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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 11

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New TestamentRobertson's Word Pictures

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Verse 1

He departed thence to teach and preach (μετεβη εκειθεν του διδασκειν κα κηρυσσειν). In five instances (Matthew 7:28; Matthew 11:1; Matthew 13:53; Matthew 19:1; Matthew 26:1) after great discourses by Jesus "the transition to what follows is made with the formula, 'And it came to pass when Jesus had ended'" (McNeile). This is a wrong chapter division, for Matthew 11:1 belongs with the preceding section.

"Commanding" (διατασσων, complementary participle with ετελεσεν), means giving orders in detail (δια-) for each of them. Note both "teach and preach" as in Matthew 4:23. Where did Jesus go? Did he follow behind the twelve as he did with the seventy "whither he himself was about to come" (Luke 10:1)? Bruce holds with Chrysostom that Jesus avoided the places where they were, giving them room and time to do their work. But, if Jesus himself went to the chief cities of Galilee on this tour, he would be compelled to touch many of the same points. Jesus would naturally follow behind at some distance. At the end of the tour the apostles come together in Capernaum and tell Jesus all that they had done and that they had taught (Mark 6:30). Matthew follows the general outline of Mark, but the events are not grouped in chronological order here.

Verse 2

John heard in the prison (ο δε Ιωανης ακουσας εν τω δεσμωτηριω). Probably (Luke 7:18) the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. The word for prison here is the place where one was kept bound (Acts 5:21; Acts 5:23; Acts 16:26). See Matthew 4:12. It was in Machaerus east of the Dead Sea which at this time belonged to the rule of Herod Antipas (Jos. Ant. XVIII. v.2). John's disciples had access to him. So he sent word by (δια, not δυο as in Luke 7:19) them to Jesus.

Verse 3

He that cometh (ο ερχομενος). This phrase refers to the Messiah (Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; Luke 19:38; Hebrews 10:37; Psalms 118:26; Daniel 7:13). Some rabbis applied the phrase to some forerunner of the kingdom (McNeile). Was there to be "another" (ετερον) after Jesus? John had been in prison "long enough to develop a prison mood" (Bruce). It was once clear enough to him, but his environment was depressing and Jesus had done nothing to get him out of Machaerus (see chapter IX in my John the Loyal). John longed for reassurance.

Verse 4

The things which ye do hear and see (α ακουετε κα βλεπετε). This symbolical message was for John to interpret, not for them.

Verse 5

And the dead are raised up (κα νεκρο εγειροντα). Like that of the son of the widow of Nain. Did he raise the dead also on this occasion? "Tell John your story over again and remind him of these prophetic texts, Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 61:1" (Bruce). The items were convincing enough and clearer than mere eschatological symbolism. "The poor" in particular have the gospel, a climax.

Verse 6

Whosoever shall find none occasion of stumbling in me (ος αν μη σκανδαλισθη εν εμο). Indefinite relative clause with first aorist passive subjunctive. This beatitude is a rebuke to John for his doubt even though in prison. Doubt is not a proof of superior intellect, scholarship, or piety. John was in the fog and that is the time not to make serious decisions. "In some way even the Baptist had found some occasion of stumbling in Jesus" (Plummer).

Verse 7

As these went their way (τουτων πορευομενων). Present participle genitive absolute. The eulogy of Jesus was spoken as the two disciples of John were going away. Is it a matter of regret that they did not hear this wondrous praise of John that they might cheer him with it? "It may almost be called the funeral oration of the Baptist, for not long afterwards Herodias compassed his death" (Plummer).

A reed shaken by the wind (καλαμον υπο ανεμου σαλευομενον). Latin calamus. Used of the reeds that grew in plenty in the Jordan Valley where John preached, of a staff made of a reed (Matthew 27:29), as a measuring rod (Revelation 11:1), of a writer's pen (3 John 1:13). The reeds by the Jordan bent with the wind, but not so John.

Verse 9

And much more than a prophet (κα περισσοτερον προφητου). Ablative of comparison after περισσοτερον itself comparative though meaning exceeding (surrounded by, overflowing). John had all the great qualities of the true prophet: "Vigorous moral conviction, integrity, strength of will, fearless zeal for truth and righteousness" (Bruce). And then he was the Forerunner of the Messiah (Malachi 3:1).

