Sunday, June 25, 2023

A Study of Matthew Chapter 12

by Stan Feldsine (

Matthew 12:1-08 - Lord of the Sabbath

Mat 12:1-8 At 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. (2) When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath." (3) He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? (4) He 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. (5) Or haven't you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? (6) I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. (7) If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. (8) For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

So far in our storyline, we have learned that John the Baptist and Jesus had come to proclaim the Messianic Kingdom. The early chapters show John and Jesus exhorting the Jewish people to turn from their sins and get ready for the establishment of this Kingdom. Jesus spends a great deal of time revealing the character and standards of the Kingdom, and performing healings and miracles validating His divinity. Instead of great joy on the part of the Pharisees, He was met with violent rejection. The Pharisees rejected Jesus and His message because of His rejection of the Oral Law and His claims of divinity. He was upsetting their status quo.

The conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus escalates all through Jesus' ministry and comes to a climax in these two pericopes regarding the Sabbath. Chapter 12 of Matthew reveals the continuing build up of hostility towards Jesus and the message of the Kingdom. Jesus is increasingly intense in His denunciation of Israel's hypocrisy and dead religion.

The Sabbath became a major issue and point of contention between Jesus and Israel.

Exo 20:9-11 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, (10) but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. (11) For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The day was to be a time of rest and reflection, but in typical Pharisaical interpretation the idea of a day of rest and reflection turned into a restrictive system of rules and regulations to the point of absurdity. Laws governing Sabbath keeping became so confining and rigid that priorities were confused and perverted.

It is reported by Josephus the Historian that 1,000 Jews died in the Macabeean revolt because the the attack happened on a Sabbath day and the Jews would not close gates from the outside or fight back because of the belief that these things were considered work and against the 4th commandment.

In this case, the Pharisees were accusing the disciples of breaking the rules regarding "work" on the Sabbath (picking heads of grain). But this determination is subjective on the part of the Pharisees, who had assumed the position of watchdog over Israel's moral life. (See Mat 7:1-6). Instead of being a blessing, the Sabbath became a burden.

Jesus pushed back on the Pharisaical interpretation and tradition by pointing out that David had been involved in a similar situation to that of the disciples. Like David's men, the disciples were also hungry, and while tradition (oral law) restricted them from picking grain on the Sabbath, the spirit of the law allowed for it. Man is more valuable than tradition.

Jesus justified this to the Pharisees by explaining that the letter of the law was accompanied by mitigating circumstances, showing that the Sabbath was to be for the benefit of man, not a burdensome restriction.

In David's case, the consecrated bread was intended for the priests, not the army, however, since the army was on a mission from the king, and they had not been with women, the army itself was consecrated. Both were consecrated, so the priest saw no issue with the consecrated army eating the consecrated bread, even though the law stated the bread was for the priests. The lesson here is that the law regarding the Sabbath was not to be followed legalistically in a rigid fashion, but it was for the benefit of man. Man's hunger trumped tradition, and still allowed the spirit of the Sabbath law to be kept.

This is further supported by Jesus in vss. 6-8. What was greater than the temple was the Kingdom. Since Jesus' disciples were serving this Kingdom, those who served in the Kingdom were superior to those who worked in the temple. If David, who was not yet king had the right to feed his army the consecrated bread then Jesus had the right to allow His disciples to gather and eat the grain.

Jesus again uses Hos 6:6 to rebuke the Pharisees about their lack of understanding regarding the law. When Jesus told the Pharisees to "go and learn", he referred them to:

Hos 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

In Hosea's day, as in Jesus's day, the apostate religious leaders had gone far away from the heart of scripture which taught them about having a merciful attitude towards others. Instead, they dug themselves into ritual and external practice of the law, rather than experiencing a "circumcision of heart".

Ritual led them to self righteousness and criticism of others. Jesus was telling the Pharisees that it was not the dead practice of ritual sacrifices that God wanted, but rather he wanted heart change and mercy. Jesus expectation for religious leadership is for them to lead sinners to life changing relationship, not push them away with self righteous criticism.

