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Matthew 11:23

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Thou, Capernaum - exalted unto heaven - A Hebrew metaphor, expressive of the utmost prosperity, and the enjoyment of the greatest privileges. This was properly spoken of this city, because that in it our Lord dwelt, and wrought many of his miraculous works.

Shalt be brought down to hell - Perhaps not meaning, here, the place of torment, but rather a state of desolation. The original word is Hades, Αδης, from α, not, and ιδειν, to see; the invisible receptacle or mansion of the dead, answering to שאול sheol, in Hebrew; and implying often, 1st. the grave; 2dly. the state of separate souls, or unseen world of spirits, whether of torment, Luke 16:23, or, in general, Revelation 1:18; Revelation 6:8; Revelation 20:13, Revelation 20:14. The word hell, used in the common translation, conveys now an improper meaning of the original word; because hell is only used to signify the place of the damned. But, as the word hell comes from the Anglo-Saxon, helan, to cover, or hide, hence the tiling or slating of a house is called, in some parts of England (particularly Cornwall) heling, to this day; and the covers of books (in Lancashire) by the same name: so the literal import of the original word Αδης was formerly well expressed by it. Here it means a state of the utmost wo, and ruin, and desolation, to which these impenitent cities should be reduced. This prediction of our Lord was literally fulfilled; for, in the wars between the Romans and the Jews, these cities were totally destroyed, so that no traces are now found of Bethsaida, Chorazin, or Capernaum. See Bp. Pearce.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

And thou, Capernaum - See the notes at Matthew 4:13.

Which art exalted to heaven - This is an expression used to denote great privileges. He meant that they were especially favored with instruction. The city was prosperous. It was signally favored by its wealth. Most of all, it was signally favored by the presence, the preaching, and the miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here he spent a large portion of his time in the early part of his ministry, and in Capernaum and its neighborhood he performed his chief miracles.

Shalt be brought down to hell - This does not mean that all the people would go to hell, but that the city which had flourished so prosperously would lose its prosperity, and occupy the “lowest place” among cities. The word “hell” is used here, not to denote a place of punishment in the future world, but a state of “desolation and destructions.” It stands in contrast with the word “heaven.” As their being exalted to heaven did not mean that the “people” would all be saved or dwell in heaven, so their being brought down to “hell” refers to the desolation of the “city.” Their privileges, honors, wealth, etc., would be taken away, and they would sink as low among cities as they had been before exalted. This has been strictly fulfilled. In the wars between the Jews and the Romans, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, etc., were so completely desolated that it is difficult to determine their former situation. See the notes at Matthew 4:13. It is not to be denied, also, that he threatened future punishment on those who rejected him. The truth inculcated is, that those who are especially favored will be punished accordingly if they abuse their privileges.

If the mighty works … had been done in Sodom - See the notes at Matthew 10:15. Sodom was destroyed on account of its great wickedness. Christ says if his miracles had been performed there, they would have repented, and consequently the city would not have been destroyed. As it was, it would be better for Sodom in the day of judgment than for Capernaum, for its inhabitants would not be called to answer for the abuse of so great privileges.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Christ reflects on the scribes and Pharisees, who had a proud conceit of themselves. He likens their behaviour to children's play, who being out of temper without reason, quarrel with all the attempts of their fellows to please them, or to get them to join in the plays for which they used to assemble. The cavils of worldly men are often very trifling and show great malice. Something they have to urge against every one, however excellent and holy. Christ, who was undefiled, and separate from sinners, is here represented as in league with them, and polluted by them. The most unspotted innocence will not always be a defence against reproach. Christ knew that the hearts of the Jews were more bitter and hardened against his miracles and doctrines, than those of Tyre and Sidon would have been; therefore their condemnation would be the greater. The Lord exercises his almighty power, yet he punishes none more than they deserve, and never withholds the knowledge of the truth from those who long after it.
Ellen G. White
Selected Messages Book 3, 415.4

