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Sun, Apr 26, 2015

75 - Lord of the Sabbath [b]

Matthew 12:1-14 by Robert Dean
Jesus spoiled the fun of the religious leaders trying to catch Him in blasphemy when He answered them with events from the Old Testament. See how He skillfully debunked their interpretations of the Mosaic Law and shocked them when He said He was Lord of the Sabbath, a title for God. Learn the comparison between the healing of the withered hand by Jesus and that of Jereboam in ancient Israel. Accept the challenge of the Sabbath rest for believers in the Church Age who have an opportunity to live in obedience to God’s Word now so they can enter into true rest and rewards in eternity.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:51 mins 44 secs

Lord of the Sabbath
Matthew 12:1–14
Matthew Lesson #075
April 26, 2015

We want to spend some time going back into the background from the Old Testament on these two events, focusing on what had been revealed by God to Israel in the Mosaic Law with reference to Shabbat. The Sabbath day is the seventh day, Saturday. It is not Sunday. Sunday is not the Christian Sabbath. That was a view that entered into church history primarily through the Puritans in the late 1500s and 1600s. 

The confrontation with the Pharisees here has been gradually developing over the previous four or five chapters, and it now comes to a head. In each of the Gospels there comes a turning point, a crisis point, where there is a head-on collision between the grace-focused ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and the legalism of the Pharisees. That is only the surface issue. The underlying issue is that Jesus is making a claim that He is God, and this runs counter to that Unitarian monotheism of the Pharisees. They viewed Jesus’ claims to be God as blasphemy. Much of Judaism has viewed the Christian claim that Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God as a form of polytheism—the worship of many gods.

This is the real issue: Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Jesus’ claim to be one with God. Jesus’ claim to be the final authority in interpreting the Mosaic Law, the final authority in interpreting the Word of God, because the written Word of God is the counterpart to Him who is the living Word of God; and therefore He has the authority. So the issue in these two events ultimately boils down to Jesus presenting Himself as the Lord of the Sabbath. Then He demonstrates that He is the Lord of the Sabbath through the miracle that He performs in the second event. 

Notice something. The term that Jesus uses here to refer to Himself is Lord of the Sabbath. Another phrase that we find (and we sing it when we sing A Mighty Fortress is Our God), is Lord Sabbaoth. And the only difference between this word and Sabbaoth is that letter “o.” But they are two different Hebrew words. Shabbat is the word here, meaning the seventh day; it is also a word meaning rest. Sabbaoth is a word that means armies or hosts. The oth at the end is a Hebrew plural.   

What we have seen is that there is a gradual development of conflict and opposition to Jesus. In Matthew 11, there is the intensification of this conflict, going back to the fact that as John the Baptist came, and then Jesus came, the Pharisees and religious leaders really tried to get Jesus and John the Baptist to dance to their tune. They had this well-defined theological system, and they expected the Messiah to come and conform to their system. The Pharisees expected that when the Messiah came, He would continue to work with them in redefining the Mosaic Law.    

Among the religious leaders was a group called the Sopherim (they would also be a part of the Pharisees). A sopher was someone who was a scribe. In that generation after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, they were responsible for teaching the Law to the people who were basically ignorant of what the Torah taught. The next generation of Sopherim came along, and they were more concerned about keeping the Law and that people wouldn’t violate the Law. They looked at the Law as the center, and they had to protect the Law, the 613 commandments that were in the Mosaic Law. So they wanted to develop a number of traditions that would function like a fence around the Law. If you didn’t break those traditions, then you would be protected from breaking the commandments of the Law. If you broke one of those traditions, you still hadn’t broken one of the 613 commandments. It was a protection mechanism. These were developed.

There were about 12–1500 additional commandments. For example, on Shabbat at the time of Jesus, they had 39 different things you couldn’t do. This became “the tradition of the fathers.” Paul refers to the tradition of the fathers as he is countering Judaism, and that is what this was, and what Jesus was running up against.

Ultimately their authority was what they called the oral law. When they developed these additional commandments, in order to give themselves credibility and a basis for authority, they said this reflected the oral law given by God to Moses at Sinai – that God gave Moses two things: the written Law and the oral law. And the oral law was just passed down orally from generation to generation among the prophets and the priests. This is what they were teaching. There is no historical or biblical basis for that. It was something that was invented in the second temple period after the return from Babylon. This is the backdrop in this particular situation that develops.

The other thing we need to be reminded of again is that the way Matthew organizes this material is, he ends chapter eleven (there are no chapter divisions in the original) where Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” He is talking about labor. He is talking about rest, and He says, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me …” This phraseology related to a yoke was specifically assigned to the Mosaic Law. It was a burden. All of these additional commands were a burden to the people.

