Pp Luke 10:21-22
Father and Son relationship
1. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father
2. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son...
3. ...And any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him
The Burden of the Gospel
1. Religion versus Revelation
2. Revelation and Rest
The parallel passage cited above only covers the first three verses of this six verse passage and sits, it appears initially, in a totally different context where Jesus’ words follow on from the return of the seventy from their mission to Israel. Certainly, Luke 10:21 uses the phrase
‘In that same hour’
and this ties the speech in closely to the previous incident - but the author of Matthew uses (Mtw 11:25)
‘At that time’
and, although integrating the words into the context of the speech about the denunciation of the Galilean cities for their lack of faith (Mtw 11:20-24), may not be meant to make the reader think that they follow directly on for, in Luke, we read first the statement about the return of the seventy which is subsequent to the denunciation. Matmor comments (my italics) that the phrase
‘...locates what follows in the same general period as the preceding but does not tie it down with precision’
If the reader doesn’t accept that the parallel passages were spoken in the same context and at the same time, Matthew’s ‘at that time’ should be taken to be referring to the occasion of the denunciation of the cities rather than to the return of the seventy. Matfran, on the other hand, takes the time phrase as pointing
‘...to a close connection with the verses that precede’
and, if the context in mind is the returning disciples, the phrase can be taken to relate to their missionary activity where both the denunciation and the present passage are spoken in such a context in Luke (10:13-15, 10:21-22).
On the previous web page, I noted that Mtw 11:20-24 and the parallel in Luke 10:13-15 needn’t be taken to refer to one and the same incident (and this remains true) but, in the context of this passage, it would appear more likely that they should be.
If, however, the context of the returning seventy disciples is rejected by the reader, Jesus’ subsequent words provide a problem where He says that the Father had (Mtw 11:25)
‘...hidden these things...’
for it remains somewhat without subject (unless He’s referring to the believers who have also perceived that the cities have incurred judgment for their lack of repentance in the face of seeing great signs and wonders) and becomes puzzling - but Luke 10:17’s statement by the seventy returning disciples can be taken as an appropriate subject, where they’re recorded as rejoicing in the fact that the demons are subject to them when they use the name of Jesus and in their demonstration of the outworking of the Kingdom both in themselves and through them out to the people of Israel.
The time phrase which begins this section (Mtw 11:25) would also be seen to be referring to the return of the seventy and would need to be understood in that same context.
Personally, I take Luke’s ‘in that same hour’ (10:21) to be a precise demarcation of time and can’t see why this should be separated from the previous verses - whereas Matthew’s phrase I take to refer to a time period that’s less precise and to a more vague occasion that is being outlined in Luke.
But, even more perplexing would Matthew’s words be if taken as unrelated to the return of the seventy when it’s realised that the Gospel record states that Jesus ‘answered’ where the RSV uses the word ‘declared’ (Mtw 11:25). Matmor thinks that the word used by the Gospel writer means little more than that Jesus ‘said’ but it would be more natural to accept the word as indicating that the six verse passage was spoken as a response to something that had happened (that is, the statement of the seventy upon their return) rather than to feel the need to have to change the clear meaning of the passage to make it sit more comfortably in its present context.
The phrase needn’t have to infer that Jesus answered a direct question but, as Mathen, it can indicate
‘...a reaction or response to a situation rather than a reply to a question’
and this certainly fits the context better.
It seems best, therefore, to accept both passages as being records of one and the same incident, even though the author of Matthew records a longer speech which goes unmentioned by either Mark or Luke.
Revelation is a dangerous concept.
So many people have claimed ‘revelation’ directly from God in order that they may believe what they choose to and to begin sects and cults which pull against and cut across what is sound and certain in the Scriptures, that it has largely got a bad press. Think also of the cults which have seen large scale suicides being discovered by human law enforcement agencies and the secret and hidden knowledge which had been given to them which defined their own experience and responses to the world, and you’re very likely to run from the very idea of ‘revelation’ as being an instrument that God would use to reveal truth to an individual believer.
Far better to commit decisions on what is both right and wrong, so the reasoning goes, into the hands of those we’ve raised up over us to determine what we should believe. However, such structures undermine the responsibility of the individual to determine what is right in their own lives by direct access to God in Jesus Christ and to receive directly from His presence the Word that’s needed to point the way as we go through this life.
If God had ordained that men and women should believe what leaders tell them regardless of an individual experience of Himself, John 3:16 would have read that
‘...God so loved the world that He gave them Church leaders, that whoever obeys whatever they tell them should not perish but have eternal life’
As it is, knowing what God requires from an individual can only come by first hand knowledge of God and, therefore, by a direct revelation of His will to that believer - not only when the person is converted ‘from darkness to light’ but as they seek to continue to do God’s will on earth.
But the subject of ‘revelation’ is still controversial even if it isn’t openly stated as such. For instance, you try telling the Church leader over a fellowship that God has revealed to you that their plans for a Summer outreach aren’t from God and that He would rather it be moved to the Spring - chances are (in my experience), the leader will refuse to accept any such statement from anyone under him and will probably not even pray about it, dismissing the words politely enough but getting on with they want to do regardless of what God might have said.
Revelation calls believers into account for the things they do and the last thing that established leadership would want is to allow God to mess up their own plans. I know that, for a lot of the people who read this, my words may sound cruel and condemnatory but I’ve actually been in a meeting where an accepted prophecy telling the fellowship not to go ahead with a series of meetings has been taken to prove that God wanted them to go ahead with them (yes, honestly).
