Foundational Framework Part 49 - The Depths of a Hard Heart


Foundational Truths: The Bible is God’s self-revelation.
God is the Eternal, Sovereign Creator; all that He creates is good.
Man is a responsible agent, held to a moral standard.
Sin originates within a person, separating us from God.
God declares one righteous by faith alone, apart from works.
The glory of God is the centerpiece and goal of all existence.
God’s glory is maximally realized in the promised, coming Kingdom.

Leaders are vitally important to every organization, whether spiritual or secular. It is when we venture into the area of the “religious” that we find a mixture of the two; exerting authority and control while administering guilt and criticism. Throughout the recorded account of Jesus’ earthly life we find this type of opposition in the entity known as the Pharisees, a legalistic and superficially pious group of men who were devout in their observations of the Talmud and the interpretations of the scribes of the times, but gave little heed to the Scriptures themselves. 

In this lesson, we find the turning point of history based on the conclusions arrived at by the Pharisees. Being the religious heads of first-century Jewish society, their outspoken assessments and leadership spoke for the nation, which is a general principle throughout all of Scripture that we would do well to heed: 

Leaders Speak For A Nation

Elected officials, primaries, bandwagons, issues, current affairs, international policies, taxes, etc., regardless of the realm in which authority is being exercised, the leaders appointed to that realm are those who speak on behalf of the nation or organization over which they preside. This can be seen in every instance of the kings of Israel, and also later in the divided nations of Israel and Judah. 

This principle has not changed in Matthew 12. Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees reveals to us their heart-condition toward truth, with a greater emphasis being given because of the heightened revelation that is on display in the Person of the Messiah. The picture is bleak. This one chapter draws a line in the sand and thrusts the nation of Israel into a direction of wandering once again.

Matthew 12:9-21.(This account is also found in Mark 3:1-5 and Luke 6:6-11; see additional handout so that you can work through all three accounts on your own). Leaving the grain fields (12:1), Jesus entered a synagogue (12:9). There is nothing unusual about this move seeing that Jesus, from the beginning of His public ministry, utilized the synagogue frequently in order to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to the Jews (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 13:54; Mark 1:21, 39; 3:1; Luke 4:15, 16, 44; 6:6; 13:10; John 6:59).

Synagogues grew out of the Jews’ desire to worship YHWH while exiled in Babylon. Being away from the Temple in Jerusalem, their exposure to “holy things” was minimal, being surrounded instead by pagan customs and false gods. The synagogue was a place of assembly for the Jews where prayer, Scripture reading, and exposition took place. Unlike the Tabernacle or the Temple, every day, ordinary Jews were allowed to participate in the synagogue gatherings. The Jews in exile were determined to not lose their heritage though they were displaced due to their disobedience. Therefore, the synagogue was a welcomed opportunity to gather with other Jews who sought to keep the hope alive of the coming of the promised Deliverer of Israel. 

In this situation, the collective heart of the Pharisees becomes clear. Some observations unfold their condition. 

First, it is noted that a crippled man (having a withered hand) is attending the synagogue, of which the Pharisees quickly (and no doubt publicly) exploited by asking Jesus if it was “lawful” (the same concern in 12:2) to heal on the Sabbath (12:10). 

Second, the fact that the question is being addressed to Jesus tells us that the Pharisees were fully aware that Jesus had the power to heal! 

Third, Matthew provides a commentary at the end of v. 10 identifying the malicious motive behind their question. MacDonald observes,  “They knew that the Savior was always predisposed to alleviate human misery. If He would heal on the Sabbath, then they would catch Him in a punishable offense, they thought.”[1]Jesus’ observed life was one free of error. No charge could be established against Him. Being threatened because His popularity and influence were growing among the people (see John 12:19), the Pharisees needed to dispose of Jesus and they needed to do so quickly.

Instead of giving a direct answer to their question, Jesus chooses to answer His accusers with an illustration in the form of a question (Matt 12:11-12). If the Sabbath was so “sacred,” would a man abstain from rescuing one of his sheep if they had fallen into a pit? Would they not act with haste in order to save themselves from the loss of personal property? Jesus’ question is effective because the issue is value and worth. His question hits the Pharisees in the pocketbook! The answer is really a common sense one. Jesus then tells them, without any fear of PETA, that man is “much more valuable” than a sheep (12:12a).

