1 The Lord Teaches and Preaches
1 When Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities.
This chapter is a transition from the testimony to Israel to a new state of affairs that the Lord is about to introduce. This transition begins with the story of John the baptist in prison. Just as John went before the Lord in His service, so he goes before Him in His rejection. What happens to John is a precursor of what the Lord will undergo. But before that, He continues to teach and preach the Word. The sending out of the twelve does not mean that He will now stop His own service.
2 - 6 The Question of John
2 Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent [word] by his disciples 3 and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” 4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 [the] BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and [the] lame walk, [the] lepers are cleansed and [the] deaf hear, [the] dead are raised up, and [the] POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. 6 And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”
When John hears in prison what Christ is doing, doubts arise in his heart. Despite his prophetic gifts, Jewish expectations and concepts remain in his heart. It is therefore understandable that John, when he hears about all that the Lord Jesus does for others, wonders why He does not use His miracle power for his benefit, His predecessor. Christ is there, setting all kinds of unworthy persons free from all kinds of diseases and plagues, but evidently does not think of him.
This confuses him and leads him to the question he lets his disciples ask. Sending his disciples to the Lord shows that he has complete faith in the word of the Lord as Prophet, but that he is ignorant of His Person.
His question shows doubt as to whether Christ is the promised Messiah Whom he announced. His question stems from a misrepresentation of the coming and service of the Messiah. Our doubts also often arise from a misrepresentation of the Lord and how He acts. We imagine a certain pattern of action and get confused when things go differently. We then think we can dictate to God how He should act, when we don’t know His plans or haven’t properly examined them.
There comes no word of reproach from the Lord’s lips. Full of love and grace, He answers His forerunner’s question. John’s disciples should go and tell him what they have heard (His word) and seen (His works). He sums it up for them. This summary shows that He uses His power to relieve people’s needs and not to drive away the occupying power, the Romans.
He has never used His power for Himself, but always in grace and mercy for others. What He does and says is the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 35 (Isa 35:5-6). From His deeds one can see that He is the Messiah. Nowhere in the Old Testament are the eyes of the blind opened. That only happens when He is here.
The Lord concludes His answer for John with a gentle reproof. He calls them “happy” who do not take offence at His humiliation and the lack of external glory and do not reject Him for it. That is what John is in danger of, although he certainly did not reject the Lord. He, “God revealed in the flesh” (1Tim 3:16), did not come to seek the glory of the kingship, but for the redemption of suffering people. John did not think about that.
7 - 11 Testimony About John
7 As these men were going [away], Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
8 But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft [clothing]? Those who wear soft [clothing] are in kings’ palaces!
9 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet.
10 This is the one about whom it is written,
‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU,
WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’
11 Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen [anyone] greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
After His words for John, the Lord turns to the crowds to speak about John. For John, the Lord has words that support his weak faith. To the crowds, He speaks of John as a prophet without equal. He presents him before the crowds and asks them what opinion they have formed about him. After his expression of weakness, they could compare him to a reed shaken by the wind, a man without strength. It could also be that John does not meet their expectations in another way, because he is averse to all that is great and ostentatious.
Or would there also be in the crowd those who see John as a prophet? These are closest to the truth, but they are also far away. John is not just a prophet. He is a prophet who immediately preceded the coming of the Messiah as a herald to announce Him as the coming Messiah. The Messiah was not only announced by the prophets, but also by John the baptist.
Malachi says of him that he is the angel or messenger who “will prepare the way before Me” (Mal 3:1). By “Me” the LORD, Yahweh, is meant. The Lord Jesus says here in His quotation of this verse: “I send My messenger ahead of You.” It is therefore clear that He is the announced Yahweh. John is the messenger sent out by Yahweh to prepare the way for Yahweh Who came in humility as the Messiah. To prepare the way means to prepare the hearts of the people to receive the Messiah. He did so through his preaching of repentance and conversion.
Gabriel already said of him when announcing his birth: “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord” (Lk 1:15a). Now the Lord calls him the greatest born of women because of his direct connection to the Messiah and because he is His forerunner and he has announced Him. Of course that is without taking Himself into account. He does not compare John to Himself, but to all the other people who have been born up to that point.
He adds at the same time: “The one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” This means that a new state of affairs begins after John. The difference is not in what someone is in himself, but in the position that someone occupies. It is about the kingdom of heaven. John announced this, but he did not go into it, because it only comes after the Lord Jesus has been rejected and has returned to heaven. The kingdom has its origin in heaven, but its sphere of activity is on earth. This applies both now and in the future when Christ reigns on earth.
