1.  Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.

He continued His Own ministry while they carried out theirs as He had commanded them.  We have no record of the completion of their mission in Matthew, so when exactly they rejoined Him is hard to say.  Some of the following events may have occurred while they were still carrying out their commission.

2.  And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples

Here we find John in prison, as we learned in 4:12.  We do not find out why he was in prison until we read the record of his death in chapter 14.

3.  and said to Him, “are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”

People here have tended to blame John for not believing in Christ.  This is not a fair accusation, however.  We need to know a little bit about the theology at that time.  The theologians at that time had considerable trouble reconciling the passages that spoke of the Messiah coming in glory with other passages that spoke of Him coming to shame, humiliation, and death.  Thus, there had arisen a theology at that time that there were to be two Messiahs.  One, the suffering Messiah of humiliation, was called Messiah Ben-Joseph.  The other, the Messiah of victory and glory, was called Messiah Ben-David.  This idea was common at this time.  It seems that John was wondering if perhaps this teaching might be true and if perhaps Jesus might be the Messiah Ben-Joseph rather than the victorious Messiah Ben-David that they all were hoping for.  It would appear that this was his motivation in sending these men to the Lord Jesus with this question.  Of course, now we know the answer to the riddle that puzzled those theologians long ago: these passages were not talking about two different Messiahs, but rather about two different comings and works of the same Messiah.

4.  Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:
5.  “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.
6.  “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”

The Lord answers John’s question only with the proofs of His Messiahship…all of the healing miracles that He is performing.  We read the predictions of Christ’s miracles in various places in the Old Testament.  One of these is Isaiah 35:5-6.
    “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the dumb sing.
For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert.”
Isaiah 61:1 also speaks of the miracles of Messiah.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”

Thus, by working these very miracles predicted, the Lord was showing that He was Messiah indeed.  John needed no other proof.

Notice that one of the signs that the Lord mentions is the dead being raised up.  This was a common thing that Christ was doing at that time.  For Him to heal another dead person at the time of the death of Lazarus would not have been significant.  But to heal a man who had been dead for longer than two days…that was something that the people did not believe even Jesus could do.  The Jews had a belief that the spirit of a man hovers over his body for two days or forty-eight hours after he dies, seeking some way to enter back into it.  Then, after that time, the spirit gives up and departs to God, and only He could call it back.  Thus they believed that if one could heal the body during that forty-eight hour period, the spirit would re-enter the man and he would naturally revive.  If, however, the forty-eight hours had passed, the spirit would have gone back to God, and only He could call it back.  That is why He waited two days before striking out on his journey to heal Lazarus.  No two-day limit existed for the God of all creation!  And by healing Lazarus after two days had passed, He proved to these people that He was not just a healer, but that He must be God indeed.

7.  As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?

Some suggest this may have been John’s method of water baptizing people…to wet a reed and shake it over their heads.  This idea, of course, is not common among those who favor immersion.  There are several problems with immersion, one of which is the depth of the Jordan where John was baptizing.  Those who immerse in the Jordan now never do it in the same place John did, because there the water is so shallow one could lie down and still not be immersed!  This makes a strong argument against the idea that baptism must have been by immersion.  One could assume, of course, that the Jordan was deeper in times past, but this would be difficult to prove one way or the other.  One could also assume that John only baptized during flood season, but this is again a stretch.

Cleansing with water was always done by sprinkling in the Old Testament.  For example, Numbers 8:7, “And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean.”  Another good example is Ezekiel 36:25a, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.”  Baptism by immersion seems to skate on thin ice when one examines the facts.

Water was scarce around Israel.  Even baths were not done by immersion.  Rather, one would take a basin of water and a sponge and rub oneself down to bathe.  Moreover, baths were usually only taken when one had become ceremonially unclean.  At the time of the Pharisees, it was a custom to wash the hands before meals (Luke 11:38.)  Also, washing the dust of the road off the feet was a sign of hospitality to guests (Luke 7:44.)  However, baths were taken infrequently, and never by immersion.  Therefore, the likelihood of water baptisms having been by immersion is low due to its impracticality, although it seems perfectly logical to us in a country where water is plentiful.

8.  “But what did you go out to see?  A man clothed in soft garments?  Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.

The people did not go into the wilderness to see some wonderful show or to enjoy some sort of conference.  Many people in our day would go to an event like one of these and take great pride in what they had done.  These people, however, walked miles into the wilderness to see a hermit!  But they did this because this strange man gave them the Word of God!  Would we travel such a distance to hear from God, I wonder?  Or must our journeys include air conditioning and full-color programs?

9.  “But what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.
10.  “For this is he of whom it is written:
‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.

The Lord reveals to us who John is here by quoting Malachi 3:1.  Notice that He does not say that John is Elijah.  Elijah was taken up to Heaven in a whirlwind and exists there still for all we know (II Kings 2:1.)  He could not have been born a baby, for he was a full-grown man when he left.  The idea that John was Elijah is false.  Elijah must yet come before Christ can return (Malachi 4:5, Matthew 17:11.)  The “second coming” of Elijah must proceed the second coming of Christ!

