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# 52: 3-19-19 1

Matthew 12:22-37

Matthew has begun to show the opposition that was arising against Jesus, as He ministered in Galilee.
Mostly this is seen on the part of the Pharisees and the scribes - the teachers of the people.

The religious rulers had on occasion questioned Jesus in the past (Mt 9:3, 34). But as Jesus began to
undermine their authority with the people, the Pharisees’ animosity toward Jesus coalesced in the form of
pointed accusations against Him.

We have already seen this directed against the teaching of Jesus - specifically regarding the Sabbath. Now
as we continue in Matthew’s account, we will see the religious rulers are challenging even the miraculous
works of Jesus.

We continue in verse 22 of chapter 12.

v. 22-23 Matthew records for his readers another miraculous work of Jesus, and the divergent response of
the crowd and, as we will see, some Pharisees that were present. As the account continues, we find Jesus
and the Pharisees involved in another confrontation.

Now, we might think that this is surprising, considering what Matthew had just recorded previously.

Remember that Jesus had healed the man with the withered hand in the synagogue. Afterwards, the
Pharisees plotted to kill Him, and so Jesus had withdrawn from the region.

Then Matthew showed that the pattern of Jesus to steer clear of unnecessary confrontation, and avoid
publicity, was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy for the Servant of the LORD; the Messiah. But now we have
Jesus back in another confrontation with the Pharisees!

What is not apparent from Matthew’s gospel is that the action in our passage today does not immediately
follow the previous passage, chronologically. Mark clarifies that Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the
sea, and ministered to the crowds there, for a time (Mk 3:7-12).

It appears that this healing and encounter with the Pharisees took place later, maybe about a year later;
inside a house (Mk 3:19-30) - one of the larger homes, that could hold a crowd.

Also, the Pharisees in this passage are not the same as those from the local synagogue in the previous
passage; Mark informs us that these Pharisees are scribes from Jerusalem (Mk 3:22).

It would seem that the Jewish rulers there had begun monitoring Jesus, who was probably two or three
years into His ministry in Galilee, by this time. Jesus was perceived to be a threat to the Jew’s highest
religious establishment - and as we will see today, they sought to eliminate this threat.

So why didn’t Matthew mention these things? Because these details weren’t essential, to Matthew’s telling
of the story. You may remember that Matthew’s gospel is not usually chronological, but instead follows a
geographical progression, and often tends to be organized by topics.

Matthew is showing in this section how the opposition has begun to develop, against Jesus - and he is
laying out their methods of attack, and how Jesus refutes their charges, for his Jewish readers to see - as
well as for us.
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Because of this, Matthew spends few words on the afflicted man, who was brought to Jesus. We are simply
told that he was demon-possessed, blind and mute. The sense is that it was the demon who was rendering
the man blind and mute; the demon had control over the man’s body.

The words of the Pharisees in verse 24 clearly inform us that Jesus cast out the demon; and when Jesus did
this, the man was able to speak and to see. What a miracle!

And the people certainly perceived it as such. Matthew described their reaction using a stronger word than
he’s chosen in the past. This miracle was astonishing.

Remember, they were all in a large house; and this man was brought in to Jesus; and as Jesus cast the
demon out, the man was made completely well. The people present all saw it happen right before their eyes
- close-up. You can understand why this particular miracle had the impact on them that it did.

It caused the people to really think about what they had just seen - no one could deny the supernatural
power that was required, to cast out this demon; no one could deny the plain evidence that the man was
completely healed - for now, he could speak, and see!

So the people present began to consider further what this must mean. “Son of David” was a popular
expression for the Messiah at that time, based on OT prophecies which showed that the Messiah of Israel
would be the seed of David (2 Sam 7:12-16).

The Jews would have known of the prophecies of Isaiah, which indicated Messiah would have the ability to
miraculously heal people (Is 29:18; 35:5-6).

And Isaiah also prophesied that Messiah would proclaim liberty to the captives, and open the prison to
those who are bound (Is 61:1) - wasn’t that exactly what Jesus was doing, in casting out demons? Besides,
what Jesus did was irrefutable evidence of the power of God - the only power that was greater than the
supernatural power of demonic spirits.

Or was the evidence irrefutable? For the Pharisees from Jerusalem chose to refute it.

v. 24 Now these Pharisees from Jerusalem were present in the house, with the crowd. We know this
because we next find Jesus speaking directly to them (v. 25). The Pharisees witnessed Jesus casting the
demon out of the possessed man. And they saw that the man was made completely well. But it seems -
seems - that they came to an utterly different conclusion, than the crowd.

