Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 11:3c “. . .or do we look for another?”
Jesus was not acting like the kind of Messiah John the Baptist had expected. From John’s perspective in jail, the world was as evil a place as before Jesus’ ministry began. If Jesus is headed for a political throne, He is moving very slowly.
John was struggling with the vast difference between his personality and ministry style as contrasted with Jesus’. John was perplexed. Patience, more than faith, was failing. The Baptist probably wanted Jesus to be more forceful, to show more of the wrath of God. In other words, John wanted Jesus to be more like him.
Two men laboring in the same cause could hardly ever have had more dissimilar personalities than did Jesus and John. Jesus was social, domestic, and mild. John was a loner, restless, and wild. Jesus and His disciples were not ascetics, John and his band stayed in a wilderness. Jesus was the Good Shepherd, the Great Physician. John was a scathing preacher who rebuked Israel for its sins.
John evidently felt his method of serving God was the best way. A common mistake believers make is, we often and easily fall into the error of thinking God is like us, and only us. We are created in God’s image, but fall far short of His glory. Once we become believers, God begins transforming us into the image of His Son. We are in process, becoming more like Him. At any time, we have not yet fully arrived, and are still flawed. Thus, God is not necessarily just like us, and only us.
When skeptics were seeking to cast off the New Testament as unreliable, and writing books on what they thought Jesus was really like, Albert Schweitzer, later a medical missionary to Africa, wrote “The Quest of the Historical Jesus” (1906), which debunked and undermined this whole movement of skepticism. The book in essence said these authors who were writing books about Jesus were looking down a well to guess what Jesus was like, and amazingly, each author, when they finally reached the bottom of the well, found a mirror. Each determined Christ was exactly like the writer. They created God in their own image, but God is holy, separate, distinct, not like us. Instead, we are becoming like Him.
The images used by John about Messiah reflected his own ministry, and bespoke a work that would be swift and severe. The coming of Jesus’ kingdom was too gentle, too slow, for John. John had introduced Jesus to Israel as Messiah, humbly saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (JN 3:30). John expected Jesus’ star to rise, to flame into a consuming fire burning away the dross of Israel’s sins and blasting away the legions of Rome. John thought Messiah would set the people of Israel free from Rome’s bondage, but Jesus was not doing this.
John’s error was understandable. The Old Testament predicted two vastly different pictures of Messiah. Some passages pictured Him as a suffering servant. Other verses portrayed Him as a reigning king. One image is gentle, tender, and meek. Another thunders judgment, destroying evil, and punishing the wicked.
The images were so stark that some believed there would be two Christs, each fulfilling one of the roles. No one in John’s day, as best we can determine, understood one Messiah could do both. They made no allowance for two separate visits to Earth by the same Christ. John was asking if they should look for another person. The enigma is solved in understanding there will be another coming.
In His first coming, Jesus came as Gentle Shepherd to provide forgiveness of sin. At His second arrival, He will as King of king and Lord of lords judge sin.
Obviously and understandably, in times of oppression, as was Israel’s plight in John’s day, Israel emphasized those Old Testament verses that highlighted Messiah’s rule and judgment. The yoke of Rome chafed. Israel wanted to rebel.
Every word John spoke about Jesus was true. The prophet simply failed to see the present and future in true perspective. He was right to expect an axe laid at the tree roots, but could not envision the hand wielding it would first be pierced.
W. A. Criswell said John’s dilemma was similar to our misperception when we see two stars in the same region of the night sky. From our vantage point, they look close to each other, but are really millions of miles apart. Similarly, John saw two roles of Messiah, preferred one, and expected both, especially his preferred choice, to be fulfilled soon and simultaneously, but God intended the two distinct roles of Messiah to be separated by many years, at this point, at least 2000 years.
The Apostle Peter addressed this very puzzling antithesis of Messiah’s suffering versus His ruling. “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow” (I Peter 1:10-11 NAS).
This debate continues. A New York City rabbi, told by a Christian that Jesus was the Messiah, walked to his window, looked out over the sinful city, shook his head, and said, “No, when the Messiah comes, there will be justice.” Christians agree. We just believe it will happen at Messiah’s second coming.
Matt. 11:4a “Jesus answered. . .”
Our Master’s answer to John is gentle and patient, no demeaning, no shock, no reproof, no severity, no thinking less of the prophet. Jesus is a calm physician who knows His prescription will heal the threatening illness. It’s okay to wrestle with honest questions. Jesus is gentle with “the perplexity of the loyal” (Morgan).
Since a simple yes or no answer probably would not have bolstered John’s faith, Jesus instead sent evidence. Our Master did not give a pat or trite answer. He did not say for John to take heart, to gut up, that all would be okay in the end.
Jesus dealt with John the same way He still deals with seekers. He pointed to the many evidences of His divine credentials. The best cure for doubt and perplexity was and is to look at what Jesus said and did, and continues to say and do, on earth. He passes the acid tests of teachings, deeds, results, and miracles.
Knowing John’s problem was a lack of sufficient evidence, Jesus supplied information, facts. Spiritual evidence is processed through physical senses. For instance, faith comes by hearing (RM 10:17). Belief is a spiritual act, but based and built on evidence received by physical means, seeing, hearing, thinking, etc.
Rather than answer John’s question directly, Jesus gave material that would enable John to answer it himself. To have a belief system worth holding to, we must build components for it. We never have enough light to end all questioning, but do always have enough light for faith to trust in, and for hope to abound with.
Many mistakenly try to make Christianity spookier than it is. It can at first glance be a mysterious puzzle, but investigation unwraps it, clears it up, makes it logical, coherent, and reasonable. If processed, our faith makes tremendous sense.
John wanted proof, but Jesus gave evidence. We live by faith, not sight, which means we live by evidence, not absolute proof. Enough evidence is given to provide convincing proofs (AC 1:3), to make unbelief a sin, not just intellectual failure. But Christianity is always presented in ways that honor our awful, God-given freedom, our free will. The evidence can be compelling and convincing, but will not be absolute 100% proof. The case always comes to us in a format which allows a person the option of saying no. Room is always left for unbelief.
Examples abound. In the beginning, God created. The fact is merely stated, no proof provided. Instead, we are given abundant evidence to receive or reject.
The virgin birth is stated as fact, but no proof is forthcoming. Rather, the perfect life it produced is provided as the evidence we can believe or disbelieve.
Jesus rose from death. There’s no proof, no one saw life re-enter His body, but He was seen alive at least ten times by His followers, and observed by over 500 witnesses. A mountain of evidence supports the fact, but it can be scorned.
Christianity provides evidence that is believable, credible, and compelling, yet also reject-able. Sufficient evidence exists and must be dug for. To refuse to seek is to be guilty of negligence, being flippant with God, and the evidence, once uncovered, is so compelling that to disbelieve it is to be held guilty before God.