[Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?] The reason of the message of John to Christ is something obscure:
First, That it was not because he knew not Christ, is without all controversy, when he had been fully instructed from heaven concerning his person, when he was baptized; and when he had again and again most evidently borne witness to him, in those words, "This is the Lamb of God," &c.
Secondly, Nor was that message certainly, that the disciples of John might receive satisfaction about the person of Christ: for, indeed, the disciples were most unworthy of such a master, if they should not believe him without further argument, when he taught them concerning him.
Thirdly, John therefore seems in this matter to respect his own imprisonment, and that his question, "Art thou he which should come," &c. tends to that. He had heard that miracles of all sorts were done by him, that the blind received their sight, the dead were raised, devils were cast out, &c. And why, therefore, among all the rest, is not John set at liberty? This scruple, as it seems, stuck with the good man; 'Why do all receive benefit and comfort from Christ, but only I?' Perhaps he laboured under that dim-sightedness which the disciples of Christ and the whole nation did concerning his earthly kingdom, victories, and triumphs: from which how distant (alas!) was this, that his forerunner and the chief minister should lie in chains! 'If thou art he, concerning whose triumphing the prophets declare so much, why am I so long detained in prison? Art thou he, or is another to be expected, from whom these things are to be looked for?'
First, "That I am he that should come, these things which I do bear witness, 'The blind receive their sight, the lame walk,'" &c.
Secondly, "As to the present case of John, who expects somebody to come to deliver him out of bonds, and to free the people from the yoke of men, Let him (saith he) acquiesce in my divine dispensation, and, 'Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me,' however all things are not according to his mind, which he hath expected to fall out, for his present and bodily advantage."
And the words of our Saviour, verse 11, seem to express some secret reproof of this error in John, "He that is less in the kingdom of heaven, is greater than he." The Vulgar version renders well the word less, not least: as if he should say, "When ye went out into the desert to John, ye neither looked for trifles nor earthly pomp, neither 'a reed shaken with the wind,' nor 'a man clothed in soft raiment'; but ye looked in good earnest for a prophet: and in that ye did very well; for he was the greatest of prophets, nay, of men, as to his office; honoured in this above all others, that he is the forerunner of the Messias. howbeit, there are some, which, indeed, in respect of office, are much less than he in the kingdom of heaven, or in the commonwealth of Christ, who yet are greater than he in respect of the knowledge of the state and condition of his kingdom." A comparison certainly is not here made, either in respect of office, or in respect of dignity, or in respect of holiness, or in respect of eternal salvation; for who, I pray, exceeded the Baptist in all these, or in any of them? but in respect of clear and distinct knowledge, in judging of the nature and quality of the kingdom of heaven.
Let the austerity of John's life, and the very frequent fasts which he enjoined his disciples, be well considered, and what our Saviour saith of both, and you will easily believe that John also, according to the universal conceit of the nation, expected temporal redemption by the Messias, not so clearly distinguishing concerning the nature of the kingdom and redemption of Christ. And you will the more easily give credit to this, when you shall have observed how the disciples of Christ themselves, that conversed a long time with him, were dim-sighted, likewise, in this very thing.
12. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
[The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence.] And these words also make for the praise of John. That he was a very eminent prophet, and of no ordinary mission or authority, these things evince; that from his preaching, the kingdom of heaven took its beginning, and it was so crowded into by infinite multitudes, as if they would take and seize upon the kingdom by violence. The divine warmth of the people in betaking themselves thither by such numberless crowds, and with so exceeding a zeal, sufficiently argued the divine worth both of the teacher and of his doctrine.
14. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
[If ye will receive it, this is Elias.] If ye will receive it. The words hint some suspicion, that they would not receive his doctrine; which the obstinate expectation of that nation unto this very day, that Elias is personally to come, witnesseth also. Upon what ground some Christians are of the same opinion, let themselves look to it. See the notes on chapter 17:10.
21. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
[In Tyre and Sidon.] He compares the cities of the Jews with the cities of the Canaanites, who were of a cursed original; "but yet these cities, of a cursed seed and name, if they had been partakers of the miracles done among you, had not hardened themselves to such a degree of madness and obstinacy as you have done: but had turned from their heathenism and Canaanitism unto the knowledge of the gospel; or, at least, had betook themselves to such a repentance as would have prevented vengeance." So the repentance of the Ninevites, however it were not to salvation, yet it was such as preserved them, and freed their city from the wrath and scourge that hung over them. The most horrid stiffness of the Jews is here intimated, of all impious men the most impious, of all cursed wretches the most cursed.
22. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
[At the day of judgment.] In the day of judgment: and In the day of the great judgment: a form of speech very usual among the Jews.
29. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
[My yoke.] So The yoke of the law: The yoke of the precept: The yoke of the kingdom of heaven.