REJECTION OF MANIFEST TRUTH LEADS TO SEVERE JUDGMENT WHILE TRUE DISCIPLES PRIORITIZE SPIRITUAL FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS
The emphasis in this passage on “this evil generation” reinforces the interpretation of the unpardonable sin as applying to the present generation who witnessed and rejected the awesome works performed by Jesus by the power of the Spirit.
Richard Gardner: The dispute over Jesus’ power in 12:22-37 finds its sequel in the controversy in 12:38-50. In fact, the two units share a common narrative setting. It is the same Pharisees who accuse Jesus of being in league with Satan in 12:24 who, along with the scribes, insist that Jesus show them a sign in 12:38. Unfazed by Jesus’ words condemning blasphemy against the Spirit, they challenge him to prove his claim that he acts with divine authority. Does God really stand behind Jesus’ work, or is Jesus only an imposter (cf. 21:23)?
In constructing this unit, Matthew draws on several pieces of material from his sources. One of the pieces presents the debate over a sign, including Jesus’ sayings about this generation (vv. 38-42). For this core material, Matthew is indebted both to Mark 8:11-13 and to a saying also found in Luke 11:29-32 (cf. 11:16). The second component is a saying about the return of the unclean spirit (vv. 43-45). In the Lukan parallel (Luke 11:24-26), the saying is included in the dispute over Jesus casting out demons. Matthew uses it, however, to expand Jesus’ critique of this generation.
To complete the unit, Matthew turns to a Markan story linked to the dispute over casting out demons (vv. 46-50, cf. Mark 3:31-35). In this story Jesus’ relatives come looking for him, and Jesus uses the occasion to identify his “true” family. What we have then in the unit is a “gallery of contrasting attitudes” (Senior, 1977:130), much like the two panels in 11:20-30. The larger canvas depicts an evil and adulterous generation, faithless Israel as represented by the leaders who reject Jesus. But alongside this dismal picture is a portrait of the disciples, who accept Jesus’ claims and do the will of God.
Walter Wilson: The Pharisees continue their assault on Jesus (cf. 12:1–24), this time accompanied by the scribes, who we see join them in asking for a “sign,” presumably referring not simply to another exorcism (cf. 12:22–24) but to an extraordinary wonder that will authenticate the claims he has been making about himself and his agency on behalf of God’s kingdom. Jesus counters with a portrayal that likens his contemporaries to the faithless wilderness generation and himself to the prophet Jonah, who spent three days and nights in the belly of a whale, a veiled allusion to the time between Jesus’s death and resurrection, the latter constituting the ultimate “sign” of his messianic identity. Because his contemporaries have failed to recognize the something “greater” in their midst, the day of judgment will for them be a day of condemnation. Indeed, in an ironic twist of fate, even gentiles and outsiders will rise up to condemn them. This dire picture is then elaborated by an extended image that shows how the unresponsiveness of “this generation” resembles the predicament of a house that is initially plagued by a single unclean spirit but eventually is inundated by a host of them, thus ending up in a worse state than it was before. The arrival of members from his biological family then provides Jesus with an opportunity to draw a contrast between this corrupted “house” and his own, messianic household, the membership of which is determined by obedience to the will of the heavenly Father.
Grant Osborne: Rejection governs every aspect of this passage. First Jesus’ enemies reject him in their demand for a sign; then Jesus rejects them in his proclamation of their future judgment by Nineveh and the Queen of the South. At the same time, Jesus is also proclaiming his exalted status by saying he is “greater than Jonah” and “greater than Solomon.” Finally the parable of the return of the demons shows the true nature of “this evil generation” as under the control of Satan (a reversal of their charge in 12:24).
I. (:38-42) THIS EVIL GENERATION CONDEMNED BY TWO OT WITNESSES FOR THEIR REJECTION OF MANIFEST TRUTH
A. (:38) Disingenuous Desire to Witness Some Special Miraculous Sign
“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered Him, saying,
‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’”
D. A. Carson: A sign was usually some miraculous token to be fulfilled quickly, or at once, to confirm a prophecy. The Jews were not asking for just another miracle, since they had already persuaded themselves that at least some of those Jesus had performed were of demonic agency (v.24); they were asking for a “sign” performed on command to remove what seemed to them to be the ambiguity of Jesus’ miracles.
