As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! To what can I compare this generation? It is like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We played wedding songs, and you didn’t dance, so we played funeral songs, and you didn’t mourn.’ For John didn’t spend his time eating and drinking, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.
As we follow Jesus, He EMPOWERS us to MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
Overall Commentary: 🌎
Jesus has just sent off the twelve apostles on their first mission trip. They will come back soon with amazing stories of God's faithfulness. However, while they are away, John's disciples arrive. Jesus has just sent them back to John with encouragement. Now, Jesus turns His attention to the obviously shaken crowd. First, the apostles leave, and now John is concerned. Is everything okay? Should we be worried? Everything feels uncertain. Instead of leaving everyone in doubt, Jesus speaks straight to their worries and secret thoughts.
As we follow Jesus through seasons of uncertainty, Jesus brings clarity.
Verse 7-10: I see God's plan has not changed.
- The crowd: This crowd is likely the same crowd He spoke to in Matthew 5-7. Also, since John is in prison, it is likely several of these followers recently followed John. Hearing John's message would have likely filled them with uncertainty.
- weak reed/expensive clothes: It's possible Jesus was comparing John the Baptist with King Herod. Herod had the inscription of a reed placed on a coin made in his honor. Jesus also talks about the difference between John's appearance and those in palaces. Jesus is saying they do not compare. John is greater.
- Old Testament reference: Jesus' reference is in Malachi 3. This chapter prophecies the forerunner or hypeman for the Messiah. Jesus is saying that nothing Herod has done has changed John's work and the fulfillment of John's mission. Everything is still going according to plan.
Verse 11-15: I see the joy of His Kingdom.
- Why is John the Least in the Kingdom if he is also the greatest?: John represented the last of the Old Testament prophets. John also receives the distinction of being the greatest of the prophets because he introduced the world to Jesus. However, now that the Kingdom of God has come, the least in the Kingdom is more privileged than all who had come before. Being in the Kingdom of God is what the Old Testament prophets have talked about and longed for.
- The Kingdom has been forcefully advancing? A confusing Scripture: This Scripture has been applied incorrectly for a long time. The problem is the way the Greek wording is structured. There is a Greek verb that can have different tenses. If you translate it one way, it means the Kingdom of Heaven is violently moving forward. Another way of translating it is that the Kingdom of Heaven is forcefully moving forward, even though violent people stand against it. In the Gospel of Luke, another telling of this moment indicates the latter. In the context of Matthew, most scholars believe this context is the former. Jesus refers to what Herod has done and says the Kingdom of God will move forward no matter what Herod tries to do.
- He is Elijah. Reincarnation?- Some people during the time of Jesus thought that when the Messiah was about to come, Elijah would be born again. This is not what is intended. The point is that John came with the same spirit and power that Elijah had. This was important to the Jewish people because not only does the Old Testament prophecy this but Elijah was considered to be the greatest Old Testament prophet. However, it is important to realize this is saying John will be like Elijah, not actually Elijah. This is why John says he is not Elijah in the Gospel of John. He is saying he is not a reincarnation.
- All the prophets looked forward to this time: Hebrews 11 and 12 are full of stories from the Old Testament. It finishes by saying they all longed to see what we are experiencing.
Verse 16-19: I follow Jesus, not my idea of Him.
- Children playing a game: Have you ever played the old children's game entitled "Simon Says." In this game, one person gives an instruction, and you have to do it exactly, or you lose. This is much like the same game. Jesus is saying this generation demanded Jesus and John be exactly the way they wanted, or they would lose.
- Wedding and a funeral: The song by the children references the ministries of Jesus and John. Jesus spent time with people and spoke of forgiveness. John stayed away from people and spoke only of repentance. They approached ministry differently, yet were both rejected by the people.
- Jesus makes a bold statement: I will prove it. Jesus ends this section by saying the best way to know if what He is saying is true is to apply it to your life.
What can we learn from this passage?
We have all experienced seasons of uncertainty. This could come in the form of a lost job, family tragedy, personal struggles, health issues, or social unrest. When the life we have grown accustomed to suddenly shifts, it can leave us feeling disoriented and afraid. The people following Jesus must have felt a little of this when it seems as though Jesus' ministry might be unraveling a bit.
Jesus brings clarity to what is going on and provides a rock to build their hope upon. Jesus tells them His plan has not changed, they are living in times of amazing blessing, and building their life on who He really is can bring stability to any quicksand. This is still good news for us today.
Questions/Journal Prompts for reflection:
- Have you ever felt like your world was uncertain? How about now?
- Have you ever thought about who prayed for you to be here today?
- Have you ever heard someone explain God in a way that was not from the Bible? Where do you think that comes from?
- After today’s message, what is your next step?
Resources For Further Study
- Blue Letter Bible: Cross-Reference/Word Studies/Translations
- How to Cross-reference passages. Let the Bible interpret the Bible.
- BibleHub.com: So. Many. Tools.
- Sending Out the Twelve from Enduring Word
- Bible Study Notes: The First Mission
- Matthew Henry Commentary
- Instruction the Twelve From One Hope Fellowship
- Principles of Ministry