Matthew Chapter 12 Pharisees Criticize; Jonah Sign

Tod Kennedy, January, 2007

  1. The Pharisees now criticize Jesus about the Sabbath, Matthew 12:1-14. At this point in Jesus’ ministry the opposition and rejection of him begins to build. This will continue as recorded in chapters 12-15. By chapters 21-25 the opposition reaches a climax to such an extent that Jesus pointedly says that the stone has been rejected and the kingdom of God will be taken from the nation (Matthew 21:43-46).
    • The Sabbath was very important to the Jews. Just as circumcision was a sign that marked a Jew as related to Abraham and the Abrahamic Covenant, so the Sabbath was the sign that marked Israel’s relationship to the Law of Moses.
    • The Pharisees said he was breaking the law (Matthew 12:2).
    • This incident shows legalism for what it is—ritual that misses the whole point of the Scripture. What Jesus does is make a parallel with David. David was God’s choice for king. The people rejected him. Jesus is God’s Messiah. The people rejected him. God and relationship with him is more important than a contrived use of the law.
    • Jesus gave at least five reasons why they were wrong. As he does this he shows that their use of Scripture is wrong. They do not interpret Scripture by Scripture. They interpret Scripture by the Pharisaic traditions.
      • Matthew 12:3-4. Jesus did not break the Old Testament law by picking and eating corn from a field. First, Deuteronomy 23:25 permitted taking grain from a neighbor’s field. But most important, he referred to David requesting and being given consecrated bread by the priest at Nob when he was running form Saul (Samuel 21:1-6).  The Old Testament did not condemn him or his men for this, therefore the Pharisees should not condemn him.
      • Matthew 12:5. The priest who officiated at the temple technically broke the Pharisees law by their Sabbath work at the temple. The law accepted their work as good. We see that the temple is greater than the Sabbath. The Sabbath was subordinated to the temple.
      • Matthew 12:6. Jesus is greater than the temple. As God met Israel in the temple, so God met Israel in the person of the Messiah.
      • Matthew 12:7. Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6. In that passage the Lord denounces Israel and Judah for their ritual religion. The Jews of Hosea’s time would sacrifice, but had no loyalty to God and a limited knowledge of God. The motives of the heart and the correct expression of the motives are much more important than following a legal point, if following the legal point is simple a meaningless ritual.
      • Matthew 12:8. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. He has authority to do as he pleases with the Sabbath. The Sabbath was to be a blessing to Israel, not a curse. Jesus even abolished the Sabbath by his work on the cross (Ephesians 2.15-16; Hebrews 8-10, e.g. 8:13, 10:2 and 9).
    • Jesus leaves the grain field and went into a synagogue. A man with a withered or atrophied hand was there. They had seen Jesus work before and used this as an excuse to again attack him. Note that the text says “so they might accuse him.” They never learn (Matthew 12:12-13).
      • Jesus answers them with a common sense question that should make them admit his is right. He asks about a sheep. Would they rescue one of their sheep on the Sabbath if it fell into a ditch? Of course they would?
      • He then makes the obvious statement that a man is more valuable than a sheep. Even they must admit that. He makes the conclusion for them that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
      • Jesus heals the man’s hand.
    • Now instead of saying, “What a miracle. This Jesus is must be God’s man,” the Pharisees plan among themselves how they might kill Jesus. He is too much for them to handle. They cannot handle his knowledge of Scripture or his common sense or his divine power.
  2. In Matthew 12:15-37 Matthew records that Jesus healed many people, including a demon possessed blind and mute man. The Pharisees complained that Jesus was working with Satan and using Satan’s power to cast out demons. Jesus then told them how foolish their statement was. If he was doing what they accused him of, then Satan was destroying his own kingdom.
    • In Matthew 12:15-17, Jesus withdrew from the Pharisees because he rejected the false expectations of some and because of the intense opposition in order to prevent them from seizing him before the right time.
    • In Matthew 12:17-21, He loosely quotes Isaiah 42:1-4. He uses the messianic quote to demonstrate he is the one Isaiah spoke of. He does not allow the people to force his kingdom, and He does not strike back at the opposition. He will bring justice. He will ultimately win. Even Gentiles will look for him to come.
    • In Matthew 12:22-32, we have the interchange about the blind deaf mute. The accusation was that Jesus healed him by Satan’s power. Jesus says that this is a foolish statement because a divided kingdom cannot last.
      • Verse 26, Satan will not cast out himself.
      • Verse 27, if Jesus cast out demons by Satan’s power, then the Pharisees must answer by what power the Pharisees’ “sons” cast out demons—it must be the same power that he uses. Why do they accuse him and accept what the “sons” do? Jesus authorized his disciples to cast out demons in Matthew 10:1.
      • Verse 28, if Jesus really does work by the Spirit of God, then they are seeing evidence of God’s kingdom and power before their eyes. Why then are they are resisting God’s kingdom? The prophet Isaiah, said that God’s Spirit would rest upon messiah (Isaiah 42:1 and Matthew 12:18).
      • Verse 29, no one can break into a strong man’s house and rob him unless he is stronger that the owner and binds him. In order for Jesus to successfully cast out Satan’s demons he must be stronger that Satan. The miracles prove that he is stronger than Satan.
