2020-1-24

马太福音11章读经分享
Scroll down for English edition

内容观摩:此前分享过登山宝训,登山宝训的学生限于门徒。其他人即使有幸躬逢其盛,听过以后,也不会明白主在教导些甚。对比登山宝训,马太福音第11章记录主耶稣对“众人”说的话。借中华古人“壹引其纲,万目皆张”,攻太11内容之玉,太11的“纲”是,这里的众人是社会的“聪明通达人”,而不是主所呼召跟从他的门徒。这是理解的关键(“纲”)之一。还要注意,11章,甚至上文第10章,内容是差传。主差遣门徒作差传实习(10:5),“耶稣吩咐完了十二个门徒,就离开那里,往各城去传道教训人”(1),应当是他与门徒们暂时分开,他自己单独进入民间传道教训人,可见救人灵魂的迫切。

施洗约翰(2-15)

施洗约翰其人,七百多年前就被先知以赛亚预言(10),被天使预告“他在主面前将要为大……从母腹里就被圣灵充满”(路1:15。注意,圣灵赐下这节经文作为正确理解太11的另外一个重要信息)。作为主的先驱,他在浑浑噩噩的民中首先宣讲说:“天国近了,你们应当悔改”(太3:2),主耶稣其后用完全相同的信息开始祂在地上的事工(4:17),也吩咐门徒宣讲同样的信息(10:7)。他向世界宣告基督耶稣:“看哪,神的羔羊,除去世人罪孽的。”(约1:29)他自己因为传道而名声鹊起(路3),却在当时仍是名不见经传的主耶稣跟前极为谦卑(仆人丰姿)。他高举基督说:“但那在我以后来的,能力比我更大,我就是给他提鞋,也不配。”(3:11)“祂必兴旺,我必衰微。”(约3:30)他以先来者的身份,谦卑地为后来的主耶稣施洗(3:14-15);他否认自己是以利亚(约1:21),主耶稣却将以利亚和他相比(14),说他是众先知和律法时代的终结(13)……这个时代的终结,是历史上最伟大新时代的开始:新时代,由施洗约翰铺平道路,让道成肉身的救主耶稣带来救恩。所有旧约先知们的弥赛亚预言,百分之百地集中透过施洗约翰的事工应验。

主的信息

耶稣对“众人”,而不是门徒,这样讲论施洗约翰:“9你们出去,究竟是为什么,是要看先知吗?我告诉你们,是的,他比先知大多了。10经上记着说,我要差遣我的使者在你前面,预备道路。所说的就是这个人。”先知,久违了。自打以色列被掳归回,先知玛拉基责备以色列的不敬虔后,几百年来,神在以色列再没有兴起先知。所以,听说出现新先知,民众有来找他认罪、施洗的(3:5-7),但也有出来的目的,不过是好奇,甚至是猜忌。主对这些来“看先知”(而不是认罪受洗)的民众说:“11我实在告诉你们,凡妇人所生的,没有一个兴起来大过施洗约翰的。然而天国里最小的,比他还大。”

这句话或者叫人困惑。一个至死忠心的仆人,不是要承受冠冕的么?(启2:10)然后,这句话还叫人猜想:天国里,莫非好像天主教般分大小?这不是主批评的么?(可9:34,太23:8-12)还可以联想下去:施洗约翰能进天国么?众旧约先知能进天国么……这些当然是荒诞的想法,不过,如果天国里最小的比施洗约翰还大,好家伙,逻辑上不也比众先知大?但亚伯拉罕不也在天国么?(路16:24-26)

思考笔记

如果我们不作本文起首的观摩而只是注目在11节,当然会有以上猜想,结论最多是“不知道”,或“这话甚难,谁能听呢?……从此他门徒中多有退去的,不再和他同行。”(参约6:60-66)果然如此,则亏莫大焉。但如果仔细观察和思考,我们发现,这节经文,正是主“传道教训人”的内容中心内容。主使用施洗约翰作为切入点,把天国的讯息传开,呼吁看热闹的罪人们悔改。

