I HAVE TO confess that initially this passage made me scratch my head.
Based upon what is recorded earlier in Matthew 3, John’s question to the Lord in Matthew 11 really didn’t make sense. It appeared, at least on the surface, as something of a biblical contradiction.
- Chapter 3 says Jesus came to John for baptism (3:13). John objected at first, but Jesus convinced him otherwise and the immersion took place (3:16a).
- Scripture then records that the heavens opened up and the Spirit descended in the likeness of a dove.
- At that same moment, the Father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (3:16b-17).
Whatever doubts John might have had about Jesus prior to this occasion, they must have been erased, for he was in the presence of the Godhead and had incontrovertible evidence as to the identity of Jesus. And yet, when you get to Matthew 11, John (now in prison) sends a rather puzzling question to the Lord. He asks (via a messenger), “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (11:3).
What?! Wait a minute! “Are You the Coming One…?!” How can Jesus not be the One?! John, have you somehow forgotten about what you saw and heard back at the baptism? Are you suffering from some type of self-induced amnesia? Has imprisonment clouded your mental faculties?
Of course Jesus is the Coming One (cf. John 6:14; 7:40)!
Evidently John, like many of his Jewish peers (Acts 1:6), held certain preconceptions about the Messiah. He was looking for a king like David of old. He was looking for a military figure who would overthrow the yoke of Roman tyranny and oppression. He was looking for a political entity who would restore the kingdom to its former glory.
From John’s skewed vantage point, Jesus didn’t exactly fit with his Messianic expectations. Instead of initiating zealous political rallies and instigating a coup against Caesar, the Lord humbly moved among the common people of His day, teaching them and healing their sick. Instead of courting the Jewish hierarchy, Jesus bumped elbows with the unsavory elements of society (9:10; 11:19; 21:32). Instead of delivering His cousin and forerunner (John 1:23, 30, 33-34) from incarceration, He—for some unknown reason—allowed him to languish in a first-century jail cell. John embraced the traditional view and couldn’t reconcile the Lord with his long-standing bias.
“Are You the Coming One…?” I hear doubt and confusion in John’s question, despite what he had seen and heard back in chapter 3 at Jesus’ baptism.
It occurs to me that John is not the only person who has ever looked at the Lord through the lens of prejudice and predisposition. Often times I hear statements to this effect, “Jesus NEVER called names.” (He didn’t? John 8:42-47). “Jesus was NEVER blunt with folks.” (He wasn’t? Matthew 8:22; 15:16; 21-28; Mark 2:1-5; 9:14-32; Luke 17:11-19). “Jesus NEVER got angry.” (He didn’t? John 2:13-16; Luke 19:45-46; Mark 3:6). “Jesus NEVER taught baptism was necessary for salvation.” (He didn’t? Hebrews 1:1-2; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:1-4; 1 Peter 3:21). Folks view the Lord in light of how they’ve been raised or what their “pastor” or parents have taught them, and not in harmony with what the Word actually says about Him. He’s a product of long-standing oral tradition and not the actual Coming One revealed in the Bible.
Dear reader, I urge you to study carefully what Scripture says about Jesus. Cast off the shackles of preconception and get to know (1 John 2:3, 4; 5:20; John 1:10; 14:7; Acts 13:27; Philippians 3:10) the real Messiah. What you want Him to be, what you expect Him to be, and what He IS may not be the same thing.