11:2 Now when John heard in the prison1 the works of the Christ, he sent by his disciples THE BAPTIST'S INQUIRY AND JESUS' DISCOURSE SUGGESTED THEREBY. (Galilee.) Matthew 11:2-30; Luke 7:18-35
In the prison. John had been cast into prison about December, A.D.
27, and it was now after the Passover, possibly in May or June, A.D. Herod
Antipas had cast John into prison because John had reproved him for taking
his brother's wife (Matthew
6:17). According to Josephus, the place of John's imprisonment, and
death was the castle of Machaerus (or Makor), east of the Dead Sea (Ant. 18;
5:1,2). It was built by Herod the Great, and was not very far from that part
of the Jordan in which John had baptized, so that it is probable that Herod
resided in this castle when he went to hear John preach (Matthew
6:20), and this fact coupled with the statement that John called two of
his disciples to him, suggests that John must have been held as an honored
prisoner with liberties like those accorded Paul at Caesarea (Acts
11:3 and said unto him, Art
thou he that cometh, or look we for another1?
Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another? The prophets spoke
of the Messiah as the coming one, and John himself had done likewise (Matthew
3:11). This passage has been a puzzle to expositors from the very
earliest times. Being unable to understand how the Baptist, being an
inspired prophet and favored with visions of the supernatural, could give
way to skeptical doubts, they have exhausted their inventive genius to
explain what John meant by his question. Among these many explanations the
best is that given by Alford, viz.: that John wishes to get Jesus to
publicly declare himself for the sake of quieting all rumors concerning him,
his fault being kindred to that of Jesus' mother when she tried to hasten
Jesus' hour at the wedding of Cana (John
2:4). But the plain, unmistakable inference of the text is that John's
faith wavered. The Bible does not represent the saints as free from
imperfection. It does not say that inspiration is omniscience, or that
visions and miracles remove doubts. It took two miracles to persuade Gideon
6:36-40); Moses harbored distrust (Exodus
4:1-17), and was guilty of unbelief (Numbers
20:12); Elijah despaired of God's power (1 Kings
19:4-10); Jeremiah was slow of belief, and in his despondency cursed the
day of his birth (Jeremiah
20:7,14-18). But the most instructive parallel is that of Simon Peter.
He witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus, beheld the glory of God, and
heard the voice of the Father (Matthew
17:1-6); yet he sank below the Baptist, and denied the Lord with
cursing; and no man has ever thought it at all incredible that he should do
so. The trial of John's faith, though not so clearly depicted as that of
Peter, was perhaps equally searching. His wild, free life was now curbed by
the irksome tedium of confinement. His expectations were not fulfilled. The
unfruitful trees had not been cut down, the grain had not been winnowed, nor
the chaff burned, nor should he see any visible tendency toward these
results. Moreover, he held no communion with the private life of Jesus, and
entered not into the sanctuary of his Lord's thought. We must remember also
that his inspiration passed away with the ministry, on account of which it
was bestowed, and it was only "the man John", and not the prophet,
who made the inquiry. The inquiry itself, too, should be noted. It is not,
Are you what I declared you to be? but, Being all of that, are you
"the" one who should come, or must we look for
"another"? John no doubt shared with all Jews the idea that
Messiah was to set up an earthly kingdom, and seeing in Jesus none of the
spirit of such a king, he seems to have questioned whether Jesus was to be
the finality, or whether he was to be, like himself, a forerunner, preparing
the way for the ultimate Messiah. He did not grasp the thought that Jesus
was both Alpha and Omega; that Jesus, the lowly servant of humanity, by
service and sacrifice is evermore preparing the way for Jesus the King.
11:4 And Jesus
answered and said unto them1, Go
and tell John the things which ye hear and see2:
And Jesus answered and said unto them. John himself, when thus
questioned, had answered plainly, saying, "No" (John
1:20,21), and he probably expected a like categorical answer from Jesus.
Go and tell John the things which ye hear and see. The indirect
answer of Jesus, ending with a beatitude, was well calculated to waken in
John beneficial thoughtfulness, for it threw his mind back upon the
prophecies of God, such as Isaiah
11:5 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 them1.
