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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 11

 

 

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Verse 1

1. Jesus had made an end of commanding — This verse properly belongs to the close of the preceding chapter, upon which see the closing note. It informs us how Jesus was engaged during the trial mission of his apostles; while each couple took their own way, the Master himself was upon his Father’s business.


Verse 2

2. John — John the Baptist was like his prototype Elijah. See notes on Matthew 1:1; Matthew 17:10; Matthew 17:12. As the former was driven by Ahab into the wilderness, so the latter was shut up in prison; and as the former at a certain period (1 Kings 19:1-13) bore his solitude impatiently, so the evangelist now shows us of John that he bore his imprisonment impatiently.

John had heard… works of Christ — Near eighteen months now had John remained in prison, a period about as long as the exercise of his active ministry. His disciples, apparently, had access to him, and through them the rumours of our Lord’s works might reach his ears. Successively he might have heard how Jesus had organized his twelve apostolates — one for every tribe of Israel; how he had healed the servant of the centurion of Capernaum, had lately raised the widow’s son at Nain, and had filled Palestine, and even Syria and Idumea, with the renown of miracle and preaching. These were indeed mighty works; but why did not the reign of righteousness and glory commence its era?

Sent two of his disciples — In regard to this message of John to our Saviour, there are at least two opposing opinions. One view, that supported by Watson and by Stier, and held by orthodox commentators more generally, is that John sent his message to Jesus not so much to satisfy any doubts of his own, as for the instruction of his disciples in the true character of Jesus from the lips of the Lord himself. This view is sustained by these commentators on the ground of John’s character. They dwell on the high office of John as the official witness for Jesus, and expatiate on the scandal upon Christianity arising from the supposition that he doubted the genuineness and truthfulness of his Lord. In spite, however, of all these opposing arguments, which appear to us to misapprehend the opinion they controvert, we are compelled to adopt the view that John sent his inquiry for the satisfaction of his own mind.

The doubts in John’s mind were not such as tended in the slightest degree to invalidate his previous testimonies to Jesus, or the evidence on which they rested. John’s misgivings were not in their nature skeptical, but anxious. He doubted not the divinity of Jesus, but queried what was to be his future course. Like others, he expected a more rapid development of the Messiah’s kingship; and as Jesus seemed to be permanently a peaceful prophet, he questioned whether a different royal Messiah was not yet to appear. The very fact that he sent to Jesus himself for relief, as the fountain and oracle of truth, shows that he still acknowledged him as one the latchet of whose shoes he was unworthy to unloose. The import of his message was: “I acknowledge thee profoundly as ever as the Son of God, ‘the way, the truth, and the life,’ whose unworthy harbinger and messenger I am. But thy present acts and words indicate that thou art to be a teacher and a worker of miracles. Art thou also the predicted King of the glorious divine reign about to come in, or must we wait for another?” John then did not retract or doubt the past; he only queried the future.

There is something severe in the whole of our Lord’s demeanour and language, as if reproving this shaking of John’s higher faith in God. Just so at a time when the firmness of Elijah’s faith was shaken, (1 Kings xix,) the Lord rebukes him, and instructs him with signs and miracles.


Verses 2-7

§ 39. — THE MESSAGE OF JOHN TO JESUS, vv. AND THE SAVIOUR’S ANSWER, Matthew 11:2-7.

Matthew here inserts, not in its chronological order, a narrative, possessed of special interest, of a message sent by John from the solitude of his prison to Jesus. It possesses a marked completeness in itself, and should be read as one whole. See remarks at the close of the chapter.

John was imprisoned probably in the fortress of Macherus in Perea, east of the Dead Sea. At what time precisely this message was sent is not certain, but earlier than the events of the last chapter. Jesus was probably at Capernaum.


