Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

Mat 12:1  At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. 

Russell:That he went — Probably on the way to the synagogue. The Pharisees had a rule that no food should be eaten until after worship in the synagogue.

Guzik: His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain: There was nothing wrong with what they did, because their gleaning was not considered stealing according to Deu_23:25. The issue was only the day on which they did it. The Rabbis made an elaborate list of “do” and “don’t” items relevant to the Sabbath, and this violated one of the items on this list.

When the disciples began to pluck the heads of grain, in the eyes of the religious leaders they were guilty of:
• Reaping.
• Threshing.
• Winnowing.
• Preparing food.
Four violations of the Sabbath in one mouthful!

At this time, Rabbis filled Judaism with elaborate rituals related to the Sabbath and observance of other laws. Ancient Rabbis taught that on the Sabbath, a man could not carry something in his right hand or in his left hand, across his chest or on his shoulder. But you could carry something with the back of your hand, with your foot, with your elbow, or in your ear, your hair, or in the hem of your shirt, or in your shoe or sandal. Or, on the Sabbath, you were forbidden to tie a knot – except a woman could tie a knot in her girdle. So, if a bucket of water had to be raised from a well, you could not tie a rope to the bucket, but a woman could tie her girdle to the bucket!

Are you guilty of adding to the Word of God and making all sorts of rules and regulations that others have to follow?

Are you in a fellowship that does this? It might be time to leave!

Mat 12:2  But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. 

Russell: Is not lawful — Those who have little of the truth are sometimes great sticklers for formalities.

Guzik: Jesus never violated God’s command to observe the Sabbath, or approved of His disciples violating God’s command to observe the Sabbath. But He often broke man’s legalistic additions to that law, and He sometimes seems to have deliberately broken them.

?: The Law of course forbade reaping and threshing on that day, but the Rabbis had decided that even to pluck corn was to be construed as reaping, and to rub it as threshing. They even forbad walking on grass as a species of threshing, and would not allow so much as a fruit to be plucked from a tree on that day.
 That which is not lawful – That is, that which they esteemed to be unlawful on the “Sabbath day.” It was made lawful by Moses, without any distinction of days, but “they” had denied its lawfulness on the Sabbath. Christ shows them from their own law that it was “not” unlawful.

Expositors: TWICE in succession Christ had now asserted the freedom of the soul against His Jewish antagonists. He was free to eat with sinners, for their good, and His followers were free to disregard fasts, because the Bridegroom was with them. A third attack in the same series is prepared. The Pharisees now take stronger ground, since the law itself enforced the obligation of the Sabbath. Here they felt sure of their position; and when they found the disciples, in a cornfield where the long stems had closed over the path, “making a way,” which was surely forbidden labor, and this by “plucking the ears,” which was reaping, and then rubbing these in their hands to reject the chaff, which was winnowing, they cried out in affected horror, Behold, why do they that which is not lawful? To them it mattered nothing that the disciples really hungered, and that abstinence, rather than the slight exertion which they condemned, would cause real inconvenience and unrest.

Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees!

Mat 12:3  But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;

Mat 12:4How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?

Mark 2:26  How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest and ate the showbread, which it is not lawful to eat, except for the priests, and also gave to those with him?

Guzik: In referring to David’s use of the “holy bread” in 1Sa_21:1-6, Jesus shows an important principle – human need is more important than religious ritual. The Sabbath was meant to serve man (the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath).

i. This is exactly what many people, steeped in tradition, simply cannot accept: that what God really wants is mercy before sacrifice (Hos_6:6); that love to others is more important than religious rituals (Isa_58:1-9); that the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart; these, O God, You will not despise (Psa_51:17).

ii. “God prohibited work on the Sabbath day, lest servants should be oppressed by their masters, that the labouring beasts might have necessary rest, and that men might have proper opportunity to attend upon his ordinances.”

  1. “Any application of the Sabbath Law which operates to the detriment of man is out of harmony with God’s purpose.” (Morgan)

Expositor’s: David and his followers, when at extremity, had eaten the shewbread which it was not lawful for them to eat. It is a striking assertion. We should probably have sought a softer phrase. We should have said that in other circumstances it would have been unlawful, that only necessity made it lawful; we should have refused to look straight in the face the naked ugly fact that David broke the law. But Jesus was not afraid of any fact. He saw and declared that the priests in the Temple itself profaned the Sabbath when they baked the shewbread and when they circumcised children. They were blameless, not because the Fourth Commandment remained inviolate, but because circumstances made it right for them to profane the Sabbath. And His disciples were blameless also, upon the same principle, that the larger obligation overruled the lesser, that all ceremonial observance gave way to human need, that mercy is a better thing than sacrifice.

And thus it appeared that the objectors were themselves the transgressors; they had condemned the guiltless.

A little reflection will show that our Lord’s bold method, His startling admission that David and the priests alike did that which was not lawful, is much more truly reverential than our soft modern compromises, our shifty device for persuading ourselves that in various permissible and even necessary deviation from prescribed observances, there is no real infraction of any law whatever.

Mat 12:5Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?

Guzik: The priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless: The second principle Jesus presents is also simple. The priests themselves break the Sabbath all the time. Perhaps the Pharisees don’t understand as much about Sabbath observance as they thought they did.

  1. The reference to the passage I desire mercy and not sacrifice (Hos_6:6), and the Pharisees’ lack of understanding of this principle is also a way Jesus calls into question the confidence the Pharisees have in their traditions of man.

Russell: In the temple — Proving that labor done sacrificially for the assistance of others, as well as for their own necessities, could be no violation of the fourth commandment.

And are blameless — The Law specifically provided for the labor which they would perform, and hence such labor could not be considered a profanation of the Sabbath.

Barnes: Profane the Sabbath – He referred them to the conduct of the priests also. On the Sabbath days they were engaged, as well as on other days, in killing beasts for sacrifice, Num_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, Exo_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.
Mat 12:6But I say unto you, That in this place isonegreater than the temple.

Russell: Greater than the temple — These disciples were doing still more consecrated work than the priests and the Levites in the temple because he, the representative of the Father, was greater than the temple.

Vincent’s: The correct reading makes the adjective neuter, so that the right rendering is something greater (Rev., in margin). The reference is, of course, to Christ himself (compare Mat_12:41, Mat_12:42, where the neuter πλεῖον, more (so Rev., in margin), is used in the same way). Compare, also, Joh_2:19, where Christ speaks of his own body as a temple. The indefiniteness of the neuter gives a more solemn and impressive sense.

Gill: Christ’s argument is, that if the temple, and the service of it, excused the priests from blame, in doing things in it on the sabbath day, which otherwise might not be done; then much more might his presence, who was greater than the temple, excuse his disciples from blame in this action of rubbing and eating the ears of corn; which was done to satisfy hunger, and to render them the more capable of performing their ministerial function; and which was of more importance than the service of the priests.

