What is the Source of Jesus’s Authority over Demons?  Matthew 12:22-37

Matthew 12:22-37 describes a confrontation over Jesus’s authority over demons. After healing a demon-oppressed man by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Pharisees declare Jesus casts out demons by the authority of Beelzebul. Some who witness this miracle wonder if Jesus is the son of David, the messiah. But the Pharisees reject this miracle as a messianic sign, he is not casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit at all! Jesus considers this rejection to be blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, a sin that will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come.

This story is similar to Matthew 9:32-34. There two blind men called out to Jesus “have mercy on us, Son of David.” When Jesus heals them, the crowd is amazed and declare “nothing like this has been seen in Israel.” The Pharisees, however, declare Jesus drives out demons by the power of prince of demons. In that context, Jesus does not cast out a demon nor does he address the Pharisees. Here he heals a blind and mute man by casting out a demon, and the crowd wonders if he is the son of David. After the Pharisees make their statement, Jesus engages in a scribal debate with them, questioning their reasoning about the source of his power over demons.

The Crowd Reacts to Jesus Casting Out a Demon

As with the healing of the man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:9-14), the miracle itself is not the point of this story. Matthew focuses on the contrasting reactions of the people and the Pharisees.

The people wonder, “Can this be the son of David?” (12:23). This is the only place in Matthew where “all the crowds” are moved by a miracle, which may explain why the Pharisees react as they do. The miracles are now moving a large number of the people to consider the possibility of Jesus as the messiah. Jesus as a local miracle worker is one thing, but it is quite another if he begins to draw larger crowds. The mission of the Twelve has done just that, leading up to the feeding of the 5000.

The title “The Son of David” is a messianic title based on 2 Samuel 7:12-16. The Lord promises David that his son will rule after him and that David’s throne “will be established forever.”

The question adds to the crowd’s amazement. The verb (ἐξίστημι)is used for a reaction to something that does not make sense, so both amazement and confusion, “the main idea is involvement in a state or condition of consternation” (BDAG). Maybe the contemporary pop-English phrase “mind blown” conveys the right sense of the verb. “The crowds saw what Jesus did and it blew their minds.”

The Pharisees claim Jesus casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul

After the Pharisees hear the crowd wondering aloud if Jesus is the Messiah, they respond that he is just a man. “This man” is intentional, Jesus is just a human and not the Son of David, the messiah. Unlike the crowds, the Pharisees are not amazed by Jesus. In Matthew 9:32-34 the Pharisees made a similar declaration in response to dealing a deaf mute who.

The Pharisees claim Jesus is simply a man. He casts out demons because he is in league with the demons. This power comes from the prince of demons (9:34; 10:25).

Is the name Beelzebul or Beelzebub? Beelzebul is a transliteration of the Greek Βεελζεβούλ, “Baal, the Prince.” The name Beelzebub (בַּעַל זְבוּב) means “lord of flies” (2 Kings 1:2-6).  The name (בַּעַל זְבוּל) can mean something like “lord of filth” (BDAG). In the Testament of Solomon, Beelzebul is called the prince of demons:

Testament of Solomon 6:1-3 Then I summoned Beelzeboul to appear before me again. When he was seated, I thought it appropriate to ask him, “Why are you alone Prince of the Demons?” 2 He replied, “Because I am the only one left of the heavenly angels (who fell). I was the highest-ranking angel in heaven, the one called Beelzeboul. 3There also accompanied me another ungodly (angel) whom God cut off and now, imprisoned here, he holds in his power the race of those bound by me in Tartarus. He is being nurtured in the Red Sea; when he is ready, he will come in triumph.”

Is Beelzebul the same as Satan? In 12:26, Jesus uses the name Satan rather than Beelzebul. As John Nolland says “Beelzebul had. Become in time simply an alternative name for Satan” (Matthew, 435).

Jesus knows their thoughts and responds directly to the Pharisees. He first by points out their conclusion does not make sense. Second Jesus declare the Pharisees are in serious spiritual danger by rejecting the clear witness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the eschatological Son of Man (Matthew 12:25-29).

Jesus the Servant of God – Matthew 12:15-21

In Matthew 12:1-14 there are two Sabbath controversy stories followed by a quotation of Isaiah. Matthew declares this Scripture is fulfilled when Jesus “withdrew from that place” and warned those who are healed to not tell others about him (12:15-17). Matthew also quotes a passage from Isaiah as after three healing stories (8:1-13).

Isaiah's Servant of the Lord

It appears Jesus does not want to engage with the Pharisees and risk a further public confrontation. He is not avoiding controversy (since he will still engage the Pharisees later in this chapter), but he wants to “keep it at bay” (Wilkins, Matthew, 443). This may also be the motivation for commanding those healed to not tell others. In both cases, Matthew sees this as a fulfillment of an important messianic text from Isaiah 42.

Matthew declares that Jesus is Isaiah’s Servant (Isaiah 42:1-4). These are the words of Matthew, the author of the gospel rather than Jesus. Matthew’s use of his text as an editorial comment on the withdrawing and/or ordering silence. This is the longest quotation of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Matthew.

