitude. This criticism of the whole generation also continues later in the section when He indicates their perilous situation (Matthew 12:39; Matthew 12:45) which He links with the activities of the powers of darkness.

Some have expressed surprise that Matthew introduces this criticism of the people so unexpectedly when such antagonism, especially by the people, has hardly been previously mentioned (Matthew 9:3; Matthew 9:24; Matthew 9:33; Matthew 11:6; Matthew 11:14) but that is only so if we ignore the clear indications in chapter 10 of towns rejecting them and even arranging for them to be brought before councils and synagogues. Once we accept that these words of Jesus in chapter 10 should be read as indicating that what was spoken of did actually then happen, which was often intended to be assumed when words were depicted as spoken in the Scriptures (see e.g. Exodus 17:3-7), the picture is very different. Note in this regard that Matthew certainly expects us to assume that the Apostles did go out, even though he does not tell us so. Why then should we not see him as expecting us to assume that the remainder also happened? In that case there is plenty of indication of persecution and poor treatment by the people.


a “But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces, who call to their fellows and say (Matthew 11:16).

b “We piped to you, and you did not dance” (Matthew 11:17 a).

c “We wailed, and you did not mourn” (Matthew 11:17 b).

c “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’.” (Matthew 11:18).

b “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of public servants and sinners!’ ” (Matthew 11:19 a)

a “And wisdom is justified by her works” (Matthew 11:19 b).

Note how in ‘a’ they are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to each other, and in the parallel their behaviour is what might be expected from their type of ‘wisdom’ (compare Matthew 11:25). In ‘b’ they called on John (or Jesus) to dance, and in the parallel call Jesus a winebibber and glutton because He did partake in life’s enjoyments. In ‘c’ they call on Jesus (or John) to mourn, and in the parallel see John as a demon because of his asceticism and fasting.

Verse 18

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’.”

John lived a life of fasting and prayer. He drank no wine or strong drink because of his dedication to God (Luke 1:15-17). He dressed in goatskins or camel’s hair, and ate locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). Thus once people began to become disillusioned at his ‘excessive’ demands it was easy to find something to criticise in him. Having rejected his message they dismissed him as a demon of the desert.

Verse 19

“And wisdom is justified by her works.”

In the only other reference to wisdom in the context it refers to the ‘wisdom’ of those who saw themselves as wise, but were not enlightened by God (Matthew 11:25). Thus we are probably to read these words as referring to those who were unbelieving and who mocked. Their wisdom was revealed by their actions, by what they produced (therefore Luke says ‘by their children’). And by their words and thoughts of ‘wisdom’ they thought that they had justified themselves in their own eyes. As representing ‘Wisdom’ (wisdom was often personified) they were justified by their works (their behaviour and words) which they considered had now cleared them of all blame. You could not be expected to listen to a demon or a drunkard.

Of course the converse applied. Those who were truly wise and responded to the teaching of John and Jesus really would be justified by their actions. By their fruits they would be known.

Others, however, see this last verse as referring to Jesus and John, and therefore to their wisdom in behaving as they did which was justified by what they accomplished, or as Wisdom (God) being justified by their ‘works’ (Matthew 11:2). But in our view the first interpretation fits the context better.

Verse 20

‘Then he began to upbraid the cities in which most of his mighty works were done, because they did not repent.’

Note here the difference between His approach to John and His approach to these people. To the seeking heart of John He had pointed to His works with a promise of blessing (Matthew 11:5-6), but to these people whose hearts were hardened He pointed to His works with a promise of judgment. His words did, of course, still contain within them an offer of mercy. It was still not too late to repent. But He did not see much chance of many of them doing so.

The cities or towns mentioned here were on the north west corner of the Sea of Galilee, not far from each other. Capernaum was the place where Jesus’ family were now living, and which He had seemingly established as a kind of headquarters. The Bethsaida mentioned here was probably a different one from Bethsaida Julius. Chorazin is mentioned nowhere else. But necessarily in view of the prominence of Capernaum in His life these were the towns in which in His earlier days He operated most, and who had thus brought their sick to Him for healing in most abundance.

Thus these towns had also beheld in most abundance the mighty works which were evidence of His Messiahship (compare Luke 4:23). People often say, ‘If only I could see signs, I would believe.’ These towns give them the lie. They had seen signs in abundance, but they had still not repented and believed. They had accepted all that God would give them, but they had not genuinely responded. Many probably still admired Jesus, and they no doubt discussed Him with some awe, (although less as time went by), but what they had heard and seen had not sufficiently moved their hearts. They still went about their ordinary lives unchanged. So Jesus now turns and delivers His verdict on them. They have had their opportunity and now He will move on to others.

Verses 20-24

Jesus Castigates His Local Towns For Their Failure To Repent In View Of The Fact That They Too Have Seen The Messianic Signs, But Without Responding (11:20-24).

In this chapter Jesus has already been faced with two examples of men’s attitudes towards Him, the puzzlement of John, whose heart was right towards God, and was genuine in its search for truth, even though he could not understand His ways, and the childishness of the people, whose hearts were not right towards anyone, whose attitude towards truth was casual, and who did not want to understand His ways. To the first He sent His gentle response, pointing to the Messianic signs that He had performed, knowing that John would respond in return. The second he dismissed with a proverb, in the same way as they had dismissed John and Himself. They would receive what they deserved.

