Matthew 11:2-11 – The Question of John the Baptist


Matthew 11:2-11


John the Baptist in prison sends his disciples to ask whether Jesus is really the “one who is to come.” Jesus instructs them to tell John what they have “heard” and “seen” in the preaching of the good news and asserts that anyone who takes no offense at him is truly blessed.


This is a key passage in the movement of the Gospel. With his question, John the Baptist, even though being the prophetic forerunner, illustrates the potential risk of rejecting God’s Messiah and so remaining outside the kingdom (11:7-11). John’s question thus stands as the central question of the Gospel for Matthew’s hearers and for hearers yet today. Is this Jesus whose ministry and mission is announced here really God’s Messiah, or do we keep waiting for another (11:3)? Jesus’ response applies the question not just to John, but to “anyone,” and so the question presses the issue of faith and discipleship in response to the gospel for all.

Two keywords mark Matthew’s consideration of that response. The reference to “offense” is a favored way of talking about faith. The call of Jesus to follow results in either the response of faith or in the “offense” in which one turns away from following this Messiah (14 times in Matthew; often unfortunately translated as “stumbling block” or “temptation”; see for example, 18:6, 8, 9). To recognize that one might respond in faith is once again to know oneself as the object of God’s blessing (see the Beatitudes, 5:1-12; Peter’s confession, 16:16-18; and the blessing of those who understand the parables of the kingdom, 13:16-17). This passage thus marks a kind of watershed in the Gospel. From now on in the narrative (chapters 11-20) we see a growing opposition to Jesus’ ministry and in Jesus’ turning more toward instruction of his disciples, leading up to his ministry in Jerusalem and the Passion Narrative.