Matthew 12:1–14. Jesus, Lord of Sabbath Rest.
Key Notes: Five answers to the question of Sabbath harvesting. A list of forbidden Sabbath work. A rest for the people of God.
This lesson is Jesus’ teaching on the Rest of the Seventh Day. His thinking is so far beyond that of the Jewish legal experts that they are driven to distraction. The lesson is rich with information on Sabbath, usually hidden from our eyes.
2:1–8. Jesus and the disciples were hungry on the Sabbath. They were walking through a grain-field plucking ripe heads of grain, rubbing the chaff and stems off, blowing the chaff away and eating the kernels. (Try it.) They reaped, threshed, winnowed and sifted. The Pharisees may have had a “truth squad” following them around. They challenged Jesus at once for working on Sabbath.
The disciples were not accused of stealing. Deuteronomy said you may take enough food from another person’s field to nourish yourself, but may not take away a basket-full. Deut.23:25
Jesus gave the Pharisees five answers to the question of harvesting and eating fresh grain on the Sabbath, punctuated with “Have you not read….(12:3, 5) and “did you not know…?” (12:7). He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. We must look for the fulfillment in His answers.
His first answer was that David entered the House of God when he and his men were hungry and ate the sacred bread, the Bread of the Presence, reserved for the priests. David was running from Saul and came to Nob where the tabernacle stood. He begged the priest for something to eat for himself and his men. Ahimelech gave him the only thing he had, the holy bread, the Bread of the Presence. ISam.21:1–6.
The second answer helps the first: Jesus reminded them that on the Sabbath, the priests “profane the Sabbath and are guiltless”. The priests every Sabbath were ordered to offer two burnt offerings. instead of the daily single burnt offering. Num.28:9,10; I Chron. 23:31. Further, the priests baked bread every Sabbath! Every Sabbath, twelve fresh loaves Lev.24:5–9 representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were laid on a table of pure gold, the table of the Show-Bread in the Holy Place. (Ex.25:30). The Bread of the Presence was to be eaten by Aaron and his sons in the Holy Place on behalf of the people of Israel. Lev.24:9. The bread David ate was fresh, made that day--so the LXX reads. ISam.21:6.
David was in the temple / tabernacle (a sanctuary forbidden to any but the priest), and ate sacred bread, prepared on the Sabbath. He had assumed two prerogatives of the priest. [And that was all right?] Now the Son of David is in the field, harvesting and eating plain grain, the stuff of bread, prepared on the Sabbath—and that is not all right?
The third answer is “a greater than the temple is here”. Jesus uses indirect language to say that He is greater than the temple that Herod built in Jerusalem. His body is the true Temple. (Jn.2:19- 21) “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col.2:9, KJV). He is the Temple, He is the Bread of the Presence, and He is the true Son of David.
The fourth answer is a quote from Hos.6:6, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” In denying that hungry men had a right to get simple food on the Sabbath, Jesus showed the Pharisees their lack of mercy, and their strong preference for maintaining the traditions of what constituted work at whatever cost in human suffering, short of death.
The fifth answer is the clincher. “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” This statement has also been downplayed by a few commentators. Some say “Son of Man” here means just man, and the statement means that humans get the benefit of the Sabbath. That would reflect another statement Jesus made: “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. “ (Mk.2:27) But “Son of Man” is Jesus’ preferred name for Himself and that may not be lightly brushed off. I think He is saying that He is the one who wrote the Law and is now interpreting it for His people.
12:9–14 Jesus reinforced his fourth answer (I desire mercy and not sacrifice) in the next episode.
He was presented with a man with a useless hand and He asked if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. (The tradition said it was not.)
He asked whether they would get a sheep out of a hole on Sabbath. (That was controversial; some rabbis said yes; others advised giving the animal food and water and getting it out the next day.)
Jesus assured them that a human being was of much more value than a sheep.
Then He asserted that it was lawful to do good on Sabbath, because mercy is better than sacrifice.
But the man had had a withered hand for a while. Could he come back the next day and be healed? On another occasion, the leader of the synagogue said “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed and not on the Sabbath day.” (Lk.13:14).
Jesus did not hesitate. He did not lift a finger; He did no visible work. He healed the man with a word. They were enraged. They felt like fools. He had defied them. This renegade healer must die.
Reverence of the seventh day was built into the Ten Commandments:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your man-servant, or your maid-servant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six day the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. “ Ex.20:8–11
It is a wonderful law, the world’s first piece of labor legislation. Imagine commanding people to rest a whole day once a week! Thank you, Lord. God knows that if left alone we will run ourselves ragged. Competition drives everything.
However, breaking this Law was a capital crime. (Ex.31:14,15). It is obvious that the Sabbath is about God and not just about us. There are few Scriptural details about what not to do on Sabbath.
They were not to start fires (Ex.35:3), or gather sticks to make a fire. Num.15:32–36
They were not to collect manna (in the wilderness, Ex.16:26), or even to go out looking for it. (Ex.16:29). Manna did not fall on Sabbath.
No burden was to be carried. Jer.17:22
And there are only a few instructions about what to do. “…a holy convocation” (Lev.23:3) implies a service of worship.
The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew root for ceasing. It is in honor of God who ceased creating the world after six days. However, Jesus at the pool of Bethesda on Sabbath said that the Father and He work every day. “My Father is working still and I am working.” (Jn.5:17) They work every day for the salvation and healing of souls and the maintenance of the physical universe.
