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the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 11

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

Peculiar to Matthew, though some of the sayings occur in the other Gospels. As such trials and emergencies did not occur on this journey, some suppose this part of the discourse was uttered at a later period. But Matthew, himself an Apostle, would be most likely to give the whole discourse. The Twelve alone were prepared for so early a revelation about persecution; yet this section is more universally applicable than the Matthew 10:5-15. No satisfactory analysis can be given; the whole is a series of alternate warnings and comforts. Trials await them in the world (Matthew 10:16-18; no care about their defence (Matthew 10:19-20); the intensity of persecution, with the promise to those who endure (Matthew 10:21-22); then with a twofold reference, flight in persecution, with the accompanying promise (Matthew 10:23); the disciples will only suffer as Christ has done before them (Matthew 10:24-25); holy boldness and candor enjoined, since we should not be afraid of men, but fear God, who is our protecting father (Matthew 10:26-31); as we confess or deny, He confesses or denies us (Matthew 10:32-33). The opposition is further set forth by the declaration that not peace but a sword is the result of the gospel in the world; so that it divides even the family (Matthew 10:34-36); but Christ demands a love beyond that for the family (Matthew 10:37), that for life itself (Matthew 10:38-39); and yet despite this opposition His servants bring Him to those who receive them, and the reward of reception is a corresponding one (Matthew 10:40-42).

Verse 2

Matthew 11:2. N ow when John heard in the prison (according to Josephus, the fortress of Machaerus, situated on the border of Perea near the desert; next to Jerusalem the strongest fortress of the Jews) the works of Christ. According to Luke (Luke 7:18), John’s disciples had told him or such miracles as the raising of the widow’s son in Nain. ‘Christ,’ or ‘the Christ.’ As Matthew uses this form nowhere else, it is likely that the disciples of John had thus spoken of our Lord, meaning: the one John announced as the Messiah.

He sent by his disciples . This is the correct reading. ‘Two’ is borrowed from Luke 7:19.

Verses 2-19

INTRODUCTORY NOTE. The sending out of the Twelve probably called into open manifestation the opposition of the Pharisees: hence Matthew groups the events indicating this hostility, without regard to chronological order. The Twelve were not sent forth until after the period covered by chaps. 11 - 13 . The account of the message from John precedes, because the course of conduct which aroused hostility in the Pharisees had awakened hesitation on the part of John (or at least of his disciples).

Verse 3

Matthew 11:3. Art thou he that cometh, i.e., the Messiah, or do we look for another. Explanations: ( 1 ) John was temporarily in depression and doubt, respecting the slow and unostentatious mode of Christ’s manifestation, and the true nature of his kingdom. ( 2 ) John’s disciples (not himself) were in doubt, and he sent them to be instructed; the opinion of some of the Fathers. This saves John’s orthodoxy at the expense of his morality. There is no more evidence of doubt in their case than in that of John. Besides the answer was addressed to John. ( 3 ) John was prompted by impatient zeal, and wished to call forth from Jesus a public declaration of His Messiahship. But this would have been even worse than doubt. ( 4 ) John wished to learn with certainty whether this worker of miracles was the one he had baptized. This is opposed by the phrase ‘works of the Christ’ (Matthew 11:2). The first view is preferable. The Bible does not represent the saints as free from imperfection and doubt. Elijah, the prototype of John, had his season of despondency. John was at least disappointed, and may have sent this message, hoping for something to strengthen his own faith, hoping perhaps that he would be set free to see the coming of the kingdom of heaven, and that judgment would come upon the wicked ruler and court from whom he suffered; and yet doubting because these hopes had not been realized long before.

Verse 4

Matthew 11:4. Go and tell John, etc. Our Lord sends a message to John, but does not instruct his disciples.

Verse 5

Matthew 11:5. The blind receive their sight, or ‘see again.’ The word means this when applied to the blind. In other cases, ‘to look up.’

The dead are raised up. The raising of the daughter of Jairus probably took place afterwards, but the miracle in Nain certainly preceded.

