From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Matthew 1 to 14                             Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2018

 

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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding Matthew

 

(Volume 1:  Chapters 11-12)

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

 

 

John the Baptist’s Concerns about Jesus (Matthew 11:1-6):  1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their towns.  Now when John heard in prison about the deeds Christ had done, he sent his disciples to ask a question:  “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”  Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see:  The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them.  Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

            11:1     Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.  Oddly enough, though chapter ten goes on at length about a short term preaching mission throughout Israel and then uses the hostility they would sometimes find during it as the springboard for a discussion of the more distant future hostility, there is no account of the mission itself.  Nor of their return from it.  This makes one suspect that the previous chapter combines the assignment to preach with Jesus’ remarks to the apostles upon their return, warning them that the hostility they had observed would be even more profound in the future. 

            Be that as it may, chapter 11 has Jesus Himself going out to teach further.  Either this happens simultaneously with the apostles’ independent work or after their return and they are with Him but unmentioned.  12:1 clearly refers to their presence by at least that point, however.

 

            11:2     And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples.   To be in prison for an injustice, that is something a person may endure either stoically or with bitterness.  But when, like the Baptist, one was there out of no personal criminality, it could still be psychologically overwhelming.  Especially when one had been looking forward to Jesus’ work and it had not produced the kind of national change John was anticipating.  In that mind frame of ambivalence and uncertainty, John sends two disciples to question Jesus.

            Sidebar:  The fact that he had the liberty to speak with his disciples--and every apparent reason to believe he could talk with them again when they returned--argues that this prisoner was being treated gingerly and with as much courtesy as circumstances permitted.

 

            11:3     and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”  The question they ask is blunt:  are you the Messiah?  Perhaps John had misunderstood Jesus’ purposes.  Perhaps he had misunderstood the nature of the Messiah for that matter.  He knew that Jesus had the ability to provide the Holy Spirit, while his own baptism was limited to mere water (John 1:33).  Because of this he recognized that Jesus was so much “mightier” than he was that he wasn’t worthy to even carry His sandals (Matthew 3:11). 

            On the other hand Jesus had not been acting in anything close to the way one would anticipate the Messiah doing.  And this must also have caused him to be questioned by his own followers--resulting in questions he could not answer.  By asking Jesus, through them, John would hope to gain more explicit information around which he could reconstruct his own feelings and thoughts about both Jesus and the proper work of the long promised Messiah.

 

            11:4     Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see.  We have the expression, “words are cheap.”  Claims are easily made.  Even profoundly exaggerated and absurd ones.  Instead of claiming anything, Jesus responds that they should tell John what they themselves were observing.  The implicit message, of course, is that these wonders are so numerous and profound how could He be anything other than the promised Messiah?  No matter how much He might deviate from what was expected.

 

            11:5     The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  The cures were neither of minor problems nor of difficulties that could easily be misunderstood or exaggerated.  In each case it would be obvious to their friends and associates whether they were really without eyesight . . . really unable (or barely able) to walk . . . whether a person had leprosy . . . or couldn’t hear.  And suddenly their disabilities were healed—promptly, instantaneously.

            And these were not a rarity, they were a common occurrence.   

 Furthermore, if this was not awe-inspiring in itself, even the dead were being raised and throughout it all the good news (= “gospel”) was being faithfully preached.  If these works did not prove who Jesus was, what would?  What more could one expect of the Messiah than what Jesus was already doing?

Not what was expected quite probably, but could anyone with intellectual honesty possibly deny that this was at least as important?  Was not the supernatural care (miracles of healing) and Divinely inspired teaching to guide the people at least as important as any of their preferences for a nationalistic temporal kingdom?  He was delivering a people centered kingdom, rather than a nationalistic one that prospered by exercising naked power over the unwilling. 

Sidebar:  Prophecy had spoken of the days of Israel’s future joy and piety:  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.  Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing . . .” (Isaiah 35).  “Poor” as used in 11:5 has close to the connotation of “those ‘unimportant’ people who are trying to be truly pious.  Jesus’ teaching to them would easily fit the prophetic message of such individuals being liberated from the chains of sin and rejoicing at the opportunity they’ve been given:  The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn,  To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified”  (Isaiah 61).   

 

            11:6     And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”  Jesus was not acting like a nationalistic rebel, a raiser of a holy war against the despised Romans.  That could easily discourage those who could only think of the Messiah in such “patriotic” terms.  Yet the person who could rise above this . . . who could concede that Jesus had such massive capability and power that He had the full right to “redefine” what being “Messiah” met . . . such a person was truly “blessed” because he or she had not permitted preferences to blind them to the respect and honor Jesus legitimately deserved. 

            They would not permit their expectations of a redeemer who would be far different to anger them—“offend them”—to the degree that they rejected what He had to offer.  They were willing to sacrifice their own preferences for the sake of their Savior—both physically (in the miracles) and spiritually (in regard to their sins).

 

 

Jesus Praises the Greatness of John the Baptist (11:7-15):  While they were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John:  “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  What did you go out to see?  A man dressed in fancy clothes?  Look, those who wear fancy clothes are in the homes of kings!

“What did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  10 This is the one about whom it is written:  Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 

11 “I tell you the truth, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.  Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.  12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it.  13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John appeared.  14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who is to come.  15 The one who has ears had better listen!”    

--New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

           

            11:7     As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John:  “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  Jesus’ earlier words (11:2-6) could easily have been taken as a stinging rebuke to either John’s messengers or even to John himself--or at least a “harsh put down” of a loyal servant of God.  To avoid that misinterpretation, Jesus goes out of the way to stress how important a role John had fulfilled.  In the first place John was not a moral weakling whose teaching could change in one direction and then another like a reed being blown about by the wind . . . he was steadfast and reliable as a messenger of God should always be.    

 

            11:8     But what did you go out to see?  A man clothed in soft garments?  Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.  John was not one who got rich off his teaching—neither as a goal nor as the side benefit.  Look at his garments:  not the “soft” (and expensive) attire one would find in a king’s home.  When they went out to hear his preaching in the wilderness they already knew John would not fit in that niche.

            Sidebar:  The words had a more pointed reference than at first sight appears.  Jewish historians record how in the early days of Herod the Great a section of the scribes had attached themselves to his policy and party, and in doing so had laid aside the somber garments of their order, and had appeared in the gorgeous raiment worn by Herod’s other courtiers . The Herodians of the Gospel history were obviously the successors of these men in policy, and probably also in habits and demeanor; and the reference to ‘kings’ houses’ admits of no other application than to the palace of Antipas”--the ruler who was holding John the Baptist in prison.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  

 

            11:9     But what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.  One of the problems with words is that they can sometimes get us close to our meaning—but they aren’t quite adequate to fully describe it.  Hence, yes, John is a “prophet”--in an important sense.  Yet the term failed to do full justice to his special role.  The next verse explains why.   

 

            11:10     For this is he of whom it is written:  ‘Behold, I send My messenger / before Your face, / Who will prepare Your way before You.’  He was really far more than “prophet” would normally connote because he was the last of the line in reaching the ultimate goal of Old Testament prophecy . . . he was the immediate predecessor of the Messiah that Malachi 3:1 had predicted.  If they understood their scriptures correctly, they would be willing to apply that text to his ministry.

            Hence he had the joy none of them had of personally and immediately preparing the way for his Lord’s work.  There was to be one Messiah and one unique prophet / messenger of that Messiah and that was John. 

