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Matthew Chapter 11 - Study Notes - Line By Line

11 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.

After Jesus commissions the 12 disciples to begin ministering he begins His own solo missions. Why would Jesus go to “their cities?” We know from John 4:44 that a prophet will not be received in his hometown. Christ is filling the void and teaching in their towns. This ties Matthews’s story together with the Gospel of John. Jesus is going to Galilee, the geographical region, forgoing his hometown of Nazareth as those there had no interest in hearing His message from Him.

· 43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) – John 4:43-44

Jesus acts as any good leader/teacher would. He trains up His students and “kicks them out of the nest” to do the good works they have been trained to do. If Christ had continued with them at this point, the people in the cities would have surely ignored the 12 in favor of Christ. This period of time is yet another training tool Christ uses to equip the 12 for life after His crucifixion. Sometimes Jesus pulls us out of the pan and puts us into the fire” to future our evangelistic training. Gold is purified, and its impurities are removed, through fire just as the best version of ourselves often emerge on the back end of tough situations.

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

John the Baptist was placed in prison by Herod Antipas as the result of John condemning Herod for having divorced his wife and then having married Herodias, the divorced wife of Herod Antipas' half-brother Philip.

Despite Herod Antipas' imprisonment of John, the Bible indicates in Mark 6:20 that Herod considered John to be a righteous man and liked to listen to his preaching, which would seem to indicate that Herod would have been reluctant to put him to death, and also that some time elapsed between John's arrest and his execution (which ultimately took place at the instigation of Herodias, as recorded in Matthew 14).

This lapse of time would be consistent with Matthew 11; which records John hearing in prison of what Jesus was doing in His ministry, and having time to send his disciples to Jesus to ask Him whether He was, in fact, the Messiah whose coming John had preached.

The interesting portion of this section is John the Baptist, the very man who leapt in the belly of his mother Elizabeth and Baptized Christ in the Jordon is now asking Jesus if He is in fact the savior. Did John really not know? Was John scared in jail and looking for reassurance?

One theory floated by theologians is that John was simply mistaken or that His words have been changed over time, corrupted by the scribes who have mishandled scripture over the years. Another is that John asked this question, knowing the answer, so that Jesus’ answer would become a teachable moment to his disciples. Yet another theory is that John was sending Christ a message that only a jew would understand.

The last opinion and in my opinion, the most plausible is that John the Baptist did not fully understand who Christ was. John calls Christ ‘son of man’ and “ the lamb of God” and we, modern-day believers assume that he is speaking of a divine savior but in the 1st century, these two phrases can have alternative meanings. The “Son of Man” was a title every king of Israel held. We must remember, the Jews were all expecting a military leader to come and save them from the Romans. It would make perfect sense for them to think Christ was going to be the king who saved them from the Romans.

The phrase “lamb of God” which we see in John 1:29 and read as confirmation that John the Baptist new Jesus was the Messiah may be misleading or false. A few points to ponder regarding this would be:

· 2 times in John 1, John claims that He DID NOT know who Christ was.

· After the baptism, John specifically uses the term ‘Son of Man” to indicated he may have thought Christ was going to be the next king of Israel (earthly).

· John never specifically calls Christ “Messiah”.

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

As John’s two disciples return to their teacher, Jesus directs his attention to the crowd around Him. We can assume that Christ is talking to a largely baptized audience by His question. Jesus asks “what did you go into the wilderness to see” indicating that those who are hearing Him had previously been out to the Jordan to see John peach and to be baptized. We can also surmise that Christ had traveled south, away from Galilee. Galilee was hilly and with a large area of freshwater as opposed to areas south, closer to the Jorden where John was baptizing and where reeds would have grown.

Gentle sarcasm here? A well-dressed person was usually a king or a prominent wealthy aristocrat. But not only would people not usually travel just to get a glimpse of them, but such a person of status and wealth certainly wouldn't be standing around out in the barren desert wilderness, so the people wouldn't have foolishly gone seeking someone like that, which might just happen to be out in the desert.

At this Jesus ends his line of questioning and gives His audience the answer. John was a prophet and fulfilled Malachi 3:1

· “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

This verse (Malachi 3:1) specifically promises a messenger, echoing the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3. It is important to remember that Malachi's prophecy is the last word from God given to Israel for four centuries, with John the Baptist being the next prophetic figure to emerge. There would be more than 400 years of silence between God and His people. I can only imagine that these words began to echo louder and louder as the years passed. Separately, this verse predicts the return of the Lord to His temple. This is not the same person, time, or event as the messenger who "prepares the way," as mentioned in the first part of this verse. This prediction echoes passages such as Ezekiel 43:1–5 and Zechariah 8:3. As such, it is a prediction of the end times.

