William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.Matthew Chapter 11
The chapter at which we are arrived is full of interest and importance, especially as it is a kind of transition. What gives occasion for the Spirit of God to bring out this transition from the testimony to Israel to the new order of things which the Lord was about to introduce, is that John the Baptist, in prison because of his own rejection, is found in exercise as to personal faith and patience. While fulfilling his prophetic office, none could be more unwavering than John in his testimony to Christ. But there may be moments when faith is put thoroughly to the proof, and when the strongest may know what it is to be "cast down, though not destroyed."
Certainly this was the case with John the Baptist. It was not merely his disciples that were stumbled by his being in prison. Infidels ask now, If Scripture be truth, how is it that people do not receive it? Why is it not more widely spread? etc.
We know that at first tens of thousands confessed and followed the name of Jesus in one city alone;. and the moral weight was great, for they walked in superiority to the world. We know, too, how far and wide the power of Christianity has spread: still, the great difficulty comes up again, and we find that what works in the mind of a sceptic may be found more or less disquieting the believer, because fallen nature is in the believer still; and what Scripture calls "the flesh" is always an unbelieving thing. Hence it came to pass that, blessed as John the Baptist was, yet he sent his disciples with the query, "Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?" Questions seem to have passed through his mind, and a confirmation of faith was wanted. Even a prophet is not beyond Satan's assault. And here we have this favoured and otherwise faithful man putting such a question, the very last that we might have expected. Instead of answering with the confidence of faith the question of his disciples, if it was such, John sends some of them to Jesus, saying, "Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?" The Lord replies, "Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see . . . and blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me" (vers. 4, 6).
Our Lord's answer evinces that it was not John's disciples merely, but himself also that was shaken. These are the two parts of Christ's ministry - His words and His works, "Those things which ye do hear and see;" the word always having the higher place; the works being what would appeal rather to the senses; whereas the word of Christ is that which deals with the heart and conscience by the Spirit. They were to go and tell John what they heard and saw; and therein we have what the Old Testament had predicted as signs and effects of the Messiah's power. We have not, I believe, one case of curing the blind before Christ came. It was a miracle which, according to Jewish tradition, was reserved for the Son of David. He it was who. according to Isaiah 35, was to open the eyes of the blind. The Lord puts the blind receiving their sight as the first outward miracle to indicate that He was really the Christ that was to come; and last, but not least weighty, is "the poor have the gospel preached to them." What is it but a testimony of the exceeding tender mercy of God that, while the gospel is intended for all, it is especially adapted to those that know misery, trial, contempt in a selfish world? The Lord adds, "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me." What a word of warning. A man sent from God for a witness, that all might believe in Christ; and when this very man is put thoroughly to the test, the Lord has to bear witness to him, instead of his bearing witness to the Lord. How constantly do we see man breaking down when tested; but what a blessed thing that we have such a God to go to, if He be only counted on.
But when these messengers departed, the Lord shows His tender compassion and regard for him, and begins to vindicate the same John who had shown his feebleness under suffering and protracted hope. He asks them, "What went ye out into the wilderness to see?" A superficial judgment might have concluded it was but "a reed shaken with the wind" when John sent disciples with his question. But no, the Lord will not allow it. He maintains the honour and integrity of John. He has sent a little rebuke to John privately by his disciples; but before the multitudes He clothes him with honour "But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment?" It is in courts that you look for the grandeur of the world. "Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet," because John had a peculiar place and honour that no prophet had assigned to him - to be the immediate forerunner of the Lord, the herald of the Messiah Himself. John not only was a prophet, but the prophets prophesied of John; and the Lord says of him, "Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist. "
But mark this word, a striking one, in this transitional chapter, "Notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (ver. 11). What is the meaning? In saying, "Among those born of women there had not risen a greater than John the Baptist," the Lord is excepted. He is speaking of John, not as compared with Himself, but with others. He was the greatest born of women; "Notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." It means clearly that there was a new order of things commencing, in which the privileges that God's sovereign grace would confer would be so great, that the least in the dispensation about to open would be greater than the greatest in all the past. Of course this is not as to anything in themselves; the faith of a weak believer now is not greater than a man's mighty faith in times past; nor is some poor soul, anxious and troubled about his acceptance, in a healthier state than those who could rejoice like Simeon in God their Saviour. Yet the Lord does say that the greatest of those gone by is less than the least now.
