New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

11:1 And it came to pass when Jesus had finished commanding his twelve disciples- Vine feels that the dia in diatasso ["commanding"] suggests "a distributive force: giving to each his appropriate charge". In this case we see the initial application of the parables about the servants being each given a specific work to do. That work was to preach to specific people whom the Lord intended for each of the disciples. Those parables apply to us- perhaps in that we are each intended to take the Gospel to specific individuals. If we fail in that work, there is no guarantee that the Lord will give that work to others; the harvest will simply not be gathered as it could have been.

He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities- Without their presence (as they were away on their preaching tour), the Lord went to their home areas. He showed by this how He saw out witness amongst those whom we know and our families to be of the utmost importance- and He was and is willing and eager to back up our credibility in such witness.

11:2 Now when John heard about the works of the Christ while in prison, he sent word by his disciples- AV "Sent two of his disciples". It can’t be insignificant that John sends two disciples out just after the Lord had sent out His disciples two by two in Matthew 10. Surely this is a literary device to set up John in negative contrast to the Lord at this time; John sent out his pair of disciples in response to his crisis of faith. He knew Jesus was to do mighty works- but he had heard of them only by report. Those he sent out had already heard and seen the Lord’s miracles (:4), and yet John sends them to Jesus to ask if He is Messiah. It all reads rather negatively about John. It could even be that he died at a low point in his faith, and yet the Lord’s positive comment about Him surely suggests that He saw John as being ultimately saved. The records of the Kings of Israel and Judah, along with various passages in Ezekiel 18, place great emphasis upon how a man finishes his spiritual journey, and yet there are also Biblical examples of faithful men dying at low ebb spiritually; this will not necessarily exclude from the Kingdom, and John the Baptist may be another example.

11:3 And said to him: Are you he that comes- The emphasis may be on the word “you”. The coming one was a well-known term for Messiah, based upon Ps. 118:26.

Or look we for another?- Despite John’s clearly stated belief that Jesus was the promised bridegroom, the lamb of God and Son of God (Jn. 1:29-34), it seems things had not gone according to the prophetic program John had imagined- and he now had doubts about Jesus. For a man claiming (at least implicitly) to be Messiah, it would’ve been an unnecessary question to ask Him ‘Are you Messiah?’. It could be inferred that John still believed in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, but had begun to wonder if He was only the herald of “another” whom they should be looking for in order to establish the Kingdom. It could be that John’s understanding of himself as the Elijah prophet had led him to expect that all Israel would repent, and then Messiah Himself would come and establish His Kingdom immediately. For this is indeed how the prophecies of Isaiah 40 and Malachi 4 could be read. Perhaps John was full of such self-doubt that he wondered if he really had been the Elijah prophet, and was thinking that maybe he had just heralded the Elijah prophet, Jesus, who was in turn to herald “He that should come”. This is the problem with holding a dogmatic view of prophetic sequences- when they prove wrong, either because our interpretation was faulty or because human lack of response means they are to come true in another way than ideally planned, then often peoples’ faith in Christ Himself is damaged. If we have an open ended view of prophecy, whereby we understand it to state possibilities which may have other ways of fulfillment than what is ideally intended, then such crises don’t arise. “Look we for another?” doesn’t sound as if John was simply asking for a sign, in the spirit of Gideon. He had major questions about the whole prophetic program, sensing that something had changed; the word for “another” is also translated “altered” (Lk. 9:29). In this sense, his question may not necessarily reflect a crisis of faith in Jesus personally, but rather an earnest desire to know the new details of the revised prophetic program.

So even John the Baptist, whose teaching had prepared most of the twelve to accept Jesus, seems to have not been altogether clear about what we might consider fundamental things. He speaks here of Jesus as “the one to come”, a commonly understood description of the Elijah prophet, based on the phrase being used about him in Mal. 3:1- and not of Messiah Himself. Thus John the Baptist anticipated that this “one to come”, his cousin Jesus, would be a refining fire (Mt. 3:12)- which is exactly Malachi’s language about the Elijah prophet (Mal. 3:2; 4:1). This would explain why John the Baptist had apparent ‘doubts’ whilst in prison as to whether Jesus really was the Messiah. And it would also explain why the disciples expected Jesus to act like Elijah in Lk. 9:52-56. It was not until the baptism of Jesus that John the Baptist came to understand Jesus as the “one to come”; so the preparatory work which he had done with the disciples must have had what we would call a flimsy doctrinal basis. When Jesus called them to follow Him, and they so quickly obeyed, it is often assumed that John the Baptist had prepared them for this. But that preparation must at best have been very shallow and incomplete, given John’s own admission that he did not recognize Jesus for who He was until His baptism. Why, however, was John’s misunderstanding recorded in the Gospel records? Or the misunderstanding of his father Zacharias, that John was in fact the promised Messiah, “the prophet”, the one would bring forgiveness of sins and freedom from the Romans (Lk. 1:71-79)? Perhaps for the same reason as the language of demons is used, especially to describe the miracles at the beginning of the Lord’s ministry. He didn’t correct this. But over time it became evident that the sheer power of the Son of God meant that in practice, demons didn’t exist. Likewise, as the ministry of Jesus unfolds to us in the Gospel records, it becomes apparent that He was Son of God, the Messiah- and not merely an Elijah prophet. 

11:4 And Jesus answered and said to them: Go and tell John-  They had already told him once- the same word is used for how they initially had told John these things (Lk. 7:18). There is definitely the sense that John needed to work through the implications of what he was hearing, rather than having some specific explanation from the Lord.

The things which you hear and see- The request that John ‘hear’ these reports more carefully begs connection with the Lord’s frequent comment that the Jews heard but did not really hear (e.g. Mt. 13:13-17). John’s lack of understanding appears to be in some sense culpable and at best disappointing to the Lord. The Lord is seeking to assure John that if he just thinks about the evidence, it’s clear that Jesus is indeed Messiah, and as John had earlier preached- Son and lamb of God, who saves His people from their sins. He seems to be saying that that was so wonderful and fundamental, that the rearrangement of the prophetic timetable is in a sense irrelevant compared to that. Whether or not the timing or chronology of events surrounding the Kingdom comes true as we expect, or whether or not we discern how God has re-planned the fulfillment of prophecy- is all irrelevant compared to the wonder of knowing Jesus as the Christ and personal Saviour.

11:5 The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead are raised up- The teaching of Jesus included frequent quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. When we go back and read around the contexts of the passages He quoted, it becomes apparent that He very often omits to quote the negative, judgmental, or conditional aspects of the blessings which He quotes. Consider the way He quotes Is. 29:18; 35:5,6 and 61:1 in Mt. 11:5,6. These are all talking about Messianic blessings. But they are embedded amidst warnings of judgment and the conditionality of God’s grace. Likewise Luke records how Jesus read from Is. 61:1,2, but He stopped at the very point where Isaiah’s message turns from promise to threat. None of this takes away from the terrible reality that future failure is a real possibility, even tomorrow. We can throw it all away. We may do. We have the possibility. And some do. There is an eternity ahead which we may miss. And each one who enters the Kingdom will, humanly speaking, have come pretty close to losing it at various points in his or her mortal life. But the Lord’s positivity is a powerful example.