But now Matthew wants to bring out and contrast the difference between all who were like John and all who were like the people, and that will take up the remainder of the chapter, and he does it in reverse order. He deals first with the people who have not responded to His works (Matthew 11:20-24), and he will then follow that with Jesus’ words about those who have truly heard His voice and followed Him (Matthew 11:25-30). The verdicts are in total contrast, and it will be noted that while having passed His verdict on the towns He makes no further appeal to them, as He had made no appeal to ‘this generation’ who sang their childish songs in Matthew 11:16-19, He does make an appeal to those who have had their eyes opened. They are called to join Him in His own relationship with God (Matthew 11:28-30), as John also had been called to trust Him (Matthew 11:6), in the case of John followed by his full vindication. Note the deliberate contrast of ‘blessed --’ in Matthew 11:6 with ‘woe’ in Matthew 11:21, which is a mini-picture of the blessings and woes of the Old Testament (e.g. Deuteronomy 28:0). Compare also Matthew 5:3-9 with chapter 23. John may have wondered why Jesus was not acting in judgment, but Jesus is making clear that one day He will.

It may also be that we are to see in these words to His three local towns a parallel to the disciples shaking off the dust of the feet against unresponsive towns (Matthew 10:14). That instruction too ended in a contrasting reference to Sodom. From now on His main ministry will not be in these towns. He is moving on. They have had their opportunity. So first Nazareth rejected Him (Luke 4:28-30), and now the area in which His family had taken up residence. He is being driven out to other places. (A similar thing is recorded in Acts where the Apostles are finally driven out of Jerusalem). But the idea is selective. This is not a rejection of Israel as a whole, but of unresponsive towns, and even then He will visit at least Capernaum again (Matthew 17:24; compare Mark 9:33 which is after the visit to Caesarea Philippi). In a sense therefore the rejection is symbolic, but nevertheless serious for all that.


a Then he began to upbraid the cities in which most of his mighty works were done, because they did not repent (Matthew 11:20).

b “Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you , Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21).

c “ But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:22).

b “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to Hades, for if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until this day” (Matthew 11:23).

a “But I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you” (Matthew 11:24).

As so often in Matthew we have here both a chiasmus and a sequence. Note that in ‘a’ the cities are upbraided because they did not repent, and in the parallel the warning is given of the judgment that will come. In ‘b’ and its parallel are two similarly worded condemnations. Centrally in ‘c’ is the certainty of judgment. But even more effective are the sequences. ‘b’ and ‘c’ are sequentially parallel with the following ‘b’ and ‘a’.

Verse 21

“Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

He contrasts His two local towns with the cities of Tyre and Sidon. They were Gentile cities, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea north of Carmel, and therefore despised by the Jews, and seen as deserving objects of God’s judgment. (Perhaps behind the choice was the fact that Tyre and Sidon were famous as ‘twin cities by the sea’, and Jesus saw Chorazin and Bethsaida in the same way). And knowing the heart of Jesus we may see in these words the hint that indeed one day His message will go to these Gentile cities, a hint that Matthew certainly takes up in Matthew 12:18; Matthew 12:21. They will see His works and have their opportunity (to some extent sooner than they think - Matthew 15:21). But for the moment they are taken as an object lesson. They were cities known for their past wealth and pride, and had regularly come under the judgment of God (see Isaiah 23:0; Ezekiel 26-28; Joel 3:4; Amos 6:9-10; Zechariah 9:2-4). But Jesus now declares that their guilt was nowhere near that of the towns of Galilee. For they had not had manifested before them the ‘mighty works’ of God’s Sent One. Such a startling conception would have horrified Jesus’ hearers, but it does bring out the awareness of the uniqueness of His own status that Jesus had. Nothing was more heinous than the refusal to recognise Him and respond to Him.

Chorazin is probably what is now called Kirbet Karaze, two miles (three kilometres) north west of the site of Capernaum. Bethsaida was probably the home of Andrew, Peter and Philip (John 1:44; John 12:21) and different from Bethsaida Julius which was on the north east shores of the Sea of Galilee. Like Chorazin it was probably near Capernaum. Its name meant ‘house of fish’ which might well be popular on the shores of a Sea famous for its fish.

‘Alas for you.’ The word can mean either ‘woe’ or ‘alas’. It is a word expressing strong feeling. Here it probably contains an element of both, but His aim is still to stir their hearts rather than just to condemn. Indeed as He will point out, that condemnation is reserved for the future. There is still time to repent. It is a potential ‘woe’, which is hanging over their heads, but it can be avoided, and their hardness of heart fills Him with sadness.

‘If the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.’ Jesus probably has in mind here the repentance of Nineveh at the preaching of Jonah (Jonah 3:5-9), although wanting to bring it closer to home. And He no doubt hoped that these Jewish towns would have that in mind as well. He is visualising Tyre and Sidon as behaving like Nineveh did. But we must not assume some divine insight whereby Jesus knew that an opportunity was there and was refusing to give Tyre and Sidon their opportunity. We must not take the statement too literally, for the idea was theoretical rather than literally true. His point in fact is based on ‘a long time ago’. It was thus simply a typically exaggerated and vivid way of making the Jews themselves recognise the depth of their failure and sinfulness. Jesus is saying rather dramatically that these galilean towns are more hard hearted than the Gentiles. (Tyre and Sidon would later see such wonders, as did all to whom the earliest preachers went, but while some repented it was certainly not in huge numbers. We must remember that like all others they still had the testimony of nature and conscience, and rejected it (Roman Matthew 1:18-23)).

