Mighty works (δυνάμεις)
The supernatural works of Christ and his apostles are denoted by six different words in the New Testament, exhibiting these works under different aspects and from different points of view. These will be considered in detail as they occur.
Generally, a miracle may be regarded:
1. As a portent or prodigy (τέρας); as Act_7:36, of the wonders shown by Moses in Egypt.
2. As a sign (σημεῖον), pointing to something beyond itself, a mark of the power or grace of the doer or of his connection with the supernatural world. So Mat_12:38.
3. As an exhibition of God’s glory (ἔνδοξον), Luk_13:17; glorious things.
4. As a strange thing (παράδοξον), Luk_5:26.
5. As a wonderful thing (θαυμάσιον), Mat_21:15.
6. As a power (δύναμις); so here: a mighty work.
Most of his mighty works (hai pleistai dunameis autou). Literally, “His very many mighty works” if elative as usual in the papyri (Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 79; Robertson, Grammar, p. 670). But the usual superlative makes sense here as the Canterbury translation has it. This word dunamis for miracle presents the notion of power like our dynamite. The word teras is wonder, portent, miraculum (miracle) as in Act_2:19. It occurs only in the plural and always with sēmeia. The word sēmeion means sign (Mat_12:38) and is very common in John’s Gospel as well as the word ergon (work) as in Joh_5:36. Other words used are paradoxon, our word paradox, strange (Luk_5:26), endoxon, glorious (Luk_13:17), thaumasion, wonderful (Mat_21:15).
Chorazin and Bethsaida – These were towns not far from Capernaum, but the precise situation is unknown. See “The Land and the Book” (Thomson), vol. ii. pp. 8, 9. Bethsaida means literally a “house of hunting” or “a house of game,” and it was probably situated on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, and supported itself by hunting or fishing. It was the residence of Philip, Andrew, and Peter, Joh_1:44. It was enlarged by Philip the Tetrarch, and called “Julia,” after the emperor’s daughter.
Tyre and Sidon – These were cities of Phoenicia, formerly very opulent, and distinguished for merchandise. They were situated on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, and were in the western part of Judea. They were therefore well known to the Jews. Tyre is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament as being the place through which Solomon derived many of the materials for building the temple, 2Ch_2:11-16. It was also a place against which one of the most important and pointed prophecies of Isaiah was directed. See the notes at Isa. 23. Compare Eze_26:4-14. Both these cities were very ancient. Sidon was situated within the bounds of the tribe of Asher Jos_19:28, but this tribe could never get possession of it, Jdg_1:31. It was famous for its great trade and navigation. Its inhabitants were the first remarkable merchants in the world, and were much celebrated for their luxury. In the time of our Saviour it was probably a city of much splendor and extensive commerce. It is now called Seide, or Saide, and is far less populous and splendid than it was in the time of Christ. It was subdued successively by the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Romans, the latter of whom deprived it of its freedom.
Messrs. Fisk and King, American missionaries, passed through Sidon in the summer of 1823, and estimated the population, as others have estimated it, at 8,000 or 10,000; but Mr. Goodell, another American missionary, took up his residence there in June, 1824, for the purpose of studying the Armenian language with a bishop of the Armenian Church who lives there, and of course had far better opportunities to know the statistics of the place. He tells us there are six Muslim mosques, a Jewish synagogue, a Maronite, Latin, and Greek church. Dr. Thomson (“The Land and the Book,” vol. i. p. 164) supposes that the population may now be about 10,000 – about 6,800 Moslems, 850 Greek Catholics, 750 Maronites, 150 Greeks, and 300 Jews. It exports tobacco, oil, fruit, and silk, but the amount of exports is small.
Tyre was situated about 20 miles south of Sidon. It was built partly on a small island about 70 paces from the shore, and partly on the mainland. It was a city of great extent and splendor, and extensive commerce. It abounded in luxury and wickedness. It was often besieged. It held out against Shalmaneser five years, and was taken by Nebuchadnezzar after a siege of “thirteen” years. It was afterward rebuilt, and was at length taken by Alexander the Great, after a most obstinate siege of five months. There are no signs now of the ancient city. It is the residence only of a few miserable fishermen, and contains, amid the ruins of its former magnificence, only a few huts. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel: “Thou shalt be built no more; though thou be sought for, yet shalt thou never be found again” Eze_26:21.
