Scriptures

Matthew 12

Introduction

‘At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, ‘Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.’ Matthew 12:1-2

Jesus Is Lord Of The Sabbath

At that time, is the time after the second Passover of Jesus’ ministry. Luke 6:1. It’s important to remember that the legalistic Pharisees weren’t accusing the disciples of stealing the grain, Mark 2:23-3:6 / Luke 6:1-11.

Under the Old Testament law, a person had a right to pluck the grain from someone else’s field when travelling, though they couldn’t put a sickle to the crop, Deuteronomy 23:25.

They were accusing them of breaking their traditions of the Sabbath by doing the minor work of plucking out the grain on the Sabbath. Jesus and the disciples were violating one of the numerous laws the Pharisees had bound as a result of the traditions of the fathers in order that the Sabbath be kept. Exodus 20:10 / Exodus 36:2,3 / Numbers 15:32-36.

‘He answered, ‘Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent?’ Matthew 12:3-5

What Did David Do Exactly?

What David did was actually against lesser legalities of the law, 1 Samuel 21:1-7, for only the priests were to eat of the showbread, Exodus 25:30 / Leviticus 24:5-9 / Numbers 28:9-10 / 1 Samuel 21:6.

Though David’s actions were technically unlawful according to the law that forbade anyone eating the showbread other than the priests, there was a higher law of God that superseded the original law. That higher law was the preservation of David, God’s anointed. The Pharisees recognised this.

However, they justified David’s actions while at the same time complaining that Jesus and the disciples were breaking the law of the Sabbath. Jesus pointed out their inconsistent application of the law, though in this context Jesus and the disciples didn’t violate any Old Testament law. They violated the Pharisees’ interpretation of the Sabbath law.

The priests had to work in violation of Sabbath laws in order to prepare sacrifices because they had to work on the Sabbath in preparation for the sacrifices, Numbers 28:9-10. However, they were blameless because their God-ordained work to prepare sacrifices for the people superseded the law to rest on the Sabbath.

‘I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.’ Matthew 12:6

Someone greater than the temple is here is a clear reference to Christ, Isaiah 66:1-2 / Matthew 12:41-42. Jesus was more glorious than the temple that the Jews honoured above all things on earth. Haggai 2:7-9 / 2 Chronicles 6:18 / Malachi 3:1 / Hebrews 3:3.

‘If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’ Matthew 12:7

Sacrifice was a law of God. However, mercy was a higher law of God. The Pharisees in their legal understanding and application of the law could not understand this principle concerning the laws of God Hosea 6:6 / Micah 6:6-8.

Jesus here attacks the judgmental attitudes of the Pharisees that motivated them to criticise the plucking of the grain. The One who was in their midst was the One who had authority over the Sabbath. Jesus was of the triune God who instituted the Sabbath. Mark records that Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man, Mark 2:27.

He explained that God had intended for the Sabbath command to provide relief for man, not be an additional burden. The Sabbath was made for the benefit of man, for on the Sabbath men were to rest from their labours, Exodus 20:11. The Pharisees thought that man was made for the Sabbath.

In other words, they believed that God made the Sabbath a holy day of worship in order that men renew their spiritual life and worship God on this day. However, God intended it to be a day of rest for man, Exodus 20:10-11. It was thus a law that was established for the physical well-being of man.

Jesus proclaimed His authority over the Sabbath saying that He Himself was Lord of the Sabbath, Mark 2:27-28. If Jesus created the Sabbath, surely, He knew what activities violated it.

The Sabbath was supposed to be a day of blessings and relaxation, free from work but the Jews had turned into a bunch of rules which consisted of dos and don’ts, and with over 613 laws, they always found a way around them.

In reference to the nation of Israel, the Sabbath was given to national Israel as a sign between God and the nation of Israel. When the Old Testament law was abolished, the Sabbath law was also taken away, Colossians 2:16.

‘Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ Matthew 12:8-10

The events recorded in Matthew 12:9-10 took place on another Sabbath than the one in the previous verses. Mark 3:1-5 / Luke 6:6-10 / John 5:10 / John 7:23.

The legalistic Pharisees are here more concerned over the violation of their Sabbath laws than the healing of this man. Such manifests the hypocrisy of religion that is based on an outward manifestation of a legal presentation of religiosity without concentration on the heart for spiritual change.

The Pharisees here seek another opportunity to accuse Jesus of violating their laws of the Sabbath, Mark 7:6-9. They do such in order to accuse Him before the people that He violates the law.

‘He said to them, ‘If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Matthew 12:11-12

Mark records that at this time Jesus was angered by their hardened hearts, Mark 3:5. It seems that they didn’t doubt that Jesus could miraculously heal the withered hand.

They wanted to see if He would do such on the Sabbath. If He did such work on the Sabbath, then they could accuse Him of working against their laws of the Sabbath.

The real conflict here is between the legal and earthly interests of the Pharisees as opposed to the human interests of Jesus. Jesus pointed out that if the Pharisees’ material interests were in danger on the Sabbath, they would do what was necessary to rescue a sheep. However, they were here critical of Jesus because of His human interest in healing on the Sabbath.

By asking, ‘is it lawful’? Jesus was saying that it was always right to do good, Galatians 6:10. It was simply right to do good on the Sabbath in reference to human interests because men are more important than sheep.

‘Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So, he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.’ Matthew 12:13-14

Notice Mark 3:3, Jesus asks the man ‘to stand up in front of everyone’, Jesus wanted to really make a point to these teachers of the Law, He didn’t hide what He was doing. Jesus then told him to stretch his hand out.

Apparently, He neither touched him nor did any other physical thing, He merely asked the man to reach his hand out. When he did, it was healed. Jesus’ critics were furious and began plotting to assassinate Him.

To Save A life Or To Kill!

In Mark 3:4 Jesus asked His opponents, ‘should one save a life or kill on the Sabbath?’ They chose not to reply, which showed that they were not interested in truth, but only wanted to discredit Him.

It is always easy to find fault, but it’s much harder to give a positive recommendation. Normally Christ healed men by laying His hands on them or performing some other physical sign.

If He had accompanied the healing by physical action, in this case, they would have attacked Him for doing medical work on the Sabbath, something contrary to their tradition.

This time, however, Jesus did nothing, He merely told the man to reach his hand out. Mark 3:5. Even Jesus’ enemies didn’t believe it wrong to stretch out your hand on the Sabbath.

Thus, He outsmarted His opponents and they were furious. When a man in an argument begins to get angry, it is a sure sign that he is losing.

As it turned out, Jesus’ enemies are the ones who plotted to kill on the Sabbath, because He had done good. The Pharisees and the Herodians who actually were enemies of each other, joined forces to get rid of Jesus.

The Pharisee’s actions show the hardness of heart of those who profess a legal-oriented religion. The Pharisees cared nothing for the man with the withered hand.

Their concern was for their doctrinal strictness in keeping their traditions in reference to the keeping of the Sabbath. By upholding their legal practices in reference to the Sabbath they were maintaining their arrogant positions of leadership among the people.

