Matthew 12 - The Jewish Leaders Reject Jesus
a. Sabbath Conflicts.
1. (1-2) The Pharisees condemn Jesus’ disciples for "harvesting" grain on the Sabbath.
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!"
a. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" To the Pharisees, the issue was the keeping of the Sabbath, not stealing. The law of Israel allowed people travelling through an area to "glean" enough grain for a small meal from fields in the area (Deuteronomy 23:25).
b. What is not lawful to do on the Sabbath: This was not a violation of the Mosaic law, but of scribal traditions, which had precisely determined that to pluck the heads of grain was to "harvest." To rub them between your hands to separate the chaff was "milling." To blow away the chaff from your hand was "winnowing." All of this was forbidden on the Sabbath - even for personal use.
i. At this time, Rabbis filled Judaism with elaborate rituals related to the Sabbath and observance of other laws. Ancient Rabbis taught that on the Sabbath, a man could not carry something in his right hand or in his left hand, across his chest or on his shoulder. But you could carry something with the back of your hand, with your foot, with your elbow, or in your ear, your hair, or in the hem of your shirt, or in your shoe or sandal. Or, on the Sabbath, you were forbidden to tie a knot - except a woman could tie a knot in her girdle. So, if a bucket of water had to be raised from a well, you could not tie a rope to the bucket, but a woman could tie her girdle to the bucket!
2. (3-8) Jesus defends His disciples.
But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."
a. Have you not read what David did when he was hungry: The first principle Jesus presents is simple, and illustrated by David’s experience with the priests and the showbread - human need is more important that observing ceremonial rituals.
b. The priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless: The second principle Jesus presents is also simple. The priests themselves break the Sabbath all the time. Perhaps the Pharisees don’t understand as much about Sabbath observance as they thought they did.
i. The reference to the passage I desire mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6), and the Pharisees’ lack of understanding of this principle is also a way Jesus calls into question the confidence the Pharisees have in their traditions of man.
c. The third principle is the most dramatic, based on who Jesus is. He is greater than the temple; He is Lord even of the Sabbath.
i. This is a direct claim to Deity. Jesus says that He knows enough to know if His disciples are breaking the Sabbath law, because He is the Lord even of the Sabbath.
3. (9-14) A controversy regarding healing on the Sabbath.
Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"; that they might accuse Him. Then He said to them, "What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.
a. A man who had a withered hand: At best, the religious leaders saw the man with the withered hand as a test case. It is more likely that they saw the man as bait for a Sabbath controversy trap for Jesus. In contrast, Jesus looked at the man through eyes of compassion.
b. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath: Jesus exposes their hypocrisy by showing their greater concern for their own possessions than for a man in need, arguing persuasively that it can’t be wrong to do good on the Sabbath. Then He compassionately heals the man.
c. Stretch out your hand: When Jesus commanded the man to stretch out your hand, He commanded the man to do something impossible in his current condition. But Jesus never gives a command without giving the ability to fulfill it, and the man put forth the effort and was healed.
d. Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him: In response to this display of compassion, power, and wisdom, the Pharisees, in the hardness of their hearts responded not in reverent worship and submission, but in hardened, murderous rejection.
4. (15-21) In spite of the rejection of the religious leaders, the common people still follow Jesus, and His remains God’s chosen servant.
But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: "Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory; and in His name Gentiles will trust."
a. But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there: For a time, Jesus withdraws Himself somewhat from public ministry as the opposition rises against Him. This was not out of cowardice, but in respect to the Father’s timing for the culmination of His ministry - it cannot be allowed to "peak" too soon.
b. The quotation from Isaiah 42:1-5 speaks of the gentle character of the Messiah. If a reed is bruised, He will not break it. If He sees even the smallest spark in a man, he will not quench it, but gently fan it into flame.
c. In His name Gentiles will trust: Finally, the quotation from Isaiah 42 also speaks of the ultimate ministry of Jesus to the Gentiles. This was something surprising - and perhaps even offensive - to Matthew’s Jewish readers, but it is obviously Scriptural, according to Isaiah 42.
b. Continuing rejection by the religious leaders.
1. (22-24) Jesus delivers a man possessed by a demon.
Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, "This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons."
a. He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw: Again, Jesus displays His complete power and authority over demons, casting out demonic powers the traditions of the day considered impossible.
b. Could this be the Son of David? The crowds react with Messianic expectation, but the religious leaders respond by attributing Jesus’ power to the prince of demons (This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub).
2. (25-29) Jesus answers the accusation that He operates by Satan’s power.
