The Pharisees challenge Jesus again, seemingly they are doing this at every opportunity. The Pharisees were the Jewish ruling high class and any change to their social and religious norms would have threatened their privileged way of life and social status. When Jesus arrived performing miracles and claiming He was the son of God, they did not believe Him. They attributed His powers as coming from Satan and they felt that they were right to challenge Him and stop His ministry. From their perspective, Jesus was a threat to their religious beliefs and way of life.
The examples of “labor” (if you can call plucking heads of grain to nibble on labor) and healing on the Sabbath were instances the Pharisees used to “prove” that Jesus was not from God because God had forbidden any type of labor on the Sabbath. Jesus refutes these charges by appealing to a sense of logic and using righteous judgment.
For plucking grain, Jesus tells them that David had eaten the showbread in the temple once out of hunger and that this was permissible in the eyes of God. Jesus’s disciples were not harvesting the grain (which would have been labor and against the law of the Sabbath), but in fact they were gathering the grain for the purpose of eating, which was not considered labor of the type that was condemned on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees also asked Jesus whether healing on the Sabbath was also labor and therefore a sin. But Jesus easily shuts down this idea with the illustration of helping a sheep that has fallen into a pit. It is not work; it is saving, helping and healing.
After these things, Jesus begins to withdraw himself from the formal Jewish leadership because of their opposition and lack of belief. Jesus’s withdrawal is in accordance with prophecy and verses 18-21 in Matthew 12 quote a passage in Isaiah 42:1-4. This prophecy indicated what has happened and what was to come: that Jesus would remove himself from the formal Jewish leadership and that the Gentiles (non-Jews) would benefit as a result. We see the result of this even today.
In these verses Jesus is again charged of using the power of Satan and not of God to cast out demons. We saw Jesus accused of this same thing earlier in our studies in Matthew 9:34. In this instance, though Jesus provides a logical explanation on why it would be impossible for Him to cast out demons using the power of Satan. He could not use a power against itself or else Satan’s power would not last. Also, the Pharisees themselves cast out demons and they did not use the power of Satan. Lastly, the fact that Jesus was doing this indicated that the kingdom of God was near. This meant that Jesus would soon die for the sins of all mankind.
These two verses serve as a warning, for us as well as the Pharisees. God can forgive all sins through Jesus Christ but the one sin that God cannot forgive is if we were to come to know the truth yet deny it and speak out in blasphemy against it. The Pharisees had the prophecies telling them of Jesus’coming; they had the miracles and his teachings too, yet they still did not believe. Willful denial in the face of God’s truth in Jesus Christ would not be forgiven them.
The Holy Spirit has given us the Bible, God’s Holy Word, and if we live in direct opposition to God’s Word, we, like the Pharisees, will not be forgiven either.
This passage displays Jesus’s anger at the audacity of the Pharisees. They professed to be good and holy, yet Jesus knew their hearts were corrupted. A stern warning is given by the Son of God here, to the Pharisees as well as to us today: be careful of the words you speak, for they will be used to judge you and you will be required to explain them.
The scribes are mentioned here in tandem with the Pharisees and they had much in common with the Pharisees. Mostly, they were in charge of writing copies of the books of the Law and they held similar beliefs as well as nearly the same social status as the Pharisees.
The scribes and the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, seemingly to confirm that Jesus was speaking the truth. Jesus rebukes them both with prophecy and logic.
The prophecy Jesus brings is that the sign He will bring is of His own death on the cross, His burial for three days, then His resurrection. Jesus uses the story of Jonah as a parallel, for Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale before he was spit out and lived.
Jesus also tells the scribes and Pharisees that the solace of their erroneous hearts will do them no good. Living in their own righteousness and not God’s is a wicked way to live and their end will not be pleasant. After all, if they have not believed that Jesus was the Christ in the midst of all of Jesus’s miracles and teachings by now, they were not going to believe at all.
These same ideas are true for us today: If we live by our own sense of right and wrong and not God’s, we are living in a fantasy, and not in the reality of true life that God has built for us. Only in Him can we have true righteousness.
This chapter ends with Jesus’s appeal to who it is that is truly our family. Jesus wasn’t denying his blood relations with His words in verses 48-50, rather He was using the opportunity to promote unity and strengthen the bonds of love we have together when we are one in Jesus Christ.
Tonight as you study, I urge you to examine yourself and seek only God’s righteousness. There are still scribes and Pharisees in the world today, they just go by different names. Let us try to be more like Jesus and learn how to see through false charges and suppositions and to discern the truth. There are not many versions of the truth; there is only the truth as God has revealed it to us.