11:1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their towns.
Their towns – Not defined. Morris notes that Matthew often uses this expression to refer to the Jews generally, and especially those who were hostile towards Jesus. Blomberg inclines to the view that these were the towns of Galilee, with the form of expression suggesting that Jesus was already distancing himself from them.
Jesus and John the Baptist, 1-19
11:2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds Christ had done, he sent his disciples to ask a question: 11:3 “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 11:4 Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: 11:5 The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. 11:6 Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
“Are you the one who was to come…?” – This is not a usual term for the Messiah, and yet that is doubtless what John means. John was a number of faithful souls who looked patiently and expectantly for the coming of the Christ, Lk 2:38. Yet the signs were not at all clear: the Jewish leaders had not acknowledged Jesus; and his mission and ministry were very far from what had been expected.
John’s question about ‘the coming one’ is reminiscent of Gen 49:10 and Hab 2:3 (and also Dan 7:13; Zec 9:9; Ps 118:26) and has overtones of eschatological hope.
Why did John send this message to Jesus? The simplest explanation is probably the best: John needed reassurance that Jesus was the Messiah. Like many other saints in the Bible, he had his moments of weakness, and that his imprisonment, together with the fact that our Lord did nothing to deliver him, had made him begin to doubt whether Jesus was the Messiah.
‘Jesus is not as John expected: grace has a priority in the purposes of God to a degree not foreseen by the stern prophet of repentance; and the eschatological events which mark the ministry of Jesus are dramatic enough, but do not occur on a cataclysmic scale.’ (WBC)
Question: What doubts about Jesus do we sometimes entertain?
“Go back and report to John” – This weakens the assertion of some (e.g. Ryle) that John was not enquiring about Jesus’ Messiahship on his own behalf, but on behalf of his disciples.
“What you hear and see” – and these two aspects of Jesus’ ministry will be immediately expanded.
‘Note the proof that Jesus offered. He pointed at the facts. The sick and the suffering and the humble poor were experiencing the power and hearing the word of the Good News. Here is a point which is seldom realized-this is not the answer John expected. If Jesus was God’s anointed one, John would have expected him to say, “My armies are massing. Caesarea, the headquarters of the Roman government, is about to fall. The sinners are being obliterated. And judgment has begun.” He would have expected Jesus to say, “The wrath of God is on the march.” but Jesus said, “The mercy of God is here.”‘ (DSB)
Jesus did not give the messengers a profound lecture: he let his own works of power and compassion speak for him. Cf Mt 7:16. His deeds confirm his commission, and also interpret it: he came not to establish an earthly kingdom with might, but to bring light and life, joy and peace. These were precisely the credentials that the prophets had spoken of (the blind, Isa 35:5; the lame, Isa 35:6; the deaf, Isa 35:5; the poor, Isa 61:1. See also Isa 29:18-19; 42:1-7). The Messiah was destined to heal the sick and preach good news to the poor, rather than conquer the Roman armies with force.
‘Some of the items on the list in v 22 are provided for in v 21 by means of a general statement about healings performed right then and there. For other items in the list Luke is content for his reader to reach back into earlier sections (for “the lame walk” cf. 5:17-26; for “lepers are cleansed” cf. 5:12-16; for good news to the poor cf. 4:18-21 and 6:20-23), and even in one case (the deaf hearing) he overlooks the fact that he has provided no account of the healing of a deaf person (closest is the restoration of Zechariah cf. at Lk 1:20 in the John the Baptist infancy account; in 11:14 it is just possible that * means both deaf and mute).’ (Nolland)
“The dead are raised” – Only three such cases are recorded in the Gospels, and only one of those had occurred by this time (the raising of the son of the widow of Nain). On the ground that the Gospels make no attempt to chronicle all the miracles of Christ, we may suppose that he may have raised others to life, but we cannot be certain about this.
“The good news is preached to the poor” – ‘That this was a sign of Messiah’s times appears plain from the words of Isaiah: “In that day the poor among men shall rejoice in the holy one of Israel.” (Isa 34:19) Contempt for the poor, as ignorant and despicable, appears to have been very common in the times of the Gospel. (Jn 7:49,9:34, and Jas 2:24) Concern and tender interest about the souls of the poor, as souls which would live as long as the souls of rich men, was a distinguishing feature of our Lord’s ministry, and of that of his apostles.’ (Ryle) This raises the question whether we in today’s church are followers of Christ in this respect.