And the poor have good tidings preached to them- This was as remarkable and significant as the previous miraculous signs, of the blind seeing etc. There was a deep impression that religion was for the middle class or wealthy. Teachers didn’t bother preaching to the poor because there was no possibility of financial support coming from them. Yet the Lord opened His manifesto in the Sermon on the Mount by saying that His message was especially intended for “the poor” (Mt. 5:3 s.w.). In many Christian circles, the same is true today. Churches need money (or, they think they do), and so their focus is not on taking the Gospel to the poor but rather to the potential tithers. The disciples were amazed that the rich wouldn’t be saved (Mt. 19:24,25), so deeply ingrained was this idea that spirituality and wealth were somehow supposed to go together. The Lord was teaching the opposite. There’s no doubt that the Gospel is designed for the poor; and that if one were to bring “the poor” en masse into many churches / ecclesias today, the existing membership would up and go somewhere else. The Spirit was clearly upon the Lord Jesus exactly because He preached the Gospel to the poor (Lk. 4:18). Our preaching attitude to “the poor” is a reflection of our spirituality. “The poor” in the immediate context were the disciples, for the Lord had just looked upon them in love and commented: “Blessed are you poor” (Lk. 6:20). In the response of “the poor” to Him, the Lord saw a Divine confirmation of His ministry. And it is the same with us. Our ministry is to take the Gospel to the unbelieving poor, and not to get middle class Christian religionists to shift churches and allegiance to our group. James 2:5 is clear that God chooses the poor more than the rich to be heirs of His Kingdom; so in this case, our preaching focus should be specifically towards them.

11:6 And blessed is he, whoever shall find no cause to stumble over me- Clearly the Lord saw John as likely to be about to stumble. As explained earlier, the cause of stumbling was [and is to this day] that the Lord at times makes changes in the outworking of His prophetic program. Because things haven’t gone just as mere humans imagined it, because they can’t get their heads around God’s huge sensitivity to human repentance and choices, nor His subsequent willingness to change His timetable to accommodate that… therefore people stumble at Christ. The Lord encountered a similar situation in Nazareth, where people again were “offended in Him” (Mt. 13:57) because His Messiahship was not as they supposed it ought to be. Likewise the death of the Messiah by crucifixion caused even the disciples to be offended- it was simply not how they had imagined Messiah’s salvation. They were “offended” exactly because He was ‘smitten’ (Mt. 26:31), even though the Lord had warned them ahead of time about His death so that they would not be offended (Jn. 16:1). The cross was therefore a rock of offence to many (1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11). So often we see the process- people come to Jesus with preconceived notions of how things should be, and fit those notions into the structure of their ‘Christianity’. But the Christ’s most fundamental teachings may in fact outlaw their beloved notions and favourite suppositions. And because their imagination of Jesus doesn’t fit in with who He actually is- they stumble. It’s like falling in love with an idea of a person, rather than with the person as they actually are. God’s word presents Jesus as He actually is, and it is this which we must accept, allowing it thereby to jettison all preconceived notions we have of Him. The parable of the sower taught that persecution leads to people being offended (Mt. 13:21), and John was certainly undergoing persecution for the word there in prison. But persecution leads to spiritual stumbling largely because of the dashed expectations- that with Christ, all shall go well for us, and we in this life shall be delivered from problems. But the Lord is stressing throughout His teaching that that Jewish conception of Messiah and Messiah’s Kingship over men was simply incorrect. Those who followed Him would suffer and die, in one form or another, the death of the cross.

 The Lord tried not to offend people (Mt. 17:27) and yet people were indeed offended in Him. But in Mt. 18:6-9 He makes offence of others a serious sin. In this connection of thought we see an example of where there are some things which can be said of Jesus, some things He could do, which we simply cannot do. In forgiving others, we are often challenged to forgive as the Lord does. Not all that He does can be replicated by us, nor indeed is it possible. Thus for us, forgiveness is usually a process, whereas for the Father and Son it appears to be more instantaneous.

11:7 And as these went their way, Jesus began to say to the crowds concerning John: What did you go out into the wilderness to see?- The crowds whom the Lord was addressing were therefore eager listeners of John, even perhaps in a sense his disciples. We see her the fulfillment of John’s commission- to prepare in the wilderness a smooth way for the coming of the Messianic King of glory. But the crowds didn’t respond, and Messiah didn’t come in His glorious Kingdom. I suggested on 10:11 that the mission of the disciples was initially to those who had responded to John the Baptist’s teaching; and now whilst they were away on their preaching tour doing such follow up work, the Lord was doing the same, addressing a crowd who had also responded to John enough to trek out into the wilderness to hear him.

A reed shaken with the wind?- The reference is probably to the reeds growing in the Jordan where John baptized. Just as the people didn’t go there to look at the reeds but at John as God’s prophet, so the Lord is hinting that they should not look on John’s weakness but upon who he essentially was. When John the Baptist had this crisis of faith, the Lord spoke of John to the multitude as if he was a strong believer, no reed shaken in the wind of doubt. And yet He didn’t just paper over John’s doubts and forget them, pretending He hadn’t seen. The message He returned to John encouraged him to look back to the Isaiah prophecies of Messiah, and to remember especially the way that the weak, doubting ones would be made strong. The Lord evidently sought to strengthen the weak John by this allusion. The language of being shaken by windis used elsewhere by the Lord in describing the process of condemnation at the last day (both Greek words are found in Mt. 7:25,27). The Lord’s idea may therefore be: ‘Sure, John is wavering at this very moment. But when you saw him in the wilderness, he wasn’t; and in God’s eyes, even now, he’s not shaking in the wind, he’s not going to be condemned at the day of judgment- even though, as you’ve just heard, he has his doubts and weaknesses’. Perhaps the Lord had John in mind when He soon afterwards spoke of how He would not condemn even a broken reed (s.w.- Mt. 12:20), but rather still use it as a channel for the oil of the Spirit. The whole situation with John is helpful in coping with others who clearly are passing through times of trial which is resulting in their faith wavering. Think positively of who they were, have been, and still essentially are…

11:8 But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments?- The allusion is surely to Herod and Herodias, who had imprisoned John. John’s clothing was rugged, not soft (Mt. 3:4).

Those that wear soft garments are in king's houses- The Lord is drawing a contrast between John and Herod who imprisoned him. Herod Antipas had minted coins with a reed on them to celebrate the building of Tiberias. Perhaps the Lord is saying: 'OK, so John is weak for the moment, there in prison. But just think of the man he was when he was free, and how in God's eyes he compares so favourably against Herod who imprisoned him'. In His gracious way, the Lord is teaching that the overall sum of a man's spiritual life must be considered, and not whether he ends it with some element of weakness. This approach is also to be found in the way the inspired record appears to comment upon some of the kings of Israel and Judah- weakness at the end didn't necessarily scribble God's overall judgment of their lives.

