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Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [1]

Matthew 11:28

Life is restful in Jesus!! In Him is real rest not temporary relief.

I can just take it easy when I am a partner with Jesus. He has won the victory. He has defeated death. He is sitting right next to His Father with everything taken care of and in order. Or I can try to work hard and do it my way.

God’s goal for me is to rest. So, he beckons me with that wonderful smile on His face. He says, “Hey Mike, come over here. Sit down with me. Why don’t you quit working so hard?  Why are you so worried? I will give you rest. Just sit here with me. How does that sound?”

It sounds wonderful!! Thank you so VERY much!!

Jesus’ addressing “you” (plural) implies that he was not talking to himself any more than he was talking to God his Father (as he had been doing earlier).

  • “[Come] here to me” shows that Jesus is now addressing non disciples, for his disciples are already following him.
  • In other words, he speaks in this text as an evangelist; and since the context provides no audience of non disciples, he’s addressing the non disciples to whom Matthew’s audience of disciples are to take the gospel.
  • “All” casts a wide evangelistic net.
  • “Laboring” connotes fatigue, and “burdened” connotes encumbrance.

Since no ox could put a yoke on itself, “yoke” must be taken as a figure of speech. And indeed, it was a commonly understood figure of speech for obligations, such as obligations people could themselves take on.

Jesus’ yoke and burden consist in the obligations he has commanded his disciples to take on themselves as in the Jesus Manifesto (Matthew 5-7). The comfortableness of his yoke and the lightness of his burden contrast with the heavy burdens the scholars, elites and Pharisees have put on their followers.

But what do this comfort and light consist of? In an interpretation of the Law less stringent than that of the scholars and Pharisees? Hardly!

  • According to the Jesus Manifesto, Jesus interpreted the Law more stringently than they did. The heaviness of the burdens loaded by the elites and Pharisees on their followers consisted in demands that those followers fawn on them in ways that fed their pride: “they do all their deeds to be observed by people.…
  • And they love the prestigious couch at banquets and the prestigious seats in synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ [= ‘my great one’] by people”.

In contrast, the comfortableness of Jesus’ yoke and the lightness of his burden consist in his meekness (= gentleness, considerateness) and humility of heart. These characteristics make his demands, more stringent though they are, easier to bear than the lesser demands of the scholars and Pharisees, whose overweening desire for recognition made them treat common folk like camels or donkeys to be overloaded rather than as yokefellows with whom to share in pulling.

The relief Jesus promises does not wait for the consummation. It begins immediately on coming to him. “Learn from me” means to learn from Jesus’ words and example, “learn” being the verbal form of “disciple” in Matthew’s original Greek.

God’s and Jesus’ recognition of each other as Father and Son makes learning from Jesus an education of the highest possible order. Since soul and body are distinguished from each other, “your souls” probably means “your inner selves.”[2]

In looking further at the Greek word for rest, we discover:

ἀναπαύω: to cause someone to become physically refreshed as the result of resting from work—‘to cause to rest, to give rest.’ δεῦτε πρός με … κἀγὼ ἀναπαύσω ὑμᾶς ‘come to me … and I will give you rest’ Mt 11:28. In some languages it may be difficult to speak of ‘causing someone to become refreshed by resting.’ Normally this would be accomplished simply by causing a person not to have to work. Accordingly, Mt 11:28 may be expressed in some languages as ‘I will make it possible for you no longer to have to work’ or ‘… to toil hard.’ This, however, must not be understood merely in the sense of ‘to give a person a vacation’ or ‘to make it possible for someone to live without working.’[1]

And we have this insight from the Baker Encyclopedia.

Rest is not synonymous with inactivity. What God rested from was the work of creation. He continues constantly to be active, however, in providentially sustaining all that he has created and in the work both of righteous judgment and gracious salvation. Jesus Christ, indeed, in his incarnation, life, death, rising, and glorification is precisely God in action (2 Cor 5:19). Hence the assertion of Jesus: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn 5:17). What the Christian will rest from is the struggle against the forces of evil and the afflictions by which this present life is marred. The rest into which the Christian will enter will not be a state of uneventful inertia. God himself is dynamic, not static, and so also is his rest.

Consequently, all that a Christian rest from simply sets him free to be active ceaselessly and joyfully in the service of God, the Creator and Redeemer. In perfect harmony with all God’s works and in complete fulfillment, Christians exultantly praise and serve the Triune God. Joy will be full, without possibility of improvement or deficiency (cf. Rv 4:8–11; 5:8–14; 7:9–12). Such will be the rest without end of that eternal sabbath which has a morning but no evening. “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest!” (Heb 4:11).[2]

[1] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 260). New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Hughes, P. E. (1988). Rest. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 1839–1840). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 11:28–30). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Gundry, R. H. (2010). Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-Verse Explanations with a Literal Translation (p. 48). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.