At this time in the controversy between Jesus and the religious leaders, the tension begins to grow. The Pharisees at this time in the ministry of Jesus schemed to remove Jesus, Luke 6:11.

He was in competition with their positions of leadership, their hypocritical lives and inconsistent beliefs. They were infuriated because He manifested the inconsistencies of their theology and the callousness of their hearts.

Because these religious leaders couldn’t consistently argue with Jesus through correct reasoning from the Old Testament Scriptures, they were frustrated to the point of killing Him.

Religions that are developed with an emphasis on outward appearances and ceremonial worship are often hypocritical in the sense that people can be members of such religions without changing hearts.

The religious leaders in this context manifested the hypocrisy of such religions by planning evil when professing a form of righteousness, Mark 3:6 / Luke 6:11 / John 5:18 / John 10:39 John 11:53.

God’s Chosen Servant

‘Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.” Matthew 12:15-20

Being aware that the Pharisees and the Herodians were plotting to kill Him, Mark 3:6, Jesus withdrew from that place and went to Galilee, Mark 3:7.

Once again a large crowd followed Him and He healed all who were ill, Mark 3:7-12. Jesus again, to avoid being swarmed by other people warned them not to tell others about what he had done for them, Matthew 8:4 / Matthew 9:30 / Matthew 17:9.

The New Testament finds the fulfilment of this prophecy written by Isaiah, Isaiah 42:1-4, in Jesus Christ. Isaiah speaks of how the Messiah brings to the Gentiles, Romans 1:17 / Galatians 3:11 / Hebrews 10:38, God’s right judgement in a peaceful way, Luke 4:18-21, for the New Testament fulfilment. Jesus certainly had the Spirit on Him, John 3:34.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following, concerning ‘my Spirit’.

‘The Lord Jesus was divine, yet as Mediator he is everywhere represented as ‘the anointed’ of God, or as endowed with the influences of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah 11:2. Also, Isaiah 61:1, where the Messiah says of himself, ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because be hath anointed me’, Luke 4:18. Before he entered upon his public ministry, the Spirit of God descended on him at his baptism, Matthew 3:17, and in all his work he showed that he was endowed abundantly with that Spirit.’

Isaiah tells how the Messiah will manifest Himself in the world as a quiet, gentle, and humble individual, the opposite of self-seeking, Matthew 6:1-7. He will draw all men to Himself, John 8:28 / John 12:32, and He will bring justice to the downtrodden. His mission is not to destroy but to seek and to save, Luke 19:10.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The bruised reed is a symbol of the soul, broken and contrite on account of sin, weeping and mourning for transgression. He will not break it. That is, he will not be severe, unforgiving, and cruel. He will heal it, pardon it, and give it strength.’

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The metaphor of the smoking flax referred to the string-like fabric, or wick, one end of which was contained in the bowl of ancient lamps, and the other end lighted. Flax was the material of which such wicks were made. ‘Smoking flax’ indicated a lamp, nearly out of fuel, and almost ready to go out.’

The Messiah will not be broken nor His strength diminished until He brings the redemption, in other words, He will accomplish His mission, Ephesians 2:12.

Jesus was the fulfilment of all that Israel was supposed to be, Isaiah 36:6 / Ezekiel 29:6. In the New Testament, Matthew quotes this whole passage, stating that the prophet Isaiah had written this, and applying every word of it to Jesus Christ.

Jesus And Beelzebul

‘Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” Matthew 12:22-24

This is the second time they said Jesus was working for the devil, Matthew 9:32-24, and please note in this account we have a man who is demon-possessed, blind and mute but in the previous account, we have a man who is demon-possessed and mute, Matthew 9:32-24.

A man who was demon-possessed, blind and mute was brought to Jesus, Matthew 11:5 / Mark 7:32 / Luke 7:22, and so, Jesus drove the spirit out of him and the man was able to speak and see.

The crowd were amazed and asked, ‘could this be the Son of David?’ in other words, they were asking if Jesus was the Messiah, Matthew 1:1 / Matthew 9:27 / Matthew 21:9.

The Pharisees, who couldn’t deny what had just happened, accredited the miracle to ‘Beelzebul, the prince of demons’. The prince of demons is the devil, and so they were saying that Jesus was working on behalf of the devil, Mark 3:22 / Luke 11:15 / John 7:20ff / Acts 5:39. They were desperately seeking to discredit Him and diminish His influence.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Beelzebub’ was a combination of two ancient words, ‘Baal’, the name of the old god of the Canaanites, and ‘zebul’, meaning ‘dunghill’, 2 Kings 1:2 / 2 Kings 1:16. In the lore of the Pharisees, ‘Baal-zebul’, or Beelzebub, as he came to be called, was said to be the prince of devils or demons. How shameful it was that they linked the name of the Saviour with that false god.

‘Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.’ Matthew 12:25-30

Once again we read that Jesus knows the thoughts and hearts of people, Matthew 9:4 / John 2:25 / Revelation 2:23.

Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ accusation by telling them if Satan was really driving out Satan, then Satan’s kingdom was being destroyed. In other words, Satan can’t work against himself by driving out his own demons.

1. He said that it would be unreasonable and even disastrous for the devil to begin attacking himself. Civil wars don’t produce strong kingdoms.

Josephus, says the following.

‘I have seen a certain man of my own country, whose name was Eleazer, releasing people that were demoniacal, in the presence of Vespasian and his sons and captains. He put a ring to the nostrils of the demoniac, and drew the demon out through his nostrils, making mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed.’

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Christ was not satisfied by showing them the intrinsic absurdity of their argument. He showed them that it might as well be applied to them as to him. your disciples, taught by you and encouraged by you, pretend to cast out devils. If your argument is true that a man who casts out devils must be in league with the devil, then ‘your disciples’ have made a covenant with him also. You must therefore either give up this argument or admit that the working of miracles is proof of the assistance of God.’

2. Christ explained that He had come to rob the strong man, the devil, taking from him the souls that had been under his control. Logically, He would need to disarm Satan to accomplish this goal, so expelling demons was a predictable facet of His strategy.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘A man could not break into the house of a strong man and take his property unless he had rendered the man himself helpless. If he had taken his goods, it would therefore be sufficient proof that he had bound the man. So I, says he, have taken this ‘property, this possessed person’, from the dominion of Satan. It is clear proof that I have subdued ‘Satan himself’, the ‘strong’ being that had him in possession. The words ‘or else’ mean ‘or how’, ‘how, or in what way, can one, etc’.’

3. He warned of the serious consequences of hardening one’s heart to the point of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. These scribes were demonstrating a malicious and possibly fatal attitude toward the work of God.

Jesus tells them that it’s through the power of the Holy Spirit that He was driving our demons. Luke records that Jesus did this by ‘the finger of God’, Luke 11:20.

Because Jesus was demonstrating God’s power, Exodus 8:19 / Psalms 8:3, they should recognise that the kingdom of God has come upon them, Matthew 3:2, that is, the King has arrived and is about to establish His kingdom, Daniel 2:44 / Daniel 7:24 / Luke 1:22 / Luke 11:20 / Luke 17:20-21.