In sackcloth and ashes – Sackcloth was a coarse cloth, like canvas, used for the dress of the poor, and for the more common articles of domestic economy. It was worn also as a sign of mourning. The Jews also frequently threw ashes on their heads as expressive of grief, Job_1:21; Job_2:12; Jer_6:26. The meaning is, that they would have repented with “expressions of deep sorrow.” Like Nineveh, they would have seen their guilt and danger, and would have turned from their iniquities. “Heathen” cities would have received him better than the cities of the Jews, his native land,
And thou, Capernaum (Mat_4:13, note), which art exalted unto heaven; Shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? (Revised Version); Μὴ ἕως οὐρανοῦ ὑψωθήσῃ; i.e. Shalt thou be raised high in public estimation, as thou thinkest, who art so proud of thy share in the busy and gay life on the lakeside?
Shalt be brought down to hell; thou shalt go down unto Hades (Revised Version). The change of voice in the two clauses (ὑψωθήση … καταβήσῃ) may imply that if thou ‘art indeed raised, it will be by Another; but if thou fallest, it will be by thyself. Observe that our Lord’s words are an adaptation of Isaiah’s address to the King of Babylon (Isa_14:13-15).
For if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom (transposed in the Revised Version, as in verse 21), it would have remained until this day. In this verso the stress lies on the effect of the moral attitude; in verse 21, on the moral attitude itself.
And thou, Capernaum – See the notes at Mat_4:13.
Which art exalted to heaven – This is an expression used to denote great privileges. He meant that they were especially favored with instruction. The city was prosperous. It was signally favored by its wealth. Most of all, it was signally favored by the presence, the preaching, and the miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here he spent a large portion of his time in the early part of his ministry, and in Capernaum and its neighborhood he performed his chief miracles.
Shalt be brought down to hell – This does not mean that all the people would go to hell, but that the city which had flourished so prosperously would lose its prosperity, and occupy the “lowest place” among cities. The word “hell” is used here, not to denote a place of punishment in the future world, but a state of “desolation and destructions.” It stands in contrast with the word “heaven.” As their being exalted to heaven did not mean that the “people” would all be saved or dwell in heaven, so their being brought down to “hell” refers to the desolation of the “city.” Their privileges, honors, wealth, etc., would be taken away, and they would sink as low among cities as they had been before exalted. This has been strictly fulfilled. In the wars between the Jews and the Romans, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, etc., were so completely desolated that it is difficult to determine their former situation. See the notes at Mat_4:13. It is not to be denied, also, that he threatened future punishment on those who rejected him. The truth inculcated is, that those who are especially favored will be punished accordingly if they abuse their privileges.
If the mighty works …had been done in Sodom – See the notes at Mat_10:15. Sodom was destroyed on account of its great wickedness. Christ says if his miracles had been performed there, they would have repented, and consequently the city would not have been destroyed. As it was, it would be better for Sodom in the day of judgment than for Capernaum, for its inhabitants would not be called to answer for the abuse of so great privileges.
But – it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom – Γη Σοδομων, the land of the Sodomites; i.e. the ancient inhabitants of that city and its neighborhood.
In Jude, Jud_1:7, we are told that these persons are suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah happened A. M. 2107, which was 1897 years before the incarnation. What a terrible thought is this! It will be more tolerable for certain sinners, who have already been damned nearly four thousand years, than for those who, live and die infidels under the Gospel! There are various degrees of punishments in hell, answerable to various degrees of guilt, and the contempt manifested to, and the abuse made of; the preaching of the Gospel, will rank semi-infidel Christians in the highest list of transgressors, and purchase them the hottest place in hell! Great God! save the reader from this destruction!
Day of judgment – May either refer to that particular time in which God visits for iniquity, or to that great day in which he will judge the world by the Lord Jesus Christ. The day of Sodom’s judgment was that in which it was destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven, Gen_19:24; and the day of judgment to Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, was the time in which they were destroyed by the Romans, Mat_11:23. But there is a day of final judgment, when Hades itself, (sinners in a state of partial punishment in the invisible world) shall be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, which is the second death. See Rev_20:14.
