Sunday, June 25, 2023

A Study of Matthew Chapter 12:38-40

by Stan Feldsine (

Matthew 12:38-40 - The Sign of Jonah

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, and asked for a sign, but they had been given signs. 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 and the Sadducees the political life of Israel. They convened a trial and officially requested that Jesus show a sign from heaven such as those done by OT prophets. But again, the answer is no, the only sign left for them was the sign of Jonah (Mat 16:1-4).

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 work is described in the book of Acts.

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

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, Rom 11:25-26, Rom 11:28-29, Gen 12:2 / Gen 12:7, Psa 105:8-11, Heb 6:17). 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 the final condition of 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 (Israel), and seek a better place. Finding no where better, he returns to the person (Israel) 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 (Israel) as well. Such is the last state of the man (Israel) 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, Luk 21:20-24). Verse 45 gives the context for this story, this generation.


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