But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.
a. Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation: Jesus, quite logically, observes that it makes no sense for Satan to cast out Satan. The Pharisees need to explain how Satan benefits by the work Jesus has just done.
b. By whom do your sons cast them out? As well, Jesus asks how, if He operates by Satan’s power in the casting out of demons, do the Jewish exorcists cast out demons?
c. And then he will plunder his house: Jesus, by analogy, declares His authority to bind Satan’s power. He is stronger than the strong man is. In so doing, He presents a valuable principle in spiritual warfare, remembering that Jesus gives us the permission to use His name and authority, giving us the "strength" we may need in binding the strong man.
4. (30-32) Jesus reveals the desperate place of those who could be hardened enough to attribute His workings to Satanic power.
"He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come."
a. He who is not with Me is against Me: First, Jesus removes illusions about any "neutral ground" in regard to His ministry; if you aren’t for Him, you are against Him
b. Blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven: Jesus solemnly warns the religious leaders against rejecting Him; their rejection of Jesus - in respect to the revelation received of Him - betrays a nearness to completely rejecting the Holy Spirit’s ministry testifying to Jesus, hence the warning of committing the "unforgivable sin."
i. The Holy Spirit’s main ministry is to testify of Jesus (He will testify of Me, John 15:26). When that testimony of Jesus is fully and finally rejected, one has truly blasphemed the Holy Spirit, essentially calling Him a liar in respect to His testimony about Jesus. The religious leaders were close to this.
c. How can one know if they have in fact blasphemed the Holy Spirit? The fact that one desires Jesus at all shows that they are not guilty of this sin - yet, but continued rejection of Jesus makes us more hardened against Him, and puts us on the path of a full and final rejection of Him.
5. (33-37) Their words betray the depravity of their hearts.
"Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
a. The bad fruit of their words (when they condemned Jesus) betrayed the "bad root" in their hearts. If they got their hearts right with God, their words about Jesus would get right also.
b. Brood of vipers! With these words, Jesus is essentially calling the religious leaders "sons of Satan." They are a generation associated with the serpent, not with God.
c. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks: Our words reveal our hearts. If there were good treasure in the hearts of these religious leaders, it would show itself in good things.
i. How many times has a person said something that perfectly revealed their heart, and then said, "That’s not what I meant!" when it was exactly what they meant!
d. By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned: Is Jesus making too much of mere words? No; it is by our words that we will be saved - or condemned.
i. Paul wrote about the importance of our words: That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
c. The scribes and Pharisees request a sign from Jesus.
1. (38-40) Jesus responds to the request from the scribes and Pharisees.
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
a. Teacher, we want to see a sign from You: Their desire to see a sign really expresses another way in which they hope to reject Him. If Jesus did provide a sign, they would find some way to speak against it, thus "proving" to themselves that Jesus is who they already think He is - an emissary of Satan (Matthew 12:24).
b. An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign: Jesus condemned their seeking after a sign, especially when countless signs happen right in front of their faces. Unfortunately, many today want to cater to our own evil and adulterous generation and their desire for "a sign."
c. The sign of the prophet Jonah: Jesus assures them of a sign, but the only sign they will get is the sign of a resurrected Jesus. Jonah gave his life to appease the wrath of God coming upon others. But death did not hold him; after three days and nights of imprisonment, he was alive and free. What a glorious picture of Jesus in an unexpected place!
2. (41-42) Jesus announces the condemnation of the religious leaders at the hands of the Ninevites and the Queen of the South.
"The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here."
a. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgement with this generation and condemn it: Simply put, greater light requires greater judgment. These groups responded in repentance to a lesser light - so how will these religious leaders defend their rejection of a greater light?
3. (43-45) The dangerous consequences of their rejection of Jesus.
"When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation."
a. When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none: Jesus grants us an important insight into the world of demons. Apparently, they (or at least some of them) desire a human host, and look for such among those who have "unfilled houses."
b. And the last state of that man is worse than the first: How important it is that we be filled with Jesus; as He fills us, we cannot be filled with any unclean spirit.
4. (46-50) Jesus identifies His true family.
While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You." But He answered and said to the one who told Him, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."
a. Who is My mother and who are My brothers? We might have expected that Jesus’ family would have special privileges before Him. It almost surprises us that they do not.
i. Who is My mother: Mary, the mother of Jesus, had no special favors with Jesus, then or now. She stands as a wonderful example of someone who was privileged by God and stood by Jesus, but she is not on a higher level of anyone who does the will of My Father in heaven.
ii. Who are My brothers: Jesus plainly had brothers. The Roman Catholic idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary is in contradiction to the plain meaning of the Bible. But the brothers of Jesus never seemed to be supportive of His ministry before His death and resurrection (John 7:5).
b. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother: These beloved ones who do the will of God stand in contrast to the evil and adulterous generation represented by the Pharisees.
©2000 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission.