Saturday, June 10th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Dr. Constable's Expository Notes Constable's Expository Notes
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 11". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ dcc/ matthew-11.html. 2012.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 11". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
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III. THE MANIFESTATION OF THE KING 8:1-11:1
"Matthew has laid the foundational structure for his argument in chapters one through seven. The genealogy and birth have attested to the legal qualifications of the Messiah as they are stated in the Old Testament. Not only so, but in His birth great and fundamental prophecies have been fulfilled. The King, according to protocol, has a forerunner preceding Him in His appearance on the scene of Israel’s history. The moral qualities of Jesus have been authenticated by His baptism and temptation. The King Himself then commences His ministry of proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom and authenticates it with great miracles. To instruct His disciples as to the true character of righteousness which is to distinguish Him, He draws them apart on the mountain. After Matthew has recorded the Sermon on the Mount, he goes on to relate the King’s presentation to Israel (Mat_8:1 to Mat_11:1)." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 121.]
B. Declarations of the King’s presence 9:35-11:1
The heart of this section contains Jesus’ charge to His disciples to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom (ch. 10). Matthew prefaced this charge with a demonstration of the King’s power, as he prefaced the Sermon on the Mount by authenticating the King’s qualifications (cf. Matthew 4:23; Matthew 9:35). However there are also some significant dissimilarities between these sections of the Gospel. Before the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus separated from the multitudes (Matthew 5:1), but here He has compassion on them (Matthew 9:36). Then He ministered to His disciples, but now He sends His disciples to minister to the multitudes in Israel. The Sermon on the Mount was basic to the disciples’ understanding of the kingdom. This discourse is foundational to their proclaiming the kingdom. Jesus had already begun to deal with discipleship issues (chs. 5-7; Matthew 8:18-22; Matthew 9:9-17). Now He gave them more attention.
4. Jesus’ continuation of His work 11:1 (cf. Mark 6:12-13; Luke 9:6)
Here is another of Matthew’s formulas that ended a discourse (cf. Matthew 7:28-29; Matthew 13:53; Matthew 19:1; Matthew 26:1). Matthew had no concern for recording what happened when the Twelve went out having received Jesus’ instructions. He passed over their ministry in silence and resumed narration of Jesus’ ministry.
"The motif that dominates Matthew’s story throughout Matthew 4:17 to Matthew 11:1 is Jesus’ ministry to Israel of teaching, preaching, and healing (Matthew 4:23; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 11:1)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 72.]
Herod Antipas had imprisoned John in the fortress of Machaerus east of the Dead Sea (cf. Matthew 4:12; Matthew 14:3-5). [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of. . ., 18:5:2.] There John heard about Jesus’ ministry. Matthew wrote that John heard about the works of "the Christ." This is the only place in Matthew where the name "Christ" standing alone refers to Jesus. [Note: Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, 1:114.] Matthew evidently referred to Jesus this way here to underscore the fact that Jesus was the Christ, the Greek term for Messiah. John had doubts about that, but Matthew presented Jesus as the Messiah in unequivocal terms. The "works" of Jesus would include His teachings and all of His activities, not just His miracles.
John sent Jesus a question through some of John’s disciples. This use of "disciples" is another proof that this word does not necessarily mean believers in Jesus. These disciples were still following John. They had not begun to follow Jesus. John questioned whether Jesus was "the coming One" after all (Psalms 40:7; Psalms 118:26; Isaiah 59:20). "The coming One" was a messianic title. [Note: Lenski, p. 425.] John had previously announced Jesus as the coming One (Matthew 3:11), but Jesus did not quite fit John’s ideas of what Messiah would do. He was bringing blessing to many but judgment to none (cf. Matthew 3:10-12). [Note: See James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, pp. 55-62.]
"The same questions of the ultimate triumph of God undoubtedly face everyone in suffering for Christ’s sake. If our God is omnipotent, why does He permit the righteous to suffer? The answer, of course, is that the time of God’s judgment has not yet come but that the final triumph is certain." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 80.]
An old interpretation of John’s question is that he asked it for his disciples’ sake, but he never doubted Jesus’ identity himself. There is nothing in the text to support this view. Rather John, like Elijah, seems to have become discouraged (cf. Matthew 11:14). Probably this happened because Jesus did not begin to judge sinners immediately.