As a result of it, incidentally, I felt that, very shortly afterwards, it was more advantageous for me to leave the church than to remain for I - and a number of others - spoke in no uncertain words to the leadership that the prophetic word could be accepted or rejected but that it shouldn’t be twisted to be conformed to justify their own will.
Then there was the time when I wrote a song for a local church I was in and which was taken up by one of the main leaders of the entire denomination to be sung at their celebration event that same evening. Although I became quite nervous having to stand in front of so many people and play the guitar (with a backing band! The great thing about a backing band is that they tend to mask out all your mistakes!), the music leader pointed out to me that one of the lines in the first verse could be misconstrued and should be changed if it was ever to be used more widely. The verse went (the italicised words being the problem phrase)
‘We will be the generation that receives the promises of God
Laying hold of the land by revelation, bringing in the Kingdom of our Lord
We will be the Church triumphant, clothed in power, moving through this land
We will see a new tomorrow as we rise to take our stand’
I’m not absolutely sure just why it would have been misconstrued - and the chorus leader was (and still is) much more experienced in these matters than I was, but the fact that a statement about hearing from God as to which areas of society should be advanced upon for the Kingdom is open to misunderstanding is, perhaps, indicative that this whole subject of ‘revelation’ is a tricky one that we’d rather flee from than accept with open arms.
But revelation is vitally important if we’re to understand correctly what God’s demands on our lives really are. We may like to hide behind our religious creeds, our statements of faith and belief structures but, at the end of the day, it isn’t our man-made organisations which are rubber-stamped by God as being (John 14:6)
‘...the Way, the Truth and the Life...’
Only Jesus is given that descriptor and, as such, unless He’s followed, the believer will find that the road which they travel through life is not the one which Jesus has prepared for them. And, just in case the reader should think that by my statement ‘unless He’s followed’ I’m thinking of what man may tell us is His will for our life through a multitude of different avenues that are solely man-made, let me point out that I mean that the individual believer should hear directly from God and be able to check it out, when necessary, by recourse to Scripture - not that they should observe a credal statement or do what’s culturally acceptable.
Therefore, when we approach a passage such as this one where Jesus talks directly about revelation being given to the ‘babes’ rather than to the ‘wise and understanding’, we could naturally either interpret the concept of ‘revelation’ as that which is part of our tradition - such as established credal statements - or interpret it in such a way that strips Jesus’ words from the power and radicalism that’s actually inherent in the words.
Although Matfran goes on to speak of true revelation, his opening statement concerning the wise and understanding, which says that
‘...if they had lived up to their reputation and responsibility, should have been the first to recognise these things (that is, the significance of Jesus’ mission). Instead, it was the babes, the humble, unlearned, simple people, who understood...’
places the emphasis towards Jesus’ words on man’s response, on man’s work, rather than on outlining where the initiative lies - that is, with God Himself. Jesus isn’t saying here that the ‘babes’ always accept the message of the Gospel but that revelation is given to them rather than to the wise and understanding who try to discern what’s God’s will for their lives by their own methodologies. As I’ve noted, Matfran does go on correctly to observe that the ‘babes’ are
‘...those who are free from false preconceptions and so are open to the new light now being revealed to them’
but, primarily, the thrust of Jesus’ words here are not about the reception of what is being revealed but about the revelation itself and on the actions of God in His choice of who is confronted by that Truth. There is a defining clause which needs to be added here and which is expressed well by Mathag who writes (my italics)
‘That some believed and others did not believe the message of Jesus can be described from this perspective as God either concealing or revealing the truth of that message...yet without obviating the culpability of those who fail to believe’
That is, there is a need to remember that revelation given to an individual is of no use unless it’s acted upon positively.
But why or how can God be said to hide truth from some of those who would be considered wise and understanding?
As will be seen below, the Pharisees who had their own religious structures could never openly receive such revelation because it undermined their religious persuasions even though the Truth was proclaimed openly to them. It was in their strivings after truth that they found they never encountered their objective of knowing God, because they tried to attain something which it was only possible to receive freely as an impartation directly from God. Therefore, Matmor comments that the phrase ‘’Thou hast hidden’ (Mtw 11:25)
‘...does not mean that God completely concealed the things in question from the world’s wise ones but rather that it is in His plan that the way to knowing them is not the way of human excellence of wisdom...the knowledge of God does not depend on human wisdom and education’
and this is further confirmed elsewhere in the NT by the apostle Paul when he asks the rhetorical questions (I Cor 1:20)
‘Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?’
answering it by stating that (I Cor 1:21)
‘...in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe’
Matmor comments that
‘It has always been easy for the world’s wise ones to trust in their wisdom. They realise how their wisdom makes them superior to the foolish and accordingly come to rely on that wisdom. Their self-sufficiency means that they do not easily come to trust God for salvation’
Though men and women strive after knowledge and illumination according to worldly precepts and disciplines, they find that they don’t come face to face with a revelation of who God is as a result of their chosen studying and acquiring of knowledge. It’s quite true that very intelligent men and women have not been without their believers in Christ throughout the Church Age but the reason for their adherence to the way of Christ has not come as a result of their attainment to some ethereal target but directly as a revelation from God of their need of Him in their life.
It’s only in the simplicity of reliance upon God that man can be saved - and the world’s wisdom cannot attain the revelation that comes directly from God.
