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Matthew 11:11-19 by Robert Dean
“All rise!” PIcture yourself in a courtroom where Matthew is presenting a case to prove that Jesus fulfills all the requirements of the Messiah. Find out if John the Baptist was Elijah and why Jesus called him the greatest of all the Old Testament prophets. See what Jesus means when He talks about the kingdom of heaven suffering violence. Understand that how you define where you’re headed will determine the decisions you make today. Consider if you are willing to take a stand that no matter what comes, you’re going to stick with the plan of God for your life.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:44 mins 12 secs

The Road to Rejection
Matthew 11:11-19
Matthew Lesson #068
February 22, 2015

Matthew 11 begins a new section within the flow of Matthew’s argument. He is presenting the case that Jesus of Nazareth fulfills all of the Old Testament promises and prophesies related to the Messiah, recognizing that those that were not fulfilled were related to the establishment, the inauguration, of the kingdom; and that when Jesus came the first time He came to offer the kingdom to Israel. That has been the theme of the Gospel in the first eleven chapters. In Matthew 12 we reach the climax where a major change takes place, and chapter eleven is the prelude to that shift that occurs in chapter twelve, when the religious leaders turn against Jesus and accuse Him of performing His miracles in the power of Satan rather than in the power of God. Chapter eleven functions as a prelude to that rejection, and we see that Jesus is on the path to rejection here in this chapter.

Last time I pointed out something related to John the Baptist because the first thing that we see and the way that Matthew has organized his material here is to go back and refocus our thinking about John the Baptist. Why would he do that? Remember, I have explained as we have gone through this that Matthew has not organized his material in a chronological fashion. He has organized it thematically in order to produce a case. He doesn’t give us all of the details that Mark or Luke provides because that doesn’t fit his purpose. He just gives us enough to understand the basic point in each one of these events as they fit together within the flow of his narrative: that Jesus is indeed the Jewish Messiah, and He came to offer the Jewish kingdom; and that He has chosen twelve Jewish disciples who were sent out to proclaim the message of this Jewish kingdom related to its establishment. The twelve disciples are related to the twelve tribes. This is what has taken place between chapter ten and chapter eleven.

So why does Matthew go back and tell us about John? He does so because he is reminding us of the purpose and function of John the Baptist in terms of Old Testament prophecy and revelation. We saw that John was miraculously announced by the angel Gabriel, that Elizabeth was past the age of child bearing; and yet Gabriel announced that she was going to conceive and give birth to a son, and that he would go before Him (the Messiah) in the spirit and the power of Elijah. That is important because that plugs him into Old Testament prophecy in Malachi 3:1 as well as 4:5. “Behold, I send my messenger”. The speaker here is God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who is telling through Malachi the prophecy that the way you are going to know the Messiah is that there is going to be this forerunner. He is going to be a prophet.

There is a pattern that we see set up in the Scripture. We have begun a study of 1 Samuel, and what we will see there is some important principles in many areas. Specifically we will see important material related to government and leadership. And one of the things that we will see is that when the Israelites reject God as their King, God is going to give them a king. He is going to send Samuel to anoint the king. This is significant because it shows that the king doesn’t serve as the absolute authority in Israel, but is under the authority of God and represented by the prophets. The prophet will stand in judgment of the king, his rule and the culture, so that a civilization is under the authority of God, not independent from God. Saul is anointed by Samuel, and when Saul disobeys God, he is going to be replaced by David; and Samuel also anoints David showing the authority of the Word of God over the government.

We see this same thing here: Jesus coming to present Himself as the King of Israel, the Davidic messianic King; and so there will be a prophetic forerunner to the Messiah. This is John the Baptist. This emphasizes this pattern that the ruler comes under the authority of God. Malachi 3:1 NASB “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me…” This is also related to the prophecy in Isaiah 4:3 that there will be one who comes who prepares the way of the Messiah. The quote from Malachi 3:1 is the one that we find in Matthew 11:10. Notice that there is a slight difference. In Malachi 3:1 we see a third person perspective. It is the first person who is speaking: “Behold I send my messenger”; and then we have that third person singular pronoun, “and he will prepare the way before me”. Notice how Jesus refines that quotation: “I send my messenger before you”. It is language that is reminiscent of great messianic prophecy in Psalm 110:1 where David said: “The Lord said to my Lord”. This is a conversation between two of the members of the Godhead, God the Father and God the Son. Jesus is quoting this as if God the Father is speaking to Him: “I will send my messenger before you (speaking to God’s Son) who will prepare the way before you”. So He is specifically applying the passage in Malachi chapter three to His own role as the messianic King.