Robert Gundry: Since the Pharisees have charged that Jesus was casting out demons by Beelzebul/Satan (12:24), now they’re asking for a sign not subject to interpretation as satanically aided. In effect they’re saying, “You deny you’re casting out demons by Beelzebul. Show us that you’re not. We want evidence, not assertion.”
Richard Gardner: The problem with the demand for a sign in Matthew 12 is not that signs have no place in what Jesus is doing (on the contrary, cf. 11:2-6). The problem is, rather, that this particular demand is the product of unfaith. To put it another way: Signs are for those who seek to discover, not dispute.
Charles Swindoll: In their hypocrisy, the religious leaders were feigning honor for Jesus in front of the crowd. They reinforced this ruse by addressing Jesus with the seemingly respectful title “Teacher,” which in Aramaic would have been Rabbi. But as A. B. Bruce notes, we readers should realize what’s going on: Their demand for a sign “was impudent, hypocritical, insulting.”
Why would they ask for a sign, then? Maybe the Pharisees thought that if they could just get Jesus to do enough of His “signs,” which they regarded as fake, they would be able to figure out how He really did them. It would be like telling a magician, “Do it again . . . do it again . . . do it again” in order to expose the sleight of hand. In any case, we know Jesus’ opponents weren’t coaxing Him to do more signs so that more of the crowd would believe, though that’s what would inevitably happen. Nor were they interested in the healing benefits of the miracles; after all, they had not cared enough about people to allow a man to be healed on the Sabbath. No, the scribes and Pharisees wanted to set Jesus up as a phony. They had already made up their minds that Jesus was a tool of the devil; now they just wanted to see exactly what it was about His “signs” that would give Him away.
R. T. France: The idea of an authenticating “sign” (cf. John 6:30) has a good OT pedigree. Moses, in the expectation that his God-given authority would be challenged, was given miracles to perform (Exod 4:1–9, 29–31; 7:8–22); Gideon requested and received a sign to confirm God’s promise (Judg 6:36–40); Elijah called down fire from heaven (1 Kgs 18:36–39); Ahaz and Hezekiah were offered signs to authenticate Isaiah’s prophecies (Isa 7:10–14; 38:7–8). All these signs took the form of miraculous or otherwise inexplicable events.
Donald Hagner: Now they ask to see a sign, presumably a miracle performed just for them, something that would amaze them while presenting irrefutable evidence that his claims were true (cf. particularly John 6:30). Yet this is precisely the kind of miracle—a demonstrative display of power for the purpose of impressing—that Jesus would not perform. His miracles were never done for the sake of creating an effect or of overpowering those who witnessed them; they were much more a part of his proclamation and thus designed solely to meet human needs. Even if Jesus had performed some astonishing sign for them, such was their unbelief, it is implied, that they probably would have charged Jesus with sorcery and thus have used it against him.
Van Parunak: Why does asking for a sign show that they are “evil and adulterous”? Because they are presuming that they have the right to sit in judgment on whether he is or is not the Messiah. By coming to Jesus in this way, they are offering him acceptance in their club. Similarly, Nicodemus in John 3 is inviting the Lord to join the Pharisees, based on his criticism of the Sadducees’ temple market in John 2. Like the Jews in Matthew 12, he and his colleagues thought that they were the ones to decide whether Jesus was legitimate. But the creature has no right to sit in approval over the creator. . .
We live in an age that is more Greek than Jewish. People are more likely to ask us for “wisdom” (logical proofs of Christianity) than for “signs.” But both are inappropriate. God’s way is neither signs nor wisdom, but simple preaching—the proclamation of the truth. If his Spirit is working in a needy heart, preaching is all that is needed—and if his Spirit is not working, all the signs and arguments in the world will have no effect.
B. (:39-41) The Condemning Witness of the People of Nineveh
- (:39) Sign of Jonah the Prophet
“But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet;’”
D. A. Carson: “Adultery” was frequently used by OT prophets to describe the spiritual prostitution and wanton apostasy of Israel (e.g., Isa 50:1; 57:3; Jer 3:8; 13:27; 31:32; Eze 16:15, 32, 35–42; Hos 2:1–7; 3:1). Here Jesus applies it to his contemporaries, as did his brother James later on (Jas 4:4). Israel had largely abandoned her idolatry and syncretism after the exile. But now Jesus insists that she is still adulterous in heart. In the past God had graciously granted “signs” to strengthen the faith of the timid (e.g., Abraham [Ge 15]; Gideon [Jdg 6:17–24]; Joshua [Jos 10]). Here, however, Jesus says that signs are denied “this wicked and adulterous generation,” because they are never to be performed on demand or as a sop to unbelief (cf. 1Co 1:22).