Mat 12:7But if ye had known whatthismeaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

Gill: But if ye had known what this meaneth, The passage of Scripture in Hos_6:6

ye would not have condemned the guiltless. Our Lord taxes the Pharisees both with ignorance of the Scriptures, in which they pretended to be very knowing, and took upon them to be the interpreters of; and with inhumanity, for condemning innocent persons, the apostles, for rubbing a few ears of corn, for the refreshment of nature; which they would never have done, had they understood the word, and will of God; who prefers acts of humanity, compassion, and mercy, to the observance of rites and ceremonies; or had they the common affections of human nature, and those bowels of compassion which one man ought to show to another.

Barnes: Mark adds Mar_2:27 “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” That is, the Sabbath was intended for the welfare of man; it was designed to promote his happiness, and not to produce misery by harsh, unfeeling requirements. It is not to be so interpreted as to produce suffering by making the necessary supply of wants unlawful. Man was not made for the Sabbath. Man was created first, and then the Sabbath was appointed for his happiness, Gen_2:1-3. His necessities, his real comforts and needs, are not to be made to bend to that which was made “for him.” The laws are to be interpreted favorably to his real wants and comforts. This authorizes works only of real necessity, not of imaginary wants, or amusements, or common business and worldly employments.

Russell: If ye had known — Equivalent to saying that they did not know its meaning.

Mercy and not sacrifice — God is desirous of seeing in his creatures the quality of mercy toward one another, rather than merely the sacrificing of their comforts. It was the loving kindness of Jesus that disturbed their pharisaical natures and called forth their opposition. Consequently any deeds of mercy, sympathy, pity done on the Sabbath are more pleasing in God’s sight than sacrifices performed in the typical temple. This mercy would have hindered them from condemning the disciples. Similarly today, the great failing of many critics and fault-finders is their lack of mercy, of love.

Not have condemned — The fault-finding disposition that is ready to accuse and condemn everybody indicates a wrong condition of heart.

Mat 12:8For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.

Guzik: Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath: The second principle is even more dramatic – Jesus declares that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. If He, the very Lord of the Sabbath, was not offended by His disciple’s actions, then these sideline critics should not have been either.

Do we make it our mission to find fault with others?

Are we so busy pointing out what we perceive to be other’s errors that we don’t see that we have a problem with our heart?

When we perceive that something is against God’s Word, do we go to God’s Word and search for the truth of the matter? Or just rely on what we think or what others think?

A Man with a Withered Hand

Mat 12:9  And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: 

Mat 12:10  And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. 

Perhaps in Capernaum, where he had before cast out the unclean spirit; but not on the same day, nor on that day he had had the debate with the Pharisees, about his disciples plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath day; but on another sabbath, perhaps the next; see Luk_6:6.

“The man’s hand was withered, but God’s mercy had still preserved to him the use of his feet: he uses them to bring him to the public worship of God, and Jesus meets and heals him there. How true is the proverb – It is never so all with us, but it might be much worse!” (Clarke)

Do you let your infirmities keep you from going to church (fellowship, Bible study)?

Guzik: A man who had a withered hand: At best, the religious leaders saw the man with the withered hand as a test case. It is more likely that they saw the man as bait for a Sabbath controversy trap for Jesus. In contrast, Jesus looked at the man through eyes of compassion.

It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath: Jesus exposes their hypocrisy by showing their greater concern for their own possessions than for a man in need, arguing persuasively that it can’t be wrong to do good on the Sabbath. Then He compassionately heals the man.

Gill: and they asked him, saying, is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? and which was put, not for information sake, as willing to be instructed in this point; for their determinations were, that healing was not lawful on such a day; nor were any means to be made use of for that purpose: if a man received a cure accidentally, it was very well; but no methods were to be taken with intention: as for instance (c);

“if a man had an ailment in his throat, he might not gargle it with oil, but he might swallow a large quantity of oil, ואם נתרפא נתרפא “and “if he was healed, he was healed” (i.e. it was very well, it was no breach of the sabbath); they may not chew mastic, nor rub the teeth with spice, on the sabbath day, בזמן שמתכוין לרפואה, “when it is intended “for healing”; but if it is intended for the savour of his mouth, it is free.”

“Danger of life drives away the sabbath; wherefore, if there is any danger in a sick person, it is lawful to kindle a fire for him, &c. and they may kill, and bake, and boil: and though there may be no apparent danger, only a doubt of danger; as when one physician says there is a necessity, and another physician says there is none, they may profane the sabbath for him.”

Hence it is very clear with what view the Pharisees asked Christ this question; and that it was, as the evangelist says, that they might accuse him: either of cruelty and weakness, should he answer in the negative, that either he was not able to heal the poor man before him, or wanted compassion; or should he answer in the affirmative, as they expected, and act upon it, then they might have wherewith to charge him before the sanhedrim as a violator of the sabbath, and of their canons concerning it.

Guzik: The critics of Jesus expected Him to heal this man with the withered hand. By their expectation, they admitted that Jesus had the power of God to work miracles. Knowing this, they watched Him closely . . . so that they might accuse Him. They knew what Jesus could do yet their knowledge didn’t draw them to Jesus. It was as if a man could fly, but the authorities wanted to know if he had a pilot’s license.

i. “No one could miss them, for, in the synagogue, the front seats were the seats of honour and they were sitting there.” (Barclay) The religious leaders watched Jesus closely, but with no heart of love for Him. They knew about Jesus, but they did not know Him.

ii. They also knew Jesus would do something when He saw this man in need. In this sense, these critics had more faith than many of us, because we sometimes doubt that Jesus wants to meet the needs of others.

Hawker: When the Reader hath consulted what is there said, I beg his attention to behold the conduct of the Scribes and Pharisees upon the occasion. We are told, that they watched JESUS; not to adore him for his grace and mercy, but that they might accuse him. And as soon as the LORD had manifested his tender compassion to this poor man, they went forth, and took counsel to kill him. Now, Reader, do not overlook these things: for very awful as they are, they become precious testimonies to the truth as it is in JESUS.

And they – The scribes and Pharisees, watched him, that they might accuse him – Pride, anger, and shame, after being so often put to silence, began now to ripen into malice. (Wesley)

Do we allow jealousy to blind us to the truth of a matter?

Do we look for what is right about a matter instead of what is wrong about it?

Mat 12:11  And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and liftitout?

Mat 12:12How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.

Barnes: It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days – This was universally allowed by the Jews in the abstract; and Jesus only showed them that the principle on which they acted in other things applied with more force to the case before him, and that the act which he was about to perform was, by their own confession, lawful.

Benson: The stress of the question does not lie on supposing a man to have only one sheep, but on one only falling into a pit; and yet, for the comparatively small value of that one, his not scrupling to undertake the labour of helping it out on the sabbath day. How much then is a man better than a sheep? As if he had said, If the regard you have for the life of your cattle leads you to do servile work on the sabbath, for the preservation of a single sheep, charity should much rather induce you to labour for the preservation of a fellow-creature, though the good office is to be done on the sabbath day. Wherefore it is lawful to do well — To save a beast, much more a man, or to perform any of the lovely acts of mercy and charity on the sabbath day. Our Lord, having spoken as above, according to St. Mar_3:5, looked round about upon them with anger, with a holy indignation at their wickedness, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, for their stupidity and impenitence, and for that condemnation and ruin which he knew they were thus bringing on themselves, as well as for the pernicious effect which their conduct would have on others.

