Before looking into a brief commentary from a former saint we should read a particular passage of Scripture first.
2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Matthew 11.2-11
This is what Gregory the Great has written concerning this passage.
It seems almost as if John did not know the one he had pointed out, as if he did not know whether he was the same person he had proclaimed by prophesying, by baptizing, by pointing him out! (If you remember John baptized Jesus!) We can resolve this question more quickly if we reflect on the time and order of the events. For when John is standing beside the river Jordan, declares that this is the Redeemer of the world. But when he has been thrown into jail, he asks whether they were to look for another or whether he had come. This is not because he doubts that he is the Redeemer of the world. John now wants to know whether he who had personally into the courts of hell. For John had preceded Christ into the world and announced and announced him there. He was now dying and preceding him to the nether world. This is the context in which he asks, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” But if had spoken more fully he might have said, “Since you thought it worthy of yourself to be born for humanity, say whether you will also think it worthy of yourself to die for humanity. In this way I, who have been the herald of your birth, will also be the herald of your death. I will announce your arrival in the nether world as the One who is to come, just as I have already announced in on earth.
Sure, there are some theological and historical questions that need to be addressed in this statement, for example, did Jesus descend to hell? Did John preach in the nether world? and so on, but that is not necessarily the point. I believe the point of what Gregory the Great is getting at is to show that John, though doubting, brings his question (through his own disciples because he is in prison) to Jesus. It is the contention of many scholars that the Jews during this time were expecting a militant messiah, one to push out the Roman government. Thus John asks if Jesus is the One they have been waiting for. Jesus’s answer comes from Isaiah 35.5-6 pointing out that He is fulfilling the prophecy of the Messiah and pointing toward a heavenly kingdom, mercy now, judgment later.