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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
Fundamentals of Christian Education, 258-9

The Lord has made manifest His appreciation of man, in that He gave His only-begotten Son to redeem him. Satan has also manifested his appreciation of well trained and sanctified ability, by the ingenious methods by which he seeks to divert the mind and heart of such an one from the service of God, that he may lead him to join in the ranks of apostasy. Like an angel of light, he comes with his insinuations to draw men into his service; for he knows that an educated man or woman, when not under the control of the Spirit of God, can be of great advantage to him. He will pursue the student with specious temptations, seeking to induce him to take pride in his attainments, and to imagine that he is some great one, that he may trust in himself, and walk in the sparks of his own kindling. Thus he is led to separate his soul from God, the source of all light and knowledge, and, in order that he may exalt himself, unite with Satan, the originator of all sin. FE 258.1

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom; and when God is not depended upon, the result of education is only to elevate ungodliness. The reason that the church is weak and inefficient is that there is a want of the grace of Christ among those who profess the truth for these last days. If the Lord has ever spoken by me, there is sin of almost every character cherished by many who claim to be children of God; and unless they separate themselves from Satan and cling to Jesus our righteousness, the woe of God will be upon those who have had great light, and yet have chosen to walk in darkness. “Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin; woe unto thee, Bethsaida; for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” FE 258.2

It is a fearful thing to have great light and blessing, to have many opportunities and privileges, and yet make no saving use of them. Those who do not make a saving use of their opportunities, will be condemned by the privileges God has granted to them; but those who walk in the light will have increased light. Those who have had the light of truth, and yet have failed to walk in the light, are under the same sentence of condemnation as were Chorazin and Bethsaida. Shall not these warnings be heeded? Shall not these admonitions have weight with us? In the near future it will be seen just who have been walking humbly with God, and who have been obeying His orders. Those who have been walking in the sparks of their own kindling will lie down in sorrow. It will be seen that they have made a terrible mistake. O let us awake! Light is now shining; let the windows of the mind and heart be opened to welcome the heaven-sent rays. Shall Jesus say of those who profess to obey the truth, and yet who fail to walk in its light, “In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them”?—Christian Education, 140 1893. FE 259.1

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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
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 624

We have much to answer for, considering our superior advantages and knowing that we must be judged by the light and privileges the Lord has granted us. We cannot plead that we are less favored with light than that people who have been for ages an astonishment and a reproach to the world. We cannot expect judgment to be given in our favor because, like Capernaum, we have been exalted to heaven. The Lord has wrought for His commandment-keeping people. The light that has reflected to us from heaven was not granted to Sodom and Gomorrah, or they might have remained unto this day; and if the mighty works and knowledge and grace which have been manifested to this people had been made known to the nations in darkness, we know not how far in advance of this people they might now be. We cannot determine how much more tolerable it would be for them in the day of judgment than for those who have had the clear light of truth shining upon them as you have had, but through some inexplainable cause have turned from the holy commandment delivered to them. We can only point to your case with sorrow, as a beacon of warning. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” The Lord seeth not as man seeth. His thoughts and ways are not what blind, selfish men believe they are or wish them to be. The Lord looks on the heart and works in and with His creatures to will and to do whatever He commands or requires of them, unless they reject His counsel and refuse to be obedient to His commandments. 5T 624.1

The greater part of your life has been employed in presenting doctrines which, during the last part of your life, you will repudiate and condemn. Which is the genuine work? which is the false? Can we trust to your judgment? can we rely upon your interpretation of the Scriptures? We cannot. We would be in danger of being misled. You cannot now or at any future period of your life feel that your feet are standing on solid rock. I have been unable to keep from thinking of your future. The truth to me is a living reality. I know it to be truth. The word of God is sure. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Will your light go out in darkness? 5T 625.1

I am writing out more fully the volume of Great Controversy containing the history of the fall of Satan and the introduction of sin into our world; and I can have a more vivid sense of this great controversy between Christ, the Prince of light, and Satan, the prince of darkness, than I have ever had before. As I see the various devices of Satan to compass the ruin of erring man, and make him like himself, a transgressor of God's holy law, I would that angels of God could come to earth and present this matter in its great importance. Then I feel so intensely for souls who are willfully departing from light and knowledge and obedience to God's holy law. As Adam and Eve believed the lie of Satan, “Ye shall be as gods,” so these souls hope through disobedience to rise to greater heights, to gain some flattering position. I am so anxious that, while others are sleeping, I spend hours in prayer that God will work in mighty power to break the fatal deception upon human minds and lead them in simplicity to the cross of Calvary. Then I quiet myself with the thought that all these souls are purchased by the blood of the Lord Jesus. We may have love for these souls, but Calvary testifies how God loves them. This work is not ours, but the Lord's. We are only the instruments in His hands to do His will, not our own. We look at those who are doing despite to the Spirit of grace, and tremble for them. We feel sorry, and are disappointed, that they prove untrue to God and the truth; but we feel a deeper sorrow as we think of Jesus, who has purchased them with His own blood. We would give all our possessions to save one, but find we cannot do this. We would give life itself to save one soul unto life eternal, but even this sacrifice would not do the work. The one great sacrifice has been made in the life, the mission, and the death of Jesus Christ. Oh, that minds would contemplate the greatness of that sacrifice! Then might they be better able to comprehend the greatness of salvation. 5T 625.2

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