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Bible: What Does Matthew 12 Teach Us About the Purpose of the Sabbath?

Updated on August 20, 2016

Jesus and Pharisees

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Matthew 12: Jesus Battles the Pharisees Over the Purpose of the Sabbath and Other Matters

Jesus' View on the Sabbath

Jesus continues to drive a wedge between the Pharisees and Himself by allowing “work” on the Sabbath.

On one particular Sabbath, the disciples decide to satisfy their hunger by plucking and eating heads of grain as they pass through a field—a violation of the commandment according to the Pharisaic tradition, but not according to Scripture (v. 1; cf. Deut. 23:25).

Ever ready to carp, these Jewish religious leaders accuse Christ of permitting the infraction (v. 2).

The Lord counters their argument by paraphrasing two Scripture passages: one that highlights David and his men’s “unlawful” action (namely, eating showbread designated only for priests) [vv. 3-4; cf. 1Sam. 21:1-6], and a second that declares certain priests “blameless,” though they profaned the Sabbath in the temple (v. 5; cf. Num. 28:9).

[As David flees from Saul, he visits Ahimelech, the priest, who asks him why he travels alone (v. 1).

Stuck for a reasonable answer, David resorts to lying again, claiming that he is on some kind of secret mission for the king and that his men are elsewhere (v. 2).

Did Ahimelech suspect that David was lying?

Famished after spending days in the field and now after his escape, David actually stops by Ahimelech's abode to obtain some food (v. 3).

Having only holy bread, the priest informs David that “clean” men alone can eat of it (v. 4).

Because he fulfills this requirement, David receives day-old showbread (lit. bread of the Presence) that once lay before the LORD (vv. 5-6; cf. Mk. 2:23-28).]

Ryrie suggests that this example shows where the spirit of the law takes priority over the letter of the law (New Testament Study Bible, 16).

Next, Jesus declares that “One” Who is greater than the temple is present; NASB has “the kingdom of God” instead of “One” (v. 6).

[Christ, as the Son of Man, is the King of this kingdom of God.]

So intent on keeping the letter of the law (sacrifice), the Pharisees neglect its spirit (mercy) [v. 7; cf. 9:13; Hosea 6:6].

If mere men could “break the Sabbath”—something the apostles were not doing, but only quelling their hunger—then certainly the regal “Son of Man,” even the “Lord of the Sabbath,” is free to use that day to do good (v. 8).

[Mark inserts in 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”]

The Jewish religious leaders again confront Jesus, this time about the issue of healing on the Sabbath (vv. 9-10).

They think this act of mercy constitutes work; consequently, they forbid it.

Jesus shows both the absurdity and the inconsistency of their belief and practice with the illustration of the rescued sheep (v. 11).

Having concluded that a man has far more value than a sheep and that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath,” the Lord heals the man with a withered hand (vv. 12-13).

Rather than convincing His enemies of His omnipotence and Godlike compassion, however, Jesus’ miracle sends the Jews into a murderous, conspiratorial mode (v. 14).

Whether He knew their intentions intuitively or supernaturally, the Lord exits quickly to continue His healing ministry elsewhere (v. 15).

Before sending away those whom He heals, Jesus warns them not to tell others about His power (v. 16).

[Ryrie suggests that Christ wanted people to come to Him because He was the Messiah, not because He was a healer—a secondary reason (New Testament Study Bible, 27).]

The Servant of the LORD

Matthew records that Jesus’ attitude here fulfilled a lengthy “Servant of the LORD” passage (v. 17; cf. Is. 42:1-4).

The following excerpt from the author's Old Testament Commentary deals with this concept.

[Isaiah introduces the Servant of the LORD: one who may be identified with "Israel, My servant" (Is. 41:8), but who also is an Individual. God upholds Him (cf. 41:10), chooses Him (cf. 41:8, 9), delights in Him, and puts His Spirit upon Him.

The Servant's being Spirit-anointed directly bears upon His winning justice for the Gentiles (cf. Mt. 12:18).

Accordingly, the Servant's method of accomplishing this divine objective would not involve force, but the power of meekness and gentleness (vv. 19-20; cf. Is. 42:2-3)].

By repeating key words, Isaiah emphasizes the theme of securing a just order (42:3-4).

Proclaiming His sovereign control over the destiny of all mankind (42:5), God the Creator calls the Servant, and promises to encourage and protect Him in His mission of releasing prisoners—both the covenant people and the Gentiles (v. 6)— from spiritual darkness (v. 7; cf. Matt. 12:15-21)].

Satan

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"He Casts Out Demons by Satan's Power!"

The Lord’s next miracle causes another ruckus among His enemies.

After hearing the multitudes—who have just witnessed Jesus heal a blind and deaf man by casting out a demon (v. 22)—ask if He is the Messianic king (“the Son of David”) [v. 23], the Pharisees jump on this opportunity to turn the people against Him, accusing Christ of using Satanic power to perform this miracle (v. 24).

[The grammatical structure indicates that the people did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

The interrogative particle meti expects a negative answer (Goetchius, The Language of the New Testament, 302).]