It was a sign that if you took the yoke of the Pharisees, that indicated a submission to their authority. So by saying this, Jesus is specifically challenging the Pharisaic authority. “… you will find rest for your souls”; you won’t find rest in the Law.

What about ShabbatShabbat is supposed to be the basis for rest. No, you won’t find rest in the Law because under the Pharisaical interpretation, it is a burden; there is no rest. So the theme of rest is incredibly important here, and Jesus goes on to say, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

One thing we should note here is that Jesus is making a claim that He now is the source of rest. Matthew organizes this in such a way that this is a very subtle point that isn’t really developed in the text, and if we go to the Hebrew, we see that that is emphasized in the text – that Jesus is our rest. He is the one in Whom we rest. So He is making this claim that He is the source of rest for Israel, not the Pharisees, and not their religious system. This is the backdrop. And then immediately we go into the next section.

Matthew 12:1 NASB “At that time [a literary device to move to the next event] Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads [of grain] and eat.” Jesus is with His disciples, and He walks through the fields of grain; and they begin to feed themselves. Under the Pharisees, this was a violation of the Law – one of the things you could not do on Shabbat. It was not a violation of the Mosaic Law as it is written; it was a violation of the Pharisees’ interpretation of the Law under the oral law.  

Matthew 12:2 NASB “But when the Pharisees saw [this], they said to Him, ‘Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.’ ” It was not lawful according to their law, the oral law, but it is not mentioned in the Mosaic Law. So Jesus is very sophisticated in the way He handles their objection. Notice He doesn’t necessarily take them on in a head-on confrontation. He doesn’t challenge their interpretation of the Mosaic Law. He doesn’t challenge the oral law. He challenges their understanding of Scripture in a sophisticated way, because the real issue is that they had created this structure of how you should live that violated the whole intent of the Law.     

Matthew 12:3 NASB “But He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, [4] how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?’ ”

We have to understand what is going on in this situation. He is pointing out that David also violated the Pharisaical law (the oral law as they are understanding it) because he ate the shewbread in the tabernacle. The table of shewbread represents Jesus as the bread of life. The Levites would bake the bread every day, and at the end of the day, it would be taken out where it was no longer consecrated to God, but was to be eaten and to provide food and nourishment for the priests. That is the bread that is being talked about here.

1 Samuel 21:1–6 describes this event. But a little about the context: In 1 Samuel 16, Saul disobeyed God; and it was the final straw where Samuel announces that God is going to take the kingdom away from Saul and provide a new king. Saul is still left on the throne and was still the king. In chapter 17, David is anointed by Samuel to be the king to replace Saul. But Saul rejects David as king. He is antagonistic to David who will be the next king, persecutes David and seeks to kill him on numerous occasions. During this time, there are numerous people who have been disaffected by the administration of Saul and had gathered themselves around David. 1 Chronicles 12 gives a list of numerous people who flocked to David from all of the different tribes. So what we have here is the anointed king who is gathering followers to himself, is on a divine mission, and has been set apart to God and recognized by God as the next king. He comes to the tabernacle located at Nob. He is fleeing from Saul who is persecuting him.

1 Samuel 21:1 NASB “Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David and said to him, ‘Why are you alone and no one with you?’ ” Nob is within modern Jerusalem. That is where apparently the tabernacle was set up. David stops there and goes into the priest. He has his men with him. They are in flight from Saul, and they need food. The priest recognized that David has been divinely anointed by God, is on a divine mission, and that he is going to be the king. That is the key idea. He is going to be the king of Israel, and therefore it is okay in these dire circumstances because of their hunger, for them to be given the bread.  

1 Samuel 21:4 NASB “The priest answered David and said, ‘There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women’. [5] David answered the priest and said to him, ‘Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels [be holy?]’ [6] So the priest gave him consecrated [bread]; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread [in its place] when it was taken away.” That is the event that Jesus is referring to.

Matthew 12:5 NASB “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?” This is the same thing going on here. Christ is the anointed King; He hasn’t become King yet. Just like David was the anointed king on a divine mission, Christ is the anointed King on a divine mission. Just as David was rejected by Saul, Christ was being rejected by the leaders of Israel. And in fulfillment of the depiction of David, and it was legitimate for David to eat the shewbread, Jesus is saying it is legitimate for Him to eat in the same way. So this is the question that He is asking. He raises the issue by asking this question: Don’t you know the Scripture?