Lukgeld expands the application we’ve presented above from being simply a matter of dealing with those who are ‘learned’ in the world’s eyes when he interprets Jesus’ words here to assert that the contrast
‘...is not that between educated and uneducated but between those who imagine themselves to be wise and sensible and want to test the Gospel truths by their own intellects and to pronounce judgment according to their self-formed ideas and those who live under the profound impression that by their own insight and their own reasoning they are utterly powerless to understand the truths of God and to accept them...So Jesus makes the contrast not between educated and uneducated but between people with the wrong and self-sufficient attitude and those with the right and childlike attitude’
However, that doesn’t mean that the believer should either ignorantly stay or choose to be untaught and ignorant but, as Paul wrote (I Cor 2:6-8)
‘...among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification’
Yet, even here, knowledge and wisdom continue to come through revelation and as an impartation of God’s resources directly to the individual. Of all the sections that then existed within first century Judaism, it’s difficult not to highlight the Pharisees as belonging to the group of people which Jesus labels as ‘the wise and understanding’, those who had worked out a legalistic structure by which they could attain acceptance and peace with God. The Mishnah is a good overview of some of the practices of the Pharisees and, if the reader is under any disillusionment as to the burden that they laid upon any who wanted to know God (Mtw 11:28-30 will go on to speak of this), they need only to flick through it’s pages and read some of the minutiae of legal observance that was required from men and women so that God might accept them and, perhaps of equal importance, that the Pharisees might accept them as being those who were trying to put themselves right before God.
And how easy it is for us to think that we can point the finger at the Pharisees and not find that three are pointing back at our own structures and organisations which put down those who want to know God intimately and who insist on degrees, qualifications and social position to allow people to have authority over sections within fellowships.
Unless our methodologies are loose enough to allow God to speak and move - that is, to impart revelation that will be acted upon - we are in no better a position than the Pharisees were! Even though we may bear the label ‘christian’, if we refuse to allow God to move directly by His Word into our lives and insist rather upon man-accepted requirements in people’s lives, we will never ultimately know God for who He really is.
Revelation, therefore, is of foundational importance not only in a person’s initial acceptance of the work of Jesus in the cross but in their continuing experience of God as they grow into the fulness of Christ. Any deviation from this results more in a legalistic lifestyle that will bear similarities to the real thing, but it won’t and can’t know God.
Finally, Mathag comments that
‘Jesus praises here the working out in reality of the sovereign will of God, both in the rejection and in the reception of the message of the Kingdom’
and this is variously commented on, some insisting that the ‘praise’ is only referring to the second clause where Jesus speaks of revelation given to the babes rather than about the withholding of Truth from the ‘wise and understanding’. This is asserted by Mattask who quotes McNeile as saying that
‘Jesus was thankful not that the wise were ignorant but that the babes knew’
and. although he speaks of the construction as being a ‘Semitic idiom’, there doesn’t appear to be any problem with Jesus being taken as praising God for both His concealment and revealing of Divine truth, because it naturally places the knowledge of the Kingdom within the realms of everyone.
Jesus is not saying that only the ‘babes’ can know and that the wise are largely destitute of hope within society at large, but that revelation comes not by human effort but, rather, through a gift of God to an individual. Man cannot work out the Kingdom or the will of God - it can only become understandable to those who are willing to receive it, just as the seventy have who’ve gone out into the villages of Israel and have demonstrated the revelation they’ve received (Luke 10:17), the context of these words (see above). Therefore Luknol comments that
‘...it is the presence and power of the Kingdom of God that have just been revealed (in the mission of the seventy) and to which it is fitting to respond with praise and thanksgiving’
that is being brought to the reader’s attention.
This revelation of knowledge will be expanded in Mtw 11:27 to include an intimate knowledge of God the Father whereas I have rather spent my time here dealing with a reception of Truth - in some ways, this is just one and the same for the Person cannot be separated from the Truth that He brings and, perhaps better, we should accept both these concepts as being two aspects of the one work of God.
Jesus will also go on in Mtw 16:17 to announce that Peter’s declaration that (Mtw 16:16) He’s
‘...the Christ, the Son of the living God’
is a revelation that He’s received directly from the Father in heaven, an indication, as I noted above in this section, that revelation is vitally important in a person’s conversion to Christ. We would do well not to lessen the force of these words here for, without revelation and an acceptance of it, a person cannot come to the place where they see plainly Jesus for who He is and, subsequently, what He’s done. Christianity, therefore, is primarily the religion of revelation and of a dynamic and direct relationship with God and not a credal statement which needs cerebral assent.
Father and Son relationship
This verse represents quite an enigma for many scholars and, commenting on the entire three verse passage which runs Mtw 11:25-27, Mathag notes that
‘The remarkable character of this passage and its similarity in tone to the Fourth Gospel have caused the passage to be variously described as a meteorite or thunderbolt from the Johannine sky...’
and goes on to point out that, far from supporting the style of John’s writings and quotings of Jesus in his Gospel, these verses are often taken as calling into question
‘...the authenticity of the Synoptic passage’
and, as Matfran also states, that, specifically, Mtw 11:27 is
‘...dubbed Johannine with the implication that Jesus Himself could not have spoken it’
But, for the believer who comes to this passage with no preconceived ideas about the development of Christology within the early Church, the passage substantiates the unusual way that John records the sayings and teachings of Jesus which appear, at first glance at least, as if they were recorded by someone who was partly making the text up as he went along.
Therefore, far from causing John’s Gospel to be thought less of, this passage merely affirms its authenticity though, if one approaches the text with disbelief in one’s mind, the reverse could be made to fit - namely, that the verse is a later addition by a copyist who included in the manuscript something which was alien to the original text.
In reality, the person who reads the Bible gets out of it exactly what he approaches it with - if belief in Jesus is sure and steadfast, truth and wisdom is imparted but, if there’s doubt and uncertainty in the authority of the text, there is ample fuel for the fire!
