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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 12

 

 

Verses 1-50

We have seen that Matthew groups events with a dispensational end in view, and chapter 12 shows a building up on Israel's part to a state of utter rejection of their Messiah. The expression "at that time" does not mean that this event took place at the some time chronologically, but "is a general term embracing connected events" (William Kelly). For the event actually took place some time earlier (Mark 2:23). But this is chosen by God to be recorded here in order to show that Israel's hostility was gradually growing against their true King, to culminate in the sin that could not be forgiven (vs.31-32).

Hunger leads the disciples to eat of the grain as they passed through. Deuteronomy 23:25 gave them this permission. But the Pharisees had decided to append their own law to this Scripture by restraining this to six days of the week. They speak strongly to the Lord for His allowing His disciples to do this on the Sabbath day. But the Lord did not merely denounce their human additions to God's word, as He did on another occasion (Matthew 15:3), but takes higher ground than this, reminding them that David and those with him, because they were hungry, were allowed to eat the showbread that had been replaced by fresh broad in the tabernacle (1 Samuel 21:1-6). The law had forbidden this, but the hunger of Israel's suffering king was an exceptional case. Now Israel's greater King was rejected by His Own nation, and His disciples were hungry. How vain then was the Pharisees insistence on an outward conformity to their traditions!

Or, did they not also consider that the priests on the Sabbath days actually accomplished their designated work in the temple? In fact, their work was typical of that of Christ Himself, God's great high Priest. Their ignorance of Him and of His truth and grace was really without excuse. For One had come among them whom they should have recognized as being, not only greater then the Sabbath, but greater than the temple. This is a tremendous statement., for the temple was designated as the dwelling of God. Only God Himself is greater then His dwelling.

Moreover, if they had honestly considered Hosea 6:6 they would not have condemned the disciples for a matter that had no guilt whatever attached to it. An attitude of mercy, rather then of pride in outward self-denial, is that which God approves. For the Son of Man had come in mercy, not as a meticulous law enforcer, and the Son of Men was Lord of the Sabbath day, for indeed He is Lord of all. Notice that the precious fact of His being truly the Son of Man does not do away with His absolute Lordship.

Now another matter concerning the Sabbath brings out even more glaringly the bitter animosity of the Pharisees against Him. Though He had reminded them that the priests carried out their duties for the help of Israelites on the Sabbath day, yet the Pharisees were adamant in their opposition to His healing on the Sabbath. They raise the question as to whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath days, since a man with a withered hand is present. But their object is to accuse Him. He answers by referring to their own practice. For them to rescue a sheep out of a pit was certainly harder physical work then for Him to heal, yet they would do this on a Sabbath day. If a sheep should be shown such consideration, how much more so should a man, who is of far more value! He finalizes this with the emphatic announcement, "it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days." What honest man could dare to object to this?

His words are followed by suitable action. Before them all He tells the man to stretch forth his hand, and it is immediately healed. God's own rights of showing mercy on the Sabbath day had been challenged for He was healing by the power of God. Therefore He confronts the Pharisees with their own folly, no matter how greatly it will increase their hostility.

The Pharisees can of course do nothing to make the Lord Jesus conform to their harsh decrees, but in inflamed anger they go out and plot together (contrary to their own law) as to how they might destroy Him. Why did they not rather counsel together as to whether their own legal thoughts were unlawful?

Jesus, knowing their purpose, withdrew from the area, certainly not from fear, but He would not rally public support in His favour against this evil. The common people, however, followed Him, for they had not yet been pressured by the influence of the Pharisees. All who came for healing were healed. This was certainly evidence of His being the Messiah of Israel, yet He charged them that they should not publish this, for it was not the time of His great manifestation rather, in lowly grace He was fulfilling Isaiah 42:1-3, taking the place of God's Servant rather then that of the Messiah; but the one chosen Servant, beloved of God, in whom God found pure delight, and upon whom God had put His Spirit. These are precious words to be said of a servant, for a servant's place is one of comparative obscurity and of little outward importance in the eyes of men; but God's approval is the vital matter.

"He shall not strive nor cry," that is, He instituted no public movement for reform, nor in any way advertised Himself. His was not the spirit of the opportunist, taking advantage of the large crowds in order to exalt Himself as a champion of whatever cause. Hearing His voice in the streets of course implies His voice being raised in public protest against wrongs (evident or imagined), as has been a popular political ploy through history, and no less today. He avoided every such thing.

