by Spiros Zodhiates
In this passage, the Lord calls those who realize their need to come to Him The term, “Ye that labor” (kopioântes) refers to people who are worn out and weary from hard work, especially those in the Lord’s vineyard.
The next description is “heavy laden” (pephortisménoi from phortízo, load; see v. 30). Each individual must carry his own “load” (phortíon; Gal. 6:5), though phortíon (load) compares with báros, the burden our friends bear that we choose to share (see 2 Cor. 4:17; Gal. 6:2; 1 Thess. 2:6). Phortíon is a consequence of Adamic sin, while báros is a burden each individual must responsibly carry, even if it is sharable with others.
The promise Jesus gives is inner “rest” which can be ours in spite of the fatigue and responsibility of carrying our own personal load.
The promise of “rest” which our Lord gives—especially in verse 29 (anápausis)—is the promise of inner tranquility which He gives to those who come to Him as little children. He does not give “cessation of work” (katápausis) in this life, but in the age to come: “there remaineth a Sabbath rest to the people of God” (a.t.; Heb. 4:9). For now, believers continue to work hard, enabled by Christ to shoulder their personal loads.
We are bidden by Christ to approach Him not only for inner rest but also with a willingness to take on ourselves a “yoke.” A yoke enables two to share a load—in this case, with Jesus. He shares in pulling our personal load (phortíon). In fact, we soon discover that He shoulders the heavier part of our burden. However, if we are not willing to take this yoke upon ourselves, He does not share the burden.
The Lord also commands that we “learn (máthete, as a disciple), about Him, specifically that He is both meek and lowly, in heart. “Meek” (práos) implies “balanced.” Our Lord carries neither more than He deems necessary to strengthen us, nor less than necessary to overburden us. Jesus wants us to grow in Him and learn responsibility. “Lowly” attests to Jesus’ humility. The Son of man did not dominate His disciples, because He was eager for them to learn about His character of humility.
The yoke is level (tapeinós, not uneven) so that each one pulls according to his strength. Jesus never forces us beyond our ability or intimidates us by showing how much He can do and how little we can do.
The Lord assures us that His yoke is “easy” (chrestós, profitable; from the verb chráomai, to furnish what is needed). What we need is grace, and because Christ freely gives it, His yoke is indeed easy and His burden light.
What a wonderful yoke grace is, compared to the pharisaical yoke of the Law which only “loads men with loads too hard to be borne” (a.t.; Luke 11:46).
No matter how great the load of life, Christ promises that we shall find rest. When we learn to pull our share by properly positioning the yoke, the result will always be inner rest.
From Dr. Zodhites’ Exegetical New Testament Commentary. Dr. Zodhiates is president of AMG International and founder of Pulpit Helps