16. The Offer Of Spiritual Rest (Matthew 11:20-30)
It will become clear as we continue to make our way through Matthew that the passages get more and more involved in their theological ideas. It is helpful for us to remind ourselves that these gospels are not simply narratives about the life of Jesus, although they are that; rather, they are theological works that are presenting the message about the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. And as John tells us, if everything about Jesus and what He did were written down, no book could contain the vast amount of material. So we have to read Matthew this way. He is selecting many events from the life of Christ, putting them generally in a chronological order unless he rearranges slightly to fit his theological order, and using them to develop an argument or thesis.
We are now coming to the turning point of the book. Matthew has been presenting Jesus as the King of Israel, the promised Messiah. He has reported Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom, and he has described Jesus’ miracles to show that He has all the authority and all the power that Scriptures said Messiah would have. But in chapter 11 the tide begins to turn. John the Baptist is in prison, and that seems to detract from the steady growth of the popular appeal Jesus had. But the reason John was in prison was because the nation, especially under the influence of the leaders, rejected John’s call for repentance, and rejected Jesus’ appeal to sinners to enter the kingdom. Now in the last part of Matthew 11 we have Jesus’ announcement of woe on these unrepentant people, and His clear invitation for them to follow Him. As we shall see, this is met by further rejection in chapter 12 where they accuse Him of having a demon. And so we can see the idea unfolding, that He came to His own, but His own received Him not, and so to as many as would receive Him He gave the authority to be the children of God. Then, in chapter 13, He began using parables to teach.
Our passage for this lesson is very rich for theological as well as practical considerations--rich to the point of almost being dense with profound details.
Reading the Text
20 Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the skies? No, you will go down to Hades. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.
28 “Come unto Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Observations on the Passage
Well, there are probably a number of lines in this passage that the reader has heard again and again in Christian circles. It truly is a cardinal passage for the Gospel presentation of Christ. And interestingly, almost the entire passage is made of the words that Jesus said (apart from a couple of lead-in lines to the quotes).
We can see three separate topics developing here, and the three developing in a logical argument. The first is the announcement of impending doom on the people who did not repent (verses 20-24); the second is the disclosure that all revelation comes through Jesus Christ (verses 25-27); and the third is the invitation to come to Jesus to find spiritual and eternal rest (verses 28-30). There is the word of condemnation, the word of revelation, and the word of invitation. This is a good pattern to follow in any presentation of the Gospel: all have sinned and will face judgment, God has sent His Son so that we might escape the judgment, but we have to come to Christ and by faith follow Him.
The most striking thing to me is the note of authority in these words. These are not the words of an ordinary teacher, but of one who is Lord. In the first section He can easily declare what would have happened to the ancient people if they had received this revelation. And with the authority of the judge of the whole world, He declares that it will be easier for them in the judgment than these who had the revelation and refused it. Then, in the second section He can easily declare that no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. The people of that day thought they knew God; but now that the Messiah had come, they would learn that if they rejected the Messiah they did not know God at all. The wise in all their learning did not know; the weak and weary would come to know by faith. And then in the third section He demonstrates that He has the keys to heaven. He does not tell people that if they follow His teachings they will learn the truth, or that if they follow Him He will show them how to get to God--He tells them He Himself will give them salvation! He also tells them, though, that they have to abandon their former religious alliances and become His disciples. These are the words of one who has authority. These are the words of one who calls for people to make a major decision.
The emphasis on miracles in the passage must be noted. Jesus came proclaiming to the world that He was the Messiah. And He did many miracles to authenticate His claims. So the people had His words, and His works--two witnesses. If they were not convinced by His words, then they had the works. If they did not believe the words of Jesus, and denied the works (see chapter 12), then there were no other witnesses for them. They were in grave danger.
In a passage that has so many specific ideas (judgment, revelation, miracles, rest and the like), it is a little more difficult to get the main idea clear. But I think if you see the flow of the passage toward the invitation the idea will emerge. The passage culminates in the clear teaching that the way to find spiritual rest for the soul is to believe in Christ Jesus. The reason people can believe in Him is because He alone reveals the Father. And the reason that they can know that He reveals the Father is because He did the miracles. Or to put it in the order Matthew has it: The miracles of Jesus revealed that He was the Lord, and as the Lord He alone could reveal the Father, and so if people place their spiritual lives in His care by faith they would find eternal rest.