Verse 20 however shows His tender consideration for the weak in contrast to the ruthless cruelty of those striving for power. The bruised reed, the very symbol of weakness reduced by oppression, He would not break. On the other hand He would not quench the pollution of the smoking flax. Does this not speak of the smouldering opposition of Israel that was tending to destroy the material from which fine linen is made, that is, practical righteousness? (Cf.Rev.19:8) This in fact will not be changed until the day of His power, when He sends forth judgment unto victory. Only then will the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9). Some religious leaders are trying to quench the smoking flax today, but are only adding to the pollution: the smoke intensifies and righteousness still suffers.

But the quotation twice mentions Gentiles: "He shall show judgment to the Gentiles," and "in His name shall the Gentiles trust." How clearly this indicates the great dispensational change that was about to take place. Israel is not even mentioned, for in Matthew 12:1-50 she is seen as being more and more manifested as in smoking antagonism against this blessed Servant of God, and she is to be set aside while Gentiles are to be favoured with the blessings Israel might have had, but refused.

However, though the Lord claimed no rights as the Messiah, yet the proof of His Messiahship is then clearly demonstrated in verse 22. The man with the threefold affliction, demon Possession, blindness, and dumbness, is a picture of Israel's actual spiritual condition, and his complete healing a picture of her full recovery at the end of the tribulation period, through the grace and power of her Messiah. We have before remarked that the opening of blind eyes was indicated in the prophecies of the Old Testament to be a definite evidence of the Messiah's power (Isaiah 42:6-7); and the common people were discerning enough to ask the question, "is not this the Son of David?" How sad was the state of the Pharisees that they could not confirm to the people this precious fact!

The clear testimony to the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus, which so affected the common people, and the force of which the Pharisees cannot ignore, only serves to bring out their more adamant and deceitful enmity. They have not sense enough to be fearful of the enormity of their vicious charge that He was casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons. They make the fact transparently clear that they are guilty of the gross wickedness of rejecting the Christ of God.

Of course Jesus knew their thoughts, though they had not dared to speak to Him in this way. But His answering their thoughts ought to have impressed them with the fact of His divine knowledge. He answers them that every kingdom or city or house divided against itself cannot continue. But Satan's kingdom had existed for centuries and was still militant. Satan did not gain his advantages by casting himself out. The very suggestion of his doing this was nonsense. Of course the Pharisees knew that there was supernatural power in Christ's casting out demons, and since they wanted to deny it was God's power, then their only alternative was this foolish subterfuge.

But the Pharisees also knew that their sons cast out demons, how frequently of course we are not told; but Luke 9:49 records the fact of one doing so in the name of Jesus. Would the Pharisees denounce this as Satan's work? Indeed, the power in that case was the name of Jesus. Therefore their sons would be their judges. But since the Lord cast out demons by the Spirit of God, it was clear that the kingdom of God had come to Israel, unprepared as they were for it. Certainly nothing like this had ever before happened on so great a scale.

The strong man of verse 29 is of course Satan, who had wielded dreadful power over men even in Israel. How could Christ enter into Satan's domain and spoil his goods if He had not first rendered Satan powerless to hinder Him? It was evident that Satan's power was being nullified in all these cases of casting out demons: therefore a stronger then Satan was at work.

In regard to one casting out demons in His name, He had said "he that is not against Us is for us (Luke 9:50). Now He solemnly tells the Pharisee, "He that is not with me is against me." The stand they were taking was one of ominous, dreadful danger, and He will not minimize it. He also adds, "and he that gathers not with Me scatters." This may not be the case only with an unbeliever, sad to say; for even a believer, not exercised in concern for gathering souls to the person of Christ, will tend to scatter them.

However, He goes on to speak directly of the awesome consequences of the charge of the Pharisees to the effect that He was casting out demons by Satan's power. This was blasphemy against the Spirit of God, by whom the Lord accomplished such work. Other forms of sin and blasphemy might be forgiven (of course where there was true repentance), even in cases where Men spoke against the Son of Man. In fact, both thieves crucified with the Lord were guilty of mocking Him, get one was forgiven (Matthew 24:44; Luke 23:40-43). But the Pharisees were taking a position of positive antagonism against the manifest work of the Spirit of God in the many miracles of grace wrought by the Lord Jesus. This was deliberate, premeditated wickedness; and neither in the age of grace being introduced, nor in the age to come (the millennium) could this be forgiven. For in taking this attitude men had determined not to repent.

There has been question raised as to whether this sin is possible to commit today, since Christ is not here doing His great works of power. But if one would today dare to assume the same attitude toward the works of the Lord, despising God's clear witness, is he not courting the some judgment warned of here?