Although Israel covenanted to keep the Sabbath after the Exile while Nehemiah was governor (Neh.10:31), the observance soon broke down. (Neh.13:15–22). But when the Jews were challenged to fight the Greeks under Antiochus IV on Sabbath, , they refused and were slaughtered. (I Macc.2:29–38). After that, the Jews fought regardless of the day.
During the first century, when Jesus was in Israel, there was great concern for the Sabbath. This concern continued to grow, so that the Jerusalem Talmud (the rabbinical commentary on Bible, religion and civil matters, 400AD) devotes 64 columns of text to questions about Sabbath, and the Babylonian Talmud (600AD) has 156 double pages of text on this subject. It became almost the definition of what it meant to be Jewish.
The Sabbath rigors required of an observant Jew are awesome.
How far may one walk on Sabbath? 2000m., a little over a mile.
What weight can be lifted? One whole fig.
Could a child be lifted? Yes.
Can a woman look at her face in the mirror? No. She would be tempted to modify her appearance, by pulling a gray hair, for example.
Can a broken bone be set, or a wound dressed. No.
Can a person be saved from imminent death? Yes.
There is a standard list of what constitutes work:
Sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, sifting, grinding, sieving, kneading, baking.
Shearing wool, washing it, beating, dyeing, spinning, putting it on the loom, weaving two threads, separating two threads, making a knot, undoing a knot, sewing two stitches, tearing in order to sew two stitches.
Catching a deer, killing it, skinning, salting, preparing the hide, scraping off the hair, cutting it up.
Writing two letters (nor words), scraping (erasing) in order to write two letters.
Building, pulling down, extinguishing fire, lighting fire, beating with a hammer.
Carrying a burden from one location to another.
(The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. A.Edersheim; Longmans, Green; 1896;
Vol.II; p777–790. This appendix has much other information on Sabbath observance.)
To this day, orthodox Jews will not push an elevator button, or activate an air-conditioner on Sabbath. Yet we must realize that there were instructions to make the day a celebration, with special food, best clothes and festive activities. It was a day meant to be enjoyed.
The “Sabbath rest” is elaborated in Heb.4.
“For we who have believed enter that rest, as He said….” Heb.4:3
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God‘s rest, also ceases from his labors as God did from His.” Heb.4:9–10
The ultimate meaning of the Sabbath is that it is a type or picture of the rest which believers attain by faith in Christ. Rest tells us that we are not saved by works, but by His grace. The “rest that remains for the people of God” is Heaven. When He says He is Lord of the Sabbath, He says we find our rest in Him. That is what He had said just before this:
“Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matt.11:28–30.
*As David had access to the Sabbath “Bread of the Presence” which symbolizes the presence of God, so the greater Son of David stands in the Holy Place as the Bread of the Presence.
*The Sabbath Rest for believers is created by Jesus’ priestly work in the world.
*He is the Temple from which the Rest originates.
*He is the source of mercy. and we must be merciful.
*He authorizes us to receive His Rest, now as believers and forever in His presence.
Sabbath is God’s Day, a Holy Day, Rest Day
to be fed sacred bread
to see Jesus
to do mercy
to find spiritual rest.
We honor it on Sunday
Matthew 12:15–50 Wrestling With the Opposition
Footnotes: Retreat. Satan and Christ. An unforgivable sin. The sign of Jonah. Who are My brothers? He is greater.
MATT.12:15–21 In the face of murderous opposition, Jesus retreated. His time had not yet come. He fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah's description of the Chosen and Beloved Servant of the Lord--working outside the cities, not crushing the wounded or ignoring the troublesome--the smoking wicks--until He would "bring hope to the Gentiles" and "justice to victory".
12:22–32 He healed a blind and dumb demons-possessed man and the Pharisees [off-hand] attributed His work to Satan. Jesus' response was logical: If Satan casts out Satan, he is working against himself. But in fact, the Strong Man has invaded Satan's territory (this world, Eoph.2:1–2) and plundered it.
Then He turned on his assailants: His work was done by the power of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin. Their speech (the fruit) was evil because their beings (the tree) were evil. They would be held accountable for their off-hand remarks in the Judgment.
12:38–42 Then they asked for a [real] sign. The healing of the demon-possessed man was not enough. Jesus prophesied His death and resurrection using Jonah's three days in the whale as a parable.
Then he digressed to the Ninevites who repented after Jonah's prophecy--and a greater than Jonah is here. And the Queen of Sheba listened to the wisdom of Solomon--and a greater than Solomon is here.
12:43–45 Jesus returned to the Satan theme and addressed a threat: those who had been exorcised of evil spirits would be at risk for worse demonization if not filled by the Holy Spirit. The threat applied to His generation. They had received the baptism of John in preparation for the Messiah, but having failed to follow John and trust in Christ, they would end up worse than before.
12:46–49 His family called for Him, but He rejected them in favor of the disciples--those who were doing the will of His Father in Heaven.
Binding Satan during His life was Jesus' first step in the defeat of Satan; Satan remains bound. The second step was the Atonement, when Jesus won the victory over sin and death. Eph.2:1–10. The third step will be his destruction in the Lake of Fire. Rev.20:10
"As Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of Man be three days in the heart of the earth." To fulfill the prophecy, the Crucifixion must have been on Thursday, in spite of tradition.
The unforgivable sin is a cloud that hangs over sensitive consciences. It need not be. Those who would attribute the work of Christ to Satan instead of the Holy Spirit are unknown to me (and presumably rare). Other sins thought unforgivable are usually old sins which a soul cannot forget even if God has forgotten. Psa 103:12
In this chapter, Jesus is greater than Jonah, greater than Solomon, greater than the temple and Lord of the Sabbath.