           

            11:11     “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  If John was more than a mere prophet (verse 9), he was more than a mere ordinary man as well.  There was no one else alive who could be considered “greater.”  Yet there was also a paradox here:  so great was it to be in the “kingdom of heaven”—an opportunity John himself would not enjoy--that anyone in that kingdom is actually greater than John.  And since the message of this kingdom was a hallmark of both John’s and Jesus’ preaching, that meant all of those listening had the potential for such greatness.  If they heeded the message of moral and spiritual reform.

            Sidebar:  Why is John counted as so great?  The commentator Macknight is quoted by the Benson Commentary as saying, “Our Lord honored the Baptist with the magnificent title of the greatest of all the prophets, under the law, for four reasons.  1st, He was the subject of ancient prophecies, and had long been expected by the people of God under the character of Elias, a name given him by Malachi, because he was to possess the spirit and power of Elias.  2d, His conception and birth had been accompanied with miracles.  3d, When the season of his inspiration came, he was favored with a clearer revelation concerning the Messiah than had been enjoyed by any of the prophets under the law.  4th, By his preaching he prepared the Jews for receiving the gospel, and consequently began that more excellent dispensation.”      

 

            11:12      And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.  The sad fact was that throughout the ministry of John there were violence inclined  individuals who wished to seize control of the kingdom being preached.  The Zealot types who wanted a militaristic messiah.  The local political leadership who would love to embrace any religious movement that enhanced their prestige and which they could use to justify their power.  In other words, it could be bent to fit more than one agenda. 

            The kingdom’s true intent (metaphorically) “suffered violence” at the hands of both and (literally so) in the imprisonment of John since he was preaching its rapid approach.  Vincent’s Word Studies provides a different example of our point:  “The violent take it by force (βιασταὶ ἁρπάζουσιν αὐτήν):  This was proved by the multitudes who followed Christ and thronged the doors where he was, and would have taken Him by force (the same word) and made him a king (John 6:15).”

            It is common to take this verse, however, in a very positive sense--the huge enthusiasm and military campaign like zeal with which the multitudes flocked to the preaching and baptism of John and Jesus.  This other approach strikes me as far stronger. 

 

            11:13     For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.  Jesus sees John marking the end of a distinct period in God’s dealing with the human race.  Prophecy and the Mosaical Law itself had both served a purpose until John came.  (Leaving the implication that after John that purpose would come to an end.)  Hence the end of the Mosaical Law and the prophets who defended it and built upon it must soon cease and be replaced with something different--the Law of Christ.

 

            11:14     And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.  Literally, the closing words of the Old Testament in Malachi 4:5-6 are:  Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”

            Note the conditional “if” in 11:14:  True as the statement was, not all would be willing to concede the point that John was this person.  (We use the expression “can’t get their mind around it” to describe such difficulties.)  For many it would be out of genuine conviction—John was not the literal Elijah but only Elijah-like in attire and message.  He fulfilled the substance of the prophecy but not in the most literal of fashions possible, i.e., actually being the historic Elijah brought back a second time.

            This viewpoint is reflected in how the apostles responded when Jesus challenged them in private as to how the people viewed Him, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14).

 

            11:15     He who has ears to hear, let him hear!  Jesus’ challenge is:  if you have ears to hear, then use them for their intended purpose--if you have ears to “hear” (in the minimum physical sense of auditory perception) then truly and full “hear” (in the sense of believing and accepting).  He plays on the multiple ways the word “hear” can be used.  He makes this challenge yet again in 13:9 and 13:43, arguing that this wording appealed to Him as a way of making the point even more emphatic:  “Pay attention to this!  Accept and embrace it.”

 

 

The Inconsistency of the Masses in Their Attitude toward Jesus and John the Baptist (11:16-19):  16 “To what should I compare this generation?  They are like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to one another,  17 ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.’  18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’  19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

--New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            11:16     “But to what shall I liken this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions.  The comparison of the current generation to a bunch of children could be the introduction to either praise or criticism, depending upon what comes next.  Either way the intent is to introduce the behavior of minors as a parallel to reflect upon how their supposedly “mature parents” are acting. 

 

            11:17     and saying:  We played the flute for you, / And you did not dance; / We mourned to you, / And you did not lament.’  The adult generation were like disgruntled children who are playing and who are annoyed that others won’t do what they wish to be done.  If some want to play that it’s a time of celebration, the flute player is annoyed because others don’t want to dance in joy for this is the time for such.  Likewise if some want to play like there has been death and it is time to pretend the sorrow that goes with such a situation, others don’t want to join in. 

            Their standard of judgment is not whether it is right or wrong--or even desirable versus undesirable--but however they feel about the subject at the moment.  A lot like the modern world with its quick rushing to contradictory extremes of opinion!

 

            11:18     For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’  Here we find an implication that is a bit startling:  We are so used to Jesus being rejected, we easily forget that there were those who would have been deeply annoyed by John’s popularity and message as well.  The dishonest, the abusive, those whose religion only went skin deep—they had nothing in John to admire.  Rather than accept his rebuke of their excesses, what easier thing to do that to dismiss him cavalierly as demon possessed? 

            Today he would probably be derisively dismissed as “crazy” or, if lucky, as “eccentric: the insult might not be as verbally extreme but it would be equally intended to belittle.  Or am I being too restrained?  Might not the anti-moral biases of secular society be just as extremely expressed--though in a secularist direction . . . causing him to be passionately denounced as a “bigot” and “intolerant.  After all, doesn’t he have to be such if he denounces what the Bible condemns as clear cut sin?

 

            11:19     The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  But wisdom is justified by her children.”  Jesus’ behavior was the opposite of John.  John was characterized by what he did not eat; Jesus was characterized by happily joining in the table fellowship of everyone from the poorer to the rich.  The austere John was rebuked for being an ascetic; the cordial Jesus who loved the company of others got rebuked for being sociable—for even being a drunkard and a glutton (i.e., guilt by association and not by personal behavior).  Like the children in verses 16 and 17, nothing would satisfy them.

            Yet “wisdom is justified by her children.”  Those who are wise will see the wisdom in the path followed by both individuals.  Both had a distinct role to play in the Divine scheme of things and adopted a lifestyle to fit it.  Because one was right did not mean the other had to be wrong.  And the most indefensible position of all was to criticize both, reversing the basis of one’s criticism on the basis of who one was currently degrading.

 

 

Those Places That Had Seen the Most Vivid Examples of Jesus’ Power Refused to Change Their Lifestyles and Would Answer To God For It (Matthew 11:20-24):  20 Then Jesus began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done many of his miracles, because they did not repent.  21 “Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  If the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you!  23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven?  No, you will be thrown down to Hades!  For if the miracles done among you had been done in Sodom, it would have continued to this day.  24 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you!”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            11:20     Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.  Jesus’ wonders of healing impressed many.  Yet far too often those who saw Him only labeled Him a healer and a wonder worker.  They refused to see that the holder of such supernatural powers--who could heal by a mere touch or command--that His tongue must also be blessed with a Divinely given message as well.  Hence even the cities in which “most” of His miracles were performed refused to accept the demand to “repent” that was core of His spoken plea to the people.

