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Go to Bible: Matthew 11
|Mat 11:1||- (top)|
|Mat 11:2||- (top)|
“should we be looking for a different one.” John the Baptist sent his disciples to Christ with the question, “Are you the Coming One, or should we be looking for a different one?” (Matthew 3:11; Luke 7:19). The question is problematic because John was the one who identified Christ with the words: “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29, 34). Had John developed doubts that Jesus was the Messiah? Considering that a number of people close to Jesus, including his mother Mary and Peter, misunderstood him, that is possible, but we think not as likely as the other two possibilities stated below.
Another reason for John’s question is given by Joseph Good in his book. Good writes:
Good goes on to say that the ancients called the conquering Messiah “Messiah Ben David,” and called the suffering Messiah “Messiah Ben Joseph.” The Talmud applied Zechariah 12:10, which says, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child,” to Messiah Ben Joseph.b However, Edersheim writes that even on that point the Jewish rabbis were divided, some saying the mourning is caused by the death of the Messiah Ben Joseph, while others said it was due to evil concupiscence.
Good goes on to conclude:
It is also possible that John was not confused about who Jesus was, but his disciples had doubts, and John, fairly certain that he was about to die, wanted his disciples to hear for themselves who Jesus was, so they would follow him when John was no longer alive.
“a different one.” The Greek word “different” is heteros (#2087 ἕτερος), in this case, referring to someone of a different quality. Another in number, another of the same kind, would have been the Greek word allos. The Emphasized Bible by Rotherham and The New Testament by Williams are versions that also use the word “different.” Was this gentle and loving man the Coming One, or was there another, different, conquering Messiah Ben David, who they should be looking for? Interestingly, the question that John’s disciples ask Jesus that is recorded in Luke 7:19 is not heteros, but allos. So there the emphasis is not on “another of a different kind or quality,” but just “another,” i.e., a second one.
|Mat 11:4||- (top)|
|Mat 11:5||- (top)|
|Mat 11:6||- (top)|
“A reed shaken by the wind.” The area around the Jordan River where John was baptizing had very dense vegetation, including lots of reeds that grew close to the water. No one ever went to see them. Jesus was speaking to the people about John, whom the people had gone out to see. Was he “a reed shaken with the wind,” in other words, a man of weak character, easily swayed by circumstances and the opinions of others? Or was he a man of soft clothing, in other words, rich and politically connected? Or was he a prophet? Jesus testified that he was more than a prophet, but the very one Isaiah had referred to as a voice in the wilderness.(top)
“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.(top)
|Mat 11:9||- (top)|
“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.
“I send my messenger.” This is quoted from Malachi 3:1.
“who will prepare the road.” See commentary on Mark 1:3.(top)
“least important person.” The Greek is mikros (#3398 μικρός). It can refer to being a limited size, measure, or quantity, or it can refer to being of little import, and thus means insignificant or unimportant. In this verse it is an adjective, and so the supplied noun “person” is understood. The grammarians argue about whether mikros is used in a comparative sense (“the unimportant person”) or a superlative sense (the least important person) (cp. Lange’s Commentary). However, “least” seems to make sense in this context. The Kingdom of Heaven has not come yet, but will come when Christ sets it up on earth after he comes and fights the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19). At that time the dead people who are judged to be righteous are raised and get to live with Christ in his kingdom (Ezek. 37; Rev. 20:4-6). Thus, the “least” person in the Kingdom of Heaven is still in the Kingdom of Heaven, and has passed from death to everlasting life. No wonder the “least” in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John! Also, that explains the next verse, in which Jesus speaks of how to attain the Kingdom of Heaven. No one can ignore the commands of God and expect to get in. Christ said at many times, and in many different ways, that getting into the Kingdom took work and focus. The way in was narrow and difficult (Matt. 7:13). God’s commands had to be obeyed (Matt. 19:16-19). A person had to take up his cross and follow Christ (Luke 9:23-26). In Matthew 11:12 Jesus taught the same message, that it took a violent effort, but the Kingdom of Heaven could indeed be seized as a prize. Surely the Kingdom of Heaven and everlasting life is available for those who really want it, and anyone there is greater than John, who was still in his fleshly body.
