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Matthew 12


Plucking Grain on the Sabbath Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath Jesus and the Sabbath Laws The Question About the Sabbath Picking Corn on the Sabbath
12:1-8 12:1-8 12:1-8 12:1-2 12:1-8
The Man with a Withered Hand Healing on the Sabbath   The Man with a Crippled Hand Cure of the Man with a Withered Hand
12:9-14 12:9-14 12:9-14 12:9-10 12:9-14
The Chosen Servant Behold My Servant Work of Healing God's Chosen Servant Jesus the 'Servant of Yahweh'
12:15-21 12:15-21 12:15-21 12:15-21
Jesus and Beelzebul A House Divided Cannot Stand Sources of Jesus' Power Jesus and Beelzebul Jesus and Beelzebul
12:22-32 12:22-30 12:22-32 12:22-23 12:22-24
      12:25-28 12:25-28
      12:29 12:29
      12:30-32 12:30-32
  The Unpardonable Sin      
A Tree and Its Fruits A Tree Known by Its Fruits   A Tree and Its Fruit Words Betray the Heart
12:33-37 12:33-37 12:33-37 12:33-35 12:33-37
Demand for a Sign The Scribes and Pharisees Ask for a Sign Request for a Sign The Demand for a Miracle The Sign of Jonah
12:38-42 12:38-42 12:38-42 12:38 12:38-42
The Return of the Unclean Spirit An Unclean Spirit Returns The Return of the Unclean Spirit The Return of the Evil Spirit The Return of the Unclean Spirit
12:43-45 12:43-45 12:43-45 12:43-45 12:43-45
The Mother and Brothers of Jesus Jesus' Mother and Brothers Send for Him Jesus' True Family Jesus' Mother and Brothers The True Kinsman of Jesus
12:46-50 12:46-50 12:46-50 12:46-47 12:46-50


READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")



This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. Matthew 12 describes the growing opposition (cf. Matt. 11:12) by the Jewish religious leaders, particularly the Pharisees, to Jesus because of His violation of the oral tradition (i.e., the "Talmud"). There is both a Babylonian and a Palestinian Talmud. The Palestinian was never finished, so the Babylonian became the more authoritative of the two.


B. Matthew 12 relates to 11:28-30 which describes the oral tradition in terms of a "burden" and a "yoke." Jesus' yoke is easy and light and brings rest, but not so the elaborate ceremonial and legal rules of the Pharisees.



 1At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. 2But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, " Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath." 3But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, 4how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? 5Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? 6But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. 7But if you had known what this means, "I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,'you would not have condemned the innocent. 8For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

12:1 "At that time" Often the Gospel writers used this (and other) time designations as a way to move to a new topic or event, not a pure temporal indicator (cf. Matt. 11:25; 12:1; Luke 10:21; 13:1; Acts 7:20; 12:1; 19:23).

▣ "Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath" The Talmud taught that any journey over 2,000 paces on the Sabbath was considered work and therefore not permitted. It is interesting that the crowds, along with the Pharisees and the Scribes, were following Jesus on the Sabbath; therefore, they also were guilty of breaking this Sabbath law. For a full discussion of the origin and theology of the Pharisees, see note at Matt. 22:15.

The Gospel writers had to choose certain events and teachings from all that Jesus said and did (cf. John 20:30-31) to reveal the new covenant and His Messianic person and work. It almost seems that these writers chose these Sabbath encounters to illustrate how Jesus confronted and dealt with the religious leaders, sects, and traditions of the Talmud. Jesus' good news was different from the legalism and ritualism of Jewish traditions (cf. Matt. 5:21-48).

▣ "Sabbath"


▣ "began to pick the heads of grain and eat" Normally this was legally allowed (cf. Deut. 23:25). The problem was that it occurred on the Sabbath (cf. Exod. 34:21). From the other Synoptic Gospels we learn that the disciples were hungry. Technically according to the rabbis, they were guilty of several offenses: (1) harvesting, (2) processing, (3) preparing food on the Sabbath and (4) all of this with ceremonially unclean hands.

12:3 "Have you not read what David did when he became hungry" Jesus' phrasing affirms the inspiration of the OT (cf. Matt. 5;17-19). For the historical event see 1 Samuel 21:1ff.

12:4 "the house of God" Verse 4 is a historical allusion to the tabernacle (cf. Exodus 25-30) of David's younger days. But it must also refer to the late temple built by Solomon (cf. Matt. 12:6). YHWH symbolically dwelt between the wings of the cherubim over the ark of the covenant. Genesis 1 may be YHWH's cosmic temple (see John L. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One).