In what sense does this response provide an answer to John’s question? John had been expecting ‘the Coming one’ to bring vengeance, rather than grace. ‘But the end-time events which Jesus brings find their focus in the graciousness of God and not in the vengeance of God. The vengeance statements which in Isaiah are closely linked with the texts echoed by Jesus’ words are quite passed over. (Isa 29:20; 35:5; 61:2) It is not that the motif of judgment is absent from Jesus’ ministry (see Lk 6:24-26; 10:13-15). Jesus’ role in the judgment of God will come later on, (Ac 10:42; 17:31) but there is more graciousness in God’s purposes than John dreamed of, and on this Jesus would focus John’s attention.’ (WBC on Luke)
“Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” – The word (‘offence’) ‘derives from the trapping of birds, and refers to the action that depresses the baitstick and so triggers off the trap. It is a colourful way of referring to the causing of trouble.’ (Morris, on Luke)
Harris (Navigating Tough Texts) understands Jesus’ words here as a ‘gentle and indirect reproof’ of John’s (mis)understanding:
‘Sadly, John had felt let down by Jesus’ actions of mercy; he had taken offense at Jesus. He had expected the Messiah to exercise ruthless judgment, but in fact Jesus had shown gracious kindness. John’s expectations were misguided because they had been formed by contemporary hopes rather than by the OT predictions about the signs of the new age: “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy” (Isa 35:5–6). Also there was Isaiah’s prediction about the messianic year of the Lord’s favor: “The Spirit of the LORD God is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Isa 61:1).
‘This is a salutary warning for us to let our hopes for the future be guided by Scripture rather than by contemporary hopes and expectations.’
Christ is the great divider of men: those who are not for him are against him. His coming into people’s lives always forces a response. Some will look at him, and see only his humble birth and lowly appearance, and retreat into unbelief and despair, Isa 53:1. Others will see him is the Light of the World, and the only hope of heaven, and will embrace him as Lord and Saviour and King. Blessed indeed are the latter.
‘There are many people today who criticize the church for not changing the world and solving the economic, political, and social problems of society. What they forget is that God changes his world by changing individual people. History shows that the church has often led the way in humanitarian service and reform, but the church’s main job is to bring lost sinners to the Saviour. Everything else is a by-product of that. Proclaiming the Gospel must always be the church’s first priority.’ (Wiersbe, on Luke)
‘The final beatitude (v 23) takes us back to the original question and calls on John, and on us, to answer the question for ourselves. It is a positive answer that is needed but there are difficulties. One can stumble over Jesus in the light of the expectations engendered by John (3:16-17). What is happening in Jesus is impressive enough, but it lacks the comprehensive scope which would seem to be necessary for the end-time intervention of God. The shift in focus from judgment to grace could also be a stumbling block. Jonah too was scandalized by the action of God which followed his preaching of judgment. (Jon 4:1) But mercy triumphs over judgment (Jas 2:13) and beyond John’s message of divine vengeance stands Jesus’ message of love for enemies (6:27-36).’ (WBC on Luke)
11:7 While they were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 11:8 What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fancy clothes? Look, those who wear fancy clothes are in the homes of kings! 11:9 What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 11:10 This is the one about whom it is written:
‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
In what follows, Jesus will make it clear that in his reply to John’s disciples he is by no means intending to rebuke John or contradict his ministry. On the contrary, he asserts John’s greatness as a prophet of God. The forthright words of Jesus here are not directed at John, but at those who had attended his ministry.
“What did you go out into the desert to see?” – Jesus addresses the crowd with biting satire. He offers two impossible answers the the question. Reeds are found in the wilderness but attract no crowds. Men dressed in fine clothes attract crowds but are not found in the wilderness.
“A reed swayed by the wind” – This was a proverbial expression for a common sight. Was John such a man as you might see every day? Was he a compliant, inconsistent moral weakling? (cf Eph 4:14) If so, he could have enjoyed unbridled popularity and could also have escaped the wrath of Herod. But John was not a trembling reed, but a sturdy oak.
“A man dressed in fine clothes?” – Was John a glamorous celebrity, a lover of ease and comfort? No, he lived in the wilderness and survived on the crude essentials of life, Mt 3:4. He was a man of great self-denial.
“Those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces” – But because John had not shrunk from rebuking royalty he now found himself in a dungeon.