John Nolland: The generation is being likened to those sent into exile. ‘Generation’ here alludes back to 11:16 (see discussion there of ‘this generation’ as the generation privileged to experience the initiative of God in salvation and judgment) and will be picked up with ‘this generation’ in Mt. 12:41-42, 45. The Pharisaic scribes here take on a representative role, speaking for their generation in its unbelief. . .
Why is seeking a sign thought to characterize an evil and adulterous generation? It can hardly be that such a request is always and everywhere considered to be an evil. The difficulty must be the request in the context of Jesus’ ministry as readily available for scrutiny. Given what is visibly present, such a request amounts to nothing more than evasion.
Craig Blomberg: Jesus refuses to play their game. He does not work wonders on demand and especially not for skeptics. Their request reveals their evil intent and lack of faith (as in vv. 34-35).
R. T. France: Their demand for a sign after so much clear evidence (note especially v. 28) betrays their fundamental opposition to God’s purpose as it is now focused in the ministry of Jesus. If they have not been convinced by what has already happened, what sort of sign can hope to persuade them?
J. Ligon Duncan: Their problem is not, however, that Jesus had not supplied them with enough evidence, or even with enough spectacular evidence. Their problem was in their heart. They did not want to believe and so no amount of proof could convince them. Have you ever seen the sad picture of a mother outside a courtroom when a son has been clearly and evidently convicted of a crime. And you’ve seen that mother crying in disbelief, “No, no, no, it’s not true, it’s not true.” And you’ve seen the evidence, and the jury has seen the evidence, and the judge has seen the evidence, and it’s true. But she doesn’t want to believe it. The Lord Jesus is saying the hearts of the Pharisees don’t want to believe My claim. It’s not that the evidence is not there. It’s not that the truth is not clear. It’s not that there’s insufficient proof. It’s that they do not want to believe. The problem is with their hearts. Their hearts are opposed to God. That is the root of their problem. The evidence is enough to convince them, but they have no wish to be convinced.
- (:40) Significance of Death, Burial and Resurrection of Jesus
“for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
D. A. Carson: It is the sign that Jonah himself was, not the sign given him or presented by him. This interpretation commonly accepts the view that the Ninevites learned what had happened to Jonah and how he got to their city. Jonah himself thus served as a “sign” to the Ninevites, for he appeared to them as one who had been delivered from certain death.
Van Parunak: It may be useful to digress here for a moment to counter an argument that is being made by Islamic apologists who attack the notion that our Lord truly died. They cite this verse and say, “See, Jesus’ “death” was like Jonah’s, but Jonah didn’t really die. He was alive while he was in the fish. So Jesus didn’t really die, either.” Should you encounter this argument, please call people’s attention to what the book of Jonah actually says:
Jon 2:1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly, 2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell שׁאול cried I, and thou heardest my voice. … 6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption שׁחת] the pit], O LORD my God.
Jonah did not pray for deliverance from the fish’s belly. His prayer is a prayer of thanksgiving, reporting an earlier prayer for deliverance. That prayer came not from the belly of the fish, but from Sheol, in the grave. Jonah did indeed die. We know from the history of Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16) that people are conscious after death, and in that state he cried to the Lord, who brought him back to life and sent a great fish to snatch him from the bottom of the sea. When he finds himself alive again, in the fish, he prays a prayer of thanksgiving and praise, and the Lord gives him a second chance.
Craig Blomberg: “Three days and three nights” represents a Semitic idiom for any portion of three calendar days.
Richard Gardner: But what is this sign? According to Luke 11:30, the sign consists of someone coming to preach a message of repentance. Jonah served as such a sign to the people of Nineveh, and Jesus plays the role of Jonah in his ministry to Israel.
Matthew, however, relates the sign to a different feature in the Jonah story. According to verse 40, the sign consists of a miraculous deliverance from death. Just as Jonah was delivered from the belly of a great fish (Jon. 1:17; 2:10), so Jesus will be delivered from entombment in the earth. This will be God’s way of validating Jesus’ work (although it too will be disputed; cf. 28:11-15). Whatever meaning is assigned to the sign of the prophet Jonah, it is a sign that judges those who refuse to repent.