            Sidebar on the nomenclature used to describe Jesus’ miracles:  The supernatural works of Christ and his apostles are denoted by six different words in the New Testament, exhibiting these works under different aspects and from different points of view. . . .  Generally, a miracle may be regarded:  1. As a portent or prodigy (τέρας); as Acts 7:36, of the wonders shown by Moses in Egypt.  2. As a sign (σημεῖον), pointing to something beyond itself, a mark of the power or grace of the doer or of his connection with the supernatural world.  So Matthew 12:38.  3. As an exhibition of God's glory (ἔνδοξον), Luke 13:17; glorious things.  4. As a strange thing (παράδοξον), Luke 5:26.  5. As a wonderful thing (θαυμάσιον), Matthew 21:15.  6. As a power (δύναμις); so here:  a mighty work.”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)

 

            11:21     “Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  In His own lifetime the important towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida were without excuse because if those Old Testament synonyms for Gentile evil--as Tyre and Sidon were--had observed such miracles, they would not only have repented, they would have worn “sackcloth and ashes” to publicly exhibit their self-humiliation and admission of evil.  Yet these contemporary cities were oblivious to what was right in front of them.  And they did not even have the excuse of being outsiders, aliens, Gentiles!

            Sidebar:  The mention of Chorazin and Bethsaida is intriguing in that we read no gospel mention placing any miracle in either city, but this text clearly takes for granted that such had occurred . . . thereby verifying John’s closing remark that only a tiny portion of everything Jesus did and said has been preserved (John 21:25). 

 

            11:22      But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.  And when it comes to consequences of not heeding the repentance call, the refusal to change for the better was nothing short of self-destructive.  Those ancient cities would face easier treatment than the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida.  Since popular expectation had an idea of how destructive the earlier cities would be treated—i.e., badly, painfully, humiliatingly in light of their prior importance--it was left to their imagination how much worse was going to happen to their own contemporaries.  Admit the fact and the “gory details” were not needed at all.      

 

            11:23     And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  Capernaum rightly considered herself an important city--they were “exalted to heaven,” at least in their own eyes.  (Think New York City’s bravado over the rest of the eastern United States throughout most of the twentieth century.) 

But the day was coming when they would be cast down not merely to earth but even more devastatingly . . . to “Hades” (= the unseen world) because their stubbornness exceeded that in wicked Sodom.  Even that ancient cesspool of moral rot would have survived due to repentance if they had observed the works Jesus performed.  They were “neck deep” in sin and iniquity but even they weren’t such great fools.

Sidebar:  The large number of miracles performed in that city--“This city had already witnessed more of our Lord’s recorded wonders than any other.  That of the nobleman’s son (John 4:46-54), of the demoniac (Mark 1:21-28), the man sick of the palsy (Matthew 9:1-8), of Peter’s wife’s mother and the many works that followed (Matthew 8:1-14), of the woman with the issue of blood, and of Jairus’s daughter (Matthew 9:18-26), of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13), had all been wrought there, besides the unrecorded ‘signs’ implied in Luke 4:23.  In this sense, and not in any outward prosperity, had Capernaum been “exalted unto heaven.”   (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  Actually both approaches work rather well.

 

            11:24     But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”  The point was more than academic.  There was coming a “day of judgment” in which Sodom would receive more favorable treatment than supposedly righteous and prestigious Capernaum.  (And since Jesus used Capernaum as the base of so much of His preaching work, how that must have rankled the locals!)

            Sidebar:  From this passage we learn ‘two important particulars:  1st, That the punishments to be inflicted upon wicked men in the life to come shall not be all equal, but in exact proportion to the demerit of the sins of each.  2d, That great and signal punishments, befalling sinners in this life, will not screen them from the wrath of God in the life to come; for Jesus Christ, the judge, here declares that Sodom, though burned by fire and brimstone from heaven, shall suffer such dreadful things, that, in speaking of the pains of the damned, he mentions this city as an example of very great punishment.’ -- Macknight.”  (Benson Commentary)     

 

 

Those Who Arrogantly Considered Themselves the Smartest and Most Important People Rejected Jesus, While Jesus Was Willing to Happily Accept Anyone Regardless of Who They Were (Matthew 11:25-30):  25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to little children.  26 Yes, Father, for this was your gracious will.  27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father.  No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him.  28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            11:25     At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.  At this point Jesus gives a short two verse prayer that ties in with the theme of rejection that He had been developing.  He does not dwell on the sorrow of rejection, though it was obviously there.  Rather He emphasizes the unexpected opportunities it has provided. 

By sending them a message they did not like, God had effectively “hidden” (in plain sight) the truths they did not want to accept.  Yet though the supposedly smart and “prudent” had rejected the message, those popularly thought of as unlearned and of no importance (= mere “babes”) were having Jesus’ truths revealed to them as well—and they had receptive hearts for it.  The “important” people were hiding the truths from themselves by their prejudice and bias while the “unimportant” were embracing them.

 

            11:26     Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.  This situation was not accidental.  It was what seemed best in God’s sight.  From man’s standpoint this was a reversal of what should be:  The wise, the educated, the prestigious should be receiving the Divine embrace not these . . . these . . . these “unwashed peons.”  (Feel free to substitute whatever derogatory comparison feels best to you.)

 

           11:27     All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father.  Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.  The unique relationship of Father and Son is emphasized in this text—one that is vastly deeper and more profound than between any mere human beings.  The “knowledge” they have of each other is unlike that shared by any two mortals—deeper, more penetrating, more exhaustive, where the sentiments of one are those of the other. 

Furthermore “all things” Jehovah wished to have revealed to His people had been given to Jesus to share.  Because of their unique relationship, this gave Jesus the credentials to be law giver and truth expounder for the new age of the kingdom.  (The “all things” can also be taken in the sense of all authority—Matthew 28:18-20—and be an allusion to Jesus’ regal position.  Which, in turn, would also establish His full right and duty to authoritatively teach.)

 

            11:28     Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Jesus consciously appeals to the underclass of His day:  If you work hard and you have many burdens, then come to me.  There is a “rest” I can give you that no one else can.  Since Jesus obviously lacked the economic resources to provide them a “middle class life,” He must have in mind a different kind of rest.  The rest of the heart, the rest of the soul.  The rest of a mind finally at full peace with the Almighty.  The “rest” of a heavenly home once all earthly labors are over.

 

            11:29     Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  There is a price to be paid for the “rest” we obtain from the Lord.  There is a “yoke” of obligation and obedience that must be voluntarily embraced.  Yet Jesus’ nature is so “gentle” and “lowly” in heart that no one need fear that He will somehow take advantage of them as the price of becoming His disciple. 

 

            11:30     For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  Those obligations are “easy” and “light” compared to the extensive body of traditional restrictions and inhibitions being developed among the rabbis.  Restrictions that could be fully observed only by an expert—if then.  In contrast, the demands of Jesus would be simple enough to comprehend that they could be obeyed by one and all.

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve

 

 

           

Jesus Even Had the Legitimate Authority to Determine the Right Rules About Sabbath Observance Regardless of What Tradition Demanded (Matthew 12:1-8):  1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pick heads of wheat and eat them.  But when the Pharisees saw this they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is against the law to do on the Sabbath.”  He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry— how he entered the house of God and they ate the sacred bread, which was against the law for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests?

