Matthew 11 Study Notes
11:1 The words when Jesus had finished are important for understanding the structure of the Gospel. See “Structure” in the Introduction to Matthew.
11:2-3 John the Baptist previously expressed faith in Jesus as the Christ (3:14; Jn 2:29-37; 3:22-30). John’s doubts here were likely the result of his prolonged imprisonment and his disappointment that a “baptism of fire” had not yet occurred (Mt 3:11-12). Jesus identified himself as the one anointed by the Spirit in Is 61:1-3. However, Is 61:1 promised that the anointed one would “proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners.” John probably interpreted the prophecy literally and thus mistakenly expected a miraculous release from prison.
11:4-5 Jesus confirmed his identity as the Christ by appealing to his miraculous and gracious works (Is 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 61:1).
11:6 Jesus pronounced blessing on those who were willing to suffer without being offended at him. John thus serves as a model for those who persevere in faith despite suffering.
11:7 A reed swaying in the wind is a metaphor for someone who lacks conviction and is easily swayed by public opinion (1Kg 14:15; 2Kg 18:21).
11:8-9 Unlike false prophets, John did not allow himself to be bought off by a king who wished to purchase favorable prophecies (see 1Kg 22:13-28).
11:10 John the Baptist’s ministry was foretold in Scripture. See note at 3:3.
11:11 John was imprisoned and executed before Jesus’s reign was established through his death and resurrection (Ac 2:32-36; Rm 1:4). Thus disciples who enjoy the present reign of Christ enjoy blessings that John yearned for but did not experience (Mt 13:17). The description of the OT prophets in 1Pt 1:10-12 accurately portrays the experience of John. These men did not live to see the messianic sufferings and the glories that followed.
11:12 The arrest, imprisonment, and eventual execution of John and the Jewish leaders’ violent opposition to Jesus were attempts to seize and control the unfolding kingdom of heaven. The words until now hint that the kingdom will someday break free from the grip of those who seek to restrain it (see note at vv. 13-15).
11:13-15 Malachi 4:5 promised that the day of the Lord, a time of divine judgment for the wicked but healing and joy for God’s people, would be preceded by the sending of Elijah. Jesus explained that John the Baptist fulfilled this role and that his ministry signaled the dawn of the day of the Lord. Malachi 4:3 promised that the day of the Lord would be a time when God’s people “will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet.” This signals that violent suppression of the kingdom will soon end (see note at Mt 11:12).
11:16-19 Jesus portrayed his unbelieving contemporaries as spoiled children who whined when they did not get their way. In an ancient version of the game “Simon says,” if a designated child played a pretend flute, the other children were supposed to dance. If he sang a lament, they were supposed to mourn. However, like unresponsive children, Israel did not pay heed to the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist. The reference to wisdom’s deeds parallels the reference to Messiah’s deeds (v. 2) and implies that Jesus’s claims were vindicated by the acts described in vv. 4-6. Between the time of the OT and the NT, Jewish interpreters elaborated on Pr 8:32-36 and taught that wisdom was an eternal being who served as God’s agent in the creation of the world. By identifying himself with personified Wisdom, Jesus hinted that he is the eternal one through whom the Father created everything (Jn 1:3).
11:20-24 These verses remind us that the Gospels are not exhaustive accounts of Jesus’s life. Jesus performed most of his miracles in Chorazin . . . Bethsaida, and Capernaum, and yet the Gospels do not describe his miracles at Chorazin and mention only two that were performed at Bethsaida (Mk 6:45; 8:22; Lk 9:10). God’s judgment against sin is more tolerable for people to whom little revelation is given. On the other hand, those who have received much revelation bear greater responsibility and thus incur greater judgment for their unbelief. On Tyre and Sidon, see note on 15:21. On Sodom, see Gn 19:1-29.
11:25-26 God hides the truth from those who will not believe but are enamored with their own learning.
11:27 Jesus’s statement resembles those attributed to him in John’s Gospel (Jn 7:29; 10:14-15; 17:25). This shows how substantially John and the Synoptic Gospels agree on the portrait of Jesus.
11:28-30 Jesus’s words recall a statement made by personified Wisdom in a Jewish document dating to several hundred years before Christ (Sir 6:18-31; 51:23-27). When combined with Mt 11:19, this suggests that Jesus portrayed himself as personified Wisdom, the one who exists eternally and acted on the Lord’s behalf to create the world (1Co 1:24; see note at Mt 11:16-19). Jesus’s teaching provided an easy yoke in contrast to the heavy, suppressive yoke of rabbinic teaching (23:4; Ac 15:10).