主首先高度肯定施洗约翰。他不但是先知,而且是比众先知还大的先知(“是的,他比先知大多了”一句,原文有连接词kai.,应作“是的,并且他比先知大多了”)。先知,在以色列历史中,宣讲神的话语(申18:18),为民祷告求神赦免(创20:7)。这些硬着颈项的众人,堕落到只出来作壁上观,对施洗约翰评头品足,只为幸灾乐祸凑热闹而不是悔改。

更进一步,主告诉他们施洗约翰是如何一位伟大的先知。他七百年前被先知以赛亚预言,作为神拣选为仆人、带着为救世主预备道路的特别使命来到世间。现在他因为刚正不阿、不肯依附权贵而身陷牢狱。11节是中心信息:虽然如此,但主确认,“我实在告诉你们,凡妇人所生的,没有一个兴起来大过施洗约翰的……”。

谁是妇人生的?“妇人生的”,代表不能承受神的国的血肉之体(参林前15:50),就是这些带着玩梗的心看热闹不肯悔改的人。而圣徒,包括施洗约翰本人,是从圣灵生的(各1:18)。主说,别看他现在下在牢狱,你们这些锦衣玉食终日嬉游属血气的,没有一个人比得上他。

“然而天国里最小的,比他还大。”宣扬天国的信息,正是主耶稣降临世界的目的。这句话,是属天国的生命与血肉之体作对比的意象(imagery)。主说话,有直接了当的宣扬,也用比喻作教导。如果是比喻,就不宜单从字句理解(literal interpretation)。主用这比喻,让那些顽梗的民众看见天上和地下的强烈反差:既然在罪中不肯悔改的的你们没人比得上施洗约翰,在天上即使最小的,当然比你们都大。这里,施洗约翰被主用作比喻,一个意象的中介,在这里主耶稣丝毫没有把施洗约翰与天上的谁谁相比较的意思。路1:15天使报说施洗约翰 “在主面前将要为大”,神不自相矛盾。

天国里最小的

天国里,也和地上一般有“大”与“小”吗?应当是有的。事实是,在天国,神的羔羊永远为绝对至大。“此后,我听见好像群众在天上大声说,哈利路亚,救恩,荣耀,权能,都属乎我们的神。”(启19:1)在神面前,天上众圣都是“最小的”,旧约众先知和比先知更大的施洗约翰,当然都恭列在这“最小的”当中赞美救主基督。除此外,我想不起圣经中有关于天国里谁大谁小的教导,只记得门徒们争论“谁为大”,但那不是天国中事了。

11章补遗

*  旧约先知们传讲悔改,民众当耳边风;今主耶稣以神子之尊亲自宣讲,还“行了许多异能,那些城的人终不悔改”。(20)人心顽梗,但主因此欢乐(路10:21)而有25-26的祷告。我们传福音,若有果效自然欢乐;若没甚果效,效法基督的欢乐

*  英文版12节,不同版本有不同翻译(例如NIV与NKJ)。希腊原文可以作如此不同翻译,两种翻译与上下文皆无冲突。路16:16似乎更支持和合本/NIV的翻译。查经之趣,可俾管窥。
(NIV: From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.)
(NKJ: And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.)

 

Matthew 11:1-30

Observation: we have shared Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon is exclusively for the disciples, and others will not understand the teaching even if they have chance to listen. Contrary to the Sermon, Matthew 11 is spoken to “the crowd” with John the Baptist as the center topic. We follow this fact as a hint to understand the content of this chapter. Moreover, it should remind that the spiritual ambient is evangelism. In chapter 10 the Lord sent his disciple to the evangelistic practical training (10:5). As for himself, “After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.” (1) implying that he temporarily parts with the disciples and performs a solo to preach the good news in the towns, reflecting that the challenge is urgent.

The Baptist (2-15)

John the Baptist was prophesied by Isaiah seven some hundred years ago, announced by angel that “he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” (Luk 1:15. Note that this is another important message to help us correctly understand this chapter) being the forerunner of Christ, he preached the message “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”, which the Lord preaches the same identical message later when he starts his ministry. (4:17) He also requires the disciples to preach the same message. (10:7) It was the Baptist who introduced Christ the Savior to the world, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Joh 1:29) He became famous as an evangelist, and yet he was so humble to Jesus who was little known at the same time. He exalted Jesus by declaring: “But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.” (3:11) “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30). Being the forerunner, he baptized Christ with great humility. (3:14-15) He denied that he was Elijah (Joh 1:21)。 The Lord, however, compared the great prophet with him (14), concluding that “ For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” (13) The Baptist brought forth the greatest era in history. He prepared the way of the Lord for him to enter the new era of the jubilee year of salvation. To summarize, all prophecies in the O.T. pointing to the coming Messiah materialized on the Baptist.