The bread was designated for the priests. That was the way God was providing for them. But there are times and circumstances when you don’t hold to a strict interpretation of the Law, and one of these is in order to take care of life. They were in dire circumstances. They had no food. So Jesus is saying it was right in those circumstances not to follow the strict regulation of the Law – that this was for the priests. Then He brings up a second example in verse 5: “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?” There were a lot of people who worked within the Old Testament framework on the Sabbath when they were having all of the sacrifices in the tabernacle and later in the temple. That would require hundreds of priests to be involved in the whole process of bringing the animals in, slaughtering and butchering, and keeping everything clean. All of these things required a lot of labor, and the priests worked all day. The priests were not supposed to rest on the Sabbath.

This is Jesus’ argument. He shifts from an image that relates to kings to a situation related to priests. Jesus Christ is our high priest. The disciples who are with Him are those who are His associates and those who are serving Him. So in the first situation, an anointed king of Israel was fed the showbread; and then we have another example where the priests of Israel also violate the Sabbath, and it is legitimate.

Matt 12:6 NASB “But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here.” The temple was a symbolic shadow of something future. It was a shadow place where shadow sacrifices continued to be offered by shadow priests who were depicting the future work of the great high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, and they’re working in this shadow temple. Jesus also said, referring to His own body, that if they destroyed His body, the temple, He would build it up again in three days (John 2:19). He is using this third image also of something from the Old Testament that points to Him.   

Matthew 12:7 NASB “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” This is a quote from Isaiah 6:6. God is more concerned with our personal application of the Law than the external observance of ritual. The Pharisees put all the emphasis on the external ritual and ignored the internal spiritual realities. Jesus is saying they have basically violated the Law because they violated the spirit of the Law in their over-emphasis on observing all of the regulations.

Then He concludes with His main point – Matthew 12:8 NASB “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” His point in all of this is that all of these things pointed to Him, He was the fulfillment of those types, pictures and images, and He was the Lord who created the Sabbath. Therefore He had the authority to determine what is right to do on the Sabbath and what is not. By stating it this way, He is challenging their authority. He is challenging their whole system; and at that point they are just boxed into a corner.  

Then we are told that there is a second event that followed directly after that. Matthew 12:9 NASB “Departing from there, He went into their synagogue.” He has been outside; now He goes into the synagogue where they set a trap for Him. They know that if Jesus goes in and sees somebody that is sick, then out of His compassion, based on His track record, He is going to heal the individual. And again, it is on the Sabbath, and it would be a violation of their laws and regulations regarding the Sabbath.

Matthew 12:10 NASB “And a man {was there} whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’—so that they might accuse Him.” They are trying to trap Him. If He says it is lawful, then it has violated their oral law; if He says no, it is not lawful, then He is not being compassionate, and He is leaving the man in his condition with a withered hand.

Notice how Jesus answers that. Again it shows the sophistication in how He deals with a confrontation. He asks questions. He doesn’t just get into a head-on argument or confrontation with them. He raises issues by virtue of asking questions that expose what the real issue is.

Matthew 12:11 NASB “And He said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out?’ ” This was common practice. Sheep were money; the lamb was money. This was their living. So certainly if a lamb or a sheep was in danger, it would be perfectly legitimate to do something to rescue them. That was acceptable under the Pharisaic interpretation of the Mosaic Law. But after pointing that out, and they are all agreeing with that, then Jesus drives the point home. [12] “How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” His logic is inescapable, and once again, He boxes them in so that they have no place to go. They can’t say anything.

Matthew 12:13 NASB “Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand!’ He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other.” This is a man whose hand had been withered from birth. Jesus performs a miracle, not really of restoration, but of creation. He is showing that He is the Creator. He claims that in the first example, the first situation where they are picking the grain on the Sabbath. He is claiming to be the Creator there who has the right to define what you do and what you don’t do on the Sabbath. Now He is demonstrating in this significant miracle that He is the Creator. It is not just a matter of the man being healed, but the man’s hand and forearm are completely normal instantly. The muscles have been made whole and usable.  

There is something else that is significant about this particular miracle. There is another miracle of healing and restoring a withered hand in the Scripture, and this is part of what is going on in the understanding of this text. In these two confrontations, Jesus completely and totally angers the Pharisees, and they are going to react to this by going off and conspiring against Him to destroy Him. This is the first indication that they are going to kill Him. Matthew 12:14 NASB “But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, {as to} how they might destroy Him.”

In the next section where Jesus is going to cast the demon out of the demon-possessed man, they are going to finally and overtly accuse Him of gaining His power from Satan. This is the official rejection of Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah. Jesus is going to announce divine judgment on this generation because they have rejected Him as the Messiah, and it is irreversible. It is a corporate national sin, not an individual sin. That means AD 70 is irreversible from this point on.

