Matthew Chapter 11 John in Prison; My Yoke

  1. Dr Stanley Toussaint, has written in Behold the King,  p. 147. “The Evangelist has carefully presented the credentials of the king in relationship to His birth, His baptism, His temptation, His righteous doctrine, and His supernatural power. Israel has heard the message of the nearness of the kingdom from John the Baptist, the King Himself, and His disciples. Great miracles have authenticated the call to repentance. Now Israel must make a decision.” She will reject Jesus as Messiah (Matthew 11:19, 20, 24).
  2. This chapter also gives evidence that Israel is making bad decisions about God’s gracious offer of her king and kingdom.
    • The nation opposes John the Baptist. He was imprisoned (Matthew 11:2, 18).
    • The nation opposes Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 11:19).
    • The nation is indifferent to Jesus’ message (Matthew 11:20-24).
    • Jesus gives an invitation to individuals (Matthew 11:28-30).
  3. Matthew, in 11:1, uses the formula “when Jesus had finished” to signify the end of a lesson or discourse. It is also used in 7:28–29; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1. Matthew now begins to present the rising opposition to Jesus.
    • Notice that Matthew does not follow the disciples. He stays with Jesus and presents the evidence that he is Messiah and the questions and opposition to this. This is significant because we learn again the importance of the Messiah and the response of the nation to him.
    • Jesus continues to do what he did his whole ministry: to preach and to teach and to heal (Matthew 4:23; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 11:1).
    • Matthew demonstrates that Jesus did the things that the Messiah was to do: heal, raise the dead, and preach.
    • But, Matthew also demonstrates that the Jews had misconceptions about what the Messiah would do. They expected a judgment and a kingdom then.
  4. John the Baptist sent his disciples to question Jesus (Matthew 11:2-6).
    • Why did he do this? John had been preaching that the Kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 3:1-2) and judgment may come (Matthew 3:7-11).  John wondered why no judgment was evident? Possibly his imprisonment has brought doubts into his mind about Jesus. Regardless, he wanted some answers. John wondered if Jesus really was the Messiah.
      • Christ without another name is used only here in Matthew when referring to Jesus. This points to Messiah.
      • John asked if he were the “coming one” –Greek, ὁ ἐρχόμενος from erchomai (present participle with article, used as predicate nominative to “you”). Mark 11:9, Luke 13:35; 19:38, and Hebrews 10:37 use this for the Messiah.
      • John adds “shall we look for someone else?” Clearly John expects the Messiah. He wants an answer. John needs to look for someone else if Jesus is not the one.
    • Jesus answered by pointing to his works (Matthew 11:4). Jesus’ ministry showed that he was the Messiah. Jesus told John’s disciples to report to John what they had seen and heard. Jesus refers to Isaiah 29:18, 35:5-6, and 61:1 about the blind, lame, lepers, and poor. Jesus has been doing what the prophet Isaiah had predicted of the Messiah. These passages also give us insight into the nature of this kingdom that John announced and Jesus offered—the kingdom will be a literal kingdom with literal blessings.
    • Stumbling refers to those who expected a victorious kingdom immediately, but since the kingdom did not come the way they expected, they stumbled. Their expectation was out of order. As Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:11, suffering will come before his glory, and in 1 Peter 2:8, the Messiah will be a stumbling block to those not believe the Scripture.
  5. John expressed doubts. How would these doubts affect Jesus’ disciples? Jesus sets the record straight about John the Baptist—he compliments John (Matthew 11:7-11).
    • A reed is something that bends in the wind. It is a figure of someone who is weak and cannot make up his mind. This was not how the people viewed John.
    • Soft clothing speaks of one unused to living among common people and unused to harsh conditions. John certainly was not that kind of person.
    • The real reason that people went to hear John was that he was a prophet—a prophet in the true Old Testament sense. He had a message from God.
    • Jesus then refers to Malachi 3:1. That Scripture predicted that a forerunner to Messiah would come. John was that person.
    • Jesus honors John by saying that he is among the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. He is the first prophet in hundreds of years. He also was the one privileged to announce the immediate coming of Messiah and the offering of the promised kingdom. What an honor for John to not only announce the King and kingdom, but also to see the king and to know that the kingdom was very near.