NASB"the consecrated bread"
NKJV"the showbread"
NRSV"the bread of the promise"
TEV"the bread offered to God"
NJB"the loaves of the offering"

This referred to "the Showbread" or "the Bread of the Presence" which was placed on the table in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle and later the temple (each weighing over 12 pounds). This seems to have symbolized YHWH's provision and care for His people, not food for YHWH! It was unleavened which linked back to the Exodus (cf. Gen. 15:12-21). They became weekly nourishment exclusively for the priests (cf. Lev. 24:5-9; Exod. 25:30). These twelve loaves were replaced every week. However, under the special conditions of 1 Samuel 21, David was allowed to eat them.

12:5 "the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent" The Sabbath was a work day for the priests (cf. Num. 28:9-10). The verb "break" is literally "treat as common." It is found only here and Acts 24:6. The pronominal form is in 1 Tim. 1:9.

12:6 "But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here" Some manuscripts have the masculine " someone" (cf. NKJV), but the most attested ancient reading is neuter, "some thing" (cf. NASB, NRSV, TEV, JB). This seems to refer to the Kingdom of God, a veiled Messianic reference (cf. Matt. 12:28, 41-42). This must have been a shocking statement to these Jews.

Jesus is greater than:

1. the temple, Matt. 12:6

2. Jonah, Matt. 12:41

3. Solomon, Matt. 12:42

4. Jacob, John 4:12

5. John the Baptist, John 5:36

6. Abraham, John 8:53

7. Scripture, Matt. 5:21-48; Mark 7:18-19


12: 7 "if you had known what this means" This is a second class conditional sentence called "contrary to fact." Its inference is "If you had known (but you did not), then you would not have condemned the innocent (but you did)."

▣ "I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice"This is a quote from Hosea 6:6. It was an example of the preaching of the eighth century prophets, which emphasized attitude over ritual (cf. Mic. 6:6-8).

To clarify this theological issue I have included my comments from Hosea 6:6.

" I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice" God looks at the heart! Motive is the key (cf. Jer. 9:24)! This is one of the key theological passages in the book (cf. Hos. 8:7; 11:12). "Loyalty" is the same as Hos. 6:4, but here it is true covenant love/loyalty. Jesus used this concept in His discussion with the Pharisees in Matt. 9:13; 12:7. This does not imply that God wanted them to stop sacrificing, but to be careful to have the right motive (cf. 1 Sam. 15:22; Isa. 1:11-13; Jer. 7:21-23; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8). For a good discussion see Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 207-208, 294-295). The sacrificial system was a way to show the seriousness of the sin and the willingness of God to accept sinners into fellowship with Himself. However, when it was turned into ritual without repentance and faith, it became a farce, a barrier to a true interpersonal relationship with God."

12:8 "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" This must have been a great shock to the Jews who had made circumcision and Sabbath keeping almost ultimate (cf. Mark 2:27). Jesus illustrates this truth in His reinterpretations of Moses (cf. Matt. 5:20-48). When people raise anything or anyone to the place of ultimate allegiance instead of God Himself (or His Messiah), they become idolaters. For the title "Son of Man" see note at Matt. 8:20.

 9Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. 10And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" -so that they might accuse Him. 11And He said to them, "What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." 13Then He said to the man, " Stretch out your hand!" He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. 14But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

12:10 "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath" This question is never dealt with in the OT, but the ultimacy of the Sabbath had become part of the Oral Tradition by which the rabbis of old interpreted the OT texts (i.e., healing on the Sabbath only to save a life). The focus was on human rules (cf. Isa. 29:13), not human need!

▣ "And a man was there whose hand was withered" From the apocryphal "Gospel of Hebrews" we learn the tradition that the man was a mason and that it was his right hand that was withered. Therefore he was unable to work.

12:11 "sheep" This is one of many examples of where the Oral Tradition had become a burden instead of a joy. Sheep had become worth more than humans (cf. Matt. 12:12).

▣ "if" This is a third class conditional sentence which denoted potential action.

12:12 Jesus uses the question/answer format to dialog with his challengers (cf. Matt. 9:5; 12:12; 21:25; even disciples, Mark 8:17-18).

12:14 "the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him" From Mark 3:6 we learn that the consultation was held between the Herodians and the Pharisees, who were traditional enemies (politics and religion).