It is not an exact quotation, and it varies from the Septuagint. Leon Morris therefore suggests Mathew is making his own translation from the Hebrew (Matthew, 310; cf. Davies and Allison, 2:321). The main point of the quotation at this moment in the gospel is to clarify what kind of Messiah Jesus is going to be. He does not conform to the Pharisees expectation, nor will he be a military Messiah who puts down Israel’s enemies.

So who is the Servant of the Lord?

The servant is God’s chosen servant.

“My servant” (ὁ παῖς μου) is an important title in Isaiah 40-55. Matthew used a noun which refers to a person younger than puberty; a child or a youth. In a few cases in the New Testament, it refers to a child (Matt 2:16, the children in Bethlehem, 17:8 a demon-possessed child). In the New Testament the word more often refers to a slave, although some examples are ambiguous (Matthew 8:6, 8; the centurion’s slave or child?) But the phrase “my servant” never refers to a child in the Septuagint, even though there is clear father/son language in the Matthew context.

The verb translated “chosen” (aorist active indicative from αἱρετίζω) is a rare word, only here in the NT.  In the LXX Haggai 2:23, Haggai calls Zerubbabel for “my servant” and “my chosen.” In secular Greek the word can have the sense of adoption (BrillDAG), so in Haggai Zerubbabel the chose servant could mean God has adopted him as his own son, in the same sense as the king is a son of God in Psalm 2.

The servant is God’s beloved, in whom he is well pleased.

This phrase appears in Matthew in two other important contexts, the baptism (3:17) and the transfiguration (17:5). The words evoke the baptism scene, as Jesus comes up out of the water the voice from heaven announces, “this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17) and at the Transfiguration the phrase is repeated, with the addition of “listen to him” (Matt 17:5). The “beloved son” may allude to Abraham and his beloved son (Gen 22).

The servant has God’s Spirit in him.

One of the key themes in Isaiah is God’s servant chosen by God, and the sign of the choice of an anointing with the Holy Spirit. In Isaiah 61, the Spirit of the Lord anoints the servant to proclaim good news; this is the passage Jesus read in the Nazareth synagogue and declared fulfilled in his ministry (Luke 4:14-21). Matthew’s verb “I will put or place” us unusual since it is not the verb used Isaiah 42 I either the Hebrew Bible or the Septuagint. Once again, Psalm 2 may be in the background: God has enthroned the king in Zion and called him his son (2:6-7)

The servant will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

The ESV translates the noun ἔθνος as Gentiles, the NIV has nations. Although these are more or less the same thing, translating the word Gentiles may be taken as a hint of the future inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God. Rather than looking forward to the salvation of the gentiles, Matthew may intend this as the future judgment of the nations when the messiah comes and establishes his kingdom.

Justice (χρίσις) can be positive (proclaiming justice to those who are suffering injustice). But in Matthew this word is associated with eschatological judgment (Matt 10:15; 11:22-24; cf., Rev 14:7). “means judgment that goes against a person, condemnation, and the sentence that follows” (BDAG). Perhaps this also alludes to Psalm 2:8, “ask me and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” In Psalm 2:10-12 the kings of the earth are warned to “kiss the son” and recognize his sovereignty.

The Meekness of the Servant (12:19-20)

He will be silent rather than quarreling (v. 19). Although he does engage the Pharisees in conversation, at this point he has withdrawn from conversation and is not in conflict with them. The verb ἐρίζω only appears here in the New Testament and refers to quarreling, competing with someone, “to affirm in an argumentative manner, maintain harshly or obstinately” (BrillDAG). The verb κραυγάζω is also rare in the New Testament, used here and in a few contexts where the Jews are extremely upset over Jesus (Acts 22:23, they are shouting and throwing off their cloaks, etc.; cf., John 18:40, 19:6, 12, the Jews crying out to crucify Jesus. In Luke 4:41 the verb is used for the speech of a demon as Jesus casts it out. In secular Greek it is used for the bark of a dog (Plato, Republic 607b) or the croaking caw of a crow (Arrianus, EpictD 3.1.37).

He will do no harm at all (v. 20a). These are the opposite characteristics one would expect from a conquering Messiah, he will not argue nor will he harm his enemies at this time. There are two metaphors for the meekness of the servant. He will not break a bruised reed or snuff out smoldering wick.” For many interpreters, this refers to Jesus reaching out to the underclass of Galilee. John Nolland, for example, takes the original context of Isaiah 42 as a reference to the exiles as “displaced and devalued people,” the servant will value these people and gather them to the land (Nolland, Matthew, 494).

But the servant will render justice in the future: “until he brings justice to victory” (v. 20b). “In victory” probably means something like “successfully,” so that despite his meek approach to his opponents, he will be ultimately successful. This description of the messiah fits well with the context. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus describes his yoke as easy and his burden as light, in contrast to the Pharisees’ traditions about the Sabbath (12:1-14, cf. 23:1-4).

Jesus will not be goaded into a confrontation with the Pharisees over Sabbath or any other issue. He intends to go to Jerusalem to die at the proper time and nothing will derail him from that mission. The messiah will render judgment on the nations, but not until the appointed time.

