John, the most important human
Q&A with John the Baptist1After Jesus finished telling his 12 disciples how to approach their mission work, he headed out on a road trip himself, teaching and preaching throughout the region. 2John the Baptist was in prison at the time. But someone told him about the Messiah and about his miracles and teachings. So John had his own disciples deliver a message to Jesus.
3John asked Jesus this question: “Are you the one we’ve all been waiting for? Or are we going to have to keep waiting for someone else?”
4Jesus told John’s disciples to deliver this message to him: “Go and tell John exactly what you’ve seen and heard. 5The blind can see. The crippled can walk. Lepers are cleansed and free of the disease. The deaf can hear. The dead come back to life. The poor are getting good news for a change. 6Folks who don’t reject me because they’re disappointed in me for some reason are going to be happy they stuck with me.”
Kind words for John the Baptist7As John’s disciples left, Jesus turned to the crowds and started talking to them about John. “What did you expect to see when you went out into the badlands where John preached? A frail blade of grass trembling in the wind? 8What did you expect to see? A man dressed in silky smooth linen? Come on, that’s what you’ll find tailored and draped on people in a king’s palace.
9“What did you expect to see? Wasn’t it a prophet? Yes, I’m telling you that you did see a prophet. In fact, you saw someone who is more than a prophet. 10What you saw was the person described in our sacred writings.
‘Listen to me. I’m sending my messenger ahead of you.
He’ll get everything ready for you. He’s going to pave the road ahead of you.’
13“The Law of Moses and all the prophets pointed to John and what he would do. 14You may or may not believe this, but John is the Elijah that the prophets said would come. 
15“If you’ve got ears, you need to be hearing what I’m saying. 16How can I describe this generation of people? They’re like kids sitting around the marketplace complaining to their friends,
17‘We played our music for you
but you didn’t dance.
We sang our sad songs,
but you didn’t cry.’ 18“People criticize John for fasting so much, when he abstains from eating or drinking. They say, ‘He’s demon possessed!’ 19Then people criticize the Son of Humans for eating and drinking too much. They say, ‘Look at him! That guy is a glutton and a drunk. He hangs out with the likes of tax collectors and other no-good sinners!’ The results Wisdom gets proves she’s right.”
Jesus rips into cities that won’t repent20Then Jesus started lambasting a handful of towns. These were the cities where Jesus did most of his miracles. Still, most folks in those cities decided to keep living the sinful life they had been living. They refused to repent.
21Bad news for you, village of Chorazin! Bad news for you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that have been done in your towns had been done in the cities of Tyre and Sidon, those people who aren’t even Jews would have repented long ago. They would put on burlap robes and dump ashes on their head to show how sorry they were. 22Come Judgment Day, the people of Tyre and Sidon will be better off than you!
23And you, Capernaum! Will your people find a place of honor in heaven? Heavens no! You’re going in the other direction; you’re going to Hades. If the miracles that have been done in your town would have been done in Sodom, Sodom would still be here. 24Come Judgment Day, the people of Sodom will be better off than you!”
Jesus prays a Thank You25Then Jesus started to pray. “Thank you, Father, ruler of heaven and earth. You have managed to hide what is happening now from people who think they are smarter than most. And yet you have revealed it to simple folks with childlike faith. 26Yes, Father, this is what you kindly decided to do. 27My Father has put me in charge of everything now. No one knows who the Son is, except the Father. And no one knows who the Father is, except the Son—and anyone the Son chooses to confide in.”
A lighter load for the weary28Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “Come to me. All of you who are worn out from carrying a heavy load. I’ll give you the rest you need. 29Pick up the burden  I’ll have you carry. I’ll show you how. You’ll discover that I’m gentle and humble. And you’ll find rest clear down to your soul. 30The task is easy. The burden is light.”
More literally, the writers said Jesus taught “in their towns.” That could mean he went to the hometowns of his 12 disciples. Or perhaps he simply went to towns in the region of Galilee, in what is now northern Israel, where he based his ministry.