Verse 11

He that is but little (ο μικροτερος). The Authorized Version here has it better, "he that is least." The article with the comparative is a growing idiom in the vernacular Koine for the superlative as in the modern Greek it is the only idiom for the superlative (Robertson, Grammar of the Greek N.T., p. 668). The papyri and inscriptions show the same construction. The paradox of Jesus has puzzled many. He surely means that John is greater (μειζων) than all others in character, but that the least in the kingdom of heaven surpasses him in privilege. John is the end of one age, "until John" (Matthew 11:14), and the beginning of the new era. All those that come after John stand upon his shoulders. John is the mountain peak between the old and the new.

Verse 12

Suffereth violence (βιαζετα). This verb occurs only here and in Luke 16:16 in the N.T. It seems to be middle in Luke and Deissmann (Bible Studies, p. 258) quotes an inscription "where βιαζομα is without doubt reflexive and absolute" as in Luke 16:16. But there are numerous papyri examples where it is passive (Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, etc.) so that "there seems little that promises decisive help for the difficult Logion of Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16." So then in Matthew 11:12 the form can be either middle or passive and either makes sense, though a different sense. The passive idea is that the kingdom is forced, is stormed, is taken by men of violence like "men of violence take it by force" (βιαστα αρπαζουσιν αυτην) or seize it like a conquered city. The middle voice may mean "experiences violence" or "forces its way" like a rushing mighty wind (so Zahn holds). These difficult words of Jesus mean that the preaching of John "had led to a violent and impetuous thronging to gather round Jesus and his disciples" (Hort, Judaistic Christianity, p. 26).

Verse 14

This is Elijah (αυτος εστιν Ελειας). Jesus here endorses John as the promise of Malachi. The people understood Malachi 4:1 to mean the return of Elijah in person. This John denied as to himself (John 1:21). But Jesus affirms that John is the Elijah of promise who has come already (Matthew 17:12). He emphasizes the point: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."

Verse 17

Children sitting in the market places (παιδιοις καθημενοις εν ταις αγοραις). This parable of the children playing in the market place is given also in Luke 7:31. Had Jesus as a child in Nazareth not played games with the children? He had certainly watched them often since. The interest of Christ in children was keen. He has really created the modern child's world out of the indifference of the past. They would not play wedding or funeral in a peevish fret. These metaphors in the Gospels are vivid to those with eyes to see. The αγορα was originally the assembly, then the forum or public square where the people gathered for trade or for talk as in Athens (Acts 17:17) and in many modern towns. So the Roman Forum. The oriental bazaars today are held in streets rather than public squares. Even today with all the automobiles children play in the streets. In English the word "cheap" (Cheapside) meant only barter and price, not cheap in our sense. The word for mourn (εκοψασθε) means to beat the heart, direct middle, after the fashion of eastern funeral lamentations.

Verse 19

Wisdom is justified by her works (εδικαιωθη απο των εργων αυτης). A timeless aorist passive (Robertson, Grammar, p. 836f.). The word "justified" means "set right" Luke (Luke 7:35) has "by all her children" as some MSS. have here to make Matthew like Luke. These words are difficult, but understandable. God's wisdom has planned the different conduct of both John and Jesus. He does not wish all to be just alike in everything. "This generation" (verse Matthew 11:16) is childish, not childlike, and full of whimsical inconsistencies in their faultfinding. They exaggerate in each case. John did not have a demon and Jesus was not a glutton or a winebibber. "And, worse than either, for φιλος is used in a sinister sense and implies that Jesus was the comrade of the worst characters, and like them in conduct. A malicious nickname at first, it is now a name of honour: the sinner's lover" (Bruce). Cf. Luke 15:2. The plan of God is justified by results.

Verse 20

Most of his mighty works (α πλειστα δυναμεις αυτου). Literally, "His very many mighty works" if elative as usual in the papyri (Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 79; Robertson, Grammar, p. 670). But the usual superlative makes sense here as the Canterbury translation has it. This word δυναμις for miracle presents the notion of power like our dynamite. The word τερας is wonder, portent, miraculum (miracle) as in Acts 2:19. It occurs only in the plural and always with σημεια. The word σημειον means sign (Matthew 12:38) and is very common in John's Gospel as well as the word εργον (work) as in John 5:36. Other words used are παραδοξον, our word paradox, strange (Luke 5:26), ενδοξον, glorious (Luke 13:17), θαυμασιον, wonderful (Matthew 21:15).