And the poor have good tidings preached to them. Jesus sums up his
work in the form of a climax, wherein preaching the gospel to the poor
stands superior even to the raising of the dead. Attention to the poor has
always been a distinctive feature of Christianity. To care for the poor is
above miracles. Modern Orientals are not impressed by the miracles of the
New Testament as such. The sacred literature of India and China abounds in
wonders, and with the people of these lands a miracle is little more than a
commonplace. With them Christ's love for the lowly is above the miracles.
"Wonders and miracles might be counterfeited, but a sympathy with
the suffering and helpless, so tender, so laborious, so long continued, was
not likely to be simulated. Such humanity was unworldly and divine."
11:6 And blessed
is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me1.
And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.
The scribes had stumbled and failed to believe in Jesus because he did not
fulfill their ideal, or come up to their expectations. Jesus seeks to woo
John from a like fate by the sweet persuasion of a beatitude. John must
realize that it is better for the subject to fall in with the plans of the
all-wise King, as he fulfills the predictions of God the Father, than for
the King to turn aside and frustrate the plan of the ages to humor the
passing whim of a despondent and finite mind.
11:7 And as these
went their way1, Jesus began to
say unto the multitudes concerning John2, What
went ye out into the wilderness to behold3? a
reed shaken with the wind4?
And as these went their way. See Luke
Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John. The
commendation of Jesus which follows was not spoken in the presence of John's
messengers. It was best that John should not hear it. We also do our work
under the silent heavens and wait for the future plaudit, "Well done,
good and faithful servant" (Matthew
What went ye out into the wilderness to behold? After the departure
of John's messengers Jesus immediately clears the character of John of
unjust suspicion. John, who had testified with such confidence as to the
office and character of Jesus, now comes with a question betraying a
doubtful mind and wavering faith.
A reed shaken with the wind? Was John a vacillating man? Was he
guilty of that lack of steadfastness which the world looks upon as
intolerable in all who it esteems great? Was he blown about by every wind of
public opinion like the tall reed (the "Arunda donax") which
skirts the Jordan, and which stands, bearing its beautiful blossoming top
twelve feet high one moment, only to bow it to earth the next, the slender
stem yielding submissively to the passing breeze? John was no reed, but was
rather, as Lange says,
"a cedar half uprooted by the storm."
11:8 But what went ye out to see? a man
clothed in soft [raiment]? Behold, they that wear soft [raiment] are in king's
But what went ye out to see? a man clothed in soft [raiment]? Was
he a voluptuary about to condescend to flatter Herod and retract his
reproof, that he might exchange his prison for a palace? Those who had gone
to the wilderness to see John had found no such man, and John was still the
John of old. One act does not make a character, one doubt does not unmake
11:9 But wherefore went ye out? to see a
prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet.
But wherefore went ye out? to see a prophet? Yea, I say unto you,
and much more than a prophet. Matthew
11:10 shows us that John was a messenger as well as a prophet. Prophets
foretold the Messiah, but John was the herald who announce him. John was
miraculously born, and was himself the subject of prophecy. Great as was
John in popular estimation, that estimation was insufficient.
11:10 This is he,
of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, Who shall
prepare thy way before thee1.
This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before
thy face, Who shall prepare thy way before thee. This quotation is taken
3:1, where it reads "my messenger . . . before me". But
Matthew concurs with Mark (Mark
1:2) and Luke (Luke
7:27) in the reading given here. From the change in the words it
appears, as Hammond says,
"that Christ is one with God the Father, and that the coming of
Christ is the coming of God."
11:11 Verily I say unto you, Among
them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the
Baptist1: yet he that is but
little in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he2.
Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than
John the Baptist. We find from this passage that all true greatness
arises from association, relation, and contact with Jesus Christ. To be
Christ's forerunner is to be above teacher and prophet, Levite and priest,
lawgiver and king, and all else that the world estimates as great. If all
greatness be thus measured by contact of Christ, how great must Christ be!