‘The mighty works --- which have been done in you.’ Here we have a clear indication of the widespread miracles and ministry of Jesus about which we are actually told very little. For in the end the aim of the Gospels was not to glory in the miraculous, but to point to Jesus.

‘Sackcloth and ashes.’ Sackcloth was a rough and ready fabric made from camel’s hair, and was worn as a sign of contrition or sorrow ( 2Sa 3:31 ; 1 Kings 21:27; 2 Kings 6:30; Isaiah 58:5; Joel 1:8; Jonah 3:5-9; Daniel 9:3). Ashes were symbols of deep mourning (2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:3; Job 42:6; Jeremiah 6:26; Lamentations 2:10; Micah 1:10).

Verse 22

“ But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.”

And the consequence of the failure of the Jews to respond to His Messianic works in repentance is that when they face the Day of Judgment, they will be found guilty of more heinous behaviour than the despised Tyre and Sidon. Tyre and Sidon will not be found guilty of so great a crime as they are guilty of, rejecting the testimony of God to His Son (compare John 3:16-21).

‘I say to you.’ These words always indicate the importance of the statement being made, for it demonstrates that it is made by Him on His own authority as the Chosen One of God.

Verse 23

“And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to Hades, for if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until this day.”

Capernaum is, if it were possible, even more guilty. She is here specifically compared with Sodom, the byword for sinfulness (Matthew 10:14; Isaiah 1:10; Ezekiel 16:48). Sodom was so evil that it had been destroyed by a cataclysm because of its guilt. But He claims that had they had the opportunities that Capernaum had had, they would certainly have made sufficient response to have enabled them to avoid being destroyed in that way. In other words, while Sodom was undoubtedly wicked, they at least had not had the opportunity of hearing the kind of teaching and seeing the kind of miracles that Capernaum had. Had they done so they would not have been quite so wicked. It is a warning that those who pride themselves on being better than others, even though it is simply because their circumstances in life have made it easier for them to be so, are really no better than those who behave far worse because their circumstances in life are more difficult.

We should note here that Jesus had previously informed His disciples of a similar fact, that the towns who turned them away would discover in the Day of Judgment that it was worse for them than for Sodom. This is a further indication of how closely He saw them as representing Him. ‘He who receives you, receives Me’ (Matthew 10:40). And the opposite is also true.

‘Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to Hades.’ There is an allusion here to Isaiah 14:12-17, where the King of Babylon, that depiction of all that was arrogant and unworthy, had thought to exalt himself, and had instead found himself thrust down into Sheol (to some extent the Hebrew equivalent of Hades). See ‘I will ascend to Heaven --- you will be brought down to Sheol’ (Isaiah 14:13; Isaiah 14:15). So Capernaum is being seen as worse than Babylon and Sodom combined, a dreadful combination.

It is probable that Jesus had loftily been told in Capernaum by some of their religious leaders that they considered that their place in Heaven was quite safe without their having to listen to Him. Well sadly they would one day discover the truth. Their exceeding sinfulness therefore lay not in that they actually behaved as badly as Babylon or Sodom, but in that God had greatly privileged them to see the full revelation of the mighty works that revealed His Messiahship and glory, and that they had refused to respond to it. The point that He is making is that there is no sin greater than that of avoiding the light when it shines (Matthew 4:16). That in the end is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31). Those who refuse the light will find that their lampstand goes out (Revelation 2:5).

Verse 24

“But I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”

Note the solemn repetition of ‘I say to you’. Again the same principle applies. Even sinful Sodom will not be found to be as guilty as Capernaum in the Day of Judgment, that day which was considered by the Jews to be the time when ‘the wicked Gentiles’, and especially Sodom, received their due.

‘The land of Sodom.’ Sodom was, of course, long gone, but its land still bore the taint of its guilt, and was still liable to judgment. Or perhaps ‘land of’ is intended to signify all the cities of the plain combined.

Certain important theological lessons arise from these words, even though allowance must be made for the deliberately picturesque and exaggerated language. The first is that a time of judgment awaits all men when all will be called to account (Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:29; Acts 17:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Revelation 6:16-17; Revelation 14:14-20; Revelation 19:11-21; Revelation 20:11-15). The second is that there will be levels of guilt and punishment (Matthew 12:41-42; Matthew 23:13; Luke 12:47-48). The third is that God is sovereign in the working out of His plan of salvation (e.g. Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-14). And the fourth is the folly of people thinking that seeing mighty works might somehow make a difference to their response to God.

