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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Matthew 12

 

 

Verse 1

Matthew 12:1. At that time, or ‘season.’ Here used indefinitely. See Luke 6:1, as to the date.

Through the grain fields. The grain was probably barley, which ripens in April in that region and is usually harvested in May.

His disciples. Not the ‘Twelve’ exclusively, probably including most of them.

And began to pluck ears of grain. Permitted by the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 23:25). The word ‘began’ hints that they were interrupted by the objection of the Pharisees.


Verses 1-21

CHRONOLOGY. Mark and Luke place the events of this section just before the choice of the Twelve, which occurred during our Lord’s retirement. The season of the year may have been April, at which time the barley would be ripe. It has been inferred from Luke’s account (Matthew 6:1 : ‘second Sabbath after the first,’) that the second Sabbath was in the second week after the passover; but this is not even probable (see Luke). The supposition that a Passover intervened at this time, rests mainly on that phrase, which is rejected by many modern critics. It seems quite certain that the Sermon on the Mount had not yet been delivered; also that the controversy in regard to the Sabbath had already begun (John 5:16) at Jerusalem. The connection of thought seems to have occasioned the order of Matthew. The easy yoke of Christ and the burden laid upon the people by the Pharisees are strikingly illustrated by the conduct of the latter; the sovereignty He claimed (chap. Matthew 11:27) is exemplified by His words respecting the temple and the Sabbath.

THE SABBATH CONTROVERSY. The misunderstanding of our Lord’s teachings in regard to Sabbath observance arises mainly from overlooking the circumstances in which He spoke. (1) The observance of the Sabbath had been the great outward mark of distinction, while the Jews were in exile; the strict observance of it afterwards became an expression of national Jewish feeling. As spirituality decreased, formality increased; during our Lord’s ministry the Fourth Commandment was made the basis of over refined distinctions and petty minutiae. Here then was the stronghold both of Jewish exclusiveness and Pharisaical formalism. To this our Lord must be antagonistic. (2) The Sermon on the Mount was delivered after these Sabbath controversies. This is one reason for the omission of any reference to the Fourth Commandment in that discourse. (3) There is no evidence that the Fourth Commandment was abrogated, or that its requirements were curtailed. Our Lord’s arguments are drawn either from Old Testament facts and principles, or from Jewish practice. He gave a spiritual character to the whole Decalogue, and His opposition was to the unspiritual observance of the Sabbath. To keep the Christian Sabbath as Christ would have us do it, also ‘exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.’ (4) The two discussions, recorded by three Evangelists, point to the lawfulness and even duty of performing on the Sabbath, works of necessity (first Sabbath) and of mercy (second Sabbath). The accounts differ in a number of points: one Evangelist omitting an argument rendered prominent by another; but the principles laid down are essentially the same.


Verse 2

Matthew 12:2. But when the Pharisees saw it. They were lying in wait for something as a ground of opposition.

They said unto him. Luke represents the objection as made to the disciples, both were probably addressed.

That which it is not lawful to do on the Sabbath. It was lawful on other days, all admitted; but the Pharisees claimed it was not lawful on the Sabbath. Plucking grain on the Sabbath was construed by the Rabbins into a kind of harvesting. This departure from their formal legalism was magnified by the Pharisees into a breaking of God’s law.


Verse 3

Matthew 12:3. Have ye not read what David did. All three Evangelists record this main argument against the Pharisees. The case of David (1 Samuel 21:1-6) was peculiarly in point. The Pharisees insisted that their mode of observing the Sabbath was needful, if a man would be a patriotic Jew and acceptable to God, but a model of Jewish piety had, according to the Scriptures, violated the law as they construed it.

Hungry, as His disciples had been.


Verse 4

Matthew 12:4. The house of God. The tabernacle at Nob.

The shew-bread. Twelve loaves were placed in rows upon a table in the holy place, as a symbol of the communion of God with men. They were renewed every seven days, on the Sabbath, the old loaves being eaten by the priests. David probably came on the day the old loaves were taken away, i.e., on the Sabbath; which makes the case very appropriate. David did what was actually forbidden, yet hunger was a sufficient justification, much more might the constructive transgression of the disciples be justified by their hunger. Principle: Works of necessity have always been permitted on the Sabbath.