Daniel Doriani: This recapitulation of Jonah’s life clarifies what the sign of Jonah is. Jonah performed no signs, he simply spoke. But the presence of Jonah in Nineveh is significant, for Jonah was as good as dead, expected to be dead, and considered dead for three days. But after three days, he showed himself alive. The “sign of Jonah,” therefore, will not be a miracle that resembles a miracle Jonah performed. Rather Jonah himself is the sign. The very fact that Jonah was alive—and preaching—after spending three days in the belly of a huge fish was the sign that God was active in Nineveh. The sign consisted of Jonah himself. The man was the sign. Just so with Jesus. The sign that will lead Jesus’ adversaries to believe will not be a sign Jesus performs. The sign will be Jesus, alive and visible three days after his death (12:40). His life will indicate that he is the Lord and the Savior, who gives eternal life.
Consider how Jesus is greater than Jonah:
- Jonah went to enemies, whom he hated; Jesus went to his people, whom he loved.
- Jonah came without preparation to a hostile people; Jesus came to the people of God, after he had long prepared them to receive their Redeemer.
- Jonah declared impending judgment; Jesus preached the gospel.
- Jonah came with words; Jesus came with words and with deeds that verified them.
- Jonah was a man of God; Jesus is the Son of God.
- Jonah preached reluctantly, hoping his audience would not repent and taste God’s grace; Jesus was willing to pay any price to impart God’s grace.
- (:41) Supremacy of Person and Preaching of Jesus over Jonah
“The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment,
and shall condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah;
and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”
D. A. Carson: The first point of comparison between Jonah and Jesus is that they were both delivered from death—a deliverance that attested the trustworthiness of their preaching. The second point of comparison is the different responses of the hearers. The men of Nineveh repented. But even though “something [neuter, as in 12:6; NIV, ‘one’] greater than Jonah is here”—the reference is to Jesus, not his deliverance, because the comparison is with Jonah, not his deliverance—the people of Jesus’ day—“this generation” (cf. v.39)—did not repent. Therefore men of Nineveh (the nouns are anarthrous) “will stand up with” this generation at the final judgment; i.e., they will rise to bear witness against them.
C. (:42) The Condemning Witness of the Queen of the South
“The Queen of the South shall rise up with this generation at the judgment and shall condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”
John Nolland: The two examples nicely balance a prophetic figure and a royal figure, a figure who went to his hearers with one who was visited by one from afar, and possibly the negative judgment preaching of Jonah and the positive availability of wisdom with Solomon. Jesus and his ministry correspond to all of these in a that-much-more manner. After 8:11-12, the Gentile identity of the Ninevites and the queen of the South should probably be taken as a quiet pointer to the place for non-Jewish people in the future that Jesus’ ministry is forging, as by and large this generation of Jews abandon the place that is naturally theirs.
R. T. France: If “something more/greater” than all these key authorities is now present, and if moreover all their functions have now been brought together into a single person, Jesus’ questioners have a thought-provoking basis on which to consider the question of his authority. Temple and priesthood, prophet, king and wise man—something greater is now here.
GotQuestions.org: Jesus mentions the Queen of the South in the context of Israel’s rejection of their True King. Though she was a Gentile, she traveled a long distance to hear Solomon, and the treasures she brought showed her respect for him and the wisdom he possessed. In contrast, the Jews of Jesus’ time were unwilling to travel any distance to hear the King of kings. The Queen of Sheba’s lavish respect for Solomon stood in stark contrast to Israel’s flat-out rejection of Christ. Yet Christ is greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42). Solomon was a son of David, but Jesus is the Son of David. Solomon was rich, but Jesus is the Creator of all riches. Solomon possessed the gift of wisdom, but Jesus is wisdom personified.
Donald Hagner: If Jonah and Solomon were respectively persuasive and thus elicited an appropriate response, Jesus and his message should all the more have elicited a positive response from the scribes and Pharisees. . . That the Pharisees did not respond positively to such conspicuous evidence as Jesus had given them makes them all the more culpable. Jesus and his kingdom far exceeded all else that Israel had witnessed in her history. Ironically, the Gentiles will be able to see what the Pharisees cannot. . .
The request for a sign only becomes unjustified and intrinsically wrong when one is already surrounded by good and sufficient evidence one chooses not to accept. In that case, unreceptivity and unbelief are the root problem, and it is unlikely that any sign would be sufficient to change such a person’s mind.
