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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 11

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We are not to suppose any close connection in time between the events related in this chapter and the Galilean mission. The reverse is implied in the vague introductory statement, that when Jesus had completed His instructions to the Twelve He went away on a teaching and preaching tour among the towns. The important thing is to realise that all that is related here must have taken place after there had been time for the methods, aims, spirit, and way of life of Jesus to manifest themselves, and so to become the subject of general remark. It was a matter of course that a man of such depth, originality, unconventionality, energy and fearless independence would sooner or latter provoke criticism of all shades; from mild, honest doubt, to decided reprobation. However popular at first, He must become at last comparatively isolated. By the time the events here related occurred, the reaction had fully set in, and the narrative shows how extensive it was, embracing within its sphere of influence the best in the land represented by the Baptist; the commercial class represented by three cities named; the professional class the “wise and understanding”; and the zealots in religion.

Verse 1

Matthew 11:1 . ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν διατάσσων . The participle here with a verb signifying to cease as often with verbs signifying to begin, continue, persevere, etc., vide Goodwin, § 879. ἐκεῖθεν , from that place, the place where the mission was given to the Twelve. Where that was we do not know; probably in some place of retirement (dans la retraite, Lutteroth). πόλεσιν αὐτῶν : the pronoun does not refer to the disciples ( μαθηταῖς ) as Fritzsche thinks, but to the people of Galilee. While He sent out the Twelve to preach, He continued preaching Himself, only avoiding the places they visited, “giving room to them and time to do their work, for, with Him present and healing, no one would have cared to go near them,” Chrysos., Hom. 36.

Verse 2

Matthew 11:2 . δεσμωτηρίῳ (from δεσμόω , δεσμός , a bond), in prison in the fortress of Machærus by the Dead Sea (Joseph., Antiq., 18, 5, 2), a fact already alluded to in Matthew 4:12 . By this time he has been a prisoner a good while, long enough to develop a prison mood . ἀκούσας : not so close a prisoner but that friends and followers can get access to him ( cf. Matthew 25:36 ; Matthew 25:43 ). τὰ ἔργα τοῦ χριστοῦ : this the subject in which the Baptist is chiefly interested. What is Jesus doing? But the evangelist does not say the works of Jesus , but of the Christ, i.e. , of the man who was believed to be the Christ, the works which were supposed to point Him out as the Christ. In what spirit reported, whether simply as news, with sympathy, or with jealousy, not indicated. πέμψας : the news set John on musing, and led to a message of inquiry διὰ τ . μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ , by his disciples, possibly the same men who brought the news. There would be constant coming and going between Galilee and Machærus. The construction is Hebraistic = sent by the hand of.

Verses 2-6

Matthew 11:2-6 . Message from the Baptist (Luke 7:18-23 ).

Verse 3

Matthew 11:3 . εἶπεν αὐτῷ , said to Jesus, by them, of course. Σὺ εἶ : the question a grave one and emphatically expressed: Thou , art Thou ὁ ἐρχόμενος ? Art Thou He whom I spoke of as the One coming after me when I was baptising in the Jordan (Matthew 3:11 )? It is a question whether Jesus be indeed the Christ . Lutteroth, basing on the hypothesis that for popular Jewish opinion the Christ and the coming One (a prophet like Moses) were different persons, interprets the question thus: “Art Thou, Jesus, whom I know to be the Christ, also the coming Prophet, or must we expect another to fill that rôle?” ἢ ἕτερον , not ἄλλον , which would have been more appropriate on Lutteroth’s view = a numerically distinct person. ἕτ . suggests a different kind of person. προσδοκῶμεν : may be present indicative (for future) as Beza and Fritzsche take it, or present subjunctive deliberative = ought we to look? (Meyer-Weiss, Holtz., H.C.), the latter preferable. What was the animus or psychological genesis of the question? Doubt in John’s own mind, or doubt, bred of envy or jealousy, in the minds of his disciples, or not doubt on Baptist’s part, but rather incipient faith? Alternative (2), universal with the fathers (except Tertullian, vide de prœscrip. , 8, de baptis. , 10); (1) common among modern commentators; (3) favoured by Keim, Weizsäcker, and Holtz., H.C.: “beginnende Disposition zum Glauben an Jesu Messianität”. The view of the fathers is based on a sense of decorum and implicit reliance on the exact historical value of the statements in fourth Gospel; No. (3), the budding faith hypothesis, is based on too sceptical a view as to the historic value of even the Synoptical accounts of John’s early relations with Jesus; No. (1) has everything in its favour. The effect of confinement on John’s prophetic temper, the general tenor of this chapter which obviously aims at exhibiting the moral isolation of Jesus, above all the wide difference between the two men, all make for it. Jesus, it had now become evident, was a very different sort of Messiah from what the Baptist had predicted and desiderated ( vide remarks on chap. Matthew 3:11-15 ). Where were the axe and fan and the holy wind and fire of judgment? Too much patience, tolerance, gentleness, sympathy, geniality, mild wisdom in this Christ for his taste.