“Or have you not read in the law that the priests in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are not guilty?  I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.  If you had known what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.  For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            12:1     At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath.  And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  Walking was not forbidden on the Sabbath but the acceptable distance was restricted to a modest length “Sabbath’s day journey.”  That is typically considered to have been 2,000 cubits.  The only actual Biblical reference is Acts 1:12—“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey”—and that would work out to a little over ½ of a mile.

            Whatever the exact figure, there was no problem in Jesus moving around from one place to another on that day.  What exposed the Jesus and the disciples to censure, however, was the disciples plucking grains of wheat and eating them.

            Sidebar:  Eating corn from a person’s grainfield as one walked through it was explicitly authorized by the Torah so that aspect of what happened was beyond challenge:  When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain” (Deuteronomy 23:25).  If they hoped to make a case at all, they had to insist it was the day rather than the action under consideration.   

 

            12:2     And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”  Certain Pharisees saw it--and how did they happen to see it unless they were following in the hope of finding something to criticize?  They grabbed on this behavior and insisted that this was sinful “work:  Since Sabbath work was forbidden the disciples were guilty of violating the Divine Law.  The ethical question of whether it was also unlawful behavior to follow someone on the Sabbath day in the hope of finding an excuse to criticize them did not enter their mind. 

            Nor were they bothered by their lack of thinking through the nature of “work”--the obvious differences between threshing a field of grain and plucking individual heads for immediate consumption.  The fact that the label could be applied and that in some extraordinarily broad sense the word would “fit” was adequate to justify their prejudiced accusation.  Taking time to double check their reasoning was not going to be permitted to get in the way of undermining Jesus’ influence.  Nor that it was not what Jesus Himself was doing but what “your disciples are doing.”  

           

            12:3     But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him.  David was accepted by one and all as the prototype ideal king of the nation.  Yet what did this man--one known as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22)--do when he and those fleeing with him were desperately hungry?

            Sidebar:  This incident is recorded in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.

 

            12:4     how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?  This consumption was permitted only to the priests and forbiddent to non-priests such as David and his followers (Leviticus 24:5-9).  Yet did that cause the Pharisees to throw up derogatory accusations against ancient David since the behavior was produced by the necessity of circumstances (severe hunger) rather than out of arrogance or self-serving?  No.  In David’s circumstances they were fully able to grasp the importance of context and motive.

 

            12:5     Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?  They themselves knew full well that even all Sabbath “work” was not prohibited if it was done out of the right purpose and it was of a type Jehovah/Yahweh approved.  Did not the priests carry out their “work” on the Sabbath?  Did they not (technically) “profane” the day and yet were counted “blameless” and needing no censure?

            Sidebar:  The nature of the work they did every Sabbath--“On the Sabbath days they were engaged, as well as on other days, in killing beasts for sacrifice (Numbers 28:9-10).  Two lambs were killed on the Sabbath, in addition to the daily sacrifice.  The priests must be engaged in killing them, and making fires to burn them in sacrifice, whereas to kindle a fire was expressly forbidden the Jews on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:3).  They did that which, for other persons to do, would have been ‘profaning’ the Sabbath.  Yet they were blameless.  They did what was necessary and commanded.  This was done in the very temple, too, the place of holiness, where the law should be most strictly observed.”  (Barnes’ Notes)  

 

            12:6     Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.  Jesus had the authority to permit His disciples to act the way they had because it was inherently right--this wasn’t threshing or “work” in any true sense.  Nor did it actually violate the Mosaical Law itself. 

            He doesn’t conclude His argument, relying on these facts alone--valid though they were.  Rather He grounds it in His own nature:  Jesus was actually “greater than the Temple.”  He does not explain what that means, but it requires a self-evaluation fully consistent with the deityship explicitly attributed to Him in Johnanine and Pauline writings (John 1:1-18; 1 Corinthians 8:6--to give only two).  What these other writers assert as naked fact, Jesus rests content here to clearly imply.    

 

            12:7     But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.  Their entire criticism exposed a blindness at the heart of their ethical thinking.  The prophets of old had insisted upon mercy as even more important than ritual sacrifice--quoting Hosea 6:6 to prove it.  In a similar manner the hungry deserved greater consideration than censure for what could only be a minute violation of the Law at the most--and it could be that only by very creative imagination and exaggeration.

 

            12:8     For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”  Having asserted that He is greater than the temple (verse 6)--and who can be greater than the Temple than Deity?--Jesus now presents Himself as supreme lawgiver and law interpreter.  He is Lord “even of the Sabbath.”  As “Lord” (= master, ruler) He has full right to interpret everything concerning it.  And as “Lord” even over the holy Sabbath, He has asserted a teaching right superior to that of any of their rabbis.

            And one can easily imagine the rage and indignation that the Pharisees felt.

 

 

Jesus Refused to Accept Humanly Invented Religious Rules That Kept Him from Doing What Was Truly Needed Even on the Sabbath Day (Matthew 12:9-14):  Then Jesus left that place and entered their synagogue.  10 A man was there who had a withered hand.  And they asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” so that they could accuse him.

11 He said to them, “Would not any one of you, if he had one sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, take hold of it and lift it out?  12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!  So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  He stretched it out and it was restored, as healthy as the other.  14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, as to how they could assassinate him.    

--New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            12:9     Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue.  At first glance, this verse seems to make a tight chronological link between the Sabbath day grain plucking and Jesus entering into the synagogue.  This would show that Jesus felt no guilt in His behavior because He immediately entered the place of worship rather than shrinking off in embarrassment or guilt.  Narratively it is probably presented this way for that very reason.

            Chronologically the events are a bit different:  Luke narrates both the Sabbath “working” controversy and then this incident of healing but notes, “Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught.  And a man was there whose right hand was withered” (Luke 6:6).  In light of this, “He had departed from there” refers not to from the grainfield to the synagogue but from the city where this occurred. 

            This is a useful example of how we sometimes get the full picture only by weaving together the multiple accounts.  That these two incidents should be narratively woven together is quite logical since (1) both involve the Pharisees and (2) both involve different forms of the accusation about unlawful “work” being done on the Sabbath.  They have a logical connection even if not an immediate chronological one.   

 

            12:10     And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand.  And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—that they might accuse Him.  Jesus and the Pharisees had previously crossed “swords” about what it was proper to do on the Sabbath day.  Clearly Jesus’ quite rational argument had moved their hearts not at all.  If anything, they wanted Him to do something further so they could indict Him yet again of defiling the Sabbath.  (Being within the four walls of a synagogue they may well have felt they would have an actively sympathetic audience as well.) 

So it happened that when one of the men in the synagogue that day was one who had a ruined hand--one that he was unable to use any longer--Jesus’ critics took the initiative.  What Jesus’ disciples had done was “work” only in the loosest possible sense.  But what if they could provoke Jesus to do something that personally involved “work” . . . and that clearly required “work” in more than such a trivial sense as the grain plucking?  Knowing of His miracle working reputation, they challenged Him as to whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath as well.   

 

            12:11     Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  Jesus’ response was that they would rescue a mere animal on the Sabbath day.  Later rabbinical opinion was opposed to this.  Although you might provide food or water to it, you were obligated to leave the animal where it was even if its life was in danger. 

            Either this “fine tuning” of distinctions as to the propriety of animal rescue had not yet come into being or Jesus knew that he was dealing with those who would not contest the point.  Or perhaps because outside of “religious experts” such as these claimed to be, everyone else would consider any answer but an affirmative one as either naïve or stupid.