“John wore clothes made from camel’s hair. He tied a leather belt around his waist” (3:4). Hair on the outside of a camel is coarse and stiff. (For more information, see note for 3:4.)
Bible experts say that as far as they are able to tell, John was the first Jew in that generation who spoke, dressed, and acted like one of the classical prophets.
Some Bible experts say John’s importance might not be because of who he was but because of where he was in history. He was the pivot, the turning point, in the history of salvation. John prepares the way for Jesus, who will change how God deals with people. Forgiveness through animal sacrifices, for example, will give way to forgiveness through repentance.
This description is implied, since the cities of Tyre and Sidon are outside the traditional Jewish homeland, in what is now the Arab country of Lebanon.
In the Hebrew language, Jews called this place Sheol, a place where the shadowy dead live and don’t return (Job 7:9).
Some Bible experts say Jesus is referring to the hundreds of rules that Pharisees say everyone needs to obey. Many of these are not rules in the laws that Moses gave the Jews and that are preserved in the Old Testament. These are more like rules of behavior we would find today in a church manual.
“The LORD answered, ‘I’m going to be with you. Don’t get worked up over this. I’m giving you a sense of peace about what you’re doing’” (Exodus 33:14).
The word for “burden” is “yoke,” which is a tool put around the neck of animals, so they can haul a plow or a wagon behind them. The word was also a common metaphor for the laws that Moses gave the Jews. Jesus seemed to be saying that his interpretation of the laws of Moses is remarkably easier to live with than the hundreds of rules that Pharisees expected the people to obey.
John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus if he was “the one we’ve all been waiting for” (11:3). A more literal translation would be “Are you the one who is to come?” Either way, the question sounds vague or cryptic. What do you think John may have had in mind?
Jesus said John the Baptist was the greatest human being ever born, but that he was not even as great as the least important person in “heaven’s kingdom” (11:11). What do you think was the point of that? Was Jesus mainly trying to say something about John or the Kingdom of Heaven?
Jesus broke the news that “John is the Elijah that the prophets said would come” (11:14). So what? What difference do you think that would make?
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what Jesus is trying to say—at least as he’s quoted in the Bible stories about him. We hit one of those times when we come to Jesus describing his generation as “kids sitting around the marketplace complaining to their friends” (11:16). Given what Matthew reports in that episode, from 11:7-19, how would you paraphrase what he’s trying to say?
- Could the dance in 11:17 represent the lifestyle of Jesus, while the sad songs represent the self-sacrificing lifestyle of John the Baptist?
- Or might the first group be an attempt to describe people who follow Jesus, but are complaining to people who still follow John the Baptist?
- Or is Jesus talking about the Jewish leaders who don’t care for Jesus or John?
In a prayer, Jesus praises God for hiding “what is happening now” (11:25) from people who think they are smarter than everyone else, yet God makes it clear to simple and humble folks. What exactly do you think Jesus is talking about?
Jesus says “No one knows who the Son is, except the Father. And no one knows who the Father is, except the Son…and anyone the Son chooses to confide in” (11:27). Do you think he means no one knows that he is the divine Son of God? Or is he talking about something else?
Jesus makes a famous statement in here that doesn’t show up in any of the other Gospels. It’s a statement that has provided Christians with comfort and reassurance throughout the ages. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (11:28 New American Standard Bible). Given the context around that statement, many Bible experts say Jesus was probably talking about all of the rules and traditions that Pharisees and other top Jewish leaders imposed on the people. In place of all these laws that were written down and quoted, Jesus was going to give them the law written on the heart by the Holy Spirit. New Testament writers present that as fulfillment of the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put My law within them and on their heart” (New American Standard Bible). If the scholars got that right, should we still take the words and apply them to tough times we’re going through and burdens we have to carry?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus said John the Baptist got criticized by his own Jewish people for eating too little and fasting all the time. And Jesus said those same people criticized him for eating too much and going to dinner parties all the time (11:18-19). How do our own fellow Christians criticize us? And do you think our fellow Christians are too eager to criticize, or do they generally withhold their judgment?