The Lord’s Message

The Lord thus comments the Baptist to the crowd. “Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’” (9-10) There has not been a single prophet in centuries ever since Malachi. It is no surprise that upon hearing the raise of a prophet, people go out to the prophet. Some of them go to confess their sins and baptize. (3:5-7) And some go to see with different motivations. They may be curious, and others may even come with envy and suspicion.  Now before these people the Lord declares: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Upon reading the statement we may be confused. Wouldn’t the Lord will give the faithful, even to the point of death, the crown of life? (Rev 2:10) Then our imagination gets wild. Are there ranks in the kingdom of heaven such that some are greater and others less great? If the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the Baptist, can the Baptist go to the kingdom of heaven? What about the other prophets since they are not as great? We intellectually realize this as ridiculous. For Abraham the prophet is in the kingdom of heaven. (Luk 16:24-26) How, then, can we reconcile these logics in conflict?

Study Notes

If we only focus on v. 11, it naturally induces the confusion as listed above. And likely we will reach a conclusion: I don’t know, or, even worse as it is written, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”  (Joh 6:60-66) However, if we continue to go forward on this narrow way in prayer, by asking, seeking, and knocking, we will enter the small gate of heaven. A careful analysis on the context leads us to believe that v.11 is the core of the Lord’s message. Using the Baptist as a breaking point, the Lord preaches to the crowd about the greatness of the kingdom of heaven for them to repent.

The Lord, first of all, affirms that not only the Baptist is a prophet, but also more than a prophet. (9) In the Israel history, prophets as the mouth of God announced the oracles from above (Deut 28:18) and pray for sinners for forgiveness of sins (Gen 20:7). But the crowd comes to the Baptist not for confession and repent.

Prophesied by Isaiah seven some years ago, chosen by God as a servant to prepare the way of the Lord, now he is put to jail for his uprightness. Verse 11 now is the center message: even so, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.”

“Born of women” represents the perishable flesh and blood that cannot inherit the kingdom of God. (I Cor 15:50) In this context it points to the crowd that refuses to repent. Saints, including the Baptist, were born again by the Holy Spirit. (Jam 1:18)Although now he appears to be a jailer, none in the crowd, who belongs to the flesh, is greater than him.

The Lord continues: “yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” This is the monumental declaration of the kingdom of heaven in comparison to the first half mentioning about the fleshly who are born of women. The Lord speaks directly or indirectly. The former delivers messages clearly. For the latter, he uses parables. In this case, literal interpretation is discouraged. The parable shows the crowd a sharp contrast between heaven and earth as: since none of you is greater than the Baptist, anyone in the kingdom of heaven is undoubtedly greater than all of you who do not want to repent. John the Baptist serves as a medium in this message, through him the comparison of heaven and earth is vividly present. Therefore, we conclude that in v.11 the Lord has no plan calculated to compare the Baptist to any one in the kingdom of heaven. Recall that in Luk 1:15 in which the angel acknowledged that the Baptist “will be great in the sight of the Lord.” He still is. God never contradicts Himself.

The Least in the Kingdom of Heaven

Is there such thing as ranking in the kingdom of heaven as do in the earthly nations? The answer is “yes” biblically, and we all are aware of that the Lamb of God is forever the absolute greatest there. “After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.” (Rev. 19:1) In that context, as a heavenly congregation, we humbly confess that we all are the least of the kingdom of heaven. Praising God ceaselessly, the O.T. prophets, including John the Baptist, are all “the least in the kingdom of heaven.”

Side note on v.12
Different versions offer various translations in two major streams exemplified as shown below. The Greek original supports both. Luke 16:16, including its Greek text, seems to incline to the NIV rendering.
(NIV: From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.)
(NKJ: And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.)          —- David Yip

 

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