We are going to be continuing in Matthew chapter 12 today, and we’ll be taking a look at the next two sections of verses in this chapter.
We left off last week in verse 15, after reading how Jesus twice demonstrated a proper understanding of the Sabbath, and how its purpose is to provide rest and restoration. Internal reflection and external fellowship and corporate worship, and a deepening of their relationship with God.
The way Jesus interpreted the Sabbath was in stark contrast to the burdensome and legalistic teaching of the pharisees. While Jesus held the Hebrew scriptures, the law and the prophets, in very high esteem, he had complete and utter disregard for how the religious leaders in his day interpreted and enforced God’s law.
On top of that, he has continuously and increasingly been identifying himself as the Messiah; the chosen one, AND claiming to be a divine, human incarnation of Yahweh, God of the universe, and as such does have the authority to teach these things and correct the teachings of all other authorities lesser than his.
So, between his teaching contrary to the pharisees, and claims to divinity, the pharisees are livid! in verse 14, it says the pharisees went out and plotted against him, how they might kill him. That’s how threatened the pharisees were by Jesus’s authority.
Let’s keep reading now:
Matthew 12:14–21 CSB
14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, how they might kill him. 15 Jesus was aware of this and withdrew. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them all. 16 He warned them not to make him known, 17 so that what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 18 Here is my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. 19 He will not argue or shout, and no one will hear his voice in the streets. 20 He will not break a bruised reed, and he will not put out a smoldering wick, until he has led justice to victory. 21 The nations will put their hope in his name.
In this passage, Matthew, as the narrator of the story, breaks away for a moment from the narrative. After saying that Jesus withdrew, but crowds followed him anyway, and he healed them all, verse 16 says that he warned them not to make him known, and to explain that, Matthew quotes from the prophet Isaiah, in verses 18-21.
This quote comes from Isaiah chapter 42:1-4. If you compare it to the original passage in Isaiah, it reads somewhat differently. This is partly because in Matthew, he’s quoting from the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. So it’s been translated from Hebrew into Greek and then into English, whereas in most of our translations, in Isaiah it has been translated from Hebrew directly into English.
Here’s what it says in Isaiah:
Isaiah 42:1–4 CSB
1 “This is my servant; I strengthen him, this is my chosen one; I delight in him. I have put my Spirit on him; he will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry out or shout or make his voice heard in the streets. 3 He will not break a bruised reed, and he will not put out a smoldering wick; he will faithfully bring justice. 4 He will not grow weak or be discouraged until he has established justice on earth. The coasts and islands will wait for his instruction.”
So, a few of the lines, especially the last one in verse 4, are a little different, but the concept is obviously the same in both, and the point that Matthew is making by referencing it is the same.
By recognizing Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy, he’s making a whole bunch of implications regarding Jesus’s identity.
By making this reference to Isaiah, Matthew has concisely but very effectively summarizes Jesus’s ministry, identifies Jesus as the messiah, the suffering servant, who we also see in Isaiah 53, and the bringer of salvation to all nations.
In fact, connecting Jesus to Isaiah 42 has somewhat of a ripple effect, because it connects him to pretty much every other prophecy about the messiah, and to that person known in Isaiah of the “suffering servant.” I want to read from Isaiah 53 just as an example, because the concepts here are very much in parallel with the concepts in Isaiah 42:
Isaiah 53 CSB
1 Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground. He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at him, no appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; he was despised, and we didn’t value him. 4 Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains; but we in turn regarded him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds. 6 We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished him for the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth. 8 He was taken away because of oppression and judgment, and who considered his fate? For he was cut off from the land of the living; he was struck because of my people’s rebellion. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, but he was with a rich man at his death, because he had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully. 10 Yet the Lord was pleased to crush him severely. When you make him a guilt offering, he will see his seed, he will prolong his days, and by his hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished. 11 After his anguish, he will see light and be satisfied. By his knowledge, my righteous servant will justify many, and he will carry their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him the many as a portion, and he will receive the mighty as spoil, because he willingly submitted to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet he bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels.