    • Least in the kingdom indicates two ideas: the kingdom had not yet come, and each person living in the kingdom will have greater privilege and blessing than John had prior to the kingdom age. This makes a contrast between the present time and honors and privileges of the kingdom age.
  6. Now in verses Matthew 11:12-19 Matthew records the kind of reception the kingdom that John and Jesus proclaim receives.
    • Matthew 11:12. Since John began his ministry people have attempted to hinder or to control the kingdom program according to their own agenda. Specifically, the religious leaders stand against Jesus and his offer while they seek to pervert and take control of any kingdom that may come.
      • Matthew 23:13 condemns the scribes and Pharisees for blocking people from entering the kingdom and for attempting to take control of it. Luke 16:14-18 would seem to indicate this.
      • The warning then is not to change God’s plan and introduce one’s own agenda—whether for Israel at that time or for the church today.
    • Matthew 11:13 begins with “for,” a word introducing an explanation. The explanation is that the message about the messiah and the kingdom were proclaimed by the Law and the prophets of old. The led up to John, and John picked up where they left off.
      • This reinforces the strategic ministry of John.
    • Matthew 11:14-15, if they would accept the truth that John and Jesus taught, then John would be the one to fulfill the Elijah-man prophecy of Malachi 4:5-6. The “if” of verse 14 is a first conditional if which assumes something as true for the argument. The day of the Lord would come and following that the kingdom would begin. This was a genuine offer to Israel by Jesus Messiah to accept him and the offered OT promised kingdom. But, they did not receive John and so he is not the one to fulfill the Malachi prophecy. John did fulfill Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. He was the forerunner. But, they rejected him and the message, so Malachi 4:5-6 were not fulfilled at that time.
      • The time from John’s preaching through Jesus’ preaching was a momentous and unique time in history. Israel let it slip by under the pressure of her religious leaders.
      • How many times in history have believers let opportunities slip by due to bad leadership, negative volition, and human agendas.
    • John the Baptism in this context.
      • John understood the person and work of Christ enough to proclaim Jesus and the kingdom (John 1:23, 26-29).
      • John was the herald to proclaim Christ and his kingdom through communication of God’s word and through water baptism (Matthew 3:1-3; Mark 2:1-8; John 1:6).
      • The baptism by John identified a person with John’s message of repentance from sin and toward the king and the king’s kingdom. It was what we could call today, pre-evangelism (Matthew 3:2, 11; Acts 18:25; Acts 19:3).
    • Matthew 11:16-19 are a condemnation of the generation that Jesus is speaking to.
      • Like children they say we wanted to see you do something for us, but you did not. John and Jesus did give them reason to believe that the king and kingdom were offered. That generation simply would only accept what they wanted and nothing else. They did not really want the promised Old Testament kingdom and its king, except on their terms.
      • Neither John nor Jesus meets their false expectations.
      • “Wisdom is vindicated” means that the life of John and Jesus demonstrated and vindicated that what they claimed was true.
  7. Jesus, in Matthew 11:20-24, condemns the surrounding cities because they rejected the clear demonstration of who he was and what he said. It seems to teach us that those who have a clear and evident opportunity to respond in faith to God’s word and still reject it will bear a greater responsibility and hence a greater judgment.
    • With verse 20 Jesus changes his tone. He has made the gracious offer of the kingdom and the leaders and people said no. At this point he says “woe.” This is the first recorded time he has done this. We might say that “things are starting to hit the fan.”
    • Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were near the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Tyre and Sidon were along the Mediterranean coast to the northwest. Sodom did not exist at the time. Judgment still awaited it. This verse implies that judgment is yet future—the great while throne judgment of Revelation 20.
    • Rejection of Jesus and his offer of blessing carries with it divine judgment. One’s volitional decisions count. Faith or unbelief matters. Hebrews 11 teaches us this through biography and doctrine.
  8. Matthew 11:25-27 tell us what numerous other passages teach. Spiritual understanding, spiritual perception does not depend upon a person’s superior intelligence or wisdom. In fact, these often get in the way because one thinks he is so smart and therefore rejects diving revelation. For example, 1 Corinthians 1:18-29.
    • Matthew 11:25-26 does not say a wise or smart person cannot receive God’s word. It says that a wise or intelligent person often lacks to humility to hear and accept the message of life in Jesus. The proud will not think he needs God’s revelation. The humble recognizes his need for God. The father and the son reveal each other to mankind.