Guzik: In His question to the religious leaders, Jesus emphasizes the truth about the Sabbath: there is never a wrong day to do something truly good.

a. According to their Sabbath traditions, if you cut your finger, you could stop the bleeding – but you could not put ointment on the cut. You could stop it from getting worse, but you weren’t allowed to make it better.

b. “There are many who call themselves Christians, who do more for a beast of burden or pleasure than they do for a man for whom Christ died!” (Clarke)

Barnes: Or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? – It seems to have been a maxim with the Jews that not to do good when we have an opportunity is to do evil; not to save life is to kill or to be guilty of murder. If a man has an opportunity of saving a man’s life when he is in danger, and does not do it, he is evidently guilty of his death. On this principle our Saviour puts this question to the Jews – whether it was better for him, having the power to heal this man, to do it, or to suffer him to remain in this suffering condition; and he illustrates it by an example, showing that in a manner of much less importance – that respecting their cattle – they would do on the Sabbath just as “he” would if he should heal this man. The same remark may apply to all opportunities of doing good. “The ability to do good imposes an obligation to do it” (Cotton Mather) He that has the means of feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, and instructing the ignorant, and sending the gospel to the destitute, and that does it not, is guilty, for he is practically doing evil; he is suffering evils to exist which he might remove. So the wicked will be condemned in the day of judgment because “they did it not,” Mat_25:45. If this is true, what an obligation rests upon the rich to do good!

Do you take advantage of opportunities to do good when the Lord puts them in front of you?

Mat 12:13  Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other. 

Guzik:  (See the Mark account) This is one of the few places where Jesus is described as having anger, and He is angry at the hardness of men’s hearts.

  1. We know what anger is, but we are rarely angry for the same reason Jesus was angry. Our anger usually comes from feeling injured, not from the outrage that a good man feels in the face of evil.
  2. Jesus was angry because this was a perfect opportunity for these critics of His to change their mind about Him and their traditions. But they refused to change their minds, and rejected Jesus instead. In this we can see that Jesus deliberately used this occasion to provoke a response. Jesus could have done this the next day. Jesus could have done it privately. But He chose to do it at this time and place.
  3. with anger] Not merely did He look upon them, He “looked round” upon them, surveyed each face with “an all-embracing gaze of grief and anger.” (Cambridge)

In this, Jesus commanded the man with the withered hand to do something impossible. How can you stretch out a paralyzed hand? But as the man put forth effort, God did the rest. God never commands us without enabling us.

Clarke: “This man might have reasoned thus: ‘Lord, my hand is withered; how then can I stretch it out? Make it whole first, and afterwards I will do as thou commandest.’ This may appear reasonable, but in his case it would have been foolishness. At the command of the Lord he made the effort, and in making it the cure was effected!”

“Faith disregards apparent impossibilities, where there is a command and promise of God. The effort to believe is, often, that faith by which the soul is healed.” (Clarke)

Like Jesus, the Lord’s people should be wholly out of sympathy with everything not in harmony with God.

It also forms one of seven miracles wrought on the Sabbath-day. The other six were, (1) The demoniac at Capernaum (Mar_1:21); (2) Simon’s wife’s mother (Mar_1:29); (3) the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda (Joh_5:9); (4) the woman with a spirit of infirmity (Luk_13:14); (5) the man who had the dropsy (Luk_14:1); (6) the man born blind (Joh_9:14).

What does your anger look like? How does it compare to the Lord’s anger here?

Do you have the faith to do what the Lord commands?

Mat 12:14  Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. 

Mark 3:6 MKJV  The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.

Jesus did nothing but a wonderful miracle. In response, two parties of former enemies (the Pharisees and the Herodians) can agree together in one cause: to destroy Jesus.

Luk_6:11 says that the critics of Jesus were filled with rage when Jesus healed this man. Which was more a violation of the Sabbath: When Jesus healed a man, or when these hate-filled men plotted the murder of a godly man who never sinned against anybody?

A stanza from My Song Is Love Unknown by Samuel Crossman catches this irony:
Why, what has my Lord done,
To cause this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run
And gave the blind their sight.
What injuries! Yet these are why,
What injuries, yet these are why
The Lord Most High so cruelly dies.

“The Herodians were not a religious party; they were a group of Jews who were sympathetic to King Herod and supported his rule.” (Wiersbe)

The LORD himself hath explained the cause. For while he saith, My sheep hear my voice; and I know them and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life. Joh_10:27-28. he saith to those that are not his sheep: Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. Joh_8:43-47.

Do you see yourself in these Scribes and Pharisees?  If you do, are you going to repent?

Are you a Herodian? Do you get yourself mixed up into politics? Do you let such worldliness affect your fellowship?

God’s Chosen Servant

Mat 12:15  But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; 

Russell: He withdrew — Setting the example to be on the lookout for divine deliverance and the opening of a way of escape from things too difficult to endure.

Barnes: But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself … – He knew of the plot which they had formed against his life; but his hour was not yet come, and he therefore sought security.

By remaining, his presence would only have provoked them further and endangered his own life. He acted, therefore, the part of prudence and withdrew. Compare the notes at Mat_10:23.

Mark adds that he withdrew “to the sea;” that is, to the Sea of Galilee. or Tiberias. He states also Mat_3:7-8 that “a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and from beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard what great things he did, came unto him.” As some of these places were without the limits of Judea or inhabited by “Gentiles,” this statement of Mark throws light on the passage quoted by Matthew Mat_12:21, “In his name shall the Gentiles trust.”

Benson: Or rather, Jesus, knowing it, withdrew himself from thence, in order that nothing might hinder him from fulfilling his ministry. It appears from Mark 3. that he retired into Galilee, where he preached and wrought miracles as privately as possible, that he might avoid giving offence. His fame, however, was now so great that vast multitudes gathered round him there, among whom were many who, having seen or heard of the miracle on the infirm man at Bethesda, (John 5.,) and on the withered hand in the synagogue, followed him from Jerusalem and Judea. And he healed them all — That is, all that had need of healing. By this it appears, that it was not mere curiosity that drew together this immense multitude. Many, no doubt, were moved by that principle, but others came to him to be healed of their infirmities and diseases, and others again to hear and be instructed by his divine discourses.

Mat 12:16  And charged them that they should not make him known: 

Mat 12:17  That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, 

Barnes: That it might be fulfilled … – Matthew here quotes a passage from Isa_42:1-4, to show the “reason why he thus retired from his enemies and sought concealment.” The Jews, and the disciples also at first, expected that the Messiah would be a conqueror, and vindicate himself from all his enemies. When they saw him retiring before them, and, instead of subduing them by force, seeking a place of concealment, it was contrary to all their previous notions of the Messiah. Matthew by this quotation shows that “their” conceptions of him had been wrong. Instead of a warrior and an earthly conqueror, he was “predicted” under a totally different character. Instead of shouting for battle, lifting up his voice in the streets, oppressing the feeble – “breaking bruised reeds and quenching smoking flax, as a conqueror” – he would be peaceful, retiring; would strengthen the feeble, and would cherish the faintest desires of holiness. This appears to be the general meaning of this quotation here.

Mat 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 shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. 