Verse 4

Matthew 11:4 . ἀπαγγείλατε Ι .: go back and report to John for his satisfaction. ἃ ἀκ . καὶ βλέπετε , what you are hearing and seeing, not so much at the moment, though Luke gives it that turn (Matthew 7:21 ), but habitually. They were not to tell their master anything new, but just what they had told him before. The one new element is that the facts are stated in terms fitted to recall prophetic oracles (Isaiah 35:5 ; Isaiah 61:1 ), while, in part, a historic recital of recent miracles (Matthew 8:9 ). Probably the precise words of Jesus are not exactly reproduced, but the sense is obvious. Tell John your story over again and remind him of those prophetic texts. Let him study the two together and draw his own conclusion. It was a virtual invitation to John to revise his Messianic idea, in hope he would discover that after all love was the chief Messianic charism.

Verses 4-6

Matthew 11:4-6 . Answer of Jesus .

Verse 5

Matthew 11:5 . ἀναβλέπουσιν : used also in classics to express recovery of sight. κωφοὶ , here taken to mean deaf , though in Matthew 9:32-33 , it means dumb , showing that the prophecy, Isaiah 35:5 , is in the speaker’s thoughts. πτωχοὶ : vague word, might mean literal poor (De W.) or spiritual poor, or the whole people in its national misery (Weiss, Matt. Evan.), best defined by such a text as Matthew 9:36 , and such facts as that reported in Matthew 9:10-13 . εὐαγγελίζονται : might be middle = the poor preach, and so taken by Euthy. Zig. (also as an alternative by Theophy.), for “what can be poorer than fishing ( ἁλιευτικῆς )?” The poor in that case = the Twelve sent out to preach the kingdom. That, too, was character istic of the movement, though not the characteristic intended, which is that the poor, the socially insignificant and neglected, are evangelised (passive, as in Hebrews 4:2 ).

Verse 6

Matthew 11:6 . μακάριος ( vide Matthew 5:3 ), possessed of rare felicity. The word implies that those who, on some ground or other, did not stumble over Jesus were very few. Even John not among them! On σκανδαλίζω vide ad. Matthew 5:29 . ἐν ἐμοί , in anything relating to my public ministry, as appearing inconsistent with my Messianic vocation.

Verse 7

Matthew 11:7 . τούτων δὲ πορευομένων : while John’s messengers were in the act of going, Jesus began at once, without any delay, to make a statement which He deemed necessary to prevent injurious inferences from the message of the Baptist, or the construction He had put on it as implying doubt regarding Himself. τοῖς ὄχλοις : the interrogation had taken place in presence of many. Jesus was always in a crowd, except when He took special steps to escape. The spectators had watched with interest what Jesus would say about the famous man. Therefore, more must be said; a careful opinion expressed. τί ἐξήλθετε … θεάσασθαι : it might be taken for granted that most of them had been there. The catechetical method of stating His opinion of John lively and impressive to such an audience. They had gone to see as well as hear and be baptised, curiosity plays a great part in popular religious movements. κάλαμον . Plenty of reeds to be seen. “What a vast space of time lies between the days of the Baptist and us! How have the times changed! Yet the stream flows in the old bed. Still gently blows the wind among the sighing reeds.” Furrer, Wanderungen , 185. Many commentators (Grot., Wet., Fritzsche, De W.) insist on taking καλ . literally = did ye go, etc., to see a reed, or the reeds on the Jordan banks shaken by the wind? This is flat and prosaic. Manifestly the individualised reed is a figure of an inconstant, weak man; just enough in John’s present attitude to suggest such a thought, though not to justify it.

Verses 7-15

Matthew 11:7-15 . Judgment of Jesus concerning the Baptist (Luke 7:24-30 ). Characteristically magnanimous, while letting it be seen that He is aware of John’s limits and defects.

Verse 8

Matthew 11:8 . ἀλλὰ assumes the negative answer to the previous question and elegantly connects with it the following = “No; well, then, did you, etc.?” ἐν μαλακοῖς , neuter, ἱματίοις not necessary: in precious garments of any material, silk, woollen, linen; the fine garments suggestive of refinement, luxury, effeminacy. ἰδοὺ οἱ τ . μ . φοροῦντες : ἰδοὺ points to a well-known truth, serving the same purpose as δή here; those accustomed to wear, φορ ., frequentative, as distinct from φέροντες , which would mean bearing without reference to habit. οἴκοις τ . βασ ., in palaces which courtiers frequent. Jesus knows their flexible, superfine ways well; how different from those of the rudely clad and rudely mannered, uncompromising Baptist!

Verse 9

Matthew 11:9 . ἀλλὰ τί ἐξ .: one more question, shorter, abrupt, needing to be supplemented by another (Weiss-Meyer) why then, seriously, went ye out? προφήτην ἰδεῖν ; to see a Prophet ? ναί , yea l right at last; a prophet, indeed, with all that one expects in a prophet vigorous moral conviction, integrity, strength of will, fearless zeal for truth and righteousness; utterly free from the feebleness and time-serving of those who bend like reeds to every breath of wind, or bow obsequiously before greatness. καὶ περισσότερον π ., a prophet and more, something above the typical prophet ( vide on Matthew 5:47 ). The clause introduced by ναί , as λέγω ὑμῖν shows, expresses Christ’s own opinion, not the people’s (Weiss).