      • Verse 30, Jesus makes it plain that the Pharisees must make up their minds about him. He has taught the OT; he has performed various kinds of miracles; he has power over Satan; he has shown that he fits the OT pattern for the messiah. Gather and scatter refer to the results of what the Pharisees say. What they now say scatters people away from Jesus. They will bear great responsibility.
      • Verse 31-32, the blasphemy or extreme slander against the Holy Spirit is the one sin that they could commit then and there that has no forgiveness. People could speak against Christ and later believe in him. People could not speak against the Holy Spirit and later be forgiven. Why? Because blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was attributing to Satan the works that Jesus was doing by the Holy Spirit’s power. The Holy Spirit was the revealer of the messiah. When one stopped the Holy Spirit, one stopped any chance of biblical conviction about Jesus and therefore stopped any chance of forgiveness.
        • According to Luke 4 the Holy Spirit was the help for Jesus in his earthly messianic ministry. To speak against the Holy Spirit in this context of Jesus’ ministry was to cut oneself off from that ministry.
        • This sin, in context, had reference to the Pharisees and those who listened to them during the earthly life of Jesus. This is not possible today.
        • The Pharisees were condemning themselves.
    • Matthew 12:33-37. Now the illustration of a tree and its fruit. The contrast is between Jesus and the Pharisees. Vipers in Matthew 12:33 refer to the Pharisees as in Matthew 3:7 and 23:33. The Pharisees need to change inside.
      • A farmer makes a tree good by proper fertilizing, watering, and pruning. He makes a tree bad by ignoring good agricultural practices (33-34)
      • The Pharisees are using bad practices in their lives by replacing the Law and the Prophets with traditions and taboos. What they say and do is therefore bad.
      • Jesus is serving God his father and what he does is good.
      • Verses 36-37 remind them that God is the judge and there will be a day when God judges mankind.
        • Unbelievers will be judged at the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). What they have said will reflect what is inside them. For them their words will demonstrate their unbelief.
        • Believers will be judged at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). They will be rewarded or lack rewards based on what they have said, which will reflect their Christian life.
  3. Matthew 12:38-45 records Jesus’ answer to the scribes’ and Pharisees’ demand for a special sign that will prove what he has said is true. Of course his miracles have already done that. They want something more.
    • a.        Jesus calls them evil and adulterous generation. Hosea illustrated this same character of Israel in his prophecy. Israel was the adulterous wife. She was idolatrous. Jesus’ generation was the same. Maybe not with overt idols, but with unfaithfulness to God and his Son.
    • b.       He will give only one special sign. That sign was illustrated by the history of Jonah. Jonah spent three days and three nights in the great fish. Then he was rescued back to the routines of life. Jesus will spend the same time in the grave and then rise back to physical life on the third day. That will surely demonstrate that he is the awaited messiah. But even then, Israel will reject him.
    • c.        Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message. Nineveh repented of her evil. The repentance so lifted the Assyrian nation that Assyria gained about 140 more years before her destruction in 612 BC by the Babylonians.
    • d.       The queen of the South (queen of Sheba) recognized Solomon’s wisdom and prosperity.
    • e.        Both the Assyrians and the queen, Gentiles, did pay attention to God’s people. Even they will have a better standing at God’s judgment than the generation of Israelites who reject the messiah (12:41-42).
      • These three groups will be judged, and apparently at the same judgment.
      • There will be degrees of condemnation. We do not know if the queen and a large group of Assyrians believed God’s promises of a coming messiah and were “saved by faith.”
      • What is greater than Jonah and Solomon. Well, Jesus is greater. But, the word “greater” is neuter and not masculine or feminine. It refers to Jesus’ preaching, which is what the people are now rejecting.
    • In verses 43-45 Jesus teaches that they have had a great opportunity to hear God’s messiah and have rejected him. John the Baptist and Jesus challenged the people. For a short moment the people considered their messages, but in the end rejected what they said. As Jesus continues to travel and present God’s kingdom message the people continue to have an opportunity to believe him. They listen, but reject him and what he says. Since they reject him, they will return to the same unbelieving condition they were in before they met him, only they will be worse off than before and face greater judgment because they rejected such a clear message.
  4. Matthew 12:46-50 now take the message in a different direction. Jesus’ point is not to reject family members. His point is that those who accept him and do his will become part of a new relationship. This is a relationship with Jesus the messiah and it is closer and stronger than physical relationship by birth or marriage.
    • A warning in this event is that family can often be the most subtle and the strongest opposition.  His family wanted to speak to him. By his answer, they may have been trying to distract him from his present mission.
  5. Lessons from Matthew 12.
    • Beware of legalistic tendencies and legalistic people. We are all prone to different expressions of legalism, whether it is based upon tradition or supposed but weak biblical interpretation.
    • The Holy Spirit is necessary in evangelism, teaching, and day to day Christian living.
    • Who you are inside will eventually show by your attitudes, actions, and words. Be careful to grow in the Lord and represent him.
    • When we make spiritual advances, be careful not to then go backwards because you may harden yourself against spiritual recovery. Ephesians 4:17 and following gives the doctrinal explanation.
    • Watch out for subtle family distractions.​