11.  “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John was the greatest man ever born of a woman up to that time!  Only Adam in his original perfect state would have been greater.  But in the kingdom of God, even the lowliest person will be greater than John!  Could there be any clearer passage to tell us that, in the kingdom of God, the curse of sin and death will be removed so that we will all become like Adam was in the beginning?  This is the only way that everyone in the Kingdom could be greater than the greatest man ever born of a woman!  Moreover, this shows us that the Kingdom is not present now in the form of “the church,” but rather is a future reality that God will bring about on earth.

12.  “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.

This is a very strange statement, and it is difficult to say what exactly Christ meant by this.  The idea seems to be that the kingdom of God has forced itself upon men’s attention.  Though they might have been unknowingly going about their lives until that point, when they happened upon the ministry of John or the miracles and ministry of the Lord Jesus, suddenly the kingdom was forced upon their attention.  The second part is more difficult.  The idea seems to be that forceful men lay hold of it.  Though the kingdom was forced on their attention, they had to make a determined and forceful move of their own in order to gain access to it.  In the future when the kingdom comes to earth in its full manifestation, men will not have to do anything to be brought under it.  It will take control of the world, and all men will fall under it whether they seek to or not.  Yet it was not that way in Christ’s day.  Men had to make their own, determined decision in order to become a part of that government.

13.  “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.

The idea is that they were all prophesying until John, but that when John came the prophecies actually started to be fulfilled.  This has particularly to do with prophecies of the kingdom of God being fulfilled, for there had been prophecies fulfilled before this time, just not prophecies of the kingdom.

14.  And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.
15.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Some would claim that this means that John the Baptist was Elijah.  Again I insist that Elijah could not be born twice any more than Christ could be born twice, as cults like the Unification Church believe.  Notice that He says that John is Elijah who is to come!  If John was Elijah, how could it still be said that his coming was future?  What Christ means here is that John could do the same work for these men as Elijah will do for men upon his return to earth in the future.  Thus, John could “become” Elijah to these people.  John himself said that he was not Elijah, as we know (John 1:21,) and we cannot make Scripture contradict itself by interpreting this passage to say that he was Elijah.

16.  “But to what shall I liken this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions,
17.  “and saying:
‘We played the flute for you,
And you did not dance;
We mourned to you,
And you did not lament.’
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, ‘Look, a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  But wisdom is justified by her children.”

The fact is that ungodly men will not be satisfied no matter what messenger God sends to them.  They will reject one style of ministry just as surely as another.  It amazes me how some Christians think that they can pacify the “scientific” world into accepting them if they accept the theory of theistic evolution.  They do not understand that the wicked heart of man will not tolerate anyone who aligns himself with God.  No compromise can reconcile you to them but the total abdication of your faith!

Of course, the charges that they made against both John and Christ were false.  Nevertheless, this seems to indicate that Christ was not the small, frail individual we tend to picture Him as, but rather a larger man.  No one would accuse a small, thin figure of a man of being a glutton!

20.  Then He began to upbraid the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:
21.  “Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, 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.
22.  “But 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, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
24.  “But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”

This passage proves that not only is Christ able to judge our actions, but He is also able to determine what we might have done in other circumstances.  I believe that this is a very positive thing for those who have never had the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus Christ.  God knows what they might have done if they had been given the opportunity.  And this will have a significant impact on what His verdict will be in the upcoming Day of Judgment.

We also notice in this passage the startling statement that it will be more tolerable for Sodom in the Day of Judgment than for some of the cities that rejected Christ.  Yet what can this mean, more tolerable?  Nothing can be less tolerable than absolute destruction.  Therefore, this must mean that some part of the city of Sodom will not be destroyed!  This might be a novel idea to some, but this is actually in line with what God predicts in the Old Testament.  For in Ezekiel 16:53-55 we read that Sodom will be restored to her former state at the same time as Samaria and Jerusalem!

25.  At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.
26.  “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.

God is able to reveal Himself to exactly whom He chooses.  This does not mean that they are predestined to salvation, however.  You can reject what has been revealed to you.  Nevertheless, it is often not the wisest in the eyes of the world who understand the most about the truths of God!

27.  “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father.  Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and he to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

No one can truly know another.  Yet we as men can grasp another man if we have long enough to do so.  Married couples who live together for decades often come to understand each other to a greater extent than perhaps anyone else ever could.  Yet this is just a human being comprehending another human being.  Yet who can truly comprehend God?  Only God Himself could ever fully do so!  Thus we know that the only One Who can truly understand the Son is the Father, and the only One Who can truly understand the Father is the Son.  Yet the Son assures us that He can reveal to us Who the Father really is.  What an amazing truth this is!

28.  “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Christ calls to Himself all who will come.  He did so in that day, and He does likewise in ours.  To any and all who live in this world He says, “Come!”  Let us spread this wonderful news to all who would hear it.

29.  “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
30.  “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Sometimes as we read through the Bible and note all Its commands, we might get the idea that living for God is a hard thing to do.  Well, there is work to it, and not everything He asks of us is easy.  Yet how light is the burden and how easy the yoke compared to that borne by those who are without Christ and have no hope!  Compared to not knowing God or not having your sins forgiven, Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light indeed.