Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of Matthew/Chapter 12
- 1 Matthew 12: NIV
- 2 Historical Context
- 3 Literary Context
- 4 Paraphrase
- 5 Verse by Verse Explanation
- 5.1 Lord of the Sabbath: Verses 1-14
- 5.2 God’s Chosen Servant: Verses 15-21
- 5.3 Jesus and Beelzeub: Verses 22-37
- 5.4 The Sign of Jonah: Verses 38-45
- 5.5 Jesus’ Mother and Brothers: Verses 46-50
- 6 Word Study
- 7 Parallels
- 8 Theological Implications
- 9 Works Cited
Matthew 12: NIV
Lord of the Sabbath
1At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath." 3He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? 6I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. 7If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. 8For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." 9Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" 11He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." 13Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
God's Chosen Servant
15Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, 16warning them not to tell who he was. 17This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 18"Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. 19He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. 20A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. 21In his name the nations will put their hope."
Jesus and Beelzebub
22Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" 24But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." 25Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?27And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29"Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house. 30"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. 31And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 33"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.34You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.36But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
The Sign of Jonah
38Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you." 39He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. 42The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. 43"When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation."
Jesus' Mother and Brothers
46While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." 48He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" 49Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. 50For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."
The historical setting of the telling of this story is one of legalistic pharisaic judaism. It was a time when Scripture was not necessarily studied and obeyed directly, but was rather used as a justification for graceless tradition. Jesus’ sermons and relationships with the people surrounding him seemed to threaten the Pharisees, particularly Christ’s claims to Sabbath supremacy; and Beacon commentary notes that this is the Pharisee’s in their crassest and cruelest opposition to Christ - to the point of straight up murder (and they would have done it sooner if it weren’t for Rome’s rules on capital punishment)(Beacon, 123)
When it comes to literature at the time of this story, it’s all about Jewish law. What law says, goes - at least to the extent of the Pharisee’s fancy. Their crude interpretation are put to the guillotine by Christ when he questions their motives. Insulting their position, and using their own knowledge against them, Jesus quotes numerous scripture passages back to the Pharisees, including: Hosea 6:6, Isaiah 12:1-4, and brings into play passages such as Exodus 20:10, and Deuteronomy 23:25.
Verses 1-14: Lord of the Sabbath
On this particular Sabbath Jesus and His disciples were walking through grainfields in that area. His disciples were hungry, so they fed their hunger by picking some heads off the grain stalks and eating them. The Pharisees happened to be around and saw them, they quickly turned to Jesus and tattled, “Look! Your disciples are breaking Sabbath law.” Jesus turned to them and replied, “You men of the law know what David and his men did when they were hungry! They made their way into the temple and they ate the sacred bread; this is only allowed to be done by the priests. Haven’t you read in your laws that the priests break all sorts of Sabbath laws and yet they are neither accused nor punished? I am telling you clearly: The temple is not the greatest presence on earth any longer. If you truly understood what God said to you, “I desire compassion, not law,” you would not have sent the innocent into conviction. You must know that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. As Jesus and His disciples moved onward from that encounter, they went into their local synagogue. There was a man there who hand was deformed, and since the Pharisee’s were looking for a way to undermine Jesus’, they asked him, “Is it against the law to heal on the Sabbath?” Jesus looked them in the eye and said, “If any of you has a sheep and the dumb animal falls over into a pit on that Sabbath, would you not do what is necessary to rescue it? A man is so very much more valuable than livestock. You best remember that compassion, mercy, and good is lawful on the Sabbath.” Jesus turned to the shriveled-hand man and said, “Show me your hand.” As the man stretched his hand out, it showed itself to be completely restored; his hand was in perfect condition as the other. The Pharisee’s were still determined to destroy Jesus, so they left to discuss how they would kill him.