Yet he that is but little in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
But the least in the kingdom is greater then John. B.W. Johnson says,
"This shows: (1) That John was not in the kingdom of God. (2) That,
as none greater than John has been born of women, no one had yet entered the
kingdom. (3) That, therefore, it had not yet been set up, but as John
himself, Jesus, and the Twelve under the first commission, preached, was
"at hand". (4) All in the kingdom, even the humblest, have a
superior station to John, because they have superior privileges."
Farrar reminds us of the old legal maxim which says,
"The least of the greatest is greater than the greatest of the
which is as much as to say that the smallest diamond is of more precious
substance than the largest flint. The least born of the Holy Spirit (John
3:5) is greater than the greatest born of women. They are greater in
station, privilege, and knowledge. The dispensations rise like lofty steps,
and the lowest that stand upon the New Testament dispensation are lifted
above the tallest who rest upon the dispensation of Moses. This is perhaps
prophetically suggested by Zechariah (Zechariah
11:12 And from
the days of John the Baptist until now1 the
kingdom of heaven suffereth violence2, and
men of violence take it by force3.
From the days of John the Baptist until now. A period of about
The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence. Jesus here pictures the
kingdom of heaven as a besieged city. The city is shut up, but the enemies
which surround it storm its walls and try to force an entrance --an apt
illustration which many fail to comprehend. The gates of Christ's kingdom
were not opened until the day of Pentecost (Acts
And men of violence take it by force. But men hearing it was about
to be opened sought to enter prematurely, not by the gates which God would
open when Simon Peter used the keys (Matthew
16:19), but by such breaches as they themselves sought to make in the
walls. Examples of this violence will be seen in the following instances: Matthew
6:15. The people were full of preconceived ideas with regard to the
kingdom, and each one sought to hasten and enjoy its pleasures as one who
impatiently seizes upon a bud and seeks with his fingers to force it to
bloom. The context shows that John the Baptist was even then seeking to
force the kingdom.
11:13 For all the
prophets and the law prophesied until John1.
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. The Old
Testament was the work of a long series of prophets, and this series was
closed by John the Baptist. But John differed from all the others in the
series; for they prophesied concerning the kingdom, while John turned from
their course to preach that the kingdom was at hand, and thereby
incidentally brought upon it the assaults of violence.
11:14 And if ye are willing to receive
[it,] this is Elijah, that is to come1.
This is Elijah, that is to come. As to John the Baptist being the
prophetic Elijah, see John
11:15 He that
hath ears to hear, let him hear1.
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. See Mark
11:16 But whereunto shall I liken this
generation? It is like unto children sitting in the
marketplaces1, who call unto
It is like unto children sitting in the marketplaces. Oriental
marketplaces were open squares where men transacted business and where
children held their sports. We should observe that with all the cares of his
great mission upon him, the great heart of our Lord took note of the sports
Who call unto their fellows. Jesus here pictures two groups of
little ones, one of which wishes to play, the other of which is sullen and
intractable. The mirthful group first seeks to play a wedding game. They
pipe and dance, but the sullen group sits unmoved. Not disheartened by
failure to succeed, the mirthful ones try their hand again and hope for
better luck by playing funeral. But this also fails, causing them to lift up
their voices in questioning remonstrance.
11:17 and say, We
piped unto you, and ye did not dance; we wailed, and ye did not mourn1.
We piped unto you, and ye did not dance; we wailed, and ye did not
mourn. Singular enough, the authorities are about equally divided as to
what parties this picture represents. Some say that the dancers and mourners
are the Jewish rulers, and that Jesus and John refused to comply with their
wishes. The grammatical construction rather favors this view, if we say that
"men of this generation" are "like children who call" (Matthew
11:16). But such grammatical constructions are not reliable in
interpreting Oriental imagery. Jesus means that the men of this generation
are like the "entire picture" presented and does not intend that
they shall be taken as the subjects of the leading verbs of the sentence. A
parallel instance will be found in Matthew
13:24-43. In who sowed good seed in his field"; but in Matthew
13:37 he says "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of
man", thus making the kingdom of heaven like the entire parabolic
picture, and not the mere subject of its leading verb. Others say that John
came mourning and Jesus piping, and that the Jews were satisfied with
neither. This was the older view, and had not expositors been confused by
the grammatical difficulties above mentioned, it would never have been
questioned. For the context favors it, and the whole trend of Scripture
demands it. It was God in his messengers--his prophets and his Son--who came
to set the world right. It was these messengers who took the initiative and
who demanded the changes. It was the people who sulked and refused to comply
with the divine overtures. The whole tenor of Christ's teaching --the
parables of the supper, etc.--represents the Jews as being invited and
refusing the invitation. It was John and Jesus who preached repentance, but
there was no instance where any called on them to repent. Jerusalem never
wept over an intractable Jesus, but Jesus wept over the people of Jerusalem
because they "would not" (Matthew
11:18 For John
came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a demon1.
