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The Message from John the Baptist
Summary —John Sends from Prison to Christ. Christ's Answer. The Character of John the Baptist. None Greater Before Him. The Least in the Kingdom. The Criticisms of John and Christ. The Woes of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Wisdom Hid from the Wise, but Given unto Babes. The Sweet Invitation.
2. When John had heard in the prison. Compare Mark 6:14–29 and Luke 7:19–28. John had now been a year in prison, to which he had been sent by Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, because he had rebuked his adulterous marriage with his brother Philip's wife (Matt. 14:1–11). Josephus says that Machærus, a strong fortress built by Herod the Great, the father of Antipas, about ten miles east of the Dead Sea, was the prison. He sent his disciples. To make the inquiry found in the next verse. The course of Jesus was so different from what John himself, in common with other Jews, expected of the Messiah, that after lying in a dungeon for a year, he began to be uncertain. If Jesus was the Christ, why did he not proclaim himself the Messiah King, destroy the power of the Romans and of Herod, and release John himself from prison? So he reasoned.
3. Art thou he that should come? John the Baptist had predicted the coming One (Matt. 3:11). Perhaps John, impatient of the long delay, hoped to incite Jesus to proclaim his Messiahship.
4. Jesus answered and said. Luke states that at that same hour he cured many of their infirmities. After permitting the messengers to see his work, he pointed to it as his answer. Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see. To John's question Jesus gives no direct reply. There is something severe in the whole of our Lord's demeanor and language, as if reproving this shaking of John's higher faith in God.
5. Dead are raised. In Luke, the raising of the widow's son at Nain immediately precedes this message; and in this Gospel we have seen the ruler's daughter raised. The poor have the gospel preached to them. It adds to the force of this testimony that the poor had always been overlooked by Pharisees and the Jewish doctors. The ancient philosophers and theologians had no gospel for those who could not pay for it. The climax is preaching the gospel to the poor. Jesus answers John by pointing to his works. They were a more convincing answer than words. What he has done for mankind is still a most convincing demonstration.
6. Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me. This is suggested by John's seeming to have stumbled, not fallen, because Christ had not publicly declared his mission. The Lord does not upbraid, but gives in this way a tender rebuke, implying that he knew what to do with reference to his kingdom.
7. What went yet out into the wilderness to see? An allusion to John's ministry in the wilderness, which had been attended by most of Christ's disciples. A reed shaken with the wind. The reed of Egypt and Palestine is a very tall cane, growing twelve feet high, and is easily bent by the wind. John was not like the reed. He could not be bent by every breath of applause or displeasure.
8. A man clothed in soft raiment? Were you attracted into the wilderness of Judea to see an effeminate courtier? Had he been a pliant courtier he would have flattered Herod, and would not have been thrown into prison for his rebuke of sin in high places.
11. Among them that are born of women. Among all of the human race that were before John the Baptist. The world thinks that kings, generals, and statesmen are the greatest of men. But God measures differently. Time, too, measures differently. Herod, now, would hardly be known at all if he had not imprisoned John the Baptist. He that is least in the kingdom of heaven. This shows, (1) That John was not in the kingdom of God. (2) That, as none greater than John has been born of women, no one had yet entered the kingdom. (3) That, therefore, it had not yet been set up, but as John himself, Jesus, and the Twelve under the first commission, preached, was “at hand.” (4) All in the kingdom, even the humblest, have a superior station to John, because they have superior privileges.
12. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of God suffereth violence. The idea is, that from the time when John began preaching, men of violence were trying to force their way into the kingdom. It is compared to a walled city that men try to storm and enter. They tried a little later to make Jesus a king by force.
13. The prophets and the law prophesied until John. For the meaning we must turn to Luke 16:16, where the same words occur with the addition, “since that time the kingdom of God is preached.” Then first began the announcement that John was the way-preparer, the forerunner of the King, that the kingdom was at hand, that the old dispensation was about to close.
14. This is Elias, who was to come. Malachi predicted that Elijah would come to prepare the way for the Lord. Christ explains that this was fulfilled in John. He was not the literal, but a spiritual Elijah. See Mal. 4:5.
16. Whereunto shall I liken this generation? Compare Luke 7:31–35. The Jewish nation is meant. The Lord shows that they were as capricious as children. Children sitting in the markets. All ancient towns had an open market place, which was the great place of resort.
17. We piped unto you. One set of children is represented as having invited another set to play, first in a mock wedding, then in a mock funeral, but the dissatisfied children were pleased with neither, and would neither dance nor lament.
18. John came neither eating nor drinking. At feasts. He lived abstemiously and austerely. He hath a demon. They accused him of being under the influence of evil spirits; of being a crank, or fanatic.
19. The Son of man came eating. Like other men. He was at the wedding feast of Cana (John 2:1–11); at Matthew's feast, (Matt. 9:10), etc. A wine-bibber. There was nothing singular about his social habits. Like all the people, he drank the light, harmless wine of Palestine, either free from, or with a very slight percentage of, alcohol. Our modern wines are very different. A friend of publicans and sinners. See note on Matt. 9:12, 13. Wisdom is justified of her children. Those who are wise will approve both the course of John and his Lord.
20. Then he began to upbraid the cities, etc. Compare Luke 10:12–15. The cities in the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee had, thus far, heard and seen the most of the Lord and had the least excuse for rejecting him. In all the reproofs of Jesus there is sadness in the severity. The very denunciations seem to mourn. Wherein most of his mighty works were done. We know of a number of miracles which had been wrought in these cities, the healing of the centurion's servant, of the son of the nobleman, of the diseased woman, of two blind men, and the raising of the daughter of Jairus. The Scriptures assure us that these were only a very small part of the mighty works he did. See Matt. 9:35. Because they repented not. The great end proposed by the gospel is repentance and a new life.