Many are holding the truth only with the tips of their fingers. They have had great light and many privileges. Like Capernaum they have been exalted to heaven in this respect. In the time of test and trial that is approaching, they will become apostates unless they put away their pride and self-confidence, unless they have an entire transformation of character.—Letter 5, 1883. 3SM 415.4

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, 200-1

Many of those who profess to believe the truth in Battle Creek contradict their faith by their works. They are as unbelieving, and as far from fulfilling the requirements of God and from coming up to their profession of faith, as was the Jewish church at the time of Christ's first advent. Should Christ make His appearance among them, reproving and rebuking selfishness, pride, and love of the friendship of the world, as He did at His first advent, but few would recognize Him as the Lord of glory. The picture He would present before them of their neglect of duty they would not receive, but would tell Him to His face: “You are entirely mistaken; we have done this good and great thing, and performed this and that wonderful work, and we are entitled to be highly exalted for our good works.” 3T 200.1

The Jews did not go into darkness all at once. It was a gradual work, until they could not discern the gift of God in sending His Son. The church at Battle Creek have had superior advantages, and they will be judged by the light and privileges they have had. Their deficiencies, their unbelief, their hardness of heart, and their neglect to cherish and follow the light are not less than those of the favored Jews, who refused the blessings they might have accepted, and crucified the Son of God. The Jews are now an astonishment and reproach to the world. 3T 200.2

The church at Battle Creek are like Capernaum, which Christ represents as being exalted unto heaven by the light and privileges that had been given them. If the light and privileges with which they had been blessed had been given to Sodom and Gomorrah, they might have stood unto this day. If the light and knowledge which the church in Battle Creek have received had been given the nations who sit in darkness, they might have been far in advance of that church. 3T 200.3

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Ellen G. White
The Publishing Ministry, 313.1

The Lord is soon to come. In fire and flood and earthquake, He is warning the inhabitants of this earth of His soon approach. O that the people might know the time of their visitation! We have no time to lose. We must make more determined efforts to lead the people of the world to see that the day of judgment is near at hand. Carefully prepared literature on the significance of the scenes we are now witnessing is to be circulated everywhere. Our understanding is to be quickened by the Holy Spirit. O if our people would feel as they should the responsibility resting upon them to give the last message of mercy to the world, what a wonderful work would be done! A thousand times more work for God might be accomplished if all His children would fully consecrate themselves to Him, using their talents aright.—The Review and Herald, May 24, 1906. PM 313.1

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Ellen G. White
SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5 (EGW), 1090

20-24 (Luke 10:13-15). Witness Rejected—The deeds of love and compassion performed by Jesus in the cities of Judea, were regarded with wonder by the angels of heaven; and yet multitudes in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum looked on with indifference, and in their hardness of heart they acted as though time or eternity was scarcely worth their attention. The majority of the inhabitants of these cities spent their time in caviling over themes of little importance, and but a few took the position that the Saviour of mankind was the Christ. 5BC 1090.1

The prophecies of the Scriptures were plain, and gave clear predictions of His life, character, and work; and from the testimony of men who had spoken as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, evidence was sufficient to prove that Jesus was all He claimed to be—the Son of God, the Messiah of whom Moses and the prophets did write, the Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel. But it was in vain that He sought to convince the priests and rulers, and to draw the hearts of common people to His light. Priests and rulers, scribes and Pharisees, clung to their traditions, their ceremonies, customs, and theories, and suffered not their hearts to be touched and cleansed and sanctified by divine grace. The few who did follow Christ came from among the lowly and unlearned (The Review and Herald, June 2, 1896). 5BC 1090.2

28-30. The Yoke of Restraint and Obedience—Christ says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you”—the yoke of restraint and obedience—“and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” We are to find rest by wearing His yoke and bearing His burdens. In being co-workers with Christ in the great work for which He gave His life, we shall find true rest. When we were sinners, He gave His life for us. He wants us to come to Him and learn of Him. Thus we are to find rest. He says He will give us rest. “Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.” In doing this you will find in your own experience the rest that Christ gives, the rest that comes from wearing His yoke and lifting His burdens (The General Conference Bulletin, April 4, 1901). 5BC 1090.3

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