Verse 3

3. Art thou he that should come — Here is no doubt a reference to Malachi 3:1, where it is said: “Jehovah whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple.” The slowness of our Lord to develope the glory of his kingdom seemed to John not to agree with the suddenness ascribed to the Messiah. Do we look for another — John here seems to be running into the same train of reasoning as that which induced the later Jews to adopt the theory of two Messiahs, one of whom (called by them the Son of Joseph) should fulfil the humiliations described by the prophets as belonging to the Messiah; and the other (whom they called the Son of David) should fulfil the glorious part of the prophecies. I do not mean that John adopted or was acquainted with this Jewish theory; but that the same idea (namely, the contrast lying between the humble suffering Messiah and the glorious Messiah, Prince of the kingdom of God) which prompted that theory prompted his question.


Verse 4

4. Show John again — The words plainly show that it is John, not his disciples, who is to be taught the truth. To John’s question Jesus gives no direct reply. To his “Art thou he?” the Saviour responds not, “I am he.” He holds a reserve, partly severe and partly modest, or rather self-respecting. He performs most noted miracles, as Luke informs us, before the face of the messengers, and sends them back to John with a quotation from the prophets, which declares that those very miracles belong to the Prince Messiah. Just so the doubts of his type, Elijah, were relieved (1 Kings xix) by a sign.


Verse 5

5. The blind receive their sight — Our Lord here refers to Isaiah 29:18, and other passages where these works are made the proofs of the Messiah.


Verse 6

6. Offended in me — The word offended, here as elsewhere means to be made to stumble; that is, to fall into sin by some misunderstanding. The Lord here utters a warning to John. To John, we say, for the singular pronoun, Blessed is HE,” is so pointed as to be very unaccountable if it be not intended. The Baptist is not in wickedness; but he is in danger of being offended in Jesus. This brief and somewhat stern procedure constitutes the whole of his reply to John; and the disciples of John departed with it to their master.


Verse 7

7. What went ye out into the wilderness — The wilderness of Judea, bordering on the Jordan, where John preached and baptized. Our Lord asks in effect what was their expectation in regard to the true character of John, to whose preaching and baptism they had resorted. Reed shaken with the wind? — Did you expect, what John now appears to you, a trembling vacillator, shivering in every breeze of doubt and difficulty? Such is not John’s true character. And here our Lord, with singular beauty, borrows his illustration from the reeds which lined the banks of the Jordan, and shivered in the breezes that swept it.

Both Watson and Stier argue that John could not have sent his message to relieve his own doubts, because our Lord here denies that he was a reed shaken by the wind, or a soft, pliant man. Very true. But what suggested those particular denials? Plainly, the understanding that John’s mind is now apparently wavering; which understanding is based upon the assumption that the inquiry is his own. Our Lord admits the assumption, but denies the inference; and then he proceeds (10-14) to state John’s real case, with all its greatness, its littleness, and its palliations.


Verses 7-15

§ 39. — JOHN’S POSITION AND CHARACTER, Matthew 11:7-15.

Our Lord now, to the people, takes occasion to discriminate the precise character of John, both in its greatness and its infirmities. Not being in the kingdom of God, John does not know its King, but asks of the heir apparent, “Do we look for another?”


Verse 8

8. Man clothed in soft raiment — Were you attracted into the wilderness of Judea to see an effeminate courtier, who could not bear the severities of a desert or of a prison, as John now perhaps appears? Certainly not. The very direction you took shows the reverse. You would not have gone to the wilderness, but to the palace, perhaps of Herod, to find a soft dressed gentleman.


Verse 9

9. A prophet — They went to find something better than kings or courtiers, namely, a prophet of God. And our Lord assures them, with an emphasis, that they were not mistaken.


Verse 10

10. Behold, I send my messenger — John is more than a prophet; he is a messenger; nay, even THE messenger before the Messiah’s face. Our Saviour here quotes Malachi 3:1.


Verse 11

11. Born of women — The world thinks that kings, generals, and statesmen are the greatest of men. But God measures differently. The divine head of Christ is the loftiest of all men’s heads, and his nearest servant’s is next. Least — More properly rendered less, or inferior. A man who is truly in the kingdom of God; who knows its true nature, both by fuller developments and by spiritual experience, is above making such a mistake as poor John, with all his greatness of position and character, committed.


