Seeing the Forest (Matthew 11:2-4)

Photo by Valeriy Andrushko on Unsplash

It is not without purpose that Matthew narrates the question John’s   disciples ask Jesus  immediately after Jesus has commissioned and sent out His disciples. Placed in context, the question demarcates the dramatic difference between a disciple of John and a disciple of Jesus; “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”” 

John’s disciples are not going about healing, delivering, preaching and raising the dead (as Jesus’ disciples were told to do). Rather, they were considering the Scripture, looking at what Jesus was doing and wondering when and how the Kingdom of God was to come about.

One must remember that every Scripture-believing Jew of the day read Isaiah 9 and Psalm 2 and every other prophesy about Messiah (of which there are many) and did not discern a gap between the first coming of Messiah and the 2nd coming of Messiah. For them, Messiah’s appearance was to shortly herald an overthrowing of the Roman oppressor and the re-establishment of the glory and dominance of the Jewish nation. 

With every passing day John’s disciples saw Jesus teaching and healing and delivering. Which meant that with  every  passing  day the less it looked like He would eventually get to organizing God’s people into a fighting force lead them in victory over their oppressors. With their leader in prison and urgently needing a dramatic change in government to throw out the charges against him, they would’ve felt some significant internal pressure to gently prod Jesus into action. In their worldview, it was not up to them to bring about the Kingdom. It was up to Messiah. Their part was to pray for and cheer Messiah on. 

John’s Disciples of John are God-honoring people, but they are not so actively engaged in the mission of Christ. They are waiting for the full manifestation of Jesus’ Kingdom instead of concerning themselves with bringing about the full manifestation of Jesus’ Kingdom. From the viewpoint of the active modern evangelist that seems rather short-sighted, but Jesus does not rebuke them for that. Rather, with His gracious reply to John, He inspires and motivates them to participate. 

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see,” and then tells them of how people are being impacted. Jesus knew that if John would only look at the bigger picture, John would understand that the coming of the Kingdom was firstly and primarily about the restoration of people. The restoration of government could and must wait. It would, of course, eventually happen – for the Word of the Lord is His promise and God does all He sets out to accomplish. But Jesus’ reply is prompts the listener to not wait for the complete fulfillment to see that people were already being impacted in exceedingly positive ways.

The spiritual world had already changed. The Kingdom was here, and at the same time it was also imminent. In essence, Jesus’ reply is that John and his disciples did usher in the new Kingdom. They just needed to open their eyes and sustain their hope. 

As those born again, we live on the fault line of the now but not yet kingdom of God.

Luke Bretherton

APPLICATION: Intentionality

We do not need to wait to be on mission with God in His Kingdom. We can do that today, even as we look forward to the day we do it without restriction, limitation or lack.