Verse 5

Matthew 12:5. The priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are blameless? Peculiar to Matthew. On the Sabbath the priests must change the shewbread, and offer double offerings. That construction of the law which condemned His disciples, would condemn this as a profanation, yet the priests were blameless. Works of necessity on the Sabbath are not only permitted, but may become a duty (see Matthew 12:6).


Verse 6

Matthew 12:6. That which is greater, not some one greater; the comparison with the temple occasions this form, although the reference is undoubtedly to Christ Himself. Argument: If the priests in the temple are authorized to profane the Sabbath (according to your view of what that means) in the performance of necessary duties, how much more can One who is the real temple of God on earth authorize His followers to do so; or, if the former are blameless, so are these who have grown hungry in following Him who is greater than the temple. This ‘meek and lowly’ Teacher asserts this on His own authority. Works of necessity become a duty on the Sabbath only when so declared by Christ, or as we follow Christ.


Verse 7

Matthew 12:7. But if ye had known. They ought to have known, professing to interpret the Old Testament.

I will have mercy, etc. Quoted before (chap. Matthew 9:13), from Hosea 6:6. Our Lord properly censures them, after defending his disciples. They did not recognize this greater temple (Matthew 12:6), nor accept the service which God had approved; ‘mercy and not sacrifice,’ had they done so, they would not have condemned the blameless (the same word as in Matthew 12:5).


Verse 8

Matthew 12:8. For the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath. This crowning thought occurs in all three narratives. The emphasis rests on the word ‘Lord.’ The term ‘Son of man’ implies His Messiahship. The Jews admitted that the authority of the Messiah was greater than that of the law of the Sabbath, hence this declaration would serve to increase the hostility of the Pharisees. Still the more prominent idea is this: as Son of man, Head and Representative of renewed humanity, our Lord is Lord of the Sabbath. As such He has the right to change the position of the day, but the language points to a perpetuity of the institution. It implies further that a new air of liberty and love will be breathed into it, so that instead of being what it then was, a badge of narrow Jewish feeling and a field for endless hair-splitting about what was lawful and unlawful, it becomes a type and foretaste of heaven, a day when we get nearest our Lord, when we rise most with Him, when our truest humanity is furthered, because we are truly made like the ‘Son of man.’ See, further, on Mark 2:27. Lange: ‘Christ is Lord of the Sabbath, being Himself the personal sabbath: all that leads to Him and is done in Him, is Sabbath observance; all that leads from Him is Sabbath-breaking.


Verse 9

Matthew 12:9. And he departed thence. The miracle which follows, took place on another Sabbath (see Luke 6:6), probably the next one.

Went into their synagogue. The synagogue of His opponents, probably in some important town in Galilee. Luke says He taught there, as seems to have been His habit.


Verse 10

Matthew 12:10. A man having a withered hand. It was not only paralyzed, but dried up. According to Luke, the right hand; the language used by Mark implies that this was the effect of accident or disease. There is no evidence that the man was aware that the Pharisees wished to make use of him to accuse Jesus.

And they asked him, The other accounts tell us only of their ‘watching’ Him, to accuse Him, and lead us to infer that our Lord, knowing their thoughts, took the first active step by calling upon the man to ‘stand forth,’ and that then this questioning took place.

Is it lawful to heal, etc. This question was put that they might accuse him, might find in His teaching and then in the act of mercy they expected would follow, the basis for a formal charge before the local tribunal of which they were themselves members (see Matthew 12:14).


Verse 11

Matthew 12:11. Luke introduces the reply of this verse on another occasion. It was always appropriate under such circumstances.

What man, etc. Such an act of mercy to a beast was allowed and usual then; but the Rabbins afterwards (perhaps on account of this reply) forbade anything more than to ‘lay planks’ so that the animal could come out of itself.


Verse 12

Matthew 12:12. How much, then, is a man better than a sheep? Some take this as an explanation: ‘Of how much more worth now is a man than a sheep!’ But it is better to regard it as a question. Our Lord recognizes the superiority of man, as well as the superior claims of humanity.