The dark side of this is that those who do not repent of their sins miss the meaning of the miracles, do not know the Father, and will not find rest for their souls.
This is a very “exclusive” idea, but if we think about it for a while it can be no other way. If there is only one God, and that God has visited this world in the person of Jesus Christ, then how can people reject Jesus Christ and still claim to know the one true God?1 The fundamental issue in religion for the world is what to think about Jesus Christ. Reading the Gospel of Matthew clearly shows how one should think about Him. No one knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.
The passage does not directly quote from any Old Testament prophecy, and this is unusual for Matthew’s account. But it makes allusions to some Old Testament places. What will be more helpful in studying this passage is to gain some insight for it from the Jewish culture of the first century--how they thought and the language they used. We will note some of this in passing.
Analysis of the Passage
1. The Word of Condemnation: Jesus denounces those who rejected the revelation and would not repent (vv. 20-25). The passage begins with Jesus’ denouncing the cities where He did so many miracles. Of course the word “cities” means the people in the cities (so the figure of speech is a metonymy). These cities are Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Korazin (pronounced kora-zeen) is a small town up in the hills to the northwest of the Sea of Galilee by a couple of miles. We visit the ruins of this town when we make trips to Israel, because one can still see the remains of the ancient synagogue, the ritual bath, and houses--not from the days of Jesus, but from a later period of the city (in which any rebuilding would have been on the same foundations and in much the same manner). Bethsaida (pronounced bate-sigh-da) is a fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, to the east of Korazin and down on the plain. This was the place where Jesus called some of His disciples. It is not on the tour list currently because archaeologists are working on it. The third city named is Capernaum (in Hebrew kafer-nahum, the village of Nahum [not the Old Testament prophet Nahum]). This was the home of Jesus and Peter. It was a fishing village on the main road that ran along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. So all these three towns were within a few miles of each other on the north and northwest side of the lake.
Jesus spent a good deal of His time preaching in these and other towns, and doing most of His mighty works in this area. The people were glad to listen to Jesus, they were delighted that He healed so many of them, and they were pleased to be fed when He multiplied the food. Biblical scholars often refer to the first year of Jesus in this region of the Galilee as the year of His popularity. The people wanted to make Him king.
So why was Jesus denouncing the people now? Because they would not repent. He had not been doing the miracles to meet their physical needs alone. He had not been teaching them about the kingdom to gain political support. He had been ministering among them to bring them to salvation, and that began with their repentance. People like the idea of religion if it gives them what they want, or if it makes them feel comfortable in their lives. But, when it calls for repentance . . . .
What Jesus does in this section is make a contrast with these people and the people of ancient Tyre and Sidon. Those were two Phoenician cities just over on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Jesus said that if they had been given these miracles they would have repented. This is a very interesting statement for a number of reasons. The ancient Phoenicians were idolaters, worshipers of Baal and other deities. They received some revelation through their contacts with Israel and the prophets of Israel.2 And in Matthew 15 when Jesus visited Tyre and Sidon and met the Canaanite woman, she seemed to reflect a long historical tradition of knowing about the promised Messiah of Israel (we shall look at this in a later lesson). So they had a chance to know the true God through contacts with Israel, but they did not have much information because Israel failed as a kingdom of priests and a light to the nations. But Jesus says here that if they had had this much clear revelation, if the message would have been peached to them for a year or two and authenticated by this many miracles, they would have repented.
The reason for the difference may have something to do with religious orientation. The people of Tyre and Sidon were idolaters; idolaters may be confused and blind in their pagan practices--but at least they know that they have a spiritual need. They just do not know how to meet it. But the Jews in Jesus day were not idolaters--that had been knocked out of them at the Babylonian captivity. They were strict monotheists, and with that, legalistic and self-righteous. People who believe they have the truth will not be open to more revelation; people who are self-righteous do not think they need to repent; and people who have come to their own strict, monotheistic perception of God have a hard time accepting who Jesus is.3
Jesus adds the comparison with Sodom. Sodom was the Canaanite city to the south of the Dead Sea where Lot went and became a judge. But it was such a perverted and corrupt city that God had destroyed it 2,000 years earlier (Gen. 19). (Modern writers like to think that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality. But that is just foolish, and no doubt done to divert the attention from the sexual perversion that the Bible said was there. God will not wipe out a city because some of its folks were inhospitable.) But Jesus says that if they had had this revelation that Capernaum had, they would have remained to this day, meaning, they would have repented and God would not have destroyed them. We could say too that if these Galilean cities had repented and followed Christ they might have remained to this day as thriving cities, some 2,000 years later. But they are all gone, and only the foundations and loose stones remain for the archaeologists to ponder.
