At that time Jesus answered and said, “I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,” (11:25a)
At that time could mean that Jesus’ invitation was given immediately after His upbraiding of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, in order to take advantage of any interest in salvation those sobering words may have evoked.
It is also possible that Jesus was repeating an invitation He had given on other occasions and would continue to give throughout His ministry. In that case, Matthew here calls attention to what may have been Jesus’ last invitation during His first and major Galilean ministry-as He offered the people one final appeal to be saved.
After Jesus’ performing countless miracles to attest His divinity and His messianic credentials (4:23–24), after His preaching in detail the message of the gospel and the Christian life (5–7), and after His having sent out the twelve (10:5–15) and then the seventy (see Luke 10:1–16), the people of Galilee had the greatest opportunity to learn of God and of His way of salvation than any people in history, before or since. Yet in spite of that great opportunity, the majority willfully rejected Christ and His message, either by hostility or by indifference.
Though the nation had turned its back on the Messiah, He continued to call to Himself that remnant who were weary of carrying their heavy spiritual burdens and who sought rest in God’s grace.
Jesus’ early period of popularity was ending, and opposition was growing in amount and in intensity. As Jesus would soon make clear, the only possible alternatives are acceptance or rejection. A person is either for Christ or against Him (Matt. 12:30; cf. Mark 9:40). Consequently, Jesus’ teaching became more and more specifically directed either to those who accepted or those who rejected Him. Side by side are messages of judgment and of compassion, of warning and of encouragement, just as we see here. Jesus had just presented the God of judgment and wrath (Matt. 11:20–24), and now He presents the God of love and mercy.
Answered and said is a Hebrew idiom that means to speak out openly, as opposed to privately or confidentially. Jesus’ invitation to follow Him was universal and open to everyone who would come on God’s terms.
Jesus’ prayer to His Father was meant to be heard by prospective believers. As He prayed, I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus called attention both to His unique relationship to the Father and to the Father’s sovereign control over salvation. Salvation is a provision of the Lord of heaven and earth, and is not a result of man’s wisdom, plans, purposes, or power; and for that truth Jesus gives praise to the Father.
Every faithful pastor, evangelist, and witness is sometimes disappointed that more people do not respond. He asks himself, “What more can I do? What new approach can I take? How can I make the message clearer and more persuasive?” Yet he also knows that some people will reject Christ no matter how clear, loving, and powerful the presentation of the gospel may be. If men could reject salvation from the very lips of the Lord Himself-and in the midst of awesome, authenticating miracles-we can hardly expect every person who hears our imperfect witness to fall at Christ’s feet.
We weep over those who refuse to be saved, just as our Lord wept over Jerusalem when it would not receive Him. But also like Christ, we should praise our heavenly Father that all things are under His divine control and that His sovereign plan for the world and for His own people cannot be frustrated. Men’s rejection of Christ proves their failure, not God’s.
God’s sovereignty should be the foremost thought in the mind of every witnessing believer. We should remember with confidence that His plan is always on course and that even the most unrepentant, wicked, vindictive, and cynical rejection of our testimony does not alter God’s timetable or thwart His purpose. Our responsibility is simply to make our witness faithful (1 Cor. 4:2); it is God’s responsibility alone to make it effective.
Because Jesus had an unyielding trust in His Father’s perfect will, He could rest in that will and give Him praise no matter what responses people made to Him.
As Jesus compassionately invited His hearers to come to Him and be saved, He set forth the five essential elements that constitute a genuine invitation to salvation.
Humility and Dependence
that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight. (11:25b-26)
Jesus’ specific cause for praise is God’s sovereign wisdom in hiding these things from the wise and intelligent and instead revealing them to babes. He thanks His Father that the first step to salvation is humility, coming to God in utter despair of one’s own merit or resources. It is not by accident that the first beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). The kingdom belongs only to the humble.
These things refers to the kingdom, on which Jesus’ entire ministry focused. Even during the forty days between His resurrection and ascension Jesus was “speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). His teachings about His messiahship, lordship, and saviorhood, and about salvation, submission, and discipleship all centered in the kingdom of God-the realm where He is sovereign, where His people dwell by grace through faith, and where His righteous will is done.
