Jesus Reassures John
And Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.” (11:4–6)
Jesus did not answer with a simple yes or no, because He knew that would not have satisfied John. He rather told John’s disciples to present their teacher the evidence. Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
Because many of John’s disciples had already been with Jesus and heard Him teach and seen Him perform miracles, part of the report to John would be a reminder of what they had reported earlier. In addition to having heard accounts from his disciples, John doubtlessly had heard from other sources as well, because people from all over Palestine—from Syria, “from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan”—had followed Jesus from early in His ministry, largely on account of His miraculous works (Matt. 4:23–25). After Jesus cleansed a man in Capernaum of an unclean spirit, “immediately the news about Him went out everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee” (Mark 1:28); after He raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead, “this news went out into all that land” (Matt. 9:26; cf. Luke 4:14, 37); and after He healed the Galilean man of leprosy, “the news about Him was spreading even farther” (Luke 5:15).
John was a great man of God and beloved by Jesus. As His faithful forerunner languished in prison facing imminent death, the Lord Jesus determined to give him a more direct and personal report of evidence. Luke tells us that when John’s disciples asked Jesus if He was “the Expected One,” that “at that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He granted sight to many who were blind” (7:20–21). Right on the spot and before their eyes, Jesus put on a display of miracles expressly for the personal benefit of John’s disciples and even more for the benefit of John himself. How it must have thrilled John’s heart not only to receive fresh confirming evidence of Jesus’ messiahship but to know that the Lord had performed that plethora of miracles specifically to reassure him in his time of loneliness and perplexity.
Although Jesus did nothing to relieve John’s physical confinement and suffering, He did send back to him special confirmation that He was indeed performing messianic works: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them—just as Isaiah had prophesied (Isa. 35:5; 61:1). Jesus said, in effect, “This, John, is but a preview, a taste, a picture of the coming kingdom. You can see by what I am doing now that I care, that I heal, and that I have power over all things.”
John’s circumstances did not improve; in fact, he was soon beheaded at the cruel request of Herodias. But it is safe to assume that Jesus’ response was more than enough to encourage John and renew his faith and confidence.
Jesus’ closing beatitude was primarily for the sake of John: And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me. It was a gentle warning, a tender rebuke. “Don’t doubt,” He said to John, “if you want to have the blessing of My joy and peace.” The warning did not take away from Jesus’ esteem for John, as his testimony immediately afterward shows (vv. 7–11).
Stumbling is from skandalizō, which originally referred to the trapping or snaring of an animal. It was used metaphorically to signify an entrapment or stumbling block and carried the derived meaning of causing offense. Jesus’ divine messiahship and the gospel of deliverance from sin through faith in Him are great stumbling blocks to sinful, unbelieving man, and Jesus did not want John to be affected by the world’s skepticism and unbelief.
Matthew does not tell of the end to John’s doubt until later. After John was beheaded by Herod, “his disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus” (Matt. 14:12). They went to Jesus because He was the most important Person in John’s life and apparently had become the most important Person in their lives as well. When he died, John did not have all his questions answered, and he must have still wondered when Jesus would establish His kingdom, judge the wicked, and usher in the long-awaited kingdom of righteousness. John must have regretted not being able to witness those marvelous events about which he had so earnestly preached. But he no longer had doubts about who Jesus was or about His goodness and justice or His sovereignty and wisdom. He was content to leave in the Lord’s hands the many things he did not yet understand—and that is the secret of being blessed and of not stumbling.
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful,” Paul assures us; “For He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). Even when we doubt Him, God is faithful to us. Doubt does not cause a believer to lose his relationship to the Lord, because God cannot deny His own promises to keep those whom He had saved. And because of His faithfulness, we can go to Him even when we doubt Him. In fact, only by going to Him as John did can our doubts be relieved.
John the Baptist would have loudly affirmed the apostle John’s declaration, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2–3).
4–6 Jesus’ answer briefly summarized his own miracles and preaching, but in the language of Isaiah 35:5–6; 61:1 (with possible allusions to 26:19; 29:18–19). At one level the answer was straightforward: Isaiah 61:1 is an explicit messianic passage, and Isaiah 35:5–6, though it has no messianic figure, describes the return of God’s people to Zion with accompanying blessings (e.g., restoration of sight). Jesus definitely claimed that these messianic visions were being fulfilled in the miracles he was performing and that his preaching the Good News to the poor (see comments at 5:3) was as explicit a fulfillment of the messianic promises of Isaiah 61:1–2 as Luke 4:17–21. The powers of darkness were being undermined; the kingdom was advancing (cf. v. 12).