Wherefore it is lawful, etc. (Comp. Mark and Luke.) Works of mercy on the Sabbath are lawful and right. Hypocrites care more for ceremonies than for their cattle, and more for their cattle than for suffering humanity.


Verse 13

Matthew 12:13. Mark tells us, that ‘they held their peace,’ and both he and Luke describe our Lord as looking round upon them (with anger and grief). The manner in which the healing took place gave no legal ground for a charge on account of His actions. He did not touch the man, or even command: be healed, but simply said: Stretch forth thine hand. The man had no power to do this, and as in the case of spiritual healing, the act of stretching forth was both the effect and the evidence of Divine power. The man’s faith was manifest in his attempt to obey, and that too in the midst of such an assembly. His act was a defiance of them, and yet it was not a forbidden act, so that they could not accuse either the Healer or the healed.


Verse 14

Matthew 12:14. Then the Pharisees took counsel against him. ‘Held a council’ is almost too strong; it was scarcely a formal meeting of the local tribunal, although the consultation was attended by its members. Mark says that ‘the Herodians’ (or court party) joined in the plot. Some suppose that this was occasioned by the refusal of Jesus to see Herod (Luke 9:9), but that probably occurred after this time. The hostility to John would make them ready to oppose our Lord, and open to the suggestion of the Pharisees, who were ‘filled with madness’ (Luke 6:11).


Verse 15

Matthew 12:15. Withdrew. Not from fear, but to carry out His ministry without interruption from these plotters.

Many. ‘Multitudes’ is to be omitted. It is evident that our Lord did not wish to avoid the people.

He healed them all, i.e., all who needed healing, possibly, including spiritual healing also. This verse seems to refer to a definite occasion, and not to be a general description of frequent withdrawals, extending over a considerable period. The very detailed account of Mark (Mark 3:7-12) opposes the latter view.


Verse 16

Matthew 12:16. And charged them, etc. Mark tells of the similar command given to ‘evil spirits.’ This more general prohibition was probably given to prevent a rupture between His carnal followers and the Pharisees, so early in His ministry.

Make him known, as the Messiah.


Verse 17

Matthew 12:17. That it might be fulfilled, etc. While Mark details the occurrences, Matthew only declares that the retirement of our Lord was a fulfilment of prophecy, however contrary to the popular notions about the Messiah.

Isaiah the prophet. (Chap. Isaiah 42:1-4). A translation from the Hebrew, made by the Evangelist


Verse 18

Matthew 12:18. Behold my servant. The Greek word means both ‘son’ and ‘servant’ Christ as Messiah was obedient as a ‘servant’ and dear as a ‘Son.’ The latter thought comes into prominence in the next clause: my beloved, etc. Comp, the accounts of the baptism (chap. Matthew 3:17) and the transfiguration (chap. Matthew 17:5). On the former occasion there was a direct fulfilment of the words: I will put my Spirit upon him—He shall proclaim judgment to the Gentiles; announce the final judgment to the Gentiles, presenting Himself as the Judge. Many from Gentile regions were present at the time just spoken of (Mark 3:8). Some understand the clause as a prediction that the gospel (‘judgment’) should be preached to the Gentiles. But this is not exact, and obscures the contrast in the prophecy. The Messiah is the Judge and yet meek.


Verse 19

Matthew 12:19. He shall not strive, nor cry, etc. Not a combatant nor a noisy declaimer in public places, but meek and retiring. (Those who refer ‘judgment’ to the gospel, take this verse as descriptive of the means by which it was to be extended.) There is also a contrast with ‘victory’ in Matthew 12:20. He presents Himself as Judge and yet is meek; He is meek, does not strive, and yet shall be victor. The lessons are obvious.


Verse 20

Matthew 12:20. A bruised reed, etc. The reed is a hollow cylinder, so formed that its strength and usefulness are well-nigh lost, if it be bruised. It is also emblematic of feebleness, being easily bruised. The figure points to the state of the sinner as useless and weak, while the word ‘bruised’ suggests the idea of contrition. Our Lord will not reject feeble, marred but contrite, sinners.