"The kingdom of heaven" never means heaven: they are different ideas as well as expressions. "The kingdom of heaven" always means that which, while it has its source in heaven, has its sphere upon earth. It may be applied, as it often is, to what is going on now; or, as sometimes, to what will go on when the Lord comes in glory, and brings His rule in a manifested form to bear upon the earth. But the kingdom of heaven always supposes the earth as the scene upon which the privileges of heaven are made known.
The Lord Jesus sees Himself rejected; but God, in His sovereign way and grace turns the rejection of Jesus to the introduction of far greater blessing than if Jesus had been received. Supposing the Lord had been accepted by man when He came, He would have blessed man and kept him alive upon the earth: He would have bound the devil, and brought in countless mercies for the creature in general. Still, what would have been all that without the vindication of God in the matter of sin? Neither moral glory nor supreme love would have been shown as they now are. For what could it be more than divine energy barring out the power of Satan?
But the death of Christ is, at once, the depth of man's wickedness and the height of God's goodness; for in the Cross the one proved his utter hatred and iniquity, the other His perfect holy love. It was man's unrighteousness that put Him there - it was God's grace that brought Him there; and Christ risen from the dead takes His place as the beginning, the Head of a new creation, and displays it in His own person now to faith in them that believe; puts them in this place of blessing while they are still in this world struggling with the devil; sheds the joy of redemption into their hearts, and fills them with the certainty that they are born of God - their sins being all forgiven - and they are only waiting for Him to come and crown the work of His love, when they shall be raised from the dead and changed into His glory. It is true to faith now, and will be true to sight by and by; but it is true always from the time it was introduced. It began with Christ's ascension into heaven, and it will terminate by Christ's descent from heaven, when He will bring in this power of the kingdom over the earth. What, then, has the least believer got now? Look at saints of old. John the Baptist was resting upon promises. Even he, blessed as he was, could not say, My sins are blotted out, mine iniquities are all gone. Before the death and resurrection of Christ, saints could with joy look forward and say, It will be blessed indeed! They might be sure that it was God's intention; but it was not an accomplished thing. And, after all, if you were in prison, you would know the difference between a promise to bring you out and the fact of your liberty when fairly out. This is just the difference. The atoning work is done, and the consequence is, that all who believe are now entitled to say, Sin is no longer upon me in the presence of of God. And this is not true of some Christians in particular, but every Christian should take the place that God gives him in Christ. And what would be the effect of this? Christians would not walk with the world in the way they do.
What I find, then, in the word of God is this: there was a new dispensation about to open, in which the very least is invested with privileges that the greatest could not possess before. And this, because God sets infinite value upon the death of His Son. God puts the greatest possible honour upon the death of Christ.
As an earthly sovereign puts particular honour upon an epoch of special joy to himself, still more faith may expect that God should attach peculiar glory to that work of Christ by which redemption has been accomplished, through the death and resurrection of His Son.
Now, everything is done, and God can invite souls - not to forget their sins, or turn away their eyes from them; but looking at them fairly and fully before the cross of Christ - He calls upon them to say, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." Knowing this, we must see how entirely evil is the place of a priest now - one man put in a position to draw near to God for others. Every Christian is a priest now. All Christians are not ministers. This is another thing. Ministry and priesthood, though so often confounded, are entirely distinct and different. It is a God-given privilege now, that every believer is a priest of God: that is, he is entitled to draw near into the holiest of all, sin judged, all his iniquities purged away, so that he may be thoroughly happy in the presence of God while he is upon earth. All this is only a part of the privileges of the least in the kingdom of heaven now. And remember this, all the grand prerogatives of Christianity are common privileges. One man may preach, and another may not; but this says nothing about the privileges of the kingdom. Paul, as a servant of God, had something which others had not: a gifted person might preach even without divine life in the soul. Caiaphas might testify, and Balaam too, and both utter true things; and Paul is willing to take such a place, to show that one might preach to others, and yet, if regardless of holiness, be himself a castaway. But this has nothing to do with the blessings I have been speaking of as the portion of believers now.
