Bible: What Does Matthew 11 Teach Us About John the Baptizer, and Jesus: the Giver of Spiritual Knowledge and Life?
John the Baptist--Preacher
Jesus--The Master Teacher
Matthew 11: Who was John the Baptizer? Jesus: The Giver of Spiritual Knowledge
John Inquires of Jesus
As the twelve travel to their places of ministry, Jesus continues his preaching and teaching tour, “going solo” through “their cities” (v. 1).
Meanwhile, the prisoner John the Baptist (cf. 4:12) sends an inquiry to the Lord via two of his disciples, asking Him if He is truly the Messiah (“the Coming One”) [vv. 2-3].
[Perhaps John’s perception regarding the Messiah needed clarification and a little tweaking.]
Jesus' Reply to John
Jesus’ reply, delineating the types of miracles Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would perform, aims to help John understand His identity and to prevent him from “stumbling” (vv. 4-6; cf. Is. 29:18; 35:4-6; 61:1).
Prompted by His cousin’s question, Christ devotes an extended part of His discourse to discuss the person and role of John (vv. 7-19).
The first two rhetorical musings (expecting negative answers) introduce His subject in a striking way, portraying John as a man totally dedicated to God and to spiritual reality; that is, he is firm and unyielding toward Pharisaical opposition (not a “reed shaken by the wind”), and he is not addicted to comfort (not “a man clothed in soft garments”) [vv. 7-8a].
Unlike the first question, the second Jesus Himself expands upon, directly indicting royalty for their luxuriant lifestyle (v. 8b).
The third question, however, He answers affirmatively and enthusiastically (“A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet”) [v. 9].
From that startling foundation, Jesus reveals John’s identity to the assembled multitude: he is Messiah’s forerunner (v. 10; cf. Is. 40:3; Mal. 3:1).
Even more startling revelations follow:
(1) “Among those born of women,” John the Baptist is at least equal to the “greatest.” Yet
(2) the “least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (v. 11).
Humble Servanthood: Quality of the Great in the Kingdom
Jesus bases His assessment of greatness on humble servanthood toward all people (cf. Matt. 20:26; 23:11).
[Why does He not include Himself in this category “born of women”?]
His second statement is equally puzzling, for earlier He regarded the one who breaks (NKJV) [annuls (NASB)] “one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so,” to be called “least in the kingdom of heaven” (cf. 5:19).
Obviously, Jesus does not regard John as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, but as belonging to the commonwealth of Israel; somehow in God’s administration of His universal kingdom, the least member of the kingdom of heaven outranks the best servant in Israel.
[Compare Ryrie’s note on the differences between old and new dispensations (New Testament Study Bible, 25).]
Divisions of the Older Testament
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"The Kingdom of Heaven" Suffers Violence
Jesus utters yet another enigmatic statement: “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force” (v. 12).
Perhaps He refers to the kind of treatment that John and He, as the kingdom’s spokesmen, have received from the Jewish leaders.
The “Jews” have already forcibly taken John; the time will come when Jesus will suffer violence at their hands as well.
Prior to John’s arrival, the “Prophets and the Law” [two of the divisions of the Old Testament] “prophesied” (predictive proclamation) about the Messiah and about John’s coming as the Elijah of Malachi 4:5—the forerunner (the herald) of the Messiah (vv. 13-14).
[John would have been the fulfillment of that prophecy had the Jews received him. Since they rejected him, another man will arise before the Second Coming.]
Those with regenerated (and thus receptive) spirits will “hear” (understand) this revelation (v. 15), but “this generation,” for the most part, has not listened obediently to John or Jesus.
Instead, it acts childishly; in other words, its selfishness (vv. 16-17) finds fault where none exists (vv. 18-19).
After repeating the Jews’ assessment of His character based on His sociability, Jesus tacks on a proverbial conclusion: “But wisdom is justified by her children (NU “works/deeds”).”
[“Wisdom’s works” vindicate “Wisdom”; that is, they maintain her as true or right.
Perhaps He means that His deeds show “this generation” the truth of His message of repentance.]
Jesus Rebukes Cities
At this point, the Lord rebukes certain current-day cities (Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum) for their impenitence after having seen His miracles.
[See Ryrie's Study Bible for locations of these places.]
They will experience worse punishment “in the day of judgment” than will ancient Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom—cities that would have repented had they witnessed Jesus’ works (vv. 20-24).
[Notice Jesus’ style of delivery and teaching methodology: He relies heavily on repetition for the purpose of emphasis.]
Joy Over Spiritual Success
In verse twenty-five, Matthew writes that Jesus answers the Father, giving thanks for revealing spiritual knowledge of Who He (Jesus) is to “babes”; however, he does not provide a clear reason for His joy.
Luke’s gospel both augments and clarifies Matthew’s statement here.
The historian inserts the account of the triumphal return of the apostles between Jesus’ upbraiding of the cities and His joyful response over the Father’s choice to save “babes,” while Matthew omits it (cf. Luke 10:13-24 with Matt. 11:20-30).
Luke’s inclusion of the apostolic “success” certainly motivates the Lord to rejoice.
Besides granting salvation to the less gifted, the Father regards as “good’’ His concealment of revelatory knowledge from those who take great pride in their own wisdom (v. 26; cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-29; 2: 6-10).
Interpreters should not limit the scope of Jesus’ “all things” assertions—that the Father has handed universal authority over to His Heir (v. 27a).
Still, they must consider the context here that focuses that authority upon the ability of both Persons to give spiritual knowledge about each other to the elect (v. 27b).
What Must I Do to Be Saved?
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Jesus: "Come to Me"
As the Giver of this spiritual knowledge of God, Jesus invites all people “who labor and are heavy laden” to “come” to Him for salvation “rest.”
[“Labor” may indicate their efforts to earn salvation through good works, or signify the emptiness resulting from working without an eternal purpose.
“Heavy laden” suggests emotional baggage consisting of a sense of the failure to achieve perfection, happiness, etc (v. 28)].
By coming to Him, they manifest their trust in Him—the one indispensable requirement for salvation.
Having received this gracious release from fruitless labor, new believers will then freely submit to Jesus’ easy “yoke”: namely, His spiritual discipline through which they might come to know Christ more intimately, learning life lessons in His company, and thereby find further rest for their souls (vv. 29-30; cf. Jer. 6:16).
© 2012 glynch1