The confusion of the King’s forerunner 11:2-6 (cf. Luke 7:18-23)
Even John the Baptist had doubts about whether Jesus was really the promised Messiah.
"Matthew includes the record of this interrogation for at least two reasons. First, the questioning of Jesus by John, a representative of the best in Israel, points up the misconception of Israel as to the program of the Messiah and His method. He had heard of the works of Jesus (Matthew 11:2), and they certainly appeared to be Messianic. However, Jesus did not suddenly assert His authority and judge the people as John probably had thought He would (Matthew 3:10-12). Because of this misconception he began to doubt. Perhaps his being in prison, a place which was certainly incongruous for the herald of the King, reinforced his doubts. . . .
"The second purpose of these few verses (Matthew 11:2-6) is to reaffirm the concept that the works of Jesus prove His Messiahship." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 148.]
1. Questions from the King’s forerunner 11:2-19
This sections illustrates how deeply seated Israel’s disenchantment with Jesus was.
A. Evidences of Israel’s rejection of Jesus 11:2-30
Matthew presented three evidences of opposition to Jesus that indicated rejection of Him: John the Baptist’s questions about the King’s identity, the Jews’ indifference to the King’s message, and their refusal to respond to the King’s invitation.
IV. THE OPPOSITION TO THE KING 11:2-13:53
Chapters 11-13 record Israel’s rejection of her Messiah and its consequences. Opposition continued to build, but Jesus announced new revelation in view of hardened unbelief.
"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." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 147.]
"Thematically the three chapters (11-13) are held together by the rising tide of disappointment in and opposition to the kingdom of God that was resulting from Jesus’ ministry. He was not turning out to be the kind of Messiah the people had expected." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 260.]
Jesus sent a summary of His ministry back to John. He used the language of Isaiah’s prophecies to assure His forerunner that He really was the Messiah (Isaiah 35:5-6; Isaiah 61:1; cf. Isaiah 26:19; Isaiah 29:18-19). It is interesting that all of these Isaiah passages contain some reference to judgment. Thus Jesus assured John that He was the coming One, and He implied that He would fulfill the judgment prophecies, though He had not done so yet.
Matthew 11:6 may contain an allusion to Isaiah 8:13-14. It is a gentle warning against allowing Jesus’ ministry to become an obstacle to belief and a reason for rejecting Jesus. It assumes that John and his disciples began well, but it warned them against reading the evidence of Jesus’ miracles incorrectly. The little beatitude in Matthew 11:6 commends those who believe God is working without demanding undue proof (cf. John 20:29). [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 425.]
"It is well to note that if John had an erroneous concept of the kingdom, this would have been the logical time for Christ to have corrected it. But He did no such thing." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 148. Cf. McClain, pp. 301-2.]
As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus took the opportunity to speak to the crowd about John. Reeds of cane grass grew abundantly along the Jordan River banks. A reed blown by the wind represents a person easily swayed by public opinion or circumstances. The multitudes certainly did not go into the Judean wilderness to view such a common sight. They did not go out to see a man in soft, even effeminate clothes (Gr. malakos) either. Such people lived in palaces. Jesus probably alluded derogatorily to Herod who had imprisoned John. Herod wore soft garments, but John wore rough garments (cf. Matthew 3:4-6).
By replying this way Jesus was allaying public suspicion that John’s question might have arisen from a vacillating character or undisciplined weakness. John’s question did not arise from a deficient character but from misunderstanding concerning Messiah’s ministry. Jesus was defending John.
The commendation of the King’s forerunner 11:7-11 (cf. Luke 7:24-28)
John had borne witness to Jesus, and now Jesus bore witness to John. In doing so Jesus pointed to Himself as the person who would bring in the kingdom.
The people had gone out into the wilderness to hear John because they believed he was a prophet. Jesus affirmed that identification. He was the first true prophet who had appeared in hundreds of years. However, John was an unusual prophet. He was not only a spokesman from and for God, as the other prophets were, but He was also the fulfillment of prophecy himself. He was the one predicted to prepare for Messiah’s appearing.