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath – Matthew 12:1-8

In Matthew 11:30, Jesus declared “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Elsewhere in the New Testament “yoke” refers to the Jewish law and Jesus considers the Pharisees hypocrites because they tie up heavy burdens for others to carry but they are not willing to lift a finger to move them (Matt 23:2-4). The two stories in Matthew 12:1-4 are examples of the light burden of Jesus in contrast to the heavy burdens of the Pharisees.

Jesus and his disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath

Jesus’s disciples pluck some grain on the Sabbath and offend the Pharisees (Matthew 12:1-2)

For a hungry person to plucking grain is not the problem, but  plucking grain violates the Sabbath. Plucking grain is one of the thirty-nine activities which count as work on the Sabbath.

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 allows the poor to pluck grain by hand to satisfy their hunger. Matthew says the disciples are hungry, the verb πεινάω has the sense of having hunger pains, having a strong desire to eat something (not just peckish, as John Nolland puts it).

The Pharisees see this action as intentional breaking Sabbath regulations, and they point this out Jesus expecting him to admonish his disciples for breaking the Sabbath. Remember, the Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens” (23:3-4) by defining what constitutes work on the Sabbath. Although much of this comes from the Mishnah (written about A.D. 250), it is safe to assume in the early first century the Pharisees were already developing Sabbath regulations.

It is important to think of the Pharisees as genuinely wanting to obey God’s Law and their traditions intended to fill in the gaps so that one did not accidentally break the Sabbath Law. They are simply asking “what if?” questions about what may (or may not) constitute work on the Sabbath.

Jesus makes a scriptural argument (Matthew 12:3-5)

He begins with a story from 1 Samuel 21:1-6, David takes bread from the house of God. The bread of the presence (the showbread) was set before the Lord each Sabbath, then the old bread was eaten by the priests (Leviticus 24; Numbers 4:5–8). David stops at the Tabernacles when he is fleeing from King Saul. He needs provisions, so he he asks the priest Ahimelek for bread, but the only bread available is the showbread. This bread was considered holy. Because it was placed in the presence of the Lord for a week, it should only be eaten by a consecrated priest. He also takes Goliath’s sword since he is in need of a weapon.

In later Jewish discussion of this passage, the day David took the bread was the Sabbath. In the original story and in Jesus’s use of that story here in Matthew 12, it is assumed David was within his rights to take both the bread and Goliath’s sword. The writer does not suggest David violated the Law or that taking the bread of the presence was sinful in any way.

David this food not because he and his men are hungry, but because he is David. In the original story, David has authority to order the priest to do something that is not usually done, give the bread to someone who is not a priest. He was likely hungry and in danger as well,

The second part of Jesus’s answer concerns priests who work on the Sabbath. Numbers 28:9-10 indicates a burnt offering was made on the Sabbath, therefore at least some priests are required to work on the day of rest. Nolland wonders about the relevance of this point, but concludes it creates a space for “apparently unlawful behavior” to be justified on other grounds (Matthew, 484).

Jesus is making a “lesser to greater” argument. “Someone greater than the Temple is here now” (Matthew 12:6). If David was permitted to take the showbread on the Sabbath, and the priests are permitted to work on the Sabbath, then Jesus is “within his rights” to also allow his disciples to glean a little food because they are hungry even though it is a technical violation of the Sabbath rules.

If the Pharisees understood Hosea 6:6, they would not have condemned the disciples (Matthew 12:7).

Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” when the Pharisees condemned him for eating with tax collectors and other sinners (Matt 9:9-12). In the original context the emphasis was on treatment of the poor and needy, mercy to those in need of mercy is more important that proper sacrifices in the Temple. Jesus applied that to the tax collectors and other sinners who were responding to his message. Now Jesus extends mercy to the poor, little ones (his disciples) who are hungry and want a little food on the Sabbath. They are not harvesting a field to sell the wheat and make money; they are trying to get a little food to stave off their hunger. For Jesus, this is not a violation of the spirit of the Sabbath laws.

Jesus also says his disciples are guiltless. Although the word ἀναίτιος is rare in the New Testament, it is used in Acts 16:37 when Paul tells the magistrates in Philippi, he has not down anything to deserve punishment. In secular Greek it is used for someone who is not responsible or is exempt from blame (BrillDAG). The verb translated “condemn’ (καταδικάζω) is a legal term as well, to condemn someone is to find them guilty of a violation of law. in LXX Psalm 36:33 (ET 37:33) the Lord will not let the righteous “be condemned when brought to trial.”

Who gets to interpret the Sabbath laws and decide what is permissible on the Sabbath? The Pharisees claim that role, but Jesus concludes his answer to them by declaring that he is the Lord of the Sabbath.

Therefore: “The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8).

Jesus argued David had authority to take the bread set aside for the priests.The Son of Man is greater than David and the priests work on the Sabbath By calling himself the “Lord of the Sabbath” Jesus is claims he is qualified, as the Son of Man, to decide what is permissible on the Sabbath (not the Pharisees). Jesus made a similar point in the Sermon on the Mount. As the Messiah he has the authority to interpret the Law for his disciples.

Matthew does not tell us the reaction of the Pharisees to this stunning declaration. But in the next paragraph the Pharisees ask Jesus about a particular application of Sabbath law in order to accuse him before the Jewish authorities.