Jesus tells the people it’s time to decide for themselves, they are either with Him or against Him. They are either with God or with Satan. They couldn’t sit on the fence with this, Matthew 6:24 / Matthew 16:24-26 / Mark 9:40, they had to decide one or the other.

‘And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’ Matthew 12:31-32

Blasphemy Against The Holy Spirit

Mark 3:19 tells us that Jesus and His followers returned to the town and when this was known, the crowds came together again, and the situation was as bad as ever. Furthermore, the Scribes had arrived from Jerusalem, bent on discrediting Him, because He was becoming far too popular and influential for their liking!

They had come no doubt, because the local Pharisees had reported the growing popularity and influence of Jesus and urged that, something should be done about it. In fact, the Pharisees in Capernaum had formed an alliance with the Herodians and were planning to kill Jesus.

Now, that in itself, shows how much they hated him. An alliance of Pharisees and Herodians was unlikely as and incredible as an alliance of Conservatives and Socialists today, considering the depth of the hatred the Pharisees and Herodians had for each other.

The very fact that these two parties had even spoken to each other was amazing because the Pharisees were the ones who kept strictly to the Law of Moses and whilst the Herodians were supporters of the Romans.

Well, they had to be, considering the fact that the Romans had made Herod, their family head, King of the Jews and given him authority over Galilee. The line of attack adopted by the Jerusalem scribes is stated in Mark 3:22.

He is under the control of Beelzebub, and he casts out demons because He is in league with the Devil. Now, although Mark does not record the account of the detail, both Mathew and Luke do.

They tell us, in Matthew 12 and, Luke 11 of their Gospels, that Jesus had healed a man who was blind and dumb, but, instead of accepting the miracle for what it was and intended to be, namely, proof of identity, proof that He was their long-awaited Messiah, they deliberately tried to discredit Him by accusing Him of being in league with the Devil.

Now, first of all, Jesus reasons with them. He is aware of the fact that the Scribes have been moving among the people trying to turn them against Him, seeking to discredit Him and undermine His influence, and he says, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’ ‘You accept that the man was under the influence of Satan, so why would Satan want to heal him? Would not that mean that Satan is working against himself? Is it not true that a house divided against itself cannot stand?’ Matthew 12:25-30

And, again, ‘It is not possible to take anything out of the house of a strong man unless you first disable the strong man! You must first bind the strong men, and then you can take his possessions!’ ‘You know very well that your argument is false!’ Furthermore, ‘if I cast out demons with the help of Satan, by whose help do your sons claim to cast them out?’ Matthew 12:25-30

But then, Jesus changes His tone, He issues a warning. Taking note of what Matthew and Luke also say about this incident, Jesus says to the Scribes, ‘You may blaspheme, say what you like, speak injuriously, or critically about Me. You may misrepresent Me, and you can be forgiven but you are in danger of eternal condemnation when you blaspheme the Holy Spirit by Whom this man has been made well!’

These religious leaders were sinning against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, by whose power the man had been healed, when they deliberately refused to recognise that by means of this and all other miracles performed by Jesus, the Holy Spirit testified that Jesus is the Son of God.

In effect, these men were committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit by declaring that the Spirit of Truth is a liar. He had not performed the miracle, but Satan had! And the miracle did not prove that Jesus is the Christ. The Holy Spirit was lying about that also.

I don’t need to tell you that these are some of the most serious words that ever came from the lips of Jesus Christ, Matthew 12:31-32. In fact, the more you study this passage, the more terrible it reveals itself to be. It seems that Jesus is indicating a position into which if a man enters his case has become hopeless.

He says, ‘It is possible for us to adopt an attitude that makes it impossible for even God to forgive us.’ And for that very reason whenever we read this passage, either in the Gospel of Matthew or in the other Gospels, we ought to be very careful how we treat it.

There are 2 possibilities with this passage. There are 2 ways of dealing with it.

1. There is the possibility of reading into the words, something that isn’t really there, and making it say something that even Jesus never meant them to say.

2. It is possible to water it down so much, that you deprive them entirely of its meaning and its terribleness.

I think this subject is an interesting one. And I think it is interesting because some people may think that they have committed the unforgivable sin.

And even if you don’t think that at least it’s a curious subject. It’s mysterious and it’s strange and terrible and it’s fascinating. It’s also a subject, which has caused a great deal of confusion.

Consequently, a great many speculative theories have been put forward about it. Some of the theories have been so confused and so involved they haven’t helped anybody, they have only created further uncertainty and difficulty.

Surely it has to be possible to know what Jesus meant. I can’t believe God has allowed this passage to be put into His Word by the inspiration of the Spirit and He wants to keep us in the dark about it. Especially with such a serious matter as ‘the unforgivable sin’ is involved.

To understand the meaning of Jesus we’ve got to go back to the original setting. Here is a demon-possessed man, and consequently because of that, he is blind and dumb. And he is brought to Jesus and the man is miraculously cured by Jesus.

Now the people standing around are amazed at this demonstration of divine power and they say, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’ Matthew 12:23.

They believe like Nicodemus that no man could do these miracles except if God is with him. But the Pharisees as usual tried to discredit Him. They say something that even before the words left their lips they must have known was not true.

They say, ‘It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons,’ Matthew 12:24. In other words, they deliberately turned their back on the miracle, a miracle that ought to have convinced them that Jesus was the Son of God because remember that is what the miracles were designed to do. John 20:30-31.

And they say, ‘Now this man’s not the Son of God, and the power that He manifests isn’t God’s power either, He works miracles only because He is in league with the devil, the one who really performed that miracle was the devil himself,’ Matthew 12:24.

Now this means they not only spoke against Jesus, but they spoke against the Holy Spirit by whose power the miracle was performed.

Now, remember that Jesus said in Matthew 12:28 ‘If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God.’ So, Jesus claims that this was a demonstration of the Spirit’s power through Him. But they blind themselves to that and they not only insult Jesus but by doing that they speak wicked and insulting words against the Holy Spirit Himself.

Now you can see the sin by which these men were guilty. Jesus describes in Matthew 12:31-32 in 2 different ways. He calls it first of all, ‘Blasphemy against the Spirit’ in verse 31, then in verse 32 He calls it, ‘Speaking against the Spirit’.

Now notice that Jesus didn’t regard this as an attack against Himself. Of course, they were making an attack on Jesus obviously, that was the whole idea in their minds.

They spoke against Him when they made this wicked charge. Jesus interprets what they say as directly against the Holy Spirit and for once in His life, Jesus regarded the attitude of these men to be so terrible that He lowered Himself to reply to them.

Now very often when Jesus was attacked by these people, He just ignored the attack, 1 Peter 2:23. Jesus wasn’t concerned on the whole about defending Himself against attack.

But on this occasion when the Holy Spirit was under attack, Jesus said, ‘Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’ Matthew 12:32.