Verse 12

12. Suffereth violence — Our Lord here shows that John is not alone in his mistake. It is the error of the day. From the time of John’s first appearing to the moment of our Lord’s speaking, men have been disposed violently to hurry the kingdom into a premature existence. They will have it now.

They will take it by storm.

The kingdom of heaven, as all admit, is here the kingdom of God on earth, the Christian dispensation. It is compared to a city under siege, or rather under assault by storm. Those who, like John, are impatient for its arrival, wondering why it does not come, and demanding of Christ whether he is really going to come out and be its king, are its captors, or rather ravishers. The kingdom suffers violence from them; and these violent captors are taking it, forsooth, with an onset.

Mr. Watson’s explication, (which is the popular one,) in which the “violent” are zealous Christians who conquer and win heaven by their holy warfare, is wrought out by him with much eloquence. But it does not occur to him to show what relevancy such an idea has to the current of thought or the subject in hand. Our interpretation makes Jesus explain the temper of John’s impatient inquiry. That other interpretation makes a very good idea, but nothing to the purpose.

Until now — Even unto the present stage of its development.


Verse 13

13. Until John — The parallel passage in Luke runs thus: “The law and the prophets were until John; since that the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” The word for presseth in the original signifies to force one’s self by violence in. The phrase describes the impatience with which men were entering into the kingdom of God in no genuine way, and truly not at all.


Verse 14

14. This is Elias — Elijah. Elijah came to restore the theocracy. He laboured, like John, with but partial success; and like John, was somewhat impatient at small results.


Verse 15

15. Ears to hear, let him hear — He that has faculties of attention, let him use them well upon this point.


Verses 16-19

§ 39. — CONDUCT OF THAT GENERATION TO JOHN AND JESUS, Matthew 11:16-19.

With all its impetuous zeal for the kingdom of God, the conduct of the generation toward the harbinger and the King is most capricious and childish.

16. This generation — The contemporaries of John and himself. Children sitting in the markets — The ancient markets were places in which not only men transacted their business, but children performed their amusements.


Verse 17

17. We have piped unto you — We, that is, the multitudes who heard the preaching of John. Ours, say they, is the cheerful and the merry mood. We look for a prophet and preacher who can respond to our cheerful temper. But you are an austere denouncer of sin, not sparing the cheerfulness of life. We have piped, but you have refused to dance to our tune. We have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented — We, that is, the hearers of Jesus, are pensive in character. We love the weeping and denouncing preacher. But you are genial and joyous. We have mourned and you have not lamented.

18. For — Our Lord now applies his figure of the piping and mourning children to himself and John. John came neither eating nor drinking — That is, as our note on Matthew 3:4, has said, John ceremonially exhibited a perpetual fast. He came not accepting any festal invitations or joining any banquets, but adopting a religious diet indicative of pure abstinence, He hath a devil — Instead of being a prophet, inspired of God, he is, say they, a demoniac, dwelling, like other demoniacs, in the desert, and howling forth his denunciations.

19. Eating and drinking — Not living, like John, in the desert, on a diet that indicated fast; but joining in the social enjoyments of life, blessing the wedding and banquet with his presence, and preaching the Gospel of deliverance and joy. Man gluttonous — The sanctimonious hypocrites made even the gladness of the Saviour’s Gospel a charge against him. There is no form of virtue or excellence which wicked men cannot malign, and charge with being a vice which bears some analogy to that virtue. Wisdom is justified of her children — Besides these sets of captious children who capriciously assail the Gospel in its ministry and preaching, there is a choice body of other children — the children of wisdom. This wisdom is the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 2:7. It is the wisdom of the just — the blessed Gospel. This wisdom, however cavilled at by the children of perversity and captiousness, is justified, that is, vindicated and maintained against cavils, by her children.


Verse 20

§ 40. — UPBRAIDING OF THE IMPENITENT CITIES, Matthew 11:20-24.

