Jesus’ Identity – Matthew 11

Read the Passage: Matthew 11

Dialog with John (11:1–15)

In Matt. 4:12 we read that John the Baptist had been put in prison. The details of this imprisonment, as well as his death, are not given until Matt. 14:3–12. In Matt. 11:1-6 we see that John sends his disciples to ask Jesus if He is indeed the Christ. This question is surprising, for in Matt. 3 John had boldly baptized Jesus, clearly recognizing Him as the Messiah. Yet, perhaps the combination of his imprisonment and Christ’s non-political agenda had worked to erode John’s faith. Jesus’ response to John’s disciples, though, is very informative. Christ tells them to report back to John what they had witnessed: namely, the healing of birth defects, the restoration of health, and the preaching of the gospel. This was exactly what the Messiah as supposed to do (cf. Isa. 61:1–3). The problem then, was not with Jesus’ ministry but with John’s conception of the Messiah.

In Matt. 11:7–15 Jesus took the opportunity of the question from John’s disciples to speak about John’s identity and character. Christ says four important things about John in this passage. First, John is a prophet and “more than a prophet” (Matt. 11:9). This makes him one of a few prophets in the New Testament, including: Anna, Agabus, Philip, Paul, and Jesus himself. Second, in quoting Mal. 3:1 Jesus teaches that John is the promised forerunner to the Messiah. Third, John is the greatest human being ever to be born. This is true despite John’s own testimony that he needed to decrease (cf. John 3:30). Fourth, Jesus testifies that John is the “Elijah who is to come” (Matt. 11:14). This is another way of saying that John is the forerunner to Christ who was promised at Mal. 4:5. Jesus taught this same truth at Matt. 17:12; yet, John had earlier denied this truth at John 1:21.

Rejection by the Crowds (11:16–24)

Matthew had already recorded opposition to Jesus’ teaching and miracles by the religious leaders and the general crowd (cf. Matt. 8:34; 9:11, 14, 24, 34). In light of this response, Christ describes the character of the populace in this passage. In using an illustration of a child’s game played in the marketplace, Jesus teaches that the peoples’ main problem is that they were judging Him based upon their own conception. In short, the people were trying to make God conform to their own image, rather than vice-versa. By implication, Jesus teaches that this is wrong; however, Christ goes further in showing the inconsistency within the peoples’ own method of evaluation. In conclusion, Jesus gives the interesting teaching, “Wisdom is justified by her children [or works]” (Matt. 11:19). This is a way of saying that the ultimate arbiter of truth is its effect or viability.

In Matt. 11:20–24 Jesus specifically calls out several of the cities in which he had been ministering, where the crowds had not believed in Him. The cities Christ mentions—namely, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum—were all in the region of Galilee, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ teaching here is interesting for several reasons. First, in declaring that other cities—namely, Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom—would have repented if they had witnessed the ministry of Christ, Jesus taught that God has exhaustive divine foreknowledge. In other words, God knows what will happen, what is happening, and what could have happened. Second, Jesus teaches that it will be more tolerable for the cities that had less revelation, and still perished in their own sin, than for the cities that had more revelation, yet nevertheless rejected Christ or were indifferent towards Him.

Invitation to All (11:25–30)

This passage contains one of relatively few prayers of Jesus that is recorded in Scripture. It is very interesting that in Matt. 11:25–27 Jesus thanks the Father for hiding the truth of His own ministry from the religious leaders while revealing the truth to those whom He pleased. This prayer and Jesus’ teaching here is similar to what John later reports at John 6:43–65. Clearly salvation is completely of the Lord, as Christ teaches that mankind is responsible for his own rejection of the offer of salvation; yet, God is responsible for and glorified by those who accept the offer of salvation. In concluding this passage Jesus again invites all to believe in Him. In Matt. 11:28–30 Jesus accurately described the natural estate of mankind as being full of labor and heavy laden. Following this, Christ promises rest for one’s soul by taking up His easy yoke.

Application Questions:

  1. What caused John to question the identity of Jesus? Have you ever questioned Jesus’ character, power, or love for you?
  2. How could John claim that he was not Elijah at John 1:21 when Jesus clearly taught that John was the “Elijah who is to come” at Matt. 11:14; 17:12?
  3. What did Jesus mean with his teaching, saying that “Wisdom is justified by her children” (Matt. 11:19)?
  4. Is the idea of degrees of punishment in hell a biblical concept (cf. Matt. 10:15; Mark 6:11; Luke 12:47–48; Heb. 10:29)?
  5. How can we best communicate to the heavy-laden, labor-filled, lost world that Jesus’ offer of salvation is gentle and gives rest to one’s soul?