Verse 25

‘At that time (season) Jesus answered and said, “I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to babes.” ’

Note the vivid contrast between this and the previous passage. In the previous passage Jesus surveys the unresponsive towns and verbally passes sentence on them. It is an outward look, and He sees them as walking in the broad way that leads to destruction. Here He looks up to the Father and verbally acknowledges His goodness in revealing the truth to ‘babes’. It is an upward look, and these are they who are in the narrow way that leads to life. The thought of what He has experienced with respect to the spiritual blindness and unresponsiveness of the people of Galilee makes Him fully appreciate the wonder of what the Father is doing in revealing His truth. For He recognises that in the end it is not the fact that men are spiritually blind that is remarkable, it is the fact that some ‘see’. And they are those who are being blessed by God (compare Matthew 16:17; Matthew 5:3-9; Matthew 12:6). And He realises that when this happens it is due to His Father, Who is the Creator and Possessor and Controller of Heaven and earth, Whose power is such that He can even enlighten the hearts of men when they look to Him in confident faith and trust, without any thought of their own wisdom. The point He is making is not that God actually specifically hides things from the wise and understanding, but that by not unveiling their eyes they remain hidden. Indeed man in His wisdom sets up his own barrier against spiritual truth. He cannot ‘see’ because his eyes are focused on something else, on earthly wisdom which possesses his mind and his thoughts so that he thinks that he knows all. He does not see any need for repentance, nor any need for humility.

But to the ‘babe’, the one whose mind is uncluttered with his own wisdom, and who therefore looks to God for all his understanding (compare Matthew 18:3-4), God reveals His truth. In this case that truth is ‘these things’. And what are ‘these things’? They are the things that those who are wise, (that is, those who fail to see in Him and His mighty works, and in what they signify, the God-provided solution to the need of Israel and of the world), cannot see. They fail to see that He has come bearing their afflictions and carrying their diseases (Matthew 8:17), that He has come bringing forgiveness from God (Matthew 9:6), that He has come to cleanse all who come to Him (Matthew 8:3), that He has come to heal and make whole (Matthew 9:12), that He has come to bring men under the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 12:28).

‘At that time.’ A phrase linking this passage with the last one.

‘Jesus answered and said.’ At first sight ‘answered’ appears to be redundant. It is a favourite verb of Matthew’s (45 times), but usually indicating a direct response to a question. On the other hand comparison with Matthew 12:38; Matthew 17:4; Matthew 28:5 demonstrates that it can be used ‘redundantly’. However it is very possible that here Matthew wants us to see that what He is about to say is the answer to the problems raised by what has gone before. All earth’s problems find their answer in God, ‘the Lord of Heaven and earth’.

‘I thank (acknowledge with praise) you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth.’ The verb signifies that He acknowledges His Father for Who and What He is, He owns His worth, and therefore He praises Him. ‘O Father, Lord of heaven and earth.’ This is Jesus use of ‘Father’ as indicating His own Father, which as what follows, reveals is very different from when He speaks of God as the Father of the disciples. He is indicating the uniqueness of the relationship between them.

‘Lord of Heaven and earth.’ This title as such is not found in Scripture, although it is found (rarely) in Jewish literature, in Tobit 7:19 and in the Genesis Apocryphon at Qumran. But compare Genesis 14:19; Genesis 14:22, ‘God Most High, Possessor (or Maker) of Heaven and earth’, and Ezra 5:11, ‘the God of Heaven and earth’. The combination of Heaven and earth suggests the Creator and Possessor of all things ( 2Ki 19:15 ; 1 Chronicles 29:11; 2 Chronicles 2:12; Jeremiah 23:24).

‘That you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to babes.’ In other words that God so created and sustains the world that those full of their own wisdom and understanding in fact remain spiritually blind, while those who with an open and honest heart seek Him will have spiritual truth revealed to them. A full ‘commentary’ on these words is found in 1 Corinthians 1:17 to 1 Corinthians 2:16. It is not a question of intellect (Paul was one of these ‘babes’), it is a question of humble submission and a willingness to receive truth from Him.

Elsewhere it is made clear that the failure of men to understand is also a spiritual one. It is that their hearts and minds are blinded by ‘the God of this world’ so that they need the veil drawn back in order to behold the glory of Christ, and see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4), it is that they need to have their eyes opened, and to be turned from darkness to light and the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18), and that is what He will later stress that He has come to do (Matthew 12:28-29; Matthew 12:43-45).

The selective revelation of God is also described in Psalms 147:19-20 but there it was to Israel and not the nations. Here the Father will reveal the truth to the ‘new nation’ who are being taken out of the old (Matthew 16:18; Matthew 21:43). Yet this idea of selective revelation to the righteous comes out in the Psalms. ‘You will show me the path of life’ (Psalms 16:11); ‘show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths’ (Psalms 25:4); ‘teach me your way, O Lord’ (Psalms 27:11 - when he has been forsaken by those who should have guided him). And it is a part of what God’s righteousness, paralleled with deliverance, signifies in Isaiah (see Isaiah 51:4-5; Isaiah 51:7). Through it all are to know Him, from the least to the greatest (Jeremiah 31:33-34).

Verses 25-27

The Father Has Enlightened His True People And Has Delivered all Things To Jesus Who Alone Truly Knows His Father, Who Has Received all Things From His Father, And Who Alone Can Reveal His Father To Others (11:25-27).