The poor have the gospel preached to them. The ‘poor’ in spirit are included. This is the climax. Spiritual deliverance was the greatest miracle. The answer (comp. Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 61:1) means: ‘I do great things in physical healing, but my greatest work is the spiritual healing I bring: do not then expect some wonderful temporal victory, but be content with the thought that I as Messiah am doing my appropriate and most glorious work.’ The reference to the Old Testament prophecy would give John both testimony and instruction. Even our Lord answers doubt out of the Scriptures.

Verse 6

Matthew 11:6. And blessed is he, etc. This recalls Isaiah 8:14.

Offended, i.e., ‘made to stumble.’ This does not upbraid, but cautions, implying that Christ knew best what to do in His kingdom. Result of the message: we may well believe that John was not taken away as a martyr to righteousness without having his faith restored. His disciples, after his death and burial,’ came and told Jesus’ (Matthew 14:12).

Verse 7

Matthew 11:7. And as they departed. In Luke 7:24-35, we find an almost exact parallel to Matthew 11:7-19. The comment follows at once, to uphold the character of John, which might have been undervalued in consequence of his message. But he is not praised in the presence of his disciples.

The multitudes. The great influence of John appears from the fact that our Lord thus appeals to a mixed crowd.

What went ye out into the wilderness. Comp. chap. Matthew 3:1-5.

To behold, or ‘gaze at.’ As if at some curious spectacle. Popularity is very often due to curiosity, even in the case of an earnest and faithful preacher.

A reed shaken by the wind? Reeds are abundant on the lower banks of the Jordan. The meaning is not, simply, you did not go without a motive, but he whom you went to see was not a fickle, wavering character. Probably an allusion to John’s doubt.

Verse 8

Matthew 11:8. But what: ‘if it was not that, what was it,’ etc.

A man clothed in soft raiment? An allusion to the coarseness of John’s clothing (chap. Matthew 4:3).

Behold. This is equivalent to, ‘oh no, such are not found in the wilderness.’

In kings’ houses; not in kings’ prisons. An allusion to the courtiers about Herod Antipas. John was not a flatterer nor had he drawn back from his testimony to Jesus to escape from prison or from any selfish motive. Thus our Lord defends His forerunner from the suspicion of the multitude.

Verse 9

Matthew 11:9. To see a prophet. To this the crowd would answer ‘yes’ (comp. ch. Matthew 21:26). But our Lord adds, Yea, most certainly, I say unto you, I who can speak with authority on the subject, and much more than a prophet. John saw and pointed out Him whom the prophets only predicted, and he was himself the subject of prophecy.

Verse 10

Matthew 11:10. It is written. Malachi 3:1. The last of the prophets had foretold of John. His office as forerunner of Christ made him greater than them all.

Behold I send my messenger before thy face; etc. The original prophecy is: ‘Behold I send my messenger before my face,’ etc. (The latter part of the verse contains a direct reference to the Messiah.) Here, and in Mark 1:2, Luke 7:27, it is changed into a promise of God to Christ Our Lord on His own authority (Matthew 11:9: ‘I say unto you’), applies the phrase,’ my messenger,’ to John, and the word ‘thy’ to Himself, thus appropriating a pronoun referring to God. Comp. His discourse on a previous occasion (John 5:17-47), in which He refers to His relation to the Father, to John, and to the Old Testament prophets.

Verse 11

Matthew 11:11. Verily I say unto you. Only One could thus speak concerning the greatest ‘born of women.’

There hath not risen; been raised into prominence by God.

Bora of women. Among mankind in general. Christ was ‘born of a woman’ (Galatians 4:4), but this differs from the phrase here used as ‘Son of man’ does from ‘men.’

A greater. No one, patriarch or prophet, king or priest, was greater; for John was the forerunner of Christ. Relation to Christ is the true measure of greatness.

But he that is least, lit. ‘less,’ either less than John or less than others. The latter seems preferable, and is really equivalent to ‘least.’