Verse 10

Matthew 11:10 . οὑτος … γέγραπται . The περισσότερον verified and explained by a prophetic citation. The oracle is taken from Malachi 3:0 , altered so as to make the Messianic reference apparent μου changed into σου . By applying the oracle to John, Jesus identifies him with the messenger whom God was to send to prepare Messiah’s way. This is his distinction, περισσότερον , as compared with other prophets. But, after all, this is an external distinction, an accident, so to speak. Some prophet must be the forerunner, if Messiah is to come at all, the last in the series who foretell His coming, and John happens to be that one a matter of good fortune rather than of merit. Something more is needed to justify the περισσότερον , and make it a proper subject for eulogy. That is forthcoming in the sequel.

Verse 11

Matthew 11:11 . ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν . First Christ expresses His personal conviction in solemn terms. What follows refers to John’s intrinsic worth, not to his historic position as the forerunner. The latter rests on the prophetic citation. Christ’s aim now is to say that the Baptist’s character is equal to his position : that he is fit to be the forerunner. For Christ, being the forerunner is no matter of luck. God will see that the right man occupies the position; nay, none but the right man can successfully perform the part. οὐκ ἐγήγερται , there hath not arisen; passive with middle sense, but the arising non sine numine , “surrexit divinitus, quomodo existunt veri Prophetae,” Elsner; cf. Matthew 24:11 , Luke 7:16 , vide also Judges 2:18 ; Judges 3:9 . ἐν γεννητοῖς γυναικῶν = among mankind, a solemn way of expressing the idea. The meaning, however, is not that John is the greatest man that ever lived. The comparison moves within the sphere of Hebrew prophecy, and practically means: John the greatest of all the prophets. A bold judgment not easily accepted by the populace, who always think the dead greater than the living. Christ expresses Himself strongly because He means to say something that might appear disparaging. But He is in earnest in His high estimate, only it is not to be understood as asserting John’s superiority in all respects, e.g. , in authorship. The point of view is capacity to render effective service to the Kingdom of God . ὁ δὲ μικρότερος . Chrysostom took this as referring to Jesus, and, connecting ἐν τ . β . τ . οὐρ . with μείζων , brought out the sense: He who is the less in age and fame is greater than John in the Kingdom of Heaven. The opinion might be disregarded as an exegetical curiosity, had it not been adopted by so many, not only among the ancients (Hilar., Ambr., Theophy., Euthy.), but also among moderns (Eras., Luth., Fritzsche). In the abstract it is a possible interpretation, and it expresses a true idea, but not one Jesus was likely to utter then. No doubt John’s inquiry had raised the question of Christ’s standing, and might seem to call for comparison between questioner and questioned. But Christ’s main concern was not to get the people to think highly of Himself, but to have high thoughts of the kingdom. What He says, therefore, is that any one in the kingdom, though of comparatively little account, is greater than John. Even the least is; for though μικρότερος , even with the article, does not necessarily mean μικρότατος (so Bengel), it amounts to that. The affirmative holds even in case of the highest degree of inferiority. The implication is that John was not in the kingdom as a historical movement (a simple matter of fact), and the point of comparison is the dominant spirit. The moral sternness of John was his greatness and also his weakness. It made him doubt Jesus, kept him aloof from the kingdom, and placed him below any one who in the least degree understood Christ’s gracious spirit, e.g. , one of the Twelve called in Matthew 10:42 “these little ones”.

Verses 11-12

Matthew 11:11-12 . This is the further justification of the περισσ . desiderated.

Verse 12

Matthew 11:12 . The statement just commented on had to be made in the interests of truth and the Kingdom of God, but having made it Jesus reverts with pleasure to a tone of eulogy. This verse has created much diversity of opinion, which it would take long to recount. I find in it two thoughts: one expressed, the other implied. (1) There has been a powerful movement since John’s time towards the Kingdom of God. (2) The movement derived its initial impetus from John. The latter thought is latent in ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν ἡμ . Ιωάν . The movement dates from John; he has the credit of starting it. This thought is essential to the connection. It is the ultimate justification of the περισσότερον (Matthew 11:9 ). The apostle Paul adduced as one argument for his apostleship, called in question by Judaists, success , which in his view was not an accident but God-given, and due to fitness for the work (2 Corinthians 2:14 ; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18 ). So Christ here in effect proves John’s fitness for the position of forerunner by the success of his ministry. He had actually made the kingdom come. That was the true basis of his title to the honourable appellation, “preparer of the way”; without that it had been an empty title, though based on any number of prophecies. That success proved fitness, adequate endowment with moral force, and power to impress and move men. This being seen to be Christ’s meaning, there is no room for doubt as to the animus of the words βιάζεται , βιασταὶ . They contain a favourable, benignant estimate of the movement going on not an unfavourable, as, among others, Weiss thinks, taking the words to point to a premature attempt to bring in the kingdom by a false way as a political creation (Weiss-Meyer). Of course there were many defects, obvious, glaring, in the movement, as there always are. Jesus knew them well, but He was not in the mood just then to remark on them, but rather, taking a broad, generous view, to point to the movement as a whole as convincing proof of John’s moral force and high prophetic endowment. The two words βιαζ ., βιασ . signalise the vigour of the movement. The kingdom was being seized, captured by a storming party. The verb might be middle voice, and is so taken by Beng., “sese vi quasi obtrudit,” true to fact, but the passive is demanded by the noun following. The kingdom is forcefully taken ( βιαίως κρατεῖται , Hesychius) by the βιασταὶ . There is probably a tacit reference to the kind of people who were storming the kingdom, from the point of view, not so much of Jesus, as of those who deemed themselves the rightful citizens of the kingdom. “Publicans and sinners” (Matthew 9:9-12 ), the ignorant (Matthew 11:25 ). What a rabble! thought Scribes and Pharisees. Cause of profound satisfaction to Jesus (Matthew 11:25 ).