This passage is connected to the previous one by ‘at that time (or season)’. The two passages are thus intended to be seen together. It explains from the divine side why the towns of Galilee have failed to respond to His mighty works. It is because, although they may think that they will be exalted to Heaven (Matthew 11:23) they have in fact not been enlightened by the Father. Thus they have not recognised the Son. Without that their hopes of such exaltation are nil. The passage also explains why John himself had not understood the full truth about Jesus (Matthew 11:3-5). It was not possible until Jesus had made it known to him, and thereby revealed to him the Father (‘A blessed one (of Me and My Father) is he who does not stumble because of Me’ - Matthew 11:6). For in the end all who would come to God are dependent on God’s revelation of Himself through His Son and through His Spirit. The ‘wise’ yell out petulantly in the street like children, but it is God’s ‘babes’ who receive their milk directly from Him.

Having thus pointed out how this passage fits into the whole pattern of chapter 11, which begins with the one to whom Jesus makes known His truth (Matthew 11:5-6), and ends here with those to whom Jesus makes known His truth, with sandwiched in the middle two sets of examples of those who were not willing to receive His truth, we should now pause to consider the truth that is being revealed. Up to this point God has been ‘your Father’ or the equivalent when speaking of Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 5:16; Matthew 5:45; Matthew 5:48; Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:8-9; Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 6:18; Matthew 6:26; Matthew 6:32; Matthew 7:11; Matthew 10:20; Matthew 10:29). This is the relationship which has become theirs through participation in the Kingly Rule of Heaven. They have in a sense become ‘sons of God’ (Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:45). This is continually so except when His Fatherhood is related to Jesus’ position as the Judge of all men, or as the One Who must confess them to the Father (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 10:32-33).

But from now on God will be revealed almost solely as the Father of Jesus (Matthew 12:50; Matthew 15:13; Matthew 16:17; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 18:10; Matthew 18:19; Matthew 18:35; Matthew 20:23; Matthew 24:36; Matthew 25:34; Matthew 26:29; Matthew 26:39; Matthew 26:42; Matthew 26:53; Matthew 28:19). And this will go along with the revelation of Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ in the deepest sense of the term. He is God’s ‘beloved One’ (Matthew 12:18); it is by doing the will of His Father (Matthew 12:50, compare Matthew 7:21) that they will become His very real spiritual family; through His manifestation of mastery over the sea they recognise Him in awe and worship as ‘the Son of God’ (Matthew 14:33), and then by gradual realisation as ‘the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16); and God Himself declares of Him in His glory, ‘this is My beloved Son’ (Matthew 17:5). As God’s Son He has the right not to pay the Temple tax (Matthew 17:25-26). And this position is confirmed in the parable of the wicked tenants (Matthew 21:37-38), ‘they will reverence My Son’. And it is all summed up in His declared co-equality with the Father in Matthew 28:20 when all are baptised into God’s Name as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus from this point on the relationship of Father and Son is specific and unique Jesus is seen to be ‘on the divine side of reality’.

There are three possible exception to this change. The first is in Matthew 13:43 when the disciples learn that one day, as the righteous, they are to shine forth as the sun in the Kingly Rule of their Father. But that may in fact be seen as capping off the references in the Sermon on the Mount, thus describing their reward as a result of their having sought His Kingly Rule and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), preparatory to the second part of the Gospel. The second is in Matthew 18:14 where in fact B, Theta and f 13 have ‘My Father in Heaven’. But if ‘your Father in Heaven’ is correct that is because He is specifically dealing there with their responsibility as ‘sons of God’ for young believers. (In Matthew 18:10 He uses ‘My Father’ because He is referring to Him as in Heaven, compare also Matthew 18:19). The third Isaiah 23:9 where He is simply demonstrating that they should call no man ‘father’ on earth. Thus the intention of a change in emphasis can be seen to be pretty solid.

We are thus being prepared here for Matthew 12:17-21. Among men has come the chosen and beloved one of God in Whom is the Spirit of God, Who will reveal God’s truth to both’ was the unique sign of the special relationship of the Jews with God.

In this remarkable passage then we find in fact all the ideas that, were it not for this passage, might be seen as making John’s Gospel unique. It has been called ‘the bolt from the Johannine blue’. We have reference to ‘the Father’ and ‘the Son’ (but compare Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32, and often in John), to the fact that all things have been delivered by His Father to Him as His Son (John 5:20-22; John 5:26; John 16:15), to the fact that no one knows the Son except the Father (John 10:15), and that no one knows the Father except the Son (John 6:46; John 7:29; John 8:19; John 8:55; John 10:15), and those to whom the Son will reveal Him (John 14:7; John 14:17).

The idea of Jesus’ sonship from now on goes far beyond just a Messianic title. The idea was first expressed after Jesus had been baptised (Matthew 3:17), and has been emphasised by Jesus’ clear distinction between ‘My Father’ and ‘Your Father’. It will be repeated at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5) and in the incident of the Tribute money (Matthew 17:26), and will finally be made very clear in the parable of the wicked tenants (Matthew 21:37), and confirmed in Matthew 24:36, before Jesus is finally placed on a parallel as the Son with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

But we must pause and notice here another remarkable emphasis. These are not words taught by Jesus to His disciples. They are Jesus’ prayer to His Father. In that loving relationship which He has with His Father His heart is lifted up and He feels able to express the fullness of what is in His heart, saying in His prayer what He would not have said directly to His disciples, for they were truths that had to dawn on them. (It was different with the Scribes and Pharisees who thought more in these terms). No doubt His prayer was in the presence of His disciples, for they remembered it, and it may well be that it was in order to help them to understand His severe words to the towns of Israel that He prayed like this. They had probably thought that things were going quite well, and had probably been astounded at His words of judgment. He wanted them to know that they did not apply to them, and why they did not apply to them.