Robert Gundry: The condemnation of Jesus’ persecutors at the Last Judgment stands as an encouragement to his persecuted disciples, who can expect like vindication.
II. (:43-45) THIS EVIL GENERATION HEADED FROM THE FRYING PAN INTO THE FIRE OF SEVERE JUDGMENT BECAUSE HUMANISTIC REFORMATION FAILS MISERABLY
Craig Blomberg: Jesus now returns to consider the incident that started this whole discussion, the exorcism of v. 22. He wants the man who was liberated, along with everyone else present, to realize that freedom from demon possession is not enough. Ownership by the devil must be replaced with ownership by Christ (cf. Rom 6:15-18). Otherwise one’s release is only temporary. Moral reform without Christian commitment always remains inadequate. Jesus likens the situation to a house made ready for new occupants which still stands vacant. Squatters will soon move in. No person can live long without serving someone. Satan will always return to attack that which is left defenseless, and each success leads him to increasingly worse designs, whether, as here, to literal repossession by an even greater number of demons (the number seven may indicate completeness of possession) or with the more widespread degeneracy of repeated sin, which characteristically renders humans more insensitive to their guilt (cf. Rom 1:18-32). The “rest” the evil spirit seeks here contrasts sharply and ironically with the rest Christ offers (11:29) and links this controversy with the Sabbath controversies of 12:1-14. The “wicked generation” ties back in with v. 39 and is a uniquely Matthean addition. Matthew will vividly demonstrate the truth of vv. 43-45 by depicting the growing hostility against Jesus throughout the remainder of his narrative.
Charles Swindoll: What does this parable have to do with the hard-hearted scribes and Pharisees? The comparison is subtle but clear. The Pharisees had attempted a superficial reformation through strict religious observances, by external legislation and enforcement, and perhaps even by casting out demons through rites and rituals common in their day. They were law-abiding but unconverted. The resulting condition was worse than before because with their self-help approach to righteousness, they had deceived themselves into thinking they were actually clean and holy. This false righteousness brought self-deception and opened the door for an even more wicked state. It set them up for committing the unpardonable sin: the rejection of the Messiah and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
A. (:43) Humanistic Reformation Fails to Adequately Deal with Evil
“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man,
it passes through waterless places, seeking rest, and does not find it.”
John Nolland: No good parallel has been cited for the journeying in waterless places, but the imagery is probably based on the idea that the demons will move naturally in realms where conditions are antithetical to human well-being, and devoid of the blessing of God. We should probably understand that the demon unsuccessfully seeks transit-accommodation. It is of no interest to the flow of the story why this should be so. This is simply a suitable turn of events for turning the demon back on its tracks.
B. (:44) Humanistic Reformation Creates an Environment Conducive for Severe Relapse
“Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’;
and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order.”
R. T. France: Their “liberation” has been rather through seeing and hearing in the ministry of Jesus a new power and orientation (summarized in the slogan “the kingship of heaven”) which has set them free to make a new beginning; but if they now fail to take the road of discipleship, they are in danger of relapsing into a condition worse than before. Half-hearted repentance without a new commitment will not last. The message reflects that of v. 30: if they are not positively “for” Jesus they will turn out in the end to be “against” him.
Grant Osborne: Jesus could be addressing especially the crowds here, who have taken a strict neutrality toward him, excited at his obvious authority but not willing to commit (see 12:30, “the one not with me is against me”). Yet Israel as a whole is certainly intended because of “this generation” in 12:45d, and the point is that in rejecting their Messiah, they are left empty and unprotected (primary thrust, with the crowds a secondary emphasis). Jesus’ ministry had cast out the uncleaness and readied “this generation” for a new, unprecedented time of plenty, but the people have rejected him and so are left devoid of content.
C. (:45) Humanistic Reformation Exchanges Temporary Relief for Long Term Escalation of Misery
- Verdict = You End Up Worse Off
“Then it goes, and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there;
and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”
Richard Gardner: According to Matthew, Jesus has broken the grip of Satan in Israel’s life through casting out demons (cf. 12:28-29). But unless Israel aligns itself with God’s redemptive purpose, its final state will be more pathetic than was the case before Jesus appeared.
Grant Osborne: The number seven stresses completeness. This is a full contingent of demons.