“My Yoke is Light” – Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus’s call for those who labor and are heavy laden to come to him is one of the most beloved verses in the Gospels (11:28-30). What did Jesus mean by his yoke? How is Jesus’s yoke light? What does it mean to be “heavy laden”?

Yoked Oxen

Jesus’s extends his invitation to laborers oppressed with heavy burdens. The “ones who labor” refers to people who are tired out from some activity. For example, in John 4:6, Jesus sits at the well because he is tired from the journey. Since Jesus is drawing a contrast with Pharisees, the yoke refers to Jesus’s demands on his followers.

Jesus describes himself as gentle and lowly, in contrast to the hypocritical arrogance of the Pharisees (Matt 23:29-31). In Matthew 23:4 the Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens” (φορτίον, the noun related to Jesus’s verb in 11:28), These burdens are hard to bear, and the Pharisees “lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

When those who come to Jesus take up his yoke, they will find rest.

Nolland (Matthew, 478) suggests this is an allusion to Jeremiah 6:16, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it and find rest for your souls.” The response to this call to follow the good way of the Lord in Jeremiah is “we will not walk in it.” Similar to the call of Jesus here in Matthew 11. The Pharisees will not take up Jesus’s yoke nor will they follow Jesus as “the way.”

There is another intriguing parallel in Sirach 51:20: “Draw near to me, you who are uneducated, and lodge in the house of instruction” and in verse 26, “Put your neck under [wisdom’s] yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by” (NRSV). Rather than inviting the weary who need rest, Sirach calls the uneducated to put on the yoke of wisdom. Presumably he means attending classes at Sirach’s house of instruction. Similar to Sirach, Jesus is calling people to enter into a discipleship relationship with him and to take up his yoke.

Jesus promised those who follow the way rest and and he invites them to “take up my yoke.” What is the Jesus’s easy yoke and light burden? Although a yoke links two animals together, this is not the point of the metaphor. In second Temple literature a yoke is always a metaphor for a burden, obedience or subordination.

It is unusual to think of an animal taking up a yoke itself and placing on its neck, but in the world of the metaphor a person voluntarily takes up Jesus’s yoke and submits themselves to him. In contrast, the Pharisees refuse that yoke, preferring their own interpretation of the Law. This will lead to the decisive break with the Pharisees in the next chapter.

What is the yoke Jesus’s disciples are to take on?

Acts 15:10 used a yoke as a metaphor for the Law. There Peter calls the Law a burden. But Jesus is drawing a contrast between the heavy yoke of the Pharisees and his own. Later in Matthew 23:4 Jesus condemns the Pharisees because they tie up heavy cumbersome loads and put them on people’s shoulders. This refers to the various traditions the Pharisees developed as a fence around the Law.

There is some irony here, since Jesus says his burden is light and easy to bear. Yet in Matthew 10 he told his disciples they will face oppression, persecution, beatings and death on account of their testimony.

In many ways Jesus’s yoke is light, but it is not easy.

Revealed to the Little Children – Matthew 11:25-27

Some of Jesus’s teachings are hidden from those who have rejected him as the messiah. The Pharisees, for example, think they are wise and have understanding, but they do not (v. 25a). In the immediate context, the villages of Galilee thought themselves wise when they rejected the representatives of the messiah, so now the plan of redemption is hidden from them.

Jesus teaching a Child

This anticipates the parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13. For the first time Jesus begins to teach the crowds using parables so that the insiders (the disciples, the little children) will understand, but the outsiders will not. What are the “hidden things” now revealed to the little children? In Matthew 13:11, Jesus says the “secrets (mysteries) of the kingdom of heaven” have been given to the disciples. Jesus taught his own disciples things which he did not teach the crowds.

The reason for this is that God chose to reveal his plan to “little children” (v. 25b). As in the previous unit, the little children are Jesus’s disciples. The noun translated “little children” in the ESV (νήπιος) refers to an infant, up to the age of a person who was not yet of legal age, so a minor (BDAG). But the LXX uses the word to translate the Hebrew word “simple,” and in secular Greek it is used figuratively for “infantile, childish, silly, ignorant, without foresight” (BrillDAG). To “speak like a child” is to say foolish things.

The emphasis is not on innocent children or babies, but the opposite of the wise and intelligent. In the context of Matthew, the ones who have rejected Jesus as the Messiah (Pharisees and teachers of the Law) are the intelligent and well educated. Jesus’s disciples have received God’s revelation through Jesus, yet they are (in comparison) like foolish children.

The difference between the wise (who do not understand) and the little children (who do understand) is that God has revealed the hidden things to the little children. This is the gracious will of God, which the Father handed over to Jesus (vv. 26-27). Father reveals to the Son, the Son reveals to the little children, the disciples.

Many have rejected Jesus as the messiah, but some have responded in faith. Those faithful are the “little ones” the children to whom the father has revealed the hidden things. But this does not mean the gospel is only for the insiders or that the wise who have rejected Jesus cannot yet come to Jesus. He therefore invites everyone to come to him and find rest.