But why does Matthew bring this in here? The answer lies in the emphasis that he is giving to the words. Here is a small conclave of men and women who are within the Kingly Rule of Heaven. Thus when dealing with their understanding of things it is in a conversation between earth and Heaven. This contrasts with His words both to John and the people, neither of whom are within the Kingly Rule of Heaven at this stage. It is bringing out that here there is a colony of Heaven on earth (Philippians 3:20; Colossians 1:12-14). It can be compared with Isaiah 57:15 where those who are truly God’s dwell with Him in the high and holy place. Here too He will revive the spirit of the humble, and will revive the heart of the contrite ones by revealing to them the Father and bringing them under His own yoke (Matthew 11:27-30). These who do the will of His Father in Heaven are His brothers, His sisters and His mother (Matthew 12:50). Here indeed is the very gateway to Heaven (Genesis 28:17; compare John 1:51), to the heavenly places where God blesses His people (Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 2:6).


At that time (season) Jesus answered and said, “I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to babes” (Matthew 11:25).

“Yes, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in your sight” (Matthew 11:26).

“All things have been delivered to me of my Father (Matthew 11:27 a).

“And no one knows the Son, except the Father” (Matthew 11:27 b).

“Nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and he to whoever the Son wills to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27 c).

Note that in ‘a’ the Father reveals ‘these things’ to babes, and in the parallel the Son reveals Him to those who come to know Him. In ‘b’ it was well pleasing to the Father to reveal ‘these things’, and in the parallel He is the only One Who can do so because He is the only One Who knows the Son. Central to all is the fact that all has been delivered to Jesus by His Father.

Verse 26

“Yes, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in your sight.”

And in the end that is because it is what is pleasing to His Father, the Lord of Heaven and earth. That is how God has been pleased for men to come to know Him. He reveals Himself to those who have a broken and a contrite spirit, who are the ones whom He calls to share His holiness so that He might revive them and make them whole (Isaiah 57:15). That is why His chosen Servant please Him, because He brings men to God in that way (Matthew 8:17-21).

Verse 27

“All things have been delivered to me of my Father, and no one knows the Son, except the Father, nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and he to whoever the Son wills to reveal him.”

But how can such men come to know God? It is through the One Who has had all things delivered into His hands; it is through the One Who is so great and powerful and wonderful that only His Father really knows Him; it is through the One Who alone fully knows and fathoms to the very heights and depths His Father; it is through the One Who searches out and fathoms the ways of Him Who is ‘unsearchable and His ways past finding out’; it is through the Son. It is through Jesus. That is why He will later say, ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). Only God could know God like that, but it would take some time for the disciples to fathom it out. To one it came at the moment of enlightenment as he stood in the Upper Room and saw the risen Christ, when all that Jesus had said suddenly came together (John 20:28).

‘No one knows the Son, except the Father.’ In these words is an indication that we are to look deeper than ‘titles’ (even Messianic titles) if we are to full appreciate Jesus, indeed a warning that we will never really fully appreciate the Son. What He is, is only known to the Father. The Father alone can appreciate His very essence. The Father alone can understand His very being. And that can only be because in His essence and His being He is one with the Father. Thus it is the Father Who gradually reveals what Jesus is to the disciples, something that cannot be learned from flesh and blood (Matthew 16:17)

‘Nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son.’ The prophets had spoken of the Father. The Scribes and Pharisees thought that they knew the Father. But Jesus is here saying that none of them really understood His being and essence, for that was only known to the Son. They saw but the shadow, He beheld the sun.

‘And he to whoever the Son wills to reveal him.’ The Sermon on the Mount was packed full of revelation of the Father (Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:45; Matthew 5:48; Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:8-15; Matthew 6:18; Matthew 6:26; Matthew 6:32; Matthew 7:11; Matthew 7:21 and see Matthew 10:29; Matthew 10:33), but even that was insufficient. There He was the Provider. But it was now Jesus purpose to manifest Him in a fuller form. He will reveal it by His power over creation (Matthew 14:22-33), and by His glory in the Mountain (Matthew 17:2; Matthew 17:5). He will also reveal it through His life (John 14:9) and make it known in their hearts. It had to be revealed by both Father and Son (Matthew 11:25; Matthew 11:27). That was why no man could come to Him unless it was given them by His Father (John 6:65), and no one could know the Father except through the Son. It was a joint enterprise between two equal partners. For note that while the Father reveals His truth to babes (Matthew 11:25), it is only as a result of the will of the Son (Matthew 11:27). Thus only those who enter into a true relationship with the Son will really come to know the Father

Note On Sonship.

The fact that Jesus is ‘the Son’ puzzles many people. To them a son has been produced by his father, and arrives later in time, and is inferior to the father. Although, of course, as the father ages the situation may change, and the father can in many ways become inferior to the son. But none of this can apply to God for God does not change, nor can He be born.