At that season Jesus answered and said (en ekeinōi tōi kairōi apokritheis eipen). Spoke to his Father in audible voice. The time and place we do not know. But here we catch a glimpse of Jesus in one of his moods of worship. “It is usual to call this golden utterance a prayer, but it is at once prayer, praise, and self-communing in a devout spirit” (Bruce). Critics are disturbed because this passage from the Logia of Jesus or Q of Synoptic criticism (Mat_11:25-30; Luk_10:21-24) is so manifestly Johannine in spirit and very language, “the Father” (ho patēr), “the son” (ho huios), whereas the Fourth Gospel was not written till the close of the first century and the Logia was written before the Synoptic Gospels. The only satisfying explanation lies in the fact that Jesus did have this strain of teaching that is preserved in John’s Gospel. Here he is in precisely the same mood of elevated communion with the Father that we have reflected in John 14-17. Even Harnack is disposed to accept this Logion as a genuine saying of Jesus. The word “thank” (homologoumai) is better rendered “praise” (Moffatt). Jesus praises the Father “not that the sophoi were ignorant, but that the nēpioi knew” (McNeile).
I thank thee – Εξομολογουμαι σοι, I fully agree with thee – I am perfectly of the same mind. Thou hast acted in all things according to the strictest holiness, justice, mercy, and truth.
Wise and prudent – The scribes and Pharisees, vainly puffed up by their fleshly minds, and having their foolish hearts darkened, refusing to submit to the righteousness of God (God’s method of saving man by Christ) and going about to establish their own righteousness, (their own method of saving themselves), they rejected God’s counsel, and God sent the peace and salvation of the Gospel to others, called here babes, (his disciples), simple-hearted persons, who submitted to be instructed and saved in God’s own way. Let it be observed, that our Lord does not thank the Father that he had hidden these things from the wise and prudent, but that, seeing they were hidden from them, he had revealed them to the others.
There is a remarkable saying in the Talmudists, which casts light upon this: “Rab. Jochanan said: ‘From the time in which the temple was destroyed, wisdom was taken away from the prophets, and given to fools and children.’ Bava Bathra, fol. 12. Again: ‘In the days of the Messiah, every species of wisdom, even the most profound, shall, be revealed; and this even to children.’” Synop. Sohar. fol. 10.
Even so; yea (Revised Version); ναί. A renewed acceptance of the immediately preceding facts. Father. In Mat_11:25, Πάτερ: here, ὁΠατήρ. There the term referred more directly to God as his own Father; here to him as Father of all, notwithstanding the methods he used.
For. Giving the reason of Christ’s acceptance. That would make this clause closely dependent on the preceding. But this seems unnatural. So; i.e. in this double method.
It seemed good (it was well-pleasing, Revised Version) in thy sight (εὐδοκία ἐγένετο); literally, it was good pleasure before thee—an Aramaism equivalent to “it was thy will” (compare the Targum of Jdg_13:23; 1Sa_12:22 [וי מדק אוער]; see also Mat_18:14). The phrase implies, not merely that it seemed good to God, but that, in a sense, it was his pleasure. For the workings out of the laws of truth must give pleasure to the God of truth. (On the aorist ἐγένετο, see Mat_11:25, note.)
All things. Not in the widest sense, for this would forestall Mat_28:18 but all things that are required for my work of manifesting the truth. The utterance is thus both closely parallel to Joh_8:28, and also in most intimate connexion with the preceding verses. God’s twofold action in hiding the truth from some and revealing it to others is, our Lord says, all of a piece with my whole work. This is all arranged by my Father, and the knowledge of God by any man is no chance matter.
Are delivered unto me; have been delivered (Revised Version); rather, were delivered (παρεδόθη). Here also it is possible to interpret the aorist from the standpoint of the hereafter (Joh_8:25, note); but, as it is immediately followed by the present tense, it more probably refers to some time earlier than that at which our Lord was speaking. The time of his entrance on the world naturally suggests itself. Observe when bringing out his dependence upon his Father, our Lord lays stress on the notion of transmission (παρεδόθη); but in Mat_28:18, where he is bringing out his post-resurrection greatness (Php_2:9), he merely mentions his authority as an absolute gift (ἐδόθη). Notice the contrast implied in παρεδόθη to the Jewish παράδοσις. The Pharisees boasted that their tradition came from God, though through many hands; Christ claimed to have received his from God himself.
Of (ὑπό). For the transmission was immediate; there were no links between the Giver and the Receiver (cf. Bishop Lightfoot, on Gal_1:12).
My Father; me … my. Observe the double claim; his unique position as Teacher is due to his unique relation by nature.
And no man knoweth; i.e. with a gradual, but at last complete, perception (ἐπιγινώσκει). In the Gospels this word is used of the knowledge of God and of Christ in this verse alone, though such a reference is especially suited to its meaning of perfection of know. ledge (cf. Bishop Lightfoot, Col_1:9).