            After all, had not the ancient Proverbist written, “A righteous man regards [has regard for, ESV, NASB; cares for, NET, NIV] the life of his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (Proverbs 12:10).

 

            12:12     Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”  If one concedes the propriety of rescuing a sheep from discomfort and distress, the criticizer is placed in an untenable position when it comes to denying such actions for a human.  Is not a human’s life worth more than that of an animal?  Yet once one concedes this, one also implicitly agrees that it is lawful to do other “good” (= helpful acts such as healing) when it is of substantial benefit to the other person.

 

            12:13     Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other.  Jesus had already made the decision to heal the man for He had called the man to Him:  “Arise and stand here” (Luke 6:8); “Step forward” (Mark 14:3).  The Pharisees had made their skepticism clear though they hadn’t quite said “you can’t do it!”  To His critics this may have been little more than an academic debate—and an effort to discredit Him.  But here you had a real man and real suffering.  The ability to solve the problem was immediately available.  Hence it had to be dealt with now, without delay.

But He does not touch the man—so far as we know.  He doesn’t even promise to heal the man.  He simply tells him to stretch out his hand.  That he had faith is shown by the fact that he tried to—and succeeded.  This drove His foes to utter distraction (verse 14).  Jesus couldn’t even be accused of even the “work” of touching the man and yet the healing occurred without it! 

 

            12:14     Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.  Embarrassed, humiliated, these Pharisees were willing to accept the evidence of neither Jesus’ reasoning nor of His supernatural healing.  Instead they discussed how they might “destroy” Him.  Losing “face” in front of others was too much for them to tolerate without revenge.  Yet there is a kind of madness involved as well:  why does a rationale human being engage in a reckless “head butting” contest with a Man who, repeatedly, can invoke such supernatural power?  Only hate and suicidal self-centeredness.

            Sidebar:  “Destroy” carries the connotation of “kill” and many translations so render it.

 

 

Rather Than Run the Certainty of Violent Conflict with His Foes, Jesus Now Went through a Period of Intentionally Trying to Stay Out of Their Sight (Matthew 12:15-21):  15 Now when Jesus learned of this, he went away from there.  Great crowds followed him, and he healed them all.  16 But he sternly warned them not to make him known.

17 This fulfilled what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet:  18 Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I take great delight.  I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.  19 He will not quarrel or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.  20 He will not break a bruised reed or extinguish a smoldering wick, until he brings justice to victory.  21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            12:15     But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there.  And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all.  The words of the Pharisee threats spread far beyond the immediate conspirators.  It was not time for Him to die and His staying there could risk reckless paid physical attacks upon both Jesus’ immediate disciples and those following Him to hear and learn.  So He was to demonstrate pursuing the Divine purpose of avoiding needless physical conflict (verses 17-21) by leaving for other places. 

            Though crowds might—and did—follow it is clear that He did His best to impose an “information blackout” on what was to happening next (verse 16).  To the extent that “failed,” not knowing where He would be days ahead of time still drastically hindered the possibility of hostile action being prearranged.  

 

            12:16      Yet He warned them not to make Him known.  Discretion, relative secrecy, was necessary until the short term hazard had passed.  Would it be total “blackout” of information?  Unlikely, knowing human nature to gossip, but it would put major hindrances on any effort to do Him or His followers harm in the short term.  And He had a prophetic motive behind this course as well. . . . 

 

            12:17     that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying.  There was more to His reluctance to make His presence known than mere discretion.  Matthew tells us it was done to meet the prophetic description by Isaiah (42:1-4) of one who avoided violent conflict with His enemies.  “Multitudes” were still with Jesus (12:15); hence the danger of violence was a very real one if His enemies acted and Jesus could be found by them.  These semi-disciples could easily resort to violence to protect Him and Jesus wished to avoid anything approaching that situation.

 

            12:18     “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, / My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! / I will put My Spirit upon Him, / And He will declare justice to the Gentiles.  The ancient prophet had spoken of one who would have a special gift of the Divine “Spirit” upon Him.  One immediately thinks of the dove like Spirit at the baptism and of Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness for a period of personal temptation. 

            Since we read of how “My Spirit [is] upon Him” and how “He will declare [i.e., teach, advocate, encourage] justice to the Gentiles,” the implication seems clear that the point is that He will be sharing the teaching of the Spirit with others.  The Spirit’s powerful message would stress the personal constructive self-improvement of the listeners, but also their destructive repudiation of their own evils.  Both statements ways of expressing the message of encouraging repentance.  

           We read a similar correlation of the Spirit’s guidance and a message being shared in at least two Old Testament texts.  In Isaiah 59:21 we read of God telling that prophet of “My Spirit who is upon you and My words which I put in your mouth” and how that message was to be preserved in future generations.  Or as David said in 2 Samuel 23:2, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.” 

 

            12:19     He will not quarrel nor cry out, / Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.  The teaching of the Isaiahian Servant would be one avoiding confrontation.  He would avoid “quarrel” and screaming matches (“cry[ing] out”).  It would, by and large, be a ministry of restraint.  Sometime when you are meditating upon the scope of Jesus’ public career, consider how many times He had abundant excuse to scream out rage at His foes—for obstinacy, blindness, and unthinking inflexibility.  And yet faced with so much, there are so few times that He bluntly zeroes in on these weaknesses.  (Matthew 23 is the most extended occasion.)  How much incredible restraint He was capable of exercising!

 

            12:20     A bruised reed He will not break, / And smoking flax He will not quench, / Till He sends forth justice to victory.  The Isaiahian Servant would not even harm a “bruised [= weakened] reed.”  He would be one whose course was to avoid injury to anyone or anything.  Would the likes of you or I have been able to do so?  To ask the question is to answer it, isn’t it?

            The prophet’s words described a character of extremest gentleness.  The ‘bruised reed’ is the type of one broken by the weight of sorrow, or care, or sin.  Such a one men in general disregard or trample on.  The Christ did not so act, but sought rather to bind up and strengthen.  The ‘smoking flax’ is the wick of the lamp which has ceased to burn clearly, and the clouded flame of which seems to call for prompt extinction. . . .  Base desires have clogged it; it is no longer fed with the true oil.  For such the self-righteous Pharisee had no pity; he simply gave thanks that his own lamp was burning.  But the Christ in His tenderness sought, if it were possible, to trim the lamp and to pour in the oil till the flame was bright again.  We cannot help feeling, as we read the words, that the publican-apostle [Matthew, who wrote this gospel account] had found their fulfillment in his own personal experience of the profound tenderness of his Master.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

            12:21     And in His name Gentiles will trust.”  The Isaiah text was of special interest to the missionary minded later church because it mentions that Jesus would have a message of “justice” to the Gentiles (verse 18) and because they would be receptive to that message (trust “in His name,” in the current verse).  Gentiles were not the current audience but one day they would be.  Jesus had already created the precedent for it in happily healing a centurion’s servant; “trust” (at least in His healing power) had already begun to manifest itself among a few initial Gentiles.      

            Sidebar:  During this period “a great multitude [had followed Him] from Galilee” (Mark 3:7) but a “great multitude” also came from other places such as “around [heavily Gentile] Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 3:8).  It is quite possible that proselytes heard Him as well as a limited number of regular Gentiles as well.      

 

 

The Intellectual Folly of Attributing Jesus’ Demon Exorcism Ability to the Power of Satan (12:22-30):  22 Then they brought to him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. Jesus healed him so that he could speak and see.  23 All the crowds were amazed and said, “Could this one be the Son of David?” 