11:9 But what did you go out to see?- Three times in :7-9 the Lord reminds them of their trek out into the wilderness to hear John; His point is that the respect they once had for him should remain, despite his wavering under extreme suffering. God's overall impression of Job appears similar, and it is a good teaching for we who are all too inclined to too harshly judge a good believer for a temporary period of weakness. The Greek phrase ‘go out to see…’ is used in classical Greek about going out to a spectacle or show. The Lord is suggesting that perhaps that was all their interest in John might have been, just as today likewise, it’s quite possible to visit the truest church and hear the truest teaching, yet unperceived by those who are merely ‘going to church’.

To see a prophet? Yes! And I say to you, much more than a prophet!- The idea is 'the greatest prophet'. Judaism had various theories about who had been the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. The Lord was saying that actually, the greatest of them was that man who was now sitting in the grim prison cell, having a crisis of faith and understanding.

11:10 This is he- The emphasis is on the word "is". He was the prophet who came to herald Messiah. And yet John had denied that he was Elijah, nor "that prophet" (Jn. 1:20), surely a reference to the Elijah prophet; even though he later stated that he had been 'sent before' Messiah (Jn. 3:28), and was the voice of the Isaiah 40 prophet crying in the wilderness (Jn. 1:23). The Lord is saying 'Actually, John was that prophet. He initially denied it in his humility, but he really was and is "that prophet". Now again his humility has led him to self-denial, he's wondering whether in fact I am the Elijah prophet and the Messiah Himself is yet to be 'looked for'. But take it on My authority- he really was the Elijah prophet, even though his humility leads him to self-doubt at times'. See on :14 this is Elijah

Of whom it is written: Listen- AV "Behold". An invitation to perceive, and the Lord was asking them to perceive in that imprisoned man a great prophet, to see beyond his temporary, surface-level crisis of John, to perceive that "this is he".

I send my messenger before your face; he shall prepare your way before you- The pronouns are somewhat different from the original in Mal. 3:1: "Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before [My face] ... says Yahweh of Armies". Jesus, as the face and presence of God to men, interpreted the words of His Father as being spoken personally to Him. The way was prepared before God's face, according to Malachi, but God's Son applies that to Himself. That is not to say that Jesus was God in any Trinitarian sense. He was the supreme manifestation of God, and He quotes Malachi 3 in such a way as to teach that to those with ears to hear. We have a window here onto how the Lord Jesus read Scripture; passages about His Father were applied by Him to Himself, but that is no claim by Him to be God Himself in person.

The Lord is reminding the crowds who had gone out to hear John in the wilderness that they were the way which John had tried to prepare, and He was now the face of Yahweh standing before them. But they had become side-tracked from the essence of personal transformation by a worry about the credibility and humanity of the messenger; and again, this is a principle which badly needs our attention in our own path. So often believers leave the path, the way prepared, because of the perceived weakness or plain humanity of the one who taught them.

The Hebrew text being quoted in Mal. 3:1 has a word play here. "Prepare" translates panah , meaning to turn the face (s.w. Gen. 18:22 where the Angels "turned their faces"), and "Before [your face]" translates paniym. The idea is that the messenger would turn the faces of people towards the face of God. The height of the calling was hard for Jewish minds, indeed for any human mind, to take on board; that the God whose face even Moses could not see can be seen face to face, thanks to the work of John the "messenger" turning men's faces to the face of Christ, who is the image of God. No wonder the people so easily became distracted from the height and wonder of the invitation, by focusing upon the fact that a depressed and humble prophet awaiting death in a dark prison cell had some crisis of Biblical interpretation. And so, so often the wonder of our calling likewise is eagerly forgotten by us and eclipsed by petty gossip and speculation about the faith and possible spiritual status of another man. 

11:11- see on 20:11.
Truly I say to you, among those that are born of women- The Lord Jesus was Himself the greatest of all born of women (Gal. 4:4), but in His humility He adds no rider to the effect 'John was the greatest of all born of women, Myself excepted, of course'. How we love Him for His humility.

There has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist. Yet he that is the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he- The little ones were the disciples, according to what the Lord had recently said in Mt. 10:42 (s.w.). He was urging them, yet again, to see their exalted status and to get over Judaism's attitude that the prophets were icons to whom the rank and file of God's people should never pretend. The Lord is using hyperbole here to make the point- that His immature 'little ones' were going to be far greater than even John, the greatest prophet. Or He could be implying that there will be some element of rank in God’s future Kingdom- ruling over different numbers of cities, one star differing from another in glory. And the least in that age will be far greater than John was in this life. And yet Jesus was proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom in the sense of the breaking in of God’s principles in the lives of men. He could mean that John was the greatest under the old system, but the least of those within the new system were greater than John. Oscar Cullmann made a case for translating mikroteros here as “the youngest”, with reference to the Lord being younger than John the Baptist and yet greater than him (see Jn. 3:30).

Note the present tense in "is greater". The following verse speaks of preaching the Gospel of that Kingdom (Mt.11:12 cp. Lk.16:16), perhaps implying that by responding to Christ's Gospel of the Kingdom we are associated with the Kingdom, and are thereby "greater" than the message which John preached.

Luke adds: “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God, being not baptized by him” (Lk. 7:30). God will fulfil His purpose for us- if we align ourselves with it, and thus see in everything that happens in our lives His will being forwarded. We can choose to not align ourselves with His will. The Pharisees rejected the purpose of God against themselves by not being baptized by John (Lk. 7:30 ESV). His will is not that we should sit around doing Sudoku, watching movies, bantering on the internet, trying to get as much money as possible to finance our nice meals, expensive coffees and designer clothes. His will, as expressed in His very Name, is that He ‘will be’ grace, love, care, justice, salvation, righteousness, all over the world and to every man and woman. If these things are our focus, our mission, our purpose, our passion, our underlying heartthrob, if His will is behind our will… then everything somehow comes together for us in a dynamic and fulfilling existence, both in this world and in the life eternal.

11:12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and men of violence take it by force- This can be seen as constructing a parable from the idea of Roman storm troopers taking a city. And those men, the Lord teaches in his attention grabbing manner, really represent every believer who responds to the Gospel of the Kingdom and strives to enter that Kingdom. The same word translated 'take by force' is used by the Lord in Lk. 16:16: "The Kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it"; true response to the Gospel of the Kingdom is a struggle. Entering the Kingdom is a fight (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7). We either violently snatch / take the Kingdom by force (Mt. 11:12), or the devil of our own nature will snatch us away (s.w. Mt. 13:19; Jn. 10:12). The choice before us is that pointed: fight or fall. The Lord graciously and generously saw the zeal of the mixed up, uncertain, misunderstanding disciples as storm troopers taking the city of the Kingdom of God by force- knowing exactly where they were coming from and where they were going. The cause of the Kingdom must be forcefully advanced by “violent men”. This was the sort of language the Lord used. He wasn’t preaching anything tame, painless membership of a comfortable community. The Lord saw the zeal of the uncertain, misunderstanding disciples as storm troopers taking the city of the Kingdom of God by force- knowing exactly where they were coming from and where they were going.