Verse 13

Matthew 11:13 . he thought here is hinted rather than fully expressed. It has been suggested that the sense would become clearer if Matthew 11:12-13 were made to change places (Maldonatus). This inversion might be justified by reference to Luke 16:16 , where the two thoughts are given in the inverse order. Wendt (L. J., i. 75) on this and other grounds arranges the Matthew 11:13-14 ; Matthew 11:12 . But even as they stand the words can be made to yield a fitting sense, harmonising with the general aim, the eulogy of John. The surface idea is that the whole O. T., prophets of course, and even the law in its predictive aspects (by symbolic rites and foreshadowing institutions) pointed forward to a Kingdom of God. The kingdom coming the burden of O. T. revelation. But what then? To what end make this observation? To explain the impatience of the stormers: their determination to have at last by all means, and in some form, what had so long been foretold? (Weiss). No; but to define by contrast John’s position. Observe ἕως l. goes not with the subject, but with the verb Prophets (and even law) till John prophesied . The suggestion is that he is not a mere continuator of the prophetic line, one more repeating the message: the kingdom will come . His function is peculiar and exceptional. What is it? Matthew 11:14 explains. He is the Elijah of Malachi, herald of the Great Day, usherer in of the kingdom, the man who says not merely “the kingdom will come,” but “the kingdom is here”; says it, and makes good the saying, bringing about a great movement of repentance. εἰ θέλετε δέξασθαι : the identification of John with Elijah to be taken cum grano , not as a prosaic statement of fact. Here, as always, Christ idealises, seizes the essential truth. John was all the Elijah that would ever come, worthy to represent him in spirit, and performing the function assigned to Elijah redivivus in prophecy. Some of the Fathers distinguished two advents of Elijah, one in spirit in the Baptist, another literally at the second coming of Christ. Servile exegesis of the letter. δέξασθαι has no expressed object: the object is the statement following. Lutteroth supplies “him” = the Baptist. In the θέλετε Weiss finds a tacit allusion to the impenitence of the people: Ye are not willing because ye know that Elijah’s coming means a summons to repentance.

Verses 13-15

Matthew 11:13-15 . Conclusion of speech about John.

Verse 15

Matthew 11:15 . proverbial form of speech often used by Jesus after important utterances, here for the first time in Matt. The truth demanding attentive and intelligent ears (ears worth having; taking in the words and their import ) is that John is Elijah. It implies much that the kingdom is here and the king, and that the kingdom is moral not political.

Verse 16

Matthew 11:16 . τίνι ὁμοιώσω : the parable is introduced by a question, as if the thought had just struck Him. τὴν γενεὰν ταύτην . The occasion on which the words following were spoken would make it clear who were referred to. Our guide must be the words themselves. The subjects of remark are not the βιασταὶ of Matthew 11:12 , nor the ὄχλοι to whom Jesus had been speaking. Neither are they the whole generation of Jews then living, including Jesus and John (Elsner); or even the bulk of the Jewish people, contemporaries of Jesus. It was not Christ’s habit to make severe animadversions on the “people of the land,” who formed the large majority of the population. He always spoke of them with sympathy and pity (Matthew 9:37 , Matthew 10:6 ). γενεά might mean the whole body of men then living, but it might also mean a particular class of men marked out by certain definite characteristics. It is so used in Matthew 12:39 ; Matthew 12:41-42 ; Matthew 12:45 ; Matthew 16:4 . The class or “race” there spoken of is in one case the Scribes and Pharisees, and in the other the Pharisees and Sadducees. From internal evidence the reference here also is mainly to the Pharisees. It is a class who spoke of Jesus as reported in Matthew 11:19 . Who can they have been but the men who asked: Why does He eat with publicans and sinners (Matthew 9:11 )? These vile calumnies are what have come out of that feast, in the same sanctimonious circle. Luke evidently understood the Pharisees and lawyers ( νομικοὶ ) to be the class referred to, guided probably by his own impression as to the import of the passage ( vide Luke 7:30 ). παιδίοις … ἀγοραῖς : Jesus likens the Pharisaic γενεά to children in the market-place playing at marriages and funerals, as He had doubtless often seen them in Nazareth. The play, as is apt to happen, has ended in a quarrel. προσφ . τοῖς ἑτέροις … λέγουσιν . There are two parties, the musicians and the rest who are expected to dance or mourn according to the tune, and they are at cross purposes, the moods not agreeing: ἑτέροις , the best attested reading, may point to this discrepancy in temper = a set differently inclined. ηὐλήσαμεν : the flute in this case used for merriment, not, as in Matthew 9:23 , to express grief. ἐθρηνήσαμεν : we have expressed grief by singing funeral dirges, like the mourning women hired for the purpose ( vide ad Matthew 9:23 ). ἐκόψασθε : and ye have not beat your breasts in responsive sorrow. This is the parable to which Jesus adds a commentary. Without the aid of the latter the general import is plain. The γενεά animadverted on are like children, not in a good but in a bad sense: not child-like but childish. They play at religion; with all their seeming earnestness in reality triflers. They are also fickle, fastidious, given to peevish fault-finding, easily offended. These are recognisable features of the Pharisees. They were great zealots and precisians, yet not in earnest, rather haters of earnestness, as seen in different ways in John and Jesus. They were hard to please: equally dissatisfied with John and with Jesus; satisfied with nothing but their own artificial formalism. They were the only men in Israel of whom these things could be said with emphasis, and it may be taken for granted that Christ’s animadversions were elicited by pronounced instances of the type.

