Matthew 12 Pt.4 – Religion or Relationship?

This was a very interesting end to this chapter. Lets say that there are basically 3 sections to it, starting off with the question or request by some of the scribes and Pharisees, when they asked Jesus to give them “a sign“(v.38). But of course Jesus had been performing signs, wonders and miracles all along. In fact, even earlier in this chapter (vv.9-14), Jesus had healed a man with a withered arm, and a man who was demon-possessed, blind, and mute (vv.22-23). Were these “signs” just not good enough for these scribes and Pharisees? Or was their request for “a sign” of a different order, such as a sign from heaven (See Matt.16:1). Some had wanted to see Jesus perform signs, seemingly for entertainment purposes (I.e., Herod, in Lk.23:8), whereas Nicodemus had said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:1-2).

So for the first section we see Jesus respond to the scribes and Pharisees’ request for “a sign” (vv.39-42), showing them that no sign would be given except that of the Prophet Jonah, who is likened unto Christ. I.e., he requested that he be thrown overboard by the pagan sailors, and when they did, the storm was calmed. Then Jonah was swallowed by a huge fish and taken to the bottom of the sea, where he was in the belly of the big fish for 3 days and 3 nights. This corresponds to how Jesus was thrown into the raging sea of God’s wrath and calmed the storm, and was 3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth (which likely refers to the grave). We shouldn’t get too caught up with the exactness of the 3 days and 3 nights, since in Jewish reckoning, any part of a day was considered as a day, and Jesus was crucified on day one, was in the tomb day two, and rose again some time one the third day. Each “day” had a daylight and darkness to it. The main thing to note though is that the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. Then Jesus used the example of the Queen of The South, who had gone to great lengths and travelled so far, to hear the wisdom of Solomon.  And so Jesus says that not only is He “greater than the temple” (Matt.12:6), but that He is also “greater than Jonah” and “greater than Solomon” and yet, though He was right there in their midst they were not interested in what He had to say, and unwilling to repent at His preaching.

In the next section we find something that at first seems out of place (vv43-45), because Jesus is back to talking about demons again, which we might think would fit in better with His earlier discussion on demons in vv.22-30.

But there is a very important difference in Jesus’ use of words here. Here Jesus spoke of ‘when an unclean spirit goes out of a man‘, rather than ‘when an unclean spirit is cast out of a man. It has been suggested that the difference is that in this case the demon has just decided to leave. And in the meantime, the man who had the demon, decided to clean up his life, maybe getting his life put in order, so that when the devil returns, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Could this be the sign of a religious person trying to turn their life around without Jesus? If so, when the devil comes knocking again, he will have no defence against the devils and other devils that would come to enter that man. So much so that Jesus said, “And the last state of the man will be worse than the first” (v.45). William MacDonald, in his commentary, says that this man and this house, represent religious Israel under Pharisaic religion. They are trying to be clean and organised, but there is actually a vacuum (not a vacuum cleaner, but a vacuum remains no matter how clean they think they are. And ultimately because Israel on the whole reject their Messiah, they will accept an Anti-Christ in His place.

The last section also seems out of place (vv.46-50). But in it we see Jesus’ natural biological relatives on the outside looking in and Jesus surrounded by people who are not blood relatives, but who have a closer relationship to Jesus than any of His own family. That is why Jesus calls us brothers and sister and mother, those who do the will of our Father in heaven.

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