The passage Jesus quoted is Malachi 3:1, and His quotation reflects an allusion to Exodus 23:20. The changes Jesus made in His quotation had the effect of making Yahweh address Messiah (cf. Psalms 110:1). This harmonizes with the spirit of Malachi’s context (cf. Matthew 4:5-6). By quoting this passage Jesus was affirming His identity as Messiah. [Note: R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament, p. 155.] He viewed John as potentially fulfilling the prophecy about Elijah preparing the way for Yahweh and the day of the Lord. Whether John really did fulfill it depended on Israel’s acceptance of her Messiah then (cf. Matthew 11:14). In either case John fulfilled the spirit of the prophecy because he came in the spirit and power of Elijah.
Jesus called John the greatest human being because he served as the immediate forerunner of Messiah. This was a ministry no other prophet enjoyed. Yet, Jesus added, anyone in the kingdom will be greater than John.
Scholars have offered many different explanations of the last part of Matthew 11:11. Some translate "the least" as "the younger" and believe Jesus was contrasting Himself as younger than John with John who was older. [Note: E.g., Fenton, p. 179.] However this is an unusual and unnecessary translation. Others believe that even the least in the kingdom will be able to point unambiguously to Jesus as the Messiah, but John’s testimony to Jesus’ messiahship was not persuading many who heard it. [Note: E.g., Carson, "Matthew," p. 265.] The best explanation, I believe, is that John then only anticipated the kingdom whereas participants will be in it.
". . . possession of a place in the kingdom is more important than being the greatest of the prophets." [Note: Marshall, p. 296.]
Jesus did not mean that John would fail to participate in the kingdom. All true prophets will be in it (Luke 13:28). He was simply contrasting participants and announcers of the kingdom.
These verses record Jesus’ description of the condition of the kingdom when He spoke these words. The days of John to the present began when John began to minister and extended to the time Jesus uttered the words Matthew recorded here. What does "suffers violence" mean? If the Greek verb biazetai is a deponent middle tense, it could mean that disciples must enter the kingdom through violent effort. [Note: J. N. Darby, Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, 3:59.] This seems to introduce a foreign element into Jesus’ teaching on discipleship. Entrance into the kingdom depends on faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The deponent middle could also mean that the kingdom has been forcefully advancing, but it had not swept away all opposition, as John had expected. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 267.] However the image of an irresistibly advancing kingdom seems foreign to Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus’ ministry thus far. Mounting opposition suggests that the kingdom was encountering severe resistance.
Probably the verb biazetai is in the passive tense. The kingdom suffers violence because evil men take it violently. Perhaps Jesus meant that men were snatching the kingdom from God and forcing its coming. [Note: Schweitzer, p. 357.] This is impossible since Israel was not forcing the kingdom to come. The Jews were unwilling to receive it when Jesus offered it. Perhaps Jesus meant that some Jews, such as Barabbas, where trying to bring in the kingdom by political revolution. [Note: Robinson, p. 102.] This is unlikely since Jesus made no other reference to this happening in the context. Probably Jesus meant that the religious leaders of His day were trying to bring in the kingdom in their own carnal way while refusing to accept God’s way that John and Jesus announced. [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 151-52; Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 82.]
This view explains satisfactorily Jesus’ reference to the period from the beginning of John’s ministry to when He spoke. Ever since John began his ministry of announcing Messiah the Jewish religious leaders had opposed him. Moreover in Matthew 23:13 Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of trying to seize the reins of kingdom power from Messiah to lead the kingdom as they wanted it to go. They also snatched the kingdom from the people by rejecting the Messiah. The imprisonment of John was another evidence of violent antagonism against the kingdom, but that opposition came from Herod Antipas. John and Jesus both eventually died at the hands of these violent men.
Jesus described the imminent kingdom as in grave danger because of His enemies. The Old Testament prophets had predicted until John, but when John began his ministry the time of fulfillment began. That was a unique time that the law and the prophets had foretold (Matthew 11:13). [Note: See Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:764-66, for discussion of how the Jews understood the Law in Jesus’ day.]
The identification of the King’s forerunner 11:12-15
This section further explains John the Baptist’s crucial place in God’s kingdom program.
In the previous two verses Jesus spoke of the imminent kingdom. It was encountering severe opposition. In these two verses He discussed the potential beginning of the kingdom.
The messianic kingdom would come if the Jews would accept it. In the Greek text the conditional particle (ei) assumes for the sake of the argument that they would receive it. Assuming they would, John would fulfill Malachi’s prophecy about Elijah being Messiah’s forerunner (Malachi 4:5-6).