Smoking flax. Threads of flax were used as wicks. The smoking resulted not from the exhaustion of the oil, but from the fault of the wick. Quenching it would be to throw it away altogether on account of its imperfection. Alford says of the two metaphors: ‘A proverbial expression for,” He will not crush the contrite heart, nor extinguish the slightest spark of repentant feeling in the sinner.” ‘The former might also be referred to a contrite sinner, the latter to an imperfect believer. The Lord did not use harsh violent measures, but dealt tenderly and gently with all such

Till he send forth judgment unto victory, i.e., till He cause His judgment to end in victory, so that no further conflict will remain. ‘Send forth’ indicates great power. The gentle mode, characteristic of our Lord personally was to be characteristic of His dealings through His militant people up to the day of final decision, when the Judge shall end the conflict in final, absolute victory. The latter thought is lost, if ‘judgment’ is taken as meaning ‘the gospel.’


Verse 21

Matthew 12:21. And in his name shall Gentiles hope.

On the ground of what His name, as the Messiah, implies. Those to whom He presented Himself as Judge would learn to trust Him in consequence of the gentle, patient dealing just spoken of, and more fully brought out in the original prophecy. Matthew here omits part of a verse in Isaiah and paraphrases the part he retains, but without any important variation in sense.


Verse 22

Matthew 12:22. Then. Indefinite, here meaning ‘afterwards.’

Was brought. Such an one could not come alone.

One possessed, etc., or, ‘a demoniac,’ blind and dumb. A different case from that mentioned in chap. Matthew 9:32-34. The physical effect of the possession was similar, but more unfortunate; the accusation of the Pharisees was similar, but more blasphemous.


Verses 22-50

INTRODUCTORY NOTE. These occurrences seem to have followed each other in immediate succession. Luke places the last one (Matthew 12:46-50) after the parable of the sower, but Mark gives the same order as Matthew, Matthew 12:46 is more definite as to time than Luke’s account, and that occurrence was more likely to have been occasioned by the events here placed before it. The time was immediately after the events narrated in chap. 11; the occurrences intervening between this and the retirement just recorded, being the choice of the Twelve; the Sermon on the Mount, the healing of the centurion’s servant (chap. Matthew 8:5-13), the message of John (chap. 11); and some occurrences mentioned by Luke only (Luke 7:36 to Luke 8:3). The position serves to indicate the growing and bolder hostility of the Pharisees, which was answered by the bold and startling words of our Lord, awakening the anxiety for His safety among His relatives, which led to the interruption and discussion of Matthew 12:46-50. Our Lord’s stay in Galilee after this was neither continuous nor successful, for except the mission of the Twelve, little occurred there save repeated rejection and retirement. Acceptance or rejection must follow such a presentation of Himself as Jesus here makes.


Verse 23

Matthew 12:23. The effect of such a remarkable miracle on the people was astonishment, and they asked: Is this the Son of David? The original indicates an expectation or hope of a negative answer (see next verse); so that we must not attribute to the multitude any strong spiritual conviction.


Verse 24

Matthew 12:24. But when the Pharisees heard it. According to Luke, some who were present; according to Mark, ‘the scribes which came down from Jerusalem,’ probably sent to spy out his actions. A public declaration of war against our Lord on the part of the Pharisees, and an answer to the question of the people (Matthew 12:23). The Pharisees admit the miracles, but explain them in another way as the work of Satan. Consistency required this explanation.

This man. ‘This fellow’ is too strong. ‘This,’ in the question of the people, was an expression of surprise; the word is here taken up and turned against Jesus.

But by Beelzebub, the prince of demons. The word ‘devil,’ is applied to but one person in the Scriptures, namely, Satan. On the word ‘Beelzebub,’ see chap. Matthew 10:25. The sense ‘lord of dung,’ implies coarse wit. The sense: lord of the habitation, referring to rule over the possessed, agrees well with the phrase here added: ‘the prince of demons.’ ‘By,’ literally ‘in,’ i.e., in intimate fellowship.


Verse 25

Matthew 12:25. And knowing their thoughts. He perceived not only that they opposed, but their very thoughts. Their words had been addressed, not to Him, but in reply to the multitudes (Matthew 12:23). The best authorities omit the word ‘Jesus.’

