In this section the evangelist narrates first John’s embassy to Jesus, Mt 11:1–6; secondly, Christ’s testimony concerning John, Mt 11:7–15; thirdly, the rebuke of the people, Mt 11:16–24; fourthly, our Lord’s call of the citizens of the kingdom, Mt 11:25–30.
Mat 11:1 And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he passed from thence, to teach and to preach in their cities.
Mat 11:2 Now when John had heard in prison the works of Christ: sending two of his disciples he said to him:
Mat 11:3 Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another?
Mat 11:4 And Jesus making answer said to them: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen.
Mat 11:5 The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them.
Mat 11:6 And blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me.
1. The Baptist’s embassy (Mt 11:1-6). The gospel gives first the circumstances of the embassy (1-2a); secondly (2b-3), the event itself; thirdly, the answer of our Lord (4-6).
Circumstances of John’s embassy. These are  on the part of our Lord contained in the statement that he had made an end of commanding [an expression which according to its Greek original may comprise strict commands, councils, forewarnings, and promises] his disciples, and was preaching and teaching in the cities of Galilee;  on the part of the Baptist, we are told that he heard in prison the works of Christ.
 On the part of Jesus. The third gospel, which professes to follow a chronological order, states that Jesus sent out his Twelve [Lk. 9:1–6] some time after the Baptist’s embassy [Lk. 7:18 f.]. As the first evangelist confirms the doctrine of our Lord contained in the sermon on the mount [cc. 5–7] by the miracles of cc. 8, 9, so he corroborates the beginnings of the foundation of the kingdom [c. 10.] by the testimony of the Baptist [c. 11.]. “From thence” may therefore be referred to the place in Galilee determined in 9:35. “Teach” and “preach” are expressed by two Greek words meaning the exercise of a master and a herald respectively; the former explains and instructs [cf. lxx. in Gen. 41:43; 2 Chronm36:22; Esth. 6:9, 11], the latter proclaims publicly and solemnly [Ex. 32:5; 36:6; 2 Kings 10:20; 2 Chron 20:3]. “In their cities” refers either to the cities of the apostles [Euthymius, Alb. Fritzsche, etc.], or to those of the inhabitants of Judea and Galilee [Bede, Rabanus, Paschasius, Maldonado].
 On the part of John. The history of John’s imprisonment is told in Mt. 14:3, 4; according to Josephus [Ant. XVIII. v. 2] he was shut up in the fortress Machærus, the modern Mkhaur, situated in the southern part of Perea, east of the Dead Sea, near the Arabian frontier. If the present text of Josephus [Ant. XVIII. v. 1] be accurate, this naturally strong and artfully fortified place [Joseph. B. J. VII. vi. 1, 2] belonged to the Arabian king Aretas at the time that Herod Antipas first put away his lawful wife, the daughter of Aretas, and married Herodias. Schürer [The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, Div. I. vol. ii. p. 26; Engl. Transl. Edinburgh, 1890] mentions a number of conjectures concerning the manner in which the fortress might have come into the hands of Herod Antipas before the time of John’s imprisonment,—for it can hardly be supposed that the Baptist should have been detained in a foreign stronghold,—the most probable of which is that Tiberius ordered Aretas to surrender the place to Antipas [cf. Wieseler, Chronological Synopsis, pp. 216, 217; Beweis des Glaubens, 1870, p. 166]. The “works of Christ” which John heard in prison are his miracles [Jn. 5:36; Lk. 7:18]. That the confinement of the Baptist was not very strict may be inferred from the fact that he heard, probably through his disciples, of the events of the outer world; the same seems to follow from Mk. 6:20, 29.
John’s embassy (2b-3). —sending two of his disciples, he said to him.  The sending. The reading “sending two of his disciples” is less probable than “sending through his disciples.” The former reading owes its origin probably to the parallel passage in the third gospel [7:19], while it is hard to understand how such an easy and clear reading could have given room to the difficult reading “through:” the latter must therefore represent the earlier text. Again, the latter reading is based on a Hebrew idiom, which fully accords with the nature of the first gospel [cf. Ex. 4:13; Lev. 16:21; 1 Sam 16:20; 2 Sam 12:25; 15:36; etc.]. There is no necessity of transposing the words so as to read “sending, said to him by his disciples” [cf. Meyer], since it is self-evident that John did not speak to Jesus immediately. The third gospel [Lk 7:20], too, emphasizes the sending of the disciples rather than their instrumentality as speakers.