This shouldn’t be greatly surprising for Jesus has already noted in Mtw 11:17-19 that, to those who will reject the move of God, there is nothing that can be done for them to be reached with the Gospel and truth and, as He will go on to say in a later chapter (Mtw 13:14-15), those who have grown hard of hearing will never be able to perceive the truth even if it’s presented plainly to them (though, in this passage, the idea is of truth concealed rather than truth openly revealed).
Whether this short verse was drawn from any of John’s prior writings will, of course, remain unprovable but the best that can be said of its relationship to the fourth Gospel is that it justifies the authenticity of the way Jesus is recorded as speaking there and provides a bridge for the reader to progress into the more poetically constructed phrases of John’s record.
1. All things have been delivered to me by My Father
The first thing we need to determine is whether the phrase ‘all things’ is meant to be taken as a statement which includes absolutely everything or whether it’s possible that the statement could have originally been meant by Jesus to be taken in a more limited sense and in the context of His preceding words.
Mathag is in no uncertainty that the words have been imputed with much more than were intended when they were originally spoken when he writes that
‘...we may fairly conclude that, as often happens in his narrative, the evangelist means to say more by his passage than the historical Jesus may have meant...a minimalist reading will be the most plausible’
Although this sounds both feasible and justifiable, we need, rather, to look at the phrase ‘all things’ and try to determine whether it’s used in the NT to mean anything other than ‘everything’ which it does in many places. For instance, the absolute implication of the use of the word seems to be what’s required in the passage Col 1:15-20 where it’s used more than once to describe the absolute authority and pre-eminence of Jesus throughout the created order, and in Eph 1:22 where the statement that
‘...[God] has put all things under His feet and has made Him the head over all things for the Church’
must necessarily be describing a situation where nothing is left outside His control. Jesus’ words here in Mtw 11:27 would be seen to be in keeping with these statements if it were not for Phil 2:5-11 which states clearly that Christ’s supreme exaltation came about as a result of His subjection to the will of the Father in the death on the cross (notably Phil 2:8-9).
Matthew’s passage precedes this event, however, and it’s difficult to imagine the writer to be recording the saying as meaning, as Mathag noted above, more than Jesus had originally intended it to mean when he would have understood that ultimate and supreme authority had only come about through the Son’s obedience through the death on the cross.
Although this would interpret the verse under discussion for us, we still need to determine whether the phrase ‘all things’ can be understood in the NT as meaning less than ‘everything’ as we would naturally take it to mean.
In Mark 13:23, Jesus concludes His instructions about the destruction of Jerusalem and the tribulation which will fall upon those in Jerusalem and, possibly, the entire world and the persecution which will specifically fall upon the Church, with the words
‘...I have told you all things beforehand’
Taken out of context, we could understand the words as meaning that Jesus had instructed His disciples about every conceivable thing, whereas it’s more natural to take the phrase as indicating that Jesus has told them everything about the subject which is currently under discussion, thus applying ‘all things’ to a specific time period rather than to include absolutely everything.
Similarly, in I Cor 11:12, the statement that
‘...all things are from God’
is limited by the previous two verses which speak of the dependency of men and women upon one another. Paul isn’t saying that absolutely everything that befalls a believer is ‘from God’ - which would be a difficult statement to justify seeing as satan is also active in the world (even though God may use even his works for the ultimate good of the believer and the bringing about of His own will) - but that, in the present discussion concerning men and women, the interrelationships which exist have been put there by God.
Even the two passages in Colossians and Ephesians cited above where we considered that the phrase ‘all things’ had to mean ‘everything’ are shown to mean less than what we took them there to mean by Paul’s statement in I Cor 15:27 where he writes that
‘”...God has put all things in subjection under His feet” But when it says “All things are put in subjection under Him” it is plain that He is excepted who put all things under Him’
Therefore, even when the phrase ‘all things’ is used in a context where we would naturally understand it to mean ‘everything’, we must consider carefully whether there are any other qualifying statements in other places in Scripture that would limit our concept of its all-inclusiveness.
As we saw above, Jesus was given authority over ‘all things’ only after His obedience in dying on the cross - and, even then, His authority is still subject to the One who gave Him that authority - and Mtw 11:27 cannot, therefore, mean that Jesus, even at this time, understood His unique relationship with the Father to be reflected in Him having given Him everything into His hands.
Rather, in the context in which the verse sits, ‘all things’ refers to the revelationary knowledge detailed in the preceding two verses. Jesus isn’t saying that everything has been committed into His hands by the Father but that the sum total of knowledge and revelation which He needs has been given to Him (note the restriction upon knowledge that even Jesus experienced in, for instance, Mtw 24:36 and how such an understanding of Jesus’ relationship to the Father must also point us towards an un-inclusive interpretation of similar passages in, for instance, John 3:35 and 13:3).
The ‘all things’ that have been given to Jesus by the Father are all the necessary revelation that is required by the Son to fulfil His calling and ministry to Israel.
Matfran comments that the ‘all things’ refers
‘...to the knowledge [the Father and Son] share’
but this makes it sound as if the Son is unlimited in knowledge and is operating from omniscience rather than as dependent upon the Father. Matmor also interprets the phrase more unambiguously as referring to ‘all knowledge’ which falls into the same pitfall as Matfran’s statement. Better is Mathag’s statement that
‘What is in view in this context is revelation or the granting of knowledge of the truth...what has been granted to Jesus is further defined in the final clause of the passage - that is, knowledge of and hence the ability to reveal the Father’
Therefore, we should understand Jesus to be stating that all the revelation that is needed for Him to be able to make known the fulness of the person of the Father to mankind has been given Him and that there is nothing about the nature of God which has been concealed which won’t be declared. The ‘all things’ must refer, therefore, to revelation - and, specifically, the revelation of the Father (of who the Father is and what He’s like) - and not to the sum total of all that’s in existence throughout the created order.
Jesus is seen as the One who has a perfect knowledge of God and, therefore, is the only One who can truly reveal the full truth about Him to mankind. As Mathag concludes
‘...Jesus thus has a unique role as the mediator of the knowledge of God to humankind’
and this should be fully accepted, understanding that Jesus is announcing Himself through this passage as
‘...the unique representative of God’
2. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son...
This statement must necessarily follow on from the preceding one where we saw that Jesus was proclaiming that He had been given perfect revelation by the Father - and of the Father - so that He might be able to proclaim the fulness of who the Father is to mankind.
Jesus can truly say, therefore, that only the Son knows the Father because no one else has received the fulness of revelation as He has. Not even the prophets, who saw so much concerning the nature of God and of His will for both His people and for mankind in general, could be said to have received a perfect revelation of the Father.
This is something that only Jesus claimed and to which both the believer and unbeliever needs to come back to repeatedly.
If Christ truly is the source of perfect knowledge about God the Father, we must live in its reality and not depend upon knowledge about the Divine second-hand from men and women - even if they are believers, and especially if they’ve written large commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew!
The onus is upon every person everywhere to listen closely to Jesus directly and to adhere to what He reveals to them, rather than to obey the words and teachings of men and women who are doing their best to pass on what they themselves believe they’ve heard.
This sounds like I’m teaching believers not to listen to anyone - but that’s not what I’m saying at all! We all must realise that men and women can add to what they hear - even that they may speak what they’ve never heard - and so misrepresent the character of God to those who they’re trying to reach.
The Pharisees were particularly culpable in this respect who reflected an image of God that was one of legalism, of rules and regulations, of judgment and punishment rather than as One who would be merciful to the repentant man or woman who acknowledged the error of their ways and who wanted to live for God. Unfortunately, the Church has often fallen into the same traps of imposing a righteousness on believers based upon interpretations of Scripture (or, sometimes, with very little justification from Scripture, as I was able to note on a recent visit to a region of the United States) rather than extend a hand of mercy to erring believers and unbelievers and encourage them to know God directly through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
For everyone (including me!) misrepresents God - everyone except Jesus, that is - and everyone who would serve the Father must be satisfied that what he hears from men and women is a correct revelation of God to themselves rather than a misinterpretation, deliberate or otherwise.
Therefore, when a person speaks, the onus is upon the hearer not to accept the words blindly, not to respond with loud affirmations when the truth of the matter hasn’t been thought through (in a recent meeting I was in, a person in the congregation responded to the statement that men and women were going to hell with the loud declaration ‘Glory to God!’ - ‘Have mercy on them!’ would have been more relevant!) but to confirm what is being heard by comparison with a direct revelation from Jesus concerning the nature of God, either as they speak or, later, when the words can be weighed and tested.
Jesus is the source of all truth about the nature of the Father and it is to Him that everyone must come in order that what they believe is straightened out. Matfran is right to point out that the concept of ‘knowledge’ in the OT
‘...is much more than a mental acquaintance; it is an intimate relationship. The exclusive communion between Father and Son is of the essence of their relationship’
Though Matfran goes on to speak of the relationship not being dependent upon revelation as it is between the rest of mankind and the Father (a point which is denied in our understanding of the first phrase of Mtw 11:27 and which would pull away from Jesus as being a man who was dependent upon God as we ourselves are and as operating from His divinity rather than from His humanity), his point that Jesus’ knowledge of the Father - and of the Father’s knowledge of Jesus - is based upon an intimate relationship and not on mere head knowledge is important to grasp.
Man’s reaching out towards God and his attempts at coming to terms with who he thinks God is is certainly knowledge about God that may be gleaned from the things around him. But only revelation directly from the Father and the Son can lead into a deep and intimate relationship, where ‘knowledge’ comes not from man’s intellect but from God’s character, where truth is received rather than achieved.
This relationship is two way, however, as Jesus outlines here. It’s true to say both that the Son knows the Father and the Father, the Son, though knowledge of the Son, as Mathag correctly notes
‘...is veiled to His contemporaries and is known only to God [the Father]...’
There is probably a difference in the way knowledge about the other is being described here. We have previously seen that the Son knows the Father because of the perfect knowledge through revelation that has been granted Him. The knowledge of the Son by the Father is taken by Mathen (my italics) to be descriptive of
‘...the inner relation between Father and Son, a relation that existed from all eternity’
though this appears to be far from obvious in the context. It’s better to follow Matmor here who notes that
‘The Jews, the people of God, had consistently rejected Him, so it was plain enough that they did not know the Son; but it is also the case that the disciples who had responded to His call did not have as yet anything like an adequate understanding of His person. It was true of them, too, that they did not really know Him, so that it was only the Father who had real knowledge of Him’
so that the Father’s knowledge of the Son has primarily to do with the Son’s true nature, just as the Son’s knowledge of the Father also concerns the true nature of the other and is that which has come about from a direct revelation.
Thus ‘knowledge’ has to do with the true nature of the other, where one is received by revelation and the other as an outworking of omniscience. But, implied within this knowledge is intimacy as we quoted Matfran above - even so, primarily it has to do with the true knowledge of the other’s nature and being.
3. ...And any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him
The logical inference of Jesus having received ‘all things’ necessary to perfectly know the Father is that He only can be the One who can ultimately make known the fulness of the knowledge of God to men and women.