- Application = This Evil Generation Headed for an Awful Fate
“That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”
John Nolland: Matthew provides a final sentence to focus the application on ‘this evil generation’. The words recall language from v. 39 (cf. vv. 41, 42) and indicate that this is a parable about those who are refusing to embrace what Jesus brings. They may have appreciated its immediate benefits but have kept themselves safely distant from its deeper challenges and larger significance. Their houses may have been tidied, but they remain empty; so an awful fate awaits them. Outside the story world it is not clear what the awful fate is that Matthew has in mind. It may be the judgment threatened in vv. 41-42, it may be judgment in history as anticipated in Mt. 24, or it may be something that is expected to operate more locally at the communal and personal level. Precision is not intended; warning is.
Donald Hagner: Matthew’s added sentence ουʼτως ἔσται καὶ τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ τῇ πονηρᾷ, “thus it will be also for this evil generation,” applies the parable to the unbelief and resistance Jesus has encountered primarily from the Pharisees. If we draw guidance from the context, the basic analogy is simple. This evil generation (cf. v 39) had experienced the powerful deeds of Jesus, which included demon exorcism, and to that extent had benefited. But there had been no repentance, no acceptance of and commitment to Jesus and his cause, and thus this generation would be as susceptible to the power of evil as ever; indeed, the judgment it would later experience would be far worse than when Jesus began his ministry. . .
The burden of this passage is in the implicit call to respond to Jesus. Those who do respond in faith and commitment need not worry about the return of demons, nor need they quaver at future, but temporary, setbacks from disease and even death itself. Those who do not respond in faith and commitment have only worse miseries to expect in the future.
III. (:46-50) BY CONTRAST, TRUE DISCIPLES PRIORITIZE SPIRITUAL FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS
John Nolland: The chapter climaxes with a challenge to the crowds to distance themselves from the Pharisaic stance which they have been witnessing and unite with the disciples of Jesus in doing the will of his Father, the content of which it is the burden of Jesus’ ministry to make clear. The mention of Jesus’ birth family allows 12:46-50 to function, along with 13:54-58, as a frame around the parables collection of 13:1-53.
R. T. France: This little cameo, apparently set inside a house, concludes the narrative section which has prepared the way for the discourse of ch. 13. Chapters 11–12 have revealed a wide variety of reactions to Jesus among his Galilean contemporaries, and the parables of ch. 13 will explain how such a divided response has come about. Most of the reactions noted, especially in ch. 12, have been hostile, but at the end of ch. 11 the mood was lightened by a brief glimpse of the “little ones” who have been able to perceive the truth (11:25–30), and now another ray of light concludes the section. As well as the seeds which have failed or are failing, there is also seed growing in good ground.
A. (:46-47) Limitation of Blood Family Relationships
- (:46) Teaching Time Interrupted by Arrival of Family Members
“While He was still speaking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him.”
D. A. Carson: The most natural way to understand “brothers” is that the term refers to sons of Mary and Joseph and thus to brothers of Jesus on his mother’s side. To support the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity, a notion foreign to the NT and to the earliest church fathers, Roman Catholic scholars have suggested that “brothers” refers either to Joseph’s sons by an earlier marriage or to sons of Mary’s sister, who had the same name (cf. McHugh, Mother of Jesus, 200ff.). Certainly “brothers” can have a wider meaning than male relatives (Ac 22:1); yet it is very doubtful whether such a meaning is valid here, for it raises insuperable problems.
Donald Hagner: The fact that no mention of Jesus’ father is made implies that he was no longer alive.
Grant Osborne: Matthew links this closely to the preceding controversy by saying Jesus was “still (ἔτι) talking to the crowds” (another temporal genitive absolute, see 1:18, 20; 2:1) when his mother and brothers arrived. Out of the wreckage of the nation’s rejection of him, Jesus has forged a new kingdom community. The use of “look” (ἰδού) three times in this pericope stresses the dynamic nature of the story.
Michael Wilkins: No reason is given for why his family wishes to speak to him. Mark indicates that his family wants to take control of Jesus and alter his ministry, because people think he is crazy (Mark 3:21; cf. John 7:5).