Verses 16-19

Matthew 11:16-19 . Judgment of Jesus on His religious contemporaries (Luke 7:31-35 ). It is advisable not to assume as a matter of course that these words were spoken at the same time as those going before. The discourse certainly appears continuous, and Luke gives this utterance in the same connection as our evangelist, from which we may infer that it stood so in the common source. But even there the connection may have been topical rather than temporal; placed beside what goes before, because containing a reference to John, and because the contents are of a critical nature.

Verse 18

Matthew 11:18 . he commentary on the parable showing that it was the reception given to John and Himself that suggested it. μήτε ἐσθ . μήτε πιν .: eating and drinking, the two parts of diet; not eating nor drinking = remarkably abstemious, ascetic, that his religious habit; μήτε not οὐτε , to express not merely the fact, but the opinion about John. Vide notes on chap. Matthew 5:34 . δαιμόνιον ἔχει : is possessed, mad, with the madness of a gloomy austerity. The Pharisee could wear gloomy airs in fasting (Matthew 6:16 ), but that was acting . The Baptist was in earnest with his morose, severely abstinent life. Play for them, grim reality for him; and they disliked it and shrank from it as something weird. None but Pharisees would dare to say such a thing about a man like John. They are always so sure, and so ready to judge. Ordinary people would respect the ascetic of the wilderness, though they did not imitate him.

Verse 19

Matthew 11:19 . ὁ υἱὸς τ . ἀ .: obviously Jesus here refers to Himself in third person where we might have expected the first. Again the now familiar title, defining itself as we go along by varied use, pointing Jesus out as an exceptional person, while avoiding all conventional terms to define the exceptional element. ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων : the “Son of Man” is one who eats and drinks, i.e. , non-ascetic and social, one of the marks interpretative of the title = human, fraternal . καὶ λέγουσι , and they say: what? One is curious to know. Surely this genial, friendly type of manhood will please! ἰδοὺ , lo! scandalised sanctimoniousness points its finger at Him and utters gross, outrageous calumnies. φάγος , οἰνοπότης , φίλος , an eater with emphasis = a glutton (a word of late Greek, Lob., Phryn., 434), a wine-bibber ; and, worse than either, for φίλος is used in a sinister sense and implies that Jesus was the comrade of the worst characters, and like them in conduct. A malicious nick-name at first, it is now a name of honour: the sinner’s lover. The Son of Man takes these calumnies as a thing of course and goes on His gracious way. It is not necessary to reflect these characteristics of Jesus and John back into the parable, and to identify them with the piping and wailing children. Yet the parable is so constructed as to exhibit them very clearly in their distinctive peculiarities by representing the children not merely employed in play and quarrelling over their games, which would have sufficed as a picture of the religious Jews, but as playing at marriages and funerals, the former symbolising the joy of the Jesus-circle, the latter the sadness of the Baptist-circle ( vide my Parabolic Teaching of Christ , p. 420). καὶ ἐδικαιώθη , etc. This sentence wears a gnomic or proverbial aspect (“verba proverbium redolere videntur,” Kuinoel, similarly, Rosenmüller), and the aorist of ἐδικ . may be taken as an instance of the gnomic aorist, expressive of what is usual; a law in the moral sphere, as elsewhere the aorist is employed to express the usual course in the natural sphere, e.g. , in James 1:11 . Weiss-Meyer strongly denies that there are any instances of such use of the aorist in the N. T. (On this aorist vide Goodwin, Syntax , p. 53, and Bäumlein, § 523, where it is called the aorist of experience, “der Erfahrungswahrheit”.) ἀπὸ , in, in view of ( vide Buttmann’s Gram. , p. 232, on ἀπὸ in N. T.). ἔργων : the reading of [68] [69] , and likely to be the true one just because τέκνων is the reading in Luke. It is an appeal to results, to fruit (Matthew 7:20 ), to the future. Historical in form, the statement is in reality a prophecy. Resch, indeed ( Agrapha , p. 142), takes ἐδικ . as the (erroneous) translation of the Hebrew prophetic future used in the Aramaic original = now we are condemned, but wait a while. The καὶ at the beginning of the clause is not = “but”. It states a fact as much a matter of course as is the condemnation of the unwise. Wisdom, condemned by the foolish, is always, of course, justified in the long run by her works or by her children.

[68] Codex Sinaiticus (sæc. iv.), now at St. Petersburg, published in facsimile type by its discoverer, Tischendorf, in 1862.