Notice it is ‘a sin’ against the Holy Spirit. Notice I said, ‘a sin’ against the Holy Spirit, not ‘the sin’ against the Holy Spirit. Because it is one sin, of many possible sins against the Spirit. And there is something else to notice too.

The passage doesn’t say that ‘any sin or all sin against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable.’ And it doesn’t teach us that there is only one sin against the Spirit. After all the New Testament tells us that there are several sins against the Holy Spirit, there are several ways in which we may sin against the Spirit of God.

Hebrews 10:29 we read of the sin of, ‘despising the Spirit of grace’. Now that’s the sin that the Hebrew Christians were endanger of committing.

Remember that the Hebrew letter was written to Jews who had been converted to Christianity but seemed to want to go back to the old Law. They seemed to have the idea that in becoming Christian they had perhaps sacrificed more than they had accepted.

They had a longing for some of the outdated, superseded ceremonies of the Law of Moses. Which really meant that they were looking back when the author had been looking forward. And the writer tells them, if you keep on looking back, there is only one end to that, you’re going to end up going back.

And if that happens, if you go back after confessing Jesus, you are committing sin because you’re treating the Holy Spirit with disgrace, you’re affronting the Holy Spirit. After all, He is the Spirit of grace. He brought you to the light.

He led you to the blessings of Christ and to go back now, will be to insult Him. And every time a Christian turns their back on Jesus Christ and goes back into the world that person is committing the sin of, ‘despising the Spirit of grace.’

Again, in Acts 5, you have the sin committed by Ananias and Sapphira. In Acts 5:3 / Acts 5:9 the sin is described in 2 ways. It’s described as, ‘lying to the Spirit and testing the Spirit’.

1. All these people try to deceive the apostles, particularly Peter by pretending that a part of the price they received from the sale of a piece of land was all of the price.

And Peter points out to them that their sin has really not been a sin against man at all. They have tested or tempted or tried the Holy Spirit by lying to Him.

Now this sin of lying at this particular moment was certainly for these people, ‘a sin that leads to death’, to use the expression John uses in 1 John 5:16. But that’s not necessarily the unforgivable sin. It’s not even described as the unforgivable sin.

Again in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and we discover that certain sins of impurity, certain sins of immorality in Christians are sins against the Holy Spirit.

He says, ‘Do you not know that your body’. He’s not talking about the church, the body of Christ. He’s talking about your physical body. And as a Christian therefore he says that ‘the Holy Spirit dwells in you’.

You receive the indwelling presence of the Spirit at your baptism. God’s given the Spirit to all them that obey Him, Peter says in Acts 5:32. His presence in your body marks you out as holy, sanctified, set apart for God. And therefore, as Christians, we should be on our guard against any kind of conduct.

Any habit of personal life that is unclean or harmful or unhealthy to our moral or our mental or our physical health. The particular sin that is described in the passage of course is the sin of immorality.

And such a sin says Paul is a sin against the Holy Spirit who lives within you and makes your body the temple of God because He detests impurity.

Again, in Ephesians 4:30 there is another sin against the Holy Spirit mentioned. ‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.’ Now in this passage when you read the context you will discover that Paul is talking about the things that people say. The things that Christians can say, are the way we use our tongue.

He is saying, ‘Look, you have received the Holy Spirit as a token that God intends to redeem you outright one day, therefore watch your tongue, watch your language, watch the things you say, do not cause pain or sorrow but let your words give grace and not offence.’ And again, it relates to purity. Purity of speech and thought.

And then finally and there are others, but I am trying to demonstrate the various sins against the Holy Spirit that can be committed. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 Paul says, ‘do not put out the Spirit’s fire.’ Or ‘do not quench the Spirit.’

The Holy Spirit is in your life as a Christian. He’s there to prompt you to zeal and enthusiasm. He’s there to show you how best to serve God.

But when you refuse to act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit in your life. When you refuse to be led to greater service for Him. When you know what to do and you don’t do it. When you know how to be a greater use to God and you refuse to act, then you suffocate the voice of the Holy Spirit in your life.

To an extent that He loses His influence on you. And just as a fire can be put out by water, so you can restrain and dampen down and quench the Spirit of God.

And ultimately, if you treat the Holy Spirit like this, He will leave your life. He won’t constantly try to struggle in your life at all, but He will leave you to yourself. And so, the latter end of you is worse than the beginning, Matthew 12:45 / 2 Peter 2:20.

Now all of these are sins that can be committed against the Holy Spirit. And something else notice. They are all sins that are committed by Christians.

There’s not one of these that applies to the Non-Christian. They all relate to the believer’s attitude and relationship to the Spirit of God. But you’re not told that any one of these is the ‘unforgivable sin’.

Let’s be honest, if any one of these sins was an unforgivable sin, how many of us would be saved? How many of us as Christians who have not at one time or another committed one of the offences that I have just talked about? So, these aren’t the unforgivable sins.

Let’s look at the way that Jesus describes this particular sin. He calls it in Matthew 12:31-32, ‘Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.’ Now blasphemy is ‘evil speaking’. In that sense, you can blaspheme anyone with evil words against them. But in the Bible sense, blasphemy means, ‘Evil speaking against deity’.

It’s a very old sin. Leviticus 24, we find possibly the earliest mention of ‘blasphemy’ in the Bible. And that’s the time when Moses had received the Law from God and there is a man there. The son of an Israelite woman who has married an Egyptian, who has said to have blasphemed the name with a curse.

Now blaspheming the name; is the name of God. And even it seems at that moment that this was such a terrible thing that even Moses was at a loss to know what to do.

Nobody had ever behaved like this before certainly not among the people of God. And so, Moses goes to God and lays the matter before God and he asks God what to do, Leviticus 24:16.

Now there is no misunderstanding of the penalty of the sin. And throughout the Old Testament, whenever this particular sin of blasphemy against God was committed either by word of mouth or by attitude, this particular sentence was carried out; people were stoned to death for blasphemy.

They even did it during the times of Jesus. Jesus heals a paralysed man and He said, ‘Son your sins have been forgiven.’ Luke 5:20. And His enemies said in Luke 5:21, ‘This man speaks blasphemy.’

Another time, Jesus said, ‘I and my father are one’. John 10:30. And they picked up stones to stone Him. And they said, ‘For blasphemy, because you being a man, are making yourself equal with God.’ John 10:33.

And they were perfectly logical because there are many people today who don’t believe that Jesus Christ is God or that He is equal with God. They are much more stupid than the Jews at the time of Jesus because of all their hatred and opposition they raised against Him, they certainly understood the significance of His words.

They recognised that Jesus was indeed claiming to be God. And in their eyes, that was blasphemy and they were ready to carry out the sentence of the Law.

Now not all blasphemy is unforgivable. Jesus said it, He said in Matthew 12:31, ‘Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men.’ And again, He says in Matthew 12:32, ‘Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven.’ And He’s talking about blasphemy.