The privileges of the kingdom are now the universal heritage of the family of faith; the least of them is greater even than John the Baptist. Great misunderstanding has been shown as to the meaning of this verse. It has been taught that the least in the kingdom of heaven is Jesus Himself! - Jesus, of course, in His humiliation, in His going to the cross. But what misapprehension of the mind of God is there manifested by such a remark. For the kingdom of heaven was not yet come. It was. preached, but not yet actually set up. And Jesus, far from being "the least" in that kingdom, was Himself the King; so that it would be derogatory to His person to call Him even the greatest, not to speak of "the least" in the kingdom. It would be want of reverence, as well as of intelligence, to say that He was in the kingdom at all. It would be more true to say that the kingdom was in Him, both morally, and in divine power.
"If I," says He to the Jews, "cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you." It was arrived in His person: He being the King, and having the power thereof. But if you look at "the kingdom of heaven" as a state of things introduced into this world, Christ had to go up to heaven first - a rejected King, no doubt, but still as such to sit on the right hand of God - and thereon the kingdom of heaven commenced. The kingdom was not actually established till Jesus went up on high. Then it began, first spiritually, as by and by it will shine in power and glory. Hence it is clear that in this chapter we stand upon the confines of the past dispensation, and of the one that was about to open. John the Baptist is on the scene as the last and greatest witness of that which was closing. Elijah was to come; this might have been fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist. John was doing the moral work that was associated with Elijah's mission - preparing the way for the Lord. I do not say that Elijah may not come another day, but John was the then witness of Elijah's service. He was come "in the spirit and power of Elias:" and, as our Lord says a little after, "If ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come." Such he was to faith. Like the kingdom of heaven now, it is a testimony to the future kingdom when displayed in power and glory. John was to faith then what Elias will be by and by. The kingdom of heaven is to faith now what the kingdom of heaven will be to sight hereafter. The Lord intimates that a dispensation of faith is coming in, when the promises were not to be accomplished in the letter.
But just as John the Baptist was cast into prison (a tremendous trial for a Jew who looked at him as a great prophet to usher in the Messiah in visible majesty), so He says here, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." It has to be received by the attentive ear of faith. How extraordinary it must have appeared to the disciples that the forerunner of the Messiah should be in prison, and the Messiah Himself afterwards nailed upon the cross! But before the outward glory comes, redemption through suffering must be effected. Hence, the least now who has this blessing of faith, who enjoys these astonishing privileges which the Holy Ghost is bringing out as the gift of God's sovereign grace, is greater than John the Baptist. For it is God's doing and giving and ordering. It is His joy by Christ to bless the man that has not the smallest claim upon Him. And such is His work now. But what would be the effect of this among the Jews? Our Lord compares them to capricious people who would neither do one thing nor another. If gladness is going on, they have no sympathy with it; neither have they with sorrow. John the Baptist called them to mourn: they had no heart for it. Then came Jesus, bidding them, as it were, to rejoice at the glad tidings of great joy: but they heeded Him not. They liked neither: John was too strict, and the Lord too gracious. They could not bear either. The truth is, man dislikes God; and there is no greater proof of his ignorance of himself than that he does not believe it. Whatever they might plead in the way of abuse of John the Baptist, or of Himself, "Wisdom is justified of her children."
