What does Matthew 12:33 mean?
ESV: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.
NIV: Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.
NASB: Either assume the tree to be good as well as its fruit good, or assume the tree to be bad as well as its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.
CSB: "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.
NLT: A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.
KJV: Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.
NKJV: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.
Verse Commentary:
The Pharisees are enduring another rebuke from Christ. This comes in the aftermath of their unforgivable sin: to associate a miracle from Christ with Satanic power (Matthew 12:22–32). These kinds of interactions would have surprised many people of first-century Israel: the Pharisees were thought to be the best example of good. They posed as the model of faithfulness to God. As strict legalists, they measured their righteousness by keeping lists of rules and regulations, which were far more restrictive than the actual laws given through Moses.

Rather than praising their behavior, Jesus bluntly condemns them. It's common sense to judge the quality of a fruit tree by looking at what it produces: good or bad fruit. The Pharisees have shown their spiritual "fruit" in accusing Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be the Messiah. They have revealed the real nature of their hearts by claiming His power to cast out demons comes from Satan. In truth, they are the ones guilty of blasphemy.

In the final judgment, faith in Christ is the line in the sand (John 14:6). It's either the One, or nothing at all (John 3:36). Anyone who does not recognize Him as the Messiah is on the bad side of that line. By making such an obvious, hard-hearted attempt to reject Him (Matthew 12:24), the Pharisees leave no room to claim they merely made a mistake or didn't get it. Their rejection of Him shows they are actually evil in their hearts.
Verse Context:
Matthew 12:33–37 contains Jesus' harshest rebuke of the Pharisees in this chapter. The immediate context of this criticism is their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: attributing a miracle of Christ to Satan. Here again, Jesus explains how actions demonstrate a person's inner heart. That includes speech, which is the natural overflow of our thoughts and attitudes. Like a diseased tree, the Pharisees produce bad fruit. They are compared to vipers, associating them the Devil and evil. Echoing His teaching on God's perfect righteousness (Matthew 6:1, 5, 16), Jesus declares we are accountable for every word we say.
Chapter Summary:
Matthew 12 features confrontations between the Pharisees and Jesus over several issues. Among these are working on the Sabbath, healing on the Sabbath, and the source of His power to cast out demons. Jesus counters each argument and rebukes the Pharisees sharply for their obstinate unbelief. He even notes that those who maliciously ascribe His miracles to demons are unforgivable. He warns them, and the rest of their current generation, about the judgment to come. Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers and rejects their demand for another miracle. All they'll be promised is the sign of Jonah. The Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days. Jesus also states that all who do His Father's will are His family.
Chapter Context:
Matthew 11 depicted Jesus preaching and teaching after sending out His chosen disciples in pairs in chapter 10. Chapter 12 immediately picks up with more confrontation with the Pharisees. Jesus responds to those criticisms and rebukes their evil hearts as the source of their evil words. In the following chapter, Matthew will shift His focus onto Jesus' parables.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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