This hearkens back to Mat 7:1-5. Our former discussion showed how the Pharisees judged with an attitude of superiority and disdain.

Jesus again refers to Himself as "Son of Man", which describes Jesus in Messianic terms. The "Son of Man" is Jesus, the coming King.

Dan 7:13-14 "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. (14) He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Mat 24:27-31 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (28) Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. (29) "Immediately after the distress of those days "'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' (30) "Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. (31) And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

As the King, Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, and rules over it, the Sabbath does not rule over the Son of Man.

Matthew 12:9-14 - Healing on the Sabbath

Mat 12:9-14 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, (10) and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" (11) 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? (12) How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." (13) 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. (14) But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Luke records that the healing of the man with the withered hand took place on "another Sabbath". It should not be assumed that these two Sabbath day healing took place on the same day.

Luk 6:1-6 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. (2) Some of the Pharisees asked, "Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" (3) Jesus answered them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? (4) He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." (5) Then Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (6) On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled.

Again, the Pharisees are not seeking understanding, they are seeking to entrap Jesus with their interpretations of the law, especially their traditions.

Jesus knew their wicked plans, having the Holy Spirit and discernment. It should be noted that Jesus, having emptied Himself of His advantages as God, relied upon the Holy Spirit.

Php 2:6-7 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; (7) rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Act 10:37-38 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached-- (38) how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

Jesus discerned that they were looking to accuse Him of breaking Sabbath law by healing on the Sabbath.

Luk 6:7 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.

Jesus again calls deliberate attention to what He was about to do, in the face of the Pharisees who sought to kill Him. Luke records Jesus calling the man to Himself.

Luk 6:8 But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Get up and stand in front of everyone." So he got up and stood there.

Jesus then describes events that would be familiar to all the Jews in attendance, showing circumstances in which it is legal to heal on the Sabbath. If an animal falls into a pit, of course they were permitted to pull them out of the pit. Since a human is of much more value than an animal, it is also lawful to heal a human on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees had no answer to this, and Jesus demonstrates for us what it means to be "gentle as a dove and shrewd as a serpent" in this exchange.

Mar 3:4 Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent.

Jesus was angry and distressed with these religious leaders.

Mar 3:5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

And so, the man's hand was healed. Rather than rejoicing that the healing power of God was present with them through the Messiah King, the religious leaders were enraged and sought to kill him.

Luk 6:11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Why were they so enraged? Jesus was tearing down their oral law and traditions and shining a light on the true purpose for the law. In this case, the Sabbath was to be a blessing, and the Pharisees had made it into a burden. This dismantling of power and authority that the Pharisees had over the people through their oral law and traditions is what enraged them. Their power structure was being challenged.

This event is significant because it is a clear demonstration of the theological proposition of the blindness of the unsaved mind. To see such radical healings of such benefit to mankind, and to respond to this with anger and distress clearly indicates an irrational state of mind. Such a mind cannot be reasoned with.

It is for this reason that evangelism must always start with the gospel message of salvation, and rebirth in the Holy Spirit. Without accepting the gospel of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, rational theological thought cannot be achieved.

1Co 2:11-14 For who knows a person's thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (12) What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. (13) This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. (14) The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

A willing man will accept Christ, receive the Spirit, and come to understand the things of the Spirit. An unwilling man will remain in darkness, and rebellion will increase the darkness.

Matthew 12:15-21 - God's Chosen Servant

Mat 12:15-21 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. (16) He warned them not to tell others about him. (17) This 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. (19) He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. (20) A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. (21) In his name the nations will put their hope."

Knowing that the Pharisees seek to kill Him, Jesus warns the crowds not to speak of what they saw, an effort to avoid the plots of the Pharisees and extend His life. It was not yet the Father's time for Jesus's death.

Jesus also fulfilled prophecy by withdrawing and not staying to fight. His desire was still to bring about reconciliation between Himself and the nation of Israel.

Isa 42:1-3 "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. (2) He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. (3) A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

These verses and the prophecy show that Jesus would not quarrel over or forcibly establish the Kingdom. He was not going to be a warrior king. This would be the case until the second coming, when He would lead "justice through to victory", as the King of Kings ruling with a rod of iron.

