Earlier this year, my wife and I heard Chuck Swindoll speak on this passage. His explanation led to some fruitful discussion between Sharon and me.
Swindoll took a view I’d not heard before. He suggested that all three of these verses concern discipleship. Lordship Salvation advocates normally understand these three verses to all refer to justification. All truly born again people will take up Jesus’ yoke and will serve Him.
Free Grace people typically take v 28 and the reference to coming to Jesus as evangelistic, and v 29-30 and the reference to taking up His yoke and learning from Him to be calls to discipleship. But could all three verses be one extended call to discipleship as Swindoll suggested?
Come to Me And I Will
Give You Rest (Matthew 11:28)
Verses 28-30 are part of a paragraph that begins in v 25. After pronouncing woes upon the inhabitants of the Jewish cities of Chorazin and Capernaum for their lack of repentance at His preaching (11:20-24), Jesus then spoke directly to the Father (11:25-26) before turning His attention to the crowd before Him (11:27-30).
Jesus thanked the Father for hiding truth from “the wise and prudent” and for revealing it “to babes.” Then in v 27 Jesus said, “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
If knowing the Son and knowing the Father refers to the new birth, then the reference in the very next verse to coming to Jesus is most naturally evangelistic. And, even if this knowing refers to spiritual maturity as in 1 John 2:3ff., v 28 still naturally refers to the new birth and vv 29-30 to the maturity that can spring from it.
Additionally, the concept of coming to Jesus is one He used elsewhere as a figure for believing in Him: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). And again two verses later He says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will be by no means cast out [i.e., I will keep Him eternally secure].”
When Jesus refers to those who “labor and are heavy laden,” He is thinking of self-righteous legalists like the majority of the nation that rejected Him and His message. They were laboring hard to work their way into the kingdom, and as a result, they were heavy laden.
In order to get out from under the burden of legalism for justification, a person must come to Jesus, that is, he must believe in Jesus for everlasting life, believing that Jesus guarantees him eternal life apart from any works that he does whatsoever.
When Jesus says, “I will give you rest” in v 28, He is saying that the moment one comes to Him, Jesus sets him free from doubt and despair, giving him the certain knowledge that he is eternally secure simply by faith in Jesus.
Take My Yoke and Learn from Me
A yoke is an instrument used to hook two animals together to pull a plow or cart. It is associated with work. Work, of course, is associated with discipleship, not justification. Learning is another discipleship concept. In fact, the word disciple means learner or pupil.
While v 29, like v 28, also speaks of rest, there is good reason to believe that two different types of rest are in view.
In v 28 the condition of gaining rest is coming to Jesus. In v 29 the condition is working and learning. Clearly those are not the same things.
Likewise, Jesus changes the way He states the result. In v 28 He says that if anyone comes to Him, “I will give him rest.” Yet in v 29 He doesn’t specifically say that He gives the person rest. Instead, in v 29 He says that those who work and learn “will find rest for their souls [or inner selves].” There was no reference to the inner self in v 28. Elsewhere in Jesus’ teachings in Matthew the inner self, the psyche, is something the believer must cultivate (Matt 16:25-26).
The reference to Jesus’ yoke being easy and His burden light (v 29) is parallel to the idea found in 1 John 5:3 that “His commandments are not burdensome.” It is likely that the apostle John was thinking specifically of Jesus’ words as found in Matt 11:29-30 when he wrote 1 John 5:3.
There are lots of born-again people who wrongly think His commandments are burdensome. They haven’t yet found rest for their souls because they haven’t taken His yoke and learned from Him. Though they rest in the sense that they know they are eternally secure, they do not yet rest in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ for their daily service.
Come to Jesus for Justification Rest;
Follow Him for Sanctification Rest
Unbelievers desperately need rest from their ill-fated efforts to merit eternal life. Believers desperately need rest from ill-fated efforts to earn eternal rewards by legalistic means such as commitment, dedication, check lists, self-flagellation, and the like. The Christian life is a faith-walk and it must be lived God’s way. While effort and hard work are surely involved (2 Tim 2:3-7), these are done in the power of the Holy Spirit as we see the beauty of Jesus revealed day by day in Scripture (2 Cor 3:18). When we see our shortcomings, we confess them and God uses that to change us (1 John 1:9).
There are lots of great methods which people in sales and management have developed to get people to work hard. But those aren’t the methods of the followers of Christ. His yoke is easy. His commandments are not burdensome. His life within us readily does what He commands as we stay in His Word and pray for Him to transform our everyday experience into that of the Person we see revealed in Scripture.
Matthew 11:28-30 is not teaching Lordship Salvation. Rather, it is teaching a two-step approach to rest. Initially, we are given rest when we come to Jesus, when we believe in Him. That rest, however, does not mean we will be at peace in our day-to-day living. For that we must serve Christ and learn from Him. Over time we will then find rest for our inner selves.
Rest is a good thing. You’ll find it in Jesus.