 The question. In the question, or rather its second part “or look we for another,” it is doubtful in the original Greek whether we have the indicative or the subjunctive. The Vulgate, Schegg, Fritzsche, etc. prefer the indicative, so that we may interpret, “or are the conditions such that we look for another?” Fillion and most Protestant writers prefer the subjunctive mood, which according to their view expresses a deliberation in the present question. Jesus is addressed, or at least asked, whether he be “he that is to come.” This expression is, according to the language of the Old Testament, a Messianic title: cf. Gen. 49:10; Ez. 21:27; Ps. 118:26; 39:8; Deut. 18:15. It is for the same reason that in Rabbinic language the Messianic kingdom was named עֹלָם הַבָּא, δ αἰὼν ὁ ἐρχόμενος [cf. Mk. 10:30; Lk. 18:30; Jn. 6:14; Mt. 12:32]. Similar language we meet in the epistles of St. Paul: Eph. 1:21; Heb. 6:5; 9:11, so that the question must have been quite clear to our Lord and his surrounding.
 Motive of the Baptist. Writers are very much at variance concerning the motive that impelled the Baptist to send his messengers and ask the foregoing question, [a] Many of the more recent Protestant commentators [cf. Edersheim i. p. 607; Meyer, Keil, Weiss] and some Catholic writers [cf. Schanz, Loisy, Evang. synopt. pp. 244 ff.] maintain that the Baptist sent his envoys and asked the foregoing question to settle his own doubts concerning the Messiasship of Jesus. They are of opinion that the lengthy imprisonment had a depressing effect upon John, so that he began to doubt about the true character of our Lord. It is true that Tert. [De baptism, c. 10] believed the special assistance of the Holy Ghost had left the Baptist when Jesus had begun his public ministry, so that the former fell into a state of religious doubt concerning the very person whose precursor he had been [Contra Marcion. iv. 18]. While the latter opinion is singular, to say the least, the first-mentioned authors do not sufficiently distinguish between the time of spiritual desolation and that of actual transgression. Besides, a doubt in matters of faith after once possessing the light of faith, as John did, implies grievous sin.
[b] The author of “Quæstion. et responsion. ad orthodox.” [qu. 38; cf. 87] contends that John sent his embassy, not indeed to learn whether the person concerning whom he had testified in his ministry was the Messias, but to establish the identity of the wonder-worker with the person in whose favor he had testified [cf. Lam. Mansel]. But the gospel shows that the ministry of the Baptist and of our Lord overlapped in such a manner that John could hardly be ignorant of the identity of our Lord’s person.
[c] Gams, Schegg, and other writers imagine that the Baptist sent his embassy in order to urge our Lord to hasten the manifestation of his royal power; some writers add that John himself hoped to regain his liberty by the manifestation of our Lord’s Messianic character. We need not state that this interpretation is wholly at variance with the humility of the Baptist manifested at the first public appearance of Jesus [cf. Mt. 3:11].
[d] Origen, [hom. in lib. Reg. 2. c. xxviii; de engastrimytho], Jerome [ad Mt. xi. 3; ep. ad Algas. ep. 121, qu. 1], Gregory the Great [hom. in Ez. i. 1, n. 5; hom. vi. 1 in evang.], Bede, Paschasius, Bruno Gregory Nazianzen [or. xliii. n. 75], Eusebius, Emess. [or. i.], Ruffinus Toran. [expos. symb.] believe that John asked our Lord whether he was the one to come into Limbo,—whether in other words the Baptist, foreseeing his own death, might announce the coming of the Messias to the souls of the Old Testament detained in Limbo. Both the form of the question and of the answer show that this was not the meaning of the Baptist’s embassy. A similar view is mentioned in the works of Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Ambrose [in Luc. vii. 19; l. v. n. 98]. The Baptist is said not to have known the mystery of Christ’s death, or if he knew it, to have doubted whether the Word Incarnate must really subject himself to such shame and suffering. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Alb. Thomas Aquinas, Dionysius reject this opinion. It is not probable that he who was more than a prophet understood the mystery of the redemption less than a prophet [cf. Is. 53; Ps. 22:17 ff.; 68:22; etc.]; nor can we suppose that he who uttered the words concerning the Lamb of God [Jn. 1:29] was ignorant of the manner in which the sins of the world were to be taken away.