“More than a prophet” – John was born a priest, but his prophetic ministry eclipsed his priestly activities. He was more than a prophet, in the sense that the OT seers spoke of Christ at a great distance, whereas John welcomed him at the door. John was the eschatological herald of Mal 3:1.
John was not only the forerunner of the Messiah, but was himself prophesied in the OT, Isa 40:3; Mal 3:1. And how did John announce the Messiah? – With the pomp of a military commander, or the razzamatazz of TV presenter? No – he prepared the way for Christ by preaching repentance. Morris quotes Manson as saying that this not only indicates the greatness of John, but ‘presupposes on Jesus’ part…a consciousness of the finality of his own mission to Israel.’
11:11 “I tell you the truth, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. 11:12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it. 11:13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John appeared. 11:14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who is to come. 11:15 The one who has ears had better listen!
= Lk 7:28
“No one has risen greater than John the Baptist” – John may have been languishing in prison, confused and apparently defeated. But Jesus knew and asserted his true worth.
What were the characteristics of John’s greatness?
- His insight: he recognised and announced the arrival of the Messiah, identifying the nature of his ministry, Jn 1:29.
- His forthrightness: he emphasised the importance of repentance and conversion, Mt 3:2.
- His humility: he called attention away from himself and towards the Messiah, Jn 3:30.
Note, a land may not realise the value of some of its best people. It is one thing to be great in the eyes of men, and another to be highly esteemed by the Lord.
But now the supreme position ascribed to John is immediately eclipsed:
“The one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” – Why so? Not because John’s faith seems to have wavered momentarily. But it was because John was the last of the old dispensation, which led up to Christ. ‘It was not that. It was because John marked a dividing line in history. Since John’s proclamation had been made, Jesus had come; eternity had invaded time; heaven had invaded earth; God had arrived in Jesus; life could never be the same again. We date all time as before Christ and after Christ-B.C. and A.D. Jesus is the dividing line. Therefore, all who come after him and who receive him are of necessity granted a greater blessing than all who went before. The entry of Jesus into the world divided all time into two; and it divided all life in two. If any man be in Christ he is a new creation.’ (2 Cor 5:17) (DSB)
‘He was not referring to personal character, or self-sacrificing devotion, for in those respects he bore witness to John as unsurpassed by any born of women. But while John stood on the threshold of the new age and announced its advent, those who by faith in Christ have entered into the kingdom of God in this life have great advantages over John – not by what they do for God, but by what God does for them.’ (Answers to questions, p46)
The meanest of those who come after Christ have the honour of ministering the fullness of the gospel. Theirs is a superiority, not of character, but of privilege and position. John did not live to witness the death and resurrection of Jesus, nor experience the Pentecostal fulness of the Spirit. He belonged to the period of preparation; we belong to the time of fulfilment. John was a herald of the kingdom; Christians today are children of the kingdom, cf Jn 15:15. They have great privileges, Lk 10:23-24; but they thereby have more to answer for. If Christ puts such value on membership of the kingdom, should we not hold it in similar estimation?
Similarly, Murray Harris (Navigating Tough Texts, p16f) identifies two kinds of ‘greatness’ the greatness of status and privilege (as in an heir to the throne), and the greatness of character and achievement:
‘John’s place in God’s plan of salvation was like that of Moses, who climbed up to the top of Mount Pisgah and surveyed the promised land across the Jordan River but himself never entered the land (Deut 3:27). Similarly, John the Baptist was at the turning point of two eras—he was at the end of the prophetic line (Matt 11:13) and stood on the threshold of the kingdom of heaven without actually entering it.’
The most insignificant person in God’s kingdom surpasses John in greatness in two ways:
‘First, coming after the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, “the least” can witness to Jesus the Messiah more fully and clearly than John ever could. Second, “the least” in the kingdom now enjoys a status and privileges that were foreign to John’s experience.’
As examples of the second of these, Harris mentions:
‘We have been adopted into God’s family as redeemed individuals; we have received the gift of God’s Spirit as a permanent resident in our lives; we have eternal life as a present possession, not only as a future acquisition; and when we pray to God we can invoke the powerful name of his Son as our heavenly advocate and intercessor.’
Jesus held a special place in his kingdom for the little ones, Mt 10:42; 18:10,14; Mk 9:42; Lk 9:48, as well as for the sick, the poor and the outcasts.