We have an example of that, haven’t we? The apostle Paul, says in 1 Timothy 1:13, ‘Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy’. Now, why? Because his blasphemy was against the name of Christ and not against the Holy Spirit.

It is true when he attacked the Lord Jesus, he attacked the Holy Spirit too but in his heart. Even when his heart was full of hatred for the Christians, even when he opposed the name of Christ, Paul in a misguided way thought he was serving God.

He loved God and he respected the Spirit of God, so he was not in his heart blaspheming the Holy Spirit, but the name of Jesus and he received forgiveness.

Now there is a theory that says that the unforgivable sin is the sin of ‘refusing to believe the Gospel and dying in sin’. And that’s the explanation that is often given as ‘the unforgivable sin’.

They say that through the Gospel the Holy Spirit is pleading with men to accept Jesus as Saviour and when they refuse to accept that testimony, they are just like the Pharisees committing the sin of blasphemy, the unforgivable sin.

Well, if that were the case. If the unforgivable sin were the sin of refusing the Gospel of Christ and dying in sin, it couldn’t be committed before the Day of Pentecost, when the Gospel was first preached.

And yet Jesus says to these Pharisees in Matthew 12:32, ‘Anyone who commits this sin will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’ Jesus isn’t saying, ‘This sin has any forgiveness in this life and the life that is yet to come.’

Everyone knows that when we get to the Day of Judgment, forgiveness for any sin is passed. So Jesus isn’t talking foolishness. He’s saying to the Pharisees. ‘Look anybody that commits this particular sin has no forgiveness, here and now, in the age in which you and I live, or in the age which is to come, when the Gospel will be preached.’

And again, when you think about if the unforgivable sin is the sin of refusing the Gospel invitation, rejecting the Gospel. You only have to do that once to commit that unforgivable sin. And if we say that to commit this sin a man must refuse the Gospel and go on refusing it until the day that he dies. What’s so startlingly new about that idea?

Didn’t Jesus say much more plainly in John 8:24, ‘If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.’

Anybody knows that if people persistently refuse the Gospel time and time again and go on refusing it until they die their sins won’t be forgiven. But this isn’t ‘the unforgivable sin’ in the sense in which Jesus is talking about it here.

Remember that we are dealing with a sin against the Holy Spirit and not against Jesus. But the failure to obey the Gospel would be no more blasphemy against the Holy Spirit than it would be blasphemy against God or against Christ.

Because Romans 1:1 says, ‘The gospel is the gospel of God.’ Galatians 1:7 says, ‘It is the gospel of Christ.’ So, to refuse the Gospel is as much a sin against God and against Christ as it is a sin against the Holy Spirit.

Now in Matthew 12:27-32 and again in Mark 3:23-29, the sin that Jesus is talking about is shown to be something directly and particularly against the Holy Spirit. It was by the Holy Spirit that that particular miracle was performed.

And the Pharisees had said, ‘He has an unclean Spirit.’ Mark 3:22 / Matthew 12:24. Now that’s how they thought about the Holy Spirit. ‘The Spirit of God was an evil Spirit’, they said.

Now you must have noticed that they didn’t deny that the miracle had been performed. If they could have disproved the miracle by showing that Jesus had some kind of trick and that He was a conjurer or a magician. They would have discredited Jesus, but they didn’t try to do that, they didn’t even suggest it.

If they had accused Jesus of fraud, they would have been speaking against Him, which wouldn’t have been the unforgivable sin as Jesus says.

These men went beyond Jesus and they made a direct attack on the Holy Spirit and what they actually did was to call the Holy Spirit a wicked Spirit, an unclean Spirit, the Spirit of the devil. In other words, it was a deliberate attack on the Spirit of Holiness.

Indeed, the very way that Jesus puts it shows that we’re not dealing with an indifferent rejection of the message of the Spirit like we get in the world today when people refuse to become Christians.

But with something aggressive, something deliberate, something active. And that’s what He means when He uses that expression, ‘speaking against the Holy Spirit.’

Remember that Stephen was accused of ‘attacking’ God and Moses and the temple. They said in Acts 6:11, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’

In other words, they accused Stephen of launching an attack on God. And that’s exactly what these men were doing. They were launching an attack on the Holy Spirit.

In fact, Stephen implies that the Jews were always doing that in Acts 7:51 he says, ‘You stiff-necked people, you always resist the Holy Spirit!’ In other words, ‘You always fight against the Holy Spirit, you are always in opposition to the Holy Spirit’.

So why is this particular sin unforgivable? And why should a sin be unforgivable? Is it because God will not forgive it? Surely that can’t be the answer.

Surely God hasn’t marked out one particular sin as being so hideous and wicked, so terrible and grievous that He says, ‘No’. ‘Murder, I’ll forgive that, lying, I’ll forgive that, immorality, I’ll even forgive that, blasphemy against Jesus, yes I’ll forgive that, I forgave Paul for doing that, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, No I draw the line there.’

Does God behave like that? Of course, not. That’s an impossible theory, to suggest that there is one sin that God will not forgive is utterly out of keep of all that you know about the character of God.

Because time and time again God has shown us, pleading with men, ‘repent then, why will you die.’ We are shown a God whose deepest longing is for men to turn to God and be forgiven Isaiah 1:18 / 2 Peter 3:9. And we could go on.

The next question usually asked concerning this sin is whether or not it is still possible to commit it today? Opinions on this question certainly vary, and scholars seem to be divided in their positions. The evidence, however, seems to point toward the idea that this sin cannot be committed today.

1. The circumstances under which the sin is described cannot prevail today, due to the fact that the age of miracles has ceased, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. No one today will have the opportunity to witness Jesus performing miracles in person. 2 Corinthians 5:16.

2. There is no other mention of the sin in any Biblical passage written after the resurrection of Christ.

None of the inspired New Testament writers refers to the sin in any epistle or the Book of Acts, and none offers warnings to new converts about avoiding the sin post-Pentecost.

In conclusion, ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ is the only ‘unforgivable sin’ mentioned in the Bible, and it is mentioned in the context of the Pharisees accusing Jesus of being possessed by the devil.

The context indicates that it was a specific sin, and not a series of forgivable sins, or an attitude of persistent unbelief. After the resurrection, no inspired writer mentions the sin, and no warnings against it were recorded.

There is no concrete evidence that it can be committed today. The fact that it’s not mentioned after the resurrection, lends itself to the idea that it cannot still be committed.

In fact, the indication from passages such as 1 John 1:7 / 1 John 1:9 is that ‘all unrighteousness’ that a person could commit today can be forgiven by the blood of Jesus.

‘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. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:33-37

Jesus now asks the Pharisees to use some common sense in their thinking. He says a good fruit tree is proof that the tree itself is good, Matthew 7:16-20, then surely because Jesus was doing good by driving out demons is proof that it was God was wat at work through Jesus, not the devil, Matthew 7:15-20 / John 9:25 / John 9:30 / John 9:33.

Jesus calls them a brood of vipers, Matthew 3:7 / Matthew 23:33 / John 8:44, and tells them their hearts are not right with God, Proverbs 4:23.

