John Questions Jesus
1 Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.
2 And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples 3 and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 5 The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matt. 11:1-6).
Jesus has sent out the 12, who are to preach the kingdom of heaven and to heal the sick, and He will go a separate way. We have seen the delegation of power so that more people hear the message. This is the model of the Great Commission, the sending out of Christians, “little Christs,” to enlarge the kingdom. He has sent them from the security of His nest on their initial solo flights.
Meanwhile, John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod for speaking the truth about Herod’s adultery and illegal remarriage. Herod had divorced his wife, Phasaelis, the daughter of the King of Nabatea, to marry Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, a violation of the Law of Moses (Lev. 20:21).
Held in prison by a man who hated him (and whose wife hated John even more), John heard of the works that Jesus accomplished. He sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if He was “the Coming One,” the one of whom the prophets had foretold.
We have already seen John the Baptist is aware of the identity of Jesus (Matt. 3:2-17, verse 12, in particular, gives us an idea of John's expectations). The implication of sending disciples to confirm this fact is that John now has reason to question Jesus’ identity on the basis of the prophetic word.
We have the luxury of knowing about Jesus looking back in time. John the Baptists, the disciples, and the people of Israel could only look back to the prophecies. The Coming One is portrayed in different terms at different times by the prophets.
- Look for a man based on Genesis 3:15, 22:18 (In your seed [Abraham’s] all the nations of the earth shall be blessed); 2 Sam. 7:12-16 and Isaiah 11: 1 (a descendant of David);
- Look for a conquering king based on Psalm 45, Isaiah 9:1-7, (a conquering king in the line of David); Jer. 23:5-8;
- Look for a Servant who rules in Isaiah’s Suffering Servant prophecies: Is. 42:1-9, 49:1-13, 50:4-11, 52:13-53:12; Zech. 9:9 (just and…lowly);
- And there are so many more references, many of which we see in retrospect, such as coming from Bethlehem, being betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, and His side being pierced.
Note that John may have been confident of Jesus’ identity as the Christ but that John wanted the faith of his disciples affirmed by Jesus. Seeing their teacher imprisoned, and the Messiah whom John the Baptist had proclaimed not coming to his aid, was no doubt discouraging to them. John well may have sent them to Jesus for their edification, not his.
And John was their teacher. Once we make a commitment, place our actions on the coattails of our beliefs, we become even more strongly attached to our conviction. They had chosen him and put their faith in John. Now another eclipses John, roaming free while their leader is in prison. Perhaps John’s intent was a transference of allegiance from himself to Jesus.
John and his followers surely had in mind the following:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound (Isaiah 61:1 NKJV).
Isaiah 42:1-9, the first of the Suffering Servant sections cited above, also mentions freeing the prisoners. In prison, his life at risk, John is looking for a Messiah with the key to his political freedom.
But Jesus responds from elsewhere in Isaiah:
18 In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book,
And the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.
19 The humble also shall increase their joy in the Lord,
And the poor among men shall rejoice
In the Holy One of Israel (Is. 29:18-19);
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6 Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the dumb sing (Is. 35:5-6 NKJV)…
Jesus makes no reference to a political Messiah. His is not a kingdom of force, and He does not fight on the terms of earthly kings.
Matthew 11:6 above, And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me, brings to mind Isaiah 8:14-15:
14 He will be as a sanctuary,
But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense
To both the houses of Israel,
As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
15 And many among them shall stumble;
They shall fall and be broken,
Be snared and taken” (Is. 8:14-15 NKJV).
We have a reminder that our expectations, even looking back in time with all the light that we have been given, may not put us in a very different place from John the Baptist or his disciples, expecting vindication on our own terms.
Jesus does not offer the disciples of John the Baptist the hope for which they and their teacher sought. He would not violate the principles, the character of Himself and His Father, to save John, or His own disciples, or Himself. John had the vision of a prophet and the hopes of a man.
The captives that Jesus has come to set free are those held in bondage to the traditions of men. "Spiritual malpractice" is the charge against the religious leaders of the day, teaching falsely about God and His character. Existence is based on God, not the people of His Creation.
Looking at the prophecies of the Old Testament, we see God’s hope for a people that He has chosen. We see the people’s hope for a future that they have chosen. And when the two do not coincide, Israel suffers.
And here we come to a truth forgotten and relearned since Eden, that God’s character is established, and He will maintain His character:
6 And the Lord passed before him (Moses) and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, 7 keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Ex. 34:6-7 NKJV).
Yogi Berra is reputed to have said, “Predicting is hard, especially about the future.” There is truth in that. The particulars of the future are uncertain because of mankind’s actions, but the course of action of each man and woman, and the conclusion of what lies ahead, have been made plain.
God has declared who He is. Jesus has shown who God is. If our expectations are different, we wait in vain.