‘There is something very beautiful and comforting to true Christians in this testimony which our Lord bears to John the Baptist. It shows us the tender interest which our great Head feels in the lives and characters of all his members; it shows us what honour he is ready to put on the work and labour that they go through in his name. It is a sweet foretaste of the confession which he will make of them before the assembled world, when he presents them faultless before his Father’s throne.
‘Do we know what it is to work for Christ? Have we ever felt cast down and dispirited, as if we were doing no good, and no one cared for us? Are we ever tempted to feel, when laid aside by sickness, or withdrawn by providence, “I have laboured in vain, and spent my strength for naught?” – Let us meet such thoughts by the recollection of this passage. Let us remember, there is one who daily records all we do for him, and sees more beauty in his servants’ work that his servants do themselves. The same tongue which bore testimony to John in prison, will bear testimony to all his people at the last day: he will say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”.’ (Mt 25:34) (J.C. Ryle)
‘The greatness of John the Baptist in the old dispensation of the law before the Cross fades in comparison to the high position every believer has had since Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection and the descent of the Spirit.’ (Ryrie)
‘The significance of Jesus’ anointing by the Spirit at his baptism is further noted in the words by which Jesus confirmed John the Baptist. No one is greater than John, yet anyone in the kingdom is greater. He is the final figure who concludes the old and introduced the new. He is the forerunner, Mt 11:11-14. The anointing of Jesus at his baptism is the specific midpoint in redemptive history; it is the beginning of fulfillment.’ (EDT)
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it” –
11:16 “To what should I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to one another,
11:17 ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance;
we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.’
11:18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
What illustration is absurd enough to describe these people?
“They are like children sitting in the marketplace” – They are playing make-believe games of weddings and funerals. One group offer a piping tune, expecting the other group to imitate a wedding dance. They then engage in a funeral dirge, expecting dramatic imitations of grief. But the second group will not play either version of the game.’ This is the ruin of multitudes, they can never persuade themselves to be serious in the concerns of their souls. Old men, sitting in the sanhedrim, were but as children sitting in the market-place, and no more affected with the things that belonged to their everlasting peace than people are with children’s play. O the amazing stupidity and vanity of the blind and ungodly world! The Lord awaken them out of their security.’ (M. Henry)
The people of this generation, says Jesus, will not be satisfied either way. See on next verse.
John the Baptist came as an austere man, living in solitude and denying himself the finer things of life. But he was thought of as one who was wild, unbalanced, even demon-possessed. And he was rejected too by the multitude.
‘The description of John’s self-denial may owe something to Deut 29:5 (and cf. Lk 1:15), in which case there will be an evocation of the idea of Nazirite abstention, and of God’s sustaining in the wilderness. John’s ascetic self-denial was a sign of the pressing need to prepare in repentance for the eschatological intervention of God, but instead John’s strangeness was dismissed as the deranged behavior of a demoniac.’ (cf. Jn 10:20) (WBC on Luke)
“A friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’” – ‘Among all the traditional designations of Jesus, probably none is more heartwarming than “the friend of sinners.” But this designation was first given to him by way of criticism: “a glutton and a drunkard,” they said, “a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’” (Lk 7:34) -tax collectors occupying the lowest rung on the ladder of respectability, matched only by harlots. It was not that he tolerated such people, as though he did them a favor by taking notice of them in a condescending way, but he gave the impression that he liked their company, that he even preferred it; he did not condemn them but encouraged them to feel at home with him. “This man welcomes sinners,” the scribes said by way of complaint; and more than that, he actually “eats with them.” (Lk 15:2) To accept invitations to a meal in the homes of such people, to enjoy table-fellowship with them-that was the most emphatic way of declaring his unity with them. No wonder this gave offense to those who, sometimes with considerable painstaking, had kept to the path of sound morality. If a man is known by the company he keeps, Jesus was simply asking to be known as the friend of the ne’er-do-wells, the dregs of society. And would not many religious people today react in exactly the same way?’ (HSB)
Jesus himself came as one who welcomed the company of others, and frequently attended dinners and other social activities. But the people generally were no more satisfied with him than they had been with John the Baptist.