24 But when the Pharisees heard this they said, “He does not cast out demons except by the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons!”  25 Now when Jesus realized what they were thinking, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, and no town or house divided against itself will stand.  26 So if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself.  How then will his kingdom stand?  27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?  For this reason they will be your judges.

28 “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has already overtaken you.  29 How else can someone enter a strong man’s house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can thoroughly plunder the house.  30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            12:22     Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw.  This person was afflicted with both severe physical as well as supernatural problems:  demon possession, blindness, and the inability to speak.  Multi-handicaps and they were all successfully healed at the same time.  Onlookers could hardly avoid being astounded and wondering what the implications might be as to His importance that He had such vast powers--not to mention that they were invoked over three different things simultaneously.  The closest precedent was an earlier case--Matthew 9:32--in which He had removed two of these simultaneously (possession and inability to speak) since those were the only problems faced by that particular individual.

            Sidebar:  The more common scenario than mine is that the natural problems were caused by the demonic presence.  As Chrysostom, a prominent speaker and church leader of the late fourth century, worded it:  “The devil had shut up each entrance by which be might come to faith, his sight and his hearing, yet Christ opened each."   

 

            12:23     And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”  They were all “sons of David,” i.e., his descendents.  But there was one particular unique son they envisioned for the future—one who would be fully justified in being described not merely as “a son of David” but as “the Son of David”—i.e., the Messiah.  These amazing actions by Jesus made Him a logical possibility that any kind of fair reasoning required one to consider. . . . even if, like these people, they don’t quite come out and embrace it.  They are simply intrigued by the possibility:  Could this be?”

            On the other hand, that didn’t mean some would not be so angered at Him that they would refuse to consider it and desperately seek out the most malicious of excuses to explain away what had happened.  Hence . . .  

 

            12:24     Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”  The Pharisees were having enough trouble with Jesus defying their interpretations of Scripture--rebutting them with both Scripture and common sense.  Anything that would raise His reputation even higher than His embarrassing them in these ways was utterly intolerable.  Hence, faced with an event they could not deny—and if the most hostile of contemporary critics can’t gainsay its reality no one today can legitimately say that what was happening was simply “misunderstood” or “exaggerated”—then only one real option seemed available.

Since only supernatural power could conceivably produce this result, they throw out an alternative supernatural power . . . the interpretation that this exorcism and healing had been made possible by Beelzebub.  (Properly speaking, Beelzebub was a Philistine deity but by this time it was a term utilized as equivalent to Satan or the Devil.)  This approach had two advantages:  (1) it conceded the reality of the healing that the multitude had observed; (2) it explained it in a way hostile to Jesus--not only hostile but as derogatory a “credible” explanation as they could have conceived of . . . but if true also exposed Him as religiously untrustworthy in everything He taught.

 

            12:25     But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them:  “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.  Theological specialists are just as capable of being blind to common sense as are politicians during an election campaign.  Jesus reminds them that everyone knows that a divided kingdom is going to fall apart.  Likewise every city or household that can not stay united will splinter.  There is a unity that is required for success and if one element works against another, nothing but failure can ultimately ensue.

            Sidebar:  Notice that they had not challenged the Lord directly:  “Jesus knew their thoughts.”  Distorting what was happening to the unlearned crowds--when Jesus was no longer around--would be a lot less dangerous to their pride than directly doing so.  But He will challenge directly while they were not brave enough to do so.

 

            12:26     If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself.  How then will his kingdom stand?  In other words, He challenges them to apply this quite accurate earthly truism on a spiritual level:  if Jesus’ exorcism powers came from the Devil, how will that kingdom continue to survive?  At the worst, Jesus was creating a civil war within Satan’s ranks--one that will destroy his kingdom!  If anything, shouldn’t they be thanking Him for undermining Satan?

 

            12:27     And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?  Therefore they shall be your judges.  Since they have brought up the point of whose power was utilized in the exorcisms, they have an embarrassing question they must answer.  They claimed that their “sons” (either physical or, more likely, spiritual--in the sense of disciples) could cast out demons.  Will they dare to apply their explanation in those cases as well? 

            (Whether they actually did cast them out is irrelevant to Jesus’ argument.  His argument is based on the claimed ability to do so rather than conceding its genuineness:  Hence “even if this true” or “since you claim this is true” . . . then what follows?)

            Sidebar:  Although this is a longer reading than we would prefer to include, Josephus provides (Antiquities VIII.2.5) a lengthy account of what he describes as the common method of exorcism in his day and it provides a vivid contrast with the directness and quickness of what Jesus did: 

            God also enabled him to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a science useful and sanative to men.  He [King Solomon] composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated.  And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return; and this method of cure is of great force unto this day; for I have seen a certain man of my own country, whose name was Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal in the presence of Vespasian, and his sons, and his captains, and the whole multitude of his soldiers.  The manner of the cure was this:  He put a ring that had a Foot of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return into him no more, making still [more] mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed.      

            “And when Eleazar would persuade and demonstrate to the spectators that he had such a power, he set a little way off a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon, as he went out of the man, to overturn it, and thereby to let the spectators know that he had left the man; and when this was done, the skill and wisdom of Solomon was shown very manifestly:  for which reason it is, that all men may know the vastness of Solomon's abilities, and how he was beloved of God, and that the extraordinary virtues of every kind with which this king was endowed may not be unknown to any people under the sun for this reason, I say, it is that we have proceeded to speak so largely of these matters.”

 

            12:28     But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.  Successful exorcisms did bear witness to something about Satan, but not what the Pharisees were claiming.  Spirit enabled exorcisms proved that the power behind the kingdom of God was already moving among them.  Jesus had repeatedly stressed the imminence of the kingdom; well, these exorcisms were evidence that the Divine power that would produce it and maintain it was already at work on the earth.  (Compare the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2, which both gave the apostles the ability to speak in previously unknown languages but also guided them in their first public preaching of the resurrected Christ.)

            Sidebar:  In the parallel account, the “Spirit of God” is called “the finger of God” (Luke 11:20) arguing both that (1) the Spirit is used by God to carry out His will and (2) is also worthy of being called “God.”  

 

            12:29     Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man?  And then he will plunder his house.  Exorcisms were an essential part of the triumph over Satan by exhibiting Jesus’ power and authority over him.  Even in human affairs, unless you are going to murder them, the owner of a home must first be bound before the possessions can be stolen.  Every person freed of the horrors of possession represented the plundering of the possessions of the Evil One who had previously been able to torment any one he desired.  (Note how the text equates any severe restriction on Satan as a binding.  This equating of the two concepts will be of value when one tackles Revelation 20.)    

 

            12:30     He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.  They have a fundamental challenge to face:  do they want to be on the side of the one who can break the fetters even Beelzebub can afflict?  In real life, no one can respond, “no comment” as the politicians do.  If one does not side with Jesus in this battle against evil, then one is, by that very purported neutrality, an effective enemy of both good and God.

            Sidebar:  Some have seen this as contradictory with Luke 11:49-50-- 49 Now John answered and said, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.’  [Note the plural.]  50 But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.’ ”

            There the apostles were upset with the healer not being part of Jesus’ traveling party, where they were convinced he properly “belonged.”  Jesus’ reply drove home the point that one did not have to be part of this group in order to be on the same side as Jesus.  And being on the same side is the identical point being made here.  