However, the puzzle arises through overlooking the fact that by this terminology the Scriptures are trying to express divine things in human terms. God is not Father and Son in the same way as men are father and son. The terminology, which is only earthly terminology, is being used in a unique way (just as when we say the Son is ‘the heir’ we do not mean in God’s case that He will inherit on His Father’s death. The term is used in order to take advantage of part of its meaning) Before ever there was a creation the terms father and son were meaningless. They are not heavenly terms. There is no bearing of sons in Heaven. The angels neither marry nor are given in marriage (Matthew 22:30), in other words they do not bear children.

But one day it became necessary for God to reveal His inter-personal Being to man, and we must ever remember that had God been a solitary individual then He would have been unable to be love, for until He had created there would have been no one to love. But He is eternally love, and He therefore loved within Himself because He is interpersonal. Yet He is not two beings, He is One.

But how could He reveal to man this unique and indescribable interpersonality, and especially so when part of what He is became man. How could He reveal that He and this Man were of one nature and being, even though the Man is not all that there is of God? There was terminology that could be used that men would understand, as long as it was used carefully, that of father and son. Of course it was not perfect. There were many things about an earthly father and son that would not the true of the Father and the Son. But the essential thing about a son born from his father is that he is unquestionably of the same nature with his father, and comes from his father. They share the same being. And this is what the terminology is expressing, although in a slightly different way, when used of God, that Father and Son are of one nature and share the same Being while having an inter-personal distinctiveness. And this alone, is why their relationship can be described in terms of Father and Son. That is what must be grasped and the rest thrown away. And the further point is that this has been true from all eternity. That is why we speak of the Son as being ‘eternally begotten’. What we are saying by this is that they have shared the same Nature and Being from all eternity. And they work together equally in all things (John 5:19-20).

And yet when God began to act in Creation it was ‘the Son’ Who acted in the forefront as Creator, although the Father was also active in it. But the Father created through the Son (Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). And when God in His eternal counsels determined redemption, it was the Son Who would become the Redeemer (Galatians 4:4-5; 1 John 4:14), although again the Father is active in it. The Father redeems through the Son. For they do all things together. But the One Who walked on earth in a human body, no, as a human, was the Son and not the Father. To this extent He had taken up by choice a subsidiary position to His Father. In His manhood He could say, ‘My Father is greater than I’ (John 14:28), because by becoming Man He had had taken up a lower status. Note that He said this prior to going back to His Father to enjoy with Him the glory that had been His before the world was (John 17:5). He as not going back to receive a greater glory. He was going back to what was His by right. He had laid aside His equality in order to become Man, and now He was once again to be declared as ‘LORD’, that is, YHWH (Philippians 2:6-11). That is why He could also say ‘I and My Father are One’ (John 10:30), because He and His Father were still One in Being and essence. All this is what Jesus is saying here in Matthew. That is why ‘they’ were unique in being able to know each other.

End of note.

Verse 28

“Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

The call ‘come (deute) to Me’ made to those who are labouring can be compared with Isaiah 55:3, where it is God Who speaks, and the aim there is that men might enjoy the life of the new age by entering into the everlasting Davidic covenant with Him. Here then is a call to men by the son of David to enter into covenant with Him, the covenant concerning which more detail will be given later (Matthew 26:28). But here it goes further for we have already been told that it is Jesus who make know to those who come to Him the truth about the Father (Matthew 11:27). Thus He is calling men to come and learn from Him.

This is similar to His words in John 7:37, ‘if any man thirst, let Him come to Me and drink’ where the idea is of drinking of the Spirit. For the idea of ‘coming to Him’ compare John 6:37, ‘all whom the Father gives to Me will come to Me’, tying in with the idea that they will come because the Father has revealed to them His truth (Matthew 11:25).

‘Those who labour and are heavy laden.’ This may well refer to those who are labouring (or weary) and heavy laden under the requirements and the burden of the Law, the yoke of the Law (contrast Matthew 11:27). For elsewhere we are told that heavy burdens are laid on men by the Scribes (Matthew 23:4; Luke 11:46), who in Jewish tradition are said to put on men the yoke of the Law. Compare Sir 51:26 which says, ‘Put your neck under the yoke, and let your soul receive instruction’ (the yoke of the Torah. Compare Acts 15:10; Galatians 5:1 where the same thing was being done by the Judaisers). In chapter 12 these burdens are illustrated in two ways. Notice the double reference to ‘it is not lawful’ (Matthew 12:2; Matthew 12:10). Regularly in his life a Jew seeking to live rightly would hear the stern words, ‘it is not lawful’, and would discover yet another commandment that he had not known a bout. It was a warning. If he breached that warning he would be punished, But we need not limit Jesus’ words to that kind of burden. For Jesus has the solution to all men’s heavy weights and burdens of whatever kind (compare Galatians 6:2 where Christians are to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the Law of Christ).