This is a longer, more in depth passage than the one excerpt in Matthew, but you can see how by quoting that one concise passage, Matthew is putting Jesus into that slot, that category, identifying him as this person talked about throughout all the prophets!
A couple other things to notice about this passage:
Did you notice anything familiar about verse 18? Look at that wording again. Have we heard that elsewhere before? In Matthew, even?
Compare Matt 12:18, which remember is a quote of Isaiah 42:1:
Matthew 12:18 CSB
18 Here is my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
Matthew 3:16–17 CSB
16 When Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.”
Whoa!!! How cool is that?
Also, notice in Matthew 12 verse 20, the reference to weak reeds and flickering candles; what’s that about?
This calls back to the passages we just read the last couple weeks, about how Jesus is bringing justice, yes, but is doing so peacefully, by also offering forgiveness, compassion, and spiritual relief, rather than spiritual burden and legalism to accomplish that justice.
Alright, so I think the implications being made by quoting Isaiah are pretty clear. They are bold implications! But…how does that explain Jesus’s “warning” to NOT reveal his identity? To keep quiet about who he is and what he’s doing?
Well, this isn’t the first time he’s said something like this is it? We read similar things back in chapter 8:
Matthew 8:4 CSB
4 Then Jesus told him, “See that you don’t tell anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
and chapter 9:
Matthew 9:30 CSB
30 And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus warned them sternly, “Be sure that no one finds out.”
There are a couple different ways you can potentially explain this. One is that, simply for practical reasons, now that the pharisees are out to kill him, he wants his whereabouts to stay under the radar for a little while longer so he can continue his ministry.
Is it perhaps, as Isaiah says he will bring hope to the gentiles, and he has yet to send his disciples out to the ends of the earth?
Or because Isaiah says he will proclaim justice, but that his voice won’t be heard, and that he’ll establish a kingdom, but not by a showy display of power or through a political or military rebellion, and that he’ll defeat the enemy through humility and lowliness, not as a celebrity.
All of these I think are valid explanations to understand several reasons Jesus could have wanted his disciples and the people he healed to keep him under the radar for a little while longer.
Alright, lets move on to the second passage, beginning in verse 22:
Matthew 12:22–37 CSB
22 Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and unable to speak was brought to him. He healed him, so that the man could both speak and see. 23 All the crowds were astounded and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” 24 When the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man drives out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he told them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive them out? For this reason they will be your judges. 28 If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 How can someone enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. 30 Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore, I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the one to come. 33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit will be good, or make the tree bad and its fruit will be bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. 35 A good person produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil person produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. 36 I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
First of all, the crowds were astounded! Amazed! Jesus was demonstrating his spiritual authority, yet again, and the people witnessing it can recognize that something, someone with great authority and power is among them. And they ask a very provocative question: “Could this be the son of David?”
WE the readers of course know the answer to that question. Matthew introduces Jesus as the son of David right away in verse 1, remember!
Matthew 1:1 CSB
1 An account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
This title identifies Jesus as the messiah, as according to other prophesies from Jacob, and Samuel and Isaiah and the Davidic covenant.
Matthew has made all those connections for us already, but here we see other people, witnessing Jesus, and starting to make these connections on their own!
You can find this same story corroborated by Luke, in Luke 11:14-15
Luke 11:14–15 CSB
14 Now he was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon came out, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. 15 But some of them said, “He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.”
So who’s this Beelzebul?
That name actually comes from Philistine origins, and is associated with the main Canaanite deity, Baal. This is the same deity that Yahweh confronts through Elijah and Elisha in the book of Kings; he’s like Yahweh’s arch-nemesis, though of course powerless compared to Yahweh.
Baal worshipers did terrible, evil things, even sacrificing their own children, and mutilating themselves. Because of this evil darkness, Baal worship was also associated with demonic activity, with the Satan being at work to fuel this rebellion against Yahweh.