The people around Galilee had been given a great amount of revelation--but they would not repent. And so Jesus announces impending doom with “Woe!” (Hebrew ‘oy). This is the same expression Isaiah used when he saw the revelation of the glory of the Lord: “Woe is me, I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips . . . “ (Isa. 6). That is the proper response to divine revelation, a repentance that laments sinfulness and seeks forgiveness. Jesus did not get that very often in the Galilee, and so now He announces the “woe” on them. It is the announcement of impending doom because of sin.
What is interesting in this section is that Jesus hints that there will be degrees of punishment in the judgment based on the amount of “light” or revelation people had. People like the Sodomites may have been wicked and idolaters, but it will go easier on them in the judgment because they did not have the amount of light Capernaum did. Capernaum had a lot of revelation, and since they rejected it, the judgment will be severe on them. This shows us that God is very much aware of how much information people had of the truth and will take that into account. Judgment will be fair. But it will be the most severe on those who had the most information and refused it. People who live in a region which is filled with churches and religious communications will have no excuse if they choose not to respond to the message.
2. The Word of Revelation: Jesus declares that He alone knows and reveals the Father (25-27). There are two parts to this section, the first is Jesus’ prayer of thanksgiving to the Father (25, 26), and the second is His teaching about God (27). Jesus praised the Father because these things had been hidden from the wise and the learned and revealed to little children. He addresses God as Father, stressing the intimate and personal relationship He has with the first person of the Godhead--Father and Son share the divine nature and are in essence one. But He also refers to the Father’s sovereignty as Lord of heaven and earth. These motifs are critical in leading up to the point of His prayer of praise, for the fact that some people believe and some do not can now be explained by the fact that God hides the truth from some and reveals it to others. This is part of the mystery of God.
What does He mean by “these things”? The passage does not say, but the reference must be to the words and the works of Jesus as divine revelation. They were hidden from the wise and learned, because the wise and learned are most often characterized by pride in their ability to know the answers, and their refusal to admit they do not know and need someone to tell them the truth. “Little children,” though, are open and trusting. Of course, Jesus is not talking literally about little children, but about people who are open and trusting. He has just compared His generation to children playing in the market place. It was to the unpretentious, the open, the trusting--people with genuine needs, that the truth was revealed.
People in their wisdom cannot find God; it must come by revelation. And people cannot please God without faith. So it was the Father’s good pleasure to reveal the Son to those who would be willing to receive Him. In Matthew, one must think of the Pharisees and the scribes as the wise and the learned. And they become for us the patterns of self-righteous pride that claims to have the spiritual insight. And while they can formulate sophisticated religious systems, they cannot truly know without divine revelation.
In verse 27 what Jesus actually does is explain the need for the incarnation, that is, His coming into the world in human flesh. The Father has committed all things to Him, and among those things committed to Him is the work of revealing the Father. John in his prologue tells us that while no one has ever seen God the father, the Son has declared Him. Jesus is the full revelation of who God is. And since we cannot understand the trinity, that is, how God could be one in three persons, we have to work with the language of the text before us. Only Jesus truly knows the Father, because He is one with the Father, and no one truly knows the Son except the Father. Mortals know a little bit about God, but never having been in heaven in the glorious presence of the Godhead, their knowledge is fragmentary--and all they really have is what was told to them in Scripture. But when the Son came into the world, He came to reveal the Father. He did that through His teachings, His miracles, and His death and resurrection. In this context, we learn that by His miracles that authenticated His teachings, Jesus had been revealing the Father to the people. But when they refused to receive the revelation, He announced doom on them.