▣ "as to how they might destroy Him" These leaders saw themselves as YHWH's defenders! It is amazing that the religious leaders saw no conflict in their premeditated murder compared to Jesus' supposed ritual and Sabbath breaking (cf. Matt. 26:4; Luke 6:11; John. 11:53).

 15But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, 16and warned them not to tell who He was. 17This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:
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 proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
  19He will not quarrel, nor cry out;
  Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
  20A battered reed He will not break off,
  And a smoldering wick He will not put out,
  Until He leads justice to victory.
  21And in His name the Gentiles will hope."

12:15 "aware of this" It is difficult to ascertain the source of Jesus' knowledge.

1. over heard

2. knew the human heart

3. informed by the Spirit

This question cannot be answered because of Jesus' unique combination of the human and the divine (i.e., incarnation).

▣ "and He healed them all" There is such power, compassion, and fulfilled OT prophecy expressed in this phrase. Jesus cared for people, all people. It must be remembered that physical healing, even exorcism, did not automatically involve spiritual restoration or salvation.

The verses that speak of Jesus' healing ministry express the extent of it in different ways.

1. sometimes they say "all," (cf. Matt. 8:16; 12:15; Luke 4:40; Acts 10:38)

2. sometimes they say every "kind," not every "one" (cf. Matt. 4:23; 9:23)

3. sometimes they say "many" not "all" (cf. Mark 1:34; 3:10; Luke 7:21)

4. often they imply that He healed all (cf. Matt. 14:14; 15:30; 19:2; 21:14)


12:16 "and warned them not to tell who He was" This is related to the Messianic secret (esp. of Mark's ospel). Jesus implored people not to share His miracles, but to share His message which was still in process. The gospel was not yet finished. This Messianic secret was a common theme of the Synoptics (cf. Matt. 8:4; 9:30; 17:9; Mark 1:44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:30; 9:9; Luke 4:41; 8:56; 9:21). Jesus did not want to be known as just another itinerant healer!

12:17 "Isaiah the prophet" Verses 18-21 are a quote from Isa. 42:1ff. It does not exactly follow the Masoretic Hebrew text or the Greek Septuagint. It clearly showed Jesus' Messianic consciousness.

12:18-21 This is a quote from Isa. 42:1-4 (but not the LXX), which is the first of the "Servant Songs" of Isaiah.

Notice the characteristics of the Coming One which are being displayed in Jesus.

1. called

a. My (YHWH) Servant

b. whom I have chosen

c. My Beloved

d. in whom My (YHWH) Soul id well-pleased

2. YHWH's Spirit upon Him 

3. proclaim justice to the Gentiles

4. personal characteristics

a. will not quarrel

b. will not cry out

c. will not hear His voice in the streets

5. personal actions

a. will not break the battered reed

b. will not put out the smoldering wick

c. will lead justice to victory

d. in His name Gentiles will hope


12:18 "My Servant"This was a special honorific title (cf. Acts 3:13) used of Moses, Joshua, and David in the OT. Because of the special poems in Isa. 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13- 53:12, called "the Servant Songs," it took on Messianic connotations. This Messianic element climaxes in Isa. 52:13-53:12, the "Suffering Servant." The Jews of Jesus' day did not expect a suffering Messiah but a supernaturally empowered military Messiah. This explains why the Jewish leaders did not accept Jesus' message (even John the Baptist did not understand, cf. Matt. 11:3).

The Jews have always understood these Servant Songs to refer to the nation of Israel and this is surely true (cf. Isa. 41:8; 42:1,19; 43:10; 49:3-6). However these songs are individualized into one ideal righteous Israelite (cf. Isa. 52:14 (LXX), 15 (LXX); 53:1-12). Israel had failed (cf. Isa. 42:19; 53:8) in her world mission task (cf. Gen. 12:3; Exod. 19:5-6) because of continued violations of the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Lev. 26; Deut. 27-28). Therefore, instead of blessing, all the world saw was the judgment of God. Therefore, YHWH Himself had to enact a new covenant focusing on His actions and faithfulness (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38).

▣ "My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased" This phrase was also used at the baptism and the Transfiguration of Jesus (cf. Matt. 3:17; 17:5). The Father was pleased with the ministry of the Son. This title combines the royal emphasis of Psalm 2 and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 40-53.

The use of "soul" to describe God is a metaphor to express that He is a living being (cf. Heb. 10:38). This description of God in human terms is called anthropomorphism. See Special Topic at Matt. 6:4.

▣ "I will put My Spirit upon Him" Do you see the three persons of the Trinity (see Special Topic at Matt. 3:17) in the quote from Isa. 42:1?

