Matthew 12

Matthew 12  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
FROM THE HEIGHTS reached in the last chapter, we descend into the depths of human folly and blindness as displayed by the Pharisees. In this chapter we see Him very definitely rejected by the leaders of the Jews, and not merely by the cities of Galilee. In the first two instances the contention raged round the Sabbath. The Lord defended the action of His disciples on at least four grounds (ver. 3-8).
When David, God’s anointed king, was in rejection, his needs took precedence over a matter of tabernacle order, and his followers were associated with him in this. David’s greater Son was now refused, so should not the needs of His disciples be met, even if it infringed their Sabbath regulations? But, second, the temple had taken precedence over the Sabbath, for the priests had always worked on the Sabbaths; and Jesus claimed to be greater than the temple. God was indeed in Christ in infinitely fuller measure than He ever had been in the temple. Third, there was that word about mercy in Hos. 6, to which previously He had referred; that applied in this case. And, fourth, Jesus claimed that as Son of Man He was Lord of the Sabbath: in other words, the Sabbath had no binding power over Him. He was its Master, and He could dispose of it as He saw fit.
In the second case the Lord answered their quibble by an appeal to their own practice. They had no compunction in setting to work on the Sabbath in order to show mercy to a sheep. Who were they then to object to His showing mercy to a man on the Sabbath? The Lord promptly showed that mercy; yet such was the obdurate hardness of their hearts, that His mercy only stirred within them thoughts of murder. They decided from that moment upon His death.
In the presence of this, Jesus began to withdraw the witness that they were preparing to quench in death; charging those to whom He still extended mercy that they should not make Him known. Matthew quotes the beautiful prophecy from Isa. 42, showing how it was fulfilled in Him. Some of it has yet to be fulfilled at His second advent, for He has not yet sent forth judgment unto victory. But He did meet the bitter hatred and rejection that confronted Him at His first advent without strife or cry or the crushing of His foes. Nothing is more worthless than a bruised reed, and nothing more repulsive to the nostrils than smoking flax. The Pharisees were like both these, but He will not break and quench them till the time of judgment arrives. Meanwhile in His Name the Gentiles are learning to trust.
In Isa. 32 The advents are not distinguished, as is so often the case in Old Testament scripture, but now we can see clearly how both are involved. At this time Jesus came as the vessel of mercy, and not to exercise judgment. Rejected by the leaders of His people, He would turn to the Gentiles and let mercy flow out to them. This is plainly intimated here.
Is not this of immense interest to us, seeing we are amongst the Gentiles who have trusted in His Name?
On the part of the Pharisees we have seen hatred rising to the point of murder; and we have seen on the part of Jesus such meekness and lowliness of heart as led Him to suspend all action in judgment and accept their evil without strife or protest. Matthew now records the case of a man rendered both blind and dumb by a demon. Jesus gave him sight and speech by casting out the demon, and the people, greatly wondering, began to think of Him as the true Son of David. Seeing this, the Pharisees were aroused to desperate measures, and they repeated yet more boldly the blasphemous assertion that the power He wielded was Satan’s. Their earlier blasphemy (see 9:34), passed unanswered, but this time the Lord accepted their challenge.
In the first place, He met them on the ground of reason. Their accusation involved an absurdity, for if Satan cast out Satan he would destroy his own kingdom. It also involved an aspersion on their own sons, who professed to cast out demons. But secondly, He gave them the true explanation: He was here in manhood acting by the Spirit of God, and thus He had bound Satan, the strong man, and now was taking from beneath his power those who had been but his “goods.” This was another plain proof that the kingdom was in their very midst.
It also brought things to a very plain issue, that not to be definitely with Christ and gathering with Him, was to be against Him and scattering. This led the Lord to unmask the real nature of their sin, which was beyond the pale of forgiveness, in spite of the fact that all manner of sin may be forgiven. In the Son of Man God was presented to them objectively: they might speak against Him, and yet be brought by the work of the Spirit to repentance, and so be forgiven. But to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, by whom alone is repentance and faith wrought in the soul, is to put oneself in a hopeless position. It is to thrust from one both repentance and faith, to bolt and bar the only door that leads into salvation.
The sad fact was that these Pharisees were utterly corrupt trees, a generation of vipers, and their evil words had been just the expression of the evil of their hearts. In verses 33-37, the Lord unmasked their hearts in this way, and declared they would be judged by their words. If men will have to render account of even idle words in the Day of Judgment, what will evil words such as these merit? In that day by their words they would be utterly condemned.
By their request, recorded in verse 38, the Pharisees revealed that they were morally blind and insensible as well as corrupt and evil. Ignoring, whether ignorantly or willfully, all the signs that had been given, they asked for a sign. We noticed five signs in chapter 8 and five in chapter 9, besides those recorded in our chapter. Being evil and adulterous they could not perceive the plainest sign, so no sign should be given but the greatest of all—His own death and resurrection, which had been typified in the remarkable history of Jonah. The generation which was refusing the Lord had been in the presence of signs, more than all others before them. Jonah and his preaching had been a sign to the Ninevites, and at an earlier date Solomon and his wisdom had been a sign to the queen of the south, and striking results had been achieved. Yet Jesus was rejected.
And yet Jesus stands infinitely above all of them. In our chapter He speaks of Himself as “greater than the temple,” (ch. 12:6) “greater than Jonas,” (ch. 12:41) “greater than Solomon” (ch. 12:42). Also, it is to be observed that He pointed out how both Jonah and Solomon had been signs to Gentiles. Though servants of God in Israel, their fame went out northward to Nineveh and southward to Sheba respectively. These Gentiles had ears to hear and hearts to appreciate, yet the Pharisaic Jews surrounding our Lord were blind and bitterly opposed, to the extent of committing this unpardonable sin.
What would be the end of that unbelieving generation? The Lord tells us in verses 43-45. The evil spirit of idolatry, which had swayed them in their earlier history, had indeed departed from them. Christ, the Revealer of the true God, should have occupied the house; but Him they were rejecting. The end of this would be the return of that evil spirit with seven others worse than himself. Under Antichrist in the last days this word of our Lord will be fulfilled. The unbelieving race of Jews will worship the image of the beast, and be enslaved by Satanic powers of awful potency. When judgment falls, the apostate Jews on whom it will fall, will be worse than all that have preceded them. We believe that the same thing will be true of Gentile races also.
The chapter closes with the significant incident concerning the mother and brethren of Jesus. As a matter of fact they came in a wrong spirit, as is seen by consulting Mark 3:2121And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself. (Mark 3:21) and 31. That, however, is not the point here. The Lord took occasion by their intervention to disclaim a merely natural relationship, and to show that what was going to count henceforth was relationship of a spiritual nature. In this figurative way He set aside for the time the old link formed by His having come as the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, and showed that the link now to be recognized was that formed by obedience to the will of God. The Jews as a people had rejected Him, and He now disowns them. He owns His disciples as being m true relation with Him, for feeble though they were, they had begun to do the will of His Father in heaven.
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