The tree (Israel) had manifested itself by its evil fruit. If the tree had been good, the fruit would have been the same; but since the fruit was corrupt is evident that the tree was corrupt. Therefore the indictment the Lord brings against Israel is most solemn, calling them a generation of vipers. He knew their hearts, which, being evil, could not produce good words. What they were speaking come from what most abounded in the thoughts of their hearts. It is a simple principle He insists upon: a good man would speak good things, an evil man evil things.

But that is not the end of the matter. Every idle word that men speak they will be called upon to account for in the day of judgment. This is true even of idle (that is, worthless or unfruitful) words. How much more so when the words are positively wicked! For by one's words (good words) he would be justified. and by his words (idle words) he would be judged. The world's government does not act an this principle: freedom of speech allows a shameful excess of evil words. Sometimes people are sued for libel of others; but the most repulsive language against God is considered of no consequence. God's judgment will specially expose all this, as Judges 1:15-16 bears strong witness, with swift, unsparing vengeance against men's hard words, no less than against their evil actions.

After all the many miraculous signs of grace the Lord had shown (various healing on the Sabbath days, for instance), the Pharisees ask for a sign from Him, ostensibly as witness to influence them to believe Him; but they have no heart whatever to believe. He responds that an evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign. Their evil was that of malignant enmity, as already seen; as adulterous they were guilty of introducing a corrupting mixture into their professed service for God. He would therefore add no sign to that long ago given them in Jonah the prophet, the significance of which had a direct application to Himself. They had already plotted His death. He would accept their rejection of Himself. He would die and be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (the grave), just as Jonah spent such a time in the belly of the great fish. Jonah's release alive was a great miracle, but significant of a greater, that is, Christ's resurrection from among the dead. This surely was a sign of tremendous import, but we know the Pharisees still refused to believe Him.

The men of Nineveh, on the other hand, Gentiles though they were, would be a remarkable witness against Israel's unbelieving treatment of the Lord Jesus, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; while here among them a far greater than Jonah was preaching as no other man had ever preached, and their hearts remained adamant and cold.

Similarly, the queen of Sheba would witness against them in the judgment, a Gentile coming from a long distance to hear the wisdom of Solomon (not to see a sign); get here among them was One infinitely wiser than Solomon, and their religious pride blinded them into unreasonable prejudice against Him. In the case of the men of Nineveh, repentance is foremost: in the case of the queen of Sheba, faith stands out beautifully. In Israel both repentance and faith were glaringly absent, in spite of the pure grace and truth manifested among them in Him who had all the credentials of the Messiah.

The handwriting was therefore on the wall. A solemn judgment would overtake the guilty nation. Though only a man is mentioned in verse 43 as having been relieved of the possession of on unclean spirit, it is evident that this represents the state of the nation itself. They were outwardly reformed, having given up the idolatry in which they had once indulged.

The unclean spirit of idolatry had for the time withdrawn from Israel, but not because of any real change in the nation's character. In fact, religious pride in their reformation kept them from realizing their need of Christ Himself, so that the house was left empty, though having been swept and decorated. The rightful occupant (their Messiah) had been refused.

This would give ideal opportunity for the evil spirit to return, but not alone, for he would bring with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, an infestation more dreadful than Israel has ever before known. This will take place during the last of Daniel's seventy weeks, which begins after the church is raptured to heaven, continuing until the Lord Comes in power and great glory. The number seven, which is that of completeness, indicates a total subjection of the nation to Satanic deception, described graphically in Revelation 9:1-11. It will be introduced by the anti-christ, the star fallen from heaven, and the smoke of his poisonous doctrine. Certainly God will preserve a small remnant from this dreadful demon-possession, but it will infest the nation generally.

This leads to the last section of this chapter, in which the Lord indicates that He is completely setting aside His merely natural relationship to Israel. He is told that His mother and His brethren were standing outside, desiring to speak with Him. Of course His mother is typical of Israel, the nation of whom Christ was born; while His brethren typify the people of the nation to whom He is naturally related.

But He makes it emphatically clear that this relationship is nothing compared to that with His Father, and those who did the will of His Father. Those who merely knew Christ after the flesh have no claim on Him whatever. Believers no longer know Him in this way (2 Corinthians 5:16), but as having died and risen again, the Head of a new creation. Of course, while He disclaimed the mere natural relationship, it is clear that Mary had a far nearer relationship then this, the same relationship that every believer has; and His care for His mother is seen beautifully at the cross (John 19:26-27).

These verses, however (46 to 50), are a fitting conclusion to the subject of Chapter 12, the Lord declaring in effect His rejection of those ties with Israel that were merely natural, Israel having demonstrated her rejection of Him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Matthew 12:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/matthew-12.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 5th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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