However, there are other alternatives in interpretation. It’s been suggested that ‘the violent ones’ may have been a term used to describe Jesus and His followers by His opponents; in which case the Lord would be alluding to this and saying that the enthusiasm of His people was in spiritual and not physical terms. Another option would be that the Lord is alluding to the Zealots and other groups who were trying to bring the Kingdom of God about by political, violent action; and the Lord would then be lamenting that since John’s time, there were men who had misunderstood his message of the Kingdom by trying to bring it about by force. And there is a telling double meaning in the Greek for ‘take it by force’; it could also mean that the Kingdom is under attack by these violent men. In this case, the real meaning and progress of the Kingdom as God intended, in terms of His spiritual dominion in human life, was being hindered by those who were trying to establish it by force. This suggestion is re-enforced by the use of the same word in Jn. 6:15, where the mistaken multitudes wanted to 'take [Christ] by force' and make Him King there and then. And this would explain the context- the imprisonment of John by the violent Herod would then be the basis for this saying. The violent were attacking and taking by force the Kingdom preachers like John.

11:13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John- The sentence begins with “For…”. This is an explanation of the cut-off point between the time of the Kingdom, and the period of the law and prophets. It was as if their work was being done up until John. The law prophesied until John in the sense that in the Messiah whom John proclaimed, the law’s prophecies were fulfilled. Note that the law just as much as the prophets is to be seen as prophesying. And yet other changeover points or boundaries are suggested within the New Testament. The law would ‘pass’ when all was fulfilled, which seems to hint at the ‘finishing’ of all when the Lord cried “It is finished!” on the cross. The law would not pass until this point (Mt. 5:18, using the same word as in 11:13 “until”). The Lord’s death was clearly a major ending point for the old system. And yet Heb. 8:13 speaks of the old system as decaying and becoming old, and being about to vanish away- surely in the destruction of the temple in AD70. There are other hints in the NT that the old system somehow operated with some level of acceptance from God until AD70. Why the different potential changeover points? Presumably because the hope and intention was that John would successfully prepare the way, and the Messianic reign would be ushered in by Israel’s acceptance of their Messiah. And yet they killed Him. That point in itself was the theological changeover moment. But still not all Israel accepted the apostolic preaching of repentance for the crucifixion. And so in practice, the changeover point came when the temple was destroyed and any serious obedience to the old covenant was thereby rendered impossible. In all this we see God’s amazing grace and desire continually to work with people, factoring in the possibility of their repentance.

11:14- see on 21:32.
And if you are willing to receive it- The same word was used earlier in this section, when the Lord spoke of the apostles being ‘received’ by those who had initially responded to John’s teaching (Mt. 10:14,40,41). If Israel would receive it, John the Baptist was the Elijah prophet. The course of fulfillment of prophecy was conditional upon whether John succeeded in turning the hearts of Israel back to the fathers or not; on preparing them for the great and terrible day of the Lord. The Kingdom could have come in the 1st century had Israel received John as Elijah. But they would not. And so another Elijah prophet is to come in the last days and prepare Israel for her Messiah. “If ye are willing to receive him, this is Elijah which is to come” (RVmg.) says it all. The Elijah prophet who was to herald the Messianic Kingdom could have been John the Baptist- if Israel had received him. But they didn’t, and so the prophecy went down another avenue of fulfillment. It could be that Mal. 4:6 implies that there is still the possibility that even the latter day Elijah ministry may not be totally successful- for the earth / land is to be smitten with a curse unless he succeeds in turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and there is no lack of evidence that the land may well be ‘smitten’ in the last days. 

Some prophecies are fulfilled according to the acceptance of their fulfillment by believers, and therefore have their fulfilments in different ways at different times. Thus for those who received it, Malachi’s ‘Elijah’ prophecies were fulfilled in John the Baptist, for those who accepted him (Mt. 11:14). The implication is that for those who didn’t, those prophecies weren’t fulfilled. When the Lord stood up and read from Isaiah, He commented that “this day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Lk. 4:21). He didn’t mean that His reading those words in a synagogue had fulfilled them. He speaks of “your ears” as standing for ‘your correct perception / understanding’ in Mt. 13:16. What He was surely saying was that for those of them who perceived who He was, Isaiah’s words were ringing true. For those who rejected Him, of course, they weren’t fulfilled, and therefore their complete, universal acceptance / fulfillment would be delayed until a future day; just as it was with the ‘Elijah’ prophecy.

The “it” in "receive it" could refer to the prophetic message of the Law and prophets- hence GNB offers “and if you are willing to believe their message…”. It was taken as assumed that every Jew received / accepted the Law and the prophets, but the Lord’s point was that if they really received it, then they would accept John’s message and now accept Him as Messiah. Likewise the Lord challenges the Jewish scribes as to whether they had ever really read the Old Testament (Mt. 21:16,42; Mk. 2:25)- when they spent their days doing so (Jn. 5:39 RV). 

This was Elijah that has to come- See on :10. John in humility and self-effacement had denied being the Elijah prophet (Jn. 1:20), and he now had a similar doubt, wondering whether in fact Jesus was the Elijah prophet and the Messiah was still to be looked for. The Lord is saying that John was who he was, the Elijah prophet, despite John's self-doubt. And we again have an example- we are to treat our brethren as whom God sees them as being, notwithstanding their temporary weaknesses and self-doubt. The use of “this” rather than “he” could be because the Lord had in mind the Elijah prophet’s ministry, and not just John personally.  

11:15 He that has ears to hear, let him hear- The Lord often uses this phrase, the idea seems to be that not all have the capacity to really hear, but if we do, then, we still have to exercise a choice as to whether we do or not. That would also be true to observed experience, because that is indeed how it seems- some people have no interest in God’s word, something is not ‘given’ them, so that they never ‘get it’; and those to whom it is given, there must still be a conscious choice exercised. For those who decide rightly, it becomes true that to him who has, more is given (Mt. 13:12). That verse in 13:12 begs the question ‘Has what?’. The answer is surely given here in 11:15: ‘ears to hear’. The hearing or listening which the Lord refers to is listening to the message of John- for the next verses liken John’s ministry to calling out to people to respond, although most choose to be non-responsive. Maybe the idea is ‘Despite John having a temporary crisis of faith and understanding, that is no excuse for not hearing his message’. Perhaps the tension is being developed between the need to hear John, whereas it is thrice stressed that this crowd had gone out into the desert to see John (11:7-9), as if they were going to a show- a powerful challenge that echoes down to our generation of churchgoing and churchianity.