I have occasionally heard this passage used as an excuse for not pursuing a biblical education or for pastors to avoid ministerial training. Some people have a perverse pride over being uneducated. But that is not the point here. Jesus is not making a statement about his uneducated disciples. In fact, the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 indicates they are well prepared to receive the word of God. Jesus has revealed himself publicly as the messiah, so that both his disciples and the Pharisees saw and heard the same things. The difference between the disciples and the Pharisees in Matthew is the Pharisees were not prepared to accept Jesus as the Messiah and reject him and eventually turn antagonistic towards him (in chapter 12).

Woe to You, Chorazin! Matthew 11:20-24

In Matthew 11:16-19 Jesus says “this generation” did not listen to John and claiming Jesus “has a demon.” This generation has rejected Jesus’s ministry, calling him a glutton, drunkard and a friend of sinners. In Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus responds to the villages of Galilee that rejected the preaching of his representatives calling them to gather to Jesus as the messiah. Unlike the children’s game in 11:16-17, rejection of Jesus and his messianic mission is dangerous and will lead to eternal destruction.

chorazin synagogue

After observing that the crowds were like “sheep without a shepherd (9:36), Jesus appointed the Twelve (10:1-4) and instructed them for their short-term mission to the villages of Galilee (10:5-15). The twelve are the workers sent to the harvest (9:37). Oddly, Matthew never reports the disciples returned to Jesus and report what they have done during their mission. The disciples must have returned and reported some did respond to his message and messianic signs, but some of the towns and villages did not.

Jesus denounces the villages which did not repent after witnessing his might works. To “denounce” (ὀνειδίζω) refers to “to find justifiable fault with someone” (BDAG 2), although the only example of this use is in Matthew 11:20. Usually the word describes insulting or mocking someone as a way of shaming them (BDAG 1). The NRSV translates this as “to reproach” rather than denounce (ESV, NIV).

To underscore this prophetic condemnation, Jesus uses the word woe. Although the word is not common outside of the Bible, it refers to someone whose situation is miserable (Nolland, Matthew, 467). In Isaiah 6, for example, Isiah pronounces woe on himself after seeing the glory of God.

Bethsaida is a fishing village on the north side of the lake, the home of Jesus’s earliest disciples, the brothers Peter and Andrew and Philip (John 1:44; James F. Strange, “Beth-Saida (Place),” ABD 1: 692). It is about eight miles north of Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Herod Philip expanded the town and renamed it Julia (after the Augustus’s daughter), and Philip was buried in the town (about 33 A.D.; Ant 18.4.6 §108). Since Bethsaida means “house of fishing,” it is possible the disciples came from a fishing village on the shore of Galilee (el-Araj) about a mile and a half from the actual city (et-Tell). Jesus feeds the 5000 near Bethsaida and heals a blind man (Mark 8:22-26). The disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida when Jesus walked on the water (Mark 6:45-51).

Chorazin is a town two miles north of Capernaum. The Talmud considered it a medium-sized town (t. Mak. 3:8); the Mishnah comments on the town’s wheat production (b. Menah. 85a; Robert W. Smith, “Chorazin (Place),” ABD 1: 911). The Gospels do not describe Jesus doing any ministry there, although its proximity to Capernaum means it is likely he did. The site at Khirbet Kerazeh is now a national park. Limited excavations have so far not reached the first century village, the impressive partially reconstructed synagogue dates to the fourth century A.D.

Capernaum was essentially Jesus’s base camp for his Galilean ministry. Many of the miracle stories in Matthew 8-9 take place in Capernaum. Although Jesus spends a great deal of his time in and around Capernaum, there is no “break” with the town as at Nazareth (Matt 13:53-58 / Mark 6:1-6a). Why didn’t Jesus mention Nazareth as a town that rejected him as the messiah? In Matthew, it has not happened yet.

Jesus compares these three Jewish towns to classic examples of wicked cities. Tyre and Sidon was the home of Jezebel, the wife of Ahab and opponent of Elijah. In 1 Kings she introduced Baal worship to Israel and supported 450 priests and 400 prophetesses of Baal. Sodom is the ultimate evil city. It one of the five cities of the plain God destroys in Genesis 18-19. Abraham pleaded with God to not destroy these cities if even ten righteous people could be found, yet there was not even that small number living in Sodom (Lot maybe, his wife and two daughters likely not “righteous.”)

Yet even these classic examples of sinful rebellion against God would have repented in sackcloth and ashes. Even Sodom would still exist today if they had witnessed the messianic signs. “On the day of Judgment” refers to the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament. This is the final judgment at the end of this age, when God breaks into history and judges the unrighteous and vindicates the righteous just prior to the kingdom of God.

If it will be better for Sodom than Capernaum on the day of judgment because they rejected the Messiah, what will it be like on that day for Christian America? Although Jesus has not literally preached to us, the United States has the most Christian privileges in world history. The gospel is preached openly every day, we unlimited have access to Bibles and Christian literature unlike any other time in history.

Will it be better for Sodom on the great day of God’s judgment than for the United States of America?

Was Jesus a Friend of Sinners? Matthew 11:16-19

Jesus uses the phrase “this generation” to describe the Jewish people who are hearing his preaching and witnessing his miracles, yet they refuse to believe John was Elijah and Jesus is the Messiah. This generation is a brood of vipers or a wicked and adulterous generation (12:39; 16:4) who will be judged by Nineveh (12:41).