Then we saw in Malachi 4:5 that God prophesied that He would send Elijah the prophet. That is what fits in with that statement from Luke chapter one that John the Baptist would come in the spirit of Elijah. There is this connection here. “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.” The issue here which many people stumble over a little bit is that it is not literal Elijah, it is someone who is coming in the spirit and power of Elijah, as the angel Gabriel states it in Luke. It is someone who is coming in a ministry like Elijah but there is no reincarnation in Christianity. Hebrew 9:27 tells us that it is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgment. We don’t have recycling in Christianity; we have one shot and that’s it. This is someone who is coming in the spirit and power of Elijah.

But there is an interesting contingency here because it is related to the message of the kingdom, that John the Baptist would be the one who fulfilled this prophecy if Israel had accepted the kingdom. Matthew 11:14 NASB “And if you are willing to accept {it,} John himself is Elijah who was to come.” The it there refers to the kingdom in context; it is not referring to John. But then after they rejected the kingdom, this doesn’t apply to John. This is why the question in Mark 9:11-13 NASB “They asked Him, saying, ‘{Why is it} that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ And He said to them, ‘Elijah does first come and restore all things. And {yet} how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him’.” That is John the Baptist. They rejected him.

Then in Matthew 17:11, after the rejection: NASB “And He [Jesus] answered and said, ‘Elijah is coming and will restore all things”—future tense. I believe that this is going to be fulfilled by the two witnesses that are described in Revelation who will come during the first half of what is referred to as the Tribulation, Daniel’s 70th week, who will present the case for the Messiah to Israel. We are told that thousands upon thousands of Jews at that time will accept Jesus as their Messiah.

Matthew 11:11 NASB “Truly I say to you, among those born of women [mankind] there has not arisen {anyone} greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

So up to this point John the Baptist is the greatest. We have to understand in what way that is described. Some people think that this describes John’s spiritual life. That is not the focal point of the chapter. Other people come up with different theories as to what this describes. The issue here has to do with revelation, and this becomes clear when we look at verse 13 NASB “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John.” That tells us that He is looking back into the Old Testament. He shifts the order. Usually it is the Law and the prophets, but here He reverses the order to catch our attention. He says everything there points to the Messiah. In the Old Testament starting with Genesis 3:15 where God is speaking to the serpent after the fall, then to Eve, and then Adam, He tells them of what the consequences for the Son is going to entail; and He tells the serpent that the seed of the serpent will bite the heel of the seed of the woman but the seed of the woman would crush his head. It is indicating the ultimate victory of the seed of the woman over the seed of Satan or the opposition that arises in human history. That is called the protoevangelion, the first allusion to God’s plan of salvation and the promise of the seed of the woman. The phrase the seed of the woman becomes a key term. That is the purpose of all those genealogies. They trace the line of the seed all the way down to Jesus.

So there are all of these prophecies in the Old Testament, each one adds another dimension to the understanding of who the Messiah would be. We come to understand that He is not only going to be human (the seed of the woman), but He is going to be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob had twelve sons, and He is going to be the descendant of Judah—”The scepter shall not depart from Judah (Genesis 49:10)”. Later on we see He is not only going to be from Judah but He is going to be a descendant of king David. As we read further we see that He is going to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. So there are more and more prophecies given, prophecies like Isaiah 53 that indicate that He is going to be rejected, despised by all, and that He is going to an execution where He will be executed for the sins of the world. Time after time as we go through these Old Testament prophecies we see that each prophet is given a little glimpse of something related to the Messiah, and as we put the pieces together, the picture becomes clearer. It was so clear that when Jesus was born, there were two people, Simeon and Anna, who both are expecting the Messiah; they both have been given a promise by God that they would see the Lord’s anointed, and they lived to see Him.

But the greatest of all those prophets is going to be John the Baptist because each of those prophets just saw bits and pieces of the picture, but John sees the final piece come together. When it says, “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John” it doesn’t exclude John, it includes him within that list of prophets as the last one who is able to put the last part of the picture together, and he then is the one who is going to offer the kingdom as the forerunner. So he is greatest because he is the last of the pieces of the puzzle to come together; he is greatest because he is the one who is going to offer the kingdom to Israel; and third, because it is his role to announce the presence of the king and to identify to the people the messianic, Davidic King. So this is what makes John the greatest. It is because he had more revelation than all the others, and he is able to bring it all together to announce the kingdom and to identify the King to the people.

But John does not enter the kingdom. This is an important issue because there are some people who believe that when Jesus began to proclaim the kingdom, that was when He inaugurated the kingdom, and that that was when the kingdom began. This is the view that is called by theologians “the already-not-yet” view of the kingdom. The term that they use is that Jesus came and inaugurated the kingdom. Among those who hold that view who are premillennialists (that Jesus will return before the kingdom begins) believe that it comes in progressively through this age and then will finally and fully come in when Jesus returns at the second coming.