Jesus and the Spirit have a combined theological relationship. See Special Topic following.


12:18,21 "He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. . .in His name the Gentiles will hope" The statement that the Kingdom was open to the Gentile believers was shocking to the Jews (cf. Isa. 2:1-4; 45:22; 49:6; 60:3; 66:18,23; see Paul's statement at Eph. 2:11-3:13).

12:19 "He will not quarrel, nor cry out" This described the manner of Jesus' ministry before the governmental leaders of Palestine (cf. Isa. 53:7) like Pilate and Herod.

12:20 "A battered reed He will not break off,

And a smoldering wick He will not put out,

Until He leads justice to victory" This could mean (1) Jesus treated sinners with gentleness or (2) Jesus' kingdom looked so weak and small, yet it would fill the earth with joy (cf. Matt. 13:31-32).

12:21 "in His name" See Special Topic at Matt. 18:20.

▣ "hope" This is surprisingly the only occurrence of the word "hope" in Matthew and even here it is in an OT quote from Isa. 42:4. It does appear three times in Luke (cf. Luke 6:34; 23:8; 24:21). The word becomes an eschatological pointer in Paul's writings, who uses it nineteen times.


 22Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. 23All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, "This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?" 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons."

12:22 This was one of the Messianic signs (cf. Isa. 29:18; 35:5; 42:7,16; Matt. 9:27-31; 12:22; 15:30; 21:14). Israel herself needed this healing ministry (cf. Isa. 6:9-10 and 42:18-22). It was a sign they refused to see!

12:23 "This man cannot be the Son of David, can He" In Greek, this question expected a "no" answer, but with the possibility that maybe it might be true. The term "the Son of David" was a Messianic title from 2 Samuel 7. It was used often by Matthew (cf. Matt. 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9,15; 22:42; also note Rev. 3:7; 5:5; 22:16).

12:24 "the Pharisees heard this, they said" This is the essence of the unpardonable sin, attributing God's work to Satan and calling that which is true, false and that which is light, darkness. The Pharisees could not deny the marvelous powers of Jesus so they attributed them to the supernatural power of the evil one (cf. Matt. 9:32-34; Mark 3:22-30, Luke 11:14-26).

▣ "Beelzebul" This referred to the Ba'al (male Canaanite fertility god) of the City of Zebub (cf. 2 Kgs. 1). The Jews slightly changed the name to Ba'al of Zebul which meant " lord of the dung" or "lord of the flies." This word is spelled differently in the ancient texts. Zebul is in the Latin Vulgate and the Peshitta translations, while the term Zebub is in all the Greek manuscripts. It was a title for Satan. In later Judaism, Zebul was the chief of demons.

 25And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. 28But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God. then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29Or how can anyone enter the strong man's house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.

12:25-32 Jesus used a logical, analytical argument to show the ridiculousness of the Pharisees'claim (cf. Mark 3:23-27; Luke 11:17-22). There were four examples used: (1) Matt. 12:25; (2) Matt. 12:27; (3) Matt. 12:28; and (4) Matt. 12:29. There is a series of first class conditional sentences, which are usually assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes, but here they are false (Matt. 12:26 and 27). However, the first class conditional sentence in Matt. 12:28 is true to reality! Context, context, context!

12:25 "And knowing their thoughts" It is uncertain whether Jesus was using His supernatural ability to read men's thoughts or whether he saw them talking and overheard their comments (cf. Matt. 9:4). See note at Matt. 12:1.

▣ "Jesus" The oldest Greek manuscripts omit the name (i.e., P21, א, B, D, and some Old Latin, Syrian, and Coptic manuscripts).


NASB, NKJV"by whom do your sons cast them out"
NRSV"by whom do your own exorcists cast them out"
TEV"who gives your followers the power to drive them out"
NJB"through whom do your own experts drive them out"

The Jews (i.e., "your sons") practiced exorcism by magical formulas and oaths (cf. Mark 9:38; Acts 19:13). The unusual account in Matt. 12:43-45 seems to relate to this Jewish exorcism which cast out the demons, but did not replace it with faith in God, leaving a spiritual vacuum.