11:16 But unto what shall I liken this generation?- The Lord several times spoke of that entire generation as sinful and unresponsive to the Gospel. Yet the context here is talking of John the Baptist’s work. This therefore was a tacit recognition that John’s ministry had been unsuccessful in terms of converting all Israel, and therefore clearly there was to be a change in the prophetic program. As noted earlier in commentary on this chapter, it was this change in the prophetic program which was worrying John, even though unnecessarily in terms of his own salvation. 

It is like children sitting- John’s ministry was like children wanting to play funerals, and taking the initiative by beginning with mock weeping- but not getting any response. The Lord’s ministry was as children wanting to play weddings, piping to the other children, who would not respond by dancing. Note that in 10:42 the Lord has likened His preachers to little children. Children were considered non-persons in society, and yet the Lord uses children in this parable as representative of His preachers. We note that although He likened them to children, He had to sternly warn them that they still needed to be converted and become aschildren (Mt. 18:3). We see Him so often imputing status to His followers which they had not in reality attained. This is to help us appreciate how He can impute righteousness to we who are not righteous. The parable of preaching here pictures children appealing to children. The commonality between us and our audience is very attractive and persuasive. We are humans reaching out to humans, indeed, children to children; the children called out (cp. calling out the Gospel) to “their fellows”. 

In the market places, who call to their fellows- The town square. The Lord uses the same word in the parable of Mt. 20:3, where the call of the Gospel comes to men who are standing idle in the market place (s.w.). The picture is perhaps of society getting on with its existence, but the weak labourers and the children being left to one side, excluded from standard adult social and economic life. And it is to these that the call of the Gospel comes, in the midst of human busyness. 

11:17 And say: We piped to you and you did not dance. We wailed and you did not mourn- The Old Testament as well as the New is written in such a way as to encourage memorization, although this is often masked by the translation. There are several devices commonly used to assist in this. Not least is alliteration, i.e. similarly sounding syllables. "We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced (orchee-sasthe); we have mourned unto you and ye have not lamented (ekop-sasthe)" (Mt. 11:17) could be dynamically rendered: 'We piped for you, and you never stept; we dirged for you, and you never wept". We note that the Lord parallels the work of the children John’s ‘children’ or disciples, and His. Although both of them were somewhat negative about each other, the Lord saw both groups of children as doing the same work, despite a different culture and even doctrinal emphasis. The division in the town square was between the children begging the others to respond, and the children of this world who didn’t want to, in the midst of those who didn’t even have ears to hear and were just getting on with their worldly business and never ‘heard’ the invitation from either group of children.

The Lord was speaking this whilst the disciples were away on their preaching tour. He could say that just as John’s preparation of the way had not been responded to on the level of the whole “generation” or society, neither had His more upbeat and joyful invitation been accepted. Note that the call of the Gospel is a call to engage with the preacher, to dance in response to the tune piped. Community and fellowship are all part of response to the Gospel; it’s not about delivering truths to an individual who then accepts them and has no further relationship with the preacher. This is why the father-son analogy is used for preaching and conversion later in the NT. There is the implication too that the initial preacher continues to call the tune, to direct the dancing of the convert, even after initial acceptance of the invitation.

Remember that the Lord is addressing those who had gone out to hear John preach (:7-9). He is implying that they had not actually responded to his call to them. 

11:18 For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say he has a demon- The Gospels give the impression that there was mass response to John’s preaching, but according to the Lord’s reasoning here, He felt that “this generation”, society as a whole, had rejected John’s message and slandered him as in league with demons. Exactly the same was said about the ministry of Jesus (Jn. 8:48 uses the same term about Jesus- “He has a demon”). Surface level interest in the message, even applauding it and making a great effort to go out into the desert to hear it preached, was and is not the same as responding in real repentance.

11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, Look, a gluttonous man and a drunkard- The Lord was accused of being a drunkard, a glutton, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Mt. 11:19; Lk. 7:34). This is all language reminiscent of the commands for the parents to slay the 'rebellious son' of Dt. 21:18-21. It's conceivable that one of the reasons why His death was demanded was because of this. Hence His relatives sought to take Him away out of public sight. It's also been claimed that the Jews' complaint that Jesus 'made Himself equal to the Father' (Jn. 5:18) is alluding to a rabbinic expression which speaks of the 'rebellious son' of Dt. 21 as being a son who makes himself equal to his father. The shame of being Jesus' mother eventually wore off upon Mary, or so it seems to me. Just as the shame of standing up for Christian principles can wear us down, too. In passing, note that the prodigal son is likewise cast in the role of the 'rebellious son' who should be killed; the correspondence suggests that the Lord Jesus can identify with sinners like the prodigal because He was treated as if He were a sinner, a rebellious son; even though He was not in actuality.
The criticisms of the Lord here were all related to His drinking, eating and table company. Jesus showed by His fellowship with “the poor in spirit” that He meant what He said. He, as God’s Son, extended His Father’s fellowship to them in the here and now of this life. Luke seems to have been especially perceptive of the fact that Jesus often accepted invitations to eat with those whom others despised (Lk. 5:29; 7:36; 10:38; 11:37; 14:1). In 1st century Palestine, to eat with someone was a religious act.  The host blessed and broke the bread and then broke off a piece for each guest, thus binding together all present. This was why the many sects of Judaism carefully limited their table fellowship (notably the Pharisees and Essenes). Thus it was the Lord’s desire to share table fellowship with the very lowest (apparently) within the community of God that brought Him such criticism (Mt. 11:19; Mk. 2:16). His teaching also made it plain that He saw table fellowship with Him at a meal as a type of the future Messianic banquet, to be enjoyed in His Kingdom at His return, when redeemed sinners will again sit and eat with Him (Lk. 22:29,30). To accept the gift of the bread of life at the breaking of bread is to symbolize our acceptance of the life that is in Him. If we believe what we are doing at the memorial meeting, we are showing our acceptance of the fact that we will be there, and that what we are doing in our humble breakings of bread is in fact a true foretaste of the Kingdom experience which awaits us.

A friend of tax collectors and sinners!- The Lord was ‘fond’ [philos] of sinners; He liked them and their company. In this we see His greatness, for most spiritual people admit to finding the company of the unspiritual somewhat of a burden. But the Lord’s spirituality was beyond that. Truly He is the sinners’ friend. And Matthew as a tax collector is testifying to this personally.

But wisdom is justified by her children- Appreciating the inter-relation between 'doctrine' and practice will result in our seeing through the fallacy that because someone's deeds are good, therefore it doesn't matter too much about their doctrine. The spiritual fruit which God seeks is that which is brought forth by the seed of His word, the Gospel. To really understand the basic Gospel with one's heart is to bring forth fruit, to be converted. True wisdom is justified by the works she brings forth (Mt. 11:19). This is why true conversion involves understanding and perceiving, and not merely hearing doctrinal truth (Mt. 13:15). Yet the counter argument would be that there are people who know God’s truth who behave poorly, and there are those who know little of it who act well. This is why the Lord speaks of “wisdom”, not “truth”; for wisdom is God’s truth applied in practice. 
On another level, we see here the Lord’s response to slander, both of Himself and John. Wisdom is justified of her children- in the end. The “children” are those of Himself and John, who have just featured in His parable of the preachers, His children, meeting lack of response in the town square. Even if there is lack of response to the invitation, the Lord was confident that both His ‘children’ (the “little ones” of Mt. 10:42) and John’s would be the justification of the truth and wisdom which they were teaching. This is all a comfort to those undergoing slander. In the end, if we are on the side of wisdom, we shall be justified.

