Notes on Matthew 12

Matthew 12  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 9
In the twelfth chapter we find the final rejection of the Jewish system and of those who were at its head. Christ breaks with the system and judges the leaders of it, takes a place above the sabbath, which was the seal of the covenant, foretells the complete ruin of the perverse generation of Israel, and refuses to acknowledge His words according to the flesh with that people, and will only acknowledge disciples who were brought in by the word and who had obeyed it. But we must examine the chapter more closely.
The Pharisees reproved the disciples for having plucked the cars of corn and rubbed them in their hands. The Lord answers, that when David, the anointed of God, had been rejected, the law of Moses had lost its force. The priests also violated the sabbath, when an occasion called for it: and there was One greater than the temple, the living God Himself making His temple in man. They ought then to have understood the meaning of those words, that mercy rejoices over judgment. Further, the Son of man was Lord of the sabbath; He was above the system that He had Himself established as Jehovah, and His title as Son of man placed Him outside and above the claims which the old covenant had over man, and the rest which it demanded but could not give. He besides shows their hypocrisy in these things, in the case of the man with the withered hand. The love and goodness of God are above ceremonies, however holy these may be. Thus His person, being rejected as David's had been, is above the Jewish system, and the goodness of God cannot yield the sovereign right of His divine grace towards man. But the time of judgment was not yet. His voice is not heard in the street till the moment comes when He will raise it in judgment in the day of His glory, and when He will send forth this judgment victorious over all opposition, and even the Gentiles will trust in Him. He casts out another demon, and the enmity without heart and without conscience of the Pharisees breaks out. They could not deny the miracle, and rather than acknowledge Jesus they attribute it to a demon; that is to say, acknowledging in spite of themselves that power was there, but, being “enemies of God, they called the Holy Spirit, by whom the miracle was wrought, a demon. There was no forgiveness for this.
After this the Lord then comes to the complete condemnation of the Jews. Full of unbelief, they, who had just attributed the sign to the devil rather than believe it, ask for a sign; but the Lord gives them none other than that of Jonas, a prefiguration of His time of being in the grave, but a sign that it was now too late for them, that the One whom they had already rejected was the Son of God, and that all connection with this generation was forever at an end. He brings forward the men of Nineveh and a queen of the south who would rise in judgment against this generation; for a greater than Jonas or Solomon was there.
It seems to me that a deep feeling of sorrow betrays itself in the words of Jesus at the sight of the unbelief of the leaders of Israel, blind men who pretended to lend the blind. But the time of judgment was come, and the Lord pronounces that judgment. The unclean spirit had gone out of that people, the spirit of idolatry, I doubt not, for since the captivity of Babylon they had not fallen into idolatry: but the demon needed, so to speak, this people among whom the name of God was found, but where God was no longer, and whom they had rejected when He came into their midst in the person of Jesus. The house was empty, swept and garnished: religious forms and external piety were found there; but God Himself was no longer there. The unclean spirit would enter with seven spirits more wicked than himself, and the last state would be worse than the first.
The last state of the people, at least that of the perverse generation, would be worse than its former sins. They have already shown themselves as the swine of Gennesaret after the death of the Lord; but the words of the Lord will be accomplished at the end of the times, when the Jews will again become idolaters and when all the devil's power will be developed under the Antichrist.
It is well to understand each for himself how, if a vice is conquered without God, nothing is really gained. A gross vice may be given up for a more subtle sin. If there is not really the work of God in the heart, it may be hardened, and Satan will reign there more than ever. But here the Lord applies what He had said to the generation which had rejected Him, to the unbelieving and perverse Jews from whom God hid His face to see their end.
Then those who were the expression of the bonds by which He was attached to the Jewish people according to the flesh came pressing this claim. The Lord would not acknowledge them, and pointing out His disciples, said, Behold my mother and my brethren; the relationships I acknowledge are those formed by the word of God. As to the history of the Jews, all was at an end. Grace might continue and take up the people in a remnant owned of God; but as to responsibility, their history was ended.
The Lord seeks no more for fruit on a tree manifestly bad, and shows Himself, as a sower, by the wayside, bringing that which, when received in the heart, would produce fruit. This, however, introduced the kingdom of the heavens in which the Gentiles could share.