Title: The rejection of the herald
Scriptures to Read: Matthew 11:2-19; Luke 7:18-35
Now we come to the third major division in his life, which is the Controversy over the King. It begins with the rejection of the herald, and ends with the death of the herald.
Jesus affirms His messiahship to John
John has been in prison for some time and his disciples reported to him what was happening (Lk. 7:18). He could tell that the leaders of Israel and people were not responding to Jesus; failing to acknowledge His Messiahship, although they were willing to call him a prophet. And so, as often happens with believers-even mature ones- a measure of doubt sets in, and he may have pointed out the wrong man as the Messiah. So he sends his disciples to raise the question found in Matthew verse 3: “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” The messengers arrived in the context where Jesus was curing many diseases. Many miracles were also performed, including the healing of lepers, and the giving of sight to the blind. Jesus says to John’s disciples to go back and tell him about two things:
1. What they hear is that He claims to be the Messiah.
2. The works that they see will be both messianic and non-messianic miracles, and these miracles authenticate His messianic claims.
Jesus’ tribute to John
Now when the disciples of John leave to report back to John, we have Jesus evaluating his forerunner. Notice the five points He makes.
1. He was not a read shaken by the wind. He was not wishy-washy. He always knew where he stood on certain issues and did not mince words.
2. He was not accustomed to luxurious living. He dressed like Elijah and lived in the wilderness.
3. He was a prophet, and his prophetic office was authenticated by the fact that he received direct revelation from God.
4. He was more than just a prophet; he was the forerunner of the Messiah in fulfilment of Malachi 3:1.
5. John is the greatest of the Old Testament saints. It is hard for us to really appreciate what He says here because the gospel writers rightly spend most of their time on Jesus and only mention John in the early stages of his ministry. But John had a rather effective ministry throughout the land. While he stayed mostly in one place, people from all over the land came to him. And many made a commitment in their baptism by John to believe whoever John points out the Messiah to be. And in fact, much later, as in Acts 19:1-8, Paul runs into believers who were baptized by John the Baptist, yet had not heard that the Messiah whom John was announcing had been identified. They came into the land, were baptized, and left the land before John said, “Behold the Lamb of God”. And therefore, even a couple of decades later, there were still people following the baptism of John and who had to be told about Jesus.
John the Baptist and Elijah
Then in verse 13 of Matthew, “for all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John.” John is the last of the Old Testament style prophets. After this will come NT prophets, which are of a different category. And the prophets who preceded John by centuries announced the coming of the Messiah and John was the last of those prophets of the Old Testament and he identified who that Messiah was. Again, all prophets previously merely proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, John identified who that Messiah is.
And in verse 14, “and if you are willing to accept it [the kingdom of heaven], John himself is Elijah who was to come.” Here is another correlation between John and Elijah. Now previously we learned that John came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17); that he dressed like Elijah; and thirdly, he denied being Elijah (John 1:19-23). When we discuss the transfiguration we will add a fourth point. But for now the main point is this: if they were willing to receive the message that John proclaimed then John would have fulfilled Elijah’s function. Again, if the Jewish people had accepted Jesus as Messiah, and the messianic kingdom, then John would have fulfilled Elijah’s function. But they did not accept the kingdom, they did not accept the Messiah, and therefore John did not fulfil Elijah’s function, and so Elijah is yet to come. This does not mean that John’s ministry was a failure, because, as we saw initially, his calling was to have a people prepared to accept the Messiahship of Jesus. And again, those who were baptized by John were making a commitment to believe on him whom John points out the Messiah to be.
What happens to the herald will happen to the king
Now in verses 16 & 17 of Matthew’s account, Jesus compares that generation of Jews with children in a market place who play a tune and expect the onlooker to dance to their tune. But John would not uphold Pharisaism. And so while they played, John refused to dance. The real reason that John was rejected was that he would not support Pharisaism. But the given reason, the reason given by the leaders (verse 18), is that he was demon possessed: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!” John was characterized by fasting and total abstention from alcoholic beverages and they used that to teach that he was demon possessed. On the other hand, in verse 19 of Matthew, Jesus came neither fasting nor abstaining from alcohol, and they rejected him for the same reason. Now again, note this carefully. And so we see once more: what happens to the herald will happen to the king.