12:28 "If. . .then the kingdom of God has come upon you" This is a first class conditional sentence, assumed to be true by the author for his literary purposes. This is another veiled Messianic reference. It is also highly unusual for Matthew to use the phrase "the kingdom of God," which is usually found in Mark and Luke. Matthew usually used the phrase " kingdom of heaven." There are only four exceptions: (1) this passage; (2) Matt. 19:24; (3) Matt. 21:31; and (4) Matt. 21:43. Jesus asserted that His exorcisms demonstrated that His Messianic power proved the arrival of the new age of the Spirit! See a good brief discussion of "realized eschatology" in F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p. 198. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE KINGDOM OF GOD at Matt. 4:17.

12:29 This verse is often used to support the modern practice of casting Satan out of worship services. But in context this is not a " promise" text to be used for corporate exorcisms. Believers are not given the authority to bind Satan (i.e., "the strong man"). Even Michael the Archangel of Israel does not speak judgment against Satan (cf. Jude 9). The Apostles and the Seventy were given the power of exorcism over the demonic (cf. Matt. 10:1; Luke 10:17-20). However this is never listed among the gifts of the Spirit given to the Church. This parable is paralleled in Mark 3:22-27 and Luke 11:21-23.

12:30 "He who is not with Me is against Me" A clear, radical choice must be made (cf. Mark 9:40; Luke 9:49, 50; 11:23). Jesus brings the New Age, mankind must respond to Him. Not to respond is to choose!

 31"Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come."

12:31-32 This reference to blasphemy against the Spirit is often called "the unpardonable sin." From the parallel in Mark 3:28 it is obvious that "Son of Man" was not a title for Jesus in this context but a generic use of the Hebrew idiom "sons of men" or "mankind." This is supported by the parallelism of Matt. 12:31 and 32. The sin discussed was not the sin of ignorance but of willful rejection of God and His truth in the presence of great light. Many people worry about whether they have committed this sin. People who desire to know God or are afraid that they have committed this sin have not! This sin is the continuing rejection of Jesus in the presence of great light, to the point of spiritual callousness. This is similar to Heb. 6:4-6 and 10:26-31.


▣ "either in this age or in the age to come"


 33"Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 36But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."

12:33 "for the tree is known by its fruit" What one does, like what one says, reveals the true self. See note at Matt. 7:16.

12:34 "You brood of vipers" Jesus used His harshest language for the religious leaders of His day. In this regard He followed the preaching of John the Baptist (cf. Matt. 3:7). The Serpent of Genesis 3 could be the original source of this metaphor (cf. Rev. 12:9; 20:2).

▣ "For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart" It is not what goes into a person, but what comes out, that defiles (cf. Mark 7:17-23). Humans reveal themselves by what they say. Speech is part of the image of God. Speech reveals the heart (cf. Matt. 7:116,20; Luke 6:44; James 3:12). See SPECIAL TOPIC: HUMAN SPEECH at Matt. 15:19.

12:35 The "treasure" refers to a person's inner self (cf. Luke 6:45).

12:36 "they shall give an account for it in the day of judgment" Jesus repeatedly spoke about judgment and its eternal consequences (cf. Matthew 7; 25). This relates to those who have rejected Jesus. Their lives, priorities, and words reflect their spiritual choices (cf. Matt. 12:37).

12:37 See SPECIAL TOPIC: HUMAN SPEECH at Matt. 15:19.

 38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." 39But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold something greater than Jonah is here. 42The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here."

12:38 "scribes"


▣ "we want to see a sign from You" They had heard Jesus' teachings and had seen the healings and exorcisms performed by Him, but they wanted some ultimate sign to convince them to believe on Him. This is exactly the temptation of Matt. 4:5-7 to which Jesus would not succumb. However, in reality, He had given them sign after sign but they would not or could not see (i.e., Isa. 6:9-10)!

12:39 "adulterous" Adultery became a metaphor for spiritual unfaithfulness (cf. Lev. 20:5; Num. 25:1; Hos. 1:2; 4:10,18; 5:3; Matt. 16:4; mark 8:38; James 4:4).

▣ "the sign of Jonah the prophet" As Jonah was in the great fish three days, Jesus was three days in the grave (Hades). We must remember that this is three days by Jewish reckoning, not three twenty-four hour periods. Any part of a day, which for them was evening to evening (cf. Genesis 1), was reckoned as a full day.

Jesus' allusion to Jonah confirms strongly the historicity of the book of Jonah. It is precisely the experience in the great fish that was used as an analogy (cf. Matt. 16:4).

12:40 "three nights" See note at Matt. 16:21.

▣ "in the heart of the earth" This referred to descending into Hades (cf. Matt. 11:23), the realm of the dead, the grave, or the metaphorical place of unborn children (cf. Ps. 139:15-16). This is phenomenological language: the language of observation and of common human description. The Jews, like us, buried their dead; therefore, they "lived" in the ground. See SPECIAL TOPIC: Where Are the Dead? at Matt. 5:22.

