What does Matthew chapter 12 mean?Matthew 12 follows Jesus' teachings in chapter 11, where He mourned over how people in those cities rejected Him. Here, He once again comes into conflict with local religious leaders. These mostly involve the ultra-legalistic, tradition-minded Pharisees. By this point in Jesus' ministry, they had begun to amplify their attacks, accusations, and attempts to trap Jesus into saying or doing something they could use against Him.
Jesus and His disciples are walking through a field of grain on the Sabbath, apparently on their way to the synagogue. The hungry disciples pluck heads of grain and eat them as they go along. While the eating of the grain is permissible according to Old Testament law, it violates the Pharisees' traditional rules about what counts as "work" on a Sabbath day. They confront Jesus, accusing His disciples of violating the fourth commandment (Matthew 12:1–2).
In response, Christ poses a series of questions. These show that the Pharisees' manmade standard for "working" on the Sabbath is faulty. Therefore, their accusation is empty. God's laws are meant to be followed, but they are also meant to be understood. Just as God's laws mean more than avoiding only physical sins (Matthew 5:27–28), they are also not meant to prevent men from doing good when the situation requires it. Going even further, Jesus declares Himself Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:3–8).
Afterwards, but on the same day, Jesus and His disciples enter the synagogue. The Pharisees have set Jesus up. A man with a withered hand is present, and they ask Jesus if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus again emphasizes mercy and insists it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. He heals the man. Rather than learning and repenting, the Pharisees deepen their conspiracy to destroy Jesus (Matthew 12:9–14).
Jesus temporarily withdraws, though the crowds keep following Him. Matthew references a passage from Isaiah about Israel and applies it to Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 12:15–21).
A demon-oppressed man is brought to Jesus. Because of the demon, the man cannot speak or see. Jesus heals him, and the man dramatically begins to do both. Those in the crowd ask if maybe Jesus is the Son of David, meaning the Messiah. This is exactly the response those miracles are intended to provoke. Proving their absolute hardness of spirit, the Pharisees immediately say Jesus only casts out demons by the power of Satan (Matthew 12:22–24).
Jesus rebukes their accusation with three arguments. First, why would Satan be divided against himself? Second, couldn't their accusation also go against any Pharisees who casts out a demon? Third, the Pharisees have missed the most important thing: The fact that Jesus casts out demons by the power of God's Spirit means the kingdom of God has come upon them (Matthew 12:25–28).
As the Messiah, Jesus had bound Satan in order to rescue citizens for God's kingdom. He is working against the prince of demons, not for him. Those who are not with Jesus are against Him. This is the passage where Jesus mentions blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In literal terms, this means seeing Christ perform a miracle and attributing that power to Satan. That act, itself, cannot be committed by anyone today. In a broader sense, those who persistently reject God are committing their own version of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Such absolute rebellion against God will not be forgiven (Matthew 12:29–32)
"Harsh" is a mild way to describe the condemnation Jesus applies to these Pharisees. They produce bad spiritual "fruit" for the same reason corrupt trees make inedible crops. He calls them a brood of vipers, pointing out that the words they say reveal the true nature of their hearts. This principle applies, in general, to all people as well: what we think and feel is the origin of what we say and do. Jesus warns everyone listening that they will be held accountable on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Matthew 12:33–37).
Some of the scribes and Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign. Of course, He has very recently performed miracles (Matthew 12:9–13, 22). By demanding yet another piece of evidence, these skeptics prove they are insincere. Those committed to disbelief will often claim that they need "just one more" proof or confirmation, which is a lie. In that spirit, Jesus replies that this is the attitude of an evil and spiritually unfaithful generation. The only sign He promises them to see is the sign of Jonah, who was in the belly of the huge fish for three days (Jonah 1:17). The Son of Man will also be in the heart of the earth for three days. This is another reference to His upcoming death, burial, and resurrection (Matthew 12:38–40).
At the end time judgment, the men of Nineveh who repented at Jonah's preaching (Jonah 3:6–9) will condemn the generation of unrepentant and unbelieving Israelites who saw Christ in person. Even those pagan, deeply wicked people were willing to submit to God's message. Likewise, the queen of the South, who traveled far to hear Solomon's wisdom (2 Chronicles 9:1) will condemn them, too, for ignoring the wisdom of the Messiah right in front of them (Matthew 12:41–42).
Jesus warns "this evil generation" of Israelites that, because of their unbelief and lack of repentance, they will be like a person possessed by eight evil demons after first being freed from one. He compares the situation to a "house"—a person—being freed of a demon and cleaned, only for the demon to return and find the "house" very much open to possession. So, the demon re-enters and brings along seven more, even more evil spirits. Christ may have come to fight against Satan in that generation of Israel, but if they reject Him, they'll be worse off afterwards than they were before (Matthew 12:43–45).
Finally, Jesus responds to news that His mother Mary and brothers want to talk to Him. Mark includes the fact that His half-siblings and mother are concerned about his mind (Mark 3:21). While He does not dismiss their presence, Jesus expands the idea of a true "family" in His response. He declares that His disciples and all who do the will of His Father in heaven are His brother and sister and mother (Matthew 12:31–35).