“‘Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here’” (Matthew 12:5–6).
Seldom would any Christian today, even the most fastidious and rule-oriented among us, consider preaching, teaching Sunday school, leading youth ministry, or other similar work as profaning the Lord’s Day. Yet these activities require much time and effort—on Sunday. Likewise, the most scrupulous of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ time viewed the priests as innocent of any Sabbath breaking, even though such men worked in the temple twice as hard as on other days. For instance, sacrifices offered on the Sabbath were actually double sacrifices, requiring double the work of offering the normal daily sacrifice (Num. 28:9–10; cf. Lev. 24:8–9).
In this encounter, Jesus embarrassed and upset the Pharisees by showing how inconsistent their legalistic logic was. But they were even more upset and angry when He told them that something far greater and more important than the temple was in their midst. This was somewhat of an oblique reference, but the Jews had no doubt that Jesus was referring to Himself and again claiming to be God (cf. Matt. 9:2–6; 11:3–5, 25–27).
Our Lord’s main purpose, however, was not to prove His deity to the Jewish leaders. It was to argue that, in light of that deity, He had the right and authority to set aside Sabbath regulation as He saw fit—even more prerogative than did David or the temple priests. And above all, no human traditions or customary ways of doing things could or should ever hinder genuine service for God.
Some may view this as saying that Jesus was flippant about the commandments of God, as if they weren’t actually that important and could be ignored if desired. How would you respond to a person who saw an inconsistency in the meaning of this passage?
From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008.