Drawing upon His omniscience—Matthew, at any rate, seems to believe He does, recording a second occurrence of Jesus knowing their thoughts (v. 25; cf. 9:4)—Christ delivers a stinging, logical rebuke against His opponents (vv. 25-37), demolishing their contention that He is using Beelzebub (“the lord of flies”—a Philistine deity), whom He identifies as Satan, to cast out demons.

Jesus says, in effect, “Satan would never do such a stupid thing. He would destroy his own kingdom by exorcising his own subjects” (vv. 25-26).

For argument’s sake, Jesus first takes the Pharisees’ side of the issue—that is, that He is using Satan’s power—and turns that position against them, declaring that their sons (who apparently are following the Lord) are also casting out demons using that same power.

If that is the case, then the Pharisees are also accusing their own sons (v. 27).

[The conditional clause—“if I by Beelzebub . . .”—is Class 1; therefore, it asserts something that the speaker assumes to be true, though it may not be (351].

Jesus then takes the true position—that His power derives from the Holy Spirit—and powerfully states that this exercise of authority proves that He represents the Kingdom of God (v. 28).

[Luke records that Jesus attributed this miracle to the “finger of God” (11:20)]

Using vivid imagery, Christ draws an analogy when He compares Satan’s kingdom to a strong man’s house and Satan’s captives to his goods.

One who attempts to cast out a demon must first bind the “strong man” before he/she can rescue people from its clutches (v. 29).

[Does God permit us to “bind” Satan today?

If He does--a highly unlikely scenario--, we will accomplish this task through prayer and the appropriate use of Scripture.]

Jesus calls for total allegiance to His cause; He considers everyone not completely “sold out” to Him as His opponent (v. 30).

The Blasphemy of the Spirit

At this point Christ, referring back to His previous discussion with the Pharisees about Satanic exorcism (“Therefore”), declares His condemnation of anyone attributing the Holy Spirit’s work to the devil.

God forgives every offense, except “the blasphemy of the Spirit” (v. 31).

One “speaking a word against the Son of Man” (Jesus) God may forgive, but one “speaking against the Holy Spirit” will never experience its remission (v. 32).

[Charles Ryrie believes that this “unpardonable sin” pertained only to the times when Jesus dwelt on Earth; no one during the Church Age can commit this offense (Ryrie Study Bible--New Testament, 27).]

In quick succession, the Lord repeats His good tree/bad tree analogy (v. 33; cf. 7:17-20), and then labels the Pharisees as the “brood of vipers,” asserting that because they are abundantly evil to the core, they cannot speak “good” words (v. 34).

Switching to His good treasure/evil treasure analogy (v. 35), Jesus declares that all people will have to explain to the Judge their use of every word they bring out of that “treasure,” and face God’s verdict—justification or condemnation—based upon what they have said (vv. 36-37).

Jonah

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The Jewish Leaders Demand a Sign

Having just heard words claiming divine authority, some Jewish religious leaders demand from Jesus a miraculous sign proving its authenticity (v. 38).

[What kind of sign did they expect to see?

He had just healed a blind and mute man by casting out a demon.

What else did they want?]

Knowing that these spiritual adulterers would not believe any miracle He would perform before them—besides, He would not deign to entertain them—Jesus announces that they will, after all, receive a sign—the sign of the prophet Jonah (v. 39).

This sign entails a comparison between the typical Jonah’s “three days and three nights” inside a great fish with the antitypical Jesus’ “three days and three nights” inside “the heart of the earth” (v. 40).

[The Lord quotes Jonah 1:17, putting the full weight of His authority behind the historicity of the prophet’s near-death marine experience.

One can hardly improve upon “the heart of the earth” as a description of a sepulcher hewn out of the rock.

Just as God caused the fish to vomit Jonah back onto the land (thus, in effect, bringing him back from death), so God will raise Jesus from actual death.]

Both the men of Nineveh—Jonah’s Assyrian audience—and the queen of the South (Sheba)—Solomon’s Sabean interlocutor—responded positively to God’s message for their time (that is, Nineveh repented at the prophet’s preaching, and the queen listened respectfully to the king’s wisdom).

These OT saints will condemn in the “judgment” those in Jesus’ time who rejected His greater witness as the Messianic Ruler/Representative) (vv. 41-42).

[This judgment will take place when the LORD resurrects OT saints at the Second Advent [cf. Dan. 12:2.]

Jesus vividly illustrates the utter dissolution of this particular generation, comparing it to a once demented individual who not only becomes possessed again by his original demon, but also experiences an indwelling by seven spirits more wicked than the first (vv. 43-45).

Mary Not a "Perpetual Virgin"

Meanwhile, the Lord’s earthly family (His mother and brothers) stand outside, seeking to speak with Him (v. 46).

[No legitimate treatment of the word usage here can show that these brothers are not male sons Mary bore to Joseph.

The dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary is plainly false.]

By Jesus’ response to the one who tells Him that His family wanted an audience with Him (v. 47), one might deduce that Mary and her sons were not doing the Father’s will (v. 50).

Christ regards His spiritual brethren (those who accept Him as Messiah and Lord) [His disciples, v. 49] as closer to Him than His blood relatives.

[Again, this passage appears to destroy any pretension that may append sinlessness to Mary.]

© 2012 glynch1

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