The Son. Not “me,” because Christ wished to bring out more clearly his unique relation to God, and thus to emphasize the impossibility of any one, even an advanced disciple, fully knowing him.
But the Father. Not “his Father.” It may be that Christ wishes to include the suggestion that after all there is a sense in which his Father is the Father of all men, but more probably, by making ὁπατήρ completely parallel to ὁυἱός, he wishes to suggest that the full idea of Sonship and Fatherhood is nowhere else so fully satisfied. Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. The connexion is—You may think this (i.e. verse 25) strange, but I alone have that knowledge of God which enables me to understand his ways; I alone, yet others also, if I reveal him to them. As St. Luke expressed it in his form of our verse 19, “Wisdom is justified of her children” (comp. also Joh_14:9).
To whomsoever. Though but a babe (verse 25).
Will reveal; willeth to reveal (Revised Version); βούληται … ἀποκαλύψαι. Not “is commanded,” for Christ claims equality (see Chrysostom). Notice the idea of plan and deliberation, and not that of mere desire, unable, perhaps, to assign a reason for its existence (θέλω); cf. Phm_1:13, Phm_1:14.
Come unto me – This phrase in the new covenant implies simply, believing in Christ, and becoming his disciple, or follower.
All ye that labor and are heavy laden – The metaphor here appears to be taken from a man who has a great load laid upon him, which he must carry to a certain place: every step he takes reduces his strength, and renders his load the more oppressive. However, it must be carried on; and he labors, uses his utmost exertions, to reach the place where it is to be laid down. A kind person passing by, and, seeing his distress, offers to ease him of his load, that he may enjoy rest.
The Jews, heavily laden with the burdensome rites of the Mosaic institution, rendered still more oppressive by the additions made by the scribes and Pharisees, who, our Lord says, (Mat_23:4), bound on heavy burdens; and laboring, by their observance of the law, to make themselves pleasing to God, are here invited to lay down their load, and receive the salvation procured for them by Christ.
Sinners, wearied in the ways of iniquity, are also invited to come to this Christ, and find speedy relief.
Penitents, burdened with the guilt of their crimes, may come to this Sacrifice, and find instant pardon.
Believers, sorely tempted, and oppressed by the remains of the carnal mind, may come to this blood, that cleanseth from all unrighteousness; and, purified from all sin, and powerfully succored in every temptation, they shall find uninterrupted rest in this complete Savior.
All are invited to come, and all are promised rest. If few find rest from sin and vile affections, it is because few come to Christ to receive it.
Come unto me (deute pros me). Mat_11:28-30 are not in Luke and are among the special treasures of Matthew’s Gospel. No sublimer words exist than this call of Jesus to the toiling and the burdened (pephortismenoi, perfect passive participle, state of weariness) to come to him. He towers above all men as he challenges us. “I will refresh you” (k’ago anapausō hūmas). Far more than mere rest, rejuvenation. The English slang expression “rest up” is close to the idea of the Greek compound anȧpauō. It is causative active voice.
“These words, as recorded by St. Matthew, the Evangelist of the Jews, must have sunk the deeper into the hearts of Christ’s Jewish hearers, that they came in their own old, familiar form of speech, yet with such contrast of spirit. One of the most common figurative expressions of the time was that of the yoke for submission to an occupation or obligation. Very instructive for the understanding of the figure is this paraphrase of Cant. 1:10: ‘How beautiful is their neck for bearing the yoke of thy statutes; and it shall be upon them like the yoke on the neck of the ox that plougheth in the field and provideth food for himself and his master.’
“The public worship of the ancient synagogue commenced with a benediction, followed by the shema (Hear, O Israel) or creed, composed of three passages of scripture: Deu_6:4-9; Deu_11:13-21; Num_15:37-41. The section Deu_6:4-9 was said to precede Deu_11:13-21, so that we might take upon ourselves the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, and only after that the yoke of the commandments. The Saviour’s words must have had a special significance to those who remembered this lesson; and they would now understand how, by coming to the Saviour, they would first take on them the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, and then that of the commandments, finding this yoke easy and the burden light” (Edersheim, “Life and Times of Jesus,” and “Jewish Social Life”).
See on Mat_5:5.