The people were beginning to consider that Jesus might be the Messiah, seeing He did the works of God.
But the Pharisees attributed the power of Jesus to another source - to Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.

In the OT, Beelzebub was a Philistine deity. The name means literally “lord of flies” (2 Ki 1:2). But the
Greek manuscripts have actually Beelzebul, an Aramaic form of the word which means god of dung -
excrement.

The name had by this day been changed by a single letter to achieve that meaning, and applied as a title for
Satan. It is thought that this was done by the Jews as a means of expressing extreme contempt and
aversion, for Satan.

This is the title for Satan which the Pharisees select, as they try to link the power of Jesus to Satan - which
should give us a hint that the Pharisees are attempting to disparage Jesus.
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This is further supported by the fact that the Pharisees made this statement after they heard what the
multitude was saying. The Pharisees observed that popular support was moving in the direction of Jesus;
the people were beginning to believe Jesus to be their Messiah. The Pharisees’ response was a blatant
effort to stamp out this movement toward Jesus on the part of the people, before it gained momentum.

So does that mean that the Pharisees didn’t really believe what they themselves were saying, about Jesus?
Correct. In fact, there is evidence in the gospel accounts that reveals the Pharisees surmised that Jesus did
heal by the power of God (Jn 11:47-48), and even that He was Israel’s Messiah (Mt 21:33-45).

But these religious rulers had already determined in their hearts to reject Jesus - despite the evidence of
who He is. Why? They feared losing their position of power and influence, with the people (Mt 21:38).

Now, the Pharisees could not deny the supernatural power, by which Jesus healed; that was indeed
irrefutable. So they tried to mislead the people as to the source of that power; supernatural, yes; but not of
God; of Satan.

If the Pharisees could get the people to buy this, Jesus would be discredited - perhaps He could even be
condemned for practicing the magic arts, which was expressly forbidden in OT Scriptures (Deut 18:10-14).

But Jesus sees right through their plan, and conclusively refutes their allegation.

v. 25-29 In verse 25, we read that Jesus knew their thoughts. Now, the Pharisees had made their accusation
against Jesus outright; they had stated it, to the people. So what did Matthew mean, when he said that Jesus
knew the Pharisees’ thoughts?

He meant that Jesus knew what was behind their statement; what the Pharisees were thinking. He knew
they were slandering Him with a lie in an attempt to discredit Him, so that the people would reject Jesus.
This motivation of the Pharisees would not have required any special revelation of the Spirit; it was quite
obvious.

So Jesus refuted their allegation with a point of simple logic: division destroys unity. Whether it is a
kingdom, or a city, or a household, if its members are divided, it falls apart; it dissolves.

Satan has a kind of kingdom - what we call the world system; Satan is the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4) -
the world of men.

Satan’s rule over that system is perpetuated by his minions - the demonic spirits. They work to maintain
the unity of the world system, through perpetuating the thinking of Satan, and empowering those men who
are active, committed participants in that system - as opposed to most other men, who are simply born into
the system, and rather passively engage in it.

Now, the Pharisees claimed that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub - Satan. And Jesus cast
out demons decisively; and He did so consistently; and with frequency.

How could Satan possibly be the source of Jesus’ power, when Jesus’ actions significantly undermined
Satan’s rule? The two things are at crossed purposes; it would mean that Satan is divided against himself,
which would result in the destruction of his world system. With this simple logical argument, Jesus utterly
turned the Pharisees’ allegation on its head.
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But Jesus went further. In verse 27, Jesus spoke of “your sons” - the sons of the Pharisees. Jesus did not
mean this literally but figuratively, for those who associated with the Pharisees, and shared their thinking -
members of their group.

Now, notice Jesus said that these religious Jews also cast out demons. Really? Apparently so. We have a
an example in Scripture that we can look at. Turn to Mark chapter 9. The apostle John made an
observation, to Jesus.

[Mark 9:38-40] Notice from John’s statement that the man was genuinely casting demons out, of those
possessed. The man was doing so in the name of Jesus. The point Jesus made to John is that as the man
does so successfully, it will cause him to believe in the One with that powerful name - Jesus Himself.

Jewish exorcists are also mentioned in some historical records outside of Scripture. But apparently, they
were only rarely successful in casting out demons. Perhaps the demons occasionally obliged these
exorcists, in order to draw attention to themselves, and to confuse men. But most often, the demons didn’t
oblige - as we see in one more case, in Scripture.

Turn to Acts chapter 19. God was working many miracles by the hand of Paul, in order to gain an audience
for the preaching of the gospel in the Roman province of Asia. These miracles included the casting out of
evil spirits - demons. Some Jewish exorcists decided to try their hand at it, using the name of Jesus like a
magic charm, spoken over the one possessed.

