Matthew 11: Elijah who is to come

For the text of Matthew 11, click here

This chapter takes place just after Jesus finished talking to the 12 disciples who were just then dubbed apostles, sort of. At this point, we come back to John the Baptist who baptized Jesus in chapter three and was arrested in chapter four. John had recognized Jesus as someone who should be baptizing him back in chapter three, which sounded like he knew that Jesus was the Son of Man perhaps. Here he sends people to come ask Jesus if He’s really “the one to come”? Jesus responds to them by asking them to look around and see what they think. 

He starts talking to the crowd around Him after, asking them what they went out to the wilderness to see? I wasn’t sure where these questions were leading at first, but Jesus is making the point that so many people went out to see John the Baptist that they must have realized how great he was. It takes a weird turn in verse 12: 

12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,d and the violent take it by force.

I don’t get it because the days of John the Baptist aren’t over and what violent force is taking over heaven? So maybe the kingdom of heaven isn’t actually heaven? I really don’t know and it’s getting more confusing every time I see this phrase pop up. I mean, I thought the kingdom was “at hand” which suggests coming soon and not here yet, but is it here and under attack or something too??? This is why we have actual Bible scholars who figure this stuff out and study on it for years and stuff. I like to get a sense of what’s going on as I’ve been reading through for context and to better understand the world here for when we do come across women and make a fairly informed opinion on how these women were treated, but I got nothing here and I couldn’t find anything on that. It’s just one of those things I’ll go back to one day after this study is over maybe. 

Jesus extols the virtues of John the Baptist a while longer and then points out that he is the one that the prophecies were talking about. Specifically the prophecies in Isaiah 40 (that we looked at back in chapter three) and Malachi 4: 

5“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.

Jesus eventually just comes out and says it in verse 14. John the Baptist is “Elijah who is to come”. If you don’t recall, his story was back in Kings. He proved that the God of Israel was the true God and that Baal was no one. He was pretty amazing and those are some pretty big shoes to fill.

Afterward, Jesus points out that there’s pretty much no making these people happy either. First John the Baptist came around “neither eating nor drinking” and they thought he was possessed and then Jesus came around doing the opposite and everyone had something to say about that too. Of course, the Jews already had a proverb for that: 

8Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

Proverbs 9:8 ESV

And yeah, if you’re reading that and asking yourself, is that an ancient way of saying “haters gonna hate”, you’d be right. I’m not entirely sure about the justification and the wisdom about the drinking or not drinking though. That one confused me a little. I did look up what it meant in the study Bible, but it didn’t help much. It sounded like the point was God’s wisdom in sending someone who did either thing to maybe out the idea that the people saying these things were just haters and it’s wise to make it obvious when people are just haters…..

From there Jesus moves on to talking about the cities He’s been to and some that He hadn’t been to. These are all pretty much comparisons. The cities He’s been to had a chance to make things right with God but haven’t, so they’ll basically be in more trouble when the time comes than people in cities who never heard Jesus and didn’t really have the same chance to turn things around. I find it interesting that He uses “Hades” as the places that Capernaum may be “brought down to”. Up to now, “Sheol” is the afterlife place used. It’s my understanding that this book was originally written in Greek and that most or all of the quoted prophecies are quoted in their Greek form rather than Hebrew. Still, why would a translator not change it to Sheol or hell when translating the rest of the book into English? It’s actually kind of a mixed bag between Hades and hell but not much Sheol. 

Then we get to Jesus’s promise of rest. He promises “rest for the soul” which is not to be confused with rest for the body or mind. At first He just says rest, but then qualifies it as rest for the soul. This may not seem like much of a distinction at first, but I think it’s an important one, especially when thinking about those super busy missionaries that seem to have an endless source of energy. The mention of things being obvious to children that is “hidden” to others is also great. Sometimes it’s just some kid who comes and points out where you’ve gone wrong and it’s always at church. They can be the ones to remind us what we’re really doing here sometimes. 

For downloadable study guides, click here.

Chapter links go to the ESV translations at but I’m reading from the ESV Global Study Bible, which is available for free on the Kindle Reading App.

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