The fact that the “least” in the kingdom is greater than John the baptist has to do with the rejection of Christ and His completed work. This was unknown to the believers in the Old Testament. The “least” is clothed with privileges that no believer in the Old Testament possessed. This has to do with God’s appreciation of the completed work of His Son. Whoever is connected to it – and that holds true for the members of the church of the living God – receives this fantastic position.
12 - 15 The Days of John the Baptist
12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept [it], John himself is Elijah who was to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
The kingdom of heaven was announced by John, but it hasn't come because the King of that kingdom was not accepted. The preaching of John and of the Lord Jesus revealed the evil heart of man and brought his sin to light. Man, and especially religious man, does not want to repent.
The kingdom of heaven has in this time, the time of Christ’s rejection, another form. Now that He has not been able to openly establish the kingdom – although this will certainly happen in the future – violence is needed to enter it. The violence or the power by which this happens lies in faith. It is the violence or the power of faith that is needed to enter the kingdom. If the kingdom is public in an observable, outward form, that violence of faith is not necessary.
With John then a period is closed, namely the period of all prophets and the law. During that whole period, the kingdom of heaven has been proclaimed over and over again. This has happened in promises God has made in the law each time and in the confirmation of those promises by the prophets who have constantly referred to them. The law also lays down the principles of the kingdom, which are the rules that apply in that kingdom and by which it is governed.
As for John, the Lord calls him “Elijah who was to come”. Malachi announced Elijah (Mal 4:5). Elijah is the prophet who brought God’s people back to the law and thereby opened the way to blessing. Elijah is the forerunner of Elisha, the man of grace. John is Elijah spiritually. He preached penance to prepare the people to receive the Messiah. But whoever did not see John as the Elijah who was to come, also remained blind to Him Who John announced. The Lord therefore says: “If you are willing to accept [it].” There is faith needed to accept that.
The people as a whole did not do so. That’s why Elijah needs to come again. This happens at the coming of the two witnesses in Jerusalem in the end times of which he is one (Rev 11:3-6). Not that he is one of those witnesses in person, but that one of those witnesses has his characteristics.
The Lord’s message about John can only be understood by those who have ears to hear, that is, the attentive, listening believer. The expression “he who has ears to hear” is used when the mass has fallen away and the individual believer in the mass is addressed. The Lord’s words reveal the unbelief of the crowd on the one hand, and the faith of a remnant on the other. His words pass the unbelievers by, while the believer is encouraged by them.
16 - 19 Playing the Flute and Singing a Dirge
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other [children], 17 and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
The Lord compares the unbelieving generation with petulant children who cannot be persuaded to respond to what they hear. Neither the attractiveness of grace, come in Christ with His pleasant-sounding notes, nor the threat of righteousness, come in John with his dirge, has any influence on them. The cause of their passivity lies in their false judgment both about John and about Him.
John is demon-possessed according to them, he has a demon. They come to this statement because of his austere way of life, which by the way fits perfectly with the message that he brought. Their judgment of the Lord Jesus, Who as the Son of Man does not fast but simply eats and drinks, is just as foolish. They blaspheme Him by saying that He is a gluttonous man and a drunkard. They do this because they are full of gluttony and alcoholism themselves. But they are right in saying that He is a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
In all the works which He does, His perfect wisdom is manifested. His wisdom is justified in His dealings with tax collectors and sinners. That wisdom is justified means that wisdom is vindicated by the way wisdom is used and in what it does.
20 - 24 ‘Woe’ to the Cities of Galilee
20 Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in [the] day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. 24 Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in [the] day of judgment, than for you.”
If the Lord is going to make reproaches, they are perfectly justified. Every person who has not repented will be reproached of not having repented. Not repenting is a sign of reluctance. The reproach that one person receives may be heavier than the reproach that another person receives. This has to do with the degree of culpability. A judge who trespasses the law that he himself must apply is guiltier than someone who ignorantly trespasses the law.
This is the case with the cities in which the Lord Jesus has shown Who He is in the clearest way. If these cities, despite the multitude of evidence, reject Him, they are guiltier than cities in which He has not revealed Himself in this way. Those pagan cities will also receive the judgment that they deserve because of their immoral behavior. Yet their judgment will be lighter than that of the cities where Christ has given such a clear testimony of Himself and have nevertheless rejected Him.
We might wonder why God did not give such a testimony to the pagan cities the Lord mentions here, for then they would have repented. The answer is that Tyre and Sidon, and Sodom and Gomorrah, according to the wisdom of God, had a testimony of His revelation that was perfectly appropriate for them. They have seen God’s testimony in creation (Rom 1:19-20), but they have not bowed before him. They have acted according to their corrupt nature, and have not taken any notice of His revelation in creation. They will be judged on the basis of this rejection of God’s testimony. Thus, each people is subjected to a test of their obedience to God in a way that perfectly fits their responsibility.