[Acts 19:13-16] Well, that certainly backfired! The exorcists did not believe in Jesus and His power, but
only in their own ability; they employed His name like a magic charm. That left them defenseless - against
this powerful demon.

The demon used the man he was in control of to strip and beat the exorcists; and they ran away. They were
exposed before all, as the frauds that they were.

[Return to Matthew 12]

From this we can surmise that Jewish exorcists were upon rare occasion successful - and then, most likely
because the demons cooperated, in order to confuse and frighten men. This rare event would not have
undermined Satan’s rule, but instead would serve to reinforce it - through deception and fear.

But certainly, whenever a Jewish exorcist was successful, the Pharisees would have declared that it was
done by the power of God - through His Spirit. Of course one could ask, why were these Jewish exorcists
not always successful, if God was the source of their power?

On the other hand, Jesus was always successful; and His actions were authoritative; the demons had to
obey Him; they even declared who He is - the Son of God (Mt 8:29, Mk 3:11). Jesus’ power was clearly
superior; mightier than the power of the demonic realm.

This was what Jesus was illustrating with the strong man. Satan is like the strong man. Jesus
acknowledges his strength, as the god of this world - the world here is the strong man’s house. What would
the goods represent? The sons of Adam; men in the flesh.

Jesus likens Himself to a thief; intent upon plundering the strong man’s house; stealing his goods. But in
order to do that, the thief must bind the strong man - rendering him powerless to stop the thief.
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Well, to do that, the thief must be stronger than the strong man, right? And so Jesus had just proven
Himself to be - having freed the blind and mute man from demon-possession.

Luke also recorded this illustration in his gospel. Turn to Luke chapter 11. This is a parallel passage to
what we are studying in Matthew 12.

[Luke 11:21-22] Satan is strong; but Jesus is stronger than him, and overcomes him. Where will the
victory of Jesus over Satan be fully realized? At the cross (Jn 12:31).

[Return to Matthew 12]

Time and again, Jesus has demonstrated that His power was clearly greater than Satan’s, by freeing men
from possession by demons. So how could the Pharisees possibly claim that the source of Jesus’ power was
not God?

And from this, Jesus makes yet another point. Jesus has shown that the only reasonable conclusion a
person can come to is that He casts out demons by the Spirit of God.

Now, as we have seen, Jesus cast out demons decisively, consistently, and frequently. What did this imply?
It implied that Satan’s rule was being overturned - as Satan was being deprived, of his subjects, one by one.
The kingdom of God had come, for the King was here; Jesus was delivering men from the power of
darkness, and transferring them into His kingdom (Col 1:13).

But notice exactly what Jesus said to the Pharisees, in verse 28: “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God”
- which He just did - “surely the kingdom of God has come upon you”. That is to say, the kingdom of God
has caught up with these Pharisees. The Door is right in front of them (Mt 7:13, Jn 10:7), and they have
refused to go through it. Therefore, they will remain outside God’s kingdom - in the place of judgment.

But Jesus is not finished, with these Pharisees.

v. 30 Jesus was making it plain to the Pharisees that there is no middle-ground, with Him; they are against
Him, attempting to scatter the sheep that Jesus has purposed to gather, into His kingdom. They have
aligned themselves against the purposes of God: for salvation through the One whom He sent.

v. 31-32 Jesus speaks of an unforgivable sin, in these verses. It has created much anxiety among people,
even believers, as they ponder if they might have possibly committed this sin, and therefore cannot be
forgiven by God.

Well, you can rest assured that if you are worried about it, that is a sure sign that you haven’t committed it!
Let’s look at this closely, to understand what Jesus meant.

First, we have to be certain to look at this in the context of what Jesus has been saying. He was responding
to the Pharisees, who alleged that the source of His power to cast out demons is Satan.

After presenting a reasonable and convincing argument, Jesus indicated He cast out demons by the Spirit of
God - the Holy Spirit. And Jesus said further that, by attempting to scatter the flock that Jesus was
gathering into the kingdom, the Pharisees have positioned themselves against Him.

Jesus clearly states in verse 31 what the unforgivable sin is: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Any other
sin could be forgiven - but not that.
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So what does it mean, to blaspheme the Spirit? “Blasphemy” is a kind of verbal abuse - words which are
the worst form of slander. Men can blaspheme each other; but here, the blasphemy is directed against the
Spirit, who is God, and therefore carries the gravest ramifications possible.