[e] While the Fathers generally reject the opinion according to which the Baptist sent to Jesus in order to satisfy his own doubt concerning the Messiasship of our Lord [Hilary, Theodor. heracl. in cat. Origen, in cat. Ambrose, in Luc. vii. 19; l. 5, n. 93–95, Jerome, ep. ad Algas. 121, qu. 1, Augustine, serm. 66, n. 4, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Cyril of Alexandria, ad h. l. in cat. Basil. or. 34, Euseb. Alex. Opus Imperfectum], they also agree for the most part with the greater number of later writers in maintaining that the Baptist intended to convince or confirm his own disciples and the multitudes at large in their faith of the Messiasship of Jesus [Bede, Paschasius, Thomas Aquinas, Faber Stapulensis, Dionysius, Cajetan, Jansenius, Maldonado, Lapide, Men. Tir. Gord. Calmet, Arn. Bisping, Fillion, Friedlieb, Knabenbauer Tolet. in Luc. 7:20, Grimm, iii. 175 f.]. This opinion agrees not only with the character of the Baptist as a precursor of our Lord, but also with the gospel record concerning his lively faith in the person of Jesus on their meeting in the earlier part of our Lord’s public life [cf. John 1:26–36; 3:29], as well as with the Baptist’s zeal to lead his own followers to the faith in our Lord [cf. John 3:26 ff.; Mt. 9:14; Mk. 2:18; Lk. 1:17; etc.]. The circumstance that the Baptist asked the question in the first person, and seemingly in his own name, and that Jesus answered the question as if it had been asked by John for himself, loses its weight by the consideration that such an answer of our Lord directed to his faithful precursor must have been a boundless source of consolation to the latter.
Our Lord’s answer (4-6). The explanation may be reduced to the following considerations:  As to grammatical form it must be noted that our version “the poor have the gospel preached to them” rests upon sufficiently good authority, since the passive voice of the Greek verb occurs also in Lk. 7:22; 16:16; Heb. 4:2, 6; Gal. 1:11; 1 Pet. 1:25; 4:6; though we grant that the middle voice of the verb is more common, it does not agree with the prophecies to which our Lord appeals. The verb “scandalized” is construed with the preposition ἐν following it in Mt. 13:57; 26:31; Mk. 6:3; 14:27; Lk. 7:23, so that the construction in the present passage is not unusual.
 In its character, the present answer of Jesus agrees with others given by him in public [cf. Jn. 5:36; 10:25, 38; 14:12; 15:24]. Instead of answering directly, our Lord appeals to a series of facts containing the answer and cutting short any logical quibbling that might result from a different manner of proceeding.
 Lk. 7:21 is careful to add here that our Lord “in that same hour cured many of their diseases, and hurts, and evil spirits, and to many that were blind he gave sight.” Of their very nature all these facts contained a divine testimony for the truth of our Lord’s mission, since miracles as such are God’s own seal and signature.
 Considering, moreover, the object of these various miracles, they proclaim Jesus as the Redeemer from the various consequences of sin, and therefore render it antecedently probable that his sacred person will also be the Redeemer from sin itself, the promised Messias [Alb.].
 This inference becomes a certainty by the fact that Is. 35:5; 61:1 had predicted the Messias as noted for exactly those miraculous deeds that were done and appealed to by our Lord; for while the Messianic prophecy is thus fulfilled in the person of Jesus, the fulfilment is of such a nature that God alone can bring it about, and therefore above all suspicion of merely human calculation.
