In Matthew’s gospel, Yahusha Ha’Mashiach (Jesus) told weary disciples that the rest he offered could be compared to an easy yoke and light burden. In this period, the Pharisees, which Yahusha often referred to as the synagogue of Satan, strove to maintain a seemingly dead religious system of forgiveness that laid heavy burdens on the people beyond the original instructions handed down by Moses by Yahuah (God).
Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV
What does this passage about Messiah’s easy yoke and light burden mean? How is it applicable today? What does this passage look like from a Bible-believing Torah perspective? These are questions this writer hopes to answer.
Easy Yoke and Light Burden — A Clash of Opinions
There is no shortage of teachings available on the Web discussing Matthew 11:28-30. Many teachers correctly point out that the passage means we are to submit ourselves daily to Yahusha (Jesus) and walk side-by-side with him doing the excellent work of the Kingdom. However, by contending that the Law (Torah) is a burden that was done away with, they nullify this assertion by taking this passage out of context.
Others suggest that, under the grace doctrine, our relationship with Messiah demands nothing of us. They maintain that Yahusha did all the work based on a flawed interpretation of Psalm 55:22, which refers to Yahusha bearing the burden of our iniquities (sin) on the cross.
“Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.”
Believers have a role to play in working out their salvation in conjunction with Yahusha, our High Priest. Let us pause, revisit, and unpack the contextual interpretation of Matthew 11:28-30 to understand its application, then and now.
“Come to me all you who labor and are heaven-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The word for labor used here is the Greek word kopiao (G2872) which can mean: to grow weary, tired, or exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief). It can also mean to labor with wearisome effort; to toil. Although this speaks of the natural and physical labors of mankind, in this instance it applies to legal and spiritual burdens.
The Greek word used here for burden is phortion (G5413). It is defined as a burden, load, (of the freight), or lading of a ship. It can also be defined as a burdensome rite as in the obligation Christ lays upon his followers. Compare and contrast this to the precepts of the Pharisees who laid oppressive burdens on the people. More on this later.
First, let’s take a look at how modern-day dictionaries define the word burden. According to Merriam-Webster, a burden is something that is carried – a load; duty, responsibility; something oppressive or worrisome; the bearing of a load; capacity for cargo as in the phrase “beast of burden.”
Interestingly, the definition speaks of duty and responsibility, which correlates to a believer’s duty and responsibilities of keeping and following the teachings of Yahusha by following Yahuah’s commandments.
The Heavy Burden of the Scribes and Pharisees
In the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, Yahusha points out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. Although they taught the Word of Moses from a position of authority, they did not obey it. Instead, they added rules and regulations to Torah which became a veritable ‘yoke’ of insufferable servitude.
Then יהושע (Yahusha) spoke to the crowds and to His taught ones, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the seat of Mosheh. Therefore, whatever they say to you to guard, guard and do. But do not do according to their works, for they say, and do not do. “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but with their finger, they do not wish to move them.”Matthew 23:1-4 TS 2009
The yoke mentioned in Matthew 11:29 is the Greek word zygos or zugos (G2218). As defined, it is the yoke or coupling device that is put on draught cattle. The term can be used interchangeably as a metaphor for any burden, bondage (slavery), or troublesome laws imposed on people.
Merriam-Webster offers a few additional definitions for the work yoke:
- the wooden bar (or frame) that joins two draft animals together at the head or neck in order to work together
- an arched device placed on the neck of a defeated person
- a frame that is fitted to a person’s shoulders enabling them to carry a load in two equal portions
- servitude, bondage, tie, or link — especially: marriage
In the biblical context, the yoke analogy only fits with possibly two of these definitions and biblically aligns more closely with one.
It is evident in the passage that this invitation from Yahusha is prompting us to be yoked to him. We are invited to come and be joined to him in his life walk. His life walk served as an example of following Yahuah’s (God’s) laws in purity and simplicity without the added burdens of the law which the Pharisees had imposed. In the process, we learn from Yahusha and follow his gentle direction down the narrow path which leads to life everlasting.
Jay Kilcrease is a native Oklahoman, U.S. Air Force veteran, husband of 19 years, and father of three boys. He served many years in music ministry and is also an ordained minister. His pursuit of academics has earned him three undergraduate degrees and an MBA from Liberty University. Jay has led his family in Torah Biblical Studies for the past ten years and aspires to apply his writing skills for the furtherance of the Gospel of the Kingdom in the service of Yahusha Ha’Mashiach.