Rev 19:11-16 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. (12) His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. (13) He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. (14) The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. (15) Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (16) On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Matthew 12:22-24 - The Unforgivable Sin

Mat 12:22-32 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. (23) All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" (24) But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons."

Jesus once again heals a person who is mute, which the Jewish leaders could not cast out due to their procedures requiring his name. Jesus, having no such restrictions healed him right away.

This again amazed the people, who questioned specifically if this person (Jesus) could be the "Son of David", the one who was promised in prophecy to come and rule over the earth.

Mat 1:1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2Sa 7:8-16 "Now then, tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. (9) I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. (10) And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning (11) and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. "'The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: (12) When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. (13) He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (14) I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. (15) But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. (16) Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'"

Although Jesus was performing miracles of healing, the people were expecting the above passages to be fulfilled by the Messiah, and Jesus's gentleness wasn't fitting their expectations.

The Pharisees saw the doubts of the people and jumped on it claiming that this wasn't the coming Messianic King, but rather was a man possessed by a demon.

This blasphemy by the religious leadership of the nation of Israel is a dividing point in the gospel of Matthew, as well as the other gospel accounts. Prior to this, the Gospel of the Kingdom is being proclaimed, and after this, Jesus begins to speak in parables to hide the meaning of the message He is bringing. Before this sin, Jesus proclaimed the coming Messianic Kingdom, and after this sin, Jesus will teach about the "mystery program".

The Unforgivable Sin

The "unforgivable sin" of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is found only in this specific context of this generation's rejection of the King and Kingdom. Specifically, it was the accusation by this generation of the nation of Israel that Jesus was possessed with the demon Beelzebul. This sin, in this context, is a national and generational sin, not an individual sin or multi-generational national sin.

Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees when He tells them that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. He was referring to this specific event.

Mat 12:24-25 a But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." (25) Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them,..., Mat 12:31 ... I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

Even though "this generation" would be condemned and judged, individuals within that generation could still be saved, as was the case with all of the followers of Jesus.

The KJV addresses "whosoever", which is interpreted as either an individual or a group depending on the context. In this context, it is a group that Jesus is addressing, the group of Pharisees and unbelievers of this generation. It could be paraphrased as "And whatever group speaketh a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven them ....".

Mat 12:32 And whosoever [group] speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever [group] speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

In this context, the Holy Spirit was revealing to "this generation" of the nation of Israel through their religious and political leaders that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, only to have this generation reject Jesus and ultimately accuse Him of being possessed. This generation was speaking against the Holy Spirit, which is blasphemy.

The responsible party committing this sin and becoming liable to the judgment is, "this generation". it is this generation that Jesus came and offered the Kingdom to. No other generation had rejected the the Holy Spirit's work through Jesus with such blasphemy. This generation of Israel would experience severe judgment which would come in the form of the destruction of Jerusalem and the banishment of the Jewish people to the diaspora. This judgment cannot be applied to later generations of the Jews, it is unique to "this generation".

Luk 11:49-51 Because of this, God in his wisdom said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.' (50) Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, (51) from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.

Luk 17:24-25 For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. (25) But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Not a Salvation Passage for Individuals

It should be clear that the context of the "unforgivable sin" is "this generation" and the rejection of the Holy Spirit's empowerment of Jesus as King. "This generation" means the generation (group) of living Israelites alive at the first coming of Jesus. The rejection of the Holy Spirit / King occurred when the Pharisees rejected the King by claiming that Jesus was working through the demon Beelzebul, and not the Holy Spirit.

It is important to to consider the teachings we have regarding individual salvation. Individuals are saved by grace through faith, not by works. That would include this sin of blasphemy, speaking against the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not die on the cross for only certain kinds of sin, he died for all sin.

We are saved by grace through faith, not by works. We are not "this generation", and we did not reject a Kingdom that was personally offered by Jesus during His ministry.

Eph 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- (9) not by works, so that no one can boast.

