In the Gospel for the previous Sunday (Matthew 3:1-12), we heard the stirring words of John the Baptist at the Jordan River concerning the one who is to come.
The Messiah, he said, will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and he will exercise judgment. In the fashion of a swashbuckler, his coming will be dramatic, to say the least.
But Jesus does not really fit the mold. He comes on the scene as one who proclaims the kingdom of God, calls upon people to trust in God, heals the sick, and befriends tax collectors and persons labeled “sinners.” It is little wonder that John, now sitting in prison with time to think, questions whether Jesus is the one to come or not. Jesus fits neither John`s expectations nor those of Jewish messianism in general. John’s question in 11:3 is therefore totally understandable: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
The question of John and the response of Jesus in 11:2-6 are actually relayed by disciples of John the Baptist. (That John had disciples is attested not only here and in its parallel at Luke 7:18-23, but also in John 1:35; 3:25.) John is now not certain whether Jesus is the “coming one,” an expression which refers to the Messiah as the one to come (Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9, Luke 19:38, John 12:13, Heb 10:37), based on Old Testament imagery (Psalm 118:26).