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Reformation Notes on Matthew 11:12-19 from ACCS

by ToddPeperkorn ~ October 26th, 2010


[I am generally a fan of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, published by Inter-Varsity Press.  While some of the volumes are weaker than others (e.g. Mark), many of them are quite strong.  And we Lutherans are well represented, with volumes edit by Arthur Just, William Weinrich, +Quentin Wesselschmidt, Dean Wenthe, and others.  This is an extended quotation of the section on Matthew 11:12-19 for Reformation.  -Peperkorn]



11:12 The Kingdom Suffers Violence

The Kingdom of Heaven. Hilary: What violence? People did not believe in John the Baptist. The works of Christ were held to be of no importance. His torment on the cross was a stumbling block. “Until now” prophecy has been dormant. But now the law is fulfilled. Every prediction is finished. The spirit of Elijah is sent in advance through John’s words. Christ is proclaimed to some and acknowledged by others. He is born for some and loved by others. The violent irony is that his own people rejected him, while strangers accepted him. His own people speak ill of him, while his enemies embrace him. The act of adoption offers an inheritance, while the family rejects it. Sons refuse to accept their father’s last will, while the slaves of the household receive it. This is what is meant by the phrase “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence.” Earlier expectations are being torn apart. The glory that was pledged to Israel by the patriarchs, which was announced by the prophets and which was offered by Christ, is now being seized and carried off by the Gentiles, through their faith. On Matthew 11.7.


11:13 All the Law and the Prophets

From the Days of John Until Now. Origen: “The days of John” and of Jesus are understood not in reference to time but in reference to the state of the soul of the hearer of the divine Scripture. And the word now marks out clearly the days of Jesus, which the psalm points to in this way: “In his days righteousness shall arise, and there will be an abundance of peace till the time when he is taken away.” One who has been previously taught comes to the beginning of Jesus’ discourses and still makes progress in introductory things by way of that road that appears to be rugged and steep. One thereby “takes by force” the kingdom of heaven, which “suffers violence.” The expression “suffers violence” is not to be taken in an active sense but a passive, as if to say “it has been taken.” But if the perfect Word, when he receives someone who was awaiting freedom under the law and prophetic schoolmasters and housekeepers, bestows on such a one his father’s inheritance freely, then fittingly it is said that “all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” Fragment 227.

All the Prophets and the Law. Jerome: This should not exclude the prophets who came after John the Baptist, for we read in the Acts of the Apostles that Agabus and Philip’s four young unmarried daughters uttered prophecies. But insofar as the law and prophets of the Scriptures looked toward the future, they prophesied about our Lord. So when it is written, “All the prophets and the law up to the time of John have prophesied,” the time of Christ is made known as those previous voices had said it would come. Then John showed he had come. Commentary on Matthew 2.11.13.


11:14 Elijah Who Is to Come

He Is Elijah. Apollinaris: He called John Elijah because of Elijah’s power and spirit. And since this statement of Jesus was obscure, he left the understanding of it for those capable of perceiving its meaning. But the angel Gabriel also said this about John: “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah,” showing that he was the same as Elijah, even if, as a visible human being, he was other than Elijah. Fragments 62–63.

A New State. Theodore of Mopsuestia: Jesus is in effect saying: Just as Elijah will come toward the end of this present age preaching about my imminent appearance from heaven, in the same way this one has spread the good news of my coming,53 bringing an end to the old things. My coming is something new, a type of the state of things that is about to occur. Fragment 61.55

He Came in the Spirit of Elijah. Jerome: So John the Baptist is called Elijah, not in accordance with foolish philosophers and certain heretics who introduce the topic of metempsychosis (transmigration of souls) but because, according to other evidence of the gospel, he came in the spirit and goodness of Elijah and had either the same grace or power of the Holy Spirit. The austerity of their life and firm resolve were equally strong in Elijah and in John. Both lived in the desert. The former girded himself with a belt of skins, and the latter had a similar belt. The former was forced to flee because he accused Ahab and Jezebel of the sin of impiety in their lives. John was beheaded because he accused Herod and Herodias of unlawful marriage. There are those who think therefore that John is called Elijah because, just as Elijah would lead the way in the second coming of our Savior (according to Malachi) and would announce that the Judge was coming, so John acted at the first coming and because each was a messenger either of the first or second coming of our Lord. Commentary on Matthew 2.11.15.


11:15 Ears to Hear

Let People Hear. Chrysostom: Jesus did not stop even at this praise of John but said, “He is Elijah who is to come.” Then he added, to underscore the need for deeper understanding, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus said this to stir them up to inquire further. By this they were awakened so that everything might be plain and clear. Thus no one could claim that Jesus was unapproachable or that they did not dare ask him questions. For they were asking all sorts of questions and testing him in many small matters. Even when their mouths were stopped a thousand times, they did not turn away from him. For if they did not hesitate to inquire of him about these common things, they surely would be inquiring about indispensable things in whatever way they wanted to learn. In this way he himself was encouraging them and drawing them on to ask such questions. The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 37.3.


