Foundational Framework Part 51 - Something Greater


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.

It would be best to go back and read all of Matthew 12 again to get the thrust of what is taking place in world history. This is a weighty matter! A people who had 1400 years of promises, prophets, and signs was at the cusp of having all of their greatest expectations become a reality and their leaders, being the most knowledgeable men among them, discredited every effort or promise that YHWH had ever made to them because their hardened hearts would not allow for their pride to be deflated in the eyes of Israel. They simply could not humble themselves before the promised Messiah. 

Instead, they blasphemed the Holy Spirit, by whom Jesus was performing His miracles, which provided irrefutable evidence that He was the Christ of God (John 5:36; Matt 12:24, 28, 30-32). Hollandsworth writes, “Do you see what happened in Matt. 12? The religious leadership refused to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. They ignored the signs (miracles), asking for yet more signs (v.38). They rejected the offer of the kingdom of the heavens, on the basis that Abraham was their father (Matt. 3:9). Matt. 12 is the point at which the religious leadership sealed the nation’s destiny.”[1]

In one fell swoop, the offer of the kingdom of God is rescinded, thus postponing the kingdom.

Matthew 12:38-42.The Pharisees and the scribes ask Jesus for a “sign,” meaning a miracle. Before addressing this point, “scribes”were “members of a learned class in ancient Israel through New Testament times who studied the Scriptures and served as copyists, editors, and teachers.”[2]Many of the priests served as scribes, one of which was the Jewish historian Josephus. We often see the scribes grouped together with the Pharisees, being that they also were promoters of tradition and legalistic demands over and against the text of the Old Testament Law. Matthew 23 provides Jesus’ scathing criticism of these two groups.

The desire to see a miraculous work from Jesus is nothing short of a ridiculous request. These men had witnessed the crippled man’s hand made whole (Matt 12:13-14) and the news of the demon-possessed man’s healing had certainly reached them triggering their blasphemous testimony regarding Jesus’ power as being satanic (Matt 12:22-24). Would a sign, as they requested, really bring them from their anti-belief into belief and the required national repentance coupled with an acceptance that Jesus was the promised Messiah of Israel? 

Not at all. 

Jesus’ reply once again draws an exposure of the collective heart of His opponents, noting that they are an “evil and adulterous generation” (12:39). Despite the heightened revelation previously given to them, shouldn’t this request be viewed as harmless? 

The request of the scribes and the Pharisees is deemed “evil” because of their willing dismissal of Jesus’ previous miracles. A quick review of Jesus’ life from Matthew 8-11 will show the cleansing of a leper (Matt 8:3), the healing of a paralyzed man who served a Roman centurion (Matt 8:13), healing the sickness of Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt 8:15), the “many” who were ill and demon-possessed of which He healed them all (Matt 8:16), the command which brought a complete stillness to a sea and windstorm (Matt 8:26), the exorcism of the two  demon-possessed men in the country of the Gadarenes to which a whole city responded in fear (Matt 8:32-34), the healing of a paralytic to which the scribes were a witness, as well as a crowd of people (Matt 9:3, 6b, 8a), the resurrection of the official’s daughter (Matt 9:25, a highly publicized event- See Matt 9:26), the restoration of the woman’s body who had a twelve-year issue of blood (Matt 9:20-22), the healing of two blind men (Matt 9:29-30a), another exorcism (Matt 9:33a), and the healing of every disease and sickness that was brought to Him (Matt 9:35b); all of these being instances that Jesus offers up to John the Baptist to encourage his wayward faith while in prison (Matt 11:4-5). To request more was deemed “evil” because all of the insurmountable evidence that had already been provided had been overlooked or dismissed. This may cause us to think that the scribes and the Pharisees were either looking for the miraculous simply for the fact that it was miraculous, or that they were hoping that Jesus would not be able to “perform on command” which would give them the opportunity to discredit Him. Regardless of the reason, the request was unnecessary to say the least.

