Scripture Queries and Answers: Matthew 11:12 and Luke 16:16

Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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A. It is important to pay attention to the place where these passages are found in the gospels. In Matthew, chapter 11 marks the transition from the presentation of Christ to the nation, the Gentiles being excluded. What is found in chapter 10 speaks of this presentation until the return of the Son of man, and the new order of things which took place in consequence of the rejection of Christ. Verses 20-30 of chapter 11 present this change in the most striking manner. The Savior upbraids the cities where He had labored for their deplorable unbelief, and submits to the will of God in this dispensation. This submission opens for His heart the enigma of that grace which appears in all its simplicity, and in all its power.
It is a question of knowing the Father, and the Son alone can reveal Him; but He invites “all that labor and are heavy laden” to come to Him, and He will give them rest. His person, and not Israel, is the center of grace and of the work of grace. He alone reveals the Father. The judgment of Israel is developed in chapter 12, and the mysteries of the kingdom are brought out in chapter 13. On the occasion of this transition we see the testimony of John and that of Christ equally rejected.
This transition is, if possible, still more clearly marked in Luke at the end of chapter 13. The rupture between Jehovah and Jerusalem is complete: the house which belonged to the children of Jerusalem, once the “house of God,” is abandoned, and they will not see the Lord until Psa. 118 is accomplished in their repentance. Then in chapter 14, the change in the ways of God is clearly shown, and the sphere of the activity of His grace is no longer the now-rejected Israel, but the whole world, after having gathered in the poor of the flock of His people. (Ver. 16-24.) Then the ways of God in sovereign grace towards men—towards sinners—are brought out in that treasury of grace and love, which is found in chapter 15.; and in chapter 16., the Lord shows the use that man ought to make of that which he possesses according to nature, being now that which had been particularly proved in Israel—a steward who was dismissed. He should make use of it in grace, in view of the future; instead of enjoying it as a thing possessed in this world. He should think of eternal habitations. It is here that the passage relative to the kingdom and to John the Baptist is found. His mission was the pivot of the change. In this point of view the mission of Christ on the earth—His ministry—was but the complement of that of John the Baptist. Compare Matt. 4:17; 3:217From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17)
2And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 3:2)
. Only the latter sung the doleful dirge of judgment, and the former the joyful song of hope and of grace, just as our chapter explains it to us.
In the passages which occupy us, Matthew speaks as thinking of Israel; Luke, as thinking of all men.
Two great systems of God with respect to the earth are found included in His counsels, and revealed in the word. One depended on the faithfulness of man to the responsibility which weighed upon him, the other on the active power of God.
These are the dispensations of the law and of the kingdom. But there was a moment of transition, when the kingdom was preached, and preached in the midst of Israel by John the Baptist and by Christ, without its having been established in power. The people were put to a moral test as to their use of the right of entering in. For the rest, the Prophets and the Psalms had indeed announced beforehand the character of those who were to have a part in the blessings of the kingdom. See Psa. 15; 24; 37, and many others; Isa. 48:22; 51; 57:21; 66:222There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked. (Isaiah 48:22)
21There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. (Isaiah 57:21)
2For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)
, and a multitude of other passages. The sermon on the mount has put a seal to this testimony by giving it actuality. Now the preaching of the kingdom had for its effect to separate the remnant (namely, those who had ears to hear) from the evil and hypocrisy which reigned in the midst of the people, to prepare them for the entrance of the kingdom, if it had been established in power; and in fact, Christ being rejected, that they might become the nucleus of the assembly which, according to the counsels of God, was about to be revealed. Then the kingdom took the character of sowing and other similar forms, and not that of the kingdom of a king in power, and it continued to be preached as about to come, although the salvation and the glory of the Church were to occupy, from the coming down of the Holy Spirit, the principal place in the doctrine of which the Spirit is the source.
It was therefore at the moment when the relationships of Israel with God by means of the Messiah had become impossible, and when the relationships founded on the law, and maintained by the testimony of the prophets, were drawing to an end, through the publication of the kingdom ready to be established and in a certain sense, present in the person of the King—it was at that moment that the Lord pronounced these words, which we are seeking to render clear to our readers by answering the question which has been here put.
Now, the first thing that these words state is, that “the law and the prophets were until John.” Israel was placed by God on that footing until John's ministry. They had but to observe the law, and to rejoice in the hope given by the prophets, and all was well. This was no longer the case after John. The kingdom was not established; if it had been, the power of God would have settled everything. Order and peace would have reigned; the remnant would have been blessed in the kingdom where the King would have reigned in righteousness. But it was not so; it was preached, and preached by prophets—and by those who were more than prophets—but by prophets who were reviled and rejected, and for whom the wilderness and death were an abode or a reward. The hypocritical nation, a generation of vipers, would have nothing of it. It was only the energy of faith, going through sufferings, which could seize on it. Satan and the heads of the nation would do all they could to prevent people from entering, and even soil their hands with the blood of the righteous. Those who preached the kingdom suffered, and those who entered it were to have their portion with them. The kingdom was not being established in power; the King did not reign; He was preached. It was only by violence that one forced one's way into it. It was the violent ones, those who were not stopped by obstacles and opposition, but who opened to themselves a way through all, these alone it was who were securing a place for themselves. There is only this difference between Matthew and Luke, that Matthew speaks exclusively of the character of those who seize on the kingdom, and the position of the latter, and does not therefore go beyond the application of these thoughts to the Jewish people. Luke had formally spoken of the highways and hedges, and had by his expressions opened the door to the Gentiles without formally pointing to them as the “whomsoever,” so often quoted by Paul. “Every one,” he says, “forces his way into it.” Since it was a matter of preaching and of faith, the Gentile who would listen to the preaching and have that faith would enter in, like any other.
Nevertheless, He only opens the door by a principle, according to the doctrine of that gospel from chapter 4. The parable which follows these verses in Luke goes farther. It decidedly opens heaven, and completely overturns the Jewish system, which made earthly blessings to be a proof of God's favor.