"There is scarcely a passage in Scripture which shows more clearly that the kingdom was being offered to Israel at this time." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 153.]
All amillenarians and some premillenarians, namely, covenant (historic) premillenarians and progressive dispensationalists, believe that the kingdom really began with Jesus’ preaching. [Note: E.g., Carson, "Matthew," p. 268, a premillenarian.] They interpret this conditional statement as follows. They say Jesus was acknowledging that it was difficult to accept the fact that John was the fulfillment of the prophecies about Elijah. They take "it" as referring to Jesus’ statement about John rather than the kingdom. Since both antecedents are in the context the interpretation hinges on one’s conclusion about whether the kingdom really did begin with Jesus’ preaching or whether it is still future. I favor the second alternative in view of the Old Testament prophecies about the kingdom and how Matthew presented Jesus’ concept of the kingdom. Jesus viewed the messianic kingdom as future and earthly, not present and future. In saying this I do not deny that in one sense God rules over His own now. However this is a heavenly rule, a rule from heaven. The Old Testament prophets predicted that Messiah would rule on the earth. This earthly rule of God over His own is still future. This is the kingdom that John announced and Jesus offered to Israel.
Jesus did not say that John was Elijah. That depended on Israel’s repenting and accepting Jesus as the Messiah. John fulfilled Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1, prophecies about Messiah’s forerunner, but not Malachi 4:5-6, the prophecy about the forerunner turning the people’s hearts to God, since Israel rejected Jesus.
". . . John the Baptist stands in fulfillment of the promise of Malachi concerning the coming of Elijah, but only in the sense that he announced the coming of Christ." [Note: Merrill, "Deuteronomy . . .," p. 30.]
Who will fulfill Malachi 4:5-6 and when? Perhaps Elijah himself will be one of the two witnesses who will prepare the Israelites for Messiah’s second coming (Revelation 11:1-14). Since John could have fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah, I tend to think that Elijah need not return to earth personally for this ministry. [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 82.] Probably the two witnesses will be two contemporary believers in the Tribulation who will turn the people’s hearts to God as Elijah did in his day.
Matthew 11:15 underlines the great significance of what Jesus had just stated.
The generation Jesus spoke of consisted of the Jews to whom He offered the kingdom (cf. Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 12:39; Matthew 12:41-42; Matthew 12:45; Matthew 16:4; Matthew 17:17; Matthew 23:36; Matthew 24:34). Jesus must have observed children playing the marriage and funeral games He referred to here, and He used them to illustrate the childish reaction of most of His adult contemporaries. The point was that the people found fault with whatever Jesus did. He did not behave or teach in harmony with what they wanted Him to do or expected that Messiah would do. His concept of the kingdom was different from theirs. They wanted a King who would fit into and agree with their traditional understanding of the Messiah. Consequently they rejected Him.
The dissatisfaction with the King and His forerunner 11:16-19 (cf. Luke 7:29-35)
Jesus proceeded to describe the Jews’ reaction to John and Himself more fully to clarify their opposition.
Even though John lived as an ascetic, as some of the Old Testament prophets did, most of the Jews rejected him and even charged him with demon possession. Jesus ate and drank with sinners, and many of the people criticized Him for lack of moderation and concluded that He despised the Law. If they had understood John, they would have understood Jesus.
Jesus concluded with a proverb that justified John’s and His lifestyles. The Jews had criticized both John and Jesus for the ways they lived. Jesus’ point was that the good deeds that John and Jesus did vindicated their choices to live as they did. Who could justifiably criticize them since they went about doing good? Wisdom in the Old Testament is almost a synonym for God in many places. Jesus claimed that He and John were living wisely, under God’s control, by behaving as they did. The Jews could make childish criticisms, but the lifestyles of John and Jesus argued for their credibility.
In spite of John’s doubts Jesus supported and affirmed His forerunner to his disciples and his critics. John’s message was correct even if he had developed some misgivings about it.
The Greek word oneidizein translated "reproach" (NASB) and "denounce" (NIV) is a strong word that conveys deep indignation (cf. Matthew 5:11; Matthew 27:44). Jesus did not denounce these cities because they actively opposed His ministry. He did so because the residents refused to repent in spite of the many miracles that Jesus and His disciples had performed there (cf. Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17). The verb "to be done" (Gr. egenonto) looks at Jesus’ Galilean ministry as completed (cf. Matthew 11:21). [Note: M’Neile, p. 159.]