      • The son explains the father to mankind (John 1:18).
      • The father explain or persuades mankind to come to Jesus in faith (John 6:44-45, 65).
    • Matthew 11: 27. God the father has turned his theocratic program over to Jesus, his son. He is the king and messiah. The father and son know each other intimately. They know what each must do in the father’s plan for history.
      • We see again the father as the one who establishes the plan of God and the son to whom the carrying out of the plan has been committed.
    • In order to know God he father, a person must know God the son. The son reveals the father. John 1:18 amplifies this truth. The Son of God, Jesus, reveals God the father to those whom he wills. He wills to reveal him to whomever will come to him (Matthew 11:28 and John 7:17).
  9. Matthew 11:28-30 is Jesus invitation to come to him. His invitation about the gospel, about learning God’s word, and about serving God.
    • The context of this appeal is the itinerant ministry of Jesus in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. During this time, John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask the Lord about his messianic ministry. Jesus answered John, and at the same time Jesus related the rejected and persecution which John received to the rejection and persecution he himself received. Matthew 11:18-19 indicate that both John and Jesus are criticized and this criticism primarily came from the Pharisees. The Pharisees interpreted and used the law as a burdensome yoke—a yoke to be placed upon the people. John, and especially Jesus, do not offer burdensome yokes. Jesus offers his own gracious and freeing yoke.
    • Note the three commands in this section: come, take, and learn. These verbs indicate the active response that Jesus desires from us. They also show the progression of the faith response to Christ.
      • Come (deute, adverb used in the imperative sense, plural of deuro) is the call to eternal life faith in the messiah, the king proclaimed by the prophets including John the Baptist. This seems the most natural way to understand this, given the context of chapter 11, and especially verses 25-27.
        • Who are weary (kopiao to be weary, work hard, toil, present active participle, masculine nominative plural, used as vocative). Spiritual weariness from legalistic leadership of the Pharisees. The Pharisees have no answers for the inner person. Jesus is the answer to their searching.
        • Heavy laden (phortizo to load or burden someone; perfect passive participle, masculine plural, nominative as a vocative. The noun, phortion, a burden, responsibility is used in Galatians 6:5). Spiritual burdens placed upon them by legalistic leadership of the Pharisees. The religious life is too much to carry. It wears the out.
        • I will give you rest refers to salvation by faith based upon Jesus’ work and the faith rest during life. The word rest is anapauo (to cause someone to gain relief from toil, to finish something, to get rest, 1 singular, future active indicative). Faith in Jesus for eternal salvation and for day to day life means living by faith and therefore entrusting your life to Jesus Christ.
      • Take (airo, 2 plural aorist active imperative, to lift up, to pick up, to carry) refers to the faith response of a believer to the will and plan of God. This is spiritual service for Jesus the Messiah.
        • My yoke (zugos, which couples to animals together in order to do work. In the NT literature it is only used as a figure of speech for any burden (e.g. Galatians 5:1, 1 Timothy 6:1, Acts 15.10, Revelation 6:5). Luke 14:19 uses zeugos with oxen for a yoke of oxen or a pair of oxen. The figure easily means some kind of authority, guidance, and responsibility.
          • The bad sense of yoke refers to legalistic religious obligations which some (especially the Pharisees) placed over others and which result in religious enslavement. The good sense refers to servitude and dependence upon the master, Jesus. One taking Jesus’ yoke is one placing himself under Jesus’ kind of life and under Jesus’ will.
        • To take Jesus’ yoke is to take him as master and his will as guide for one’s life.
        • Somewhere in the Christian life a believer decides to live the normal Christian life. These are positive and faith decisions. Paul did this as we see from Acts 9:6-21.
      • Learn (​manthano, 2 plural, aorist active imperative, to learn, learn from a teacher, come to know something) refers to the progression of the believer, the faith person, as he grows in understanding, fellowship, and service of the messiah.
        • Paul illustrates this in Acts 9:22 with Galatians 1:15-17.
        • It is Jesus’ will for his disciples, believers who desire to serve him, to learn from him (apo, indicating the immediate source). In context Jesus does the teaching. When Jesus ascended to heaven he sent the Holy Spirit to teach in his place (16:13-15).