Jesus then answers the Pharisees question clearly, giving an immediate illustration. “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (12:12b). Jesus then commands the man to stretch out his withered hand (12:13), making sure that this miracle is performed for an audience so that His credibility as the Messiah of Israel is firmly established. This reply is interesting when the parallel accounts are considered because they make mention of Jesus having the man with the withered hand stand in the midst of the entire assembly of the synagogue (Mark 3:3; Luke 6:8). With the man’s hands being made whole, the Pharisees quickly withdraw from the scene and instead of giving glory to God because they had witnessed a miracle, they began conspiring to take Jesus’ life (12:14). 

The depths of the hardness of the Pharisees’ collective heart becomes clearer, with opportunities to praise being turned into plans for murder. Being omniscient, Jesus removes Himself from the scene and those who follow Him are healed (12:15), yet He warns them not to reveal who He is. Why? Why would Jesus ask for His identity to be concealed and for those who had received healing to keep the matter to themselves? Here are some possible answers:

·     “Jesus’ injunctions to silence, in this context, must stem from his desire to avoid premature arrest and execution (v. 16).”[2]

·     “To publicize that He is the Messiah would only invite more opposition.”[3]

·     “Jesus’ warnings that those healed should not make him known (cf. 8:4; 9:30; 17:9) seem to be due to his desire not to pander to the crowd’s thirst for the spectacular. Any wave of popular enthusiasm for Jesus would clearly precipitate intensified Pharisaic opposition.”[4]

·     “This quotation of Is. 42:1–4 shows that the Messiah’s quiet withdrawal was in keeping with the prophet’s portrayal of Him. The most significant aspect of this prophecy is that Jesus’ reserve in the face of Jewish opposition would lead to blessings on the Gentiles.”[5]

Each of these in some way seems to miss the overall point, not allowing for Scripture to interpret Scripture. While the last explanation offered tells of the result that camefrom the Jews’ hostility toward their Messiah (see Rom 11:11-14), it does not explain why the command is given. The answer to “why” Jesus commanded this is known as the Messianic Secret.

The Messianic Secret “is not Jesus’ attempt to permanently keep people from knowing, believing in, and following Him. Instead, it is the temporary strategy Jesus employed to accomplish redemption on Calvary so that all may be saved through faith in Him after His plan was fulfilled.”[6]Many times in Scripture we will read of Jesus saying “My time has not yet come” or something to that effect (John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20). It is not until after His teaching known as the Upper Room Discourse that He finally states “the hour has come” (John 17:1). The reason for this careful unfolding of events is that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was an event that was predestined by the Father (Acts 4:27-28). While the Father did not predestine the evil acts of those who rose up against Jesus to crucify Him, He did predestine that His crucifixion would need to take place in order to pay for the sins of the world. This was a specific instance in time that the Father had fixed so that the world’s reconciliation would be accomplished (2 Cor 5:18-21).

Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 42:1-4a in Matthew 12:18-21 is included as a fulfillment of Jesus’ withdrawal and the gentle nature in which He handled those who both followed Him and opposed Him. The Messiah would be One on whom the Spirit of God would rest, which will find greater explanation when Matthew 12:30-32 is considered. He is God’s “choice One,” meaning that He would perfectly fulfill a specific purpose for which YHWH had commissioned Him. He would be One who is gentle, One who would not hurt those who were already afflicted, and One who would not “cry out” making much of Himself. He would be One who would secure justice; a justice that would even reach the Gentiles (nations, pagans), of which there are two mentions in this quotation. The kindness, gentleness, andjustice of the Messiah would even reach the very ones that the Jews despised (12:21).

Matthew 12:22-32.In v.22, a “demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus.” The healing of this man brought about specific conclusions made by the crowds who witnessed Jesus’ miracles. “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he” (12:23)? By using the phrase “Son of David,” the implications were that Jesus could be the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7:16. Such a remark tells us that the cultural anticipation of the Messiah by the Jews was high and that the thought that it may be a reality in their presence was too good to be true. One thing that we know for sure is that the miracles that Jesus did, the teachings that He gave, and the way that He conducted His life all pointed to the conclusion of Him being the promised “Son of David” as a very real reality for those who encountered Him.