Jesus compares this generation is like children playing in the marketplace saying, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” The Pharisees and others who opposed John and are now opposing Jesus are “like disagreeable children who complain that others will not act according to their desires and expectations” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:262). They would disapprove of whatever Jesus said or did!

The point of this enigmatic saying is to contrast the ministry of John and Jesus: John came fasting, Jesus came feasting. Yet they were both were rejected. John lived an ascetic lifestyle like Elijah in the wilderness, he was neither eating nor drinking, but “this generation” declared he had a demon.

“This generation” described Jesus as a “glutton and a drunkard” because he was constantly sharing meals with his followers. But many of Jesus’s followers were “tax collectors and sinners.” To be a “friend of sinners” is an insult on a par with saying John has a demon.

Perhaps this saying intentionally contrasts John’s call to repentance as mourning at a funeral to Jesus’s call to participate in his ongoing messianic banquet, dancing at a wedding. In Matthew 9:15 Jesus referred to himself as a bridegroom, saying it was inappropriate to fast while the bridegroom was present. In that context, Jesus called the tax collector Matthew to follow him, and then Matthew hosted a banquet in his home to celebrate. The Pharisees complain that Jesus is eating with “tax collectors and sinners” and the disciples of John the Baptist ask why Jesus does not fast (like John did).

If Jesus is the like a bridegroom, then his ministry is like a wedding celebration. If this is the case, then it is inappropriate to fast. Commenting on the Markan parallel, Anderson argues Jesus is merely making a contrast between his disciples (who are feasting) and the disciples of John (who are fasting) (Mark, 107).  Cranfield suggests the disciples of John the Baptist are fasting because of the recent death of John. This would explain the contrast between wedding and funeral imagery in the saying without assigning the saying to the later church (Mark, 111).

Jesus concludes with another enigmatic saying: “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” As with the modern saying, “the proof is in the pudding” (or better, “the proof of the pudding is in the tasting”). Matthew 11 began with John’s question, “are you the coming one?” Jesus’s answer is, “I am doing the messianic deeds which prove my claim to be the messiah.”

It is difficult to imagine that Jesus was “soft on sin.” But what made these people “sinners” in the eyes of the Pharisees is that they dd not conform to the traditions the Pharisees considered important. Jesus reached out to sinners rather than push them away. Imagine how different the church would be if this was practiced consistently!

Who was John the Baptist? Matthew 11:7-15

What Jesus said about John the Baptist to his disciples?When disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus to ask him if he was “the one who was coming,” Jesus responds that his messianic signs speak for themselves. He asks his audience, “Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?” (Matthew 11:7-8)

John the Baptist and Jesus

Large crowds went out from Jerusalem to hear John preach in the wilderness (Matt 3:5), including some Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt 3:7). Some Pharisees and most Sadducees were aristocrats, wealthy priests who controlled the Temple. What did these people go into the wilderness to see?

A reed shaken in the wind? This might mean something like, “you did not go out into the wilderness to look at the scenery!” But the image of a weak reed blown by the wind is the opposite of John’s character. He was a fiery apocalyptic preacher who did not bend himself to conform to anyone. Davies and Allison suggest reeds shaken by the wind would evoke the Exodus, so the point is something like “Did you go out into the wilderness to see a man repeat the wonders of the exodus?” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:247).

A man dressed in soft clothing? John was not dressed in the trendy fashions of the elite citizens of Jerusalem. He was dressed like an Old Testament prophet in a camel hair cloak and a leather belt. John lived an ascetic life in the wilderness like Elijah. Perhaps they were looking for someone dressed like a king, like a Davidic messiah. John was not a professional, elite teacher. He was an apocalyptic prophet in the style of Elijah.

Was John a prophet? Yes, but Jesus says John was more than a prophet. He was the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1 (11:9-10). He was God’s messenger sent to Israel before the coming day of the Lord. This line could be drawn from LXX Exodus 23:20, the wording is the same. Probably Malachi drew on Exodus, God will once again send his messenger, but this time he will prepare the way of the Lord when he comes to purify Israel. “The combination of Exod 23:20 with Mal 3:1 was not a Christian innovation” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:250).

Jesus quotes Malachi 3:1, the Lord will send “my messenger to prepare the way before me.” If John is the messenger, then Jesus is not just the messiah, he is the Lord coming to his Temple to purify it in the last days. The context of the line is important. In Malachi 2:17-3:5, the prophet begins by declaring the people have wearied the Lord by asking him why he does not act to punish injustice Maybe God is pleased with the evil doers? The Lord responds with the line about sending his messenger to prepare his way.

But Jesus does not quote the rest of Malachi 3:1: “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.” The Lord is the “coming one” the messenger prepares the way for. The next verse in Malachi is a description of the apocalyptic day of the Lord. The Lord will purify the sons of Levi like a refiner’s fire or fuller’s soap, and then the offerings made in Jerusalem will please the Lord “as in the days of old.”

You can see John’s problem with Jesus. If John was the messenger of Malachi 3:1a, where is the refiner’s fire of Malachi 3:1b?

