Thursday, November 11, 2010

Matthew 12:38–50

Matthew 12:38–50 (ESV): The Sign of Jonah, Return of an Unclean Spirit, Jesus’ Mother and Brothers


I’ve been going through the New Testament based on the ESV section headings, so by that model this should have been three posts: The Sign of Jonah, Return of an Unclean Spirit, and Jesus’ Mother and Brothers. However, I’ve been going too slow lately—it’s been over three months since my last post here—and these three sections all kind of go together, so I’m including them all in one post.

In the first passage, the scribes and Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, but he tells them that by asking for a sign they are being evil and adulterous. (Actually, he condemns their entire generation as being evil and adulterous, not just the particular scribes and Pharisees currently asking him for a sign. Everyone is asking for a sign.)

He tells them that they won’t get a sign, except for the “sign of the prophet Jonah” (verse 39 (ESV)):

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (verse 40 (ESV))
In other words, Jesus is referring to his coming sacrifice and death, when he’ll be dead for three days before rising again. In fact, Jesus tells them that at the judgement, the people Jonah preached to in Nineveh will rise up against this current generation and judge it, for the people of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s message, but this generation is not repenting at Jesus’, even though Jesus is greater than Jonah. Similarly, the queen of the South will do the same, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear Solomon’s wisdom, and Jesus is greater than Solomon. (The ESV suggests 1 Kings 10:1 (ESV) and 2 Chronicles 9:1 (ESV) as references for this mention of the queen of the South.)

In the second passage, Jesus says something that I don’t properly understand, so I’m just going to quote it:

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” (verses 43–45 (ESV))
This is obviously a continuation of what Jesus has already been talking about, since he’s still talking about this evil and adulterous generation.

In the final passage, Jesus’ mother and brothers come and ask to speak to him. When Jesus is told this, he rhetorically asks the messenger who are his mother and brothers? And then indicates the crowd around him, and says that they are his mother and brothers—that anyone who does the will of his Father in heaven is his mother and brother.


I keep quoting Jesus straight, saying “this generation,” because I don’t think that he’s referring just to the specific generation that was alive when he was on the earth—I think he’s referring generally to the “generation” that has been in place since his coming. I could be wrong on that.

My only theory about the unclean spirits passage quoted above is that Jesus might be talking about the false spirituality of the Pharisees of his day. All through the Old Testament, we see condemnation of the Israelites for not obeying God’s law; shortly before Jesus’ time, the Pharisees started to come into the picture, and swung the pendulum too far in the other direction, not only trying their best to follow the letter (if not the intent) of God’s law, but adding in so many rules of their own that it would be impossible for anyone to satisfy their demands. (Not that any human has ever been able to follow God’s law in any event, other than Jesus himself.) Jesus condemned the Pharisees very strongly, in many, many passages; it seems that their false spirituality and hypocrisy was even worse than not obeying at all; when people have the false belief that they are okay with God, they’re not going to bother trying to seek Him. In other words, “evil” was banished from the nation of Israel, by the resurgence in spirituality, only to come back and find that it was even easier to lure the Israelites away from God than it had been before.

I think it’s safe to say that Jesus isn’t disowning his family, with the “mothers and brothers” passage. In fact, in John 19:26–27 (ESV) he indicates his concern that Mary be taken care of, after his death—so obviously he loves and cares for his family. But there will always be a stronger bond between believers than with non-believers, even closer than the bond we have with blood relatives. (I’m not saying that Jesus’ brothers weren’t believers; I don’t know whether they came to believe or not.)

This passage also shows that Joseph and Mary must have had other children besides Jesus, for him to have brothers. Just sayin’.

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