In a strange and mystical way Jesus presented the message of the kingdom to all those people, but He “revealed” it only to some of them--meaning, some of them repented and believed. We cannot know the inner workings of God. But when we see people repent and believe, in addition to saying that they repented and believed we must also say that God revealed the truth to them through His Son, and that is why they repented and believed. Jesus also said that no one can come to the Father unless the Spirit draws him (John 6:44). He also said that those that all who the Father gives Him will come to Him, and will not be cast aside (John 6:37). So there is a sovereign side of the process of salvation that must never be forgotten. Jesus makes it very clear--no one knows the Father apart from the special revelation of the Son.
In the first century the Israelites prided themselves on the idea that they were the people of God, the holy nation. They were convinced they knew who God was, this Yahweh, the God of their Fathers. But they may have known about Him, but they could not have known Him experientially apart from faith in Jesus the Son of God. This is clearly the claim that Jesus makes. And it is still true. Many in the world have an idea or a perception abut God. They think they know God. But if Jesus is the final and full revelation of God, they cannot truly know God and have nothing to do with Christ.
And what is it that Christ reveals about the Father? Among many things is the central idea of the grace and love of God that provides redemption through the Son. Without the renewal of mind and spirit through redemption people cannot know God, not in the way that brings eternal life.
And if they refuse to repent of their sins, they do not know God at all. For God is holy and righteous, and will judge all sin. If the Israelites of that generation knew God as they claimed, they would have repented at the preaching of John and Jesus. And if they had repented they would have received Christ.
3. The Word of Invitation: Jesus calls people to faith in Him and promises them eternal rest (28-30). Here is one of the most profound examples of Jesus’ calling people to believe in Him. The words in these verses record the essence of the call to faith, and whoever understands them has found the way to the heart of Christianity. The chapter began with John asking if Jesus was the Messiah, to which Jesus responded that He is. It then included Jesus’ explanation of the problem of John with the rejection of the people. And because they refused to repent and believe, He denounced them and warned them of judgment. This judgment would come because they refused to accept the revelation He was providing in His teachings and His miracles. And so at the end of this section He repeats His offer--they do not need to be judged, they can find spiritual rest, if they come to Him.
Since revelation was not given to the wise and the learned, the invitation now given must have been intended for the weak and the weary. Jesus makes His appeal to people who have spiritual needs, not to the learned religious teachers who did not think they had any spiritual needs. Jesus’ double designation “weary and burdened” covers both sides of human misery, those who have undertaken burdens themselves and are weary (the active sense) and those who have had burdens laid upon them (the passive sense). Based on other teachings of Jesus we may say that this burden included the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees: “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matt. 23:4). It was hard enough to try to keep the Law; but the Pharisaical regulations made it a complete burden.
His invitation was with promise: “Come to me . . . and I will give you rest.” When rest is rest for the soul, burdens become light. In all probability Jesus was referring to the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah that the LORD would refresh the people (31:25); for those who followed Jesus by faith the rest would be both a present reality through the forgiveness of sin and relief of the burden of guilt, and a future guarantee of complete redemption. The important thing to note is that He, Jesus, and not the Father, gives this rest. He is claiming to be the LORD, Yahweh, of Jeremiah 31. His words are emphatic, “I Myself,” and they underscore the previous declarations (vv. 25, 27) and affirms that He can and most assuredly will give this rest.
The call is for people to come to Him. This is ultimately a figure of speech, comparing believing in Him to the act of coming to Him. It indicates that one must believe in Jesus and seek forgiveness and salvation from Him. The act of faith would not be a momentary response, but it would be a whole new orientation to the spiritual life. Genuine faith will find expression in learning from Jesus, or taking His yoke.