 Finally, in the last words, “blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me” our Lord not only warns the Baptist’s disciples and the multitudes to follow the evidence thus put forth for his Messianic claims, in spite of their preconceived notions of a grand Messianic liberator of the Jewish nation, but he also points to a new series of prophecies which must be fulfilled in him by their very refusal of listening to his Messianic message [cf. Isa 8:6; 53:1, 4; Chrysostom, Jerome].
There then follows Christ’s testimony concerning John (Mt 11:7-15).
Mat 11:7 And when they went their way, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: What went you out into the desert to see? a reed shaken with the wind?
In order to remove all suspicion concerning the faith of the Baptist [Opus Imperfectum, Chrysostom, Jerome, Euthymius], and especially to show the multitudes the true consequence of their veneration for John, Jesus began to sound his praises as soon as the Baptist’s disciples “went their way.” Our Lord avoided thus all appearance of flattery [Chrysostom] and even of impropriety [Thomas Aquinas, Theophylact, Opus Imperfectum, Bruno, Alb. Cajetan, Hans.], The earnestness of Christ’s praise and warning manifests itself even in the form of his expressions: “What went you out into the desert to see? a reed shaken with the wind?” The particle at the beginning of the next clause shows [ἀλλά; cf. Winer, Neutestam. Sprachidiome, liii. 7; Hartung, Partikellehre, 2. p. 38; Klotz ad Devar. p. 13; Weiss, Knabenbauer] that Jesus did not suppose his hearers had acted against the supposition implied in the question, i. e. they had not gone out to see the tall reed of the Jordan valley as it bent under the pressure of the storm [Beza, Grotius, Wetstein, Gratz, Fritzsche, de Wette, Schegg, Hofmann, Knabenbauer; cf. Schanz], nor had they supposed to find in John a man of light and inconstant character [Chrysostom, Jerome, Rabanus, Paschasius, Bruno, Alb. Thomas Aquinas, Faber Stapulensis, Dionysius, Jansenius, Calmet, Arnoldi, Schanz, Fillion, etc.], nor a characterless man acting under the influence of the evil spirit [Hilary], nor finally a carnal-minded person [Gregory the Great, hom. vi. in evang.]. Our Lord rightly adds, “went you out into the desert.” For the multitudes had actually left the cities and towns of Jndea, in order to go out into the desert where John was preaching and baptizing [cf. Mt. 3:5; Mk. 1:5].
Mat 11:8 But what went you out to see? a man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings.
A man in soft garments. Jesus ascends here in his discourse; supposing that his hearers had not undertaken their journey into the desert for as foolish a reason as suggested in the first clause, he now shows that they had not even gone to see and hear a common man, clothed in soft garments; for such are in the “houses,” not in the prisons, of kings. The last expression may have been an implied condemnation of the court of Herod with its luxury and voluptuousness.
Mat 11:9 But what went you out to see? A prophet? Yea I tell you, and more than a prophet.
Mat 11:10 For this is he of whom it is written: Behold I send my angel before my face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.