Jesus' words would not have been understood by His contemporary hearers until after His resurrection. Matthew has structured the sayings of Jesus for theological purposes, not chronological sequence (cf. Matt. 7:21-23, also could not have had meaning until a much later date).

12:41 "the men of Nineveh" This also relates to Matt. 11:20-24, as does Matt. 12:42. Nineveh repented due to Jonah's preaching and consequently was spared the wrath of God's judgment. This also implies that the Ninevites of Jonah's day were alive in an afterlife.

▣ "repented" See SPECIAL TOPIC: REPENTANCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT at Matt. 3:2 and see note at Matt. 4:17.

12:42 "The Queen of the south" This was a way of referring to the Queen of Sheba (cf. 1 Kings 10:1-15), who is still alive and will appear to testify in the eschaton.

▣ "something greater than Solomon is here" This is another clear Messianic claim. It reveals Jesus' self-understanding. He saw Himself as greater than the wisest man of the ancient East (cf. 1 Kgs. 3:12; 4:19-34). See full note at Matt. 12:6.

 43"Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. 44Then it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came'; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. 45Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation."

12:43 "the unclean spirit" See the two Special Topics: Demonic (Unclean Spirits) at Matt. 10:1.

▣ "waterless places" In the OT the desert was the haunt of the demonic (i.e., Azazel in Leviticus 16 and desert animals in Isa. 13:21; 34:14).

12:44-45 This passage has three possible meanings.

1. the Jewish exorcists performed exorcisms without personal faith, and the demonic spirit returned

2. it is an allusion to national Israel in the sense of their rejection of idol worship, but without replacing it with a faith relationship to YHWH

3. it referred to the preaching of John the Baptist, whom they accepted as being from God, while rejecting Jesus

The last condition was far worse than the immediate problem (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

 46While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. 47Someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." 48But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" 49And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! 50For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother."

12:46 "His mother and brothers were standing outside" Apparently they thought Jesus was working too hard or was becoming too untraditional (cf. Mark 3:20-21).

12:47 This verse is not included in the Greek manuscripts א, B, and L or in some Old Latin, Syrian, and Coptic manuscripts. It is included in the manuscripts אc, C, and D and the Vulgate and the Diatessaron. It is also found in Mark 3:32 and Luke 8:20. It seems that scribes added it to this verse to make the three parallel. It is included in NASB, NKJV, NRSV, and TEV translations. The United Bible Societies Fourth Edition Greek New Testament translation committee believes that it was inadvertently left out of the text because of a slip of the eye (homoloteleuton) between two similar words (" speak") in the Greek text at the end of Matt. 12:46 and 47. The verse is required to make sense of the paragraph.

12:50 "For whoever does the will of My Father" The will of God is to repent and to believe on Him whom He has sent (cf. John. 6:39-40). Once one is saved, God also has a will of Christlikeness for every believer, (cf. Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:19). See Special Topic: The Will of God at Matt. 7:21.

The NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 488, has such a good statement about Jesus' call to be a disciple.

1. the unconditional sacrifice of one's whole life (cf. Matt. 10:37; Luke 9:59-62; 14:26-27)

2. the unconditional sacrifice of one's life for the whole life (cf. Matt. 16:24-25; John 11:16)

3. bound to Jesus and to do God's will (cf. Matt. 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35)

Jesus' call to follow Him is a radical call to selflessness which demonstrates that the effects of the Fall are reversed! This is a life-long, life-inclusive call!

▣ "who is in heaven" This is a recurrent theme in Matthew (cf. Matt. 5:16,45; 6:1,9; 7:11,21; 10:32-33; 12:50).

▣ "He is my brother and sister and mother" Faith in Christ supercedes earthly family ties (parallel in Mark 3:31-35). Christianity is a family based on the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of Jesus (cf. Rom. 8:15-17).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why does Jesus make such an affirmation of Old Testament Law in Matthew 5:17-21 and yet reject so vehemently the Oral Tradition of the Jews?

2. Does Jesus claim to be the Messiah in Matthew 12?

3. Did Jesus perform these miracles in confrontation or in reaction to the Pharisees?

4. How does Isaiah 42:1-4 describe the ministry of the Messiah?

5. Define/explain the Pharisees'calling Jesus Beelzebub.

6. What and where is Hades?

7. Explain the parable in verses 43-45.


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