If their hearts were right with God then their hearts would produce good things, but because their hearts were filled with evil, then evil words came from their mouths, Matthew 15:18 / Luke 6:45 / Ephesians 4:29 / James 3:2-12 / 3 John 9-10.

Jesus then states that everyone will have to give an account of Judgment Day, Matthew 12:41, for every ‘empty word’ they have spoken. In other words, every word they have spoken against God in an evil manner will be accountable.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Words’ are the indication of the true principles of the heart, by ‘words’ the heart shall be known, as the tree is by its fruit. If they are true, proper, chaste, instructive, pious, they will prove that the heart is right. If false, envious, malignant, and impious, they will prove that the heart is wrong, and will therefore be among the causes of condemnation. It is not meant that words will be the only thing that will condemn man, but that they will be an important part of the things for which he shall be condemned, James 3:3-12.’

In other words, by our speech, James 2:21-25, we will be judged either to be justified or condemned.

The Sign Of Jonah

‘Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” Matthew 12:38

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law now ask Jesus to show them a sign, Matthew 16:1 / Mark 8:11 / John 2:18. Luke tells us they wanted to see a sign from heaven, Luke 11:16.

After everything which Jesus has said and all the evidence of the miracles He has already performed up to this point should have been sign enough that He is the Christ John 2:18 / John 3:2 / John 4:6 / Mark 8:11 / Luke 11:16 / John 2:18 / John 6:30.

‘He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’ Matthew 12:39-40

Jesus’ response says it all really, they were a wicked and adulterous generation.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The relation of the Jews to God was represented as a marriage contract with God as the husband and the Jewish people as his wife, Isaiah 57:3 / Hosea 3:1 / Ezekiel 16:15. Hence, their apostasy and idolatry are often represented as adultery.’

The only sign which Jesus would show was the sign of Jonah, John 1:17, who was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and night, which is a clear reference to Jesus being buried in the tomb for three days and nights, Matthew 16:21 / Ephesians 4:9, and rise from the grave, Psalms 16:10.

Was the body of Jesus really in the grave for three days and nights?

Well, if we’re looking for the chronological accuracy of which our modern world is so proud, with its time-pieces which, for an age that is virtually controlled by the clock, make it possible to calculate time down to parts of a second, I think we shall be disappointed.

A Principle Of Interpretation

Here’s a fact which should always be borne in mind when attempting to determine the meaning of Biblical words and phrases. Words are like tokens or counters, they have no intrinsic value, that is, no value in themselves. They depend on the meaning that is attached to them by the people using them.

We must ask ourselves, what did that word or that expression mean to the people who used it at that time? In the case of the words we’re studying, the Jewish rulers who heard Jesus make this statement revealed what they understood it to mean, when they went to Pilate the Roman Governor, to request that a guard be placed at the tomb of Jesus.

They said, ‘We remember that that deceiver said while he was yet alive, ‘After three days I will rise again’. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day.’ Matthew 27:63-64.

I suggest that an understanding of this principle of interpretation will help us to understand both Matthew 12:40 and many other puzzling passages.

The Reckoning Of Time

In 1988, Professor Stephen Hawking gained worldwide celebrity when he produced his book, ‘A Brief History of Time’, and man’s fascination with time-keeping never diminishes.

But in the New Testament age, the reckoning of time was a relative calculation, and people of that age would probably never even have asked the question which we’re now considering, not only because they didn’t possess the technology that we now possess, but because they were simply not as concerned as we are today, with measuring life in days and hours, minutes and seconds.

In fact, among the Jews in the days of the Lord Jesus, for legal purposes, it was not necessary for a ‘day’ to run the full number of hours, in order to be considered a ‘day’.

Any part of a ‘day’ was calculated as a ‘day’, even if only one hour had passed! Commenting on the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:40, where the Lord mentions Jonah’s terrifying experience, the highly regarded and scholarly Bishop Lightfoot, in his work, ‘Home Hebraicae’, mentions a Jewish saying which states that, ‘a day and a night make an Onah, and a part of an Onah is as the whole’.

I suppose that, in an age of radio-controlled clocks, quartz and digital watches and chronometers, many would find this old Jewish saying very unsatisfactory.

But Lightfoot also comments, ‘therefore Christ may truly be said to have been in the grave three Onoth, the consent of the schools and the dialect of the nation agreeing thereunto’.

Do you think this Jewish practice is strange? But Sir Robert Anderson, K.C.B. L.L.D, who, besides being a Biblical scholar, was also a highly-respected legal authority says, concerning the phrase ‘three days and three nights’.

‘A prison chaplain would have no difficulty explaining this to his congregation. Our civil day begins at midnight, and the law reckons any part of a day as a day. Therefore, while a sentence of three days means three days of twenty-four hours, equal to seventy-two hours, a prisoner under such a committal is seldom more than forty hours in gaol, and I have known cases where the period was only thirty-three hours. And this mode of reckoning was as familiar to the Jew as it is to our criminal courts’.

Old Testament Examples

You will also find this rather imprecise way of expressing time in the Old Testament. Consider the following examples.

1. 1 Samuel 30:11-12 records that David’s men found an Egyptian and brought him to their commander. The man had been left behind by the fleeing Amalekites. We read that David gave him food and water because he hadn’t eaten nor drunk ‘three days and three nights.’ That simply meant, for some time.

In verse 12 the man says that he became sick ‘three days ago’. Commentators claim that the two statements are intended to point out the considerable start the Amalekites had in their flight and to stress that there was no time to lose if David was to catch up with them.

2. In 2 Chronicles 10:1-12, we read that when Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, became Israel’s new king, certain of his subjects approached him, pleading that they might be relieved of the heavy burdens which his father, in his later days, had imposed on them in order to support his extravagant lifestyle.

Rehoboam said to them, ‘Come again to me after three days’ 2 Chronicles 10:5. We then read in verse 12, ‘So Jeroboam and the people came to Rehoboam on the third day.’ ‘On’ is not ‘after’! Yet Rehoboam did not rebuke them or send them away because they had come too soon.

3. In Esther 4:16, when Haman the enemy of the Jews plotted their wholesale destruction, Esther the Queen, issued this command.

‘Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day’. The fast was as binding upon Esther herself as upon the people.

But Esther 5:1, then tells us, ‘Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther appeared before the king and said to him. If it seems good to the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him’.

It’s obvious, then, that in Bible times, the phrase ‘three days and nights’ didn’t mean what we understand it to mean today and that it wasn’t, in those days, considered necessary to be as precise in recording time as it is now.

But, the early Christians knew nothing of an annual celebration of the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection, because, as Paul told the Corinthian Christians, ‘each first day of the week’, when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11.26, they ‘proclaimed the Lord’s death’, and would continue to do so ‘until He comes’.

Indeed, the issue of an annual celebration was not even raised until long after the establishment of the New Testament church. It was towards the end of the 2nd century, by which time the predicted ‘falling away’ from the faith had already begun, that disputes arose concerning the ‘time to celebrate Easter.’