Of course, this does not mean that you can call Jesus demon possessed with Beelzebul without consequences. No doubt, the consequences would be severe in this life and the next, but according to the whole counsel of scripture, you cannot loose your salvation by this sin.

Matthew 12:25-32 - Jesus Response to Blasphemy

Mat 12:25-32 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. (26) If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? (27) And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. (28) But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, 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 plunder his house. (30) "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (31) And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. (32) 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.

Responding to the accusations of the Pharisees, Jesus "new their thoughts", meaning that He understood their thinking process and understood how they arrived at their faulty reasoning and the resultant conclusions. As mentioned earlier, this is not saying that Jesus used His divinity to read their minds, rather, in His capacity as a man He was dependent upon the Holy Spirit for discernment and wisdom.

Jesus responded to their accusations further by explaining that destruction follows division whether it is nations, synagogues / churches or individuals. It was nonsense to claim that Jesus was engaged in a practice that caused His Kingdom to be divided. (I.E. Jesus acting on behalf of Satan to cast out Satan's demons." If Jesus was powered by Satan, this would imply that Satan was driving out Satan, the Kingdom would be destroyed, not built, a ridiculous proposition.

Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit, and to accuse Jesus of doing the work of Satan was to accuse the Holy Spirit of functioning by Satanic authority, which was blasphemous. Walvoord sheds light on this:

"Such a sin is not unpardonable in itself, but rather because it rejects the person and work of the Holy Spirit, without whom repentance and restoration are impossible ... it is not the thought that one seeking pardon will not find it, but rather that one who rejects the Holy Spirit will not seek pardon."

Jesus was indeed functioning in the power of the Holy Spirit, the perfect example of the spirit filled believer. And if He was indeed functioning in the Holy Spirit's power, then indeed the Kingdom was here, not some divided kingdom of Satan. The evidence of this was present in the healing of the blind and mute man, as well as previous healings of those with leprosy. Satan's demons could not prevent these healings by Jesus as they had done so with the religious leadership, so Jesus was more powerful than the demons. Jesus was tying up the strong man and stealing his stuff.

In vs. 32-32, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees who had rejected Him, but has application to us today as well. The point being made is that the one who is truly doing the works Jesus is manifesting is the Holy Spirit. Jesus in His capacity as a man is working His miracles through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Thus blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a worse sin than blasphemy against Jesus.

As Walvoord pointed out earlier, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit comes from a place of heart that prevents the Holy Spirit's work in a person's heart, and that in itself prevents salvation, and is unforgivable because there is no forgiveness unless one believes.

Matthew 12:33-37 - Tree Known by it's Fruit

Mat 12:33-37 "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. (34) You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (35) A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. (36) But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. (37) For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

Jesus continues addressing the Pharisees with an explanation that one cannot separate the what comes out of the heart from the heart. If Jesus's miracles are good, then He is good, and if He demonstrated power over Satan and his demons then Jesus was more powerful than Satan and his demons. The Pharisees could not deny Jesus's compassion and power. If Jesus was in cahoots with Satan, then what would come out of His heart would have been evil, and that was certainly not the case.

Jesus referring to the Pharisees as a "brood of Vipers" is calling them "offspring of snakes", a scathing reference to the fact that they were offspring of the serpent, Satan. Jesus was flipping the script on them and speaking the truth that they were what they were accusing Jesus of.

He then gives the general principle that good things come out of a good heart (who we are as a person), and bad things from the evil heart.

Jesus then makes a reference to the "Day of Judgment". This, for believers, is the Bema Judgment for rewards in heaven at the time the Tribulation is ongoing. At that judgment, one of the criteria we will be judged for is what comes out of our mouths. "Empty words" means idle words or words without substance. If we are guilty of this, we will have forfeited rewards we otherwise would have had, and we experience loss. (But not loss of salvation.)

In the case of unbelievers including such as the Pharisees, their lot will be banishment to Sheol where they will await the final judgment at the Great White Throne judgment at the end of the Messianic Kingdom. In this case, the Pharisees were unbelievers, so they were not saved. They had used words without substance in accusing Jesus of working under the power of Satan. Since this judgment concerns the wicked unbeliever, they are dealt varying degrees of punishment in Hell.