But the differences between John and Jesus were not merely differences of personality. ‘Jesus seemed to behave as though there was continually something to celebrate (cf. Lk 5:33-34), and he drew into this celebration tax collectors and sinners-people known to be unsavory types who lived beyond the edge of respectable society (cf. at Lk 5:30). In this way Jesus signaled the in-breaking of the eschatological time of salvation: his meals with sinners were a foreshadowing of the eschatological banquet (cf. at Lk 13:29) of those who have received God’s grace and forgiveness.’ (WBC on Luke)
‘There were some otherwise good and holy men who when they saw intemperance and wantonness, when not severely restrained, every raging with unbridled excess, desired to correct this dangerous evil. This one plan occurred to them: they allowed man to use physical goods in so far as necessity required. A godly counsel indeed, but they were far too severe. For they would fetter consciences more tightly than does the Word of the Lord – a very dangerous thing. Now, to them necessity means to abstain from all things that they could do without; thus, according to them, it would scarcely be permitted to add any food at all to plain bread and water.’ (Calvin, Institutes, I, 720)
‘One bridle is put upon the lust of the flesh is it be determined that all things were created for us that we might recognise the Author and give thanks for his kindness toward us. Where is your thanksgiving if you so gorge yourself with banqueting or wine that you either become stupid or are rendered useless for the duties of piety and of your calling? Where is your recognition of God if your flesh boiling over with excessive abundance into vile lusts infests the mind with its impurity so that you cannot discern anything that is right and honourable? Where is our gratefulness toward God for our clothing if in the sumptuousness of our apparel we both admire ourselves and despise others, if with its elegance and glitter we prepare ourselves for shameless conduct? Where is our recognition of God if our minds be fixed upon the splendour of our apparel?’ (Calvin, Institutes, I, 721f)
“But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” – In the OT, wisdom was sometimes personified, as here, Pr 1:20-23; 8:1-9:6.
Woes on Unrepentant Cities, 20-24
11:20 Then Jesus began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done many of his miracles, because they did not repent. 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 11:22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you! 11:23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to Hades! For if the miracles done among you had been done in Sodom, it would have continued to this day. 11:24 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you!”
Chorazin was about 2.5 mi (four km) N of Capernaum. Bethsaida was at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. Tyre and Sidon were pagan cities in Phoenicia.
“Woe to you, Bethsaida!” – While there is no record in Matthew of any miracles being performed in Bethsaida, it seems from Lk 9:10 that the miracles described in Lk 9:1-6 took place in the region around that city. Then, in Lk 9:10 Jesus heals in Bethsaida itself. This tie-in between Matthew and Luke is of the nature of an undesigned coincidence.
Capernaum – ‘This city was not only Jesus’ base (Mt 4:13), but he performed many specific miracles there (Mt 8:5–17; 9:2–8, 18–33). The favored city of Capernaum, like self-exalting Babylon (cf. Isa 14:15), will be brought down “to the depths”.’ (Carson)
Carson says that ‘three theological propositions are presupposed by Jesus’ insistence that on the Day of Judgment, things will go worse for the cities that have received so much more light than for the pagan cities:-
- The Judge has contingent knowledge; he knows what Tyre and Sidon would have done under such-and-such circumstances.
- God does not owe revelation to anyone.
- Punishment on the Day of Judgment takes into account opportunity. There are degrees of felicity in paradise and degrees of torment in hell (Mt 12:41; 23:13; cf. Lk 12:47–48), a point Paul well understood (Ro 1:20–2:16).’ (EBC, slightly reformatted)
“The miracles that were performed in you” – e.g. Lk 7:1-10; Jn 4:46ff.
Jesus’ Invitation, 25-30
11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to little children. 11:26 Yes, Father, for this was your gracious will. 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him. 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 11:29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 11:30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”
At that time – This points to a close connection with the preceding. ‘This is Jesus’ response (declared is literally ‘answered’) to his rejection especially by the religious leadership.’ (France, TNTC)
“The wise and intelligent” – There is irony here, just as there is with Jesus’ statement about not calling the righteous, but sinners, Mt 9:13. The ‘wise and learned’ are such in their own eyes, and perhaps in the eyes of others. They may have academic qualifications. But they have closed minds, and blinded eyes, with regard to the knowledge of the things of God.