The wise and intelligent sarcastically refers to those who are intelligent in their own eyes and who rely on human wisdom and disregard God’s. The Lord does not exclude smart people from His kingdom but rather those who trust in their smartness. Paul was a brilliant, highly educated scholar, and he did not forsake his intelligence when he became a Christian. But he stopped relying on his intelligence to discern and understand spiritual and divine matters. It is not intelligence but intellectual pride that shuts people out of the kingdom. Intelligence is a gift of God, but when it is perverted by pride it becomes a barrier to God, because trust is in the gift rather than in the Giver. “For though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly; but the haughty He knows from afar” (Ps. 138:6).
The wise and intelligent include both religious and nonreligious people, who in their love of human wisdom are much more alike than different. Whether religious or irreligious, the proud person will not submit to God’s wisdom and truth and therefore excludes himself from the kingdom. The religious man who relies on tradition or good works to please God is just as far from God as the atheist.
The means God uses to hide these things from such people is the darkness of their proud, unregenerate hearts, which prevent them from seeing what God desires them to know and to accept. Paul said, “Just as it is written, ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God” (1 Cor. 2:9–10). God’s spiritual truth is not empirically, objectively knowable. It cannot be externally discovered, but must be willingly received through man’s heart as God reveals it. As someone has said, “The heart and not the head is the home of the gospel.” No amount of human reasoning or speculation can discover or explain God’s saving truth, because, as Paul continues to say, “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (v. 14).
No amount of evidence is sufficient to convince the confirmed unbeliever. John says of such people that, though Jesus “had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes, and He hardened their heart; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them’ ” (John 12:37–40). Those who hear God’s Word and refuse to receive it are subject to God’s judicial confirmation of that choice.
Just as wise and intelligent does not refer to mental ability but to a proud spiritual attitude, babes does not refer to physical age or capability but to a humble spiritual attitude.
A baby is totally dependent on others to provide everything it needs. It has no abilities, no knowledge, no skills, no resources at all to help itself. Nēpios (babes) is used in 1 Corinthians 3:1 and Hebrews 5:13 of infants who cannot eat solid food but only milk. In 1 Corinthians 13:11 it is used of those who have not yet learned to speak and in Ephesians 4:14 of those who are helpless.
During a question and answer period in a meeting one time, a young girl, perhaps 9 or 10 years old, came up to me and asked, “What happens to babies and retarded children when they die?” She was obviously very serious, and I did my best to answer her from Scripture. Beginning with David’s comment about his infant son who had died, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23), I explained that God takes to Himself all of those, such as babies and retarded people, who are not able to choose Him. Afterward her mother explained that a younger brother was seriously retarded and understood almost nothing of what went on around him. His sister, young as she was, knew, the way of salvation and was deeply concerned that her little brother might not go to heaven because he was not able to understand how to receive Christ as Savior. I reminded her that Jesus said, “Unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). She was greatly relieved when I said that her little brother was a living illustration of the kind of person Jesus came to save and to receive into heaven-the utterly helpless.
It is to spiritual babes, those who acknowledge their utter helplessness in themselves, to whom God has sovereignly chosen to reveal the truths of His kingdom. It is to the “poor in spirit” who humbly confess their dependency that God makes the way of salvation clear and understandable. By the Holy Spirit they recognize they are spiritually empty and bankrupt and they abandon all dependence on their own resources. They are the cringing spiritual beggars to whom Jesus refers in the first beatitude-the absolutely destitute who are ashamed to lift up their head as they hold out their hands for help.
Babes are the exact opposite of the kind of person the scribes, Pharisees, and rabbis taught was pleasing to God. They are also the exact opposite of the imagined ideal Christian touted by many popular preachers and writers who glorify self-assertion and self-worth.
The contrast between wise and intelligent and babes is not between the knowledgeable and the ignorant, the educated and the uneducated, the brilliant and the simpleminded. It is a contrast between those who think they can save themselves by their own human wisdom, resources, and achievement and those who know they cannot. It is a comparison between those who rely on themselves and those who rely on God.
People who are famous, highly educated, wealthy, powerful, or talented are often difficult to reach for Christ, simply because human accomplishments easily lead to pride and pride leads to self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction.