2. Indifference to the King’s message 11:20-24
One indication of Israel’s opposition to her King was the antagonism she displayed toward John and Jesus’ methods (Matthew 11:2-19). Another was her indifference to Jesus’ message. Jesus and His disciples had preached and healed throughout Galilee. However most of the people did not repent. Therefore Jesus pronounced judgment on their cities that had witnessed many mighty miracles. Jesus had the residents of the cities in view when He spoke of the cities.
"Those who really wish to know their Bibles should see that we are in new country from this verse forward. Draw a thick black line between the nineteenth and the twentieth verses. There is a great divide here. Truth flows down to opposite oceans from this point. We are face to face with a new aspect of the work of Christ. The Lord Jesus was henceforth a different Man in His action and in His speech. The One Who was the meek and lowly Jesus was about to exhibit His strong wrath in no uncertain way." [Note: Barnhouse, p. 77.]
Ouai can mean "woe," a word announcing doom, or "alas," meaning pity. Both ideas are appropriate here. Isaiah used the Hebrew equivalent 22 times. Chorazin stood about two miles northwest of Capernaum. This Bethsaida was probably the one on the northeast coast of the Sea of Galilee on the east side of the Jordan River (cf. Mark 6:45; Mark 8:22; Luke 9:10; John 1:44; John 12:21). Tyre and Sidon lay on the Mediterranean coast to the north. The Old Testament prophets often denounced Tyre and Sidon for their Baal worship. Sackcloth and ashes were common ancient Near Eastern accouterments to mourning.
Jesus’ statement reveals that as God He knew what the people of Tyre and Sidon would have done had they received the amount of witness the Jewish cities had enjoyed. It also indicates that the reception of special revelation is a privilege, not a right. Furthermore when God judges, He will take into account the opportunity people have had. There are degrees of punishment in hell as there are degrees of felicity in heaven (Matthew 11:41; Matthew 23:13; Luke 12:47-48; Rom_1:20 to Rom_2:16). [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 273.]
Capernaum was Jesus’ base, and He performed many miracles there, half of the 10 recorded in this section of the Gospel (Matthew 4:13; Matthew 8:5-17; Matthew 9:2-8; Matthew 9:18-33). It, like wicked Babylon, would suffer eternal damnation (Isaiah 14:15). Hades is the place of the dead (cf. Matthew 5:22; Matthew 16:18). In view of the tower of Babel and the Exile the Jews regarded Babylon as the worst of all cities. Sodom likewise was infamous for its wickedness (cf. Matthew 10:15). Jesus probably used the second person singular as a rhetorical device to address these cities. He addressed His audience with the plural "you" (Matthew 11:22; Matthew 11:24).
"Anyone who visits the ruins of Capernaum today and sees the pitiful remains of what was once a beautiful city, can realize the literalness with which this prophecy has been fulfilled. Significantly, Tiberias, not far away, was not condemned and is not in ruins." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., pp. 83-84.]
These towns had rejected Jesus and His ministry by their indifference. The citizens followed Him and appreciated His healing ministry, but they did not respond to His message.
"They perhaps took a languid interest in His miracles and teaching; but His beneficence never touched their hearts, and His doctrine produced no change in their lives." [Note: Plummer, p. 165.]
"This passage vividly illustrates the simple truth that the greater the revelation, the greater the accountability." [Note: Hagner, p. 314. Cf. Romans 2:12-16.]
Matthew’s connective "at that time" is loosely historical and tightly thematic. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 274.] Jesus’ titles for God are appropriate in view of His prayer. "Father" focuses on Jesus’ sonship and prepares for Matthew 11:27 whereas "Lord of heaven and earth" stresses God’s sovereignty and prepares for Matthew 11:25-26. "These things" refer to the significance of Jesus’ miracles, the imminence of the messianic kingdom, and the implications of Jesus’ teaching.
"As elaborated in the context, it [this revelation] concerns in greatest measure two matters. The one matter is the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 13:11). And the other is insight into Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (Matthew 14:33; Matthew 16:16)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 137.]
The "wise and prudent [or learned]" are the self-sufficient Jews who rejected Jesus because they felt no need for what He offered. The "babes [or little children]" are the dependent who received Jesus’ teaching as needy individuals. Israel was not humble but proud. Consequently she could not understand the things that Jesus revealed to her.