Verse 21

Chorazin (Χοραζειν). Mentioned only here and in Luke 10:13. Proof of "the meagreness of our knowledge of Judaism in the time of Christ" (Plummer) and of the many things not told in our Gospels (John 21:25). We know something of Bethsaida and more about Capernaum as places of privilege. But (πλην, howbeit) neither of these cities repented, changed their conduct. Note condition of the second class, determined as unfulfilled in verses Matthew 11:21 and Matthew 11:23.

Verse 25

At that season Jesus answered and said (εν εκεινω τω καιρω αποκριθεις ειπεν). Spoke to his Father in audible voice. The time and place we do not know. But here we catch a glimpse of Jesus in one of his moods of worship. "It is usual to call this golden utterance a prayer, but it is at once prayer, praise, and self-communing in a devout spirit" (Bruce). Critics are disturbed because this passage from the Logia of Jesus or Q of Synoptic criticism (Matthew 11:25-30; Luke 10:21-24) is so manifestly Johannine in spirit and very language, "the Father" (ο πατηρ), "the son" (ο υιος), whereas the Fourth Gospel was not written till the close of the first century and the Logia was written before the Synoptic Gospels. The only satisfying explanation lies in the fact that Jesus did have this strain of teaching that is preserved in John's Gospel. Here he is in precisely the same mood of elevated communion with the Father that we have reflected in John 14 to 17. Even Harnack is disposed to accept this Logion as a genuine saying of Jesus. The word "thank" (ομολογουμα) is better rendered "praise" (Moffatt). Jesus praises the Father "not that the σοφο were ignorant, but that the νηπιο knew" (McNeile).

Verse 26

Wellpleasing in thy sight (ευδοκια εμπροσθεν σου). "For such has been thy gracious will" (Weymouth).

Verse 27

All things have been delivered unto me of my Father (παντα μο παρεδοθη υπο του πατρος μου). This sublime claim is not to be whittled down or away by explanations. It is the timeless aorist like εδοθη in Matthew 28:18 and "points back to a moment in eternity, and implies the pre-existence of the Messiah" (Plummer). The Messianic consciousness of Christ is here as clear as a bell. It is a moment of high fellowship. Note επιγινωσκε twice for "fully know." Note also βουλητα =wills, is willing. The Son retains the power and the will to reveal the Father to men.

Verse 28

Come unto me (δευτε προς με). Verses 28 to 30 are not in Luke and are among the special treasures of Matthew's Gospel. No sublimer words exist than this call of Jesus to the toiling and the burdened (πεφορτισμενο, perfect passive participle, state of weariness) to come to him. He towers above all men as he challenges us. "I will refresh you" (κ'αγο αναπαυσω υμας). Far more than mere rest, rejuvenation. The English slang expression "rest up" is close to the idea of the Greek compound ανα-παυω. It is causative active voice.

Verse 29

Take my yoke upon you and learn of me (αρατε τον ζυγον μου εφ'υμας κα μαθετε απ'εμου). The rabbis used yoke for school as many pupils find it now a yoke. The English word "school" is Greek for leisure (σχολη). But Jesus offers refreshment (αναπαυσιν) in his school and promises to make the burden light, for he is a meek and humble teacher. Humility was not a virtue among the ancients. It was ranked with servility. Jesus has made a virtue of this vice. He has glorified this attitude so that Paul urges it (Philippians 2:3), "in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself." In portions of Europe today people place yokes on the shoulders to make the burden easier to carry. Jesus promises that we shall find the yoke kindly and the burden lightened by his help. "Easy" is a poor translation of χρηστος. Moffatt puts it "kindly." That is the meaning in the Septuagint for persons. We have no adjective that quite carries the notion of kind and good. The yoke of Christ is useful, good, and kindly. Cf. Song of Solomon 1:10.

Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 11". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/matthew-11.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.
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