Verses 15-21: God's Chosen Servant
Jesus was no fool, and he knew what the Pharisee’s were up to, so he left them. So many people loved Jesus that a large crowd followed him. Compassion filled Christ and he healed every one of their sick, although he told them not to speak of who he was. All of this was done to fulfill the prophecy laid out through Isaiah, the prophet: “I have chosen a servant, and brought him to you. I love him, and he brings me much joy. I have placed my Power in him, and he will preach and direct justice among all of the nations. He will not make a scene, or scream and yell. He will not throw out what the world sees as trash, for every person matters. Upon his word and deed, all the peoples will trust their hope.
Verses 22-37: Jesus and Beelzebub
During the week, while Jesus was with His disciples, He was brought a man who could neither see nor speak (the man was said to have been demon-possessed.) Jesus did not blink twice before he healed the man: he could see and speak. The people who saw this miracle spoke amongst themselves in disbelief, wondering is this man was the Son of David. The Pharisees would have no rumors such as this running amuck. They accused Jesus saying, “This man drives out demons by the Prince of Demons! He is a representative of Satan!.” Jesus, who knew what was going on, pointed out the Pharisee’s poor logic. “Every kingdom warring against itself will fall, and every smaller unit that divides itself against peace will not be able to stand stable. If the devil drives out the devil, then he is against himself, and his kingdom will no longer be able to stand. If I am driving demons out by Satan, then by whom do your people drive demons out? Know this, if I am driving demon out by the Spirit of God then eternity has come upon you. Jesus continued his illustration by saying, “How can anyone steal from a strong man’s home unless he first defeats the strong man? The master must be defeated before his possessions can be robbed.” Jesus emphasizes, “He who does not stand for me, stands against me. Those who do not seek lost souls, only sends them farther into oblivion. I am telling you, all sin will be forgiven and covered by grace, except for the those who lie blatantly against the Holy Spirit. Any mouth who speaks lies about the works of man will be forgiven, but those who speak lies about the work of the Holy Spirit and claims it to be his own, or calls the devils work the work of the Holy Spirit will be condemned for this time, and all the times to follow. Jesus continued to speak to the Pharisees, “If you grow a well-healthed tree, then it will produce healthy and good fruit; if you grow a poor-healthed tree, then it will produce ugly and bad fruit. A tree is always recognized by the fruit that it produces. You pile of poisonous snapping snakes! How can you who have evil on the inside produce anything good on the outside? What is filling the heart, will spill out of the mouth. A good servant brings out good works from the good stored in his soul; while the poor servant shows his poor works by the evil stored in his soul. I am telling you now, every mouth will be held accountable for every careless word spoken until the day of judgement. Let you know from here forth: by your words you will find redemption, and by your words you will be proven condemned.
Verses 38-45: The Sign of Jonah
More people, including experts of the law came around Christ and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to prove yourself to us by showing us a miracle.” Jesus replied to them in disgust, “A band of wicked fools seeks miracles only of their standard! No fool will be given the sign, none but the sign of the prophet Jonah. As you know, Jonah was in the belly of a huge fish for three days and three nights, as the same your Savior will spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. When this time comes, the people of Ninevah will stand for judgement with you fools, and they will condemn you; for the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah and you have continued to ignore my preachings. Need I remind you: One who is of greater importance to redemption than Jonah is here. When a demon is cast from a man, it wanders through deserts seeking rest and refuge and cannot find it. The idea comes to the demon that it will return to the place it left. When the demon returns to the man, he finds the man’s soul clean and put in order - although there is no occupant in the soul of the man. The demon calls his roommates, and the man is left seven times more wicked than he began. This band of fools will be the same manner if you do not learn to heed my word.
Verses 46-50: Jesus' Mother and Brothers
As Jesus was surrounded by a crowd and speaking to them, his mother and his brothers stood outside the house, waiting to speak with him. Someone informed him, “your mothers and brothers are waiting to speak with you outside.” Jesus replied to the informant, “who is my mother, and who are my brothers? Who is my family?” Answering his own rhetorical question, Jesus pointed to the disciples and said, “This is my family. They have and are pursuing the will of my Father in heaven. Anyone who does the same and seeks earnestly the will of my Father is welcomed with open arms into the family of God.
