Matthew 11:3 – John Has Doubts

By Wayne Jackson

Due to his courageous denunciation of Herod’s adulterous liaison with Herodias (Mk. 6:17ff), John the Baptizer was thrown in prison. In that lonely confinement, John heard of the “works of Christ.” He sent a message to Jesus, asking: “Are you he that comes, or should we be looking for another?” (Mt. 11:3).

When John asks: “Shall we look for another?” he employs the term heteros, which suggests “another of a different sort.” Had the Lord not fulfilled John’s expectations? Had the Baptizer hoped that Jesus would be a different kind of ruler, and perhaps usher in a political regime?

This was a longing entertained by many Jews (cf. Jn. 6:15; Acts 1:6). This is a distinct possibility. In your margin, note the significance of heteros.

This text demonstrates that even a great and brave person can have moments of confusion. Earlier, John had emphatically affirmed his confidence in Jesus as the Son of God (Jn. 1:29ff). But the great prophet has gone through much trial. His faith was being sorely tested (or perhaps more accurately, his patience).

Why was he in this dismal prison? Where was the judgment that Christ promised to render upon evil-doers? John had honest inquiries, and he was not afraid to pose them. We can be assured that when we have troubling questions it does not mean that we have lost faith; it just means we need some answers.

Jesus told John to compare his miracles with what the Scriptures had prophesied (see Isa. 35; 61). The evidence for the identity of Christ was compelling. Old Testament prophecy is adequate to prove the Lord’s divine nature. Note this point.

This context also contains subtle evidence for the inspiration of the Scriptures. John is one of the heroes of the New Testament. It is not likely that one, as great as he, would be described in this slightly negative way if the writer had been left to his own journalistic inclination. In fact, many scholars, seeking to exonerate the Baptizer, have suggested that John’s disciples had the problem —not he.

That assertion is negated by the fact that Jesus’ response was to John, and none other (Mt. 11:4). And so, note: Unbiased account; evidence of inspiration.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.