Some theologians teach that the one who is “least” is Jesus himself, because Jesus was younger than John by six months. However, that interpretation seems quite forced, because there is no reason in the context or culture that Jesus would point to the fact that although he was younger than John he would be greater. The Messiah was always assumed in all the prophecies and Scripture to be the greatest of all the prophets and indeed, the greatest person to ever live.(top)
“advancing.” Matthew 11:12 has been an enigma for generations of Bible scholars for a couple reasons: the vocabulary in the Greek New Testament is unclear due to multiple possible definitions of some of the Greek words, and also the verb baizetai (“suffers” or “has been forcefully advancing”) can be either passive voice or middle voice. Because of that the verse has been translated in two different ways, represented by the two versions below.
There are two basic possible interpretations:
The more likely interpretation of the verse is as we have in the REV, also represented in the NIV. The first interpretation, that the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence is less likely due to the qualifying phrase, “from the time of John the Baptist until now.” The Kingdom had always suffered violence, it had always been attacked. This is clear from the time when Cain killed his brother on down through the centuries, so it does not seem proper to say that it has suffered violence from the time of John. In contrast, with the appearance of John and Jesus, the kingdom was forcefully advancing. Both John and Jesus were preaching that “the Kingdom is near.” John was ministering in the power and spirit of Elijah, even as Gabriel had said to Zechariah (Luke 1:17), and Jesus was ministering more powerfully than any prophet before him. There is a third possibility that seems less likely, and also hard to represent fully in the English. Since the Greek can be legitimately translated both ways, it is possible that both interpretations are valid. In that case, this verse would be an example of the figure of speech amphibologia, literally, “a throwing in both directions.”c However, in the REV we have gone with the translation we consider more likely.
[See figure of speech “amphibologia.”]
“are seizing it as a prize.” The Greek is harpazō (#726 ἁρπάζω), and it means “to make off with someone’s property by attacking or seizing, steal, carry off, drag away, to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch/take away” (BDAG). It is commonly used with seizing or dragging off someone else’s property. Thus in this case the clear implication of the word is that forceful men grab hold of the kingdom as a prize for themselves, not just that they “seize it.” Lenski writes: “…the kingdom itself, with all its gifts, treasures, and blessings put power and courage into them “to snatch,” let us say “to grab” it all. Williams translates the last half of the verse: …those who take it by storm are seizing it as a precious prize.” This verse helps us to understand the effort it takes to walk in the blessings of the Kingdom. We must each make up our minds to “grab” the kingdom blessings, and that usually takes both desire and effort.
|Mat 11:13||- (top)|
“Elijah.” For information on John the Baptist being Elijah, see commentary on Matthew 17:10.(top)
“Anyone who has ears had better listen!” The word “listen” is akouō (#191 ἀκούω, pronounced “ah-koo-oh”), and it can mean “hear” (the opposite of deaf; i.e., hearing the sounds or words), or it can refer to listening and understanding what you hear (the English word “hear” is used the same way). In this verse it is third person, present tense, active voice, imperative mood, and is thus a command, not a suggestion.
The NET translation is quite literal and very good: “The one who has ears had better listen!” The NET translators explain their translation with the following note: “The translation, ‘had better listen!’ captures the force of the third person imperative [which is the conjugation of the Greek text] more effectively than the traditional, ‘let him hear,’ which sounds more like a permissive than an imperative to the modern English reader.” A. Nyland (The Source NT) is a little more casual, but catches the sense very well: “If you have ears, you had better listen!” Stern (Complete Jewish Bible) translates: “If you have ears, then hear!” Phillips translates: “The man who has ears to hear must use them!” (NT in Modern English).
The Interpreter’s Bible correctly notes that the way Jesus spoke the phrase was “urgent” and “sharp kindness.” Jesus sharply but kindly reminded his audience that God created them to hear and obey, and they better get about doing it. Lenski adds: “In ‘he that has ears’ lies the implication of willful guilt when those ears that were made to hear (and understand) are not used for this purpose.”
Some Greek manuscripts have “the one who has ears to hear,” instead of “the one who has ears.” However, the verb “to hear” was almost certainly added so that this verse matches other verses that do include it, such as Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8; 14:35. If it were original, there seems to be no reason it would have been omitted from early and important texts.a
This phrase, or a very similar one, occurs here and in Matthew 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8; 14:35. It is important to ask, “Why is this phrase here” each time it occurs. In this case, Jesus was teaching about John the Baptist, and in Matt. 11:14 he made the point that John was Elijah. Malachi 4:5 made it clear that “Elijah” would come before the Messiah, and before the Day of the Lord. That Jesus (the Messiah) seemed to come before Elijah confused many, even the disciples (Matt. 17:10; Mark 9:11). In Matthew 11:14 Jesus points out that “Elijah” was John, which would have not only answered their questions, but would have awakened the people to the days in which they were living—the days of the Messiah. No wonder Jesus said, ““Anyone who has ears better listen!”