Verse by Verse Explanation
Lord of the Sabbath: Verses 1-14
“At that time, Jesus went through the grain-fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, ‘Look! Your disciples do what is unlawful on the Sabbath.’” The way many roads in Jesus’ day were constructed was that wide fields would be on either side of slimmer dirt walk-ways; travelers would use these walk ways while they were en-route. Jesus and his disciples are walking through these walkways when the disciples become hungry, a regular occurrence for the average human. The problem comes in with the day, being Sabbath. Sabbath was a very big deal among Jewish culture. There were three things that set the Jew apart from the Gentile: circumcision, the eating ban on “unclean” meat, and the third was Sabbath observance. The (Pharisaic) Jewish book of The Talmud has twenty-four chapters on the matter of observing Sabbath laws. (Beacon 119) The Jewish law is clear that the disciples were stealing, law allowed for the traveler to use their hands to pluck ears of corn/grain, as long as they did not use a sickle (Note, Deuteronomy 23:25), so we return to the matter of Sabbath. There are thirty-nine basic actions forbidden on the sabbath; among these is: reaping, winnowing, threshing, and preparing a meal. Maimonides was to later say that the disciples broke all of these rules above this Sabbath. They reaped by plucking; they were threshing by rubbing the corn in their hands; they were winnowing by separating the grain and the chaff; with the process as a while the disciples were now guilty of preparing a meal. (Barclay 22) The Pharisees are following Jesus not to help him in his ministry, but to get him into trouble, they follow through with their intentions as noted by their accusation (Beacon 119)
He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?...” This question is rather rhetorical, on account that the Pharisees knew their biblical stories. They were for certain to recall David, David was a Jewish superstar and was thought of very highly among all Jewish circles. Jesus use of David was sure to inspire intrigue among the Pharisees.
“...He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread - which was not lawful for them to do...” Here, Jesus sums up the story told in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. The story is that David and his companions were hungry, so they entered the Tabernacle (this was before the Temple) and ate the bread that was sacred only for the Priests to consume. (The bread - shewbread - is described in Leviticus 24:5-9) (Barclay 23) Jesus points that Scriptures themselves do not condemn David for his actions; therefore the Pharisees desire to constantly condemn was missing the point of the Scripture and its teachings. (Expositors, 281)
“...Or haven’t you read in the law that the priests in the temple desecrate the the day and yet are innocent?…” Jesus points out the common sensical obvious: some laws contradict each other, and nobody is condemned for worship must continue. (barclay, 24) There is a lot of work for the Priests on Sabbath. There are fires to light, sacrifices to make, lifting and working to do, and yet nobody gives a second blink to their work, despite it’s contradiction to Jewish Sabbath law. (MacArthur 285) Legalism is put away, and worshipping God takes precedence.
“…I tell you that one greater than the temple is here…” This statement is big deal for the Pharisees. The only one greater than the temple is God himself. The phrase “is here” alludes to the time being present; there is something here now that was not present before. (Expositors, 282)
“…If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’, you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Here, Jesus quote Hosea 6:6, and accuses the Pharisees (again) of not understanding the Scriptures. The ‘sacrifice’ that is spoken about here is in reference to the Mosaic system of ritual and tradition - which was never to supersede God’s plan. The sacrificial offerings were a means of pointing to God’s graciousness and future provision of what no man (or animal) could provide (MacArthur, 287). The Pharisees turn God’s desire for worship and love into a burden. God is reminding his established order of priorities: mercy before sacrifice (Tyndale 204). Jesus’ concluding statement has the possibility of a few meanings: Barclay (26) writes that Jesus could be “claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath, in the sese that he is entitled to use the Sabbath as he thinks fit.” Barclay continues that the other choice is that Jesus is not so much defending himself, but defending his disciples; “the authority he is stressing is not so much his own authority as the authority of human need.” It is noteworthy that there is a dispute on the phrase “son of man.” When the phrase is used without capitals (“son of man”) it simply means man in a human sense; when the phrase is capitalized (“Son of Man”) it is to mean Jesus Christ, Son of God. This would not prove to be problematic, except for the early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament were written in completely capital letters, this makes deciding where capitals belong difficult (Barclay 27; Expositors 283)
“Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” The phrase “going on from…” is a transitional phrase used by Matthew to acknowledge that they have moved on, without acknowledging an actual amount of time (Expositors 284). “Their” isn’t specific, although it is assumed that it is referring to the Pharisees from the previous encounter. The Pharisees choose the man with the shriveled hand because his is not a life-or-death situation; Sabbath Law outlined that medical attention could only be given on Sabbath when it was this extreme-sort of situation. The Pharisees’ intentions are clear: gather the information necessary to accuse and condemn this man. They ask if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath because if Jesus truly is of God than he would respect the traditions and wait until the following day to heal the man (MacArthur 288)
“He said to them, ‘If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’” Christ points out a flaw among the Pharisaic practices: they were strict in restricting another man’s healing, but not where their own property is concerned (tyndale, 204). The New Interpreters Bible Commentary writes, “Man in infinitely precious because he can be the host to the indwelling of God. This is the fact that gives man worth.” (George, 394) Christ upholds the goodliness of the law, not it’s condemnation, “It is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” He reassures the fundamental principle of the Gospel, that in giving precedence to human need over tradition and even cultic demands Christ did not destroy, but fulfilled the law (Senior, 137)
“Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.” There is a differing of opinions when it comes to the “whom” of this verse; as in, for whom does this matter? Expositors, writes “The miracle itself says nothing about the cripple’s faith, since the focus is not on him but on the Pharisees. (284) However, Beacon tends to disagree, they write: “The command called forth the faith which was operative towards the cure - in other words, the man demonstrated his belief by his obedience. (122)” In either case, there is a complete cure, and Jesus again emphasizes his Lordship over the Sabbath.
“But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus” The Pharisees understand clearly Jesus’ claim to messianic authority, and they view it as a heretical claim worthy of death (Application 443) The New Interpreters commentary writes eloquently of this verse, “the opposition of the pharisees drives Jesus into semiretirement; the perversity of man temporarily limits divine grace” (George, 395)
God’s Chosen Servant: Verses 15-21
“Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was.” MacArturn writes that the beginning of these verses allude clearly to the omniscience of God (294). There are a few other commentators who say that Jesus’ withdraws from the place to be non-confrontational, but because the time of his crucifixion had not come yet. In his compassion, Jesus healed all of the sick who had followed himself and the apostles, requesting they keep their healing secret. This was a request Christ made regularly throughout his ministry.
“This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight. I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out: no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory, In his name the nations will put their hope.’” This passage is a quote of Isaiah 42: 1-4, this is the longest Old Testament quotation in Matthew’s gospel. It isn’t directly taken from the Septuagint, but is somewhat free rendering of the Hebrew (Beacon, 123) The fulfillment quotation from Isaiah interprets this withdrawal on the part of Jesus not simply as a plan to foil his enemies but as a manifestation of the humility and gentleness that is God’s servant. (Senior, 139)
Jesus and Beelzeub: Verses 22-37
“Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’” Luke also records this particular incident, although he does not mention that man’s blindness - only the man’s dumbness. As it comes to the question asked by the watchers-by, the Greek form indicates that a negative answer is suspected, “This is not the son of David, is it? (Beacon, 124)” This particular healing wasn’t anything superbly different than any other healing he had performed, Jesus had healed hundreds and hundreds of others - what makes this healing so unique is the confrontation that follows.
“But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.’" MacArthur writes, “The fact that the multitudes were seriously wondering if Jesus might be the Messiah drove the Pharisees to panic, and they unwittingly reacted with the foolish accusation that Jesus cast out demons only by Beelzebub.” (306)
“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?...’” Jesus goes from large to small, noting Kingdom, city, and household. Jesus may have seen the charge as ridiculous, maybe even offensive; although he uses sound and clear logic to continue. Dissension within is the end of power, and by God’s ordaining, unity is power (Barclay, 36). MacArthur continues the thought: There is no harmony, trust, or loyalty in Satan’s kingdom, but he tolerates no disobedience or division.
