Jesus and John the Baptist (11:1-19)
1-3 John the Baptist had been put into prison by King Herod (see Mark 1:14; 6:17-20). While in prison John could learn only a little about Jesus’ activities. John had recognized Jesus when he baptized Him (John 1:32-34). John supposed, as other Jews did, that the Messiah47 would free the Jews from the political control of the Romans and local rulers like Herod. But now John had been cast into prison, and so he began to wonder if Jesus really was the Messiah. Why had Jesus not brought about John’s release? Therefore, John sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask if He was the Messiah or not (Luke 7:18-20).
4 Jesus knew that John had not received a true report of His activities. That is why John had begun to doubt.
5 Therefore, Jesus told John’s disciples to inform John about what He was doing. By His works of healing and preaching and raising the dead, Jesus was fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies. Isaiah prophesied that in the days of the Messiah the eyes of the blind [will] be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb shout for joy (Isaiah 35:5-6). And good news will be preached to the poor48 (Isaiah 61:1)—that is, the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). Notice that Jesus did not have “five-year plans” and complicated budgets. He did not have teams of advisors and evaluators. John’s disciples asked for proof that Jesus was the Messiah. And Jesus answered, “Look about you. My program is simple. Hear the preaching; see the healing. That is proof.”
6 Therefore, Jesus was in effect saying to John’s disciples: “Let John not doubt that I am the Messiah. Let John not fall away through discouragement and unbelief.” The faith of even the greatest saints is mixed with some doubt and disbelief.
7 After John’s disciples left, Jesus taught the crowd about John. John was not a reed swayed by the wind; that is, he did not follow the opinions of the world and of evil men. He stood straight and firm for the truth. He did not waver under abuse and persecution.
8 John did not seek an easy life. He denied himself (see Mark 1:6).
9-10 John was a true prophet—more than a prophet—because he came to prepare the way for the Messiah. Here Jesus quotes from Malachi 3:1 (see Mark 1:2-3 and comment).
11 John was greater than all the Old Testament prophets. Up until the coming of Christ there had never been a greater man than John. Yet John belonged to the old covenant; he was the last of the Jewish prophets. He did not see Jesus’ resurrection; he did not receive the Holy Spirit in the same way that Jesus’ disciples did (John 20:22). Although John announced the arrival of the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 3:1-2), he was not a part of it during his lifetime. Thus in heaven even the least believer in Christ will have a greater position than John.
12 Then Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”49 That is, since John’s time, men have been eagerly trying to receive the blessings of the Messiah, Christ. They are forcefully striving to enter the kingdom of heaven. In Luke 16:16, Christ gave a similar teaching. He said: “Since that (John’s) time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.”
Thus Jesus gave John great praise; John’s ministry was successful. Many Jews heeded John and repented. Tax collectors and other sinners repented. All kinds of people began to enter the kingdom of heaven. Indeed, the kingdom of heaven had come into the world “forcefully.”
13 All the Prophets and the Law50 prophesied about the coming of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom. John was the last prophet of the old covenant (verse 11). When Christ came, the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled and came to an end (Hebrews 1:1).
14-15 John was the Elijah about whom Malachi prophesied (Malachi 4:5). The first Elijah was one of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Because Elijah was not buried but was carried into heaven, the Jews believed that he would come again (2 Kings 2:11). John was not an incarnation of Elijah (John 1:21); but he fulfilled the work of Elijah as prophesied by Malachi (Luke 1:17). Jesus’ meaning was: “Anyone with spiritual understanding would understand that John was indeed the prophet that Malachi spoke about” (see Matthew 17:10-13).
Malachi’s prophecy about John the Baptist, the “second Elijah,” is the last prophecy of the Old Testament. Thus John, in a way, served as a link between the Old and New Testaments. John announced the beginning of a new age, a new kingdom, a new covenant (see Hebrews 8:8,13 and comment).
16-17 The Jews of Jesus’ time—that is, this generation—were given the chance to enter the kingdom of God. Both John the Baptist and Jesus preached that the kingdom of heaven is near (Matthew 3:1-2; Mark 1:14-15). But most of the Jews were like children playing a game called “weddings and funerals.” The game went like this: one group of children played the flute, and the others were supposed to dance. But the Jews didn’t “dance.” The second group of children then sang a dirge, and the others were supposed to mourn, that is, cry out as people did at funerals. But the Jews also refused to “mourn.” The Jews were like fickle children who refused to play each other’s game.
18 In the same way, John came neither eating nor drinking. He came singing a “dirge,” like the children playing the “funeral” game. But many of the Jews rejected John’s word, saying, “He has a demon.” Those who reject God’s word commonly abuse the preacher who speaks it.
19 Jesus the Son of Man came eating and drinking. He came playing the “flute,” like the children playing the “wedding” game. But the Jews didn’t accept Him either. They said, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard”, when, in fact, He had come to save gluttons and drunkards and tax collectors and “sinners” (Mark 2:15-16,18). Even the holiest of men suffer slander and abuse. Very often people speak evil even of a man’s highest virtues and greatest work.