But there is a second, more subtle level to Jesus’ response. All four of the Isaiah passages refer to judgment in their immediate context: e.g., “your God will come … with vengeance; with divine retribution” (35:4); “the day of vengeance of our God” (61:2). Thus Jesus was allusively responding to the Baptist’s question: the blessings promised for the end time have broken out and prove it is here, even though the judgments are delayed (cf. Jeremias, Jesus’ Promise, 46; Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, 60). Matthew 11:6, which may include an allusion to Isaiah 8:13–14 (in which case Jesus is set in the place of Yahweh; see comments at vv. 9–11), is then a gentle warning, applicable both to John and his disciples: Blessed (see comments at 5:3) is the “man who does not fall away” (for this verb, see comments at 5:29) on account of Jesus, i.e., who does not find in him and his ministry an obstacle to belief and therefore reject him. The miracles themselves were not irrefutable proof of who Jesus was (cf. Mk 8:11–12 and par.); faith was still required to read the evidence against the background of Scripture and to hear in Jesus’ claim the ring of truth. But the beatitude in this form assumes the questioner has begun well and now must avoid stumbling. It is therefore an implicit challenge to reexamine one’s presuppositions about what the Messiah should be and do in the light of Jesus and his fulfillment of Scripture and to bring one’s understanding and faith into line with him.
6 This little beatitude, rather like John 20:29, commends those who can accept the reality of God’s working without demanding undue proof. But, unlike the beatitudes of 5:3–10 and John 20:29, it is expressed in the singular, and in this context it must have reference to John’s question: the evidence should have been enough for him. There may, however, be a special focus on the last item in the list of “deeds of the Messiah,” if John’s doubts about Jesus may have been prompted by the questionable company into which Jesus’ mission to bring good news to the poor had led him. John’s implied “stumbling” (see on 5:29–30 for this prominent theme in Matthew) need not be taken in the catastrophic sense which this verb will have in 13:21; 18:6–9 (cf. 5:29–30); 24:10; it is also used in a less drastic way for instance in 13:57; 15:12; 17:27; 26:31–33. But in all these cases it represents a degree of unbelief, even if not terminal. The verb does not in itself justify the conclusion that John is outside the scope of salvation, but it suggests that the attitude which led to his question is not conducive to spiritual insight. When he is declared in v. 11 to be outside the kingdom of heaven, the primary reference is to his place in the scheme of salvation-history, but it may be that we are meant also to reflect on the scepticism concerning Jesus as the Messiah which his question implied. In this he was perhaps a prototype of the many who would find it hard to accept Jesus’ concept of Messiahship as it became more evident (not least Peter in his response to Jesus’ revelation in 16:21–23).
Jesus’ Reply (11:4–6)
‘Go and tell John the things you hear and see. The blind receive their sight [anablepousin] and the lame walk [peripatousin]; lepers are cleansed [katharizontai] and the deaf hear [akouousin]; and the dead are raised [egeirontai], and the poor are being evangelized [euangelizontai]’ (Matt. 11:4b–5). All six Greek verbs in 11:5, here noted, appear in the present tense; and all are customary or habitual presents. Some miracles may occur more often than others (e.g., there may be more blind people cured than dead people raised), and Jesus probably evangelizes the poor more regularly than he does any one kind of healing; but all six matters are essential and recurrent features of his Messianic mission. Five are expressly mentioned in preceding chapters. Two blind men (typhloi) receive their sight in 9:27–31. The term chōlos, ‘lame,’ first occurs in 11:5; but the ‘paralytic’ (paralytikos) of 9:2–8 is lame, and Jesus enables him to walk. (Note how the blind and the lame are also joined in the eschatological promises of Isaiah 35:5–6 and Jeremiah 31:8.) A lepros is cleansed in 8:2–4; and a dead person (nekros) is raised in 9:23–25. Among the ‘poor’ (ptōchoi) who receive good news are the ‘blessed’ of 5:3–10 (which contains the only prior occurrence of ptōchoi [11:3]), and the sick and afflicted whom Jesus heals; the verb of 11:5, euangelizomai, occurs nowhere else in Matthew, but note the use of the cognate noun euangelion in 4:23 and 9:35.
While there is no clear precedent for the remaining member of Matthew 11:5—‘the deaf [kōphoi] hear’—this language recalls the cure of the mute (kōphos) demoniac in 9:32–34. Furthermore, the placement of this summary indicates that it includes the mission of the twelve: cf. 10:7–8, where Jesus tells them (in the very terms of 11:5) to raise the dead and cleanse the lepers.
Matthew 11:4b speaks of ‘the things you hear [akouete] and see [blepete].’ These verbs are progressive or descriptive presents, related to what John’s messengers are currently witnessing. The parallel in Luke 7:21 is instructive: ‘In that hour he cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits, and he gave sight to many who were blind.’ John’s disciples not only hear a summary of Jesus’ earlier ministry: they personally hear his gospel of the kingdom and see his mighty works. As Luke relates, exorcisms were among these; and while such works are not expressly included in the summary of Matthew 11:5, they are well attested in the earlier chapters.