Yes, Father, Jesus continues, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight. God is well-pleased with the gospel of grace because it brings glory to Him, which is the supreme purpose in the universe. “For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’ ” (Isa. 57:15). God loves to help the humble and the repentant, because they know they are helpless. He is pleased when they come to Him for help, because that honors His grace and gives Him glory (cf. Luke 18:9–14).
Still to the lowly soul
He doth Himself depart,
And for His dwelling and His throne
He chooses the humble heart.
“For consider your calling, brethren” Paul reminded the Corinthian believers, “that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Cor. 1:26–27).
Jesus referred to Nicodemus as the “teacher of Israel,” suggesting that he was perhaps the most highly respected rabbi in the land. He was a student of the Old Testament and of the many traditional writings of Judaism. Yet with all his religious training and knowledge he could not grasp Jesus’ teaching that “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Even after Jesus explained, Nicodemus did not understand, and Jesus said to him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:3–12). Before he could comprehend or receive the gospel, Nicodemus had to go all the way back and start over as a spiritual babe, putting aside his human knowledge and achievements and coming to Christ with no merit of his own.
25 The Greek en ekeinō tō kairō (“at that time”) is a loose connective in Matthew (cf. 12:1; 14:1), loosely historical (it was about that time) and tightly thematic (this pericope must be read in terms of the preceding denunciation). Luke 10:21 has Jesus saying these words “at that hour” (en autē tē hōra; NIV, “at that time”) when the seventy-two joyfully returned from their mission, an event Matthew does not record. Luke’s connective relates to the success of the mission; Matthew’s assumes that there has been some success (God has revealed these things to little children) but draws a sharper antithesis between the recipients of such revelation and the “wise and learned,” who, like the inhabitants of the cities just denounced, understand nothing.
While exomologoumai soi (“I praise you”) can be used in the sense of “I confess my sins” (cf. 3:6), the basic meaning is acknowledgment. Sins truly acknowledged are sins confessed. When this verb is used with respect to God, the person praying “acknowledges” who God is, the propriety of his ways, and the excellence of his character. At that point, acknowledgment is scarcely distinguishable from praise (as in Ro 14:11; 15:9; Php 2:11; cf. LXX of Ps 6:6; 7:18; 17:50 et al.).
Here Jesus addresses God as “Father” and “Lord of heaven and earth” (cf. Sir 51:10; Tob 7:16). These are particularly appropriate titles, because the former indicates Jesus’ sense of sonship (see comments at 6:9) and prepares for v. 27, while the latter recognizes God’s sovereignty over the universe and prepares for vv. 25–26. God is sovereign, free to conceal or reveal as he wills. God has revealed “these things”—the significance of Jesus’ miracles (cf. vv. 20–24), the messianic age unfolding largely unnoticed, the content of Jesus’ teaching—to nēpiois miracles (cf. vv. 20–24), the messianic age unfolding largely unnoticed, the content of Jesus’ teaching—to nēpiois (“little children,” (“little children,” “childlike disciples,” “simple ones,” GK 3758; see Jeremias, New Testament Theology, 111; comments at 18:1–5; cf. Jn 7:48–49; 1 Co 1:26–29; 3:18); and he has hidden them from the “wise and learned.”
Many restrict the “wise and learned” to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, but the context implies something broader. Jesus has just finished pronouncing woes on “this generation” (v. 16) and denouncing entire cities (vv. 20–24). These are “the wise and learned” (better, “the wise and understanding”) from whom the real significance of Jesus’ ministry is concealed. The point of interest is not their education, any more than the point of interest in the “little children” is their age or size. The contrast is between those who are self-sufficient and deem themselves wise and those who are dependent and love to be taught.
For revealing the riches of the good news of the kingdom to the one and hiding it from the other, Jesus uttered his praise to his Father. Zerwick (Biblical Greek, para. 452) argues that though the construction formally puts God’s concealing and his revealing on the same level, in reality it masks a Semitic construction. See Romans 6:17, which reads literally, “But thanks be to God that you were servants of sin, but you obeyed from the heart the form of teaching with which you were entrusted.” But this example does not greatly help here; for even when the construction is rendered concessively (“I praise you … because, though you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, you have revealed them to little children”), God remains the one who reveals and conceals.