        • We find the word learn (manthano) in Matthew 9:13, 11:29, 24:32; Mark 13:28; 1 Corinthians 4:6, 14:31, 35; Ephesians 4:20; 1 Timothy 5:4, 13; Titus 3:14; Revelation 14:3.
        • Learning is important. We all know 2 Timothy 2:15 which tells those who are gifted to communicate the word to others. Hebrews 5:11-14 indicates believers are to learn God’s word. Second Peter 3:18 is clear. First Peter 2:2 also instructs believers to learn God’s word. Matthew 4:4 is a classic passage that says God’s word is our spiritual food. John 17:17 says believers are to be sanctified by God’s word. All of these commands require learning. Knowledge does not come automatically.
        • Review the difference between spiritual growth and spiritual maturity.
    • Jesus describes himself in verse 29 and his yoke and burden in verse 30. What do we learn about Jesus in verse 29?
      • I am gentle (praus, which has the meaning of strong and gentle, humble, considerate, and unassuming). This is in contrast to the Pharisees self-importance. Pro basketball season has just begun. Many professional athletes are so impressed with their own self importance. Their lifestyle shows it. We are in the closing days before midterm elections in the US. Most politicians are like Pharisees. They put on a show. They promise many things. Most deliver nothing but what will insure reelection. Jesus is not that way. There is a story about a US senator who was hit by a truck and died. The politician, the professional athlete, the Pharisee, the self-righteous religious person all sell what is unreal.
      • I am humble (tapeinos in Greek and this figuratively means lowly, unpretentious, and humble) indicates that Jesus is adjusted to reality and to authority. Even though he is God, he does not act arrogant. He is gracious in attitude. He is grace oriented.
      • In heart means in his core being. He is not a fake or a show off.
      • Rest for your souls (psuche, which can mean life or inner life) is something everyone is searching for. Rest means free from anxiety and free from hypocrisy, and free arrogance, and free from fear. This is good. Why do we turn away from what Jesus offers?
    • My yoke is easy (easy is the Greek word chrestos, which means useful, worthy, good, pleasant, easy, reputable). This means that the servitude that Jesus’ asks of believers is beneficial and worthy and able to be carried and lived. Think of the yoke of the Pharisees. It was a pain to have to bear or live under.
      • We cannot go wrong with Jesus’ yoke. We cannot lose when we take his yoke.
    • My burden is light (burden, phortion, is the load in the cargo of a ship, what one carries). Burden refers to responsibility and stewardship under Jesus. The word is found in Galatians 6:5, “for each shall or must bear his own burden (phortion). In Galatians it also refers to responsibility or personal stewardship from God.
      • Light is the Greek word elaphron. This means having little weight or light. It is also found in 2 Corinthians 4:17 where Paul says that whatever we face in living for Christ is light suffering compared to the glorious reward in the future.
      • The stewardship or service for Christ is bearable. Service for Christ done correctly has purpose and power behind it because it is Jesus’ will and he provides the power.
  10. The contrast in this final paragraph of Matthew 11 is between the religious crowd—Pharisees—and Jesus.
    • The Pharisees and their system are oppressive.
    • Jesus is gentle (strong, confident, considerate, and unassuming) and humble (unpretentious and real, authority oriented).\
    • His yoke or authority is worthy and reputable and pleasant and the stewardship that he offers is bearable.
    • We also learn of three stages in life: come, accept eternal life; take his will and servitude to him; and learn from him.
    • The benefits are enormous: spiritual rest, enjoyable commitment, and doable stewardship.
  11. Lessons from Matthew 11
    • John had honest questions about whether Jesus really was the messiah. Jesus gave him proof that he was the messiah. Jesus did not reprimand him. Honest questions are good.
    • The population to whom Jesus spoke received evidence of that he was the messiah. They had greater responsibility to believe in him. Greater opportunity is good, but it also brings greater responsibility to the hearer.
    • Human intellect often becomes a stumbling block to faith because the individual becomes proud and self-sufficient and thinks he does not need God.
    • Jesus offers to people what they need and want—spiritual freedom, spiritual rest, and genuine service for God, while the Pharisees offer what they do not need and do not want—a religious yoke and bondage.