Thus most of the Jews were like the fickle and foolish children who couldn’t agree about what game to play. No matter in what form God spoke to them—by a “dirge” or by a “flute”—they rejected His word.
But wisdom is proved right by her actions. Jesus and John were despised by many, but their actions proved them to be right. Everyone who believed in Jesus received salvation, new life. This was proof that the teachings of John and Jesus were true.
According to Luke 7:35, Jesus also said, “… wisdom is proved right by all her children.” Here the word children means “actions.” Good actions are the “children” of wisdom.
Woe on Unrepentant Cities (11:20-24)
20-21 Jesus had performed many miracles in Korazin and Bethsaida.51 Jesus fed five thousand men near Bethsaida (Mark 6:44-45). But the people of those Jewish cities did not repent of their sins and turn to Christ. Tyre and Sidon were two great Gentile cities on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea north of Israel (in modern Lebanon). In Jesus’ time they were known for their wealth and their wickedness. But, said Jesus, if He had performed such miracles in Tyre and Sidon, the people of those cities would have repented in sackcloth and ashes.52
22 Therefore, the guilt of Korazin and Bethsaida was much greater, because even though they had witnessed Jesus’ miracles they had still rejected Him and refused to repent. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded (Luke 12:48).
23-24 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? Capernaum, located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, was Jesus’ own town (Matthew 9:1; Mark 2:1). It was a proud city. Its people exalted themselves. But Jesus said that they will be cast down. Because they rejected Christ, they will receive a greater punishment than the people of Sodom (Genesis 19:1-29; Matthew 10:14-15). Sodom was destroyed by God because of its wickedness; Capernaum will receive an even worse punishment on the final day of judgment.
Rest For the Weary (11:25-30)
25-26 Jesus was happy because even though God had hidden the meaning of Jesus’ words and miracles from the wise and learned, yet He had revealed their meaning to little children, that is, to those who have faith (see Mark 10:15). Jesus was not happy that the wise and learned were spiritually ignorant; He was happy that the little children were spiritually wise.
The wise and learned are those who suppose they can understand spiritual things by their own human understanding. But this is impossible (see 1 Corinthians 2:14). The world through its wisdom did not know him (1 Corinthians 1:21). The little children are those who are humble, who are dependent on the Holy Spirit, whose minds are open. Only such people can receive the things of God (see 1 Corinthians 2:7-10,12). God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). This is the Father’s good pleasure (verse 26).
27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father,” said Jesus. All things means all the power and wisdom and authority of the Father (Matthew 28:18). God gave Christ the Spirit without limit (John 3:34). The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands (John 3:35). Jesus said, “All that belongs to the Father is mine” (John 16:15).
Only the Father has complete knowledge of Jesus. In the same way, only Jesus has full knowledge of the Father, because He and the Father are one (John 10:30). And Jesus has given this knowledge to those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. We did not choose Jesus; He chose us (John 15:16). Everything Jesus received from the Father He has revealed to those who believe in Him (John 15:15).
No one can truly know God unless Jesus reveals Him. No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known (John 1:18). People from every race and nation are continually seeking God, but only those who believe in Jesus can ever truly know God. Only Jesus has revealed the true nature of God (see Colossians 2:9 and comment). God has been fully revealed in Jesus Christ. When we know Jesus, we will know God. Those who reject Jesus seek God in vain.
28 Jesus promises rest to all the weary and burdened who repent and come to Him. He takes away their burden of sin. His rest is spiritual. It is inner peace. It is freedom from fear and anxiety. It is rest for your souls (verse 29). It is a rest that will last forever (see Hebrews 4:9-10).
Worldly men seek rest and peace in religious rituals and good works, but they do not find it. In order to find true rest and peace, it is necessary to come to the one true giver of peace, Jesus; true rest and peace cannot be found anywhere else (see John 14:27 and comment).
The rest that Jesus gives is not a cessation of activity. It is filled with joy and praise. It is filled with love and fellowship. It is filled with the presence of God Himself.
29 Take my yoke upon you. The Jews lived under the yoke of the law. This yoke was a heavy burden (Matthew 23:4). They were obliged to obey hundreds of regulations. If they broke even one, it counted as if they had broken the whole law (James 2:10). Not even the Jews could bear the demands of the law (Acts 15:10).
Jesus freed men from the yoke of the law, but He gave them another yoke. His “yoke” was also a yoke of obedience, but it was obedience not to a law, but to Jesus Himself. To obey Jesus is not a burden, because He is our friend, our shepherd, our Savior. Those who love Jesus desire to keep His commands (John 14:15).
Jesus is gentle and humble. He is not impatient with us when we are slow to learn. He is not harsh with us when we stumble. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out (Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20). Who would not want to learn from such a teacher?
30 Jesus’ yoke is easy. This does not mean that Jesus’ followers will have an easy life. The path of the Christian is narrow and difficult (Matthew 7:13-14). But the Christian’s yoke is easy, his burden is light. We do not have to labor under the yoke of the law (see Romans 8:2). We do not have to carry a burden of sin and sorrow and worry. Jesus helps us, strengthens us. And He gives us joy as we follow Him (John 15:11).