In the kingdom of heaven, i.e., the new dispensation of grace which Christ introduces. Not ‘in the preaching of the kingdom of heaven.’ John on the threshold of the kingdom, was in position the greatest of all Old Testament prophets and saints, but the least Christian, being in the kingdom, is as to position (not personal merit) greater than he. Those born of the Spirit are greater than the greatest born of women. The relation to Christ is still more intimate, and that determines the relative greatness. John is regarded as still outside the kingdom into which he may have afterwards entered. If ‘less’ be understood as meaning ‘less than John,’ then the reference is to relative position, i.e., one lower in position or dignity in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John, who occupied the highest place in the old dispensation. But this is indefinite. The Fathers referred ‘He that is less’ to Christ, but Christ is not in the kingdom (the kingdom is in Him), and such a comparison is scarcely admissible after the application of prophecy made in Matthew 11:10.

Verse 12

Matthew 11:12. And from the days of John the Baptist until now. A period of not much more than a year, it is supposed.

The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, or ‘is assaulted by storm’ (in a good sense, referring to the excitement and earnest endeavor awakened in the brief period since John appeared), and the violent (those making the effort) take it by force (actually succeed in entering in). Although John belonged to the old economy, the new (‘the kingdom of heaven’) was already on earth, and the first evidence of its coming was the preaching of John and the excited interest it had aroused. This is in praise of John, but designed especially to convey the idea that a new era had already dawned, which deserved the endeavor that had been aroused. Some, with less ground, suppose John and Christ to be referred to by ‘the violent’ The verse states a historical fact, suggesting that earnest endeavor is necessary in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Verse 13

Matthew 11:13. For. A proof of the coming in of the new era.

All the prophets and the law, i.e., the whole Old Testament.

Prophesied. Only ‘prophesied.’ ‘The law’ is also a prophecy, even its ceremonies point to Christ.

Until John. Including him as the last of the series, still belonging to the old dispensation, but closing its prophecy, when he ushered in the Messiah. The joining of John with the prophets is a further support of his high position.

Verse 14

Matthew 11:14. And if ye are willing to receive it. The Jews expected that Elijah would rise from the dead, hence many would not receive it. The popular notions on the whole subject of prophecy were incorrect; for in the day of fulfilment our Lord thus prefaces an explanation.

He is Elijah, etc. Malachi 4:5, applied to John before his birth by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:17). Not the entire fulfilment of the prophecy, for John himself (John 1:21) said he was not Elijah, and our Lord afterwards intimated that another coming of Elijah is to be expected (Matthew 17:11).

Verse 15

Matthew 11:15. He that hath ears to hear, etc. This usually follows an important statement, intimating that he who has the discernment to understand will find the deeper meaning. Here it suggests: Christ meant more than that John was Elijah, that he Himself was the Messiah. Then, as now, properly to understand the Scriptures was to know Christ. The comparison which follows intimates that few would ‘receive’ the truth respecting John, or have ‘ears to hear’ the glad news of the Messiah’s presence. If John wished our Lord to declare Himself, his wish was granted, but the revelation was, as always, only to those who really sought to know Christ.

Matthew 11:16-19 contain parallels and contrasts as in Hebrew poetry. In Luke the poetic form is even more marked.

Verse 16

Matthew 11:16. This generation, i.e., the people then living in Judea.

Children, etc. These children are represented as idling in public places, sitting in the market-places.

Verse 17

Matthew 11:17. One set of children is represented as having invited another set to play, first in a mock wedding and then in a mock funeral, but the latter would not join them. Explanations: ( 1 ) The children calling, represent John and Jesus, but these two earnest preachers would not be likened to idling, petulant children, and in that case the ‘mourning’ ought to precede the ‘piping.’ ( 2 ) Those who will not play represent the two preachers, but this is opposed to the word ‘fellows’ or ‘companions’ in Matthew 11:16, as well as to the parallel passage in Luke (Luke 7:32), where the children are spoken of as ‘calling to one another.’ All the children were petulant. ( 3 ) The simplest view: The whole company of children represent the Jews, engaged in the childish pursuits of amusement and showing disagreement, discontent, and petulance. With these ‘children’ the children of wisdom are contrasted (Luke).