Barnes: My servant – That is, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus; called a servant from his taking the “form” of a “servant,” or his being born in a humble condition Php_2:7, and from his obeying or “serving” God. See Heb_10:9.

Shall show judgment to the Gentiles – The word “judgment” means, in the Hebrew, law, “commands, etc.,” Psa_19:9; Psa_119:29-30. It means the “whole system of truth;” the law of God in general; the purpose, plan, or “judgment” of God about human duty and conduct. Here it means, evidently, the system of “gospel truth,” the Christian scheme.
Gentiles – All who were not Jews.

Mat 12:19  He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. 

Barnes: He shall not strive … – He shall not shout as a warrior.
He shall be meek, retiring, and peaceful. Streets were places of concourse. The meaning is, that he should not seek publicity and popularity.

Clarke: He shall not strive, nor cry – The spirit of Christ is not a spirit of contention, murmuring, clamor, or litigiousness. He who loves these does not belong to him. Christ therefore fulfilled a prophecy by withdrawing from this place, on account of the rage of the Pharisees.

Mat 12:20  A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. 

Spurgeon: What is weaker than the bruised reed or the smoking flax? A reed that groweth in the fen or marsh, let but the wild duck light upon it, and it snaps; let but the foot of man brush against it, and it is bruised and broken; every wind that flits across the river moves it to and fro. You can conceive of nothing more frail or brittle, or whose existence is more in jeopardy, than a bruised reed. Then look at the smoking flax-what is it? It has a spark within it, it is true, but it is almost smothered; an infant’s breath might blow it out; nothing has a more precarious existence than its flame. Weak things are here described, yet Jesus says of them, “The smoking flax I will not quench; the bruised reed I will not break.” Some of God’s children are made strong to do mighty works for him; God has his Samsons here and there who can pull up Gaza’s gates, and carry them to the top of the hill; he has a few mighties who are lion-like men, but the majority of his people are a timid, trembling race. They are like starlings, frightened at every passer by; a little fearful flock. If temptation comes, they are taken like birds in a snare; if trial threatens, they are ready to faint; their frail skiff is tossed up and down by every wave, they are drifted along like a sea bird on the crest of the billows-weak things, without strength, without wisdom, without foresight. Yet, weak as they are, and because they are so weak, they have this promise made specially to them. Herein is grace and graciousness! Herein is love and lovingkindness! How it opens to us the compassion of Jesus-so gentle, tender, considerate! We need never shrink back from his touch. We need never fear a harsh word from him; though he might well chide us for our weakness, he rebuketh not. Bruised reeds shall have no blows from him, and the smoking flax no damping frowns.

Guzik: The quotation from Isa_42:1-5 speaks of the gentle character of the Messiah. If a reed is bruised, He will not break it. If He sees even the smallest spark in a man, he will not quench it, but gently fan it into flame.

Meyer: A reed is not of much account. You may see hundreds of them encircling a stagnant pond and bending before the breeze. A bruised reed is still more worthless to the eye of the world. Yet the Master does not despise a bruised or broken reed. No, He bends over it and tries to restore its shape. He makes out of it a reed-organ for music, or the paper manufacturers weave it into paper on which are printed His messages.

Flax does not burn readily. It only smolders. The spark runs feebly up the fibers; and anything like a flame is impossible. Such is our poor love. It sometimes seems but a spark. Yet Jesus does not despise it. So far from quenching it, He breathes on it, places it in the oxygen of His love, and screens it from the wind that would extinguish it.

How gentle, quiet and unobtrusive is our Master’s behavior! He is so frugal of His resources, so careful that nothing be wasted, so eager to make the most of us. And it is out of such materials that He makes His ever-victorious army.

Russell: A bruised reed — A Christian not wholly consecrated. A humble, contrite, faithful heart. God takes cognizance of it and confers his blessing.

Shall he not break — God kindly condescends to human ignorance and weakness. If there be even a slight disposition to penitence, he fosters and cherishes it.

And smoking flax — Smouldering faith.

Shall he not quench — If there is even a smouldering spark of love toward God, he will fan the spark, if perchance it might become a blaze.

Send forth judgment — Justice, righteousness, truth. When Christ shall assume his kingly office at his second advent.

Unto victory — Thus making Jehovah’s footstool glorious. Life and immortality were brought to light by Jesus’ own successful probation. When all evil and all willful evil-doers shall have been cut off. His victory will consist in the establishment of righteousness and peace, no matter how many or how few fall in the conflict.

Mat 12:21  And in his name shall the Gentiles trust. 

Guzk: In His name Gentiles will trust: Finally, the quotation from Isaiah 42 also speaks of the ultimate ministry of Jesus to the Gentiles. This was something surprising – and perhaps even offensive – to Matthew’s Jewish readers, but it is obviously Scriptural, according to Isaiah 42.

Isa 42:1  Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. 

Isa 42:6  I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; 

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

Mat 12:22  Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. 

Mat 12:23  And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? 

Barnes: Is not this the Son of David? – That is, Is not this the promised “descendant” of David, the Messiah? They were acquainted with the prophecy in Isa_35:5, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped,” and they inferred that he must be the promised Messiah who was able to do this. This inference was drawn by the common people, and not by the proud and haughty Pharisees. It is not uncommon that people of plain common sense, though unlearned, see the true meaning of the Bible, while those who are filled with pride and science, falsely so called, are blinded.

RussellThe son of David — “The Lord shall give him the throne of his father David.” (Luk_1:32)

Mat 12:24  But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. 

Guzik: Could this be the Son of David? The crowds react with Messianic expectation, but the religious leaders respond by attributing Jesus’ power to the prince of demons (This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub).

RussellPharisees — As we see how blindly the scribes and Pharisees hated Jesus, and said all manner of evil against him, we see that really they were on Satan’s side.

But by Beelzebub — Satan: the first and, for a long time, the only enemy of the divine government.
Refuted by Jesus’ refusal to accept the testimony of any demon. The deluded Pharisees had even charged the Master with being Satan himself. (Mat_10:25) Such a manifestation of hatred, malice and opposition to light came not through the “fall” and cannot be forgiven as such.

The prince — The chief, doubtless because of being by nature a superior order of being. 

Of the devils — Of the angels which fell at the time of the flood. His influence or spirit is exercised in his servants much the same way that the spirit of God works in his children.

Benson: But when the Pharisees — Who were present, and the scribes, who had come down from Jerusalem, heard it, that is, heard this natural reflection of the people, and observed that they were beginning to infer, from the wonderful miracles which they saw Jesus perform, that he was the expected Messiah; fearing lest such a belief, if it should gain ground, would put an end to their credit with, and authority over, the people, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils but by Beelzebub, &c. — Thus giving the most malicious and unreasonable turn to the matter which could be imagined.

Mat 12:25  And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:

Benson: that Jesus knew their thoughts: he knew that the wickedness of their hearts, and not the weakness of their understandings, had led them to form the opinion they had uttered, if it was their real opinion; or rather, to affirm it contrary to the conviction of their minds, which was the reason that, at the conclusion of his defence, he reprimanded them in the sharpest manner.”

Mat 12:26And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?