Jesus therefore claims John was the climax of the prophets (11:11-15). There are three difficult sayings in this paragraph. John is the greatest prophet of the old age, but the “least in the kingdom of heaven” is greater than John (v. 11). Who is the least in the kingdom? Although a few scholars identify the least one as Jesus, most think the least are those who are “in the kingdom,” either in the future when it finally comes, or at the present time in Jesus’s ministry.

What does it mean the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and violent people are trying to take it by force (v. 12)? Davies and Allison say this verse is “without a doubt, one of the NT’s great conundrums” (Matthew, 2:254). The verb translated as “suffered violence” (ESV; βιάζω) and the cognate noun (βιαστής) refers to violent people. When the word appears outside the New Testament is always has a pejorative sense (BDAG). These violent people are seizing (ἁρπάζω) the kingdom, another word with violent connotations. It is not the case they are trying to violently seize the kingdom, but that they are doing so (the indicative is used).

Some suggest the violent ones are the Pharisees and others trying to keep people out of the kingdom by preventing them from hearing Jesus.

Some suggest the violent ones are Jewish groups advocating violence against the Temple aristocracy or the Romans. They are trying to force God to send the kingdom by revolutionary action. This is possible since there was Judas the Galilean led a tax revolt against Rome as early as AD 6 and Josephus does mention “social bandits” closer to the time of Jesus.

Nicolas Perrin argued the line refers to the arrest and execution of John the Baptist. Since the time of John’s preaching, the eschatological conflict as begun and “the suffering of John and of the saints after him is interpreted in terms of the messianic woes or the eschatological tribulation of the latter days” (cited by Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:55). As Jesus made clear in Matthew 10, Jesus’s disciples will suffer violence from their own families and synagogues.

Jesus states John is Elijah, “if you are willing to accept it” (vv. 13-14), in Matthew 17:9-13 Jesus is even more clear: “Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him.” The paragraph ends with the phrase “he who has ears, let him hear” (v. 15), inviting the reader to consider the subtle allusions to the story of the Hebrew Bible now being fulfilled in the preaching of John the Baptist and the messianic ministry of Jesus.

Who was John the Baptist?  According to Jesus, he was the last and greatest of the prophets in the of the old age, and the herald of the coming Kingdom of God which is even now breaking into history in the ministry of Jesus.

Did John the Baptist Doubt Jesus?  Matthew 11:2-6

People of a certain age will remember sea monkeys. Ads for sea monkeys appeared on the back of comic books and promised you could send a dollar to the address below you could have a kingdom of sea monkeys in your fishbowl. The original ads claimed you could “own a bowl full of happiness—instant pets!” The illustration showed these monkey-like creatures, the king was wearing a crown and had a robe and scepter, etc. If you sent in your money, you got a small box of dry brine shrimp which, when rehydrated, were “alive.” But they looked nothing at all like the drawing in the ads.

Although the analogy is not ideal, John the Baptist built up considerable anticipation for Jesus as the Messiah. He and his followers were convinced Jesus was the Messiah and he would begin the eschatological judgment and set up a new Davidic Kingdom expected by the Prophets. Jesus was the “coming one,” as in Psalm 118:26, “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” But after his baptism, Jesus did not take up the winnowing fork and judge the aristocrats in control of the Temple nor did he seem at all interested in reviving David’s kingdom. John and his disciples may have been “underwhelmed.”

Jesus and John the Baptist

John sent a few of his disciples to ask Jesus if he in fact the messiah. In Matthew 4:12 Jesus heard John had been put into prison. John was arrested by Herod for preaching against his divorce and marriage to his sister-in-law. Matthew 14:1-12 narrates John’s death at the hand of Herod Antipas (cf., Antiq. 18:116-19).

John heard about the “deeds of the messiah,” but Jesus’s teaching and miracles were not quite what John and his disciples had expected. The “deeds of the messiah” refers to Jesus’s miracles, but also his proclamation to Galilee that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, or fully present in Jesus’s mission.

There may have been growing doubt among the disciples of John about Jesus. In Matthew 9:14 the disciples of John question Jesus about his non-practice of fasting. It may be these disciples were not satisfied with Jesus’s response (that Jesus is the bridegroom, so it is time to celebrate, unlike John’s ascetic lifestyle). Perhaps these disciples related their own doubts to John in prison and are sent back to Jesus to question him more directly. It is about 100 miles from Machaerus to Capernaum in Galilee, so a round-trip is a significant journey.

In Matthew 3:14 John the Baptist recognized Jesus as “the one who is coming,” But now in 11:3 he wonders if Jesus is really the “coming one.” John’s own preaching in Matthew 3 condemned the Pharisees as a brood of vipers who are not producing fruit in keeping with repentance. He told them the “ax is already at the root” to cut off the trees that do not produce fruit. The bad trees will be “thrown into the fire” (Matt 3:7-10).

The one who is coming will render that judgment: he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (3:11). John agrees with Peter in Acts 2, the new age will begin with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s people (Acts 2:14-21; citing Joel 2: 28-32).  

The one who is coming has a winnowing fork in his hand and he is ready clear the threshing floor (3:12). The harvest is a metaphor for apocalyptic judgment. When the kingdom of heaven finally arrives, the wheat will be gathered into the barn, the weeds will be destroyed on the fire.