‘The unrepentant are ironically characterized as the “wise and understanding”; “the immature” are Jesus’ disciples.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)
“Revealed them to little children” – ‘In Jewish wisdom tradition, it was not those who were wise in their own eyes and leaned to their own understanding who were genuinely wise, Job 12:24-25; Pr 3:5-7; 12:15; 16:2; 21:2; 26:12 but the simple who began with the fear of God.’ Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Pr 1:7; 9:10 (IVP NT Background Commentary)
Most of us today would find this sentiment intolerable. But, as Carson explains, ‘Far from finding fault with his Father’s revealing and concealing, Jesus delighted in it. Whatever pleases his Father pleases him. Jesus could simultaneously denounce the cities that did not repent and praise the God who does not reveal; for God’s sovereignty in election is not mitigated by human stubbornness and sin, while human responsibility is in no way diminished by God’s “good pleasure” that sovereignly reveals and conceals.’
‘It is interesting that, precisely at the point where Jesus is reflecting on those who have rebelled against his ministry, he says, ‘Thank you, Father.’ We are (rightly) thankful when people do believe; Jesus is thankful even when they remain stubborn and rebellious. The source of his thankfulness is the fact that God is sovereignly in control of all these matters.’ (Campbell, Opening Up Matthew)
“This was your gracious will” – ‘The reversal of the world’s standards expressed here echoes Isaiah 29:14, ‘the wisdom of their wise men shall perish’, and is picked up again in 1 Corinthians 1:18ff. Spiritual understanding does not depend on human equipment or status. It is the gift of God, and so is given to those in whom he is well pleased (the verb in 3:17 is from the same root as gracious will here). It depends on the sovereign purpose of the Lord of heaven and earth, and his choice falls on those the world would never expect.’ (France)
v27 The authenticity of this saying has been doubted. But if the sayings recorded in John’s Gospel are those of Jesus, as well as those recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (and we believe that they are), then we can willingly accept Luke’s ‘bolt from the Johannine blue’.
This saying is one of those ‘bolts from the Johannine blue.’ It comes from the non-Markan material, the supposed ‘Q’ collection of sayings that was in circulation soon after AD 50. Cf. Jn 1:18.
‘No mere mortal could honestly make the claim Jesus makes here. There is a self-enclosed world of Father and Son that is opened to others only by the revelation provided by the Son.’ (Carson)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” – Jesus calls, not the wise and learned (cf. v25), but those who feel weighed down, like beasts of burden. Such heavy loads included those with which the Pharisees burdened people, Mt 23:4; but Jesus makes no restriction here: all of life’s burdens are included, but especially the burden of sin.
As Ryle remarks, sin is the reason why people everywhere are weary and burdened:
‘Sin is the universal disease which infects the whole earth. Sin brought in thorns and thistles at the beginning, and obliged man to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. Sin is the reason why the “whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain,” and the “foundations of the earth are out of course.” (Rom. 8:22; Psalm 82:5.) Sin is the cause of all the burdens which now press down mankind.’ (Old Paths)
This is an inclusive call: no-one is excluded. It is an undeserving call: nothing is said of fitness, but of need.
It is impossible to be committed to Jesus’ gospel without being committed to Jesus’ person.
“Rest” is not cessation of labour, but a different kind of labour. It it a cessation of burdensome toil, and a taking on of Christ’s yoke, which is placed on us by a ‘gentle and humble’ master, and which leads to the discovery of ‘rest for your souls’, v29. ‘Whose service is perfect freedom’.
‘Note, All those, and those only, are invited to rest in Christ, that are sensible of sin as a burden, and groan under it; that are not only convinced of the evil of sin, of their own sin, but are contrite in soul for it; that are really sick of their sins, weary of the service of the world and of the flesh; that see their state sad and dangerous by reason of sin, and are in pain and fear about it, as Ephraim, (Jer 31:18-20) the prodigal, (Lk 15:17) the publican, (Lk 18:13) Peter’s hearers, (Ac 2:37) Paul, (Ac 9:4,6,9) the jailor. (Ac 16:29,30) This is a necessary preparative for pardon and peace. The Comforter must first convince; (Jn 16:8) I have torn and then will heal.’ (M. Henry)
‘This great invitation, extended to all, is threefold: (1) to come and receive salvation; (2) to learn in discipleship; and (3) to serve in yoke with the Lord. The yoke involves instruction under discipline. Yet, in contrast to the teaching of the scribes, Jesus’ yoke is easy. Through the ages these verses have been among the most beloved in the NT.’ (Ryrie)
‘This rest is different from the eschatological rest of Heb 3-4. It begins immediately after an individual comes to Jesus, and it refers to the Christians subsequent experience of peace, contentment and security in God (DNTT, III, 257).’ (ISBE)
The Geneva Bible (1602 edition) renders verse 29: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learne of me that I am meeke and lowly in heart: and yee shall find rest unto your soules’. Alan Duthie (How to Choose your Bible Wisely, 36) suggests that the aorist imperative verb ‘learn’ seems to require an object clause introduced by ‘that’ for the Gk hoti.