[For more on John the Baptist being Elijah, see commentary on Matthew 17:10.]
|Mat 11:16||- (top)|
|Mat 11:17||- (top)|
“neither eating nor drinking.” The context, and the fuller explanation in Luke 7:33-34, shows that John lived an ascetic lifestyle and did not eat all the food that others did, and did not drink wine. Jesus, on the other hand, ate like others and drank wine, such as at the wedding in Cana. But neither behavior satisfied the religious Jews, who criticized them both.
[For more information on eating and drinking, and the contrasting ministries of John and Jesus, see commentary on Luke 7:33.](top)
“See.” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.
“But wisdom is declared righteous by her works.” When people do wise things and they work out well, then the “wisdom” that they applied is shown to be true wisdom. Many things that are “wise” from a godly point of view are “foolishness” to the world (1 Cor. 1:18-25), but actually, the “wisdom” of this world is foolishness with God (1 Cor. 3:19). Believers need to be confident that when they obey God, no matter how foolish it seems to the world and no matter how loud the unbelievers mock, in the end, the true wisdom will be shown to be the right way, and the “worldly wisdom” will be shown to be foolish.
In the context of Matthew 11:19, the primary examples of people who were wise in a godly way are John the Baptist and Jesus, and their works, though foolish in the eyes of the world, will prove to be wise and right in the end, and the same is true for all believers who follow God’s guidance. Sometimes the true wisdom of following God is not revealed until much later or even until the Day of Judgment. The “wise” action of Jesus in following God’s guidance and going to the cross was not revealed until his resurrection and actually will not be fully revealed until all the righteous people whose salvation was paid for by Jesus’ blood are raised from the dead also. Christians must trust God and be patient to let the wisdom of what they do be revealed, and that may take some time.
This statement in Matthew 11:19 harmonizes with Luke 7:35, which says basically the same thing but uses slightly different wording. Luke 7:35 says, “wisdom is declared righteous by all her children” (see commentary on Luke 7:35). The “children” of a mother follow in the ways of the mother and do the works the mother and father instruct (cp. Prov. 1:8). It helps to understand what Christ was saying when we know that the word “wisdom” is feminine in both Greek and Hebrew, and is represented by a woman in Proverbs (cp. Prov. 9:1-5).(top)
|Mat 11:20||- (top)|
“How terrible.” The Greek word is ouai (#3759 οὐαί; pronounced ooh-'eye). Ouai can be an interjection or a noun, and depending on the context, it can be an expression of grief because of extreme hardship or distress due to a calamity that has happened (Rev. 18:10, 16, 19); or an expression of grief because of a calamity or divine retribution that is coming in the future (1 Cor. 9:16; Rev. 9:12); or it can be a call for, or warning about, a coming calamity or divine retribution (Matt. 11:21; Mark 14:21; Luke 6:24-26. A triple “woe” like in Rev. 8:13 is a warning about horrible and unavoidable calamity coming in the future). In this context, ouai is primarily a warning about divine retribution that is coming to Chorazin and Bethsaida (here the city names are put by metonymy for the people who live in those cities) because they failed to repent at the teaching and rebuke of Jesus Christ. God is our creator, and He created us for His purposes, and expects something from us. When we ignore and defy Him, there are very serious consequences. Today both Chorazin and Bethsaida are just rock ruins, and in fact, there is some disagreement among archaeologists as to which ruin north-east of the Sea of Galilee is Bethsaida.(top)
|Mat 11:22||- (top)|
“will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the grave.” It is possible, but not certain, that Jesus was alluding to Isaiah 14:13, 15, and Satan’s desire to be exalted to heaven but relegated to Sheol. Just as Satan was close to God and privileged, but rebelled and will be destroyed, Capernaum had been Jesus’ headquarters in Galilee and should have responded to him and his ministry, but did not, so it is destined for destruction.(top)
|Mat 11:24||- (top)|
“Jesus answered and said.” This verse is paralleled in Luke 10:21. The original text has the phrase, “answered and said” more than 100 times in the Bible, and it can sometimes be confusing because it is often used when no one asked a question. The phrase is an idiom, but it has a literal overtone behind it. The person who “answered and said” may not have been answering a direct question from someone, but they were answering and addressing the situation that was presenting itself before them. For example, in this case, Jesus was answering (to himself and God) the question, “Why do people who are supposedly wise not know the great spiritual truths that people of much lower status in society and who have much less education seem to know and understand?”(top)
|Mat 11:26||- (top)|
“All things.” Although the text does not say so, we learn from the content of what Jesus is saying that he has stopped his prayer and has started speaking to his disciples.