But this withered hand miracle takes us back to the Old Testament. In 1 Kings 12, we have the split between the northern kingdom and the kingdom of Judah. The king in northern kingdom is Jeroboam, a wily leader. He understands that if he is going to have an autonomous nation in the north, and under the Mosaic Law they have to all go down to Jerusalem three times each year to worship at the temple, then he is going to have a real problem maintaining a national integrity if they have to go to a neighboring country in order to worship God. He recognizes that they have to set up their own autonomous religious system. So he built an altar in the north at Dan, and then another on the southern border with Judah at Bethel. When he does this, they are having a huge ritual ceremony, bringing offerings. They build another golden calf, claiming, “This is the god that brought you out of Egypt”. And God sends an unnamed prophet to confront Jeroboam at this point with his apostasy and to announce judgment upon his false religious system and on the northern kingdom.  

1 Kings 13:1 NASB “Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the Lord, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense.” Jeroboam is right in the middle of this huge ceremony offering incense and burnt offerings. [2] “He cried against the altar by the word of the Lord, and said, ‘O altar, altar, thus says the Lord, “Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.” ’ ” The fulfillment is in 2 Kings 23. He identifies a future king who is going to destroy this altar—Josiah. [3] “Then he gave a sign the same day, saying, ‘This is the sign which the Lord has spoken, “Behold, the altar shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out” ’. [4] Now when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, ‘Seize him.’ But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. [5] The altar also was split apart and the ashes were poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the Lord. [6] The king said to the man of God, ‘Please entreat the Lord your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.’ So the man of God entreated the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored to him, and it became as it was before.”

This is the same miracle that occurred in Matthew 12. These are the only two places where there is the restoration of a withered hand. What is the significance of the restoration of the withering of the hand in 1 Kings 13? It is a sign of judgment on the northern kingdom. So it is not just a coincidence that as Jesus is going to announce the judgment on Israel in AD 70 the same miracle takes place in terms of the restoration of that withered hand, authenticating Him as the Creator. In the first section of Matthew 12, Jesus claims to be the Creator God who has authority over the Sabbath. In the second part, He demonstrates it by restoring this man’s hand and recreating it so that it is instantly usable. The reaction from the Pharisees is, they go off filled with rage and plot against Him. Luke 6:11 adds that thought – that they were filled with rage. They are as angry as they can be.

Then we have an interesting response from Jesus. Matthew 12:15 NASB “But Jesus, aware of {this,} withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, [16] and warned them not to tell who He was.” Up to this point Jesus tells His disciples to go to the villages in Judea and tell everybody. He is sending out His disciples to announce: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He is telling everybody to go tell somebody. Now He says not to tell anybody. Why? He has given the gospel again and again to the nation, and it has rejected Him. So now He is withdrawing the offer. They are not to announce it anymore.

Not every verse is immediately applicable to today. We are in different circumstances and situations, so we are not to apply that.

In Hebrews 3 and 4, there are three rests spoken of:

The first rest is the rest of God – cessation from His work during the creation week.

The second type of rest that is mentioned here is the rest when the Israelites rested from their labor as slaves. This is depicted when they entered into the Promised Land.

The third type of rest mentioned here is the rest we will have when we enter into the Millennial Kingdom.

Hebrews 4:1 NASB “Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.” He is talking to believers. Entering the rest isn’t going to heaven; it is entering into the fullness of the inheritance in the kingdom, participating in the kingdom as a co-regent with the Lord Jesus Christ—ruling and reigning with the Lord Jesus Christ. The illustration is of the exodus generation who were saved but failed to enter the rest of the Promised Land because of disobedience. The writer of Hebrews says that as believers, we can fail to enter the rest that God has for us because of disobedience in our life. We don’t realize the full inheritance that God has for us.

This rest wasn’t fulfilled even in the conquest generation. Hebrews 4:8 NASB “For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.” That rest in entering the Promised Land was a type or foreshadowing of our ultimate rest in the Millennial Kingdom. That rest that Joshua gave them in entering the Promised Land was just temporary; but the reality was what would come at another day. [9] “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. [10] For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.”

So when we look at this idea of rest, remember what Jesus said at the end of chapter eleven: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Then we have these two episodes related to the Sabbath. But the ultimate fulfillment of these events, the rest that we have in Christ, is the rest that we will realize in the Millennial Kingdom when we are ruling and reigning with Him. But we can void that as believers through a life of disobedience. We are to work now in terms of obedience so we can rest later. “Keep working now and you can rest later.”