‘And blessed [makarios] is the person who does not fall into sin [mē skandalisthē] on account of me,’ concludes Jesus (11:6). This makarios, joined directly to the evangelizing of the poor (ptōchoi; 11:5b) strengthens the tie with 5:3–12, where the plural makarioi occurs nine times (these being the only prior instances of the term in Matthew). That is, the Beatitudes describe the kind of persons who do not take offense at Jesus, and who do not fall into sin on his account. Those who recognize him to be sent from God, and who pledge their loyalty to him at whatever cost, will be blessed (makarioi): great will be their reward in heaven (10:40–42; 5:11–12). But those who do find him offensive, and who therefore reject him, are in danger of committing the worst sin of all, and of falling under the severest judgment—as later texts in these two chapters will confirm (see 11:20–24; 12:22–32, 38–45). This issue confronts not only those Israelites whom God has addressed through John and Jesus, but now also John himself.
Jesus provides John’s messengers the very sort of evidence—both visible and verbal—that prompted John’s question in the first place (11:5 and 2). Jesus says nothing about the Day of Judgment, although he earlier affirmed its certainty (see 7:33; 10:15). That Day is not eliminated but postponed, so that the gospel of the kingdom may be universally proclaimed (24:14) and people from Israel and the other nations rescued from ‘the wrath to come.’ Moreover, as Jesus is about to show (11:20–24), the very actions described in 11:5 have themselves precipitated a process of judgment (see also John 3:16–21)—and woe to those who reject or actively oppose these marvelous and unprecedented manifestations of God’s saving grace and power.
In other words, the refining and purifying of Israel which John foretold (Matt. 3:11) is already underway, and the truth of Israelites’ spiritual condition (3:12) is already coming to light (see comments on p. 256). Indeed, judgments about true and false children of Abraham were already being made during John’s own ministry (3:7–10).
We are not told how John responded to Jesus’ response. But all later evidence in Matthew, beginning with 11:7–19, strongly suggests that John was confirmed in his earlier beliefs and that he answered his own question affirmatively.
11:6 stumble. Given the unexpected nature of Jesus’ messianic activity—he heals rather than overthrows—Jesus pronounces a blessing on “anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” The term “stumble” translates skandalizō, a word used at key points by Matthew to indicate a negative response to Jesus and his ministry. Jesus’ hometown takes offense (skandalizō) at him because they consider him a known quantity (13:57), and the Pharisees are offended by his teaching (15:12).
4–6. Jesus answered and said to them, Go and report to John the things which you hear and see: (the) blind are gaining their sight and (the) cripples are walking, (the) lepers are being cleansed and (the) deaf are hearing, (the) dead are being raised up and (the) poor are having good news preached to them. In which sense was this answer reassuring? Is it not true that John already knew all this (verse 2), and that the very fact that he knew it had contributed substantially to his doubt? True indeed, but the wording was new.… Or was it? It was “new” in the sense that friends who had been reporting Christ’s activities to John had not used this type of formulation. On the other hand, the message as phrased by Jesus had a familiar ring. It must have reminded John of certain prophetic predictions, namely, Isa. 35:5, 6 and 61:1: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the cripple [or: lame] man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing for joy.… The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me, because Jehovah has anointed me to preach good news to the poor [or: meek].” It is as if Jesus were tenderly saying to John, “Do you remember these prophecies? This, too, was predicted concerning Messiah. And all this is being fulfilled today, namely, in me.” Jesus was going to use Isa. 61 also on another occasion, and again as a prediction fulfilled in himself (Luke 4:16–21).
In connection with these prophetic words and their fulfilment in Jesus two additional facts should be noted: a. Isaiah had referred both to miracles and preaching; Christ’s message to John also contains a reference to both; and b. the fulfilment in Christ was even better than the prediction, for in the latter not a word had even been whispered with reference to raising the dead. The predictions had to do with healing, cleansing, and preaching good tidings. The fulfilment included all these and more, namely, raising the dead. It is interesting to notice that in Luke’s Gospel the story of bringing back to life the son of the widow of Nain (7:11–17) immediately precedes the report of John’s doubt and of the manner in which Jesus dealt with it (7:18–23).
The message addressed to John the Baptist ends with the words: And blessed is he who is not repelled by me, that is, who does not allow anything I do or say to ensnare him, to lure him into sin. See on 5:29, 30. Though the view according to which by means of this admonition John was being rebuked may well be correct, yet if so it was a tender rebuke, one that did not in any respect eclipse the Master’s love for his momentarily confused disciple. In fact, rightly considered, the admonition contains a blessing, “Blessed is he.…” The Lord treats John as tenderly as he did the man born blind, the woman caught in adultery, Peter, Thomas, etc. In view of the manner in which Jesus immediately proceeds to praise John publicly and to rebuke those who were finding fault both with this herald and with the One to whom he bore witness (verses 7–19), and also in view of such passages as Mal. 3:1, 4:5, 6; Luke 1:15–17, 76, 80; Phil. 1:6, it must be considered certain that the message of Jesus had the desired effect on John. But it is the wisdom and tenderness of Jesus that stand out, and this both in the message of reassurance addressed to John and in the words spoken about John and directed to the crowd that was present.
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