“really knows...really know.” The Greek word is epiginōskō (#1921 ἐπιγινώσκω) an intensified form of ginōskō (#1097 γινώσκω). At that time in Jesus’ ministry, no one really understood the Son except the Father, and no one really knew and understood God but the Son and those people to whom the Son revealed Him, such as Jesus’ close disciples. All one has to do is look at the misguided doctrine and behavior of the Pharisees and Sadducees to know they did not “really know” God. They knew things about Him, but they did not “really” know Him. That is still true today. Many people know some things about God, but do not “really know” Him.
“anyone to whom the Son determines to reveal him.” This verse is not saying that Jesus picks and chooses who gets to know about God, including some and excluding others apart from that person’s desires. God wants everyone to know Him, and calls them fools if they do not (Jer. 4:22). Jesus Christ came to make known the Father (John 1:18), and expended himself trying to get people to understand both him and his Father. Jesus went so far as to say that people could see the Father by seeing him (John 14:9). God also makes it clear that He wants everyone to fully know the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). Nevertheless, many people do not know God. They do not know Him because they do not want to know Him, something they express by both their words and actions. John 3:20 says that people who practice evil will not come to the light. Also, we must keep in mind that when someone does not love God or want God in his life, God honors that. Similarly, when someone loves God, that is honored also, and Jesus says he will show himself to that kind of person (John 14:21).
“determines.” The Greek is boulomai (#1014 βούλομαι), and it means, to deliberately desire, will, or purpose something. To plan. Although it can be used of desire or want, it is somewhat different than thelō, which more refers to “want” or “desire.” Thus, boulomai includes “the thought of ‘purpose, intention, not mere will, but will with premeditation’” (Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary of Greek NT). This verse is very similar to Luke 10:22, but Luke uses ginōskō instead of epiginōskō for “know.” Jesus knew the people and he knew who was honestly seeking to know God and who did not but was hypocritical.(top)
|Mat 11:28||- (top)|
“take my yoke.” In this phrase, the word “yoke” is referring to what Jesus is asking people to do: the sum total of his teachings, and he said it was gentle (not “easy”) and light. The word “yoke” is the figure of speech, hypocatastasis, a comparison by implication (see commentary on Rev. 20:2).
In the biblical culture, the literal yoke that was used to harness animals together for work was essential for survival: it was used so animals could plow, thresh grain, and pull loads such as carts. The yoke was not something animals liked to wear, because the loads they pulled were often heavy and difficult. Furthermore, many yokes rubbed sores on the animal’s necks because they were quickly and crudely made.
People also used the word “yoke” figuratively and applied it to things that were heavy and unpleasant. The hard work that Solomon made his subjects do was called a “yoke” by his subjects (1 Kings 12:4). Enemies put a “yoke” on the people of Israel, placing various kinds of burdens on them (Deut. 28:48; Isa. 10:27; 47:6; Jer. 27:11). The word “yoke” was also used of being a slave because it was usually burdensome (1 Tim. 6:1). It was foretold that when the Messiah came he would shatter the yoke that burdens people (Isa. 9:4).
The word “yoke” was also used for submission to a system of beliefs, and the expression, “the yoke of the Law” was common in rabbinic literature. “In Jewish literature, a ‘yoke’ represents the sum total of obligations which, according to the teaching of the rabbis, a person must take upon himself. This definition accounts for such terms as ‘yoke of the Torah,’ ‘yoke of the commandments,’ ‘yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, etc.”a In saying, “the yoke of the Law,” the rabbis were not so much emphasizing the “weight” of the Law, or the difficulty of keeping it (although that could easily be part of the meaning, depending on the context), but rather the fact of being submitted to the system of beliefs that constituted the Law. The Law of Moses was considered a “yoke” because of the restraints it put on people and the amount of effort it took to keep it and obey its precepts.