11:20 Then he began to chastise the cities- The Lord also upbraided the disciples for their unbelief (Mk. 16:14 s.w.). Again we see the Lord being positive towards His disciples in the eyes of the world, and yet privately challenging them with the same language of criticism which He had for the unbelieving world. His imputation of righteousness to us doesn’t mean He is blind to our weakness.

Wherein most- Gk. ‘the majority’. We must give this word its full weight. The majority of the Lord’s miracles were done in three tiny villages- Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. We have just learnt that whilst the disciples were away on their preaching tour, He had gone to preach in their home villages (11:1). Perhaps some time had elapsed between verses 19 and 20. He had had little response. Philip, Andrew and Peter were all from Bethsaida, the ‘home of fishermen’ (Jn. 1:44; 12:21). We sense that the Lord had a specific plan in mind for His preaching work. He made a particular focus upon Galilee and the home villages of His disciples- and Galilee was of course His own home area. We see in this policy a desire by Him for us to witness in our own immediate environment and family situations. Mk. 8:22-26 records the only miracle the Gospels record as performed in Bethsaida, and the Lord told the cured blind man not to tell anyone in Bethsaida about the miracle- presumably because the people there had already seen ample miracles and had not repented. 

Of his mighty works had been done, because they had not repented- Here we see the purpose of the healing miracles. They were not simply to alleviate human suffering for the sake of it- they were specifically designed to lead people to repentance. God’s goodness is intended to lead to repentance (Rom. 2:4). The doing of Christian ‘good works’ can’t be criticized in itself, but it needs to be observed that they often seem to be performed ‘for the sake of it’, whereas the Lord’s works were always within a wider plan and aim of bringing people to spiritual healing. 

11:21 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have- God likewise looks down upon our lives today, seeing all possibilities, and how unbelievers would respond so much more to Him than His own dear people. It's the pain of the parent, knowing that other children would respond so much more to their love than their own beloved offspring. The Lord Jesus had something of this when He commented that Tyre and Sidon would've repented had they had His message preached to them; but Israel would not. To know all possible futures must make experiencing human life and poor decision making all the harder and more tragic for the Father and Son.

Repented- Here we see that the intention of the miracles was not merely healing in itself, as a good to humanity- but rather to invite people to repentance. Hence the connection between healing and forgiveness in the account of the healing of the paralyzed man. 

Long ago in sackcloth and ashes- Made of camel and goat hair, therefore very similar to the clothing of John the Baptist- which is the context here (11:8).

11:22 But I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you- Tyre and Sodom were major Gentile cities. The Lord clearly believed their inhabitants would be resurrected and appear at the future day of judgment. Seeing that knowledge is the basis of responsibility to judgment, it follows that there was some witness made to them. Ezekiel’s prophecies of condemnation against Tyre can therefore be seen as conditional prophecies, like the prophecy of Nineveh’s destruction- they could have repented in response to them. The witness to Sodom was presumably through the witness of Lot’s righteous life. The extent of human responsibility to Divine judgment would appear to be far greater than we might suspect. Those who live in the presence of believers are surely responsible to judgment, according to the pattern of Sodom. Clearly there will be degrees of punishment at that day- and for the home villages of the disciples, their suffering will be ‘intolerable’. The implication is that if the witness of Ezekiel, Lot etc. had been backed up by the kind of miracles the Lord was performing, then this would’ve tipped the balance- and they would’ve repented. 

11:23 And you Capernaum, shall you be exalted to heaven? - Here we have another example of the Bible being written from the perspective of men. Capernaum was exalted in her own eyes, the people there were spiritually proud and exalted in their own eyes. Likewise “the wise” in :25 refers to those who thought they were wise.

You shall go down to hades- The prophecy against Babylon of Isaiah 14 is here applied to the towns of Israel. The point is that the condemnation of the wicked Gentiles will come upon those of God’s people who act like them. Likewise the punishment of Babylon was to be cast as a millstone into the sea, but this is applied by the Lord to those of God’s people who make their brethren stumble (Mt. 18:6; Rev. 18:21).

For if the mighty works- The Greek dunamis also has the sense of ability, possible power. The miracles, to which the “mighty works” clearly refer, had potential power to bring the people to repentance, but they were content to just accept the temporal blessings of knowing Jesus rather than being moved by those blessings to repentance.

Had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes- The Lord knew that cities like Tyre and Sidon would have responded to the Gospel in the first century; had it been preached to them. But the message was taken to Jewish villages like Chorazin and Bethsaida instead. Such was God’s love, His especial and exclusive love for Israel. Sodom likewise would have repented if the message of Lot had been backed up by miracles; but, that extra proof wasn’t given. But such a concession was made to Israel through the ministry and miracles of Jesus.

11:24 But I say to you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you- The Greek for "tolerable" could suggest ‘endurance’, hinting at a period of suffering rather than an eternal state of suffering. The suffering will be the sense of regret for what could have been, how they could have responded. This sense will be so acute that it is described in figurative terms as Gehenna fire, gnashing of teeth etc. Time and again we must remind ourselves of this, so that day by day we ‘grasp the moment’ and proceed in life with no ultimate cause for spiritual regret.

11:25 At that time Jesus answered- Often the Gospels record that Jesus "answered and said...". Yet it's often not clear whether anyone had asked a question, or said anything that needed a response (Mt. 11:25; 22:1; Mk. 10:24, 51; 11:14,22,33; 12:35; 13:2; 14:48; Lk. 5:22; 7:40; 8:50; 13:2; 14:3,5; 17:17; 22:51; Jn. 1:50; 5:19; 6:70; 10:32; 12:23,30; 16:31). If you go through this list, you will see how Jesus 'answered' / responded to peoples' unexpressed fears and questions, their unarticulated concerns, criticisms, feelings and agendas. This little phrase reveals how sensitive Jesus was. He saw people's unspoken, unarticulated needs and responded. He didn't wait to be asked. For Jesus, everybody He met was a question, a personal direct challenge, that He responded to. And of course this is how we should seek to be too. And yet here in Mt. 11:25 He could be responding to His own question and reflection upon why so few responded and why only the immature disciples seemed to understand anything at all? We see here a window into the very internal thought process of the Lord, something which could only come from a Divinely inspired record.

I thank You O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth- This is language taken directly from the Hodayot, the Qumran “Thanksgiving Psalms”. There is reason to think that in his years in the Qumran area, John the Baptist became familiar with the Qumran community, and may have passed on some of their style and culture to his converts. The multitudes addressed here by the Lord had initially responded to John (11:7). So it would seem that the Lord is bridge building with them, speaking to them in terms known and accessible to them, and yet leading them further and away from the legalism and extremes of Qumran thought. Note how there is a juxtaposition of God’s Almightiness, as Lord of Heaven and earth, with His closeness to us as “Father”.