“…And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges…” Here, Jesus points out the Pharisees’ extreme prejudice by showing that they approve of the excorcists performed by their sons and apprentices who were part of their religious institution. There would have been no claims that the activities were ungodly, yet alone Satanic (Macarthus, 309)
“…But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you…” This is exactly what has happened. It is interesting to note, when discussing verse 28, that the sign of the coming wasn’t full churches and great revival meetings, but the defeat of pain (Barclay, 35 -39)
“…Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house…” Jesus’ logic is unwavering here, as well. Satan is a conquered foe, or Jesus could not be seizing his property (Beacon, 125) The figure here may have been drawn from the passage of Isaiah 49:24 -26 (France, 209)
“…He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters…” This verse is not in opposition to Luke 9:50, for they are discussing two separate issues; in Matthew Jesus is speaking of inward loyalty whereas in Luke he is discussing outward opposition. (Beacon, 125) The picture in this verse may be one harvesting, or one of shepherding; either way, the message is clear: neutrality is impossible in the realms of loyalty (Barclay, 39)
“…And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come…” The phrase “Son of Man” here may be alluding to Christ, or simply to man kind, the language isn’t precise (See note on verses seven and eight). The context suggests that the “unpardonable sin” is willfully attributing to Satan the work of the Holy Spirit; this was an opinion held also by John Wesley and Adam Clarke (Beacon, 125)
“…Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit…” MacArthur pens that Jesus’ point to understand was this: “You must make up your minds about me and my work. Either I am evil and do evil work, or else I am good and do good work. I cannot be evil and do good work, or be good and do evil work. (316)” It is noteworthy of this metaphor that it is simply to say that a tree is recognized by it’s fruit, the metaphor is not to be taken into the stages of involving pruning, grafting, watering and fertilizing (Expositiors, 293)
Verses 34 -37
“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Just as there are two kinds of trees, there are two kinds of hearts. A heart is judged on the words that flow out of it. (Childers, 126) There is no way to store hate and produce an outpour of love. Christian faith has a great concern with words, words produce love, hate, encouragement, production, broken-hearts, fighting, amends, forgiveness, and the means for what we need and want (George, 402). It is no wonder that Jesus speaks here of words, the Pharisees has just said some rather horrible words: attributing the Spirit of God to the Devil. We are called by Christ here to examine our hearts, and words; for when the day of judgement comes, we will all be held accountable for our hearts and every word that pours from our mouths.
The Sign of Jonah: Verses 38-45
“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’” The word “sign” here is common for the term, “miracle.” The Jewish people were known for asking for signs and miracles. Christ had shown then the marvel of healing a blind and dumb demoniac, but they wanted more. They desired to see God in the abnormal’ they forgot that we are never nearer God, and God never shows himself to us so much and so continually as in the ordinary things of every day. (Barclay, 49; Childers, 126)
“He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here…’” When Jesus refers to them as “adulterous” it is not in a literal sense, but in the same way that Israel was called an “adulterous” people, for their infidelity to God. In the parallel passage of Luke, no mention of the belly of the whale is made; simply “For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Ninevah, so will the Son of Man be to this generation (Luke 11:30)” This leads some commentators to believe that some of this passage is Matthew’s explanation, not the words of Jesus. (Barclay, 49; Childers, 127) Again, Jesus makes note that “someone greater than…” is here. This time, greater than Jonah. There are a few points of comparison between Jesus and Jonah, the first being they were both delivered from death, the second is the time-span they were in the grips of death, the last is the deliverance they bring to people. Jonah was bringing deliverance to the Ninevites, whereas Christ is bringing deliverance for all; this meaning that those who deny Christ will be even more wicked than the Ninevites were. (Carson, 296)
“‘...The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.’” Jesus makes note once again on “being greater than…” this time he speaks of the Queen of Sheba, who came for miles to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Christ brings wisdom more wise than that of Solomon, so how much more ridiculous is it to not believe the words of Christ when one believes the words of Solomon? It is another warning heeded by Christ, that He is the fulfillment of the prophecies laid out in the Old Testament.