Therefore, as Jesus walked upon the earth, it was equally true that knowledge of the Father could only come to those whom He encountered when Jesus made known His character.
There is a twin concept here which needs to be balanced by Jesus’ words for, in Mtw 16:17, the declaration of the true knowledge of who the Son is by Peter is met by Jesus’ statement that
‘...flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven’
a statement which seems all the more logical by Jesus’ words here that only the Father truly knows the Son, implying that it is only a revelation received directly from the Father which can ultimately make known the truth concerning the Son.
This is also paralleled in John 6:44 where Jesus announces that
‘No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him...’
a statement which shows us the need for revelation to be granted to unbelievers concerning the true nature of Christ before they will ever be able to come to a true acceptance of the Son. While it’s true that no one will ultimately understand everything when they first make a commitment to follow Jesus, it’s also true that trying to persuade men and women concerning the work and person of Jesus will largely be to no avail unless the Father chooses to give those hearers a revelation of what is being announced to them.
Paul also noted in Gal 1:15-16 that his acceptance of Jesus was preceded by a work of the Father in revealing the truth concerning Jesus. Though this may have to do with the visitation he received on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8), there was also the need for Paul to be hit with the full implications of who Jesus is and that could only come by a direct revelation from God. Though Paul, in the natural, could have responded with the statement ‘Oh! Nice vision!’, he was ‘hit’ by the revelation that Jesus was chosen by God and that his life, opposed as it was to Him, wasn’t acceptable to the One who he said he was serving.
So, that Father must ‘reveal’ Christ to men and women before they will be in a position to come to know Jesus is certain.
Here, however, Jesus speaks about revealing the nature of God the Father to mankind because He has received a perfect revelation of who God is. As such, we should, perhaps, think of the statement primarily in the context of Jesus’ teaching as He journeyed throughout Israel and His declaration to the people who came to hear Him concerning the nature of God.
Although the statement is still true that Jesus reveals the truth of the Father, there is a sense in which this was Jesus’ special task when He was on earth, so much so that, when asked by Philip to show the band of disciples the Father, Jesus responded by saying (John 14:8-9)
‘...Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father...’
Though Philip had been with Jesus for a number of years, he still hadn’t perceived that Jesus perfectly displayed the character of God, having a perfect revelation of the Father, so that it could be truly said that to see Jesus was to see all that the Father is.
The words of Mtw 11:27, therefore, should be understood in the context of His current ministry of making known the nature of God - not only by His words but through His actions also. There were times when Jesus deliberately concealed truth by speaking in parables that only those who were truly seeking the Kingdom of Heaven would understand (Mtw 13:10-17) and, on another occasion, He refused to grant the scribes and Pharisees a sign, thus refusing to give any further revelation of the Father to them save what they had already heard and seen (Mtw 12:38-39).
However, we need to clarify Jesus’ statement concerning the withholding of revelation because there is a natural implication that conveys the meaning that He would arbitrarily choose some to receive while others He would not. The subsequent verse which has Jesus (Mtw 11:28 - my italics) proclaim to the multitudes
‘Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden...’
shows us that ‘hiding’ the nature of the Father was something done usually towards those who had already rejected God’s will for themselves (as in the examples of the parables and the sign requested by the Pharisees noted above) and that ‘all’ who felt the need were to be granted the revelation that was needed to be able to come to know the Father.
Matfran correctly understands Jesus’ words as teaching that He regarded Himself as
‘...the key to men’s approach to the Father; there is no other’
and the thought is further paralleled in John 14:6 where Jesus is quoted as proclaiming that
‘...no one comes to the Father, but by Me’
Therefore, the significance of Jesus is that He alone is the routeway through whom a true revelation of the Father comes. And there is no other - for no one else has a full and true revelation of the Father’s nature and being. If men and women fail to accept the truth of Jesus, it naturally means that the truth of the Father is equally rejected - however much may have been gleaned about the nature of God.
Jesus is unique, therefore, and the sole way to a correct knowledge of God. Although the implications of this were, in context, referring to the years before the cross, they also necessarily bleed over into NT times after the ascension when the early Church preached Christ crucified and pointed to Him as being the full revelation of the Father to the world.
The Burden of the Gospel
These three verses appear only in Matthew and have no parallel passage with which they can be compared. However, the context of the words appears to be plain enough and they need to be interpreted in the light of the words which have immediately preceded them in which Jesus has been speaking about the need for revelation in a relationship with Him, a revelation which comes directly from the Father rather than an observance to a set of religious statutes, beliefs or as an affirmation of a creed.
Mathag (although placing his information under the heading of the previous verse) notes that these three verses are taken by many commentators to be inspired by the apocryphal passage in Sirach 51:23-27 which reads
‘Draw near unto me, ye unlearned, and dwell in the house of learning. Wherefore are ye slow, and what say ye to these things, seeing your souls are very thirsty? I opened my mouth, and said “Buy her for yourselves without money. Put your neck under the yoke, and let your soul receive instruction: she is hard at hand to find. Behold with your eyes, how that I have but little labour, and have gotten unto me much rest”’
This passage, however, deals primarily with the acquisition of wisdom and seems far removed from the implications of Jesus’ words here. Although wisdom is spoken elsewhere as a person who can be encountered (for example, Prov 1:20ff) and the parallel here could be intended to make us think of Jesus as being the personification of the Wisdom of God, it seems better to simply accept that Jesus could have used similar phraseology had He been familiar with the passage rather than to unequivocally state that it was drawn directly from it.