Guzik: Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation: Jesus, quite logically, observes that it makes no sense for Satan to cast out Satan. The Pharisees need to explain how Satan benefits by the work Jesus has just done.

Benson:And said, Every kingdom divided against itself &c. — He proceeds to demonstrate the absurdity of their calumny, by an argument drawn from the common affairs of life: —

As if he had said, “If evil spirits assist me in working miracles for the confirmation of my doctrine, they do what they can to promote the spiritual worship and ardent love of the true God, and, as effectually as possible, excite men to the practice of universal justice, benevolence, temperance, and self-government; all these virtues being powerfully recommended by my doctrine. But thus to make the evil spirits fight against themselves, is evidently to make them ruin their own interest; unless it can be thought that the strength and welfare of a society is advanced by jarring discord and destructive civil wars. Your judgment, therefore, of my conduct, is palpably malicious and absurd.” — Macknight.

Mat 12:27And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children castthemout? therefore they shall be your judges.

Barnes: Christ was not satisfied by showing them the intrinsic absurdity of their argument. He showed them that it might as well be applied to them as to him. your disciples, taught by you and encouraged by you, pretend to cast out devils. If your argument be true that a man who casts out devils must be in league with the devil, then “your disciples” have made a covenant with him also. You must therefore either give up this argument, or admit that the working of miracles is proof of the assistance of God.

Therefore they shall be your judges – They condemn you and your argument. They are conclusive witnesses against the force of your reasoning.

Benson: The word Beelzebub signifies the lord or master of flies. This was the great idol of the Ekronites; and from his name we may infer that they considered him as having the command of the various insects wherewith, in those warm climates, they were infested, and which ofttimes gathered into such swarms as proved both a noisome and a deadly plague. The Ekronites being near neighbours to the Jews, the great veneration which they had for this idol made him the object both of the horror and detestation of the devout worshippers of the true God. Accordingly, to express in what detestation they held him, they appropriated his name to the most hateful being in the universe, calling the devil, or the prince of the evil angels. Beelzebub; for the next verse shows, that Beelzebub and Satan are different names of the same person; and consequently that Satan was considered as the prince of those demons who were cast out by Christ, and who are elsewhere represented as his angels. The word in the Greek is Beelzebul, which signifies, the lord of a dunghill, and seems to be a contemptuous change of the former name, by which it was intimated, that the noblest of the heathen deities were more fit to dwell on a dunghill than to be worshipped in a magnificent temple.

Mat 12:28But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.

Mat 12:29Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.

Guzik: And then he will plunder his house: Jesus, by analogy, declares His authority to bind Satan’s power. He is stronger than the strong man is. In so doing, He presents a valuable principle in spiritual warfare, remembering that Jesus gives us the permission to use His name and authority, giving us the “strength” we may need in binding the strong man.

Barnes:Or else … – The Saviour makes use of a new illustration to confute the Pharisees, drawn from breaking into a house.
A man could not break into the house of a strong man and take his property unless he had rendered the man himself helpless. If he had taken his goods, it would therefore be sufficient proof that he had bound the man. So I, says he, have taken this “property – this possessed person” – from the dominion of Satan. It is clear proof that I have subdued “Satan himself,” the “strong” being that had him in possession. The words “or else” mean “or how:” “How, or in what way, can one, etc.”
Spoil his goods – The word “spoil” commonly means, now, to corrupt, injure, or destroy. Here it means “to plunder,” to take with violence, as it commonly does in the Bible. See Col_2:8, Col_2:15; Exo_3:22.

Mat 12:30He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.

Russell: Not with me — The side of God, truth, righteousness.

Is against me — Having thus answered their objection, he showed that they were against him and thus opposing God. The side of error, falsehood, Satan.

Gathereth not with me — Their zeal is not according to a knowledge of God’s plans; they are not working with God.

Scattereth abroad — They hinder the harvest work, they attempt to sow discord amongst the under-reapers by saying all manner of evil falsely against some of them.

Mat 12:31Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemyagainsttheHolyGhost shall not be forgiven unto men.

Russell: All manner of sin — Ordinary sins resulting from the fall, ignorance, superstition, etc. To have misunderstood and misrepresented the invisible God would have been a much lighter offense.

And blasphemy — Malicious words of opposition (see verse 36).

Shall be forgiven — Would all, in God’s providence, be ultimately forgivable, if not willful. Not may, but shall; but not without repentance. God, by his goodness, will lead men to repentance. The sins and blasphemies which may be forgiven are such as are committed in ignorance. The sins which cannot be pardoned are the willful sins.

But the blasphemy — Evil speaking, evil acting, contrary to the spirit of the truth, the spirit of righteousness, the Spirit of the Lord, as they had learned and understood the same. “He that committeth sin is of the devil.” (1Jo_3:8). Those who sin willfully, deliberately, are of the devil, and are not guided by the holy Spirit of God.

The holy ghost — Every sin against the holy Spirit, against clear light and knowledge of divine power, is unforgivable. The holy Spirit here denotes a light, an intelligence, respecting God’s purposes. Whoever willfully and intelligently would sin against Jesus would be guilty of blasphemy against the holy Spirit.

When a demonstration of the power, spirit, of God in doing a good work was manifested, though they might not have received it as a proof of Jesus’ claims, they were inexcusable for attributing it to Satanic power.

Not be forgiven — Some sins against the holy Spirit might be punished with stripes, others with death.
Where any measure of willfulness is associated with sin it takes it to that degree out of the list of forgivable sins and places it in the list of the unforgivable.

Mat 12:32And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in theworldto come.

Speaketh a word — Ignorantly.

Against the Son — If one blaspheme the name of Jesus, being deceived in some way, then the sin is not blasphemy against the holy Spirit and may be forgiven. To have misinterpreted Jesus’ motives, claiming he was merely trying to usurp a throne and exalt himself in power, would have been a comparatively light offense.

Shall be forgiven — To the proportion of its ignorance and weakness, any sin is forgivable; to the proportion that any sin was willful, intentional, it is unforgivable and must be expiated by punishment.

The Holy Ghost — Denotes a light, an intelligence, respecting God’s purpose.

Maliciously attributing to an evil source what could not be denied as a good work, free from sin, selfishness or ambition. All sins against light and ability are unpardonable, cannot be forgiven at any time, and hence they must be punished. Sins against clear manifestations of divine grace cannot be attributed to weakness of the flesh and heredity, but must be properly charged as willful viciousness of the heart, which is unforgivable.

Not be forgiven — This does not mean that the individual will be punished for it forever. It simply means that such sin cannot be forgiven and could only be expiated. If punishment does not bring reformation, it would mean the second death. All who receive “stripes” receive them for unpardoned sins, for if the sins were pardoned they would not be punished for them.

Neither in this world — During this Gospel age. Jesus’ miracles and preachings were the commencement of the Gospel age, as he is the head of the Gospel Church.

The world to come — The Millennial age. Future. The word “age” occurs but once in the text.

A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

Mat 12:33Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known byhisfruit.

Matthew 12:33 TPT  “You must determine if a tree is good or rotten. You can recognize good trees by their delicious fruit. But if you find rotten fruit, you can be certain that the tree is rotten. The fruit defines the tree.

