What does Matthew 12:36 mean?
ESV: I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,
NIV: But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.
NASB: But I tell you that for every careless word that people speak, they will give an account of it on the day of judgment.
CSB: I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak.
NLT: And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.
KJV: But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
Verse Commentary:
This is yet another reference to the day of judgment. This will happen at Christ's triumphant return to earth, also called the second coming or the day of the Lord. When Jesus returns, He will hold all people accountable for their words and actions. This includes even a person's "every careless word."

Scripture implies there will be two major judgments taking place in the end. Christ will be judge at both. One is for all who have rejected Christ (John 3:36) and refused God's gift of eternal life through putting their faith in Jesus (John 5:22–29; Revelation 20:11–15). Non-believers will be judged on their own righteousness and come up short of reaching God's standard (Romans 3:23). This is often referred to as the "white throne judgment."

The other judgment will be of those who are Christians. This is sometimes called the judgment seat of Christ, or the "Bema seat." There, Jesus will examine each believer's words and works and determine what rewards will be given or withheld in eternity (2 Corinthians 5:10). That judgment does not determine eternal destiny, nor can a believer lose their salvation there (John 10:28).
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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