[69] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

Verse 20

Matthew 11:20 . τότε , then , cannot be pressed. Luke gives the following words in instructions to the Seventy. The real historical occasion is unknown. It may be a reminiscence from the preaching tour in the synagogues of Galilee (Matthew 4:23 ). The reflections were made after Jesus had visited many towns and wrought many wonderful works ( δυνάμεις ). οὐ μετενόησαν : this the general fact; no deep, permanent change of mind and heart. Christ appearing among them a nine days’ wonder, then forgotten by the majority preoccupied with material interests.

Verses 20-24

Matthew 11:20-24 . Reflections by Jesus on the reception given to Him by the towns of Galilee (Luke 10:13-15 ).

Verse 21

Matthew 11:21 . Χοραζίν , Βηθσαϊδάν : the former not again mentioned in Gospels, the latter seldom ( vide Mark 6:45 ; Mark 8:22 ; Luke 9:10 ), yet scenes of important evangelic incidents, probably connected with the synagogue ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:23 ). The Gospels are brief records of a ministry crowded with events. These two towns may be named along with Capernaum because all three were in view where Christ stood when He uttered the reproachful words, say on the top of the hill above Capernaum: Bethsaida on the eastern shore or Jordan, just above where it falls into the lake; Chorazin on the western side on the road to Tyre from Capernaum (Furrer, Wanderungen , p. 370). They may also have been prosperous business centres selected to represent the commercial side of Jewish national life. Hence the reference to Tyre and Sidon , often the subject of prophetic animadversion, yet not so blameworthy in their impenitence as the cities which had seen Christ’s works. ἐν σάκκῳ καὶ σποδῷ : in black sackcloth, and with ashes on the head, or sitting in ashes like Job (Matthew 2:8 ).

Verse 22

Matthew 11:22 . πλὴν : contracted from πλέον = moreover, for the rest, to put the matter shortly; not adversative here, though sometimes so used.

Verse 23

Matthew 11:23 . he diversity in the reading μὴ or ἡ ἕως , etc., does not affect the sense. In the one case the words addressed to Capernaum contain a statement of fact by Jesus; in the other a reference to a feeling prevailing in Capernaum in regard to the facts. The fact implied in cither case is distinction on some ground, probably because Capernaum more than all other places was favoured by Christ’s presence and activity. But there may, as some think (Grotius, Rosen., De Wette, etc.), be a reference to trade prosperity. “Florebat C. piscatu, mercatu, et quae alia esse solent commoda ad mare sitarum urbium” (Grot.). The reference to Tyre and Sidon, trade centres, makes this not an idle suggestion. And it is not unimportant to keep this aspect in mind, as Capernaum with the other two cities then become representatives of the trading spirit, and show us by sample how that spirit received the Gospel of the kingdom. Capernaum illustrated the common characteristic most signally. Most prosperous, most privileged spiritually, and most unsympathetic, the population being taken as a whole. Worldliness as unreceptive as counterfeit piety represented by Pharisaism, though not so offensive in temper and language. No calumny, but simply invincible indifference. ἕως οὐρανοῦ , ἕως ᾃδου : proverbial expressions for the greatest exaltation and deepest degradation. The reference in the latter phrase is not to the future world, but to the judgment day of Israel in which Capernaum would be involved. The prophetic eye of Jesus sees Capernaum in ruins as it afterwards saw the beautiful temple demolished (chap. Matthew 24:2 ).

Verse 25

Matthew 11:25 . ἀποκριθείς , answering, not necessarily to anything said, but to some environment provocative of such thoughts. ἐξομολογοῦμαί σοι (= הוֹדָה לְ , Psalms 75:2 , etc.). In Matthew 3:6 this compound means to make full confession (of sin). Here it = to make frank acknowledgment of a situation in a spirit partly of resignation, partly of thanksgiving. ἔκρυψας . The fact stated is referred to the causality of God, the religious point of view; but it happens according to laws which can be ascertained. ταῦτα : the exact reference unknown, but the statement holds with reference to Christ’s whole teaching and healing ministry, and the revelation of the kingdom they contained. σοφῶν καὶ συνετῶν : the reference here doubtless is to the Rabbis and scribes, the accepted custodians of the wisdom of Israel. Cf. σοφὸς καὶ ἐπιστήμων in Deuteronomy 4:6 applied to Israel. The rendering “wise and prudent ” in A. V [70] is misleading; “wise and understanding ” in R. V [71] is better. νηπίοις (fr. νη and ἔπος , non-speaking) means those who were as ignorant of scribe-lore as babes ( cf. John 7:49 and Hebrews 5:13 ). Their ignorance was their salvation, as thereby they escaped the mental preoccupation with preconceived ideas on moral and religious subjects, which made the scribes inaccessible to Christ’s influence ( vide my Parabolic Teaching , pp. 333, 334). Jesus gives thanks with all His heart for the receptivity of the babes, not in the same sense or to the same extent for the non-receptive attitude of the wise (with De Wette and Bleek against Meyer and Weiss). No distinction indeed is expressed, but it goes without saying, and the next clause implies it.

[70] Authorised Version.

[71] Revised Version.