Guzik: The bad fruit of their words (when they condemned Jesus) betrayed the “bad root” in their hearts. If they got their hearts right with God, their words about Jesus would get right also.

Clarke: The works will resemble the heart: nothing good can proceed from an evil spirit; no good fruit can proceed from a corrupt heart. Before the heart of man can produce any good, it must be renewed and influenced by the Spirit of God.

Barnes: Either make … – The fact asserted in this verse is, that a tree is known, not by its leaves, or bark, or form, but by its fruit. The application to the argument is this: “You are to judge of man’s being in league with Satan by his works. If my doctrines and works be properly the works of Satan, then I am corrupt; if not, then your charge is blasphemy. So, on the other hand, if, notwithstanding your professions, your works are the works of the devil, and your doctrines are such as he would teach, it would prove respecting you that which you charge on me.” In this indirect but powerful manner he advances to the charge against them, which he urges in the following verses.

Gill: or else this may be applied unto the Pharisees, who, though wicked men, pretended to do good works; and though they set up for men of religion and holiness, yet did evil things, as their words and actions testified; particularly the blasphemy just now uttered by them, charging the miracles of Christ as done by the assistance of the devil, which discovered the malignity and rottenness of their hearts: and the meaning of Christ is, that they would either both say, and do, that which is right and good; or relinquish their pretensions to the character of good and religious men

Mat 12:34O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.

Matthew 12:34 TPT  But you who are known as the Pharisees are rotten to the core! You’ve been poisoned by the nature of a venomous snake. How can your words be good and trustworthy if you are rotten within? For what has been stored up in your hearts will be heard in the overflow of your words!

Guzik:Brood of vipers! With these words, Jesus is essentially calling the religious leaders “sons of Satan.” They are a generation associated with the serpent, not with God.

c. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks: Our words reveal our hearts. If there were good treasure in the hearts of these religious leaders, it would show itself in good things.

i. How many times has a person said something that perfectly revealed their heart, and then said, “That’s not what I meant!” when it was exactly what they meant!

Baxter. O generation of vipers — Perverse, venomous, deceitful creatures; how can ye, being evil — Being envious and malicious, speak good things — It is surely a force upon nature whenever you do so; and you will easily return to such uncharitable and impious language as we have now been hearing from you; the thoughts of your hearts showing themselves by the words of your mouths. For out of the abundance of the heart — The overflowing pride, envy, and malice thereof, the mouth speaketh — Utters words of the same nature with the corrupt source from whence they flow.

Gill:O generation of vipers,…. Though they boasted of their being the seed of Abraham, yet their immediate ancestors were no other than vipers, deceitful, hurtful, poisonous creatures; and they were exactly like them: for though they made a fair show in the flesh, and outwardly appeared righteous, yet were inwardly full of the poison of wickedness, envy and malice; and which their pestilential breath, their blasphemy against the Spirit, fully discovered; and gave just cause and reason for so severe a reproof, and such resentment, as here made by Christ.

How can ye, being evil, speak good things? This is not to be expected, nor is it commonly and constantly done; an evil man may sometimes speak good things, or which seem to be so; but these are not his common talk; as he is, so, for the most part, is his language; his speech betrays him: and since these men were by nature evil, were destitute of the Spirit and grace of God, had no good thing in them, how should any good thing come out of them? And since they were so full of wickedness, spite and malice, it is no wonder that they belched out such blasphemous expressions concerning the miracles of Christ;

Russell: Generation — Greek, gennema, race.

Of vipers — So set on the traditions of their church that their eyes were blinded against the simplest kind of reasoning.

The abundance — A man’s treasure shows in which way his mind is bent. His preferences demonstrate his character. The things which we cultivate are an index to our character.

Heart – The heart is representative of the character, and the mouth is the index of the character. If we get the heart right, the effect will be a proportionate cleansing and purifying of the flesh. A heart filled and overflowing with the spirit of love and truth will bestow it upon others.

The Scriptures everywhere exhort the Lord’s people to be pure in heart. Our first concern, then, should be for the heart, that the affections and dispostions may be fully under the control of divine grace.

The mouth speaketh — If the principles of truth, righteousness, reverence for God and love for the beauties of holiness are established in the heart, we shall have no difficulty in controlling our tongue.

If it speaks slander, it shows the real heart condition. Our words continually bearing testimony of the condition of our hearts. An evil mouth, a mouth which does injury to others, indicates an evil heart. What a fearful responsibility attaches to the tongue that wags in an evil or even in a flippant way, which is also dishonoring to God. The Lord judges the heart according to our words. By this we may judge or test ourselves

Mat 12:35A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

Matthew 12:35 TPT  “When virtue is stored within, the hearts of good and upright people will produce good fruit. But when evil is hidden within, those who are evil will produce evil fruit.

Baxter: A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart — The wisdom and piety, the truth and grace lodged there, bringeth forth good things. — Freely and abundantly, to the edification of all with whom he converses. And an evil man — A man full of corrupt affections and dispositions; a man of an earthly, sensual, and devilish mind, out of the evil treasure — The corrupt principles and inclinations which are within him, bringeth forth evil things — Wicked words and actions, and that naturally and readily: “and even when he labours most artfully to disguise himself and his character, breaks out, like you, in some unguarded moment, into such language as betrays the shame he would conceal.”

Russell: The good treasure — We must reach the place where not only we do not will to do harm to our neighbors, but where we sincerely wish to do them good.

Forth good things — The fruitage of kindness, mercy and love–good works. Our lives should be so that all of our friends and acquaintances would be ready to say of us, He is a good man; his message will have something of consolation in it.

Evil things — Bitter things, poisoned arrows, injurious to all with whom they come in contact.

Vincent’s Word StudiesBringeth forth (ἐκβάλλει)
But the translation is feeble. The word means to throw or flingout. The good or evil things come forth out of the treasure of the heart (Mat_12:34). “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” The issues of the heart are thrown out, as if under pressure of the abundance within.

Mat 12:36But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

Vincents: Idle (ἀργὸν)
A good rendering. The word is compounded of ἀ, not, and ἔργον, work. An idle word is a nonworking word; an inoperative word. It has no legitimate work, no officeno business, but is morally useless and unprofitable.

Barnes: But I say unto you … – Christ closes this address to his malignant and wicked hearers by a solemn declaration that for these things God would bring them into judgment. Therefore. They who had spoken so malignantly against him, could not escape.
Idle word – This literally means a vain, thoughtless, useless word; a word that accomplishes no good. Here it means, evidently, “wicked, injurious, false, malicious, for such” were the words which they had spoken.