11:16 Like Children in the Marketplace

A Metaphor of the Generation. Jerome: The comparison of children sitting in the marketplace, shouting and saying to their peers, “We sang for you and you did not dance, we lamented and you did not mourn” is made with that generation of Jews in mind. Recall the Scripture that says, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like the children sitting in the marketplace,” and the rest. We are not offered a complete understanding or a shared interpretation of allegory. But whatever we say about children should be related to their comparison with “this generation.” Those children who are sitting in the marketplace are the ones of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks: “Behold, I and my children, whom God has given me.” And also the psalm: “The testimony of God is faithful, giving wisdom to children.”60 And elsewhere: “Out of the mouth of babies and sucklings you have achieved glory.” So those children sat in the marketplace or in the agora, which is described in Greek more plainly as where there are many items for sale. Because the Jews did not want to listen, the children not only spoke but shouted to them, at the top of their voices: “We sang to you, and you did not dance.” We challenged you to do good deeds at the sound of our song and to dance to our flute, just as David danced before the ark of the Lord, and you did not want to. “We lamented” and we challenged you to seek repentance, and you did not want to do even this, rejecting both proclamations, which were an exhortation as much to goodness as to repentance after committing a sin. It is no wonder you have despised the dual path to salvation since you scorned poverty and wealth alike. If you are pleased with poverty, why did John displease you? If wealth pleases you, why did the Son of Man displease you? You called one of these a man with a demon, the other a glutton and a drunkard. Therefore, because you did not want to accept either teaching, “wisdom has been vindicated by her children,” that is, the direction and teaching of God. I, who am the glory of God and the wisdom of God, have been acknowledged to have acted justly by my sons, the apostles, to whom my Father unveiled what he had hidden from wise, experienced people. Commentary on Matthew 2.11.16.


11:17 Piping but No Dancing

The Dissonance of Dancing and Lamenting. Cyril of Alexandria: When some children are dancing and others are singing a dirge, their purpose does not agree. Both sides find fault with their friends for not being in harmony with them. So the Jews underwent such an experience when they accepted neither the gloominess of John the Baptist nor the freedom of Christ. They did not receive help one way or another. It was fitting for John as a lowly servant to deaden the passions of the body through very hardy training, and for Christ by the power of his Godhead freely to mortify the sensations of the body and the innate practice of the flesh, and to do so without reliance on strenuous ascetic labors. Nevertheless John, “while he was preaching the baptism of repentance,” offered himself as a model for those who were obliged to lament, whereas the Lord “who was preaching the kingdom of heaven”64 similarly displayed radiant freedom in himself. In this way Jesus outlined for the faithful indescribable joy and an untroubled life. The sweetness of the kingdom of heaven is like a flute. The pain of Gehenna is like a dirge. Fragments 142–43.


11:18–19 Wisdom Known by Its Deeds

Cause Distinguished from Effect. Hilary: “Wisdom has been vindicated by her children.” Those who resist the kingdom of heaven tear apart heaven itself in attempting to justify themselves. The action of Wisdom is just, because she has transferred her gift from the obstinate and faithless to the faithful and obedient covenant people. However, it is useful in this place to consider carefully the virtue of the remark “Wisdom has been proved right by her actions,” which Jesus certainly said about himself. For Jesus is Wisdom itself not because of his acts of power but by his very nature. Everything has capability, but capability is demonstrated in actions. Thus an act of goodness is not the same as goodness itself, just as an effect is distinguishable from its cause. On Matthew 9.9.

John Came, and the Son Came. Theodore of Mopsuestia: Those who were looking for the truth, he says, accepted the leadership of John and of Christ. It changed their lives. They managed this wisdom for the benefit of those who were searching. He calls the things that have happened wisely, wisdom. The Jews did not believe in Christ, either through the fasting and ascetic life of John or through the submissive mode of life and providential citizenship of Christ the Lord himself. Still, he who fulfilled everything wisely by neglecting none of those things that contributed to their profit and salvation was judged harshly by them. And no longer hereafter could they accuse him, because Jesus fulfilled all his promises and did not leave behind for them a shadow either of unkindness or of ingratitude. Fragment 62.

The Living Wisdom. Theodore of Heraclea: Christ himself was judged by those who believed in him to be the living, foundational wisdom, who managed everything justly. Although he was treated spitefully by the unbelieving Jews, he did not stop speaking kindly to the Jews and calling them to be his children. Fragment 77.


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