Accordingly the Lord shows how wisdom was justified, positively and negatively. "He began to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! . . . And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works," etc. (vers. 20-24). What more solemn! They refuse the voice of heavenly wisdom; and the result must be in judgment more unsparing than that which had of old made Sodom the monument of God's vengeance. Was there one place or city in the land more favoured than another? It was Capernaum, where most of His miracles were wrought: and yet this very city should be brought down to hell. Even the notoriously depraved Sodom had not come under so fearful a sentence. The Lord only visits in judgment when means and calls for repentance are exhausted; but when He does judge, who shall be able to stand? Thus should wisdom be justified, may I say, by those that are not her children.
But then we have the positive part. "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth." From the pronounced "woe," Jesus could turn round and say, "I thank Thee, O Father." Not that the events recorded here took place together. The whole scene about John the Baptist occurred long before the Lord alluded to the wise and prudent rejecting Him, and the babes receiving Him. The Gospel of Luke occasionally gives precise marks of time, and shows that the Lord's reception of John's messengers was at an early period of His ministry, very shortly after the healing of the centurion's servant; whereas His thanking the Father was after the return of the seventy disciples who were sent out on the final testimony, which is not mentioned in Matthew at all. The Holy Ghost in our Gospel puts aside, in general, mere successions of time, and welds together separated events to illustrate the great truth that it was His object here to bring out, viz., the true Messiah, presented with adequate proofs to Israel, but rejected; and this turned, of God's grace, to be the occasion of better blessings than if the Lord had been received.
And while the solemn sight of man's growing rejection is before us, Jesus says, "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth" (hopes not limited to the earth now, but God looked to as Lord of heaven and earth - sovereign over all things), "because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight. All things are delivered unto Me of My Father." The throne of Israel may be refused Him; the Jews may reject, the leaders despise Him: all this may be, but what is the result? Not merely what was promised to David or Solomon, but "All things are delivered unto Me of My Father." Where were such thoughts as these divulged before? In the Psalms, in the Prophets, or where do you get anything like them? The rejected Messiah is refused by man: He submits to it. They strip Him of His robes of Messianic glory, and what comes out? He is the Son of the Father, the Son of God from all eternity, the blessed divine Person who could look up and say, "Father." Refuse Him in His earthly dignity, and He only shines in His heavenly one; despise Him as a man, and He is manifestly God.
"And no man knoweth the Son but the Father: neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him" (ver. 27). He is revealing the Father now. It is not merely that He is come to accomplish the promises of God, but He is revealing the Father - bringing souls into a deeper knowledge of God than was possible before. "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." It is perfect grace: no restriction; no setting the Jew in the foremost seat of honour. But "Come unto Me, all ye that labour" - Jew or Gentile, it matters not. Are you miserable? Can you find no comfort? "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and I will give you rest." It is without condition or qualification if the needy but go to Him. In John we have,,, All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out." This is the proof of the Father's drawing - that I go to Jesus. It is the Son of the Father, in John; for grace is always found most full and free where the Son is brought out in all His glory.
"Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (vers. 29, 30). Grace does not leave men to do as they list, but enables the heart that receives it to desire the will of God. So, after saying, "I will give you rest," our Lord adds, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Mark the difference. In verse 2 8 it is, "Come unto Me. . . . and I will give you rest" - it is pure grace to the soul in need, with nothing but its sins to bring; but in saying, "Take My yoke upon you. . . . and ye shall find rest to your souls," He speaks of subjection to Him, and the effect is finding rest to our souls. When the sinner goes in his wretchedness to Jesus, the Saviour gives him rest - "without money and without price." But if that soul does not follow on in the ways of Christ, he becomes miserable, and loses the comfort he had at first. Why? He has not taken Christ's yoke upon him. The terms on which the Lord gives rest to the sinner are, "Come unto Me," just as you are. The terms on which the believer finds rest are, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart." The Lord keeps His moral government over His people, and they are more disturbed than any, if not subject to Christ; they can neither enjoy Him nor the world. If I have found such a Saviour, and yet am not bearing His yoke, God does not intend that I should be happy. All else is a false happiness.
Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,
And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?
Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:
The blind receive their 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.
And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.
And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.
But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.
For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows,
And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil.
The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.
Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:
Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.
At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.
Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.
All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.