· 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Jesus continues to explain the high place in God's eyes of John the Baptist by saying that among those born of women, there has not arisen anyone greater than him. But then Jesus colors that statement with a qualifier..... a "however". He says that the least in the Kingdom of Heaven will be greater than John. This is another of those statements that cause headaches for Bible scholars and heartburn for Bible teachers. Christ is making some kind of wordplay to make a point. But what it is it? Bible academics have rightly pointed to the part of the statement that says "the one who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven" as the key phrase to unlocking Jesus’ meaning. So, what is Christ getting at about "the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he (John)"? All sorts of answers with their strange twists and turns have been put forward including that Christ was actually referring to Himself (if you can believe it!). But for me, the obvious answer has been overlooked even though we read about it just five chapters ago.

· 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 7:17-20

Jesus is repeating a term He used in this famous passage from His Sermon on the Mount that had to do with an individual's eligibility for membership in the Kingdom of Heaven, as well as a member's status within a hierarchy of embers of the Kingdom.

John was a mouthpiece of God, preaching the message of repentance in preparation for the Messiah. John’s message was in essence a message of hope and that the day was coming that God would again rescue His people.

Jerome, an Early Church Father says this in his Commentary on Matthew.

“John is greater than the other prophets for this reason: The other prophets predicted to John that someone was to come, but John pointed out with his finger that he had indeed come; saying, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world". And he reached not only the rank of a prophet but even to that of Baptist, by baptizing his Lord.”

This being said, John’s earthly accomplishments will have him counted as less than the least in the Kingdom of heaven. When it comes to the deeds and accomplishments of humans.... even at the Lord's direction… John is the greatest. But, those deeds, even to John’s level, can not in any way earn a place of honor in God's Kingdom because, a certain number of deeds, is not the standard. God is, all the deeds, all the time, without exception.

So, after heaping praise on John, Jesus uses John's greatness to contrast with the overwhelmingly superior greatness of the Kingdom of Heaven and its members. Everything is better in heaven.

12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

When Jesus says the days of John the Baptist, He was speaking of the time in which John the Baptist was engaged in His ministry until the time of his imprisonment. For those hearing this, a not-to-distant past was brought to mind.

Translation of scripture is a tricky matter and verse twelve is a great example. hē basileia tōn ouranōn biazetai, kai biastai harpazousin autēn,"the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force." or "the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it” depending on which translation you prefer, is no exception.

One possible explanation for this verse is that Jesus arrived on the public scene as John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jorden. Another option is that Christ was speaking of the perversion of scripture, the mishandling of the truth by God’s opponents.

He ends the section by reminding us that God has sent people to warn us, and for those who trust in the Word, hope is coming.

16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

Jesus compares the Israelites of His generation to children, immature in their understanding and still needing milk. He uses a common Jewish phrasing “how should we compare” to drive home the point. This verse points out how finicky and wishy-washy people are who resist the truth of God.

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.

Jesus demonstrates verse sixteen by showing how the people of Israel are acting like little children. They are upset that John the Baptist nor Jesus had lived up to the man-made idea of what the Messiah would do.

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

“Ouai” or “Woe” in English gives off the distinct feeling of pity or doom and dreed. These two cities in the region of Galilee saw the mighty works of Jesus yet failed to repent. Jesus condemns both towns for not turning from sin and to faith in Him after seeing His mighty works. Repentance in the Old Testament was often marked by acts of great humility andmourning, including wearing the coarsest of materials and covering one's head and body in ash. Christ says if the people in the towns of Tyre and Sidon had seen Him do the same miracles, they would have long ago repented from their sin in sackcloth and ashes.

After asking Capernaum, his adopted town, a question, Jesus immediately give them the answer, no. Christ, in mentioning Hades, would be sure to have gotten the attention of his Jewish listener who would have been well aquatinted with the idea of Hades.

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you,

and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

On the heels of telling the crowd that the self-important Jewish religious are not going to understand Gods message, then follows this up with the revelation and wisdom that The Father has handed over "everything" to Him. And then follows that up by saying that only the Son truly knows the Father, and only the Father truly knows the Son.

Christ follows this amazing statement up with an even more amazing offer. The Jewish people struggled to understand and worship God correctly and the Pharisees and Sadducees added additional weight to their lives with man-made laws.

Jesus does the opposite and offers to reveal the Father to anyone and extends rest to those with heavy burdens. This is what a loving Savior does, this is what makes God’s grace so irresistible.

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