Because Jesus has not (yet) rendered apocalyptic judgment on the Pharisees and the Sadducees, John asks if Jesus is “the one to come” (ὁ ἐρχόμενος). This phrase was not a messianic title in first century Judaism, but Matthew uses it to refer to the Messiah.  In Matthew 3:11, John talks about the “one coming after him.”

At the baptism, John assumed the coming one was Jesus, yet after hearing about the messianic signs. John has heard something about Jesus’s ministry, his deeds and his teaching. But that ministry is not exactly what he was expecting. He is bewildered: could it be that he was mistaken? Jesus is not the messiah he was expecting.

In response to John, Jesus points to his miracles. Matthew illustrated all of these messianic deeds in chapters 8-9.

  • The blind receive sight, Matthew 9:27-34; Isaiah 35:5-6.
  • Lame walk, Matthew 9:1-8; Isaiah 35:5-6.
  • Lepers cleansed, Matthew 8:1-4; Isaiah 35:5-6.
  • Deaf hear, Matthew 9:27-34; Isaiah 35:5-6.
  • Dead are raised up, Matthew 9:18-26; Isaiah 26:19.
  • Poor have heard the good news preached to them, Matthew 5:3; Isaiah 61:1-2.

Jesus therefore claims to be the “coming one” who fulfils messianic expectations.

He adds a beatitude: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (v. 6). This implies John may have not understood these signs as proof Jesus is this messiah. Where is the winnowing fork? Why are the Pharisees not being cast out into the fire? The verb σκανδαλίζω can have the sense of shocked or angered. In Matthew 15:12 the Pharisees are offended by Jesus calling them hypocrites.

Answering John’s disciples as he does, Jesus confirms he is the “coming one,” the messiah. If Jesus is the messiah, then who was John the Baptist?

Do Not Be Afraid of Those Who Persecute – Matthew 10:26-31

In Matthew 10:16-25, Jesus tells his disciples they are sent out like sheep among the wolves and they will suffer on account of their testimony for Jesus. Everyone will hate the disciples because of their witness about Jesus and they will suffer in the same ways Jesus will suffer. Jesus tells the disciples they do not need to be afraid with this persecution comes.

Martyrs Eugene Thirion


First, the reason the disciples do not need to fear of those who persecute Jesus and his disciples is that the persecutors will be judged publicly (Matt 10:26-27). This is less clear than the parallel in Luke 12:2-9, and 8:17, but Jesus tells the disciples they have no need to fear their persecution because what might seem to be secret or hidden will be made known at the final judgment.

Part of the evidence for this is the possible parallels between this part of the discipleship discourse and Matthew 25:31-46; the hidden deeds of the sheep and goats will be revealed, and they will be judged appropriately.

Rather than let their fear silence them, Jesus’s disciples will speak boldly. Jesus has taught the disciples privately, but they are to proclaim Jesus’s message in public (in the light, from the housetops). Jesus as a private teacher might be looking ahead to Matthew 13, the secrets of the Kingdom of God are given to the disciples. It is not that the disciples are being taught in secret, but that they are being taught secrets which will eventually be proclaimed publicly.

A second reason the disciples do not need to be afraid is they are are precious to God and he will protect them (Matt 10:28-31). If the disciples are boldly speaking the message Jesus has taught them in public, they will be persecuted. But the disciples should fear God only, not those who persecute them because God is the ultimate judge.

The persecutor can only harm the body, but not the soul. This is a clear allusion to the physical punishment faced by the disciples in Acts, and their eventual martyrdom (according to tradition for most of them).

In contrast to human persecutors who can kill the body, God can destroy the body and soul in hell. The shift from kill (ἀποκτείνω) to destroy (ἀπόλλυμι) is important, and there is a temptation to hear God can annihilate the soul.” The parallel with Matthew 25:31-45 is again instructive since the goats go away to eternal punishment in the hell create for the devil and his angels. Jesus is not thinking of a kind of conditional immortality where the unrighteous dead are not resurrected, but rather the same kind of perpetual punishment other Second Temple Jews expected (Dan 12:2, the wicked go to everlasting contempt; Jude 7; 1QS 2:8).

In addition, the soul is destroyed in Gehenna (γέεννα), not hell or the lake of fire. In later Judaism, Gehenna is “Jewish popular belief, God’s final judgment was to take place” (BDAG).

To illustrate how valuable the disciples are to God, Jesus compares them to sparrows. God cares for sparrows, birds with almost without economic value. A sparrow (στρουθίον) is an analogy for something that has little value to anyone. Two sparrow costs a penny, an assarion (ἀσσάριον) is a Roman coin worth about one sixteenth of a denarius, perhaps “less than an hour’s work.” Luke 12:6, five sparrows are sold for two assarion. An assarion was the cost of a piece of bread, minimal daily substance.

As the disciples endure persecution for their testimony, it is possible they would think God does not care about them. That is what most people do when they start to suffer, question whether God really cares about them. But if God is aware of the lives (and deaths) of the smallest of birds and has intimate knowledge of his disciples, he will certainly care for them when they bear witness before the synagogue rules and Gentile kings. But what about disciples who do not acknowledge Jesus when they are persecuted? In the next section focuses on the importance of acknowledging Jesus when persecution comes.