Verse 18

Matthew 11:18. For. An evidence of the petulant spirit (so Matthew 11:19).

John came neither eating nor drinking. He came as a prophet, and living in a peculiar manner, ‘neither eating bread nor drinking wine’ (Luke 7:33); ‘his meat was locusts and wild honey’ (chap. Matthew 3:4).

And they say, He hath a demon. A demon of melancholy; he is a fanatic.

Verse 19

Matthew 11:19. The Son of man. Peculiarly appropriate here, where our Lord speaks of Himself, as appearing in His exalted mission, eating and drinking, like all other men; going to places of festivity, such as the wedding at Cana, the feast at the house of Levi, identifying Himself with men in their ordinary life.

Behold. Those who cried out against austerity objected also to a teacher of righteousness, who snowed himself thoroughly human in social life.

A winebibber. Our Lord used wine, as those about Him did. There was nothing singular in His social habits as the Son of man. But the generation which had denounced asceticism in John, at once magnified this into a crime.

A friend of publicans and sinners. Thoroughly worldly people seek to parry the claims of spiritual truth by assailing its teachers, in childish petulance, with such contradictory accusations, extending their criticisms to dress, food, expression of countenance, cut of the beard and parting of the hair. Much time has been wasted in trying to satisfy those ‘sitting in the markets’ and playing there. Those who hate the truth will hate its representatives and will never understand their principles, or be satisfied with their practice. To our own Master we stand or fall.

And, or, ‘and yet,’ in opposition to this childish conduct, Wisdom, the wisdom of God, personified here as in the Book of Proverbs, was justified; not ‘is,’ nor ‘will be.’

By, or ‘from,’ her works. The common reading here is borrowed from Luke 7:35: ‘by all her children.’ The general sense is the same; here the reference is to the actions of these children of wisdom. The judgments of the world are childish, those of the children of wisdom are childlike, in humility and faith, and their ‘works’ correspond. The result in their case has justified the wisdom of God’s method. Some, however, refer the clause to the Jews, either in solemn irony (claiming to have wisdom, their works should justify it), or implying that their contradictory judgments confuted each other and thus confirmed ‘wisdom.’

Verse 20

Matthew 11:20. Then began he. Probably ‘pointing to a pause or change of manner of our Lord.’

To upbraid. Often used of men in a bad sense, here, implying moral disapproval and righteous indignation.

Wherein most of his mighty works were done. Probably only the smallest part of our Lord’s miracles are detailed by the Evangelists (comp. John 21:25). We have no account of any miracles in ‘Chorazin’ and ‘Bethsaida’ (Matthew 11:21).

Because they repented not. The object of the miracles was to lead to repentance.

Verses 20-30

This section is a continuation of the preceding discourse. The comparison between the children of ‘this generation’ and ‘wisdom’ which is justified by her works, is, on the one hand, sharpened into a declaration of judgment against the unrepentant cities He had visited, and, on the other, expanded into a thanksgiving, a declaration of His own exalted position, and a tender invitation. The connection with what precedes is obvious, and also the relation of the two parts. The thoughts of Matthew 11:21-24 were uttered again at the sending out of the Seventy (Luke 10:12-15). The authoritative tone of Matthew 11:21-24, declaration of what would have taken place, the positive statement of what will occur at the judgment, form a contrast to the tenderness of Matthew 11:25-30. But both parts coincide with our Lord’s character of holy love. The authority to invite involves the authority to denounce; the willingness to bless implies the curse of those who would not be blessed; the praise of the Father’s good pleasure befits the Son who reveals Him.

Lessons: In the sight of Christ, one rejecting Him in the midst of light is worse than a heathen; offers of grace and threats of judgment are proportionate; faithful preaching makes the faithless hearer more guilty; pride hardens even more than impurity. The thought of persistent sin leads our Lord to His Father, yet in thanksgiving; ‘So it was well-pleasing,’ the comfort of God’s adopted children, taught them by the Only Begotten; the authority of the Son the security for our rest in Him; the declaration of His ability to bless followed by a declaration of His willingness (see further on the verses).