 

 

Only One Type of Sin Is Unforgivable (12:31-32):  31 “For this reason I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven.  But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

--New English Translation (for comparison)        

 

 

            12:31     “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.  Just how serious is the vile accusation that Jesus’ miracles were demonically produced rather than an invoking of the power of the Spirit?  Since these two verses come immediately after such a healing, we seem forced to conclude that that is the particular offense now in mind.

Many insults and vile accusations are made in life and God is willing to forgive them all--upon repentance.  But such “blasphemy” against the Spirit is inherently unforgivable:  a person so desperate to explain away the unexplainable and to deny the very things their eyes see is beyond convincing.  Self-blinded, hard-hardened by intentional decision, they have become so callused that they have destroyed their own ability to change.  God hasn’t made them that way but they themselves have.

 

            12:32     Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.  Jesus is willing to put up with the kind of insults being hurled His way, but the kind of hard-heartiness that allows one to recklessly say anything and everything to demean the Holy Spirit as well, that kind of person has put repentance far beyond her or his reach.  For that reason forgiveness is impossible either in the present world or in the future one.  Not due to Divine arbitrariness, but due to human callousness of the soul.

            In modern terminology we might well call this “one bridge too far”--pressing far beyond the irresponsible extreme into that of the irreversible catastrophic.

 

You Demonstrate Your True Character by What You Do and Say (Matthew 12:33-37):  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 known by its fruit.  34 Offspring of vipers!  How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil?  For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart.  35 The good person brings good things out of his good treasury, and the evil person brings evil things out of his evil treasury. 36 I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak.  37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

            12:33     Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.  Those so vigorously criticizing Jesus—indeed engaging in outright character assassination--claimed to be pious and the leaders of God’s faithful.  The problem was that their behavior had become diametrically opposed to their claims.  They claimed to be stalwart defenders of truth but their “fruit” was the determined denial of it.  It was now time to make a full commitment one way or another.  To be wholly on God’s side or wholly against.

 

            12:34     Brood of vipers!  How can you, being evil, speak good things?  For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  This type of Pharisaic foe was so “evil” in the way the thought processes had been twisted, that the heart itself was no longer untainted; it too had been self-poisoned.  And if the heart was no longer honest with the facts, how could they possibly speak the “good things” of spiritual insight that they claimed to have? 

After all, that which one speaks comes from the heart and if the “heart” of our reasoning and thinking is haywire, how can our teaching be any better?  Perhaps temporarily or occasionally—when our own preferences are not challenged--but of what value is accepting truth only when it conforms with what we want it to be? 

The result is that we twist unpleasant truths into heavily modified forms they were never intended to have . . . so they can be compatible with our own preferences.  “Times have changed!” can be the happy chant--even though the sin is still there.   

 

            12:35     A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.  The person who is fundamentally “good” in accepting both ethical insights and abstract truths, that person is going to share and teach “good” things to all who listen.  In contrast, the person whose heart has been twisted either ethically or through the embracing of fundamental religious error, will inevitably sprout out “evil” that matches those misjudgments that are in the heart.

 

            12:36     But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.  They could not dismiss their maliciousness on the grounds that it was a matter of mere meaningless or unimportant words.  Such “idle” (= useless, hurtful, harmful) words we will all give account for in the time of judgment.  Some such “days” occur within every lifetime, but there is also one at the end of earth time for anyone, everyone, everywhere.  If we may invoke the popular and quite applicable phrase:  “The chickens come home to roost.”

 

            12:37     For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  Indeed, in the final analysis words are taken seriously.  They will either justify us in God’s sight or be the basis of our condemnation.  Claiming it was “all just running off at the mouth” or “excessive expressions” won’t cut it with the Lord.

            We “are said to be justified by faith (Romans 3:28 et al.), justified by works (James 2:24), justified—as here—by words.  All three—faith, works, words—are alike elements of a man’s character, making or showing what he is.  Faith, implying trust and therefore love, justifies as the root element of character; ‘words,’ as its most spontaneous manifestation; works, as its more permanent results.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

 

The Ultimate and Most Powerful Sign of Jesus’ True Power and Status in God’s Sight Will Be His Resurrection (Matthew 12:38-42):  38 Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”  39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  40 For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.  

41 “The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them—and now, something greater than Jonah is here!  42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon—and now, something greater than Solomon is here.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            12:38     Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”  Assuming this occurs immediately after the healing narrated earlier in the chapter:  Having just witnessed the double healing of a person--the demon(s) exorcised and the curses of blindness and the inability to speak both removed (12:22), they now have the audacity to demand a “sign.”  Some additional sign.  Some more dramatic sign.  Some more overwhelming sign.  Unbelief is sometimes produced by sincere doubt, but in cases like this it is produced by a stubborn heart that no possible degree of evidence will ever change. 

            Assuming a slightly later chronological date:  Our previous argument would remain true of those demanding a miracle when He had not performed one in their presence.  Having established His ability to do such before a variety of friendly and hostile audiences, how many more would it take to convince them of the Divine power that He exercised?  Again the answer would be that they were never going to permit themselves to believe.  And it isn’t just the miracles we are talking about either.  But the teaching they validated as supernaturally endorsed.  None of this could be true.  Therefore it wasn’t true.  Period.    

 

            12:39     But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  The current generation was fundamentally corrupt (“evil and adulterous”) and was forever seeking after a “sign” sufficiently powerful that it would be convinced.  Note how he generalizes from their own particular bias to society at large:  “Let us assume the worst case scenario that everyone thinks this way.”

The answer to one and all would be the same.  Having already seen sign after sign, there was only one left to be given--that of Jonah.  (Idle wonder working to “impress people” was never part of God’s plan.  Miracles were performed for a purpose.)  In light of the varied miracles already performed there really was only one that could conceivably eclipse them.  This was the resurrection of Jesus Himself from the dead.

Sidebar:  Although it would be surprising if “evil and adulterous generation” would not fit an awful lot of His listeners, the later in particular had long before become a term for spiritual adultery--of betraying one’s true spouse (Jehovah) by loving and practicing various idolatrous cults instead (or in addition).  Although in the first century they were overwhelmingly monotheists--at last!--the various bent doctrines of Pharisees and Sadducees provided an ever tempting alternative to faithfully following what God had really said through prophets and scripture.  They were worshipping at that false altar rather than the right one.     

 

            12:40     For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  Just as Jonah had been “buried” within the sea monster for three days and nights, so would Jesus be within a grave for a similar length of time.  Jesus only speaks explicitly of the certainty of His death but unquestionably implies His triumph over it as well.  He does not explain why or how the death will occur. 

            So far as the lesson for these bitter enemies is concerned, all that is important is that they know that Jesus is well aware that He will die.  And that they be well aware that He was no more going to be permanently removed from an impact upon others than Jonah had been by His temporary stay in the belly of the sea creature.

            Sidebar:  As the Jews counted duration, they did not work on the basis of a 24 hour day in such matters as length of time; rather part of a day was counted as the first day and whatever happened at any time on the third day was counted as “on the third”--whether 72 hours had passed or not.  Hence King Rehoboam told those concerned with government tax and other burdens, “Come back to me after three days” and he would give them an answer (2 Chronicles 10:5).  This promise was fulfilled on that day even though a full 72 hours had not passed:  “So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had directed, saying, ‘Come back to me the third day’ ” (verse 12).      