After all, Jonah, in the belly of the great fish, used a whole string of parallel Scriptural phrases when he cried out to God (Jonah 2:2-9) because he ‘overflowed’ with what he already, presumably, had read. Jesus also speaks of the need for His hearers to acquire Himself whereas the writer of Sirach speaks of the need to acquire something which, although he has, isn’t considered to be himself.
The two passages, therefore, although bearing some similarities, do have significant differences.
1. Religion versus Revelation
The statement by Jesus concerning rest and of carrying a burden that is easy to bear has often been taken to be indicative of the setting free of men and women from whichever trials and tribulations that they are currently going through. If we understand that a believer may not be delivered from each and every problem they encounter, we may also prefer the explanation that what Jesus is teaching is that we may find rest within the trouble even though we may still have to go through it.
In a world where personal problems and circumstances seem to weigh heavy upon people’s shoulders, this sort of interpretation can find a receptive audience who are willing to accept the words of Jesus in a totally different context to that in which the original utterance occurred.
But, however much it may fit the situation, it does pull away from the context of the entire passage where the revelation of the Father’s nature has been spoken of and described to those listening.
Rather, then, we should see in the ‘rest’, a separation of a believer from the religious observance and servitude that was currently in existence throughout Israel and which was specially promoted by the Pharisees and scribes, embodied now for us in the Mishnah, the first attempt by the religious Jews to encapsulate their interpretations of the Law.
Such rules and regulations represented true religious ‘bondage’, a burden which the true believer was obligated to observe lest he be removed from the religious elite of the nation and cast away from the salvation that they offered (Mtw 23:4). As Mattask notes, the words are
‘...addressed in the first instance to those upon whose backs the Pharisees were laying heavy burdens by demanding meticulous obedience not only to the law itself but to their own intricate elaborations of it’
Similarly, Paul wrote to the Galatians (5:1 - see also Acts 15:10) to
‘...stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery’
in the context of the recipients having seemingly gone back to a religious observance of rules and regulations by which they hoped that they might please God and find acceptance before Him. Paul’s emphasis is more upon the observance of the Mosaic Law than obedience to its development but the intention of his words here hold equal weight.
The way of Christ, however, was one of ease and rest, where Jesus, rather than any written rules, was to be learnt and understood (Mtw 11:29) and this because He had received the full and complete revelation of the Father and so was in a unique position to declare the will of God to them - not in specific commands which applied each commandment to the minutiae of daily living for acceptance before God, but with acceptance for the repentant which was to transform them to delight in serving God out of a response of gratitude.
But it all comes down to a contrast between the reception of revelation rather than the observance of religious tradition, even though the latter can and is often based upon a past reception of the former. As such, Jesus’ words here are probably directed at the religious who were in the crowds that were listening to Him speak though the disciples would probably not have been slow to see the significance for themselves in having left behind them what they knew of their nation’s legalism for a totally different and radical obedience to and service of God.
In Aboth 3:5, in the Mishnah, is recorded for us a statement concerning the yoke of the Law and the necessity that the Jewish leaders felt for laying legalistic observance of the written code upon all Israel. It reads that
‘...He that takes upon himself the yoke of the Law, from him shall be taken away the yoke of the kingdom [the troubles suffered at the hands of those in power - Danby’s footnote] and the yoke of worldly care; but he that throws off the yoke of the Law, upon him shall be laid the yoke of the kingdom and the yoke of worldly care’
It can be seen, therefore, that the observance of the Law was seen to be something which was immediately advantageous to each religious Jew, seeing as it guarded them against being levelled as ‘worldly’ (as we would use that term even today) and so against the will of God. But we should pay particular attention to Sanhedrin 11:3 also here which reads that
‘Greater stringency applies to [the observance of] the words of the scribes than to [the observance of] the words of the [written] Law. If a man said “There is no obligation to wear phylacteries” so that he transgresses the words of the Law, he is not culpable; [but if he said] “There should be in them five partitions” so that he adds to the words of the scribes, he is culpable’
so that the minutiae of traditional interpretation became a whole lot more important than the original Mosaic Law from which it was supposed to have been developed. This legalistic development of the Law naturally entrapped the follower within its boundaries for it asserted that it had the way to God that forsaking its commands would endanger - and yet, all the while, there could be no let up in the extremes to which the Jews had to go to ‘fulfil’ the Law or, better, their interpretations of it.
Jesus cuts straight to the kill in his interpretation of the Mosaic Law in His teaching on the Sermon on the Mount (Mtw 5:17-48) and, instead of surrounding it with extrapolations and applications, he shows its heart and holds that up as the principle that should be followed, allowing the believer to apply it themselves in each and every situation in which they find themselves. This would have been too dangerous for the Pharisee for he needed to know, when faced with a situation that was something that hadn’t before been encountered, just what the Law required of him as an active response.
As I noted above when I quoted Aboth 3:5, observance of the Law and of its interpretation naturally guaranteed the follower against being levelled as ‘of the world’ or ‘worldly’ and much the same thing occurs within the Church amongst those who are specifically legalistic in their interpretation of Scripture which goes beyond the bounds of God’s original commands.
For instance, in some sections of the Church, worldliness is associated with wearing the wrong type of clothes (which can range anywhere from a woman wearing a pair of jeans to a man looking shabby - it doesn’t have to infer that miniskirts are out) and of listening to Rock music (whether we’re talking about christian musicians or secular ones - in more legalistic congregations, certain musical forms are considered to be inherently evil - for comments on the Biblical viewpoint see my notes) and these ‘beliefs’ can be elevated above and beyond the Scriptures so that they take their place, become equally binding and, subsequently, are the be-all-and-end-all of what it means to be a christian.