The Pharisees promoted a different answer, replying that “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (12:24). This one verse is the turning point of history.

What exactly are the Pharisees saying? “Beelzabul” was known as the “lord of dung” and was used by the Pharisees regarding Jesus’ works in Matthew 9:34, to which He uses as a teaching lesson on persecution and ridicule for the Twelve in Matthew 10:25. Elwell explains, “It was a common practice to apply the names of the gods of enemy nations to the devils of one’s own religion. Thus, the title was applied by the Jews to the devil, or Satan, the prince of demons (Mt 12:24, 27). In their blasphemous criticism, the Pharisees called Jesus by this title to explain his ability to cast out demons (Mk 3:22; Lk 11:15).”[7]Elwell’s comments show the interconnectedness of the demons and Satan as they serve together in deceiving the nations while ruling them corruptly (Psa 82). The hardened hearts of the

Pharisees had concluded that Jesus’ miracles were the outward manifestation of the activity and power of Satan.

While many of our Bible headings, scholars, and commentators will note that Matthew 12:30-32 is known as the “Unpardonable Sin,” we actually see that these verses are referring back to what had just happened in Matthew 12:24. This comment about the origins of Jesus’ power in performing good works seeks to ascribe evil motives to Him and takes the miracles performed by the Spirit of God through Jesus and gives the credit to Satan. THIS is the unpardonable sin, for the Pharisees had experienced a level of heightened revelation that could not be denied and their conclusion was not one of simple unbelief, for with unbelief there is still the opportunity to believe. This declaration was one of anti-belief, taking what they knew about the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, and seeing the amazing good works through the miracles that Christ performed, and further hardening their hearts to His presence among them so as to discredit God’s work among the people through Him. It is the very miracles that He performed that served as a testimony (witness) that YHWH God was with Him (John 5:36)! 

The miracles that Christ performed indicated His place as the rightful King of Israel. This conclusion that was being promoted by the Pharisees was a blatant denial of heightened revelation. It was an authoritative expression of national unbelief, for the leaders of a nation speak on behalf of that nationand Israel had slapped away the Spirit’s divine hands that was offering them the long-promised kingdom. With such miracles and signs, the evidence against their claim that Satanic powers were to be credited for such great works was incontrovertible. Peters writes, “the Messiah that is covenanted to rule over the Theocratic-Davidic throne and Kingdom is to be possessed with God-like powersin order to bring in the predicted Millennial blessings, and this was so clearly apprehended by the Jews that they looked (John 7:31; Matt. 12:23) for Him to perform  uncommonly great miracles.”[8]Jesus’ miracles were witnesses to the nation of Israel, testifying that the “kingdom of God has come upon you” (12:28b).

Jesus is not passive in this situation, replying with a series of logical questions that force the Pharisees into a corner. Let’s follow the line of reasoning carefully. First, Jesus demonstrates His omniscience by making the same general statement twice. If a kingdom or house is divided against itself it will fail (12:25). He then connects this truth to the accusation leveled against Him noting that this principle is not different with Satan. For Satan cannot work against himself and make any progress (12:26). This statement by Jesus makes the believer wonder if the reason for much of the willful sin and laxity regarding a daily pursuit of holiness within the church is not due to the unified nature of Satan and his demons against mankind and God’s purposes. Oh, if only the Church were unified in such a way!

In 12:27, Jesus takes the argument one step further. Constable writes, “The Pharisees’ ‘sons’ cast out demons occasionally. These ‘sons’ were probably their disciples or less likely the Jews more generally. In either case some Jews in Jesus’ day could cast out demons (cf. Acts 19:13). If the Pharisees asserted that Jesus cast out demons by Satan’s power, they would have to admit that their sons did so by the same power, something they would have denied.”[9]Exorcism was something known to the Pharisees, and either by lineage or by those who were their students, had been performed in their midst. To accuse Jesus of doing the same works but concluding that the power used was of the devil would only lead one to draw the same conclusion about those with whom the Pharisees associated. Jesus’ pronouncement to them was that their “sons’” acts in casting out demons testified against them and found them guilty of anti-belief.