Every kingdom divided against itself. The assertion of the Pharisees assumed that there was ‘an organized kingdom of evil with a personal ruler.’ Our Lord uses this assumption, as a terrible fact, which, however, proves the absurdity of the charge made against Himself. This organized kingdom of darkness, because it is only evil, is racked with discords and hatred, but against the kingdom of God (Matthew 12:28) it is a unit. The point of the argument here is: not that discords are fatal, which is not always the case, but that an organization which acts against itself, its own distinctive aims, must destroy itself. Their accusation implied this.—The rest of the verse applies the same principle to the smaller organizations of a city and a house.


Verse 26

Matthew 12:26. And if Satan cast out Satan. The accusation reduced to an absurdity, namely, that a person is divided against himself. A man might be at war within, but even then the outward acts would not necessarily be in opposition. Satan is utterly wicked, hence good and evil do not strive within him, and his fighting against himself is not to be imagined. This verse implies: that the Pharisees had called our Lord ‘Satan;’ that Satan is a person; that he has a kingdom; while the whole argument assumes that this kingdom is in constant antagonism to the kingdom of God. This is brought out more fully afterwards.


Verse 27

Matthew 12:27. By whom do your sons, i.e., disciples, cast them out? ‘If casting out devils is an evidence of a league with Satan, then this holds good against your scholars who profess to do it also.’

Therefore they shall be your judges. They shall convict you of partiality. The argument is valid, whether the Jewish exorcists cured or only pretended to do so. It is probable they did exercise some influence; though to no great extent, else the wonder at Christ’s power would not have been so great. Our Lord does not hint at any imposture; in every age there has been something analogous and inexplicable, e. g., the Egyptian sorcerers. The existence of ‘demoniacs’ in those days, is proof that supernatural power, of itself is no test of truth.


Verse 28

Matthew 12:28. By the Spirit of God, i.e., in union with the Spirit of God. The contrast with ‘Beelzebub’ points to a ‘Person,’ not an influence. The alternative raised by the Pharisees is accepted, namely, such works of power are done either by God or Satan. Then having proved the absurdity of the latter explanation, our Lord declares that the agent is ‘the Spirit of God.’

Then the kingdom of God is come upon you. ‘The kingdom you profess to be waiting for, has come upon you suddenly, before you expected it, in spite of your opposition to me.’ An assertion, that His power was not only Divine, but sufficient to prove Him the expected Messiah. This strong charge against them grows directly out of the falsity of theirs against Him.


Verse 29

Matthew 12:29. Or. The course of thought is, ‘If I were not the Messiah, stronger than Satan, how could I thus spoil him?’

Spoil his goods. The strong man represents Satan; his ‘house’ the world where he has long reigned; ‘his goods,’ the possessed or the evil spirits possessing them.

Spoil his house. The word ‘spoil’ here is stronger than the one used in the last clause, indicating a complete victory over Satan in this world.


Verse 30

Matthew 12:30. He that is not with me. The opposition between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan is absolute; it is impossible to be neutral. ‘Neutrality’ is often the worst ‘hostility.’ Since these two opposing kingdoms exist, all moral beings must belong to one or the other. Our Lord has proved that He is the stronger, that He is the Messiah, working miracles by the Spirit of God; the alternative is therefore presented in a new form: Christ or Satan. The Pharisees decided for Satan, and were consistent in their opposition. Sentimental admirers of Christ are simply inconsistent enemies.


Verse 31

Matthew 12:31. Our Lord, who knew the thoughts of His opposers, now explains the awful meaning of their enmity.

Therefore I say unto you. A revelation on the authority of Christ.

Every sin and blasphemy. Every sin up to and including blasphemy, with the exception afterwards mentioned. ‘Blasphemy,’ the worst form of sin: it is malicious evil-speaking against God. Even this may be forgiven if repented of.

But the blasphemy against the Spirit. The one exception. ‘The Spirit,’ of course, means the ‘Spirit of God’ (Matthew 12:28). See next verse.


Verse 32

Matthew 12:32. Whosoever speaketh a word, i.e., in passing, not as the result of a determined state of hostility, against the Son of man, against Christ in the form of a servant, through ignorance of His real glory, it shall be forgiven him. Even this great sin can be pardoned.