In Israel the study and observance of the Law was often referred to as “the yoke of the law.”4 When Israelites repeated Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Great Shema’--”Hear O Israel, The LORD is our God, the LORD is One”) they were said to be taking the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, and by adding Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41 they were taking the yoke of the commandments. An old saying of the sages taught that whoever took the yoke of the Law was released from the cares of government and from the ordinary means of procuring subsistence (Mishnah: The Sayings of the Fathers, 3:5). So “yoke” was a well-known figure of speech for yielding to authority.5
Therefore, the call of Jesus was a more involved call for faith than a simple acceptance of Him. It was a call for people to exchange yokes. In those days to take Christ’s yoke would have meant to submit to Him as the religious authority in the place of the current Jewish leaders. To accept Jesus meant to turn away from the current religious authorities who were not meeting their spiritual needs. The yoke of Pharisaism was a heavy obligation; but the yoke of Jesus was light. Jewish piety often made the yoke heavy by taking on as many obligations as possible (an approach some Christian groups have followed by making their many additional rulings binding laws). But Jesus offered a yoke that was “easy,” meaning, good, comfortable or well-suited. Just as a yoke had to be tailor-made for oxen, the Lord’s yoke fits well the needs and abilities His people. Essentially, Christ would bear the burden, and those who took His yoke by faith would find rest for their souls.
This can be illustrated from the imagery of the animals. If a man wants to train a young oxen to do the work, he yokes it or joins it with a yoke to an older, experienced animal. Which of these two animals do you think will work the hardest? Of course, the older one. When people accept Christ and enter the spiritual life, it is the power of God through the teachings of the word that enable them to live according to the Christian faith.
This whole promise of finding rest for the soul by following the right way is drawn from Jeremiah 6:16, which indicates that following the “ancient paths” and the “good way” is the life that is learned when the yoke of Christ is taken. But by using the language He does, Jesus is telling people that He is the one to whom the Scriptures point as fulfilling their needs.
So Christ’s invitation called for a radical change and made staggering promises. The choice was between the burden of submission to the Law as enforced by Pharisaical regulations and the rest in coming under the authority of Jesus, the one who not only reveals the Father but guarantees access to Him. Robinson says, “How different the yoke of Messiah--the lowly Jesus! He imposes only the royal law of liberty, the law of love as exemplified in his own perfect life,--imparting both strength and motives for its observance, covering our short-comings with his atoning blood, and procuring acceptance for us and our imperfect service by his spotless obedience.”
The means of finding rest was expressed in the words, “Learn of me.” Jesus was saying, “Let me teach you what you need to know, trust in my words, learn from the revelation that I alone impart.” Such was the amazing claim to authority over their lives; and yet this teacher described Himself as gentle and humble. But the authority and humility of Jesus are not incompatible: His majestic authority is true because only He knows the Father, and His humility is genuine because as the revealer of the Father He is the Servant.
The people were going to have to decide. If they chose to remain as disciples of the Pharisees, they had only dismay and despair ahead of them; but if they submitted to the authority of Christ and became His disciples, they would come to know the Father and enter into everlasting rest. They would have to unlearn a lot of what they had been taught about religion from the teachers if Israel, for they would be throwing off that burdensome yoke of trying to keep the Law to be saved. And they would have to begin this new spiritual journey with repentance, the very thing that many people in the cities of Galilee did not want to do.
This is the call to faith that has gone out to the whole world, namely, that whoever would find rest for their weary souls must trust in Jesus Christ and not in their religious efforts or works of righteousness, for only He can give spiritual rest and well-being to the troubled soul. Some religions can give temporary rest for a time in this life through various spiritual disciplines. But the rest that Jesus promises last for eternity. It is a re-entry into the Sabbath Rest that was begun at Creation. And such a commitment to Christ, will not only bring rest but will inevitably lead to righteousness because those who follow Him will learn from Him.
Correlation with Scripture
For the basic message of this little section the full exposition of it is to be read in the first few chapters of Romans. In the first two chapters Paul explains that all have sinned and are separated from God--that is what makes the soul weary and life a burden. And even though the have the Law, they cannot keep it to earn salvation, for the Law keeps revealing their sins. But then, in chapter 3 he announces that God made Christ a sacrifice for sins, so that there is redemption in Him. In other words, there is a righteousness available for people, a gift from God, provided for in Christ Jesus. And this gift of righteousness can be received by faith in Christ (chapter 4), just as righteousness had been given to Abraham who believed in the Lord. And once faith receives the provision of God in Jesus, there is freedom from judgment and peace with God (chapter 5:1).