“My yoke” – A ‘yoke’ was a wooden frame for joining two animals. It has connotations of servitude under a conqueror, Jer 27:2-7; 28:10. The Jews often referred to ‘the yoke of the law’.Here, it is a metaphor for being joined to Christ in discipleship.
‘We are yoked to work, and therefore must be diligent; we are yoked to submit, and therefore must be humble and patient: we are yoked together with our fellow-servants, and therefore must keep up the communion of saints.’ (MHC)
“And learn from me” – We are students and we are servants (Carson).
“I am gentle” – ‘I have always been struck by these words because of what they do not say. Jesus does not say, ‘Look at how strong I am. See the way I could just lift you in my arms and carry you with no bother at all.’ No, instead he talks about being gentle. No one wants gentle people any more. The world is looking for strong, assertive, macho people. Jesus sees it differently. When you are depressed and needing a shoulder to cry on, it is to the gentle, caring, understanding people that you go for help. Jesus is strong. He holds the world in his hands. All power belongs to him (Matt. 28:18). But at the same time he is approachable. He is like a shepherd who ‘gently leads those that have young’ (40:11). He is anxious to carry our load. He bids weary travellers rest in his house.’ (Derek Thomas, commenting on Isaiah 40:28)
“I am…humble in heart” – ‘Humility in Scripture means, not pretending to be worthless and refusing positions of responsibility, but knowing and keeping the place God has appointed for one. Being humble is a matter of holding on to God’s arrangement, whether it means the high exposure of leadership (Moses was humble as a leader, Num 12:3) or the obscurity of subservience. When Jesus stated matter-of-factly that he was “humble in heart,” (Mt 11:29) he meant that he was conscientiously following the Father’s plan for his earthly life.’ (Concise Theology)
‘The marvelous feature of this invitation is that out of his overwhelming authority (v.27) Jesus encourages the burdened to come to him because he is “gentle and humble in heart.”…Authoritative teacher that he is, Jesus approaches us with a true servant’s gentleness.’ (Carson)
“You will find rest for your souls” – an allusion to Jer 6:16. Indeed, as Carson says, ‘the entire verse is steeped in OT language; most likely this is a fulfillment passage, where Jesus is saying that “the ancient paths” and “the good way” of Jer 6:16 lie in taking on his yoke, because he is the one to whom the OT Scriptures point.’
“My yoke is easy” – ‘It is sweet and pleasant; there is nothing in it to gall the yielding neck, nothing to hurt us, but, on the contrary, must to refresh us. It is a yoke that is lined with love. Such is the nature of all Christ’s commands, so reasonable in themselves, so profitable to us, and all summed up in one word, and that a sweet word, love. So powerful are the assistances he gives us, so suitable the encouragements, and so strong the consolations, that are to be found in the way of duty, that we may truly say, it is a yoke of pleasantness.’ (MHC)
“My burden is light” – ‘which suggests that he was not setting out an impossible ethical pattern.’ (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, art. ‘Jesus Christ, Life and Teaching of’).
‘Paul knew as much of it as any man, and he calls it a light affliction, 2 Co. 4:17. God’s presence (Isa. 43:2), Christ’s sympathy (Isa. 63:9, Dan. 3:25), and especially the Spirit’s aids and comforts (2 Co. 1:5), make suffering for Christ light and easy. As afflictions abound, and are prolonged, consolations abound, and are prolonged too. Let this therefore reconcile us to the difficulties, and help us over the discouragements, we may meet with, both in doing work and suffering work; though we may lose for Christ, we shall not lose by him.’ (MHC)
‘It is agreed that Christ referred to persons chafing under the burdens of the law, but He neither here nor elsewhere delivered them from legal obligations. Rather, by keeping the law as He required they would find peace. Christ’s commandments would fit and be suitable even though they were exacting: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (v 30).’ (Gerstner, ISBE, art. Law in the NT)