20. The cities — The children who justified divine wisdom were but the few. Whole cities rejected it, to whom it had been offered in all its beauty and power. Upbraid — Rebuke, reprove. Repented not — Our Lord upbraided not the bare walls or buildings of the cities, but the individuals in them who could repent of sin, but would not. As the Lord passed from considering John’s wavering faith to the faithlessness of that generation, so now he passes from that generation to the cities who had been most favoured, and were therefore most guilty of want of faith. Mighty works — There are those who maintain that miracles, even if performed, are no proof of a divine message. But this is as contrary to common sense as it is to Scripture. Mankind fully believe with their ordinary common sense that if a man in the name of God perform undoubted miracles, he is a messenger from God. Such is the doctrine of our Lord in this and many other passages.


Verse 21

21. Chorazin — The three cities here named were all on the northwest side of the Lake of Gennesaret; but of their precise position no infallible account can be given, as no certain traces of them now exist. But the latest researches, those of Dr. Thomson, will probably establish the opinion that Chorazin is identical with the modern Khorazy. See note on Matthew 4:13, and the map. Tyre — This celebrated city, the commercial emporium of ancient Phenicia, was founded two hundred years before the time of Solomon. It stood on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, about midway between Egypt and Asia Minor. It was one of the wealthiest and most celebrated cities of antiquity. Sidon, or Zidon, was a still more ancient Phenician city, standing on the same shore, about forty miles north of Tyre. It was situated within the limits of the tribe of Asher, but was never conquered by Israel. It was celebrated for commerce and manufactures. It is now a town of some fifteen thousand inhabitants.


Verse 22

22. More tolerable — Because Tyre and Sidon had had less opportunities for knowing the truth. This text, with many others, teaches the doctrine of different degrees of retribution, proportioned to the guilt. The clearness of the light against which sin is committed aggravates the guilt. See note on Matthew 10:15.


Verse 23

23. Exalted unto heaven — The heaven here spoken of is the literal abode of the blest, and the word is used in the literal sense. The figure, if there be any, is in the exaltation. Figuratively, they are said to be exalted to a prospective and possible heaven by the offer of the Gospel. Its forfeiture by impenitence opens before them a prospective hell. It would have remained — Our Lord here denies the doctrine of fatalism. Events can result differently from what they do.

This text illustrates also that true view of God’s foreknowledge which is implied in his attribute of omniscience. God foreknows not only all things actually future, but all things possible. And he knows all the results, both possible and certain, of all possible future events; and this not as weak man knows futurities, by experience of the past, and by inferences and reasonings from cause to effect. He foreknows all future actualities and possibilities by his own perfect attribute of infinite knowledge, which is eternal, uncaused, and independent.

Nor does God’s knowledge, as predestinarianism affirms, depend on his determination or decree. For God’s knowledge is his own divine faculty or attribute of omniscience, while his determination is an act. To say that God’s knowledge depends upon his determination, is to say that his attribute depends upon his action. The act of God presupposes the attribute as being before it. For to suppose God to determine antecedent to his knowledge is to suppose that he determines without knowledge and in the dark. God’s foreknowledge is antecedent to his predetermination, and is the ground of it.


Verse 25

§ 41. — THANKS FOR THE REVELATION TO BABES, Matthew 11:25-26.

25. At that time — And doubtless in the same connection. For in contrast with the unbelieving cities above named, there were a choice few, the children of wisdom, (Matthew 11:19,) who accepted the Gospel in its simplicity. He thanks the Father that to such the Gospel is revealed, (25, 26,) affirms his complete concurrence with the Father in the whole plan, (27,) and issues an invitation for all to come in accordance with that plan, (28-30.) I thank thee — The divine arrangement was so wise and good that our Saviour was grateful at its completion. Hid — What was hid? The spiritual kingdom above described. How hid? By the very fact that God has constituted it a spiritual kingdom; for eyes that wickedly persist in being gross and carnal cannot see spiritual realities. The plainest divine truths, though placed before them, are hid, as the plainest objects by daylight are hid from the eyes of the owl; only the owl’s blindness is natural and innocent, theirs is voluntary and guilty. God does right in establishing spiritual things; that their spirituality renders them hid, is the sensual man’s fault. Those who understand by this text that God has from all eternity made salvation impossible to be attained by a fixed part of mankind, wrong divine justice, and abuse our Lord’s words.

