What does Matthew 11:23 mean?
ESV: And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
NIV: And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.
NASB: And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will be brought down to Hades! For if the miracles that occurred in you had occurred in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.
CSB: And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today.
NLT: And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead. For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today.
KJV: And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
NKJV: And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Verse Commentary:
Jesus is speaking of judgment to come on some of the cities of Israel, specifically in the region of Galilee where He has performed many powerful miracles of healing and casting out demons. These people should have responded to Jesus in repentance; instead, they've chosen rejection. To this, Christ declared that if the same evidence had been given to idol-worshippers like those in the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon (Joel 3:4; Ezekiel 27:1–9; 28:21–23), the pagans would have repented (Matthew 11:22). This demonstrates that God's omniscience includes all possible outcomes from all possible situations.

Now Jesus condemns Capernaum, His own adopted hometown on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:12–13). He immediately answers His own rhetorical question, saying that the city will be brought down to Hades. Many of Jesus' Jewish audience would have been reminded of Isaiah's condemnation of Babylon in Isaiah 14:15: "But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit." Babylon may have been the definition of an evil city, and here Jesus is describing Capernaum as sharing the same fate.

If the comparison to Baal worshippers was offensive, what Jesus says next would have been outright shocking. Sodom was a city destroyed by God for the arrogance and sinfulness of the people (Genesis 19). Every Jewish person listening to Christ in this moment would have known the story of God raining down fire to annihilate that debauched city from the land. Sodom is used throughout the Old Testament as a symbol of depravity, evil, and corruption (Genesis 13:13).

What is it that could possibly make Capernaum so evil in the eyes of God? Jesus says that if the same powerful miracles performed by Jesus in Capernaum had been done for the people of Sodom, God never would have destroyed it. The people would have repented from their sin. For a people often raised—incorrectly—to believe they were uniquely moral (Matthew 3:9), this would have been a cutting remark.

Capernaum was given the unimaginable privilege of being known as the adopted hometown of the Son of God on earth. Jesus chose to settle there and performed mighty miracles: healing and casting out demons and even raising the dead. Still most of the people there did not repent from sin and believe that He was the Messiah.
Verse Context:
Matthew 11:20–24 contains Jesus' pronouncement of judgment on the Jewish cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. The people of those cities saw the powerful miracles of Jesus with their own eyes, but they did not repent. Demonstrating godly knowledge of both what is, as well as what could have been, Jesus notes that wicked, pagan Gentile cities such as Tyre and Sidon would have repented in the same circumstances. He quips that these Gentiles will find God's judgment more bearable than Chorazin and Bethsaida will. Sodom would not have been wiped out if they had seen Jesus do what Capernaum saw. Sodom's judgment will be more tolerable than that of Capernaum.
Chapter Summary:
John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask if Jesus is really the Messiah. Jesus gives them a specific answer to use to reassure John and then upholds John to the crowds. John fulfills the prophecy about the one who would prepare the people for the Messiah. This generation, though, refused to hear John or Jesus, deciding John had a demon and Jesus was a glutton and drunkard. Jesus condemns the cities that refuse to repent and thanks the Father for revealing the truth to little children. He offers rest for those who are weary and burdened.
Chapter Context:
Matthew 11 follows Jesus' instructions to the apostles about taking His message and miracles to the towns of Israel with His own continued ministry of teaching (Matthew 10). Jesus answers a question from John the Baptist's followers, and upholds John's ministry. Jesus condemns several cities in Galilee for rejecting His teaching, despite obvious signs. He thanks His Father for hiding the truth from those who arrogantly think they are wise. He offers rest for those who will take His yoke. This leads to further confrontations with critics, recorded in chapter 12.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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