The problem arose again in 325 A.D. at the time of the First Council of Nicaea when the Church of Rome attempted to resolve it, but it was not until more than 300 years later, in 664 A.D. at the ‘Synod of Whitby’, that churches in Britain decided to adopt the practices of the Roman Church. This means that the present-day celebration of ‘Easter’ is the invention of the Church of Rome.

The New Testament Evidence

In any case, it is surprising that, when the length of time the Lord’s body lay in the grave is discussed, it is just the one sentence in which He uses the illustration involving Jonah which receives attention.

What we ought to consider are the following facts.

1. The four Gospels reveal that, repeatedly, the Lord Himself declared in unequivocal terms, that He would be put to death and would rise from the dead ‘on the third day’.

2. He first predicted His resurrection early as John 2:19, ‘destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,’ in a statement which John admits His disciples only later understood, but later He began to speak about it openly, after Peter had declared Him to be ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’, in Matthew 16:16.

Similar statements are recorded in the Gospels, here are but a few, Matthew 17:23 / Matthew 20:19 / Mark 9:31 / Mark 10:34 / Luke 9:22 / Luke 13:32 / Luke 18:33 / Luke 24:7 / Luke 24:21 / Luke 24:46.

3. What Jesus said was evidently accepted without question by both His apostles and the members of the early church, all of whom subsequently believed that what He had predicted had actually come to pass.

Paul states this in 1 Corinthians15:4, ‘raised on the third day’. The New Testament contains nothing to suggest that the Lord made a prediction that failed.

4. Matthew 27:63-64, tells us that, after the burial of the body of Jesus, the leaders of the Jews came to Pilate with a request.

5. On the morning of the third day, the women came to the tomb, and Luke 24:5-8 records that the heavenly messengers who met them even quoted the Lord’s own words, Luke 24:5-8.

Matthew 28:6 says that one of the angels told the women, ‘He is not here, for He is raised, even as He said. Come; see the place where the Lord lay’.

Dr John Brown of Haddington, the Scottish minister who produced the Bible version which bears his name, also undertook to prepare a ‘Harmony of the Gospels.’

One day, a visitor came to the house asking to see the great man, and Dr Brown’s canny old servant informed the visitor, rather scornfully, that his master was busy ‘trying to reconcile four men who never disagreed!’

It seems that we ourselves are sometimes inclined to undertake similar pointless tasks. Which is the more important, to be able to prove that the Lord’s body lay in the grave for precisely three days and three nights? Or to be assured by all who truly knew Him, that He rose from the dead ‘on the third day’, even as He said?

So, let us first consider what we may learn from the ‘three days and three nights’ of Jonah, and the problem these words appear to create.

This is the problem; the statement declares that, as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so also would the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the earth.

This then raises the question, if Jesus was arrested late on Thursday, ‘the 14th Nisan’, died and was buried the next day, Friday ‘the 15th Nisan’), and was raised early on the First Day of the Week, ‘the ‘Lord’s Day’, how can this be reckoned as three days and three nights?

The problem arises when we fail to understand how the expression ‘three days and nights’ was understood in Biblical times. Sir Robert Anderson, who was an eminent lawyer, made an interesting point when he observed that words and phrases are just ‘counters’ which have no value or significance in themselves, and which must be understood in the light of the meaning they would have had to those who originally heard them.

In the Scriptures, there are several places where we find mention of ‘three days and nights’, and, when we examine these passages, some interesting information emerges.

Until The Third Day

Let us now look at what the scriptures record. Mark 14:1 ‘Now it was the Passover and the ‘feast of’ unleavened bread after two Days.’ (Greek text). Mark 14:12 ‘And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed ‘sacrificed’ the Passover’.

Both Mark and Luke are more explicit than Matthew. Mark 14:12 states ‘…the first day of unleavened bread when they killed the Passover ‘lamb’.’ Luke 22:7 states, ‘then came the day of unleavened bread when the Passover ‘lamb’ must be killed’.

We have here references to two events, the Passover meal and the Feast of Unleavened Bread which followed it and the two must not be confused.

See what the Old Testament law said concerning these two events. Numbers 28:16-17, reads, ‘On the 14th day of the first month is the Passover of the LORD. And in the 15th day of this month is the feast; seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten’.

Leviticus 23:5-6, very clearly states, ‘In the 14th day of the first month ‘Nisan’, at even ‘i.e. evening’ is the LORD’S Passover. And on the 15th day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD: seven days you shall eat unleavened bread’.

Come over to the New Testament record and this is what we find. Matthew 26:17. reads, ‘Now on the first day of unleavened bread…, the disciples; Where shall we prepare for thee to eat the Passover ‘supper’?’ Matthew 26:20 ‘when even was come he sat down with the twelve.’ The date was the 14th Nisan called ‘Preparation’. The Passover, ‘meal’ was eaten in the evening.

1. The 14th of Nisan was the day when all leaven had to be put away.

2. It was the day on which the Lord was arrested after he had left the Upper Room with his disciples, and the day before the beginning of the Passover week.

3. It was still the 14th Nisan when the Jewish leaders took Jesus to Pilate.

They wouldn’t enter the Roman ‘Praetorium’, ‘lest they become defiled’ because they had not yet eaten the Passover meal. John 18:28. In John 13:27 Jesus said, to Judas Iscariot, ‘what you do, do quickly’”. Note that when Judas left the Upper Room.

1. It was already night. John 13:30.

2. The other disciples thought that Judas had left to buy the things needed for the feast of Unleavened Bread, which began the next day, the first day of the Passover Week, Luke 22:1.

If Judas needed to buy anything, it would have to be done on the 14th, because the next day was a ‘Sabbath’,  a rest day, when he couldn’t possibly have bought anything.

To buy or sell on the 15th Nisan would have been a violation of the Mosaic Law. And, remember, that the day was the very high ‘Sabbath’ of Passover week.

Jesus had given Judas the opportunity of abandoning his plan, but knowing that he was determined to go through with it, Jesus said, ‘what you intend to do, do quickly’, thus sending him to the Priests to agree with them the price of betrayal.

It is unlikely that Judas knew that Jesus was aware of his intentions, and the Lord’s words forced his hand, and in so doing Jesus took control of events.

Matthew 26:11f records that Jesus said to His disciples, ‘after two days is ‘the Passover’ and the son of man is betrayed to be crucified.’ Matthew 26:5 records that, at a meeting in the palace of the High Priest that same day, when they were planning to kill Jesus, they said, ‘not on the feast lest there be an uproar.’

Jesus Was Always In Control

In John 10:18, Jesus said, ‘no man takes my life from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again’.

John 18:2-3 reveals that Judas was able to lead the Jews to where they could find Jesus. And Jesus knew they were coming to arrest Him but when he decided!

Several mistakes are made in trying to work out just when the Lord was crucified.

1. For instance, the Passover meal, ‘at which the Lord instituted His Own Supper’, shouldn’t be confused with the feast of Unleavened Bread.

