In today's study from Matthew 12:1-8, we see the religious leaders beginning to turn on him and his message, and he begins to demonstrate that he is the ultimate fulfillment of the Law.
Breaking of the Sabbath
vv.1-2 At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. (2) But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.
It is important to note that this was done on the Sabbath. Here come the accusations! They were now seeking to find fault and put him to death. He was clearly their enemy now.
Sign of the Covenant
The word “Sabbath” means “cessation or rest.” It was given to Israel as a sign of Israel’s covenant relationship with God (Ex. 31:16-17).
Those who violated the Sabbath were put to death (Ex 31:14-15).
Examples from Scripture
An example is found in Ex 35:1-3 and Num 15:32-36
vv.3-5 But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; (4) How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? (5) Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?
Jesus responded by giving them two examples from the Old Testament where the Law was violated and God permitted it. These were times of necessity, service to God, and acts of mercy. He is reaffirming that God made the Sabbath for man’s benefit and His glory, but never intended it to be a yoke of bondage. Our Lord said in Mar 2:27 "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
David and the Shewbread
The first was when David ate the shewbread which was for the priests only when he was fleeing from King Saul (1Sa 21:1-6).
It’s also interesting that Jesus chose this comparison to David because David was also being rejected as king when he did this while fleeing from Saul.
The Priests and Work
And the second was the violation of the priests each Sabbath when they offered the lambs for a burnt offering. What does it mean that the priests “profane the Sabbath”? It means that while everyone wasn’t lifting a finger in Israel to keep the Sabbath, the priests where working twice as hard to keep up with the “double sacrifices” that were required on that day (Num 28:9-10).
Jesus is saying that the priests broke the “Law” in order to comply with a greater law in that the Law expressly forbad the making of fire on the Sabbath and the butchering of animals and yet that is exactly what the priests were doing! He is beginning to build his case that he is the ultimate fulfillment of the Law. In him would come the rest that God truly wanted for his people if they would accept it.
Prophet Priest and King
vv.6-7 But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. (7) But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.
Two things to notice here: First, Jesus quotes from Hosea 6:6 where it says, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Second, in Jesus argument to defend himself and his disciples, he points to a prophet (Hosea who declared God loves mercy more than sacrifice), to a priest (who worked on the Sabbath as he was) and to a king (who was David who was initially rejected)! He is proclaiming Himself to be Prophet, Priest and King!
Jesus is the Sabbath
v.8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.
What is our Lord Jesus saying? Barnes says, “Here the Saviour refers to himself, and to his own dignity and power. In essence he is saying, “I have power over the laws because I made them. Thus, I have the right to change them or set them aside if only for a moment if I want to” Furthermore, he is declaring that he is the ultimate fulfillment of the Sabbath in that he offers permanent and not temporal rest (Mat 11:28-30).