Hendrickson states:

"The judgment passed upon the individual in the final day is going to be "by," in the sense of "inconformity with," "in accordance with," "in harmony with, " his words, considered as mirrors of the heart"

Matthew 12:38-40 - The Sign of Jonah

Mat 12:38-40 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from you." (39) He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (40) 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 and the Queen of the South will stand in judgment and condemn "this generation". These had heard the message and repented, thus postponing judgment. But this generation of Israel is failing to repent when the stakes are even higher.

Some of the Pharisees Jesus was addressing wanted a sign, but they had been given signs. Jesus had worked many miracles and healings, and His divinity had been rejected. No, no more signs would be given to this generation except for the death, burial and resurrection of Christ pictured in the story of Jonah. But it was too late, for judgment is already on the way.

Later on, a delegation was sent to Jesus consisting of both Pharisees and Sadducees. Pharisees represented the religious life of Israel, and the Sadducees the political life of Israel. They were in opposition with each other, but came together for this common cause. They convened a trial and officially requested that Jesus show a sign from heaven such as those done by OT prophets. The Jews believed that demons could do signs from earth, but only God could do a sign from heaven, so Jesus was to be put to the test. But again, the answer is no, He has given the signs of miracles and healing and had been rejected. The only sign left for them was the sign of Jonah.

Mat 16:1-4 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. (2) He replied, "When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,' (3) and in the morning, 'Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. (4) A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah." Jesus then left them and went away.

Signs were a common expectation in the lives of the Jewish leaders. They asked for authenticating signs for routinely. As per the course, they asked for another sign from Jesus to confirm His role as Messiah. But Jesus had been validating His role as Messiah with miracles and healings for some time now, including healings that had never occurred before, I.E. healing the leper and healing the man with the mute demon.

Therefore, Jesus instituted a new policy regarding the purpose of His signs. No longer would the signs be for the purpose of validating His Messiahship, but now would be for the purpose of training His disciples for a new kind of work they would be doing because of Jesus's rejection. This works is described in the book of Acts.

The sign of Jonah is one of resurrection after death.

Jon 2:5-7 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. (6) To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit. (7) "When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

In this passage, Jonah dies ("The waters compassed about me, even to the soul (KJV)", "seaweed was wrapped around my head", "to the roots of the mountains I sank down"), enters the gates of Sheol ("the earth beneath barred me in forever"), and rises from the watery grave ("But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit").

This final sign would be of Jesus's resurrection after being crucified. Just as Jonah died and was resurrected, so Jesus would also die and be resurrected.

Psa 16:10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Compare with:

Jon 2:6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.

From this point on, the only "sign" that the Pharisees would receive would be that of Jesus's resurrection, a powerful sign indeed.

Matthew 12:41-45 - The Judgment of the Nation

Mat 12:41-45 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 something greater than Jonah is here. (42) 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 something greater than Solomon is here. (43) "When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. (44) 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. (45) 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 person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation."

The first thing to note is to whom this judgment is applied. The men of Nineveh and the Queen of the South are said to stand in judgment against "this generation. This is especially noteworthy because a large segment of Christianity believes that the judgment is against Israel as a nation present and future.

This idea removes the promises God gave to the nation of Israel and reassigns them to the "church", in a doctrine called "replacement theology", or "supercessionism". This view causes people to say "God is done with Israel", "the church is now Israel", and "we Christians are now 'true Jews' or 'spiritual Israel', among other statements conveying the idea that the church is now Israel and Israel is no longer a special people of God.

Israel did not forfeit the promises God gave to Israel, only "that generation" did. God's promises to Israel are irrevocable. Nevertheless, the judgment against Israel was severe as we will learn in Matthew chapter 23 and 24 where we will see that Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were scattered to the nations.

Rom 11:11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.

Rom 11:25-26 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, (26) and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.

Rom 11:28-29 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, (29) for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.

Gen 12:2 / Gen 12:7 "I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

Psa 105:8-11 He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations, (9) the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. (10) He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: (11) "To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit."

Heb 6:17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.