In contrast to this, this verse is making a clear distinction that if Jesus had already inaugurated the kingdom with the beginning of His preaching, John would be in the kingdom, still alive at that time. This event that takes place at the beginning of chapter eleven takes place after Jesus had begun His public ministry. It is very clear from this passage that John the Baptist is not in the kingdom of heaven. He is being contrasted with those who would be in the kingdom. Another thing to notice here is that the contrast is between John the Baptist locked in with all the Old Testament prophets and those who are the least in the kingdom; not in the church. He is not talking about the church age; the church hasn’t even been introduced yet. It is not until Matthew 16 that there is the first use of the word church, looking forward to the establishment of the church: “I will build my church”, future tense. The church hasn’t been announced yet because the kingdom is still being offered to Israel, and the kingdom isn’t officially being rejected by the leaders and people of Israel until Matthew 12.

So what we see here is a contrast between what those in the Old Testament had and what those in the kingdom will have. It is emphasizing simply this contrast that is actually based on revelation, between those who had an incomplete or partial revelation, partial information, and those who late in the kingdom in the future who will have full revelation; in fact, they will see Jesus who will be ruling and reigning.

John’s question, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” is because he doesn’t grasp the fact that the kingdom is going to be rejected and postponed, and won’t come into existence until Jesus returns a second time.

Next we have another interesting and significant verse. Matthew 11:12 NASB “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.”

This is one of those verses that has been misused and abused quite a bit. There are those who take this to mean that we as church age believers should use violence to take the kingdom and push it on the earth. That is one aspect of those who hold to dominion theology. Those who hold to dominion theology are for the most part post-millennial. They believe the church is instrumental in bringing in the kingdom before Jesus returns. But we are premillennialists, and we believe that Jesus returns at the end of the seven years of the Tribulation and establishes the kingdom. So He returns before the kingdom (the thousand-year reign of Christ), the millennium; but they believe that Jesus returns at the end of the millennium. Post-millennialism is also very much related to replacement theology, which is a horrible heresy that entered into the early church around the late third and into the fourth centuries when it was taught that the church completely replaced Israel in God’s plan; and it was the seed bed for the development of Christian anti-Semitism. Post-millennialism is also built on an allegorical interpretation of Scripture, and for those and many other reasons we reject that.

But this has some political sway today in some aspects of conservative Christianity. I want to particularly issue a warning on this to those who are homeschooling their children. A lot of, for the most part, really good curricular that is developed for home-schools are produced by groups who a Christian reconstructionists—another term that is used; they want to reconstruct society in preparation for bringing in the kingdom—and they have some great material in many areas, but in other areas it has infected some of their faulty views related to the kingdom and to eschatology.

This is important. A lot of people say: ‘Well why worry about the end times? They will take care of themselves.’ But how you define where you are headed affects the decisions you make today. We see that in everyday living. What do you want to accomplish today? When you look at the end of the day, you want to have accomplished certain things, so where you want to end up at the end of the day is going to determine the decisions you make throughout the day in terms of how you prioritize your time and your energy and your finances. It is the same way in terms of our life. How we understand God’s end game is going to affect the decisions we make today. If you are in post-millennialism or some form of dominion theology, they affect you.

“From the days of John the Baptist until now”—He is talking about a specific period of time. He is not talking about general opposition to the plan of God. He is not including within this any opposition to the prophets of the Old Testament, any opposition throughout the previous dispensation; He is only talking about something that is occurring between the beginning of John’s public ministry and right now. The reason we know it is right now is because He uses this Greek adverb ARTI. There are two Greek words that are translated “now”: ARTI and NUNI. ARTI has a much more narrow focus than NUNI does. NUNI can be now generally. For example, now we are going to be witnessing a lot of political activity with regard to the presidential election in 2016. That word ‘now’ isn’t like right now. But if I were to say, ‘Now we are going to have a congregational meeting’ I’m saying ‘now’ in the sense of right now; something that is more immediate. And that is the word Jesus is using. He is talking about a particular beginning, probably two to three years earlier when John began his public ministry to that particular moment.

He says, “The kingdom of heaven”. What is He talking about here? There are some people who take from this that the kingdom of heaven has already begun, but that would not fit either this context or the context of any of the Gospels. When Jesus is talking about the kingdom, He doesn’t mean that the kingdom has already been inaugurated, has already begun, because He is excluding John from being part of it. If it had already begun, John would be part of the kingdom. He is only presenting the fact that the message of the kingdom of heaven is near. This has been the message of John the Baptist, the message of Jesus, the message of the twelve sent out. That message is what has been suffering violence. We see this in the way that Jesus talks about this in several passages.