Verses 25-27

Matthew 11:25-27 . Jesus worshipping (Luke 10:21-22 ). It is usual to call this golden utterance a prayer, but it is at once prayer, praise, and self-communing in a devout spirit. The occasion is unknown. Matthew gives it in close connection with the complaint against the cities ( ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ ), but Luke sets it in still closer connection ( ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ ) with the return of the Seventy. According to some modern critics, it had no occasion at all in the life of our Lord, but is simply a composition of Luke’s, and borrowed from him by the author of Matthew: a hymn in which the Pauline mission to the heathen as the victory of Christ over Satan’s dominion in the world is celebrated, and given in connection with the imaginary mission of the Seventy ( vide Pfleiderer, Urchristenthum , p. 445). But Luke’s preface justifies the belief that he had here, as throughout, a tradition oral or written to go on, and the probability is that it was taken both by him and by Matthew from a common document. Wendt (L. J., pp. 90, 91) gives it as an extract from the book of Logia , and supposes that it followed a report of the return of the disciples (the Twelve) from their mission.

Verse 26

Matthew 11:26 . ναί reaffirms with solemn emphasis what might appear doubtful, viz. , that Jesus was content with the state of matters ( vide Klotz, Devar. , i. 140). Cf. Matthew 11:9 . πατήρ : nominative for vocative. ὄτι , because, introducing the reason for this contentment. οὕτως , as the actual facts stand, emphatic (“sic maxime non aliter,” Fritzsche). εὐδοκία , a pleasure, an occasion of pleasure; hence a purpose, a state of matters embodying the Divine Will, a Hellenistic word, as is also the verb εὐδοκέω ( cf. 1 Corinthians 1:21 , where the whole thought is similar). Christ resigns Himself to God’s will. But His tranquillity is due likewise to insight into the law by which new Divine movements find support among the νήπιοι rather than among the σοφοί .

Verse 27

Matthew 11:27 . πάντα , all things necessary for the realisation of the kingdom (Holtz., H.C.). The πάντα need not be restricted to the hiding and revealing functions (Weiss, Nösgen). Hiding, indeed, was no function of Christ’s. He was always and only a revealer. For the present Jesus has only a few babes , but the future is His: Christianity the coming religion. παρεδόθη , aorist, were given. We might have expected the future. It may be another instance of the aorist used for the Hebrew prophetic future ( vide ad Matthew 11:19 ). In Matthew 28:18 ἐδόθη again to express the same thought. The reference probably is to the eternal purpose of God: on the use of the aorist in N. T., vide note on this passage in Camb. G. T. ἐπιγινώσκει , thoroughly knows. τὸν υἱὸν … πατήρ , Christ’s comfort amid the widespread unbelief and misunderstanding in reference to Himself is that His Father knows Him perfectly. No one else does, not even John. He is utterly alone in the world. Son here has a Godward reference, naturally arising out of the situation. The Son of Man is called an evil liver. He lifts up His heart to heaven and says: God my Father knows me, His Son. The thought in the first clause is connected with this one thus: the future is mine, and for the present my comfort is in the Father’s knowledge of me. οὐδὲ τὸν πατέρα … ὁ υἱὸς : a reflection naturally suggested by the foregoing statement. It is ignorance of the Father that creates misconception of the Son. Conventional, moral and religious ideals lead to misjudgment of one who by all He says and does is revealing God as He truly is and wills. The men who know least about God are those supposed to know most, and who have been most ready to judge Him, the “wise and understanding”. Hence the additional reflection, κοὶ ᾧ ἐὰν βούληται ὁ υ . ἀποκαλύψαι . Jesus here asserts His importance as the revealer of God, saying in effect: “The wise despise me, but they cannot do without me. Through me alone can they attain that knowledge of God which they profess to desire above all things.” This was there and then the simple historic fact. Jesus was the one person in Israel who truly conceived God. The use of βούληται is noticeable: not to whomsoever He reveals Him, but to whomsoever He is pleased to reveal Him. The emphasis seems to lie on the inclination , whereas in Matthew 1:19 θέλων appears to express the wish, and ἐβουλήθη rather the deliberate purpose. Jesus meets the haughty contempt of the “wise” with a dignified assertion that it depends on his inclination whether they are to know God or not. On the distinction between βούλομαι and θέλω , vide Cremer, Wörterbuch, s. v. βούλομαι . According to him the former represents the direction of the will, the latter the will active (Affect, Trieb). Hence βουλ . can always stand for θελ ., but not vice versâ .

Verse 28

Matthew 11:28 . Δεῦτε : vide ad Matthew 4:19 , again authoritative but kindly. κοπιῶντες καὶ πεφορτισμένοι , the fatigued and burdened. This is to be taken metaphorically. The kind of people Jesus expects to become “disciples indeed” are men who have sought long, earnestly, but in vain, for the summum bonum , the knowledge of God. There is no burden so heavy as that of truth sought and not found. Scholars of the Rabbis, like Saul of Tarsus, knew it well. In coming thence to Christ’s school they would find rest by passing from letter to spirit, from form to reality, from hearsay to certainty, from traditions of the past to the present voice of God. κἀγὼ , and I , emphatic, with side glance at the reputed “wise” who do not give rest (with Meyer against Weiss).