This generation of Israel had a great light with them. Yet, they rejected Him, and the Kingdom. They were worse off than some of the Gentiles. Nineveh, while having little in the way of light, never the less repented when Jonah came to them. In a similar vein, The Queen of the South also sought the light. This generation of Israel chose darkness, and would be judged accordingly.

Jesus gave a metaphor of a demon possessed man to illustrate this generation and the effect it would have for future generations of Israel. In this metaphor, Israel is like the person in whom there is an evil spirit.

This evil spirit chose on his own to leave the person, and seek a better place. Finding no where better, he returns to the person he left earlier, and finds that he is vacant. This vacancy means that no evil spirit nor the Holy Spirit entered him in the meantime.

Because He remained empty, the evil spirit was able to reenter him, and he decided to invite 7 of his demon friends to enter the person as well. Such is the last state of the man worse than the first.

The context of this story is this generation of Israel. They are swept and clean by the ministry of John, preparing them for the coming King. This generation chose to reject the King, remaining empty. Accordingly, their last state will be worse than their first.

Under Roman rulership, they were allowed to retain their national identity. Jerusalem was standing, as was their temple. They had their own government in the Sanhedrin. The judgment that will be poured out on them would leave them 7 times worse off than they had been.

Luk 21:5-6 And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said, (6) As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

Luk 21:20-24 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. (21) Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. (22) For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. (23) But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. (24) And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

Verse 45 gives the context for this story, this generation.

A Change of Course

Four things change as a result of this generation's rejection of King and Kingdom:

Signs - Jesus will no longer give signs to the nation of Israel to provoke them to decide which side they are going to be on. They have made that decision through their teachers and religious leaders. That decision is rejection.

From this point forward, signs are for the purpose of training and preparing the apostles for their ministry. The only sign given to Israel would be the sign of Jonah.

Miracles - Up to this point, Jesus's miracles did not require faith on the part of the observer or participant. Henceforth, miracles would not happen without faith. Again, Jesus's miracles were to validate His authority as Messiah, and Israel had chosen to reject Him.

Message - The message to this point was to repent and be baptized in preparation for the coming Kingdom. Since the Kingdom was rejected, the message changes to concealing the coming of the Kingdom and King. This policy lasted until the "Great Commission" in Matt 28.

The program would now shift from the coming of the King and the Messianic Kingdom to the church and the Body of Christ.

Teaching Method - Jesus's teachings changed from being clear and understandable by the people to speaking in Parables. The switch from teaching plainly to speaking parables happened the same day as His rejection.

Mat 7:28-29 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, (29) because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Mat 13:1-3 a That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. (2) Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. (3) Then he told them many things in parables, ....

Matthew 12:46-50 - The True Family of Messiah

Mat 12:46-50 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. (47) Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." (48) He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" (49) Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. (50) For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

Jesus's mother and brothers included James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude. Jesus also had sisters but they apparently were not a part of this meeting.

Mat 13:55-56 Isn't he the son of the carpenter? Isn't Mary his mother, and aren't James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers? (56) Don't his sisters still live here in our town? How can he do all this?"

The content of what they wanted to talk to Jesus about is not given in Matthew, however, Mark sheds some light on this:

Mar 3:21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."

Jesus's mother and brothers were experiencing a great deal of stress resulting from Jesus's activities. They went out to reign Him in. When they reached him, and someone told Him His family was there, He asked "Who are my mother and brothers?". This could not have made them feel any more at comfort.

But Jesus had a point He was making. His point was that spiritual kinship is greater than physical kinship. He said that "whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." To do the will of the Father meant to accept Jesus as Messiah King.

Joh 6:40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day."

This did not mean that Jesus didn't love His family. He did, to the point that as he was dying on the cross he asked that John care for His mother.

Joh 19:26-27 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, "Woman, here is your son," (27) and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

The Pharisees believed that they were to be granted access to the Kingdom on the basis of their biological physical ties to Abraham. In this teaching of Jesus it is clear that only the spiritual seed of Abraham are going to enter the kingdom. Physical connection is insufficient.

Gal 3:29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

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