That You did hide these things from the wise- Those who think they are wise in their own eyes- see on “exalted” in :24.

And prudent- Again we see the Lord’s grace, for the disciples themselves weren’t ‘understanding’ (s.w.) of everything at this time (s.w. Mt. 13:51; Mk. 6:52 they considered / understood not; 8:17,21; Lk. 18:34; 24:45). Yet to them was revealed the Truth which others had hid from them.

And did reveal them to- This continues the thought of 11:15, that only some have ears to hear. The word is used in Mt. 16:27 of how the truth of Christ was revealed to Peter, one of the “babes”. 

Babes- An essay in the serious immaturity of the disciples, and yet the Lord’s love of them all the same. They are the ‘little ones’ of 10:42, the little children in the town square of 11:16. See on 1 Cor. 1:19. Paul saw the simplicity of the Corinthian believers as the sort of thing Christ referred to in Mt. 11:25.

11:26 Yes Father, for so it was well-pleasing in Your sight- We have the same kind of thing in Revelation, where Angels as it were take a breath and praise the Father for His wisdom in the judgments which they have just executed. We have here one of the few times when we get the record of the Lord's actual words to God in prayer. We note that He repeatedly addresses Him as "Father"; and through receipt of the Spirit, His relationship with the Father becomes ours. And "Father" ought surely to be our most common form of address to God.

11:27 All things have been delivered to me by my Father- Gk. 'were delivered'. The “all things” may be the power of salvation for all men. 

And no one knows the Son save the Father. Neither does anyone know the Father- Gk. 'to know fully'. Nobody, the disciples included, to whom the Father had ‘revealed’ repentance, fully knew the Son nor the Father. There is a parallel to be observed here between ‘knowing the Father’ and repenting; for the context speaks of how the majority had not repented despite the Lord’s miracles. The little ones, the babes, the disciples, had repented- but this had been ‘revealed’ to them by the Father (:25). Now, the Lord speaks of how the Son ‘reveals’ the Father. The life of repentance is the life of knowing the Father. To know God is to know our sinfulness and repent. And this is the “rest” from sin which the Lord speaks of in :28. 

Save the Son- Whether or not Joseph died or left Mary by the time Jesus hit adolescence, the fact was that Joseph wasn’t His real father. He was effectively fatherless in the earthly sense. As such, this would have set Him up in certain psychological matrices which had their effect on His personality. He could speak of His Heavenly Father in the shockingly unprecedented form of ‘abba’, daddy. He grew so close to His Heavenly Father because of the lack of an earthly one, and the inevitable stresses which there would have been between Him and Joseph. A strong, fatherly-type figure is a recurrent feature of the Lord’s parables; clearly He was very focused upon His Heavenly Father. He could say with passionate truth: “No one knows a son except a father, and no one knows a father except a son” (Mt. 11:27; Lk. 10:22).

And to whomsoever- The idea is not that the Lord Jesus had a list of humanity and chose a few from that list. He has earlier spoken of the freedom of choice to ‘receive’ (:14) God’s message, and He was urging all men to do so. Although all men are potentially delivered to Him, the Father is revealing Himself to only some of them. The Father is revealed in the Son, as John’s Gospel makes clear. It’s not that some people are chosen by the Son to have this revelation; rather is it a statement of fact, or method- the knowledge of the Father is through the Son revealing Him. And this is why He goes straight on in :28 to urge people to come to Him. The ideas of coming to Him and ‘whomsoever’, anyone, are very much the language of John’s Gospel and the Revelation, which concludes with an appeal to ‘whosoever will’ to ‘come’ to Christ and salvation. 

The Son wishes to reveal Him- This revealing is by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10; Eph. 3:5). It was not flesh and blood that revealed the Lord to Peter (16:17). As noted on 1 Pet. 1:21, relationship with God is predicated upon relationship with the Son; He is the only way to the Father. Academic Bible study, consideration of the apparent evidence of apologetics, will not reveal God as Father to men. It is the Son who reveals Him. If we take the jump of faith in accepting Him, only then will He reveal the Father to us.

11:28 Come to me all you that labour and are- See on :27 “whomsoever”. The Lord may be urging the audience to come unto Him in the same way as they had come out to hear John preaching (:7-9). The invitation at the last day to “Come” into the Kingdom (Mt. 25:34 s.w.) is heard even now in the invitation to come after Him. The preceding verses share with us a beautiful insight into the mind and inner prayer of the Son to the Father. He meditated upon why apparently so few were responding, and went on to marvel at the Father’s wisdom in revealing only to some, and to the immature ‘little ones’ of His disciples. But arising out of that time of prayer and meditation, the Lord goes on to make a public appeal to whosoever will to come to Him. And this is the exact pattern which our public witness and appeal to others should follow.

Heavy laden- The context is a lament that because people are wise, prudent and exalted in pride, they will not come to the Father and Son. But this way of life and thinking is in fact a hard way to live. Hence the Lord commends His own humility to those proud people. Whilst the arrogance and self-assurance of modern man seems an impossible barrier to the Gospel, we must be aware that actually they are struggling with it and are laden down with it. The word is only elsewhere used about the lawyers lading people with heavy burdens (Lk. 11:46)- not only of guilt, but also of pride in having kept irrelevant laws. David found his sins associated with Bathsheba "as an heavy burden... too heavy for me... I am (thereby) bowed down greatly" (Ps. 32:4,6). Surely our Lord was thinking back to David when he invited all of us: "Come unto me, all you who labour and are heavy laden (with sins), and I will give you rest... for My... burden is light" (Mt. 11:28-30). 

And I will give you rest- The Lord Jesus invites those who follow Him to accept the “rest” which He gives (Mt. 11:28). He uses a Greek word which is used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, for the Sabbath rest. Jesus was offering a life of Sabbath, of rest from trust in our own works (cp. Heb. 4:3,10). We shouldn’t, therefore, keep a Sabbath one day per week, but rather live our whole lives in the spirit of the Sabbath. 

The Pharisees were the ones burdening the people (Mt. 23:4; Lk. 11:46), so this could be read as a fairly direct appeal to quit respecting the religious leaders of the day and follow the teaching of Jesus instead. Legalism and obedience to the Law is likened to an unbearable yoke (Acts 15:10; Gal. 5:1). 

11:29 Take- The same word is used in the challenge to "take up" the cross. To take up Christ's cross, to take on His yoke, is to learn of Him, to come to know Him. Yet do we sense any pain in our coming to know Christ? We should do, because the cross was the ultimate symbol of pain, and to take it up is to take on the yoke, the knowledge, of Christ. Clearly the knowledge of the Father and Son is so much more than knowing theological propositions about them.