Essentially, what the pharisees are saying, in more familiar terms, is “This guy drives out demons by the power of the devil himself!” or “This guy’s power to drive out demons is demonic! He gets his power from Satan!”
Of course, they’re saying this out of denial and resentment and to stir up trouble, and because they want to find a way to turn the crowds against him.
Jesus gets ahead of them though, doesn’t he! Verse 25 says that he knew their thoughts, which I just think is pretty cool; they don’t even have to say anything before he knows what they’re thinking! It’s yet another example of Jesus’ deity manifesting, in his knowledge of people’s thoughts, and this isn’t the only time he does this!
And what does he say? What’s his defense against such an accusation?
He starts off with a simple statement:
Matthew 12:25 CSB
25 Knowing their thoughts, he told them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.
It’s an analogy, almost a parable, comparing himself to a kingdom or a city or a house. We could also put the words “organization” or “business” or “country” or “family” or “church” in that category, and the same statement would apply. A church divided against itself will not stand. A family divided against itself will not stand.
Then, to make himself perfectly clear, he applies this analogy directly to their accusation:
Matthew 12:26 CSB
26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?
The implication he’s making here is that Satan isn’t stupid enough to sabotage his own work, his own kingdom. He’s point out the failure of logic in their accusation, it just doesn’t make sense!
Furthermore, he goes on in the next verse to turn their accusation right around on them!
Matthew 12:27 CSB
27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive them out? For this reason they will be your judges.
They are being so foolish that their own sons, or their own disciples, who drive out demons, are being implicated by this accusation! It’s the epitome of a double-standard! To condemn Jesus for his actions, but not indict themselves and their disciples, is again a logical inconsistency, and Jesus is pointing that out. Their argument is just totally dead in the water.
But he doesn’t stop there, does he! He keeps going, and this is just speculation, but I kind of picture Jesus getting a little riled up, a little passionate about this, and rightly so! He keeps laying it in to them pretty hard. In verse 28 he turns it around, and says:
Matthew 12:28 CSB
28 If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
In other words, since I am NOT doing this by the power of Satan, it MUST be by the power of Yahweh, which also means I’m bringing the kingdom of God upon you. That is what IS happening. The spirit of God and the kingdom of God is overthrowing the kingdom of Satan and the forces of evil.
Remember at the beginning of this chapter he said that “something greater than the temple is here!” It’s something greater in scope than even just Jesus himself, because he’s ushering in a whole new era, giving birth to a whole new movement and mission and people group, united solely by faith in him and the power of the spirit, rather than by race or traditions or rules.
The pharisees, then, were being confronted with the kingdom of God itself, and they were rejecting it.
He continues with yet another analogy to explain what’s happening:
Matthew 12:29 CSB
29 How can someone enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.
In this analogy, Jesus is typing up the “strong man,” Satan, in the “house,” the bodies of the afflicted, and plundering, claiming Satan’s captives as citizens of his own kingdom. He’s a hero! In fact, you could track this back to Jesus’s overcoming Satan in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, to his exorcisms during his ministry, his crucifixion at the end of his ministry, and his future return that we now await.
That image of Satan being “bound” by Jesus maps onto descriptions of the messianic age in Jewish apocalyptic literature, including Revelation:
Revelation 20:2 CSB
2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
Next, he shifts into teaching mode, and gives them what sounds like a warning:
Matthew 12:30 CSB
30 Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather with me scatters.
As we have already seen before, to follow Jesus is so different than to follow the world, or the hypocrisy of the pharisees, they are so much in polar contrast, that you can’t somehow fall in between, kind of follow one and also follow the other. And this is true still today; you cannot legitimately, logically have a “neutral” stance on Jesus. Once you have been presented with the evidence of who he is and what he did, you either accept him or you reject him.