21. Woe unto thee, Chorazin. Chorazin has long been extinct, and its site is not certainly known. It is named only here and in Luke 10:13. Situated about two miles from the ruins of Tell-Hum, thought to be Capernaum, there are ruins now called Kerazeh, including a synagogue, columns and walls of buildings, supposed to mark the site of Chorazin. Woe unto thee, Bethsaida. The word means “House of fish,” and the name would imply that it was a fishing town, and it was the home of the fishermen, Peter, Andrew and Philip (John 1:44). Its locality is in dispute. It was probably situated on both sides of the Jordan, where it emptied into the Sea of Galilee. The ruins of a city lie there, mostly on the east side of the river. For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon. These were rich Phoenician trading cities on the east shore of the Mediterranean. Tyre was long the chief commercial city of the world; it still exists as a wretched town. In sackcloth and ashes. The symbols of mourning and repentance. See Jonah 3:5, on the repentance of Nineveh. Sackcloth was a kind of coarse cloth, woven of camel's hair.
22. It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment. These solemn words teach: 1. That there will be a day of judgment for all, cities, nations and men. 2. That men will be judged according to their opportunities; that those who have had and neglected opportunities will be held most guilty. 3. That there will be different degrees of future punishment, according to guilt and opportunities; that those whose opportunities have been greatest will receive the greater punishment, if these are neglected. Every man will be judged and punished according to his opportunities and works. The idea of a hell of the same severity for all the unsaved is nowhere taught by Christ.
23. And thou, Capernaum. Capernaum was at that time a city of 30,000 inhabitants. Its site also is disputed. Most locate it on the lake shore, at the ruins called Tell-Hum, but others locate it about three miles north of the ruins of Tell-Hum. It enjoyed signal advantages as being the Galilean home of Christ, who taught in its streets, houses and synagogue, and worked many miracles there. Art exalted unto heaven. By the privilege of having Christ as an inhabitant. Shalt be brought down to hell. Not hell, but hades, the unseen. Capernaum shall disappear from human view. Within less than forty years Capernaum was destroyed by the Romans, and for many centuries has not had an existence. And remained until this day. Note the inference: 1. Sodom was destroyed for its sins. 2. Had it not been sinful it would have “remained.” 3. Therefore it is sins that destroy cities and nations. Jerusalem, Babylon, Sodom, Capernaum, and other extinct ancient cities have perished on account of their sins. 4. Modern cities which scoff at God and revel in iniquity will “be brought down to hades” also. Permanent temporal prosperity depends on righteousness.
24. More tolerable for Sodom in the day of judgment. Because it had poor opportunities. Sodom had fallen two thousand years before Christ, and had been extinct ever since, yet the Lord speaks of a future day of judgment for both Sodom and Capernaum. Therefore, 1. There is a judgment after death. 2. Temporal punishment for wickedness does not satisfy eternal justice. The Sodomites were held to a future judgment. 3. The inhabitants of Sodom had not been annihilated, but were alive, waiting for the judgment.
25. At that time. Immediately after this judgment upon the impenitent cities was denounced. O Father, Lord of heaven and earth. Christ addresses God as his Father, not as his Lord. The obedience he yields is that of a Son, not of a subject. Four more times, in deep emotion, Christ thus addresses the Father (John 11:41; 12:28; 17:1; Luke 23:34). That thou didst hide these things from the wise and prudent. From the worldly wise Pharisees and Jews. God had hid these things from this latter class through the natural operation of their own corrupted hearts and perverted minds. Babes. The simple and believing.
27. All things have been delivered unto me of my Father. The Lord speaks, in part, in anticipation. It was the divine purpose, in sending the Son, to deliver “all things,” the gospel, salvation, judgment, the rule of heaven and earth, to him. No one knoweth the Father but the Son. He only is in the secret of the Divine counsels. And he to whom the Son willeth to reveal him. Christ is the revelation of God to man. “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” Those who “know” Christ by humble obedience and docility learn to know the Father also.
28. Come unto me. This is one of the sweetest passages in the New Testament. It shows the willingness of the Lord. The kings and earth and the great are usually difficult of access, while Jesus is not only willing, but invites us, to come to him. Note how gracious is the invitation! 1 It is the Lord who speaks. 2. He invites to come to him. 3. The invitation is to those who labor and are heavy laden. 4. He promises, to all these weary ones who come, rest. The offer is not that of a man, but of the Divine Savior. Millions in all ages since can bear witness that the promise is sure. Labor and are heavy laden. Feel heavily the burdens of life, of sin and sorrow. Rest. Peace of soul.
29. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me. He has first asked us to come, and made a gracious promise. He next shows us how to come. We are to come by taking his yoke upon us. Taking on the yoke is a symbol of submission. The two steps by which we come, and secure the promise of “rest unto our souls” are then 1. Submission to Christ. 2. Becoming his disciples.
30. For my yoke is easy. The yoke that sin imposes is heavy, and bearing it brings no rest. So, too, the yoke of false or corrupted religion is burdensome; but Christ's yoke is easy. It is not hard to bear it because it is borne in love. His burden, even if it be the cross, is light, because he helps us to bear it. Note: That one rejecting Christ in the midst of light is worse than a heathen. Christ graciously invites all to come to him. He is the rest of the soul.
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