Verse 21

Matthew 11:21. The places of less importance come first

Chorazin. Mentioned only here and Luke 10:13. Probably identical with the ruins of Kerazeh.

Bethsaida. A city of Galilee (John 12:21); the home of Peter, of Andrew, and of Philip (John 1:44; John 12:21). Mark mentions the name twice (Mark 6:45; Mark 8:22). In one instance the reference to a place on the eastern shore is obvious. Views: ( 1 ) The ancient view: but one place, namely, on the western shore. This involved difficulty in explaining Mark 6:45. ( 2 ) The usual modem view: two places, namely, ‘Bethsaida of Galilee’ on the western shore; ‘Bethsaida Julias’ on the eastern shore. ( 3 ) The latest and best view: One place situated at the northern end of the lake on both sides of the inlet, hence partly in Galilee, and yet on the site of Bethsaida Julias and the eastern shore of the lake. So Dr. Thomson. See notes on Mark 6:45.

Tyre and Sidon. Ancient Gentile cities in existence at that time, The corruption of these places had been spoken of ages before by the prophets.

They would have repented. Our Lord claims knowledge of contingent spiritual events.

Long ago. Either, the cities would have changed their character in ages past, or the present inhabitants would have repented speedily.

In sackcloth and ashes. The symbol of mourning and repentance (comp. Jonah 3:5-9, on the repentance of Nineveh). The costume of mourners resembled a sack with holes for the arms, and it was usual to strew ashes upon the head.

Verse 22

Matthew 11:22. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable, etc. An authoritative judgment as to the measure of human responsibility. The final decision in the day of judgment would be His also.

Verse 23

Matthew 11:23. Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? The correct reading is a question anticipating a negative answer: Nay, thou shalt go down, etc. The place, as the centre of our Lord’s activity, enjoyed special privileges. In wealth Capernaum could not be compared with Sodom; its lofty situation is uncertain, hence a reference to this is doubtful.

Shalt go down unto hell, or Hades, the ‘place of the dead,’ not the place of future punishment. A figure of spiritual destitution and desolation, as ‘heaven’ represented privilege. Nothing positive about ‘Hades’ can be inferred from this verse, though it certainly hints at a disembodied state between death and the resurrection, which differs from ‘hell,’ where both ‘soul and body’ are punished (Matthew 10:28). Temporal judgments have been linked with the spiritual degradation here predicted; the very sites of these cities are disputed.

Sodom (compare its history in Genesis, chaps, 13 - 19 ) was the synonym for wickedness.

Remained until this day. As it was the oldest city of importance in Palestine, the language is the more striking.

Verse 24

Matthew 11:24. A future judgment is referred to, since our Lord speaks of what shall take place with regard to Sodom, which had been so long destroyed. The inhabitants had not been annihilated.

Verse 25

Matthew 11:25. At that season. Probably immediately after the denunciation just recorded.

Answered. Not necessarily to an oral question, nor even to the thoughts of the listeners. The ascription of praise seems rather an answer to His Heavenly Father.

I thank thee, ‘I fully confess, thankfully acknowledge the justice of thy doings.’

O Father, Lord of heaven and earth. Christ addresses God as His ‘Father,’ not as His ‘Lord.’ There are four instances of such public address of our Saviour to His Father; in each case resulting from deep emotion. Here the cause was the impenitence of ‘His own’ people. The term, ‘Lord of heaven and earth,’ is peculiarly appropriate, since He was about to mention another evidence of God’s sovereignty.

That thou didst hide these things, i.e., the character and saving work of Christ, but including the condemnation of the proud, the saving of the humble, and the righteousness and mercy of God as thereby displayed; for the revelation of all these things centres in the revelation of Christ to the believing heart. God hides such things only in just judgment, and the exercise of His justice is rather a leaving of the sinner to the natural result of his sin.

The wise and prudent, according to a worldly estimate; in this case, Pharisees and proud Jews. Those most learned and sagacious in all earthly things often cannot understand the simplest truths of Christianity. They are hid from them, by God indeed, but through their own pride. Merely intellectual culture usually leads to pride, which is the greatest hindrance in learning moral and religious truth.

