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Malachi and Elijah: Matthew 11

In Summary:
We come now to Matthew 11. Jesus has sent the Twelve out to preach and has Himself gone to preach. Matthew records His destination as “their cities” (Matthew 11:1) but there are few comments on this. John Chrysostom (cited in the Ancient Christian Commentary series) suggests that Jesus separated Himself from where the Twelve were so that they would have the opportunity of doing the ministry themselves. After all, who talks to Peter if Jesus is available?

Jesus then receives a delegation from John the Baptist. John is in prison but has been keeping up with Jesus and His work. John wants to assure himself that Jesus is the one that he was waiting for, so he asks. Jesus points out the evidence of His ministry and sends the delegation back to John. This is another potential reason Jesus has separated Himself from the Twelve at this time: no one could claim the Twelve were helping Jesus fake anything.

The chapter wraps up with Jesus lamenting over the judgment coming to the unrepentant. He speaks of the generation that hears Him and how they ignored John for his ascetic lifestyle, and how they now condemn Jesus for His non-ascetic lifestyle. Further, the miracles of Jesus will serve to condemn the cities of Israel in the judgment. Why? Because the pagan cities, the Gentile cities, would have responded to the evident grace of God. Living in the presence of God’s grace brings trouble for those who do not respond to it.

In Focus:
Take a good look at Matthew 11:10. Or perhaps at Malachi 3:1, since Jesus quotes Malachi’s prophecy here. (For the record, the only way to quote yourself and not look arrogant is when you are God Almighty. Malachi speaks a prophecy, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit is God, and Jesus is God, then Jesus is quoting Himself, in a Trinitarian sort-of-way.)

Jesus takes Malachi’s prophecy and declares the prediction fulfilled in John the Baptist. Further, in Matthew 11:14, Jesus declares the John is also Elijah who was prophesied to come. In other words, all of the “forerunner” necessities to the coming of the Messiah were taken care of, and in a person who came and was rejected as if he were demon-possessed (Matthew 11:18).

The prophecies, then, were fulfilled in the way God intended. Just because the Pharisees and other religious leaders misunderstood them and then acted badly upon them did not make God unfaithful. Nor did it make God unpredictable—God was as predictable as He intended! People just missed the point.

In Practice:
Practically, I would note a few things. First is on the subject of prophecy in general: just because you think you understand it does not mean you do. The Scribes, et al., thought they had it all down pat. And either they deliberately blinded themselves or they just got it wrong. We would do well to remember that we could get it wrong as well.

Second, still on prophecy, is that we should see that God understands exactly what He meant. Which means that, for example, Jesus will come back at just the right time. No matter what any of us say in objection to it! He could show up tomorrow, though some would argue that Revelation or Daniel or Ezekiel show He shouldn’t have come back yet.

Third is this practicality: God has a plan which runs across the centuries and millennia. It is ours to walk in obedience to Him, with eyes wide open and hearts committed to obedience. Let His plan be what it should, and go out when He says to go. Go forth to where He says to go.

In Nerdiness:
Point 1: “Malachi” means “my messenger” in Hebrew. That means that Malachi 3:1 could read “I will send Malachi” before you…which makes John the Baptist Malachi and Ezekiel. Or, potentially, “Malachi” is a pseudonym for whoever that prophet really was. He served as the “messenger of God” and so worked under the name Malachi. Not a bad thing, really, because it’s not about him. Which is part of why I don’t mind people calling me “pastor” without throwing on a name. I don’t care about the title for me, but it builds an anonymous memory: “We had a pastor who helped us….” Rather than “Doug was awesome.” (Not that I mind being awesome or being called awesome. But I do need the humility.)

Point 2: I am surprised by the lack of comments in commentary on 11:1. I guess there’s just not much to say.

Point 3: “Baptist” should be taken as “Immerser.” Just have to get that plug in for Baptists!

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