16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:16-19 ESV
John had come in the spirit of Elijah, calling the people to prepare for the coming Kingdom and to accept the newly arrived Messiah. And Jesus had declared that John was “Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:14 ESV). But the people had refused to believe the words John had spoken. Yes, many of them had chosen to be baptized by John, but they would end up refusing to accept Jesus as their Messiah. In time, the majority of the Jewish nation would turn against Him, denying Him as their Lord and Savior.
Jesus declared John’s superiority because he had been given the one-of-a-kind task of preparing the way for the Messiah. As far as Jesus was concerned, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11 ESV). That’s extremely high praise when you consider men like Abraham, Moses, and David. John was far greater than any of them, not because of anything he had done, but because of the extreme importance of his role as the herald for the coming Messiah. But Jesus added an important and, somewhat confusing statement regarding John. He said that “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11 ESV). John’s ministry was an earthly one. He was relegated to announcing the arrival of the Kingdom but was not yet a part of it. He had a very important role to play on earth, but Jesus let His audience know that those who inherit the Kingdom will be far greater than John. Jesus is not saying that there will be degrees of worth in heaven. If anything, He is insinuating that even the least – the prostitutes, tax collectors and other worthless sinners in this life – who place their faith in Him and inherit eternal life, will be greater than John. John had the privilege of proclaiming the coming Kingdom, but those who participate in it will have a greater reward.
Next, Jesus turned His attention to those in His audience, comparing them in not-so-flattering terms to “children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates” (Matthew 11:16 ESV).
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” – Matthew 11:17 ESV
Once again, Jesus is speaking prophetically. He is revealing that the Israelites, including many who claimed to be His followers, would eventually reject Him. And they would do so because He refused to dance to their tune or act in the way they had expected. They were like spoiled children who had their view of how the Messiah should appear and what He should do when He did. And Jesus was not going to meet their demands. He was not going to dance to their tune.
So, they would end up rejecting Him. These people would prove to be critical and impossible to please. And Jesus used their reaction to John the Baptist as evidence. While there were many who had followed John and listened to his message, there were just as many who viewed him with disdain. They saw his strange attire and ascetic lifestyle as proof of demon-possession, not evidence of the hand of God. When they saw John “neither eating nor drinking,” they wrote him off as little more than crazy.
Their logic was simple. If John was the forerunner of the Messiah, the future king of the Jews, why did he dress and eat the way he did. In their minds, John’s actions did not fit their perceptions of someone who would herald the long-awaited Messiah.
And yet, when Jesus came along, He was anything but an ascetic and separatist like John. He dressed like everyone else. He associated with all kinds of people, even choosing to eat and drink with sinners. And, as a result, the Jews described Him as a glutton and a drunkard. This was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting.
But Jesus ends His address to the crowd with a simple statement:
“Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:19 ESV
Time would tell. The future would vindicate the lifestyle choices of John and Jesus. They were acting in unity with God and in complete submission to His will. While the people would end up rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, His status as the chosen one of God was not in jeopardy. He was no less the Messiah because of their stubborn refusal to accept Him. Their denial of Him would do nothing to diminish the reality of His divinity. Just because Jesus had failed to appear as they had expected or act as they had hoped, He was no less the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
This chapter began with a question from John the Baptist, revealing his doubts about the validity of Jesus’ identity. And Jesus is revealing that there will be many who raise doubts about His claims to be the Messiah. Why? Because He was not that they expected. He was not doing what they wanted Him to do. He was not acting in ways consistent with their preconceived views of the Messiah.
But Jesus had come to do the will of God, not that of men. He had shown up to bring salvation to those living under the condemnation of death as a result of their sin. Jesus was not interested in restoring Israel to prominence, but in restoring sinful men to a right relationship with their Creator. And, sadly, many in His audiences would refuse to see their need for what Jesus came to offer. They would turn their backs on His message of repentance and restoration. While they loved His miracles and were enamored by His messages, what they really wanted was His destruction of the Romans and the return of the nation of Israel to power and prominence. But Jesus would play that role at a much later date. When He comes the second time, He will do so as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He will show up in the form the Jews had been expecting, but this time, rather than demanding that He dance to their tune, they will bow the knee in worship and sing His praises.
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” – Revelation 5:11-13 ESV
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.