Yet we must not think that God’s concealing and revealing are symmetrical activities arbitrarily exercised toward neutral human beings who are both innocent and helpless in the face of the divine decree. God is dealing with a race of sinners (cf. 1:21; 7:11) whom he owes nothing. Thus to conceal “these things” is not an act of injustice but of judgment—the very judgment John the Baptist was looking for and failed to find in Jesus (see comments at vv. 2–6). The astonishing thing about God’s activity is not that God acts in both mercy and judgment but who the recipients of that mercy and judgment are: those who pride themselves in understanding divine things are judged; those who understand nothing are taught. The predestination pattern is the counterpoint of grace.
26 Far from bemoaning or finding fault with his Father’s revealing and concealing, Jesus delighted in it. The conjunction hoti is best understood as “because” or “for” (NIV): I thank you because this was your good pleasure; and that is what Jesus “acknowledges” or “praises.” Whatever pleases his Father pleases him. “It is often in a person’s prayers that his truest thoughts about himself come to the surface. For this reason, the thanksgiving of Jesus here recorded is one of the most precious pieces of spiritual autobiography found in the Synoptic Gospels” (Tasker, 121). Jesus’ balance mirrored the balance of Scripture: he could simultaneously denounce the cities that did not repent and praise the God who does not reveal, for God’s sovereignty in election is not mitigated by man’s stubbornness and sin, while man’s responsibility is in no way diminished by God’s “good pleasure” that sovereignly reveals and conceals (cf. Carson, Divine Sovereignty, 205ff.).
11:25–26 / The final section of chapter 11 (vv. 25–30) comprises three rather separate utterances: a thanksgiving, a soliloquy, and an invitation. The major question raised by commentators regarding these verses has to do with authenticity. It is commonly held that the high Christology of the passage, combined with similarities to Gnostic thought, places its origin at a later period. Beare comments, “This meteorite from the Johan-nine heaven (von Hase) is undoubtedly a theological (christological) composition from the hand of an unknown mystic of the early church” (p. 266). The following discussion holds (with Green) that the material is integral to Matthew and to its context (p. 119).
Jesus gives thanks to his heavenly Father for revealing to the childlike what is hidden from the proud. The opening of his prayer of thanksgiving, Father, Lord of heaven and earth (v. 25) resembles Ben Sira’s prayer, “I will give thanks to thee, O Lord and King” (Sir. 51:1). The wise and learned are the scribes and Pharisees, the official guardians of Israel’s wisdom. Paul speaks disparagingly of the “scholars” and “skillful debaters of this world,” noting that according to the Scripture, God will “destroy the wisdom of the wise and set aside the understanding of the scholars” (1 Cor. 1:19–20, gnb). The little children (“babes,” av) are the followers of Jesus who, unimpeded by preconceived ideas of how God should act, respond with simple faith to Jesus and his mighty works. It is paradoxical but true that study can separate a person from truth as well as bring a person to truth. It is the attitude of the learner that determines the result. It has always been God’s gracious will (v. 26) to resist the proud but give grace to the humble (James 4:6).
11:25, 26 The three cities of Galilee had neither eyes to see nor heart to love the Christ of God. He knew their attitude was but a foretaste of rejection on a wider scale. How did He react to their impenitance? Not with bitterness, cynicism, or vindictiveness. Rather He lifted His voice in thanks to God that nothing could frustrate His sovereign purposes. “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.”
We should avoid two possible misunderstandings. First, Jesus was not expressing pleasure in the inevitable judgment of the Galilean cities. Secondly, He did not imply that God had high-handedly withheld the light from the wise and prudent.
The cities had every chance to welcome the Lord Jesus. They deliberately refused to submit to Him. When they refused the light, God withheld the light from them. But God’s plans will not fail. If the intelligentsia will not believe, then God will reveal Him to humble hearts. He fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty (Luke 1:53).
Those who consider themselves too wise and understanding to need Christ become afflicted with judicial blindness. But those who admit their lack of wisdom receive a revelation of Him “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Jesus thanked the Father for ordaining that if some would not have Him, others would. In the face of titanic unbelief He found consolation in the overruling plan and purpose of God.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1245). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.