It is evident that Jesus intended this charge - of blasphemy against the Spirit - regarding the words that the
Pharisees had uttered, as to the source of His power to cast out demons. In what sense was that blasphemy?
In the sense that the Pharisees attributed the work of God’s Spirit to His ultimate enemy, Satan.

Now, this goes far deeper that the obvious dishonoring of the Holy Spirit, by the Pharisees. Jesus had
received the anointing of the Holy Spirit at His baptism, for His ministry (Mt 3:16). Through the Spirit,
Jesus did the works which the Father purposed for Him to do (Jn 5:19-20) - such as healing, and casting out
demons.

What was the purpose of Jesus doing those works, by the Spirit? It was a witness to Jesus; that the Father
had sent Him (Jn 5:36). The miraculous works are the Spirit’s testimony, that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah.

For the Pharisees to attribute those works to Satan was no less than a deliberate attempt to remove the
manifest evidence before men that Jesus is the Messiah; the Savior. This is the work of the enemy of God;
Satan.

The Pharisees have revealed themselves to be lieutenants in the enemy’s camp; diametrically opposed to
God’s saving purposes, for men. Their blasphemy cannot be forgiven, because it reveals hearts that have
already made a final decision against God. They cannot be forgiven now, nor for eternity.

But we might wonder, why would blasphemy against Jesus - speaking evil against Him - be forgivable?
Was He a lesser member of the Godhead, than the Holy Spirit? Clearly not!

But notice the words of Jesus, in verse 32; He says, “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it
will be forgiven him”. “Son of Man” is the most common way in which Jesus refers to Himself. It
emphasizes His human form.

When the Word became flesh to tabernacle among men (Jn 1:14), He took on a body of flesh, and became
subject to time. Jesus grew up; He became a man; he began His ministry.

Through time, Jesus was being revealed as the Messiah of Israel. Was that revelation complete? No; not
until Jesus died, and rose from the grave, would the revelation of Jesus as Messiah be complete.

So the people did not yet have a complete revelation, and with their lack of full knowledge, they might not
realize that Jesus is their Messiah; the Savior. They might dishonor Him, slander Him - out of ignorance.
This could be forgiven them, if they eventually had a change of heart.

A good example of this is the apostle Paul. Turn to First Timothy chapter 1. Paul was recalling how the
Lord brought him into the ministry - to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

[First Timothy 1:12-16] Paul had thought Jesus was an imposter. But when Jesus revealed Himself to
Paul, and he was given a full understanding, he had a change of heart. Paul knew he was a sinner saved by
grace; he was forgiven.

[Return to Matthew 12]


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To sum it up, the unforgivable sin is, at is core, a heart that has categorically rejected God’s saving grace, in
Jesus. The Pharisees had committed this, as evidenced by their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, in His
witness to Jesus as Messiah.

As Jesus continued, He made it clear that He could see the hearts of these Pharisees.

v. 33 Jesus had spoken similar words to a Jewish audience, as a way to discern false teachers. The tree
represents the person; the fruit, his works.

Fruit is a manifestation of the quality of the tree. The good works of Jesus bear witness to the fact that He
Himself is good; that He is of God. The Pharisees have tried to make Jesus out to be a bad tree, haven’t
they? Jesus was saying, they are the bad trees - as seen by the fruit of their lips; their lying words.

These declarations of Jesus to the Pharisees now conclude with a scathing denunciation.

v. 34-35 Brood of vipers! This is something that John the Baptist also called the Pharisees.

What is a viper? A poisonous snake. Its brood are its young; those that are born of it.

Jesus was calling the Pharisees the seed of the serpent; of Satan. Their venomous words against Jesus
showed that they had evil hearts of unbelief. They are of their father the devil; the desires of their father,
they want to do - to murder; to lie (Jn 8:44).

This is the evil treasure they draw upon, as they contend against God for the souls of men.

But Jesus wants these Pharisees to know that their words will have consequences.

v. 36-37 In verse 36, “idle” doesn’t mean careless or lazy, as we think of idle. It means “empty”. The idea
here is that the Pharisees’ words are empty of the truth; they are lies. Far from being “mere words”, Jesus
indicates that the Pharisees will be held to account, for every word they say. Everyone will!

Jesus has shown that these religious rulers from Jerusalem had taken a fixed stand against God and His
Messiah. Far from Jesus being in league with Satan, the Pharisees are shown to be the true collaborators.

Next time, we’ll see another confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees; and Jesus issues a warning to
those in Israel, who choose to follow them.

Reading: Matthew 12:38-45; Lk 11:16, 29-36; Jonah 1-4; 1 Ki 10:1-13; 2 Chr 9:1-12