Matthew 4:17NASB “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’.” That term ‘at hand’ means that it is present; it is being offered to you; it is near; it has a proximity to you. It is not saying it is here right now.

Luke 17:21 NASB “nor will they say, ‘Look, here {it is!}’ or, ‘There {it is!}’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” There are a lot of people who take that and extrapolate and say that the kingdom of God is inside you. But He is talking to the Pharisees and Sadducees! He is talking to those who are opposing Him and who rejected His message. He certainly can’t be saying the kingdom of heaven is within you because you are liars and deceivers, and in John he says that they are of their father the devil. This Greek preposition that is translated “within you” in the NKJV should be translated “in your midst” or “within your grasp”. What Jesus is telling them is that it is within their grasp if they would accept it. There is a proximity here: it is near because the King is here. He is standing there before them as a representative of the kingdom.

Matthew 12:28 NASB “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” “Upon you” is the Greek preposition EPI, which means “to you”. It is being presented to you, offered to you. In Mark 9:1-2 where we have a reference to the kingdom of God Jesus says that there are some standing there who would not see death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come in power. He is talking about James and John and Peter who will see a manifestation of the kingdom on the mount of transfiguration.

So Jesus says that from the days of John the Baptist until this moment, the kingdom of heaven (i.e. the message about the proximity of the kingdom of heaven) suffers violence. This where things get a bit dicey because the word there for suffering violence is BIAZO, which is only used a couple of times in the New Testament. It is used also in Luke 16:16. Both passages are talking about opposition to the gospel. The problem is simply this: the Greek form of the verb can be either a present middle indicative or a present passive indicative. In the Greek present tense there is one form for the active voice and another form that doesn’t have a distinctive middle voice. It has the same form for either middle or passive, so it has to be determined from context which one it is. If it is a middle voice, then that means to some degree the subject performs the action. That would indicate that we are to take the kingdom in the sense of establishing the kingdom by force. That is a problem because though there hasn’t been any documentation yet in any Greek literature of this verb being used in the sense of the middle voice, but if you take this dominion theology, reconstruction theology viewpoint that we are to take the kingdom and establish it by force as a result of our effort, then you have to take it with that middle voice.

But the way you do exegesis is get a verb, and don’t just impose your theology on it and say it could be a middle voice and ask if there are any examples anywhere of this verb being used with the middle voice. The answer is no, not at all. So it is extremely doubtful that that is how the verb was ever used. If we take it as the passive voice, then that means the kingdom is being acted upon violently. That is what fits the context because what Jesus is going to further describe in this passage is the opposition to the message of the gospel of the kingdom. That is what the illustration starting in verse 15 and going through 19 is going to describe. Then He is going to denounce these various cities in Galilee that have witnessed His miracles to an abundant degree. They all rejected the light that was given to them; so there will be judgment upon them. All of this is going to culminate in the great rejection of His claim to be Messiah by the Pharisees in chapter twelve.

The religious leaders of the day rejected the message of the kingdom that John the Baptist and then Jesus had presented. It grows right out of Old Testament prophecy and passages: a literal physical Davidic kingdom that would be characterized by a righteousness that was not the result of human effort and human fruit. The Pharisees had been teaching that salvation is by human effort and human works, not dependent upon God. Remember back in Genesis 15:6 where we learn that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness? Isaiah said that all of our works of righteousness are like filthy rags. We can’t rely on our deeds of righteousness; we have to rely on somebody else’s righteousness. Scripture teaches from Genesis to Revelation that when we trust in God’s promise of a Messiah—in the Old Testament it was looking forward to the fulfillment of that Messiah; in the New Testament and afterwards we look back to its fulfillment—when we trust in Him, then God credits to us, applies to us, the perfect righteousness of the Messiah, and we are declared righteous. Isaiah 53 said that when the servant comes He will justify [make righteous] many.

The reaction from the world is to reject that message, that kind of righteousness, that kind of kingdom; and they violently react to that. That was fulfilled because John the Baptist is going to be executed before too much more time goes by, eventually Jesus is going to be executed, and then as we go through Acts we see how much antagonism, opposition and hostility there is to the disciples.

Matthew 11:13 NASB “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John.” This has been their message. [14] “And if you are willing to accept {it,} John himself is Elijah who was to come. [15] He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The focal point here is that what we can expect is hostility and rejection because this is the way the world operates. It rejects the message of God. In John 16 Jesus said: “If the world rejected me it will reject you also.” The issue is in terms of our following Christ, in terms of discipleship. Are we willing to take that on and recognize that no matter what may come we are going to stick with the Lord, stick with the Word and make it our priority no matter what the opposition may be?