The Advent of Matthew (03) - John's Doubt (Matthew 11:2-11)
Matthew 11:2–11 - When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
John’s Doubts (11:2-3) - John’s doubt is striking, given his fierce boldness against the establishment/leadership of Israel (ch. 3). He strongly denounced both of the dominant religious parties (Pharisees and Sadducees), as well as the political leadership of Israel in the house of Herod. Not only that, he proclaimed the coming Messiah, whom he expressly identifies as Jesus (John 1:29)! Even more, John and Jesus were related, so it may have been that John knew of Jesus and as their prophetic vocations were developing they interacted. The event of their first meeting was the occasion for the Magnificat (Luke 1:41ff). So why does John doubt?
a) John’s message was that the fruitless tree of Israel was to be chopped down through Messiah outpouring fire. John preached this with great effect, yet when Christ began his ministry it did not begin with effecting judgment (though judgment continued to be proclaimed by Jesus). Specifically, the evil house of Herod not only was still standing, but held John captive. b) John was “in the spirit and power of Elijah” who divided the water of the Jordan (2Kgs. 2:8ff). When Elijah completed his difficult prophetic ministry, he was taken off to heaven! 2 Kings 2:11: "As they [Elisha] continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven." This is a "swing low sweet chariot" situation for Elijah. But what of John? John was imprisoned by the Ahab and Jezebel of his day and ultimately murdered by them (Matt. 14:3ff). These are at least some of the reasons John doubted. Why do you doubt?
Jesus’ Evidence (11:4-6) - The response to John’s doubt is met by Jesus evidence. Jesus not only cited prophecy, He fulfilled it. He cited several passages from Isaiah which reflect only the healing work of Messiah, not the judgment work. Christ would come and declare future judgment, but at that time perform works of service and healing, rather than wrath. This reflects the goal of reaching the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matt. 10:6). The background here is Isaiah 61:1 and others passages in Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners,” also 26:19, “Your dead will live” 26:18/35:5, “the eyes of the blind will see,” “the ears of the deaf will be unstopped” “the lame will leap” (also, 42:18). And “the healings of lepers and the raising of the dead in the time of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs 17:17–24; 2 Kgs 4:18–37; 5:1–27)” (Luz, Hermeneia). The works of Jesus correspond to those in “Matthew 8–9: blind (8:27–30), lame (8:5–13; 9:1–7), leper (8:1–4), deaf (8:32–34), dead (9:18–26), and poor (5:3). The term for “deaf” (ko¯phos) can also mean “mute,” as in 8:32–34” (Harrington, Sacra). Jesus was a “prophet” in Old Testament sense and He came in fulfillment of the prophetic ministry (JVG, NT Wright). Do you accept the evidence that Jesus is the Christ?
John and the Kingdom - The last portion of this passage expresses the stature of John in relation to the kingdom. It is evident that “all Israel” had gone out to John, since Jesus could ask, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” The answer of a “A reed shaken by the wind?” is suggestive as a picture. John may waved such a “reed” in the wind and sprinkled water on people a
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more