God is merciful! This is a wonderful, uplifting, thrilling, and encouraging revelation. It is especially wonderful because it is our only hope of being saved. I think Charles H. Spurgeon was entirely right when he suggested that at this point in His teaching the heaviness that must have been on Jesus as He spoke of God’s judgment on the cities of Galilee lifted a bit and his brow must have cleared. For having spoken of judgment, Jesus turned to the subject of election – to God’s amazing, electing grace – and His words were a prayer, the tone of which is thanksgiving. As Spurgeon says, “with thanksgiving” is the only right way to think about election.
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Mt.11.25).
When we talk about revelation, which is what Jesus says God’s electing grace gives, we need to acknowledge that there are two kinds of revelation. There is a natural or general revelation. This refers to the revelation of certain truths about God in nature. It is the kind of revelation Paul wrote about in Romans 1, saying that it is sufficient to condemn all persons because they do not follow it in order to seek out and worship God. Paul said, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them (vv.18-19). The response of unregenerate persons to this revelation is that “For although they knew God, they did not honor him or give thanks to him” (v.21).
The second kind of revelation, the kind Jesus actually speaks of here, is a personal or specific revelation by God to an individual as a result of which that person turns from sin and trusts Jesus Christ. Jesus says several important things about it: (1) the Gospel – He calls it “these things” – is known to God only, since He alone is its author; (2) no one knows what God knows except Jesus, because the Gospel has been committed to Him by God and because, being God’s Son, He alone knows the Father; (3) it is the Father’s pleasure that the Son should reveal Him to those the Son chooses.
This is an astonishing series of statements. In the first of these brief paragraphs the revelation is said to be given by God and according to God’s “good pleasure,” while in the second paragraph the same revelation is said to be given at the discretion of the Son. In other words, God the Father and Jesus are placed on equal footing, and what is affirmed of each is that the salvation of the lost is due entirely to their good pleasure. What is more, the revelation has to do with Jesus and his teaching, and it is made not to those who consider themselves wise and learned, which the citizens of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum must have thought they were. Instead of being given to such “wise” persons, it is given to those Jesus calls “little children” (v. 25). Jesus does not mean actual children, of course, though children are not excluded, but those who are humble enough to look to Him for salvation.
The man who said this was either insane, a deceiver, or precisely who He claimed to be, which is how the great English apologist C. S. Lewis listed the options in Mere Christianity. Millions have wisely believed that Jesus is God and have trusted Him for their salvation.
Capernaum exceeded Chorazin and Bethsaida in privilege, and Sodom exceeded Tyre and Sidon in wickedness. In these striking and sobering contrasts, Jesus makes plain that people who are the most blessed by God will receive the worst punishment if they reject Him. Judgment against the moral abominations of Sodom will be exceeded by judgment against the spiritual indifference of Capernaum. For the respectable and upright unbelievers of Capernaum, Hades will be hotter than for the crude and immoral unbelievers of Sodom. The self-righteous orthodox person is even more repulsive in God’s sight than the idolatrous and immoral pagan.
The people of Capernaum never persecuted Jesus, and few of them even criticized Him. They never mocked Him, ridiculed Him, ran Him out of town, or threatened His life. Yet their sin was worse than if they had done those things. Theirs was not the sin of violence or of immorality but of indifference. As G. A. Studdert-Kennedy has written in his poem “Indifference,”
When Jesus came to Golgotha,
They hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet,
And made a Calvary.
When Jesus came to [Capernaum, Chorazin, Bethsaida],(or the White Mountains)
They simply passed Him by,
They never hurt a hair of Him,
They only let Him die;
For men have grown more tender,
And they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street,
And left Him in the rain.
Jesus’ teaching perhaps mildly interested them, and His miracles entertained them, but nothing more. His grace never pierced their hearts, His truth never changed their minds, His warning about sin never provoked repentance, and His offer of salvation never induced faith. And because of their indifferent unbelief, Jesus said to them, I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.
The eighteenth-century commentator Johann Bengel wrote, “Every hearer of the New Testament truth is either much happier or much more wretched than the men who lived before Christ’s coming.” Such a hearer is also either more secure or more condemned.