Benson: But I say unto you — You may perhaps think God does not much regard your words, but I assure you, that not only for blasphemous and profane, malicious, false, slanderous, and reviling words, but for every idle word which men shall speak: for all light, vain, trifling expressions; for all useless, unprofitable conversation, and all discourse uttered without seriousness and caution, and which does not conduce to the glory of God and the good of mankind; that men shall speak — At any time, or on any occasion, they shall give an account in the day of judgment — “I cannot think,” says Dr. Doddridge, “that our Lord here uses αργον, idle, merely to signify mischievous. We are certainly accountable for useless as well as wicked discourses, and they will be taken into that last survey which is to determine our character and state: which they whose life is one continued scene of whim, or sneering raillery, would do well seriously to consider. And it was to our Lord’s purpose to observe it here, as it inferred, by the strongest consequence, the danger of such vile and criminal discourses as those of the Pharisees in this case. But discourse tending to exhilarate the spirits is not idle discourse; as the time spent in necessary recreation is not idle time; nor does a wise and gracious God expect from men the life of angels. If any are dissatisfied with the account of things here given, I would beg leave to ask them whether unprofitable talk be not a sinful wasting of time? and whether that must not render a man in some degree criminal before God?”

Mat 12:37For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

Matthew 12:37 TPT  Your very words will be used as evidence against you, and your words will declare you either innocent or guilty.”

Guzik: By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned: Is Jesus making too much of mere words? No; it is by our words that we will be saved – or condemned.
Paul wrote about the importance of our words: That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom_10:9)

Benson: For by thy words — That is, by the evidence of thy words, as well as of thy tempers and works, thou shall be justified, &c. — Shalt be either acquitted or condemned; since by the tenor of these the disposition of thy heart is shown, and thy true character discovered. Therefore these shall be produced in evidence for or against thee at the great day, and by this evidence thou shalt then stand or fall.

Russell: By thy words — The Lord’s consecrated people have a responsibility for what effect their words and influences have upon others. The Lord has agreed that he will not judge the Church according to their words and their deeds entirely, but according to their spirit, intention and will.

Be justified — Nothing but the merit of Christ’s sacrifice can justify any from the Adamic condemnation. The good words spoken being an indication of the converted state of the heart. By our words of repentance, supplemented by the merits of Christ applied by faith.


By thy words — Words are an index of the heart.

Be condemned — Suffer the consequences. The first will be self-injury, and the second, a bad example for others.

“Blessed is the man who is not condemned by that which he alloweth.” (Rom_14:22)

By their words the Pharisees proved themselves dishonest; no longer worthy of God’s special favor.

Idle words will stand against us if not repented of.

The Sign of Jonah

Mat 12:38  Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. 

Russell: See a sign from thee — A proof of his Messiahship; not recognizing his teachings and his miracles as proof sufficient.

Guzik:Teacher, we want to see a sign from You: Their desire to see a sign really expresses another way in which they hope to reject Him. If Jesus did provide a sign, they would find some way to speak against it, thus “proving” to themselves that Jesus is who they already think He is – an emissary of Satan (Mat_12:24).

Mat 12:39  But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:

Guzik:An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign: Jesus condemned their seeking after a sign, especially when countless signs happen right in front of their faces. Unfortunately, many today want to cater to our own evil and adulterous generation and their desire for “a sign.”

The sign of the prophet Jonah: Jesus assures them of a sign, but the only sign they will get is the sign of a resurrected Jesus. Jonah gave his life to appease the wrath of God coming upon others. But death did not hold him; after three days and nights of imprisonment, he was alive and free. What a glorious picture of Jesus in an unexpected place!

Clarke: Seeketh after a sign – Or, seeketh another sign, (επιζητει), so I think this word should be translated. Our Lord had already given the Jews several signs; and here they desire sign upon sign.

Mat 12:40For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Matthew 12:40 TPT  For just like Jonah was in the belly of the huge sea creature 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.

Russell: For as Jonas — The various parts of the entire Bible are bound together by their mutual endorsement of the various writers, so that to reject one is to mar the completeness of the whole.

Three days and three nights — Indicating that his resurrection would be on the third day. This statement of Jesus was idiomatic and implied that he would be in the heart of the earth “till the third day.” (Mat_16:21; Mat_20:19) For proof see Gen_42:17-18; 2Ch_10:5,2Ch_10:12; Est_4:16; Est_5:1.

In the whale’s belly — If these be false, Jesus must have been a fraud and not the Son of God. It would also imply that he was much less inspired and wise than were the modern wise men who dispute these facts.

Barnes: For as Jonas was three days … – See Jon_1:17
This event took place in the Mediterranean Sea, somewhere between Joppa and Tarshish, when he was fleeing from Nineveh. It is said that the “whale” seldom passes into that sea, and that its throat is too small to admit a man. It is probable, therefore, that a fish of the “shark kind” is intended. Sharks have been known often to swallow a man entire. The fish in the book of Jonah is described merely as a “great fish,” without specifying the kind. It is well known that the Greek word translated whale, in the New Testament, does not of necessity mean a whale, but may denote a large fish or sea-monster of any kind. – Robinson, Lexicon.

Mat 12:41The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonasishere.

Guzik:  (Mat_12:41-42) Jesus announces the condemnation of the religious leaders at the hands of the Ninevites and the Queen of the South.

The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgement with this generation and condemn it: Simply put, greater light requires greater judgment. These groups responded in repentance to a lesser light – so how will these religious leaders defend their rejection of a greater light?

Russell:Rise in judgment — In the Millennial age the people of Nineveh will rank higher than they.

Clarke:A greater than Jonas is here – The evidence offered by Jonah sufficed to convince and lead the Ninevites to repentance; but here was more evidence, and a greater person; and yet so obstinate are the Jews that all is ineffectual.
1. Christ, who preached to the Jews, was infinitely greater than Jonah, in his nature, person, and mission.
2. Jonah preached repentance in Nineveh only forty days, and Christ preached among the Jews for several years.
3. Jonah wrought no miracles to authorize his preaching; but Christ wrought miracles every day, in every place where he went, and of every kind. And
4. Notwithstanding all this, the people of Judea did not repent, though the people of Nineveh did.

Mat 12:42The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomonishere.

Russell: The queen of the south – In 1Ki_10:1, this queen is said to be of Saba, which was a city and province of Arabia Felix, to the south, or south-east, of Judea.

Uttermost parts of the earth – Περατων της γης – a form of speech which merely signifies, a great distance. See Deu_28:49.

Clarke: Queen of the south — The Queen of Sheba had journeyed afar to hear Solomon’s wisdom. R4608:6

Shall condemn it — A reproof for his own nation, indicating that they were careless, indifferent respecting the truth.

Uttermost parts of the earth — Sheba, the queen’s home, was in southern Arabia, a land noted at that time for its immense wealth and particularly for its perfumes.

To hear the wisdom — Her zeal for wisdom is evidenced by the fact that she brought so valuable a treasure so long a distance through a wilderness where she was liable to the attacks of Bedouin robbers. Indicating the Lord’s approval of this desire for wisdom evinced by the queen.

Greater than Solomon — The antitype being greater than the type.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the embodiment of wisdom, justice, righteousness, with riches of grace, glory, honor, dominion.

Those who were in his presence realized it not and heeded not his message.

Return of an Unclean Spirit

Mat 12:43When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.

Guzik:  (Mat_12:43-45) The dangerous consequences of their rejection of Jesus.

When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none: Jesus grants us an important insight into the world of demons. Apparently, they (or at least some of them) desire a human host, and look for such among those who have “unfilled houses.”

And the last state of that man is worse than the first: How important it is that we be filled with Jesus; as He fills us, we cannot be filled with any unclean spirit.