Verses 28-30

Matthew 11:28-30 . The gracious invitation . Full of O. T. reminiscences, remarks Holtz., H.C., citing Isaiah 14:3 ; Isaiah 28:12 ; Isaiah 55:1-3 ; Jeremiah 6:16 ; Jeremiah 31:2 ; Jeremiah 31:25 , and especially Sir 6:24-25 ; Sir 6:28-29 ; Sir 51:23-27 . De Wette had long before referred to the last-mentioned passage, and Pfleiderer has recently ( Urch. , 513) made it the basis of the assertion that this beautiful logion is a composition out of Sirach by the evangelist. The passage in Sirach is as follows: ἐγγίσατε πρὸς μὲ ἀπαίδευτοι , καὶ αὐλίσθητε ἐν οἴκῳ παιδείας . διότι ὑστερεῖτε ἐν τούτοις , καὶ αἱ ψυχαὶ ὑμῶν διψῶσι σφόδρα ; ἤνοιξα τὸ στόμα μου , καὶ ἐλάλησα , κτήσασθε ἑαυτοῖς ἄνευ ἀργυρίου . τὸν τράχηλον ὑμῶν ὑπόθετε ὑπὸ ζυγὸν , καὶ ἐπιδεξάσθω ἡ ψυχὴ ὑμῶν παιδείαν · ἐγγύς ἐστιν εὑρεῖν αὐτήν · ἴδετε ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς ὑμῶν ὅτι ὀλίγον ἐκοπίασα , καὶ εὗρον ἐμαυτῷ πολλὴν ἀνάπαυσιν . [72] There are unquestionably kindred thoughts and corresponding phrases, as even Kypke points out (“Syracides magna similitudine dicit”), and if Sirach had been a recognised Hebrew prophet one could have imagined Matthew giving the gist of this rhetorical passage, prefaced with an “as it is written”. It is not even inconceivable that a reader of our Gospel at an early period noted on the margin phrases culled from Sirach as descriptive of the attitude of the one true σοφός towards men to show how willing he was to communicate the knowledge of the Father-God, and that his notes found their way into the text. But why doubt the genuineness of this logion ? It seems the natural conclusion of Christ’s soliloquy; expressing His intense yearning for receptive scholars at a time when He was painfully conscious of the prevalent unreceptivity. The words do not smell of the lamp. They come straight from a saddened yet tenderly affectionate, unembittered heart; simple, pathetic, sincere. He may have known Sirach from boyhood, and echoes may have unconsciously suggested themselves, and been used with royal freedom quite compatibly with perfect originality of thought and phrase. The reference to wisdom in Matthew 11:19 makes the supposition not gratuitous that Jesus may even have had the passage in Sirach consciously present to His mind, and that He used it, half as a quotation, half as a personal manifesto. The passage is the end of a prayer of Jesus , the Son of Sirach, in which that earlier Jesus, personating wisdom, addresses his fellowmen, inviting them to share the benefits which σοφία has conferred on himself. Why should not Jesus of Nazareth close His prayer with a similar address in the name of wisdom to those who are most likely to become her children those whose ear sorrow hath opened? This view might meet Martineau’s objection to regarding this logion as authentic, that it is not compatible with the humility of Jesus that He should so speak of Himself ( Seat of Authority , p. 583). Why should He not do as another Jesus had done before Him: speak in the name of wisdom, and appropriate her attributes?

[72] Of the above the R. V. gives the following translation: “Draw near unto me, ye unlearned, and lodge in the house of in struction. Say wherefore are ye lacking in these things, and your souls are very thirsty? I opened my mouth and spake. Get her for yourselves without money. Put your neck under the yoke, and let your soul receive instruction. She is hard at hand to find. Behold with your eyes how that I laboured but a little, and found for myself much rest.”

Verse 29

Matthew 11:29 . ζυγόν : current phrase to express the relation of a disciple to a master. The Rabbis spoke of the “yoke of the law”. Jesus uses their phrases while drawing men away from their influence. μάθετε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ : not merely learn from my example (Buttmann, Gram. , p. 324: on , that is, from the case of), but, more comprehensively, get your learning from me; take me as your Master in religion. The thing to be learned is not merely a moral lesson, humility, but the whole truth about God and righteousness. But the mood of Master and scholar must correspond, He meek as they have become by sorrowful experience. Hence ὅτι πραΰς … τῇ καρδίᾳ : not that , hut for I am, etc. What connection is there between this spirit and knowledge of God? This: a proud man cannot know God. God knoweth the proud afar off (Psalms 138:6 ), and they know God afar off. God giveth the grace of intimate knowledge of Himself to the lowly. ἀνάπαυσιν : rest , such as comes through finding the true God, or through satisfaction of desire, of the hunger of the soul.

Verse 30

Matthew 11:30 . χρηστός , kindly to wear. Christ’s doctrine fits and satisfies our whole spiritual nature reason, heart, conscience, “the sweet reasonableness of Christ”. φορτίον , the burden of obligation. ἐλαφρόν : in one respect Christ’s burden is the heaviest of all because His moral ideal is the highest. But just on that account it is light. Lofty, noble ideals inspire and attract; vulgar ideals are oppressive. Christ’s commandment is difficult, but not like that of the Rabbis, grievous . ( vide With Open Face .)

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 11". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/matthew-11.html. 1897-1910.
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