“"When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation." This parable rings of the previous tales of exorcism, although tackling a new issue. If a man is filled with evil, and the evil has been made rid; yet the man does nothing to fill the empty space with good, the evil shall return even stronger than before. This parable leads to tell that evil may be banished and conquered, but not destroyed; it will constantly be searching for new places to fester. (Barclay, 51; France, 215)
Jesus’ Mother and Brothers: Verses 46-50
“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’” Not much is spoken of Jesus’ family throughout his ministry; although certain passages, including this one, allude that they were less than whole-hearted gung-ho about what Jesus was doing. It is said in John 7:5, “for even his own brothers did not believe in him.”
“He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he 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.’” This is the statement of Biblical community, Biblical family; which is achieved through obedience of the Father. It is unclear if Jesus is declaring his birth family as “disobedient” or if he was teaching a point to the crowd: all who obey the father with a willing heart are as his own child, and we are all celebrated as kin. (Childers, 128)
σάββατονa the seventh or last day of the week (religiously the most important, since it was consecrated to the worship of God)—‘Sabbath, Saturday.’ (Louw, Nida, 651)
ἀργός, ή, όν Meaning: Idle, Lazy, without thought, useless, indifferent; pertaining to not giving careful consideration to something. (Louw, Nida, 354)
μοιχαλίς pertaining to being unfaithful to one’s earlier and true beliefs—‘unfaithful, adulterous.’ (Louw, Nida, 374)
Click on photo to enlarge
UNDERLINED: Agreement between Gospels
Colored RED: Agreement between Matthew and Mark
Colored GREEN: Agreement between Matthew and Luke
ITALICIZED: Agreement between Mark and Luke
One of the largest impacts this passage has on society is its view on Sabbath, verbal actions, and community. When it comes to the Sabbath, Christ is clear that human need and relationship is to be set before legalistic tradition. He emphasizes God’s original intention is creating Sabbath: to rest and find joy in one’s relationship with their creator. This isn’t to say that we do away with all rules and regulations; it is to say we are to learn to love our God before we love our rules. It is also to remind us of where our priorities are. When it came to scripture, the priorities of the Pharisee’s was not to obey God and conform to his ways, but to obey tradition and conform God to their liking.
Jesus addresses the way we approach each other verbally in discussion with the Pharisee’s. He bluntly calls them hypocrites, and vipers, saying their words do not match their actions. This calls us to check ourselves. Are we too like the Pharisees? Calling others out on their “sins” when our own heart is filled with malice? On the same token, what do our mouths say about the writings on our hearts? Christ is clear in saying that the mouth speaks from the heart, and if our mouths are unclean then clearly our hearts are as well.
In the end of this passage, Christ speaks of community. In referencing his own blood relatives, he relates to all who have heard doubt from and feel unsupported by their own immediate families. Jesus redefines the meaning of family: the family of God; Biblical community. He says that those who hear and obey the word and call of the Father are all family with each other; those who are filled with doubt and disbelief are not called sister and brother or mother among the family of God.
Barclay, W. (1975). Gospel of Matthew (Daily Study Bible (Westminster Hardcover)) (Revised ed.). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Childers, C. L., Earle, R., & Sanner, A. E. (1964). Beacon Bible Commentary, Volume 6: Matthew through Luke (Beacon Commentary). Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City.
France, R. T. (1968). Matthew (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). Surrey: Ivp Academic.
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (0). Lexical Semantics of the Greek New Testament: A Supplement to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (Resources for Biblical Study). Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.
Macarthur, J. (1987). Matthew 8-15: New Testament Commentary (Macarthur New Testament Commentary Serie). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Matthew, Mark, Luke (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8) (Expositor's Bible Commentary). (1984). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.
Wilkins, M. M. (2003). Matthew: From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life (NIV Application Commentary Series). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.