Jesus’ declaration of their generation being “adulterous” for requesting a sign may seem confusing. What does fornication have to do with miracles? Constable explains, writing, “Adultery is a common Old Testament metaphor for spiritual apostasy, departure from God (Isa. 50:1; 57:3; Jer. 3:8; 13:27; 31:32; Ezek 16:15, 32, 35–42; Hos. 2:1–7; 3:1; 7:13–16).”[3]Is this not where the leaders had led the nation? Legalism has no home with God. The spiritual climate of this “generation” was cold and calloused, running on appearances and rituals with the heart of Israel being far, far from YHWH their Elohim. 

Jesus states that there will be one sign provided to the nation (Matt 12:39). This draws the reader into Jesus’ first mention of His death and resurrection. Gone are the calls for national repentance because the kingdom of heaven was “at hand.” It was no longer at hand because of the Pharisees’ blasphemy against the Spirit of God (Matt 12:24). Jesus’ focus was now upon the cross of Calvary and His resurrection from the dead. This is clear from His reference. Jesus cites Jonah 1:17 and shows that Jonah’s time in the belly of a great sea monster was a “type” of Christ’s death and resurrection which serves as the “antitype.” Jesus is not only predicting the time frame of his burial being only three days, but the limitation of the days presumes His resurrection. Furthermore, Jesus’ reference to the “unlikely” event of Jonah being swallowed by a “sea monster” shows that Jesus believed the account to be actual and historical, providing His verification for the Old Testament account.

We must give a word on types and antitypes: A type is a figure, event, or historical account in the Old Testament that foreshadows, resembles, or serves as an example in likeness, person, event, or idea in the New Testament, which is known as the “antitype.” Zuck notes that “The word antitypeliterally means ‘answering to the type’ and means a counterpart.”[4]An example of this concept would be from our earlier study where the children of Israel are set free from their bondage to Egypt. The Israelites were spared from death by applying the blood to their lentils and doorposts. This actual historical event is a type that finds its antitype in the fact that all people deserve death due to their sin, but Jesus has died and His blood, once applied by faith, causes for spiritual death to pass over them, sparing them an eternity in the Lake of Fire. In the same way, Jesus’ reference to Jonah gives us a clear interpretation that we are dealing with a type/antitype situation. Jonah’s time in the belly of the sea monster was an actual, literal, historical event that served as an example of something that would happen to the Christ of God regarding His death, burial, and resurrection, with each instance being marked by three days’ time.

In Matthew 12:41-42, Jesus provides two examples where people were previously given lesser revelation than what was currently before the nation of Israel and yet received a greater response from those who were knowledgeable of it. The “men of Nineveh” is in keeping with the Jonah narrative, noting that Jonah’s preaching brought repentance to a vile and worthless nation. If we were to look at the book of Jonah, we find out that Jonah’s reason for running away from God and refusing to preaching to the city was not a matter of fear, but an admission of God’s great mercy extended to unfathomable sinners! In speaking with YHWH, Jonah says, “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah’s anger in chapter four was due to God’s mercy on the people of Nineveh. With Jonah’s preaching, repentance came from the people! Yet, Jesus uses this example to state that “something greater” than Jonah was right before the eyes of the scribes and Pharisees. There was greater revelation staring them in the face, and their response remained one of anti-belief.

Jesus also mentions the “Queen of the South” which is the Queen of Sheba from 1 Kings 10:1-13. In traveling to see Solomon and ask questions of him, she concluded, “Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you to set you on the throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness” (1 Kgs 10:9). Having heard of Solomon’s wisdom, the Queen of Sheba traveled to see if these reports were true. She responded to the revelation given to her, and upon inquiry, she concluded that YHWH loved Israel and that He had placed Solomon as king over His people. The queen responded to the revelation given to her and was captivated by the mercy of the Lord. Because of this, Jesus states that she will stand in judgment of this “generation” of Israel and condemn it because of their failure to respond to the “something greater” than Solomon that stood before them (Matt 12:42).