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a
demon. Jesus and John each besought the people to prepare for the
kingdom of God, but the people sneered at one as too strict and at the other
as too lenient, and would be won by neither. To justify them in rejecting
God's counsel, they asserted that John's conduct was demoniacal and that of
Jesus was criminal, thus slandering each. But the lives or works of Jesus
and John were both directed by the wisdom of God, and all those who were
truly wise toward God--children of wisdom (see Luke
7:29)--justified or approved of God's course in sending such messengers.
11:20 Then began he to upbraid the
cities wherein most of his mighty works were done1,
because they repented not.
The cities wherein most of his mighty works were done. That is to
say, those cities which were especially favored. It does not mean that more
miracles were worked in them than in "all" the other cities; but
that more were done in "each" of these than in "any"
unto thee, Chorazin2! woe unto
thee, Bethsaida3! for if the
mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon5
which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth6
Woe. Rather, "Alas for thee"! an exclamation of pity more
Chorazin. Jerome says that Chorazin was two, and Eusebius (probably
through the error of his transcriber) says it was twelve miles from
Capernaum. Its site is identified by the Exploration Fund with the modern
Kerazeh, at the northwest end of the lake, two miles from Tell Hum
(Capernaum). Its site is marked by extensive ruins, including the
foundations of a synagogue, columns, and walls of buildings.
Bethsaida was probably a suburb of Capernaum.
If the mighty works . . . which were done in you. We have no record
of a miracle wrought at Chorazin, nor of one wrought at Bethsaida either,
unless the miracles wrought at Simon's house (Matthew
8:14-17) were in Bethsaida.
Tyre and Sidon were neighboring Phoenician cities on the
Mediterranean coast and were noted for their luxury and impiety. This
comparison between the pagan cities on the seacoast and the Galilean cities
by the lake no doubt sounded strange to Jesus' disciples, but in the years
which followed, Tyre and Sidon received the gospel (Acts
27:3), and Tyre became a Christian city, while Tiberias, just south of
Capernaum, became the seat of Jewish Talmudism.
Sackcloth was a coarse fabric woven of goat's or camel's hair, and
was worn by those who mourned. It was called sackcloth because, being strong
and durable, it was used for making the large sacks in which rough articles
were carried on the backs of camels. Such sacks are still so used.
Ashes were put upon the head and face as additional symbols of
grief. Jesus here uses these symbolic words to indicate that these cities
would have repented thoroughly.
11:21 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! they would have
repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
11:22 But I say
unto you1, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre
and Sidon2 in the day of judgment than for you.
But I say unto you, etc. Several great truths are taught in this
paragraph. We note the following: (1) Every hearer of the gospel is left
either much more blessed or much more wretched. (2) That the miracles which
Jesus wrought were calculated to lead men to repentance, for they
demonstrated his authority to demand that man should repent. (3) That even
among those who stand condemned at the judgment there is a difference, and
that it shall be more tolerable for some than for others. (4) That God takes
account of our opportunities when he come to measure our guiltiness (Matthew
Tyre and Sidon. See Matthew
11:23 And thou,
Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven1? thou
shalt go down unto Hades2: for if the mighty works had
been done in Sodom which were done in thee, it would have remained until this
And thou, Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? Capernaum
was the most favored spot on earth, for Jesus made it his home. He therefore
speaks of it figuratively as being exalted to heaven.