The word has a history. In the classics it is used commonly in a bad and degrading sense, of meanness of condition, lowness of rank, and cringing abjectness and baseness of character. Still, even in classical Greek, this is not its universal usage. It is occasionally employed in a way which foreshadows its higher sense. Plato, for instance, says, “To that law (of God) he would be happy who holds fast, and follows it in all humility and order; but he who is lifted up with pride, or money, or honor, or beauty, who has a soul hot with folly, and youth, and insolence, and thinks that he has no need of a guide or ruler, but is able himself to be the guide of others, he, I say, is left deserted of God” (“Laws,” 716). And Aristotle says: “He who is worthy of small things, and deems himself so, is wise” (“Nich. Ethics,” iv., 3). At best, however, the classical conception is only modesty, absence of assumption. It is an element of wisdom and in no way opposed to self-righteousness (see Aristotle above).
The word for the Christian virtue of humility (ταπεινοφροσύνη), was not used before the Christian era, and is distinctly an outgrowth of the Gospel. This virtue is based upon a correct estimate of our actual littleness, and is linked with a sense of sinfulness. True greatness is holiness. We are little because sinful. Compare Luk_18:14. It is asked how, in this view of the case, the word can be applied to himself by the sinless Lord? “The answer is,” says Archbishop Trench, “that for the sinner humility involves the confession of sin, inasmuch as it involves the confession of his true condition; while yet for the unfallen creature the grace itself as truly exists, involving for such the acknowledgment, not of sinfulness, which would be untrue, but of creatureliness, of absolute dependence, of having nothing, but receiving all things of God. And thus the grace of humility belongs to the highest angel before the throne, being as he is a creature, yea, even to the Lord of Glory himself. In his human nature he must be the pattern of all humility, of all creaturely dependence; and it is only as a man that Christ thus claims to be lowly; his human life was a constant living on the fulness of his Father’s love; he evermore, as man, took the place which beseemed the creature in the presence of its Creator” (“Synonyms,” p. 145). The Christian virtue regards man not only with reference to God, but to his fellow-man. In lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself (Phi_2:3, Rev.). But this is contrary to the Greek conception of justice or righteousness, which was simply “his own to each one.” It is noteworthy that neither the Septuagint, the Apocrypha, nor the New Testament recognize the ignoble classical sense of the word.
Ye shall find (εὑρήσετε)
Compare I will give you and ye shall find. The rest of Christ is twofold – given and found. It is given in pardon and reconciliation. It is found under the yoke and the burden; in the development of Christian experience, as more and more the “strain passes over” from self to Christ. “No other teacher, since the world began, has ever associated learn with rest. ‘Learn of me,’ says the philosopher, ‘and you shall find restlessness.’ ‘Learn of me,’ says Christ, ‘and you shall find rest’” (Drummond, “Natural Law in the Spiritual World”).
Take my yoke upon you and learn of me (arate ton zugon mou eph’humas kai mathete ap’emou). The rabbis used yoke for school as many pupils find it now a yoke. The English word “school” is Greek for leisure (scholē). But Jesus offers refreshment (anapausin) in his school and promises to make the burden light, for he is a meek and humble teacher. Humility was not a virtue among the ancients. It was ranked with servility. Jesus has made a virtue of this vice. He has glorified this attitude so that Paul urges it (Phi_2:3), “in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself.” In portions of Europe today people place yokes on the shoulders to make the burden easier to carry. Jesus promises that we shall find the yoke kindly and the burden lightened by his help. “Easy” is a poor translation of chrēstos. Moffatt puts it “kindly.” That is the meaning in the Septuagint for persons. We have no adjective that quite carries the notion of kind and good. The yoke of Christ is useful, good, and kindly. Cf. Son_1:10.
Not a satisfactory rendering. Christ’s yoke is not easy in the ordinary sense of that word. The word means originally, good, serviceable. The kindred noun, χρηστότης, occurring only in Paul’s writings, is rendered kindness in 2Co_6:6; Tit_3:4; Gal_5:22; Eph_2:7 (Rev.), and goodness, Rom_2:4 (Rev.). At Luk_5:39, it is used of old wine, where the true reading, instead of better, is good (χρηστός), mellowed with age. Plato (“Republic,” 424) applies the word to education. “Good nurture and education (τροφὴ γὰρ καὶ παίδευσις χρηστὴ) implant good (ἀγαθὰς) constitutions; and these good (χρησταὶ) constitutions improve more and more;” thus evidently using χρηστός and ἀγαθός as synonymous. The three meanings combine in the word, though it is impossible to find an English word which combines them all. Christ’s yoke is wholesome, serviceable, kindly. “Christ’s yoke is like feathers to a bird; not loads, but helps to motion” (Jeremy Taylor).