With Matthew 12:41 and 42 Jesus is stating prophetic facts, emphasizes the personal accountability of Israel in responding to Him, and is qualifying their peers as credible judges that will render a disturbing judgment due to the rejection of sufficient evidence. McClain summarizes, “In the final day of judgment both Nineveh and the queen of the south will rise up as witnesses against this unrepentant ‘generation,’ because what it had heard and seen incomparably surpassed any previously given divine revelation to the sons of men.”[5]

Matthew 12:43-45.This example is probably presented in light of the exorcism that took place in Matthew 12:22. Jesus employs an illustration to clearly communicate the wretched state that Israel has found herself in now that she has rejected her promised Messiah on a national level. One important point to observe is that the vacated “man” in v.43 is what the restless demon calls “my house” in v.44, and to which Jesus connects back to the “man” in v.45. Israel had been through a session of heightened revelation with the preaching of repentance from John the Baptist and their subsequent exposure to the promised Messiah who was also offering the kingdom of heaven to the nation. With this high accountability came the high responsibility to respond. 

We learn from Matthew 3:5 that many in Jerusalem and in Judea were responding to John’s message and his baptism of repentance. Those responding were making their paths straight (John 1:23) so that they would believe on the One who was to come (Acts 19:4). Thus, a cleansing had taken place and Israel was now ripe to receive her King; yet, she persisted in unbelief and denied Jesus’ calls to national repentance. MacDonald puts it well, writing, “Reformation is not enough. There must be the positive acceptance of the Savior.”[6]Israel never filled the vacancy that was created as a result of John’s preaching. This negligence left the nation open to greater infiltration, greater harm, and further apostasy. Now that rejection had taken place, Israel would be much, much worse than before, which when compared with their future as a people in the Scriptures, finds great distress and calamity during the Tribulation when the nation will undergo profound persecution and destruction (Matt 24:9, 15-22; Rev 11:13). 

Jesus gives a direct application to the present situation: “That is the way it will also be with this evil generation” (Matt 12:45b). This is the fourth use of the word “generation” in this section (12:39, 41, 42, 45), specifying the generation that received the physical visitation of the Messiah. They would reap the consequences of their rejection of Him. They had sealed their own fate. 

Matthew 12:46-50.Jesus’ response seems odd. It should be stated that Jesus had literal half-brothers that were the legitimate offspring of Mary and Joseph. Some within the Catholic or Orthodox traditions have interpreted the mention of Jesus’ “brothers” as being His “brothers in Christ,” or that these were children that Joseph brought into the relationship from a previous marriage in order to hold fast to their belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary. The latter explanation is impossible because, as the offspring of Joseph and being (obviously) older than Jesus, they would have the right to the throne of Israel which would exclude any claim that Jesus would have to David’s throne. In championing this interpretation in order to protect Mary, those of the Catholic tradition have nullified the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7:16).

In Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 a listing of Jesus’ actual brothers is provided, with Early Church History acknowledging that both the Epistles of James and Jude are written by the half-brothers of Christ. Any notion that Mary abstained from intercourse after giving birth to Jesus is a poor attempt to elevate a human being to a super-superior position. This is done by stating that her abstinence from intercourse would be in line with godliness, which finds no biblical merit when God alone is the Designer of the human body and sexual intercourse, and He commands that the physical marital union be both frequent and enjoyable (Gen 2:24-25; Prov 5:19; Song of Solomon; 1 Cor 7:2-5). To state that a married person should abstain from sex unless it is both in agreement with his or her spouse and that it is only for a time of committed prayer is simply anti-biblical (1 Cor 7:5).

Having been rejected by His own (John 1:11), Jesus’ focus was shifting. The emphasis in this section is that truth has both a dividing and unifying factor; dividing those that may be closest to us who disagree with the truth, and uniting those who hold fast to the truth though they may have never met before. Jesus’ concluding statement summarizes this truth. Those who are doing God’s will are those who are in fellowship with Him. These are the ones that comprise a new familial unit, who were born “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).

A new direction is taking place. A seismic shift is occurring. The Israelites were being moved to the backburner of God’s prophetic plan for history and something new, and previously unrevealed, would become God’s mouthpiece for the world. A new age was coming with a new people called out by God. 

[1]James S. Hollandsworth, Keys for Inheriting the Kingdom: Unlocking the Parables of Jesus (Forest City, North Carolina: Holly Publishing, 2017), p. 42.

[2]Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison, Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1995).

[3]Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible(Galaxie Software, 2003), Mt 12:39.

[4]Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth, ed. Craig Bubeck Sr. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1991), p. 171.

[5]Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom(Winona Lake, IN: BMH Publishing, 1974), p. 317.

[6]William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), p. 1252.