This means that commencing on the 15th day, the feast lasted for seven days, and just as the Israelites continued to eat unleavened bread after they had escaped from Egypt when God ‘passed over’ the land, Exodus 12, so their descendants celebrated seven days of ‘the Feast of Unleavened Bread’, after eating the ‘Passover meal’.

Although they were required to eat unleavened bread during those seven days, it was a ‘Feast’ because the people were called upon to ‘rejoice’.

2. The several references to ‘sabbath’ are also a source of difficulty for many Bible students.

It is often overlooked that the word ‘sabbath’ doesn’t refer to the weekly seventh-day alone. The word ‘sabbath’ doesn’t mean ‘seventh’, as some seem to think.

It simply means ‘separation’ or ‘rest’, and any day of the week, which was celebrated as a ‘high day’, was also called a ‘sabbath’, on which the law of the weekly Sabbath also applied. The Sabbath to which these verses refer was especially significant because being Nisan 15th; it was the Sabbath of Passover Week.

Jesus And Judas

In the Upper Room, on the 14th Nisan, the Lord ate the Passover Meal, Matthew 26:19, but, when Judas rose and went out, the rest of the disciples thought he had gone to buy whatever the group would need to celebrate ‘the feast’, which began the next day, the 15th of Nisan, John 13:29.

It is also worth noting that, occurring in the first month of the religious year, ‘the sacred year’, and being the first major Feast of the year, the ‘Passover’ was regarded as an especially important occasion.

So, this is what we have seen so far; the Passover Meal was eaten during the evening of 14th Nisan, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, known as ‘the Passover’, began the next day.

The Summary

1. Jesus celebrated the Passover Supper on Nisan 14, ‘Thursday’. Matthew 26:19.

2. He was arrested later that night when Nisan 15 had begun, ‘evening to evening’.

3. The priest came together ‘straightway, in the morning.’ Mark 15:1, thus, ‘Friday’.

4. He was crucified and His body taken down from the cross because the next day was the Sabbath, ‘Saturday’. John 19:31.

5. He rose on ‘the first day of the week’. ‘Upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning.’ Luke 24:1

6. The woman came to see the sepulchre, ‘at the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week’. Matthew 28:1.

7. The heavenly messengers at the tomb quoted the Lord’s prediction of His resurrection. ‘The Son of Man must be delivered and be crucified and the third day rises again’. And they remembered his words and told all these things to the eleven’. Luke 24:5-8. An angel told the women, ‘He is not here, for he is risen. Come see the place where the Lord lay’. Matthew 28:6.

The Jewish leaders themselves said that Jesus had claimed that He would rise ‘after three days’, and wanted the sepulchre to be guarded ‘until the third day’. Matthew 27:63-66.

‘The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.’ Matthew 12:41-42

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, Genesis 10:11 / Nehemiah 2:8 / Zephaniah 2:13-15, and the men of Nineveh would stand up at the judgment and condemn this generation is because at the time preaching of Jonah, the city repented, Jonah 3:5, whereas, the generation in which Jesus lived refused to repent.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Christ’s being greater than Jonah is seen in the contrast between the messages, one secular, the other spiritual, between the messengers, one true, the other untrue, and between the miracles that certified each, one disgorged by a sea monster, the other raised from the dead, Matthew 8:25.’

The Queen of the south is Sheba, who came from a most distant land, to admire wealth and listen to his wisdom, 1 Kings 10:1-13 / 2 Chronicles 9:1. Sheba was probably a city of Arabia, situated to the south of Judea, Isaiah 60:6.

Childress, in his commentary, says the following, someone greater than Solomon.

1. Christ was greater in his birth. 2. His wisdom. 3. His temple. 4. His throne. 5. His prayers. 6. In his mansions, and 7. In the sacrifice Christ offered. As one example, Solomon offered at the dedication of the temple ‘twenty-two thousand oxen, and a hundred twenty thousand sheep’, 2 Chronicles 7:5. Christ offered his own blood within the holiest place of all for the sins of all men, Hebrews 9:14.’

‘When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” Matthew 12:43-45

Clarke, in his commentary, says the following.

‘If there had been no reality in demoniacal possessions, our Lord would have scarcely appealed to a case of this kind here, to point out the real state of the Jewish people, and the desolation which was coming upon them. Had this been only a vulgar error, of the nonsense of which the learned scribes and the wise Pharisees must have been convinced, the case not being one in point, because not true, must have been treated by that very person with contempt for whose conviction it was alone designed.’

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The ‘general sentiment’ which our Saviour here teaches is much more easily understood than the illustration which he uses. The Jews had asked for a sign from heaven that should decisively prove that he was the Messiah, and satisfy their unbelief. He replies that, though he should give them such a sign a proof conclusive and satisfactory, and though for a time they should profess to believe and apparently reform, yet such was the obstinacy of their unbelief and wickedness, that they would soon return to their former course. and become worse and worse. Infidelity and wickedness, like an evil spirit in a possessed man, were appropriately at ‘home’ in them. If driven out, they would find no other place so comfortable and undisturbed as their bosoms. Everywhere they would be, comparatively, like an evil spirit going through deserts and lonely places, and finding no place of rest. They would return, therefore, and dwell with them.’

The ‘arid places’, appear to be the figurative places where demons lived, Isaiah 13:21 / Isaiah 34:14. The impure spirit decided to go back to its house only to find it unoccupied swept clean and in order.

Dummelow, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Though the evil has been temporarily expelled, nothing good has been put in its place, so that the demon can return. If our Lord had been admitted, the return would have been impossible. The ‘sweeping’ and ’garnishing’ is that empty show of faith and repentance and good works, which only invites a more terrible fall.’

The number seven speaks of completeness, in other words, as many as the house will hold, we see this with Mary Magdalene who had seven demons, Mark 16:9 / Luke 8:2.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘These words were doubtless spoken in sorrow. They were a firm, dogmatic prophecy of Israel’s rejection of Christ, reminding one of 2 Peter 2:20. What state is worse than being unsaved? It is the apostasy from which it is impossible to be renewed, Hebrews 6:4-6.’

Jesus’ Mother And Brothers

‘While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:46-50

Matthew records that Jesus had four brothers, Matthew 13:55-56, and Mark records that Jesus had at least two sisters, Mark 6:3. As there is no mention of Joseph here, this could signify that he had died, Matthew 13:55 / Mark 6:3 / John 2:12 / John 7:3 / John 7:5 / John 7:10.

It’s clear that Jesus’ physical family have heard a lot about what has been going on but it’s also clear that Jesus’ family didn’t understand Him. They came to try to talk to Him, perhaps to persuade Him to take a break, Mark 3:31-35 / Luke 8:19-21.

He refused to give them a private hearing, explaining that His family no longer had a special claim on His attention. Jesus’ true family consists of those who hear and do His will, 1 Timothy 5:1-2.

This incident shows that Mary had no special influence or privilege, Jesus treats all of His obedient followers equally, John 1:12-13.

Go To Matthew 13

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

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