But whosoever speaketh. The form indicates determined speaking, in the presence of light.

Against the Holy Ghost. Not the Divine nature of Christ, but the third Person of the Trinity, as the Agent working in the hearts of men, without whom neither forgiveness nor holiness is possible.

Neither in this world, nor in that which is to come. ‘World,’ i.e.., æon or age; the present one before the final coming of Christ, the future one dating from that event, and lasting forever. The Jewish nation divided the two by the first coming of the Messiah. The meaning is: shall NEVER be forgiven. Views of this sin: 1. A particular sin, that of deliberately, persistently, and maliciously, in the presence of proper evidence, attributing the works of Christ (whether of physical healing or spiritual deliverance) to diabolical agency, instead of acknowledging the Holy Spirit as the Agent. (Comp. Mark 3:20-35.) The accusation of the Pharisees, in this instance, may have been such a sin. It is very different from ordinary and usual opposition to God and Christ, and also from ‘grieving’ or ‘resisting the Holy Ghost’ It cannot be a mere denial of the Divinity of Christ. Those who fear that they have committed the unpardonable sin, give good evidence that they have not done so. 2. A state of determined, wilful opposition, in the presence of light, to the power of the Holy Spirit, virtually a moral suicide, a killing of the conscience, so that the human spirit is absolutely insusceptible to the influences of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 12:33-35 favor this view, as also the correct reading in Mark 3:29 : ‘guilty of eternal sin.’ The outward manifestation of such a state will be ‘the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost’ It is uncertain whether such a state is possible ‘in this world,’ and we should beware of imputing it to any, but the impossibility of forgiveness is quite evident. The inference from this view is, that all sin must either be repented of and forgiven, or culminate (here and hereafter) in the unpardoned and unpardonable state. 3. Many evangelical German expositors think that the clause contains a hint of forgiveness in another world, i.e., that all sins will be forgiven, except those which terminate in this sin here or hereafter. This avoids a difficulty in regard to the future state of those to whom Christ has not been offered (infants, heathen, etc.), but neither this passage, nor the other difficult ones (1 Peter 3:19; Matthew 4:6), gives sufficient ground for announcing it as taught in the word of God. It is at best only an inference based on a doubtful interpretation of the first clause of Matthew 12:31, and the last clause of Matthew 12:32. The Scriptures are wisely silent on the whole question.


Verse 33

Matthew 12:33. Either make the tree good, etc.—The law of God’s creation is: good trees, good fruit; corrupt trees, evil fruit. Judge the tree by its fruit. My works are good, hence I am good; the blasphemous words of the Pharisees show their character. Some explain ‘make’ as meaning ‘exhibit,’ ‘represent,’ but the application is the same.

For by the fruit the tree is known. Comp. chap. Matthew 7:20. The mention of this general principle here favors the view that Matthew 12:31-32 are to be applied to a state.


Verse 34

Matthew 12:34. Ye brood of vipers. Comp. chap. Matthew 3:7. The meek and lowly Saviour utters these words. The Pharisees were referred to, as the corrupt tree (Matthew 12:33), a poisonous plant; now as poisoning animals. There is probably an allusion to the ‘seed of the serpent’ (Genesis 3:15), which is in constant antagonism to ‘the seed of the woman.’

How can ye, etc.? A moral impossibility, for out of the abundance, etc. They had only spoken against Him; but this proves their evil character.


Verse 35

Matthew 12:35. The thought of Matthew 12:33, in another figure; words are represented as fruits.

The good treasure. The words: ‘of the heart,’ though not in the text, suggest the correct explanation. The contents of our hearts are known to God alone and partially to ourselves, but our unrestrained utterances show what is laid up there.


Verse 36

Matthew 12:36. And I say unto you. An authoritative revelation, opposed to the common opinion of men, yet preeminently reasonable.

Every idle word, i.e., morally useless. If ‘the idle word’ must be accounted for, much more the wicked ones spoken on this occasion.