Something special is said about Capernaum. That city has rejected an even greater privilege than all the cities of Israel. The Lord Jesus lived there. They have experienced Him daily. The city is elevated to heaven by His presence, for in the Son of God heaven has come to them. But in reality they will not come into heaven. The opposite is the case. They will be descend to Hades. They have done nothing with the enormous privilege that God lived among them. It has had no effect on them.
25 - 27 Yes, Father
25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from [the] wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 26 Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. 27 All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal [Him].
After speaking a ‘woe’ about the cities in which He has worked in this way, we might think that the Lord is discouraged. He expressed Himself in this way prophetically in Isaiah 49 (Isa 49:4). It all seemed to be in vain. We also read God’s answer. He says that it is not in vain, but that a greater blessing will come from His rejection, not only for Israel, but for all nations (Isa 49:5-6). And here we read the Lord’s answer to His rejection by the people.
He praises the Father as the “Lord of heaven and of earth”. By this He says that everything in heaven and on earth is under His authority. There is nothing that is outside of His control, but everything serves His purpose. Only the little children, the believers who have no high thoughts about themselves, see this.
The wise and intelligent of the world have no understanding of this. It is hidden from them. Profound thinkers, the wise men, do not come to the thought that God is fulfilling His plans in this way. They look for solutions in man. If man starts to behave differently, they think it will be okay. Clear thinkers, the wise, seek the solution in the environment, nature. If only they can influence the environment, they think it will then be fine.
There is, however, no place for the Father with these profound and clear thinkers, let alone for a “yes, Father”. And that is precisely what gives the solution to every disappointment. In this “yes, Father” we hear not so much resignation, but acceptance and full agreement. It is not a question of whether it can be done differently, but the certainty that only in this way it is good. In addition, there is the awareness of the Father’s good pleasure. He does not only do good, He does so on the basis of His pleasure, His joy.
By trusting His Father with the awareness that the Father acts from and with a view to His well-being, the Lord Jesus sees the whole extent of the glory that will follow His rejection. The throne of Israel was refused Him, the Jews rejected Him, the leaders despised Him. But what will He receive? “All things” – that is much more than what has been promised to David and Solomon.
He is rejected as Messiah. But what will be revealed? That He is the eternal Son of the Father, Who is fully known by none but the Father. The promises are not being fulfilled at the moment. But what does He do? He reveals the Father, for He knows the Father. He wants to share this knowledge with the believers. He thereby brings them to a deeper knowledge of God than was possible before that time.
28 - 30 Come to Me
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
The Lord Jesus wants to bring us into fellowship with His Father. He wants to take away the weariness and the burdens that are preventing it. People who are tired of living in misery and being burdened by sins, those on whom the burden of sins weighs heavily and who are aware of it, may come to the Lord Jesus.
He addresses this word not only to the Jews, but to “all”. The enjoyment of this great privilege is for anyone who comes to Him. He makes no prerequisites. He gives rest to all who come, for He has taken the burden of sins upon Himself at Golgotha. This is how He takes the burden of sins away from those who become disciples of the kingdom and introduces them into fellowship with His Father.
But there is more. Once you are a disciple, you must learn how to live life as a disciple. This can only be learned from the Lord Jesus. For this to happen, the yoke of full submission to the Father must be taken up, as He did. We see that when He praises the Father even when experiencing the greatest rejection. This does not depress Him, but He accepts it from the Father’s hand. He is meek and humble in all circumstances. He has never reproached the Father.
Whatever the circumstances, He takes everything from the Father’s hand. His teaching is based on this. Those who come receive the revelation of the Father and learn in Him how to subject themselves to what the Father brings on their path. They learn how to accept any circumstance as coming from His hand.
If it is difficult for us to carry the yoke of the Lord Jesus, it is because we are not humble. If we react rebelliously, it is because we are not meek. We have to learn constantly to surrender everything to the Father.
Grace doesn’t leave it to man to do what he wants. Grace enables the heart which accepts grace, to desire to do the will of God. Then man finds peace. The peace which the Lord gives is the result of coming to Him and concerns the sinner. The peace that is found is the result of following the Lord and concerns the believer.
The Lord teaches them in a new way. Learning from Him is also looking at Him and learning from the abundance of examples that He gives. Gentleness and humility of heart are necessary if a place of dependence is to be taken and preserved.
Rest for the soul has already been presented by Jeremiah as the result of a faithful walk on the old paths (Jer 6:16), but no one has entered that rest. The only way to achieve rest for the soul is now revealed by the Son. Someone gets that rest when he want to take the yoke that He offers. His yoke stands in contrast to the heavy and oppressive yoke of the law. His yoke is not pinching, but easy, and His burden is not oppressive, but light. He helps carry.