Indeed, in certain churches, it’s difficult to be absolutely sure whether ‘being saved’ means to be delivered from sin through God’s mercy and forgiveness or whether it means giving up alcohol, rock music and wearing denim! I joke not...
These movements labelled ‘church’ are normally very binding for the participant and breaking away from them can be difficult. After all, if one believes that they’re doing what God requires of them, how can they ever choose to leave the local congregation for another place which they’ve already been taught is wayward because of the things of which it approves?
Sadly, much of the Body of Christ finds itself bound into legalism and religious observance rather than living in a freedom which relies upon receiving revelation and responding to it and, even though we condemn the Pharisee for their religious exclusivism and legalism, are ourselves caught up in the same sort of religious organisations, except that we label them differently to make us think that we’re serving God under the New Covenant.
As with any cult, when a person is bound up with legalistic observance or obligation, fear must necessarily come upon that person when they go to step outside their religious laws and break free from them. Hence, the Pharisees’ rejection of Messiah is by no means difficult to conceive and understand for, had they welcomed Him with open arms, they would have had to have ditched their interpretations in which they had placed their trust that they were able to lead them to God.
But Jesus’ commands are simple enough. He instructs those listening simply (Mtw 11:29) to
‘...learn from Me...’
where obedience is directed towards a person rather than towards an external written code.
2. Revelation and Rest
Mtw 11:28-30 is set in the context of the spiritually proud and the spiritually humble. The heavy labour of the former with little inner peace, and the wholeness and rest of the latter because they come to Jesus and are happy to be solely united to Him, is here contrasted. Legalism weighs down and produces the spiritually proud who care nothing for a true move of God when it comes (even though they may confess with their lips that this is what they long for and are striving towards - the last phrase is proof enough that they have a legalistic view of their relationship with God when they speak of striving towards a goal).
Revelation, on the other hand, liberates and lifts up the religiously oppressed where the oppression we’re thinking of here is not condemnation from other religious sections within a religious movement but where a person has submitted himself to a series of regulations and rules that restrict his ability to be free to serve God to the fullest extent.
When Jesus invites His hearers to ‘Come to Me’, He implies the need for a revelation of who the Son is (Mtw 11:27) before one can effectively come to find what one needs in Him. Hence, revelation is primary whereas provision is secondary - a right relationship with God by revelation comes first before lasting peace and rest can be obtained, something which observance to a written code can never achieve.
The yoke of ‘laborious performances and of impossible self-righteousness’ (as Edersheim) is that form of legalism which submits an individual to a life-long bondage of searching for something that always remains elusive. The yoke which Christ bids His followers carry is freedom from legalistic religion and harmony with simple obedience that comes by revelation, something which is beyond no one.
Unfortunately, the Church has not always been quick to realise this, even though it claims it has the revelation that is necessary in knowing who the Son is and, therefore, that it needs nothing further - not even, as in some places and movements, present revelation. But revelation that’s now dead becomes fossilised tradition with time and the belief structures that exist in a great many of today’s churches are little better than the traditions which existed in the days of Jesus and which He here speaks against.
Present revelation is what marks out a believer who is resting in the provision of Christ, not past revelation that’s imparted to a believer in an impersonal and factual way. After all, revelation comes directly from God and is not a response of mankind to commit to writing what once was known about God - and, more than this, revelation is about knowing Jesus (Mtw 11:29) not knowing about Him. When devotion and commitment to the Person of Christ is maintained as a daily walk rather than as an observance to a written code, rest and peace come hand in hand with Him, for the believer is unhindered by legal demands and is free to follow Christ as He directs and leads - not that he’ll lead an unholy or irreligious life, but that his lifestyle will be determined by a dynamic and living relationship with God rather than by a concern to make sure that their life is conformed to an external written or oral code.
Unfortunately, in thinking that it has the fulness of the revelation of God in Christ, the Church has too often rejected the current necessity for fresh revelation and so has become dead like the traditions and regulations of the Pharisees which it rightly condemns.
Finally, we should note here that the yoke mentioned shouldn’t be thought of as a wooden object which was used to join two animals together that they might pull a plough or other such agricultural device (as is the obvious meaning behind the use of such a word in II Cor 6:14 AV) but is more akin to the wooden yoke placed over the shoulders of a single human being which was used to balance the weight being carried on two extremes, thus enabling the load to be laid upon the entire frame of the person rather than to impinge directly, for instance, on the two arms.
The yoke is the way in which a believer fulfils what Jesus requires of them, while the burden is the actual substance of what God commands. Therefore, the yoke should be likened to the revelation about which Jesus has already spoken and the burden to the outworking of that revelation into a person’s life.
Even so, a yoke may still be heavy and the burden to be carried so excessive that the weight cannot be adequately transported from A to B but this is not envisaged to be the case with the demands of Jesus upon the disciple.
That ‘yoke’ and ‘rest’ can be used in the same sentence and context should be surprising to us for one word appears to negate the other. Although Jesus doesn’t deny that there’s a need for a spiritual work in the believer’s life as they seek to follow after God and His ways, He’s eager to impress upon His followers that the way which God requires from them is no hard taskmaster as obedience to a written set of rules is - rather, obedience directly to a person who has both received a true revelation of the nature of God and who has been truly revealed to them and who is correctly understood by them leads on to an ease of service that makes service to God much simpler.
Besides, where observance sought to gain acceptance, Jesus first offers acceptance and then expects service as a response. Therefore, service must be more relaxed, knowing, as the disciple does, that he is free from religious obligation but a slave to free service.
GO TO MATTHEW PAGE