Verse 37

Matthew 12:37. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, declared righteous, acquitted, not made righteous. The word never has the latter sense in the New Testament. The index of character will be the words, not hypocritical ones, although even these speedily reveal their true character, but those coming from the heart (Matthew 12:34-35). ‘By’ here points to the true source.—This general principle, tar exceeding ‘the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees,’ concludes this discourse. Its awful statements challenge every one: Are you with Christ or against Him; do your words, coming from the heart, confess or deny Him.


Verse 38

Matthew 12:38. Then certain of the scribes and Pharisees. ‘Others’ (Luke 11:16); on the same occasion, however.

Master, or ‘Teacher.’ In this instance the term was either a polite formality or used in ironical doubt (Luke: ‘tempting him’).

We would see a sign from thee. Luke: ‘from heaven.’ They intimated that the miracles of healing were not sufficient evidence; might be attributed to magic or diabolical art ‘A sign from heaven’ they would regard as conclusive proof. They either denied that His miracles were ‘signs,’ or that coming from Him, they could be signs ‘from heaven.’ Pharisaism admires marvels of power more than miracles of mercy.


Verse 39

Matthew 12:39. An evil and adulterous generation. These Pharisees represent the great part of the Jewish people, who looked for a temporal Deliverer, showing signs from heaven. Here, as in the Old Testament, ‘adulterous’ means unfaithful to God, idolatrous. Their craving after a sign was a token of the same spirit of apostacy which made them join with heathen idolaters in crucifying Jesus.

Seeketh after, craves, demands as essential. Comp. 1 Corinthians 1:22.

There shall no sign be given to it. ‘No sign,’ to confirm their false views of the Messiah.

The sign of Jonah the prophet. One great sign would be given, typified in the history of Jonah,—the death and resurrection of Christ. The sign of Messiahship, like the Messiah Himself, was the reverse of their expectations: not a sign ‘from heaven,’ but from ‘the heart of the earth.’


Verse 40

Matthew 12:40. In the belly of the whale, or ‘great fish.’ (Comp. Jonah 1:17, chap. 2) Probably a white shark, which reaches an immense size in the Mediterranean. Our Lord vouches for the main fact.

So shall the Son of man be three days and three nights. In round numbers according to the Jewish mode of reckoning time.

In the heart of the earth. Either in ‘hades’ or in the ‘grave.’ The first sense accords better with the case of Jonah, although nothing can be inferred from this respecting the locality of the ‘place of departed spirits.’ Christ’s sepulchre was not strictly in the heart of the earth. ‘The sign of Jonah’ may be traced at some length; the following words of our Lord suggest, that as Jonah emerged to preach repentance to the Gentiles, so He rose to send the gospel to all nations.


Verse 41

Matthew 12:41. The men of Nineveh shall rise, i.e., as witnesses, by their example.

In the judgment, not ‘in judgment.’

With this generation, i.e., at the same time, not necessarily against them, although this would be the result.


Verse 42

Matthew 12:42. The queen of the south. The queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1), supposed to be Sabæa, in the southern part of Arabia. Josephus represents her as a queen of Ethiopia, and the Abyssinians claim her as the ancestress of their kings.

From the ends of the earth. A common Greek expression for a great distance. A stronger case than the last (Matthew 12:41). The Ninevites repented under personal preaching; but the queen of Sheba was attracted from a great distance to hear the wisdom of Solomon.

More than. A superior Person, a more important message, and greater wisdom. Yet the Jews were not attracted, did not even give heed.


Verse 43

Matthew 12:43. The figure in Matthew 12:43-45 refers primarily to the Jewish people, but is applicable also in the history of Christianity and to individuals (see on Matthew 12:45).

When. The original indicates a supposed case.

Gone out. How, is altogether immaterial.

Passeth through dry places, i.e., unwatered, desert regions, such as demons inhabited according to the popular notion. Our Lord’s words, while in one sense an accommodation to this view, allude to the place whither the demons go, without stating where it is. The return into the man is against the view that the abode of the wicked is meant; but a state of greater dissatisfaction and unrest is plainly indicated.


Verse 44

Matthew 12:44. My house, i.e., the demoniac.

He findeth it. Not in a state of moral purity, but empty of a good tenant; swept of all that would be forbidding to an evil spirit; and garnished, set in order, and adorned, but in a way inviting to the unclean spirit.