But what went you out to see? John the prophet. The Greek particle rendered “but” implies here again a negative answer to the preceding question [cf. Jn. 7:49; 1 Cor. 6:6; 10:20]. Jesus therefore reasons with the multitudes thus: You surely did not leave your homes to see in the desert the Jordan’s banks waving with reeds, or to find in John a man as fickle by nature as a reed, or to see in him a man grown weak through a voluptuous life. Now he continues, according to the better reading, “But what went you out? to see a prophet?” You might have sought and found in him more than a prophet,—the “more” is expressed by the neuter gender in the Greek text [cf. Mk. 7:36; Lk. 12:48; Heb. 6:17], since the masculine of the word does not occur in the New Testament; the Hebrew equivalent would be יוֹתֵר מִן [cf. Schegg; Schanz],—for in John is fulfilled the prophecy of Mal. 3:1. It is important to notice the difference between the text of the prophet and that of the evangelist. The prophet writes: “Behold, I send my angel, and he shall prepare the way before my face,” while the evangelist has it: “Behold, I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.” The prophet speaks in the name of the Messias and therefore uses the first person, but the Messias puts the prophet’s words in the mouth of the Father addressing the Son, and therefore both the first and second person occur in the prophecy. The first part of the evangelist’s report agrees with Ex. 23:20 [lxx.], the second part follows the prophet’s text in its Hebrew form. Without inferring from this circumstance the existence of an Aram. original of the first gospel [cf. Hilgenfeld], or a Syriac popular version [Böhl], we may safely conclude from it that the first evangelist was better aequainted with the Hebrew text of the Old Testament than with its lxx. version. We may also see in these words of our Lord a confirmation of John’s own testimony concerning his mission [Jn. 1:23; cf. Is. 40:3; Mal. 3:1]. Finally, the word “angel” both in the Greek and the Hebrew text [cf. 1 Sam 11:3; 2 Sam 11:19 ff.; 1 Kings 19:2; 2 Kings 5:10; Job 1:14; etc.] signifies “messenger.” It is true that some commentators [Theophylact, Paschasius, Thomas Aquinas, Sylveira l. 5, c. 13, q. 23] urge the technical meaning of “angel,” and thereby infer some special praise due to the Baptist. But even in the New Testament we are not allowed to interpret angel in this special sense unless we have special reasons to do so [cf. Lk. 9:52; Apoc. speaking of bishops]; moreover, the dignity of a “messenger” is in proportion to the importance of his message and his nearness to the master. In the case of John, his message is the most important of the world’s history, and he not merely predicts his Master, but points him out with his finger [cf. Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas].
Mat 11:11 Amen I say to you, there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Not a greater than John the Baptist. Here Jesus gives his own opinion concerning John. The expression “hath not risen” corresponds to a Greek and Hebrew verb that is often employed of God’s raising up a prophet or a judge [cf. Judges 2:18; 3:9, 15; 1 Sam 2:35; Lk. 7:16; Jn. 7:52; etc.]. The phrase “born of woman” may imply the infirmity of man; but in the present context it indicates merely the solemnity and earnestness of the occasion [Job 14:1; 15:14; 25:4; Ecclus. 10:18]. While there can be no doubt about the extraordinary degree of sanctity attained by John the Baptist [cf. Barradas, Sylveira, Snarez, in 3 part. Thomas Aquinas, q. 38, a. 4, disp. 24, sect. 3; Canisius, De verbi dei corruptelis, part, i.], it has been often discussed in what precise sense the testimony of Jesus concerning the Baptist ought to be taken:—
 Does our Lord speak of the office and dignity or of the sanctity of John? Cyril of Alexandria, [Thesaur.], Dionysius, Maldonado, Jansenius, Sylveira, Barradas, Tir. refer our Lord’s testimony to the personal merits and sanctity of the Baptist. Not to speak of other inconveniences, it follows from this opinion that either the Baptist is less in sanetity than the lowest New Testament saint, or that “greater” and “lesser” must in the same sentence be applied to different points of comparison, the former regarding personal sanctity, the latter referring to outward dignity. Hilary, Ambrose, Isidore of Pelusiu, [ep. i. 33], Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, [catech. iii. 6], Alb. Tolet. van Steenkiste, Bisping, Fillion, Reischl, Schanz, Knabenbauer, etc. are therefore right in explaining the words of Jesus concerning the official dignity of the Baptist. This consists substantially in the office of precursor, but other circumstances lend it much lustre, e.g. the miraculous birth, the sanctification in his mother’s womb, the life in the desert, etc.
 Another point discussed in connection with our Lord’s testimony regards the comparative greatness of the Baptist and the Old Testament heroes: Is John said to be greater than they, or is he placed on their own level? If the words of Jesus be taken strictly, they only say that no one born of woman is greater than John; John may therefore have many equals. Jerome, Augustine, [cont. adversar. leg. et prophet, ii. 5] Opus Imperfectum, state that Jesus placed John only on the same level with the Old Testament saints; but Opus Imperfectum does not adopt this view in the end, and Augustine, writing against the opponents of the law and the prophets, is anxious to confer on the latter all the dignity possible. Again, the context appears to render such an explanation impossible, because the Baptist is declared to be “more than a prophet.” The reasons alleged by Cajetan for John’s equality with the Old Testament prophets do not consider the foregoing argument, taken from the context.
