ARE YOU DISILLUSIONED WITH JESUS? by Richard Holdeman for Core Christianity
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”(Matthew 11:2-3)
John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, came in the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah, preaching a baptism of repentance and pointing people to the coming Messiah (Matthew 3:1-12, 11:11-14). John’s bold preaching against the sin of Herod landed him in prison. While John languished in prison, he began to question whether Jesus was doing the work of the Messiah. John sent word through two of his disciples to Jesus, “Are you the Coming One or do we look for another?” Some great commentators like J.C. Ryle and John Calvin find this question so shocking that they attempt to place the nexus of the question with John’s disciples rather than with John. “Certainly the great John could not be questioning Jesus’ legitimacy as the Messiah,” they say. “No, John is here trying to assuage his followers’ doubts by sending them to see Jesus.” The only problem with this argument is the fact that Jesus tells John’s disciples to “Go tell John…” (Matthew 11:4). Clearly this questioning of Jesus’ ministry came from John himself.
John the Baptist was disillusioned by Jesus.
John’s disillusionment with Jesus is surprising because of course, John was the one who recognized the voice of Jesus’ mother, Mary, while John was still in the womb (Luke 1:41). John was the man who baptized Jesus (Matthew 3:13), who saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove on Jesus (Matthew 3:16), who said he was not worthy to untie the sandal strap of Jesus (John 1:27), who said Jesus was going to baptize with the Holy Spirt and fire (Matthew 3:11), who called Jesus “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and who said of Jesus, “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30). There is no question that John knew who Jesus was. The question he is asking Jesus is about what Jesus was doing. In effect, John is saying to Jesus, “Why are you are not acting like the Messiah?” It would be similar to hiring a plumber to fix your pipes. When the plumber arrives, he starts checking all your electrical wiring first. You are tempted to ask, “Are you the plumber or do I look for another.” It’s not a question of WHO he is; it is a question of WHAT he is doing.
If we understand John’s question in this way, we begin to grasp what was going on. John had a particular set of assumptions about what the ministry of the Messiah would be like. In John’s words, “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:10-12, NKJ). John had read his Old Testament. He knew the Messiah was to liberate Israel and rule over the nations with a rod of Iron (Psalm 2). He was fully persuaded that he would see Jesus doing just this. John could not get his head around the fact that what Jesus was actually doing was traveling around the Galilean countryside ministering to poor people. Jesus’ ministry is summarized in many places as being a ministry of preaching the gospel and healing the sick (Matthew 9:35). John was asking, “Where is the unquenchable fire? Where is the judgment? Why are the Romans not thrown off? Why is Herod still on the throne?” Perhaps, more particularly, John wondered, “Why am I still in this horrible prison?”