Thou shalt go down unto Hades. "Hades" means the abode of
the dead. It stands in figurative contrast to heaven and indicates that
Capernaum shall be brought to utter ruin. Though Jesus was not displeased
with the walls and houses, but with those who dwelt in them, yet the
uncertain sites of these cities are marked only by ruins, and present to the
traveler who searches among rank weeds for their weather-worn stones the
tokens of God's displeasure against the people who once dwelt there. In less
than thirty years these three cities were destroyed. Sin destroys cities and
nations, and permanent temporal prosperity depends upon righteousness.
11:24 But I say unto you that it
shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for
It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of
judgment, than for thee. The history of the destruction of Sodom in the
time of Abraham is well known. As it was one of the oldest cities of any
great importance in Palestine (Numbers
13:22), this reference to its remaining is the more striking, showing
that its destruction did not come from the mere operation of natural law,
but as a divine punishment meted upon it for its sins--a punishment which
might have been avoided by repentance (Jonah
3:10). There is hope for the greatest sinner if Sodom might thus escape.
11:25 At that
season1 Jesus answered and said2,
I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that
thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding3,
and didst reveal them unto babes4:
At that season. While these thoughts of judgment were in his mind.
Jesus answered and said. Replying to the thoughts raised by this
discouraging situation--this rejection.
That thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding.
The selfish and shrewd; the scribes and Pharisees, wise in their own conceit
And didst reveal them unto babes. The pure and childlike; the
apostles and their fellows who were free from prejudice and bigoted
prepossession. God hid and revealed solely by his method of presenting the
truth in Christ Jesus. The proud despised him, but the humble received him.
Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight1.
Yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight. This is a
reiteration of the sentiment just uttered. It means, "I thank thee that
it pleases thee to do thus". The Son expresses holy acquiescence and
adoring satisfaction in the doings of Him who, as Lord of heaven and earth,
had right to dispose of all things as it pleased him.
11:27 All things
have been delivered unto me of my Father1: and
no one knoweth the Son, save the Father2; neither doth any
know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal
All things have been delivered unto me of my Father. See as Lord of
the kingdom were entrusted to Jesus, but for the present only potentially.
The actual investiture of authority did not take place until the
glorification of Jesus (Matthew
1:8). The authority thus delivered shall be eventually returned again (1 Corinthians
And no one knoweth the Son, save the Father, etc. Here again are
many important truths taught: (1) While we may have personal knowledge of
Jesus, we cannot know him completely. His nature is inscrutable. And yet, in
direct opposition to our Lord's explicit assertion, creeds have been formed,
defining the metaphysical nature of Christ, and enforcing their distinctions
on the subject which Jesus expressly declares that no man understands, as
necessary conditions of church membership in this world, and of salvation in
the world to come. Morison says,
"It would be difficult to find a more audacious and presumptuous
violation of the words of Jesus than the Athanasian Creed, with its thrice
repeated curses against those who did not receive its those who did not
receive its doctrines."
(2) We can have no correct knowledge of God except through revelation.
(3) Jesus begins the revelation of the Father in this world, and completes
it in the world to come. (4) By this exclusive claim as to the knowledge of
the Father, Jesus asserts his own divinity. (5) Christ's exalted power comes
by reasons of his exalted being.
11:28 Come unto
me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest1.
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give
you rest. The preceding remarks are prefatory to this invitation. The
dominion which Jesus exercises, the nature which he possess, and the
knowledge which he can impart justify him in inviting men to come to him.
The labor and rest here spoken of are primarily those which affect souls.
That is, the labor and the heavy burden which sin imposes, and the rest
which follows the forgiveness of that sin. Incidentally, however, physical
burden are also made lighter by coming to Jesus, because the soul is made
stronger to bear them. The meekness and lowliness of Jesus lend confidence
to those whom he invites that no grievous exactions will be made of them.
11:29 Take my
yoke upon you1, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly
in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
Take my yoke upon you. "Taking the yoke" is a symbolic
expression. It means, "Submit to me and become my disciple", for
the yoke is symbolic of the condition of servitude (Jeremiah
5:1; 1 Timothy