 

            12:41     The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.  Those pagans of Nineveh had repented upon hearing Jonah’s message, but these contemporaries of His--claiming to be God-fearing followers and even the leaders of the masses--these people could find no room to change their behavior (i.e., “repent”).  Even so someone greater than Jonah was unquestionably among them.  Simultaneously a paradox and an indictment of their hard hearts.

            Sidebar:  “The reasoning is parallel with that of the references to Tyre and Sidon [and] Sodom and Gomorrah in Matthew 11:21-24, but with this difference, that there the reference was to what might have been, here to what actually had been.  The repentance of the heathen, and their search after wisdom, with far poorer opportunities, would put to shame the slowness and unbelief of Israel.  The word ‘rise’ is used not of the mere fact of resurrection but of standing up as witnesses [cf. Job 16:8; Mark 14:57].”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

            12:42     The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.  They say they seek wisdom and insight into God’s will.  Well, in Jesus there is one who has a “wisdom” greater than even Solomon.  The famous queen of the South had traveled from far off to listen to the Jewish monarch in her day, but in the contemporary world His own religious leaders would not pay respectful attention.  Hence they would face condemnation for failure to seek the wisdom even polytheists of old had sought.

            Sidebar:  The incident is recorded in 1 Kings 10:1-10.

 

 

A Successful Exorcism Is Not Enough Since a Strongly Rooted Faith Must Replace It:  A Spiritually Empty Person Provides a Ready Breeding Ground for Old Sins to Return and New Ones to Take Root (Matthew 12:43-45):  43 “When an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it passes through waterless places looking for rest but does not find it.  44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the home I left.’  When it returns, it finds the house empty, swept clean, and put in order.  45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there, so the last state of that person is worse than the first.  It will be that way for this evil generation as well!”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            12:43     “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none.  Now Jesus turns to what happens after an exorcism and how that the evil is determined to find somewhere to make its home again.  Hence verses 43-45 could be a warning to the demon-possessed (verse 22) whose cure had provoked the lengthy collision with the Pharisees.  If he leaves a vacuum in his life the demon could return. 

Yet since the immediately preceding is a rebuke to the scribes and Pharisees, it is tempting to make the allusion be to them, especially since Jesus generalizes His lesson to “this wicked generation” in verse 45.  In other words, He takes the literal phenomena of demonic danger and applies it to the broader danger of spiritual decay and evil as well. 

The Israelite people had had the “demon” of idolatry exorcised from the land.  No self-respecting Jew would any longer worship both Jehovah and the idols.  Yet the dispossessed spirit, so to speak, sought rest from its temporal exile and if they gave it a home through their perversion of Judaism itself, they permitted evil to have a second triumph.

Sidebar:  This section is often called a parable but parables are normally rooted in what everyone knew either “could” occur (theoretically or with probability) . . . or “had” happened in the past.  When we reach this story, however, we have little to work with:  We simply don’t really know all that much about Bible age demons after their removal.  Hence we have no way of verifying whether this was behavior actually characteristic of them.  If not, then Jesus is providing an argument for reformed behavior based upon popular assumptions rather than upon objective reality.  Not that that would be wrong, but it would be unusual.

The Expositor’s Greek Testament provides a good concise summary of the popular assumptions approach:  Now He uses expelled demons to depict their spiritual condition.  The similitude moves in the region of popular opinion, and gives a glimpse into the superstitions of the time.  We gather from it, first, that the effects of the arts of exorcists were temporary; and, second, the popular theory to explain the facts:  the demon returned because he could not find a comfortable home anywhere else. . . .  The parable was naturally suggested by the cure of the demoniac (Matthew 12:22).”           

 

            12:44     Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’  And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order.  The dispossessed spirit of demonic influence and power—whether literally or symbolically through false worship--would ultimately seek a return to its original home.  After all, things might have changed.  Time has passed.  Maybe now there would be a renewed receptivity. 

            He finds it all “cleaned up” and orderly but there is nothing within to protect the home from evil  influence for it is “empty” of anything that might hinder such.  It has “a form of godliness” but none of the substance that would protect it--as Paul warned many would exhibit in the future (2 Timothy 3:1-5). 

 

            12:45     Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.  So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”  Whether individually (the demon possessed whom Jesus had cured) or symbolically (the Jewish people and the religious leadership in particular), if the spirit of old evils were allowed to re-root, then their current status is worse than what it once had been. 

Not only worse than when they, temporally, were cured, but worse than the original possession itself:  that could reasonably be described as “involuntary” . . . but this vulnerability is produced by their own failure to build up their spiritual strength as protection against evil.  They would not worship idols any more made by hand; but they would bow down and demand total subservience to idols written on parchment and called tradition.  They would become as “possessed,” in their own way, as their predecessors had been.

The warning to Christians was parallel:  having left your sins behind, never commit the folly of returning to them for then you will be in even worse shape than the first time around (2 Peter 2:19-22):  “the latter end is worse for them than the beginning” (verse 20).

 

 

Anyone and Everyone Can be Spiritual Kin of Jesus by Doing God’s Will (Matthew 12:46-50):  46 While Jesus was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and brothers came and stood outside, asking to speak to him.  47 Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside wanting to speak to you.”  48 To the one who had said this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?”  49 And pointing toward 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.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            12:46     While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him.  Since no mention is made of the father, Joseph is presumably dead by this point.  We are not told why they are there but when family shows up in the middle of one’s conflict with the established religious leadership, one is naturally inclined to suspect them coming to at least urge caution rather than to encourage further bluntness and confrontation.  Or even worse—to beg Him to “come home” and get away from the conflict brewing over His teachings and actions . . . even force Him to “in His own interests.” 

            Remember that His brothers did not yet believe in Him (John 7:3-5).  They were thinking in purely utilitarian terms rather than in terms of what is Divine truth.  Families are wonderful things, but they can sometimes be terrible obstacles as well.

 

            12:47      Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.”  Dominant factions of the Pharisees permitted themselves to be diverted by their traditions into rejecting the message of Jesus.  One’s own immediate family can also be a great temptation to divert one from the enthusiasm and the dedication that is needed.  All the turmoil had to be wearisome after a while and to have to emphatically say “no” to their preferences was something Jesus did not have the emotional need to go through—nor the discouragement it might give to His own followers.

            Sidebar:  They were “standing outside” the group rather than coming in to see Him; they used others to transmit the message--which seems to argue that they could have if they had wished.  Were they intending to involuntarily “escort” Him back home?  Or would they have settled for humiliating Him with words when He refused?  Whatever the case, there was no way this was likely to go well.  So He chose another option:  Refusing to talk with them.        

 

            12:48-49      But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”  49 And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  There can be no compromise or retreat because the disciples are just as important to Jesus as His temporal, physical kinsmen.  They are, in a very real sense, His brother and sister and even mother.  They are that important to Him.

 

            12:50     For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”  The Lord lays out the reason why He must count His followers as at least of equal importance to His own kin . . . and, in doing so, provides a major reason obedience to the Divine will must also be our standard as well:  whoever does that is counted by Jesus as the equivalent of blood kin.  A promise of blessing to the disciples and a warning to the physical kin that His mission comes first and not keeping them happy.  If Jesus could say “no” to family when it was necessary, shouldn’t we be strong enough to do so as well?