What does Matthew 11:7 mean?
ESV: As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
NIV: As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: 'What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind?
NASB: As these disciples of John were going away, Jesus began speaking to the crowds about John: 'What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
CSB: As these men were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind?
NLT: As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. 'What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind?
KJV: And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
NKJV: As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
Verse Commentary:
Disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus with a question from their master in prison: Are you the Messiah or should we look for someone else (Matthew 11:1–3)? Jesus apparently was not doing the things John expected the Messiah to do right away. Jesus told John's disciples to go back to him as eyewitnesses of Jesus' activities and with a specific answer. That included quotations from Isaiah showing that Christ's work was exactly what God had predicted (Matthew 11:4–6).

As John's disciples are leaving, Jesus turns to the crowds to talk about John. Instead of dismissing John for his question, Jesus defends John the Baptist for his strength and for fulfilling his mission. Many, many Israelites had gone to see John the Baptist in the wilderness during his preaching and baptizing ministry (Matthew 3:5–6). That number undoubtedly included many who now followed Jesus, since John pointed to Him as the Messiah.

Jesus asks those gathered if they went into the wilderness to see "a reed shaken by the wind." This would bring to mind images of the cane grass that grows along the Jordan River, where John baptized so many Israelites. Those plant stems are thin and weak—but they are also extremely common. Watching reeds blow in the wind would be akin to asking, in modern English, about watching paint dry.

The assumed answer to Jesus' question is "no." The people didn't go into the wilderness to see something weak, or common, or mundane. John the Baptist was known for his strength and even ferocity.
Verse Context:
Matthew 11:1–19 deals with John the Baptist, who is in prison at this point (Matthew 4:12). John sends his own disciples to ask if Jesus is really the Messiah. Jesus gives them an answer and then upholds John to the crowds. He reminds them of John's strength and affirms that John was the prophet who fulfilled the prophecy about the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. This generation, though, rejected John's message of repentance, saying that John had a demon and that Jesus was a glutton and a drunkard. Jesus insists He and John will be proved right in the end.
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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