Next, he goes on to make another bold statement, and these next couple verses have historically been somewhat troubling, puzzling, and anxiety inducing.
He says this:
Matthew 12:31–32 CSB
31 Therefore, I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the one to come.
This teaching has become known as the “unforgivable sin.” And it sounds kind of scary, doesn’t it?
What is this sin that won’t be forgiven?
I think some of the anxiety from this passage comes from the debate as to what exactly he means by “blaspheming” or “speaking against” the Holy Spirit.
Mark 3:28–30 CSB
28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for all sins and whatever blasphemies they utter. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—30 because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Luke 12:10 CSB
10 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
They all say essentially the same thing, and it’s clear that this particular sin is a major, big deal!
In its immediate context, Jesus is clearly indicting the pharisees, and any of his other opponents, who would attribute his work to the power of Satan. In reality, it was the spirit of God, the holy spirit, through whom Jesus performed miracles. In this context, blasphemy against the holy spirit means giving Satan the credit for the ministry and exorcisms of Jesus.
Jesus is so humble as to accept slander against him when it’s spoken out of ignorance…just think of his prayer while on the cross! “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
Consider what Paul writes in 1 Timothy:
1 Timothy 1:13–16 CSB
13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I received mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life.
When Jesus declares this unforgivable sin, he’s talking about an explicit, willful, and decisive rejection of the one person of God who convicts and leads us to repent. In other words, it’s the ultimate, willful rejection of the truth of the gospel, the good news, that brings about condemnation.
Jesus doesn’t end there, he continues to lay into the Pharisees and reveal their wickedness through metaphors of trees and treasures. I’m not going to get too deep into unpacking this part, but I didn’t want to leave it out, because it’s kind of the conclusion to his rather long response to the pharisee’s thoughts:
Matthew 12:33–37 CSB
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit will be good, or make the tree bad and its fruit will be bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. 35 A good person produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil person produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. 36 I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
This is really building on his previous statement, and reveals the real heart, the root of the problem with the pharisees. Jesus knew that their rejection of him stemmed from deep, bitter wickedness. Their fruit, that is, their thoughts, their words, and their actions, reveals the content of their hearts.
Jesus of course offers healing for diseased hearts, through the work of the spirit, but not all to whom it is offered will accept it.
"From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
What we allow to grow and become abundant internally, eventually overflows out of our mouths.
And Jesus says it’s our words for which we are held accountable.
This is pretty bad news when you consider a verse like
Jeremiah 17:9 ESV
9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
The answer is given in the next verse!
Jeremiah 17:10 LEB
10 I, Yahweh, examine the mind, I test the heart, and give to each one according to his way, according to the fruit of his deeds.
Yahweh, the only one who can truly know our hearts, provided the cure himself, through the person of Jesus, and the power of his spirit.
There is a lot more that could be said about these last few verses, but I’ll wrap up for now with a callback to Matthew chapter 3. It’s been a while since chapter 3, so you may not recognize Jesus’s statement here as eerily familiar to what his predecessor, John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Check this out:
Matthew 3:7–12 CSB
7 When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. 9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove his sandals. He himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn with fire that never goes out.”
He calls them vipers and bad trees! The same metaphors Jesus uses in chapter 12.
The pharisees are exhibiting in this passage what the ultimate bad fruit looks like. John’s call was to produce fruit “consistent with repentance.” What does that look like?
Actions and words that are not just outwardly showy, like the shallow veneer of righteousness the pharisees thought protected them.
Actions and words that reflect an inner righteousness that only comes from allowing the spirit to transform our diseased hearts.
Galatians 5:22–23 CSB
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.
I’ll close with one last passage, from Colossians chapter 3. It’s one of my favorite, though there are many, that speaks to what a renewed life in Christ looks like, and contrasts bad fruit with good fruit.
Colossians 3:1–17 CSB
1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, God’s wrath is coming upon the disobedient, 7 and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. 8 But now, put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator. 11 In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. 14 Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.