It was God’s good pleasure to hide truth from some and reveal it to others. This may make God appear arbitrary and unfair. However, Scripture reveals that God owes man nothing. God is not unjust because He hides truth from some while revealing it to others. Hiding things from some is an evidence of God’s judgment, not His justice. That He extends mercy to any is amazing. That He extends it to those who are inadequate and totally dependent is even more incredible. Furthermore, because He hides truth from those who reject it He shows mercy to them because He will just all people by their response to the truth they have.
Jesus delighted in the fact that His Father revealed and concealed truth as He did (Matthew 11:26). Jesus delighted in whatever God did. His disciples should do likewise.
"It is often in a person’s prayers that his truest thoughts about himself come to the surface. For this reason the thanksgiving of Jesus here recorded is one of the most precious pieces of spiritual autobiography found in the Synoptic Gospels." [Note: Tasker, p. 121.]
3. The King’s invitation to the repentant 11:25-30
This invitation is a sign of Israel’s rejection of her King since with it Jesus invited those who had believed in Him to separate from unbelieving Israel and to follow Him. In Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus addressed the condemned, but in Matthew 11:25-30 He spoke to the accepted. This section is a Christological high point in the Gospel.
Here is another of Jesus’ claims to being the Son of God. [Note: Cf. Plummer, p. 168.] Jesus claimed to be the exclusive revealer of God’s message that the "babes" received. Jesus has authority over those to whom He reveals God. Reciprocal knowledge with God the Father assumes a special type of sonship. It reflects relationship more than intellectual attainment. The only way people can know the Father is through the Son (cf. John 14:6). Similarly there are some things about the Son that only the Father knows. Some of what the Son has chosen to reveal concerns the kingdom.
This invitation recalls Jeremiah 31:25 where Yahweh offered His people rest in the New Covenant. The weary are those who have struggled long and toiled hard. The heavy-laden are those who stagger under excessive burdens.
"The one [term] implies toil, the other endurance. The one refers to the weary search for truth and for relief from a troubled conscience; the other refers to the heavy load of observances that give no relief, and perhaps also the sorrow of life, which, apart from the consolations of a true faith, are so crushing." [Note: Ibid., p. 170.]
Jesus, the revealer of God, invites those who feel their need for help they cannot obtain themselves to come to Him (cf. Matthew 5:3; Revelation 22:17). Israel’s spiritual leaders had loaded the people with burdens that were heavy to bear. The rest in view involves kingdom rest (cf. Hebrews 4), but it is a present reality too.
Throughout Israel’s history God held out the promise of rest if His people would trust and obey Him. The Promised Land was to be the scene of this rest. However, when Israel entered Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, she enjoyed rest there only partially due to limited trust and obedience. As her history progressed, she lost much rest through disobedience. Now Jesus as her Messiah promised that the rest she had longed for for centuries could be hers if she humbly came to Him. He provided this rest for anyone in Israel who came to Him in humble trust. [Note: Feinberg, p. 66.] He will provide this rest for Israel in the future in the Promised Land. This will take place when He returns to earth to establish His kingdom.
The yoke that farmers put on their oxen is a metaphor for the discipline of discipleship. This is not the yoke of the Mosaic Law but the yoke of discipleship to Jesus. Learning from Him involves assimilating what He reveals, not just imitating Him or learning from His experience.
Jesus is not only the authoritative revealer. He is also the humble Servant of the Lord. He deals gently with the weak (cf. Matthew 18:1-10; Matthew 19:13-15). Jesus quoted Jeremiah 6:16, a passage that pointed to Him. The yoke of discipleship may involve persecution, but it is easy (good and comfortable). His burden is light compared to the loads Israel’s religious leaders imposed on their disciples.
". . . this voluntary making of the yoke as heavy as possible, the taking on themselves as many obligations as possible, was the ideal of Rabbinic piety." [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:144.]
". . . what makes the difference is what sort of master one is serving." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 450.]
Israel’s unbelief is a strong theme in this chapter. We can see it in John’s question (Matthew 11:1-15), in Jesus’ generation (Matthew 11:16-19), in the cities of Galilee (Matthew 11:20-24), and in the proud wise (Matthew 11:25-30). [Note: Morgan, p. 111.]