Summary: To "Prepare His Kingdom" John the Baptist inquires about Jesus’ Kingship through 1) The Request (Matthew 11:2-3), 2) The Reply (Matthew 11:4-6), and 3) The Recognition (Matthew 11:7-11)
Do you have all your Christmas shopping done? Some people finish their Christmas shopping during boxing day sales. In some ways we admire those who are so prepared that they finish all their shopping early. What kind of person is that organized? As we all know, the later you do your shopping, the less options you have. Delayed shopping has consequences.
In Matthew 11, Matthew now turns to the question of John the Baptist and Jesus’ assessment of the John as a way of casting further light on the reality of the kingdom. In chapter 11, the glorious character of the kingdom of (Heaven) comes into view and then in turn the reality of judgment for those who reject it (Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33A: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary (299). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)
Christmas season reminds us about the reality of a Kingdom. John the Baptist’s questions of Jesus help us to focus on the reality of meeting Christ face to face and if we are ready. Understanding who Jesus is, and being an obedient citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven is being a ready citizen of that Kingdom.
1) The Request (Matthew 11:2-3)
Matthew 11:2-3 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (ESV)
John was expecting an imminent end of the age involving the judgment of the wicked (Matthew 3:12). And though he had heard rumors of messianic-like deeds performed by Jesus. The phrase is comprehensive and is intended to summarize all of Jesus’ activity in word and deed (4:23–9:35). While Matthew is quite definite about the messianic nature of Jesus’ deeds (calling him the “Christ”=Messiah), John’s inquiry indicates that Jesus’ activity did not immediately settle in his mind the identity question (Chouinard, L. (1997). Matthew. The College Press NIV commentary (Mt 11:2). Joplin, Mo.: College Press.)
God had given the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (Matthew 3:16) at his baptism as a sign to make John sure that this Jesus was the divine Messiah. (John 1:33, 34) John knew, too, that as the Messiah, Jesus was to do great works of grace and of judgment, and so he had testified. (Matthew 3:11, 12; compare Luke 3:3–6, 9) But all the reports that John had heard in prison about what Jesus was doing had told only of works of grace. Where, John asked, were the acts of judgment the true Messiah was to perform? We do well at this point to realize that it had not been revealed to John how much time would elapse between Christ’s first coming in gracious blessing and his second coming for judgment. The Old Testament prophets spoke of the works of grace and those of judgment in one breath, as though no time intervened between the two. John himself had spoken in this way. (Matthew 3:11, 12) (Franzmann, W. H. (1989). Bible History Commentary: New Testment (288). Milwaukee, WI: Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.)
John’s expectations are called into question because his wicked captors had not yet been judged and he had not yet experienced the fulfillment of the messianic promise of “liberty to the captives” (Isa 61:1; and even more vividly, Isa 42:7). He continued to sit in the prison of Herod Antipas (in the fortress of Machaerus, east of the Dead Sea, according to Jos. Ant. 18.5.2) and thus could only send his disciples (cf. 9:14; 14:12) to Jesus with his question (Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33A: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary (300). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.).
He was now perplexed, and he sent word by his disciples, and said to Him, “Are You the one who is to come/Expected One, or shall we look for another/someone else?”
A number of John’s disciples had already been observing Jesus for some time, probably on John’s instruction. After Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain, “the disciples of John reported to him about all these things” (Luke 7:18). The question from John’s disciples in Matthew 9:14 suggests that John, like the Pharisees, may have found it hard to accept the free attitude of Jesus to religious propriety, and the company he kept.( France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (422). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.)
Obviously John’s disciples had some access to him while he was in prison, and apparently he sent them out on various assignments, primarily to observe and report on Jesus’ ministry. After being imprisoned for many months, unable to preach or to have any contact with the outside world except for occasional visits by his disciples, John was plagued with misgivings and doubts about Jesus-the One he had announced, baptized, and declared to be the Christ.