In the Old Testament it would be helpful to study a bit on the promise of the New Covenant. The cardinal passage is Jeremiah 31 (the whole chapter, but especially verses 31-37), but in addition you need to study Isaiah 54 (especially verses 10-17), and Ezekiel 36:22-38. The promises of the New Covenant include the restoration of the people to the land, the removal of their sins, the giving of a new heart to them, the provision of the Holy Spirit, the writing of the Law in their hearts, the provision of rest and refreshment for their souls, changes in the world so that there will be a kingdom of peace and righteousness and a world of prosperity and abundance, in which everyone will know the Lord. All of this will be centered on the Messiah who will reign in their midst. Some of these promises began to unfold when the Israelites came back from the captivity in 536 B.C. But they quickly realized that the promises of the New Covenant fully awaited another time. When Jesus came into the world the most important piece of it was in place, the Messiah. And He began to heal and minister to show that He could make these changes; and He called on people to believe in Him so they would have rest for their souls. And when He returned to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to begin to work in our hearts. The salvation we have in Christ, and the Spirit of God we have received from Christ, are also parts of the picture, but not fully worked out yet. The full measure of those promises, and the fulfillment of the promises not yet provided, await the Second Coming.
You may also embark on a detailed study of how Christ is the revelation of the Father, but this will take you into a much larger study of theology than this passage covers. You would do well to obtain a good general theology, one that surveys Bible doctrines briefly so that the basic ideas could be understood and Scripture passages located easily. There are many of these available. You may want a general volume such as Christian Theology by Millard J. Erickson (Baker Book House), which is easy to read. About the same amount of material, but in three fairly small volumes, is Essentials of Evangelical Theology by Donald G. Bloesch (Prince Press, a division of Hendrickson).
Here we have to make sure that our application fits the passage. Too often preachers and teachers will make the application that the passage requires, but they might make it to the wrong crowd. Jesus is clearly appealing to unbelievers to repent and to come to Him by faith so that they could find rest for their souls. And so the primary application is to people who do not know the Lord. They may have started to hear about the teachings of Jesus, or about the miracles He did, and they be starting to realize some of the claims that He made or the promises He made. If not, other Christians have the wonderful opportunity to tell them about Christ. But the appeal is to them to trust their whole spiritual life to Christ, meaning, believe in Him (that He is the Son of God, the Savior of the world), repent of sins and accept the forgiveness that He has promised based on His shed blood, and begin a life of discipleship in His teachings.
Now if the Bible study or message of this passage is being given to a group who are already believers, then we have to make a secondary application. This can be done in one or two ways, or both. One, Christians should be encouraged to do exactly what Matthew is doing in this chapter, telling people who Jesus is (the Son who reveals the Father), what He said (that He will bring them to God because He alone knows the way) , what He has promised (rest for their souls, now and in the world to come), and how they should respond (repent of their sins and find rest for their souls by placing their trust in Him and following no other way).
Christians can also be encouraged in their faith be this solid reminder of who Christ is and what He provides. Building up their faith and confidence will also encourage them to get on with their learning of Him. A list could be drawn up of the dozens of things that Jesus taught His disciples to do (love one another, be reconciled to one another, forgive one another, serve one another, etc.) As a test to see just how we are doing in learning from Christ what it means to be spiritual.
1 This is why people who want to say all religions are saying the same thing and everyone is on the right track must dethrone Jesus, or in some way strip Him of His rightful place as God Incarnate.
2 You can look in a dictionary under Phoenicians and see what contacts they had. Most notable is the fact that their king provided so much material for Solomon to build the Temple.
3 You can see the difficulty even today when looking at the rigid nature of Judaism, and or Islam, and how hard it is for them to understand Christ--until the Holy Spirit breaks through and illumines their hearts.
4 You can learn about Jewish ideas of the first century from a number of sources. One of the easiest to use if you can get a copy (out of print) is Thomas Robinson, The Evangelists and the Mishna (London: Nisbet and Co., 1859). There are a number of resources for locating out of print (such as www.abebooks.com). You can also learn a good deal from Alfred Edersheim, e Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans reprint). For this section see Volume 2, page 144.
5 The image is from the animal world. The yoke was the harness put around the necks and shoulders of the animals who were going to be used in the work of pulling plows or turning at the mill. Being yoked put the animal under the authority and control of the master.