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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
This Day With God, 84.2

By giving His life for the life of the world, Christ bridged the gulf that sin had made, joining this sin-cursed earth to the universe of heaven as a province. God chose this world to be the theater of His mighty works of grace. While the sentence of condemnation was suspended over it because of the rebellion of its inhabitants, while the clouds of wrath were accumulating because of the transgression of the law of God, a mysterious voice was heard in heaven, “Lo, I come...to do thy will, O God” (Psalm 40:7, 8). Our substitute and surety came from heaven declaring that He had brought with Him the vast and inestimable donation of eternal life. Pardon is offered to all who will return their allegiance to the law of God. But there are those who refuse to accept a “thus saith the Lord.” They will not reverence and respect His law. They make rigorous human enactments in opposition to a “thus saith the Lord,” and by precept and example lead men, women, and children into sin. They exalt human enactments above the divine law. But the condemnation and wrath of God are suspended over the disobedient. The clouds of God's justice are gathering. The material of destruction has been piled up for ages; and still apostasy, rebellion, and disloyalty against God is continually increasing. The remnant people of God, who keep His commandments, will understand the word spoken by Daniel, “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Daniel 12:10). TDG 84.2

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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
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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