Barnes: When the unclean spirit … – The “general sentiment” which our Saviour here teaches is much more easily understood than the illustration which he uses. The Jews had asked a sign from heaven that should decisively prove that he was the Messiah, and satisfy their unbelief. He replies that, though he should give them such a sign a proof conclusive and satisfactory, and though for a time they should profess to believe and apparently reform, yet such was the obstinacy of their unbelief and wickedness, that they would soon return to their former course. and become worse and worse. Infidelity and wickedness, like an evil spirit in a possessed man, were appropriately at “home” in them. If driven out, they would find no other place so comfortable and undisturbed as their bosoms. Everywhere they would be, comparatively, like an evil spirit going through deserts and lonely places, and finding no place of rest. They would return, therefore, and dwell with them.

Benson: When the unclean spirit, &c. — In these verses, with a view to show how dreadful the state of the Jewish people would be, if they continued to reject him and his gospel, our Lord introduces a parable, borrowed from the late subject of his dispute with the Pharisees. He compares their condition to that of a man, who, after having had an evil spirit expelled out of him, is again, through God’s permission, as a punishment of his continuing in sin, taken possession of by that spirit, with seven others still more wicked, and is thereby brought into a worse condition than ever. The parable evidently supposes the existence of demoniacal possessions, for if there had been no reality in them, the comparison would have meant nothing; and it supposes, also, that the Pharisees allowed their existence, otherwise our Lord’s words, instead of convincing or instructing them, must have been treated by them with contempt. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man — Not of his own accord, or willingly, but compelled by one that is stronger than he; he walketh — Wanders up and down, through dry places — Barren, dreary, desolate; or places not yet watered with the gospel. The words contain a plain allusion to the common notion, that evil demons had their haunts in deserts and desolate places.

Mat 12:44Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findethitempty, swept, and garnished.

Mat 12:45Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the laststateof that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

Benson: Then he saith, I will return into my house — He resolves to make another attack on the person out of whom he had been expelled: whence I came out — He speaks as if he had come out of his own accord: see his pride! And when he is come, he findeth it empty — Of truth and grace; of wisdom and piety; of God, and Christ, and the Holy Spirit: swept and garnished — That is, prepared to receive him: swept, from love, lowliness, meekness, and all the fruits of the Spirit, and adorned with levity and folly, vanity and sin. In other words, he finds the miserable sinner unaffected with his late affliction and deliverance, and still a slave to those vices which render him an agreeable dwelling for Satan.

Then goeth he and taketh seven other spirits — That is, a great many, the number seven denoting perfection, whether of good or bad things; more wicked than himself — Whence it appears that there are degrees of wickedness among the devils themselves. And they enter in, finding easy access, and dwell there 

So shall it be also unto this wicked generation — Who resist the convictions which my doctrine and miracles have raised in them. Instead of growing wiser and better, they will become seven times more foolish, sinful, and miserable, “as both the natural and judicial consequence of their rejecting the methods used by divine grace for their recovery; till, as if they were possessed by a multitude of devils, they are madly hurried on to their irrecoverable ruin in this world and the next.
— Doddridge. But this parable is also designed to teach men, in every age, the danger and awful consequences of resisting the convictions produced in their minds by the truth and grace of God; or of grieving, quenching, and doing despite to the Holy Ghost, by breaking through their resolutions, and relapsing into their former sins; the effect being commonly to render them more obdurate and abandoned than before.

Russell: Then goeth he — If Christ has not been enthroned in the mind already weakened by previous obsession. Satan will seek to regain control through the spirit of the world–pride, anger, malice, hatred, strife.

Seven other spirits — The number seven representing perfection or completeness. These seven are contrasted with the seven spirits of God. (Rev_1:4; 3:1)

Worse than the first — Worse than before he came into relationship with Christ.

“For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they had known it [been begotten by the Word of God] to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” (2Pe_2:21)

They enter in — Even if justified from all sins, we need an occupant for our hearts–the Divine One, to guard our hearts.

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers

Mat 12:46  While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. 

Barnes: His brethren – There has been some difference of opinion about the persons who are referred to here, some supposing that they were children of Mary his mother, others that they were the children of Mary, the wife of Cleophas or Alpheus, his “cousins,” and called “brethren” according to the customs of the Jews. The natural and obvious meaning is, however, that they were the children of Mary his mother. See also Mar_6:3. To this opinion, moreover, there can be no valid objection.

JFB: stood without, desiring to speak with him — “and could not come at Him for the press” (Luk_8:19). For what purpose these came, we learn from Mar_3:20, Mar_3:21.

Why had they sent to Him? Perhaps to carry out the plan described in Mar_3:21, to lay hold of Him, thinking that Jesus was out of His mind. More out of a spirit of anxiety than of opposition. They did not believe in his claims and doctrines at that time, and seemingly could not understand why he was so revolutionary in his teachings and so antagonistic to all the recognized religious teachers of his day. (Joh_17:5)

Mat 12:47  Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. 

Matthew Henry: The disrespect which Christ’s kindred, according to the flesh, showed to him, when he was preaching (and they knew very well that he was then in his element); they not only stood without, having no desire to come in, and hear him, but they sent in a message to call him out to them (Mar_3:31, Mar_3:32), as if he must leave his work, to hearken to their impertinences; it is probable that they had no business with him, only sent for him on purpose to oblige him to break off, lest he should kill himself. He knew how far his strength would go, and preferred the Father’s work before his own life, and soon after made it to appear with a witness; it was therefore an idle thing for them, under pretence of his sparing himself, to interrupt him; and it was worse, if really they had business with him, when they knew he preferred his business, as a Saviour, so much before any other business.

Mat 12:48  But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?

Guzik:Who is My mother and who are My brothers? We might have expected that Jesus’ family would have special privileges before Him. It almost surprises us that they do not.

i. Who is My mother: Mary, the mother of Jesus, had no special favors with Jesus, then or now. She stands as a wonderful example of someone who was privileged by God and stood by Jesus, but she is not on a higher level of anyone who does the will of My Father in heaven.

ii. Who are My brothers: Jesus plainly had brothers. The Roman Catholic idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary is in contradiction to the plain meaning of the Bible. But the brothers of Jesus never seemed to be supportive of His ministry before His death and resurrection (Joh_7:5).

Mat 12:49  And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!

Mat 12:50For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

Guzik: b. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother: These beloved ones who do the will of God stand in contrast to the evil and adulterous generation represented by the Pharisees.

Matthew Henry: He looked upon those that at about him, and pronounced those of them that not only heard, but did, the will of God, to be to him as his brother, and sister, and mother; as much esteemed, loved, and cared for, as his nearest relations, Mar_3:33-35. This is a good reason why we should honour those that fear the Lord, and choose them for our people; why we should be not hearers of the word only, but doers of the work, that we may share with the saints in this honour, Surely it is good to be akin to those who are thus nearly allied to Christ, and to have fellowship with those that have fellowship with Christ; and woe to those that hate and persecute Christ’s kindred, that are his bone and his flesh, every one resembling the children of a king (see Jdg_8:18, Jdg_8:19); for he will with jealously plead their cause, and avenge their blood.