Yet it is not at all probable that the thanks of our Lord rested upon the fact that the Gospel was hid; but upon the fact that though hid, it was wisely and graciously revealed to its spiritual receivers. Parallel to this is the language of Paul: “God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin; but ye have obeyed,” etc. If in either passage we insert although after the word that, we shall obtain the actual meaning.

But it is asked by Calvinists and other predestinarians, has God not a predetermined plan for the regulation of all events? That God has determinations founded on his foreknowledge, we have illustrated in our note on Matthew 11:23. That God’s plan, however, does not predestinate and fix all the wicked acts of wicked men, and then fix their damnation for committing those decreed acts, may appear from the following remarks by Dr. Fisk in his sermon on predestination and election:

“We acknowledge and maintain that God has a plan, one part of which is to govern his responsible subjects without controlling their will by a fixed decree; to punish the incorrigible, and save those who repent and believe. Does such a plan imply the necessity of a change, ‘on condition that his creatures act in this or that way?’ If indeed it was necessary for God to decree an event in order to foreknow it, this inference might be just. But as this is seen to be false, it follows that a perfect God, whose eye surveys immensity and eternity at a glance, and who necessarily knows all possibilities and contingencies, all that is, or will be, can perfectly arrange his plan, and preclude the possibility of a disappointment, although he does not, by a decree of predestination, fix all the volitions and acts of his subjects.”

Wise and prudent — He calls them what they call themselves, and what, for this world, they may be called. But the carnal heart, however sagacious in carnal things, understands not the things of the Spirit. Revealed them unto babes — Babes, from the very fact that they received the truth in its simplicity; babes, as the statesmen of Rome, the philosophers of Greece, and the Sadducees of Judea, would style them. They are the ones who realize eternal things, but value low the temporal. If eternal things be unreal, they are not only babes, but fools. But if eternal things be real, these babes, so called because they receive those things with simplicity, and ignore the depraved wisdom of the world, are wiser than the “wise and prudent.”


Verse 26

26. It seemed good — It was not so done by God from mere arbitrary unreasoning and absolute will, but because it was good. It seemed right to the Infinite Mind. It seems right to all right reason. There is no demand in this passage for those favourite phrases, “divine sovereignty,” “unfathomable and mysterious,” “good pleasure,” as if the divine administration were not founded in clear and obvious right.


Verse 27

27. All things — The whole system of salvation. Delivered unto me — Put into my hands as Lord of the hidden kingdom of God. No man knoweth the Son… neither… the Father — These are hid (Matthew 11:25) as mysteries from all save Omniscience. Whomsoever the Son will reveal — So that the Son not only thanks the Father for the things hid and revealed, but is the agent in the accomplishment of the revelation.

And now having affirmed the exclusive mode in which the Gospel is by God revealed; and having, with an unspeakable sublimity, announced not only his consent and his unison, but his executive agency in that revelation, Jesus is ready to make proclamation to all; to all who will come and obtain that blessed Gospel revelation according to its own peculiar and exclusive method. For though the method be exclusive, the power and possibility of assenting, coming, and obtaining that Gospel are universal; and hence the call is justly universal. The call is addressed to a peculiar and exclusive class of character; yet all may join that class and come in that character. The wise and prudent may, if they choose, become the babes. And then they will cease to be those from whom the Gospel is hid.


Verses 27-30

§ 40. — JESUS, LORD OF ALL, INVITES ALL, Matthew 11:27-30.