 Finally, it must be determined whether John is compared only with the prophets, or with all men of the Old Testament. This question is rendered necessary by the third gospel [Lk 7:28], where the word “prophet” enters the comparison; again, we have already seen that on the part of the Baptist, not his personal sanctity, but his office, is the term of comparison, so that we may well seek for something similar on the part of the Old Testament saints. Augustine [contr. litter. Petiliani, ii. n. 87], Jansenius, Tol. are right in remarking that the prophets of the Old Testament surpassed its just ones in dignity and office; if, then, the Baptist is declared not to be inferior to any one of them, and to be more than a prophet, he is superior to any Old Testament dignity and office that can be thought of.
yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven. Superiority of the New Testament. Thus far Jesus has shown what impression the doctrine and the example of the Baptist ought to produce on the multitudes. He now appeals to their own self-love, as it were, showing that they can attain to a dignity superior to that of John, if they are only willing to follow his teaching. Though writers agree that this is the general drift of our Lord’s words, they differ in explaining their precise meaning.
 Christ himself, who is less in age, and according to the belief of the by-standers also in sanctity, than the Baptist, is greater than the Baptist [Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Opus Imperfectum, Bruno, Faber Stapulensis, Cajetan, Jansenius, Barradas, Sylveira, Arnoldi, Canisius, etc.]. Though Suarez believes this opinion is very probable on account of its extrinsic authority, Maldonado shows that it is not satisfactory. First, it does not bring out clearly the contrast between the Old and the New Testament; secondly, when our Lord compares his own person with other persons, he speaks more clearly [cf. Mt. 12:41, 42]; thirdly, the proposition laid down by Jesus is general, and should not be limited to any one individual; fourthly, the comparison loses its force of argument if it be limited to Jesus alone.
 He that is the least among the blessed in heaven is greater than John the Baptist [Jerome, Bede, Rabanus, Paschasius, etc.]. But, in the first place, the context does not treat of the blessed in heaven; secondly, the comparison between the blessedness of heaven and the condition of the Baptist has no value in the argument of our Lord.
 The same reasons may be urged against those that explain the passage as signifying that the least of the angels is greater than John the Baptist [cf. Augustine, Dionysius].
 Maldonado mentions another explanation, according to which every one that is more humble than John the Baptist is greater than he; this opinion has not even much extrinsic authority.
 He that is lesser [either than John or than the other members of the kingdom] in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John; i. e. whoever belongs to the kingdom of heaven, though he occupy a less dignified position in it than John occupies in the old dispensation, excels John in dignity; or, whoever belongs to the new dispensation, though he be inferior to all his brethren, is still superior in dignity to John the Baptist [Cyril of Alexandria, Thesaur.; Isidore of Pelusium, ep. i. 68; Theodoret of Cyrus, heracl. cat.; Tostat. q. 36, in c. 11; Tol. in Lue. vii. 28; Maldonado, Calmet, Bisping, Schegg, Reischl, Grimm, Fillion, Schanz, Keil, Weiss, Mansel, etc.]. The dignity of the New Testament as compared with the Old is well set forth by St. Paul [Gal. 2:19; 4:1–7, 22–31; Heb. 10:20; Rom. 4:25; 7:4; Eph. 2:14–16; cf. Dan. 9:27]. It cannot be said that our Lord himself baptized John, and that the latter therefore belonged to the New Testament; for though John’s baptism by Jesus may be admitted as probable [Cyril of Alexandria, Thesaur. ass. 11; Opus Imperfectum, hom. 4; Thomas Aquinas, 3 p. q. 38, a. 6, ad 3; Suarez, l. c. sect. 6, n. 3], it must be remembered that the Church was not completely founded till after the death of Jesus Christ, so that the Baptist is rightly called the end of the law and the beginning of the gospel [S. Thomas Aquinas, 3 p. q. 38, a. 1, ad 2; cf. 2a 2ae, q. 174, a. 4, ad 3; Suarez, l. c. 3, 8].