My yoke- The yoke metaphor was commonly used at the time to speak of a career or profession / daily occupation. Our 'career' is to be in His service, and any human yoke or career is to not be seen by us as our defining situation in life. We can't be 'career people' in the sense that many are in this world- for our career is with the Lord. And yet the yoke was also understood as ‘teaching’; for Sirach 51:26 has the sage inviting students to put their necks under his yoke and learn his teaching. The Lord Jesus is a yoke- He unites men together, so that the otherwise unbearable burden of the spiritual life is lighter (Mt. 11:29). If we do not let our fellowship with others lighten our load, then we basically have not been brought under Christ. To be in Him, under His yoke, is to put our arms around our brethren and labour together. The Lord paralleled "Come unto Me" with taking His yoke upon us, in order to have a light burden (Mt. 11:28-30). A yoke is what binds animals together, so that they can between them carry a burden which otherwise would be too great for them individually. The invitation to come unto Jesus personally is therefore an invitation into a community- to be lined up alongside another, and have a yoke placed upon us. Without submitting to this, we can't actually carry the heavy burden laid upon us. This heavy burden laid upon the believer must surely have some reference to the cross we are asked to share in and carry. We can't do this alone; and perhaps it happened that the Lord Himself couldn't even bear His own cross without the help of another, in order to show us the point. We can't claim to have come personally unto Jesus, somehow liking the idea of the Man Jesus, intellectually accepting His teachings on an abstract level- and yet keep our distance from our brethren. It seems increasingly true that human relationships are almost impossible to maintain at an intimate level- without Christ. He is the yoke which enables the psychological miracle of people pulling together, for life, in order to carry His cross. The most essential “law of Christ” is to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Paul had this in mind when he described his brethren as 'yokefellows' (Phil. 4:3). For Paul, his joy and crown would be to see his brethren accepted into God's Kingdom at judgment day. David had the same spirit when he wrote of how he longed to "see the prosperity of Your chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation, that I may glory with Your inheritance" (Ps. 106:5). His personal vision of God's Kingdom involved seeing others there; there's no hint of spiritual selfishness in David. And he goes straight on to comment: "We have sinned with our fathers, we have committed iniquity... our fathers understood not..." (Ps. 106:6). David felt himself very much at one with the community of God's children, both in their failures and in their ultimate hope. Life with God simply can't be lived in isolation from the rest of His people. Our salvation in that sense has a collective aspect to it, and if we want 'out' with the community of believers in this life, then we're really voting ourselves out of their future glory.

The reference to having a heavy yoke lifted recalls the servant song which spoke of the need to “undo the bands of the [heavy] yoke” (Is. 58:6). Paul takes passages from Isaiah’s servant songs and applies them to us. The servant who suffered and witnessed to the world was evidently the Lord Jesus. And yet Isaiah is also explicit that the servant is the whole seed of Abraham, “Jacob”, the slowly-developing people of God (Is. 41:8; 44:1). There are many connections within Isaiah between the servant songs, and the descriptions of the people of Israel into which the songs are interspersed. The Saviour-servant was to bring out the prisoners from the dungeons (Is. 42:7), so was every Israelite “to let the oppressed go free... loose the bonds”, and to “undo the bands of the [heavy] yoke” (Is. 58:6) as Christ does here (Mt. 11:28,29); His work of deliverance is to be replicated by each of us in our witness. Whoever is in Him will by this very fact follow Him in this work. In Isaiah’s first context, the suffering servant was King Hezekiah. Yet all Israel were to see themselves as ‘in’ him, as spiritual Israel are to see themselves as in Christ. “He was oppressed”, as Israel at that time were being “oppressed” by Assyria. As they were covered in wounds and spiritual sickness (Is. 1:5,6), so the suffering servant bore their diseases and rose again in salvation victory. Significantly, Isaiah 40-53 speak of the one servant, whereas Isaiah 54-66 speak of the “servants” who fulfil in principle the work of the singular servant. When the Lord speaks of a change of yokes for the weary and a granting of rest in Him (Mt. 11:28-30), He is using terms taken from Isaiah’s restoration prophecies. The offer of rest was rejected by the exiles then; but is taken up now by all who accept Christ, realizing that they are in the same state as the exiles in Babylon.

And learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart- Vine comments: "The word for the Christian virtue of humility was not used before the Christian era, and is distinctly an outgrowth of the Gospel". To be able to say in genuine humility that one knows the state of their own heart, and that it is humble, is an essay not only in humility but in the acute self-knowledge of the Lord. The Greek translated “lowly” definitely means cast down, depressed, implying a bringing down from a superior position (s.w. 2 Cor. 7:6). This helps us understand the language of Phil. 2:5-11, which speaks of the progressive humiliation of Christ, culminating in the death of the cross. Even at this point in His ministry, the Lord felt that He had been brought down in mind- He felt the progressive nature of His humility. And in that passage, the appeal is to allow that kind of mind and process to be in us, which was in Christ. 

And you shall find- The yoke is given but we still have to find it by accepting the potential enabled by the Lord.

Rest for your souls- He assures us that if we come to Him, we will find “rest” (Mt. 11:29); but the same word is only used elsewhere about the rest / comfort which our brethren give us (1 Cor. 16:18; 2 Cor. 7:13; Philemon 7,20).

11:30- see Ex. 2:11.
For my yoke is easy- A poor translation. The cross of Christ is anything but "easy"; the idea is more that it is helpful for service; the relationships He enables between believers is what makes it easier for us to carry the heavy loads of His service, i.e. the cross. Even if we still insist on the translation “easy”, we reflect that the way to the Kingdom is easy relative to the wonder of what is in store for the faithful (2 Cor. 4:17); and yet from our human perspective it is hard indeed, a life of self-crucifixion (Acts 14:22; Rev.7:14). “Easy” translates chrestos, which sounds very like the ‘Christ’. By this word play the point is being made that Christ is His yoke. One of the most essential things about Christ is that those in Him are bound together with each other. Any view of ‘Christ’ which excludes those in Him is therefore fundamentally flawed. Paul therefore teaches avoidance of any who cause division contrary to the teaching of Christ which we have “learned”- using the same word used here about Christ’s uniting yoke being ‘learning’ of Him (Rom. 16:17). See on  20:16.

And my burden is light- Mic. 2:3 reminded Israel that they will be under the yoke of judgment if they reject Yahweh’s yoke. The Lord spoke of His servants having a light yoke. The Bible minded among His hearers would have thought back to the threatened punishment of an iron yoke for the disobedient (Dt. 28:48). 'It's a yoke either way', they would have concluded. But the Lord's yoke even in this life is light, and has promise of the life which is to come! The logic of taking it, with the restrictions it inevitably implies (for it is a yoke), is simply overpowering. Note that the Greek for ‘light’ essentially means ‘able to be carried’- which connects with the idea of ‘taking up’ the yoke and cross (see on 11:29). The point is- it is doable. The cross can be carried, the yoke can be worn- if we learn of Christ and thereby learn to take our place with others in carrying it.