‘I will give you rest (anapauso).’ Jesus may here have in mind creation, when God rested (katapauso) from His work, as expanded in the rest offered to all men through the Sabbath (from weary labour) when He said ‘you shall do no manner of work’ (Exodus 20:10). The Sabbath (rest) was often translated as ‘anapausis’ (see e.g. Exodus 16:23; Exodus 23:12). Such a rest was a theme in Isaiah (Isaiah 28:12; Isaiah 30:15) where the idea was of resting on the faithfulness of God which would bring them through to lives of peace and rest. In Isaiah 11:10 the nations will look to the root of Jesse (David’s father) and he will offer glorious rest (LXX anapausis). In Isaiah 32:17 it is righteousness deliverance that brings rest. In contrast the wicked who are like the troubled sea find no rest (Isaiah 57:20).

In Hebrews 3-4 Israel in the wilderness wanderings are seen as an example of those who did not find rest (katapausis). They were unable to enter into his rest (into Canaan) because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:19 compare Psalms 95:11 - katapausis in LXX). But those who believe enter into rest (Hebrews 4:2) which is connected with God’s rest in creation, ‘there remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God’ (Hebrews 4:9). And the one who enters into that rest (katapausis) has himself rested from his works as God did from His (Hebrews 4:10).

Thus Jesus may well here be indicating entering into a spiritual Sabbath rest, a rest from labour and being heavy laden. This again ties in with Matthew 12:1-16 where Jesus relieves the burden of the Law by reversing the edicts of the traditions of the elders, and making the Sabbath a more genuine rest without it being a burden.

Verses 28-30

A General Appeal To Men And Women (11:28-30).

This final general appeal to all who will hear confirms that in spite of His words to the towns, for those who will respond there is a way back to God. In the turmoil of a troubled world there is a place of rest, and it is under His yoke which will result in walking as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. So He calls on men and women to turn from the yoke of the Scribes and Pharisees and come under His yoke and walk with Him.

The yoke was a well known picture in Judaism of anything to which men committed themselves. The Scribes spoke of the yoke of the Law and of it as the yoke of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. The removal of this yoke as regards the Sabbath is found in Matthew 12:1-16 where the Scribes seek to bid the disciples and Jesus under the yoke of the traditions of the elders, only to find themselves confuted by the One Who is Lord of the Sabbath and can thus provide perfect rest.


a Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden (burdened).

b And I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

c Take my yoke upon you,

d And learn of me,

c For I am meek and lowly in heart.

b And you will find rest to your souls.”

a For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:30).

Note that in ‘a’ the people to whom Jesus is speaking labour and are heavy laden, and in the parallel those who take Jesus’ yoke on them find it easy and light. In ‘b’ Jesus will give them rest, and in the parallel they find rest. In ‘c’ He calls them to take His yoke on them, and in the parallel that yoke is one of meekness and lowliness of heart. Centrally in ‘d’ they must learn of Jesus.

Verse 29

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest to your souls.”

The yoke of Jesus is not based on submitting to His instruction but on learning from Jesus Himself what it meant to be meek and lowly in heart, and walking in submission to Him. It is the yoke of the Kingly Rule of God. In general a yoke is a wooden instrument that joins two animals so that it makes it easier for them, acting together, to pull a heavy load. The idea may well be that Jesus was, as it were, in the yoke, and that those who came to Him joined Him in the yoke and as it were walked with Him as He walked in meekness and lowliness (compare Galatians 2:20). Thus did they learn from Him (compare Isaiah 30:21 where we have the words of the yoke-master). How else could it be made easy? This ties in with the attitude which was required of His disciples in the beatitudes as a result of God’s blessing of them (Matthew 5:3-9).

‘Meek and lowly in heart.’ The idea behind meekness is not that of being afraid to stand up and be counted, but of not being continually concerned with one’s own interests. The meek person never gets het up about selfish concerns, for in cases like this his concern is only to please God and look after God’s interests. That is why Moses was able to be described as ‘meek’ (Numbers 12:3). Lowliness of heart goes with meekness. Compare ‘poor in spirit’. There is no thought of exalting self. Note how this connects with the activity of the Servant in Matthew 12:19-20, and with the continual emphasis on the fact that true greatness is found in being lowly (Matthew 20:25-28).

‘And you will find rest to your souls.’ Compare Jeremiah 6:16 where the rest is found by walking in the old paths, ‘the good way’. So the good way was to be found by walking as He walked. Note that in Jeremiah the failure to listen to what God was saying resulted in the exile. Here the One Who representing Israel has come out of exile (Matthew 2:15) offers the opportunity to them to ‘return from (spiritual) exile’ and find rest. But this is the rest of quietness and confidence. ‘In returning and rest you will be saved, in quietness and in confidence will be your strength’ (Isaiah 30:15)

Verse 30

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The word translated ‘easy’ means ‘good, kind’. The point is that the yoke fits well and makes life easy so as to enable the task to be done quicker and better. It is not a recipe for idleness. As a carpenter Jesus had known what it meant to make a yoke fit the particular team that it was intended for so as to make life for the oxen as easy as possible. And that is what He is saying here, the yoke that He gives us will be designed just for us, and will fit comfortably. Of course it will require being meek and lowly in heart, it will mean walking alongside Him without chafing, it will involve putting in full effort, but it will make whatever burden we have to bear a light one. We will declare, ‘this is no burden. This is what Jesus wants me to help Him to carry’.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 11". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/matthew-11.html. 2013.
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