In today's study from Matthew 12:41-45, we see that our Lord declares that the people of the ancient city of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba will rise up against Israel for rejecting him as their long-awaited Messiah.
Rising Up in Judgment
vv.41-42 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. (42) The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.
In these verses, the Lord’s whole point is that the people of Nineveh repented with far fewer signs having been given to them that Jesus had done for the Jews. The Queen of the South heard the wisdom of Solomon and was amazed, and yet they were rejecting the wisdom of the very Son of God.
Condemnation from Nineveh
Notice, “The men of Nineveh will rise up in judgment with this generation and condemn it.” Why judgment by Nineveh?
a. Nineveh repented and Israel did not.
b. Nineveh received the message of Jonah and Israel rejected the message of Jesus.
Jonah was a reluctant prophet who became angry when God didn’t destroy them. However, Jesus was a compassionate prophet who lamented and wept over Israel.
Why judgment by the Queen of the South (Sheba) (1 Kings 10:1-10)?
a. She traveled a great distance to see Solomon and brought with her spices, gold and precious stones (1 Kings 4:29-34).
b. She praised him for his wisdom.
c. She honored him with gifts.
She was willing to travel a great distance just to hear a mere mortal’s earthly wisdom while the Jews were unwilling to simply walk across the street to hear what Jesus had to say.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba will judge the Jews of Jesus' day because they showed less interest and willingness to heed even though they had a much greater opportunity.
vv.43-45 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. (44) Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. (45) Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
Many simply interpret these verses to mean that Jesus was speaking about the issue of Demon Possession. Many times, I have heard them used as a proof text to show that it is useless and unwise to cast a demon out of a lost person. However, just a casual look at the context, would indicate that Jesus was simply making an analogy for the generation of His day, and not necessarily addressing the issue of demon possession. In these verses, our Lord is describing the generation of His day.
1. He had already described them as “evil and adulterous” (v.38-39).
2. He had already told them that the Ninevites and the Queen of the South would rise up to condemn them at the judgment (v.41-42).
We have to keep it in context folks. A text out of context is a pretext. Don’t run with a pretext!
3. And now He describes them as “wicked” (Matt. 12:45).
Interpretation / the Foolishness of Self-Reformation
Why did our Lord call them wicked? He calls them wicked because they were attempting self-reformation by rejecting His offer of the Kingdom. He simply uses the example of demon possession to show them the foolishness of it.
Self-reformation is like driving a car with its front end out of line. You can stay on the road IF you grip the steering wheel with both hands and hang on tightly. Any lapse of attention, however, and you head straight for the ditch.
In the same way, Israel erroneously thought that by “griping the steering wheel” (keeping the external aspects of the Law) they could be self-reformed and ultimately saved from the ditch. However, Jesus taught that self-reformation was not possible as that it would require keeping the Law perfectly. He was already doing that for them, but they were refusing. Jesus had already addressed the futility of self-reformation in Matthew 5:27-28.
He was trying to show them that self-reformation was not possible because the Law is spiritual and not physical (Matt. 5:20-22). In other words, “The Law is broken in the heart long before it is broken by the hand.”
The Heart is Wicked
Why? - Because the “heart” is wicked. Jer. 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” The truth of the matter is that the heart cannot be reformed, it must be transformed.
Reformed is physical in that it is merely “a removal of faults by improved conduct”. Transformed is spiritual in that it implies a “change of nature.” Reformed is external while Transformed is internal (Romans 12:1-2).
Our Lord’s Point
Our Lord’s point in this analogy of the Demon Possessed man is that while self-reformation is impossible, transformation is not. However, transformation is not a one-time thing; instead, it’s an ongoing process. It can also be called, “sanctification.” It speaks of becoming holy. Not necessarily externally, but internally. To stop this process of transformation (sanctification) is to digress and the last may prove to be worse than the first.
Such had been the case with the Jews of Jesus’ day. Many had initially repented at the preaching of John (Matt. 3:5-6). Yet, they eventually rejected Jesus and called for his crucifixion. Truly, their “last state” was “worse than the first.”