With 12:28, Jesus strikes at the heart of the matter, exposing the Pharisees’ willful blindness and drawing the overarching logical and biblical conclusion for them: if the source of My power in working miracles before you is from the Spirit of God, the only conclusion that you can make is that “the kingdom of God has come upon you” (12:28b). Jesus shines the spotlight on the heightened revelation that they had been given, exposes their hermeneutical problem in poorly interpreting the situation in spite of all of the evidence given to them, and then draws the Pharisees back to His original message: “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt 4:17; 9:35).

The contents of v.29 may seem like a strange aside that has been tacked on to the explanation that Jesus offers, but He is providing a further explanation of the situation regarding His relation to Satan. Jesus is more powerful than Satan. Those people who are demon-possessed are in such a state because Satan has worked among them and deceived them into such a state. He has power over them and they are his “property.” With much greater power, Jesus holds Satan and his activity at bay and frees those who are oppressed by him. Jesus is able to plunder the house of Satan because of His strength and authority.

In Matthew 12:30-32, Jesus draws a line in the sand. If you are not for Christ and His purposes, you are against Him. There is no fence, there is no “middle ground,” and neutrality is a myth. Verse 31 starts with “therefore” meaning that these statements are connected to the main point regarding where one stands in relation to Christ. The key to understanding Jesus’ words in 12:30-32 is to remember the context given in 12:28 and earlier in 12:24. The unpardonable sin, committed by the Pharisees in 12:24, is now explained giving reason as to why such a statement was so heinous and damning. To blaspheme against Jesus Christ is a forgivable offense, but to be a witness of the Spirit of God’s power as displayed and working through Jesus was an offense that could not be forgiven. The revelation given to the leaders of the Jews was simply too high to ignore, disregard, or misinterpret. The Spirit’s works provided a threshold of heightened revelation, giving irrefutable evidence for who Jesus is as the Son of

God, the King of Glory, and the Promised Messiah. This took the matter beyond unbelief to anti-belief.

The extreme nature of such unforgiveness can be seen in Jesus’ comment that this anti-belief would not be forgiven “in this age or in the age to come” (12:32b). R.T. France notes that these terms are Jewish in nature and denote the present life and the next life, “which lies on the other side of judgment.”[10]Such blatant sin would find no resolve in the present, nor the future. 

Why is this a turning point in history? From this moment forward, Jesus no longer offers the kingdom to Israel and when speaking of the kingdom, He no longer states that it is “at hand.” The leaders of the nation of Israel had spoken for the people of Israel and the opportunity for national repentance was forfeited concluding that the Messiah’s power was from the prince of demons. 

The offer of the kingdom had been postponed because it had been rejected by the people. They did not want the Messiah’s rule when it was offered to them and when the evidence was irrefutable, they blasphemed against it, hardening their hearts to all that God had shown them. From this moment forward, Jesus looks to the cross.

Can the “unpardonable sin” be committed today? No. Many have concluded that this sin is one of simple unbelief and have attached this interpretation to the truth that those who do not believe in Christ are destined for the Lake of Fire. While the latter part of this argument is most certainly true, it does not do justice in interpreting the immediate context of Jesus’ argument in relation to forgiveness and unforgiveness in connection with blasphemy against He Himself and the Spirit of God respectively (12:30-32). This is not a simple case of unbelief, but anti-belief. The stakes were high because the extent of revelation was high. The promised King stood before them and His works were testifying that He is the Messiah of Israel. To deny this was to harden one’s heart against all evidence and to render one’s 

self unredeemable! Because we do not have the Lord Jesus Christ in bodily form with us today and because He is not physical displaying the works of the Spirit through miracles before us, we are incapable of committing the unpardonable sin. 

If you are not a believer in Christ, this is great news… you can be saved! Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ today.

[1]MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary,p. 1248–1249.

[2]Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), p. 200.

[3]Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), p. 46.

[4]David Turner and Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark(Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005), p. 171.

[5]Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary(Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 1162.

[6]Leighton Flowers, “The Messianic Secret,”, accessed on 22 August 2018.

[7]Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Baal-Zebub,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), p. 241.

[8]George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom of Our Lord Jesus, the Christ, vol. 3 (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884), p. 514.

[9]Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible(Galaxie Software, 2003), Mt 12:27.

[10]R.T. France, “The Gospel of Matthew,” The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), p. 484.