Verse 45

Matthew 12:45. Then, seeing this inviting residence.

Seven other spirits, etc. To be understood indefinitely, of a more complete and terrible possession; there being no resistance to their entrance.

And the last state of that man is worse than the first. Possibly a reference to some well-known case; but the whole is applied directly to the Jews: Thus shall it be also unto this wicked generation. Explanations: 1. The specific application to the Jews. The first possession, the early idolatrous tendency of the Jews; the going out, the result of the captivity in Babylon; the emptying, sweeping, and garnishing at their return (Pharisaism, a seeming reformation, but really an invitation to evil influences); the last state, the terrible and infatuated condition of the Jews after they had rejected Christ 2. General application to the Jews. ‘A process of deterioration, with occasional vicissitudes and fluctuations, but resulting in a state far worse than any that had gone before it’ (J. A. Alexander). Both are true; the former is probably the primary reference. 3. Application to the history of Christianity. The Reformation, the casting out of the first evil spirit of idolatry, permitted by Rome, the house ‘empty, swept, and garnished: swept and garnished by the decencies of civilization and discoveries of secular knowledge, but empty of living and earnest faith’ (Alford); the repossession, the final development of the man of sin. 4. An application to individuals; external reformation without permanent spiritual results, leading to a ‘worse state.’


Verse 46

Matthew 12:46. While he was yet speaking to the multitudes. This definite expression fixes the occasion.

His mother and brethren. On the brethren of our Lord, see chap. Matthew 13:55.

Stood, ‘or were standing,’ without. Either outside the crowd or the house; it is not certain that He was in a house. They remained there unsuccessfully (Luke 8:19), seeking to speak with him. A sufficient motive should be looked for. It was probably affectionate solicitude for His safety (see on Mark 3:21), in consequence of the open rupture with the Pharisees; also for His health, since He had not time to eat (Mark 3:20). It is uncertain whether His friends really thought He was beside Himself or only said so to screen Him (Mark 3:21). They probably did not doubt Him, but mistook their duty, and adopted a worldly policy, which though natural and prompted by genuine affection deserved the rebuke here implied. In any case the faith of Mary His mother must have grown stronger before the crucifixion. Luke (Luke 11:27-28) places immediately after the discourse just narrated, the exclamation of a woman, referring to His mother (‘Blessed is the womb,’ etc.),as if Mary’s presence had occasioned it. The response there recorded is similar in character to Matthew 12:50 of this chapter.


Verse 47

Matthew 12:47. Then one said unto him. We need not suppose that this unnamed person wished to interrupt the discourse, still less that he would call attention to the humble relatives to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah.


Verse 48

Matthew 12:48. Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? Implying, not contempt nor carelessness, but that the family relation in His case was peculiar. He was more than man, or was not justified in thus speaking.


Verse 49

Matthew 12:49. And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples. Mark 3:33 : ‘He looked round about on them which sat about him,’ hence ‘disciples’ in the wider sense.

Behold my mother and my brethren, i.e., these are as nearly allied and as dear to me (see next verse).


Verse 50

Matthew 12:50. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven. Mere profession of discipleship does not entitle to such a position. Our Lord does not say how we are enabled to do the will of His heavenly Father, but makes such a result the criterion.

He is my brother, and sister, and mother. The term ‘father’ is excluded; His ‘Father’ is ‘in heaven.’ Our Lord loved His relatives, but all whom He teaches (‘His disciples’) and saves (‘do the will of my Father’), whosoever they are, stand equally near Him. Christ loves His people with a love human as well as Divine; there can be no closer relationship to Him than that of real discipleship which manifests itself in this obedience to His Heavenly Father. Christ was ‘the Son of man’ as well as ‘the Son of Mary,’ identified with humanity in one sense, even more than with her. Those who have not seen Jesus on earth, are here assured of His presence and affection in a way that should be a constant stimulant to holiness. Brethren of Christ are brethren to each other. The dearest and best of friends and relatives, so often needlessly anxious about us, have no claims upon us superior to our duties to the gospel of the Kingdom.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 12:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/matthew-12.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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