Although the Law was a “yoke” upon people, whether they found it difficult or a blessing depended upon the attitude of the people. Romans 7:12 says the Law is holy, righteous, and good. The Apostle Peter used “yoke” to represent the teachings of the Law in Acts 15:10: “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” Peter did not mean to say the Law was in any way ungodly—he did not feel that way. However, even though he believed the Law was from God and was a good thing, he still recognized that it was a system that restrained and controlled people and no one, not even the Jews to whom God gave the Law, could obey it without sin.
As the Early Church continued, the figure “yoke” was even used for the teachings about grace in the New Testament. The Church Father Clement of Rome referred to Christians as those who come under the yoke of grace. Even the teachings about grace include restrictions and responsibilities that Christians need to heed.
Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” The verbs “take” and “learn” are in the imperative mood, which in this context is an imperative of exhortation but has the overtone of a command. Jesus’ statement was a strong exhortation, made with love. Christ’s “yoke” is still a yoke. Jesus did not say, “I free you from religious bondage; go do whatever you want!” Jesus wants us under his yoke, his system of grace and love. It is gentle and light, but it is still a yoke, and we must have the desire and self-control to live under the yoke of Christ.
The yoke Jesus asks us to take was different than a yoke of religious bondage. The people in Jesus’ time had been burdened by the yoke of the religious leaders—their system of religious requirements. In fact, something that does not show up well in English is that in Matt. 11:28 (ESV), when Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden...,” the verb “are heavy laden” (one word in the Greek text), is in the passive voice. This means that the burdens had been placed upon the people (although it is possible, but less likely, that a burden had been placed on them because they picked them up themselves). Little has changed since the time of Christ. Many religious systems are full of man-made regulations that are a great burden, and there is as much need now as there ever was to “learn of me,” learn the truth about Christ and what he teaches, and then take his yoke.
“souls.” The Greek word often translated “soul” is psuchē (#5590 ψυχή; pronounced psoo-'kay), and it has a large number of meanings, including the physical life of a person or animal; an individual person; or attitudes, emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Here it refers to the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the person himself. The person will find rest within himself and be at peace
[For a more complete explanation of “soul,” see Appendix 7, “Usages of ‘Soul.’”]
“kind.” The Greek word is the adjective chrestos (#5543 χρηστός), and it means “kind” (the noun form is chrestotes (#5544 χρηστότης), which in Galatians 5:22 is the fruit of the spirit, “kindness”). Christ’s yoke is “kind” (chrestotes, not “easy” as many translations have), because there is nothing harsh, sharp, or galling about it. You can put on Christ’s yoke without worrying about getting painful blisters, splinters, etc.
“light.” The load that Jesus asks us to carry is “light,” not heavy, but it is still a “load” we must make up our minds to carry. But sometimes the loads of life are not light at all, but very heavy, even for the most faithful believers, so how can it be that Jesus says his load is “light.” The load that Jesus asks us to carry is always light. It includes things like trust and obedience, and it lightens the heart and rests the soul. The confusion that many people have over this verse is they think that any burden we have in our lives is part of the yoke of Christ, but that is not true.
A person who believes God controls everything that happens in this world has trouble understanding the words of Jesus. If God is in control of the world and everything that happens is His will, then the burdens we carry are all due to the will of God and are all part of the yoke of Christ. But those burdens are often very heavy, so why did Jesus say his yoke was “light?” The truth is that God is not in control of everything that happens in our lives or in the world around us. The world is a battleground, where the forces of Good fight the forces of Evil. The Adversary is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the whole world lies in the power of the Wicked One” (1 John 5:19). Satanic forces and evil people can make life very hard to bear. Also, the earth is a fallen world. Hunger, poverty, deterioration, and aging, are a part of the curse on the world. Added to that, we humans have freedom of will and make stupid decisions that cause problems for ourselves and others. None of these things are part of the yoke of Christ, even though we have to bear them and they make life difficult.
Jesus said his yoke was gentle and the load was light, and that is true of the yoke of Christ. As for the yoke that is put upon us by the Fallen World, thankfully, Isaiah foretold that when the Messiah came in his kingdom, which is still future, he would shatter the yoke that burdens people (Isa. 9:4). That is a wonderful hope to look forward to.(top)