This passage, 25-30, and especially Matthew 11:27, is so entirely in the style of John, that we might almost suppose Matthew to have inserted here a brief memorandum of our Saviour’s discoursing from that apostle’s hands. Alford more probably explains it as a momentary strain of a whole style of discourses of our Lord, reported by none of the evangelists but John alone.


Verse 28

28. Come unto me — Me, the very me to whom John has lately sent his message, Art thou He, or look we for another? Yet the very me who am the revealer (Matthew 11:27) of God to man. The very me who exists in ineffable unity with God the Father Almighty — this person now stands as in the centre of a labouring, laden, oppressed world, and sends his piercing, mellow, tender voice to all the suffering sons of sorrow to escape all bondage by entering his bonds.

Labour and are heavy laden — The poor peasantry and common people toil and sweat under the burdens of their masters, the middle classes. And these middle classes struggle beneath the pressure of a higher aristocracy. And the higher aristocracy are scorched by the intolerable rays of the emperor. And the emperor groans under the cares and weight of empire, and works as for his life that neither rebellion nor assassination may lay him low. High and low are alike labouring and heavy laden. For high or low there is no relief, no rest. Then says Jesus, “Come unto me — I will give you rest.”

And I will give you rest — I, a spiritual Redeemer, am the one to redeem you. For know, all ye labourers, from lowest to highest, the real burden that bears you down is the world and the flesh; and your true oppressor is the devil. Be delivered individually from these, and you are truly free. Be delivered in mass from these, and you will cease to oppress each other. Thus is the same redemption a relief alike from internal and external oppression. Rest — No one can read the history of early Christianity without seeing that in its first Pentecostal power it was in the soul a fountain of peace and joy. Though the iron hand of despotism pressed heavy upon the world, and a fierce turbulence reigned among the tribes of the earth, yet the followers of Jesus rejoiced in a sweet resource within, which was a repose to the soul. When in the fulness of time its Pentecostal freshness shall return, and its abounding power be universally accepted; when those hapless sons of folly, “the wise and prudent,” shall become babes, then not only will the individual soul feel that Christ can give the true rest within, but the nations of the world will acknowledge that he alone, the Prince of Peace, is the giver of universal repose.


Verse 29

29. Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly — My gentle spirit and soul-subduing doctrines can alone give that temper by which the soul of the man, and the soul of the living world, may come to their true rest. Unto your souls — Unless there be peace within there can never be peace without. Theorists and socialists will in vain attempt by external organizations to give peace. They are mistakenly endeavouring to work from the without to the within. Men’s hearts need to be regenerated in order that a perfect organization of society may exist, or be maintained. Human institutions are what human hearts make them. The organization of society is generally as good as the moral and mental state of the mass will permit. When men’s hearts become right, the true freedom may be attainable.


Verse 30

30. Yoke… burden — Men serve the world, and in that service they are like the sturdy ox; a yoke is on their neck, and a burden on their back. And this is true, as shown above, (note on Matthew 11:28,) of all classes, from lowest to highest. Yoke is easy — The yoke of Christ is freedom. The service of God is the highest and truest liberty. The laws of God are the laws of our highest nature; and he who comes under those laws does but do what is fittest, rightest, most happy, and most highly natural for him. When Christ gives his law, he gives a heart and a pleasure to keep that law, so that he who obeys it does as he pleases.

And now this chapter, from the second verse, must be read in one connection as a single historical piece. John sends his query to our Saviour in regard to his kingly Messiahship. Jesus answers John by deeds more than words. Then does he first draw that mingled portraiture of John, which exhibits the greatness of John as the testifier, but his littleness as the questioner. Starting from John, the Lord then upbraids that childish generation who caviled at both him and John; he peals forth a strain of woes upon the impenitent cities who rejected him; soars into a lofty thanksgiving to his Father, who had yet revealed to the docile babe his kingdom; nay, he rises to the very height of his mysterious oneness with the Father; and from that height he finally descends to call the sons of men to accept his service as divine emancipator of their souls from bondage.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 11:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/matthew-11.html. 1874-1909.

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Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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