- (:47) Teaching Moment to Address Priority of Spiritual Family
“And someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’”
J. Ligon Duncan: Notice how Jesus turns a common event into an opportunity to reflect upon spiritual truth. It’s a very standard question. Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are on the outside. They want to speak to you.” He turns that interruption into an opportunity to ask His audience to reflect on the far more important spiritual question, “Who is in the family of God? Who belongs as a child to God the Father? Who is in the family of faith?” He takes a common event to focus us on a very important spiritual lesson. And we ought to do that as well. It is one of the gifts that God has given us as believers to have a spiritual outlook on the world. And if we will not call on people to look at common things with spiritual eyes, who is going to?
B. (:48-50) Priority of Spiritual Family Relationships
- (:48) Issue Raised Regarding Spiritual Family Relationships
“But He answered the one who was telling Him and said,
‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’”
D. A. Carson: Jesus’ searching question (v.48) and its remarkable answer (vv.49–50) in no way diminish his mother and brothers but simply give the priority to his Father and doing his will.
Walter Wilson: Jesus has already warned his followers that commitment to the messianic household (10:25) will bring them into conflict with both the “house” of Israel (10:6) and with members of their natural households (10:36), the latter including both parents and siblings (10:21, 35). Put differently, becoming his spiritual kin entails forfeiting the honor that accrues to one through conventional categories of birth and status, embracing instead an elective family as the source of personal identity and affective cohesion (cf. 19:29). The public exposure of tensions between the Messiah and members of his own family dramatizes this reconfiguration of status, even as it suggests how expectations governing relations between surrogate kin mirror those operative between biological kin.
Michael Wilkins: Jesus did not come to abolish the family, because he will continue to uphold the law that demands children to honor their father and mother (15:4). Instead, he stresses preeminence of a person’s commitment to Jesus and the kingdom of heaven above all other commitments. This will form a new spiritual family of disciples of Jesus.
- (:49) Intimate Relationship with Spiritual Family Members
“And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said,
‘Behold, My mother and My brothers!’”
Craig Blomberg: Given the strong family ties in ancient Palestine, Jesus’ attitude here would have proved as shocking as in 8:22 and 10:37 (on which see comments there). More positively he points to believers as people who should care for each other as if they were family members.
Grant Osborne: Spiritual roots are even deeper than genealogical roots, an incredible point in the society of that day that treasured genealogical lines.
J. Ligon Duncan: He’s teaching us there, among other things, that our ties as Christians, our ties as believers, are more important even than family ties. We have a saying that ‘blood is thicker than water,’ and over and over in our culture and community, we find that to be a practical truth. But Jesus is saying here that those for whom He has shed blood have been brought into a family that is even closer than families of blood kin. The Lord Jesus is teaching us that spiritual ties are the most important ties that there are. And then He waves His arms towards His disciples and He says, “These are My mother and My brother.”
- (:50) Identification of True Disciples = Spiritual Family Members
“For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven,
he is My brother and sister and mother.”
R. T. France: While presumably all religious people, including the Pharisees and Jesus’ family, would aim to “do the will of God,” the phrase as used by Jesus, with the more relational title “my Father who is in heaven,” clearly has a more specific focus on the sort of discipleship which he has outlined in chs. 5–7 and which was summed up as a “greater righteousness” than that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20).
Robert Gundry: So in the midst of persecution Jesus’ disciples may comfort and encourage themselves that they belong to the family to which he belongs, the family of his caring heavenly Father.
Leon Morris: Jesus is not saying that earthly familial ties are unimportant, only that they are not all-important. Doing the will of God is all-important.
Donald Hagner: The essence of discipleship is doing τὸ θέλημα τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς, “the will of my Father who is in heaven” (cf. 7:21, for the same phrase practically verbatim). The will of the Father is the righteousness taught by Jesus and is inseparable from the dawning of the kingdom and discipleship to Jesus.
Walter Wilson: Intimacy with Jesus is not a given, but is predicated upon obedience to the will (θέλημα) of the same Father to whom the Son himself owes obedience (26:42). This identification not only furnishes a theological foundation for reformulated relational ties (cf. 11:25–27) but also generates for participants specific practices and modes of behavior (cf. 6:9–10; 7:21; 18:14; 21:31).
Grant Osborne: Jesus alone knows the mind of the Father (11:27), so those rules for conduct are found in Jesus’ teaching. We are at the heart of Matthew’s gospel, where a life of faithfulness to God’s will is the core responsibility of the kingdom people. The idea of God’s guiding will is dynamic and especially related to Jesus’ kingdom teaching in Matthew’s gospel. Those who follow and keep these precepts are the family of God, Jesus’ “brother and sister and mother.”