Reveal them. These things are revealed in general to men in the Gospel, but also, through this, revealed to individuals.

Unto babes. Those despised by the world, because often ignorant of what it values, or considered ‘babes,’ because they believe like little children what their Heavenly Father reveals to them.

Verse 26

Matthew 11:26. Yea, that it was well-pleasing in thy sight. Praise for His ‘good pleasure’ which involves His wisdom, prudence, and goodness. When men deny these qualities or we cannot fully perceive them, we may still praise His ‘good pleasure,’ as our Master did.

Verse 27

Matthew 11:27. All things, whether of judgment or salvation, of hiding or revealing.

were delivered unto me by my Father. ‘All things were by the Father brought into connection with, and subordination to the economy instituted by Christ.’ His power as King extends over both, the lost and saved.

And no one knoweth the Son but the Father, etc. This great mystery of Christ’s power over all things rests upon the greatest of mysteries, the person of Christ, the Son, as related to the Father, a mystery thoroughly known (as the Greek word means) only to the two parties, the Father and the Son.

And he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal it. The Son is the Revealer of this mystery, and about it all revelation centres, not only written revelation, but the revelation made to our hearts. This verse, the genuineness of which is not disputed, contradicts the notion that the view of the Person of Christ presented in the fourth Gospel is different from that of the three others. To know God men need a revelation from this lowly Saviour. The same pride still refuses it. John the Baptist had said this of Christ (John 3:35), and now Christ says it Himself in a discourse which began in a defence of the Baptist.

Verse 28

Matthew 11:28. Come unto me. Christ now shows first of all His willingness (comp. Matthew 11:27) in this invitation.

All ye that labour, etc., ‘all the laboring and the burdened.’ A figurative description of men seeking to become holy by external acts of righteousness. The immediate reference is to the Jews struggling to obtain deliverance through the law, and oppressed by the yoke placed upon them by the Pharisaical interpretation of it. It is applicable to all men as subject to misery, actively and passively; but most directly to those conscious of sin, striving to make themselves better, or sinking under a sense of their guilt

And I will give you rest. ‘I’ is emphatic; other teachers lay burdens on you, I am able, as well as willing, to end your useless labor and remove the crushing burden.

Verse 29

Matthew 11:29. Take my yoke upon you. The Jews called the law a ‘ yoke.’ Our Lord here refers to His rule, doctrine, and leadership.

And learn of me. Either, take pattern from me, or as the context suggests, become my disciples.

For I am meek and lowly in heart, not in appearance merely, as the scribes. Humility is the first requisite in learning of God. The ‘meek and lowly’ One can teach us this first lesson. The lowliness seems the greater from the language of Matthew 11:27.

And ye shall find rest unto your souls. Rest of soul is the true aim; we must seek it, and seek it from Christ ‘Man is made for Christ, and his heart is without rest, until it rests in Him.’

Verse 30

Matthew 11:30. For my yoke is easy (wholesome) and my burden is light. The ‘yoke’ answers to those ‘laboring;’ the ‘burden’ to those ‘heavy laden.’ Christ does not promise freedom from labor and burdens, but promises that we shall be so changed as to find them ‘wholesome’ and light. Christ indeed demands a righteousness exceeding that of the Scribes and Pharisees, and teaches us that there is a depth of meaning in the law, which our consciences did not perceive; yet. He says that His yoke, His requirements, are wholesome, and His burden, oftentimes a cross, is light! One who goes to Christ to find rest for his soul, obtains from Him peace of conscience and power to obey. We go to Him as a teacher meek and lowly in heart; the first lesson learned is, to humbly and penitently take from Him what we need. What He has done for us secures pardon, what He does in us gives power. The Teacher of the highest morality could only fulfil these promises by becoming an actual Saviour from sin; that He can and will save is the ground tone of the whole passage. Saved by Him, indeed, as Augustine says, the yoke is like the plumage of the bird, an easy weight enabling it to soar heavenward.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 11". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/matthew-11.html. 1879-90.
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