Matthew 12: Pharisees Oppose Jesus

New Testament: Student Study guide, (2003), 20–21

Before you read Matthew 12, it is helpful to understand that by Jesus’ time Jewish rabbis had added to the law of Moses a complicated set of rules called the traditions of the elders (see Mark 7:5–9). These laws did not come from the Lord, and many appeared ridiculous—such as the rule that healing on the Sabbath was “work” and therefore forbidden. The Pharisees, the most powerful religious group in Jesus’ day, were very strict in their obedience to these traditions and considered them more important than the words of the prophets. As you read Matthew 12, look for what happened when Jesus’ teachings opposed those traditions.

Jesus looked to God; the Pharisees looked to their traditions.


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Traditions of the Elders


Understanding the Scriptures

Matthew 12

Condemned the guiltless (v. 7)Said that Jesus had broken the law when He had not 
Departed thence (v. 9)Left that place 
Withered (v. 10)Unable to use, deformed, or shrunk 
Restored whole (v. 13)Healed 
Charged (v. 16)Commanded 
The son of David (v. 23)The Messiah 
Spoil (v. 29)Steal 
Blasphemy (v. 31)To speak evil or make fun of sacred things 
Corrupt (v. 33)Not eatable, rotten 
Generation of vipers (v. 34)Wicked people (a viper is a poisonous serpent) 
Every idle word (v. 36)Even the little or light-minded things a person says 
Account (v. 36)Report 
Justified (v. 37)Judged to be good 
Condemned (v. 37)Judged to be evil 
Garnished (v. 44)Put in proper order 

Matthew 12:3–6—Explanations of What Is Right or Wrong on the Sabbath

The Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of working on the Sabbath when they picked some grain and ate it while they were walking with Jesus. Jesus used the following two examples to show that His disciples kept the law of Moses even if they did offend the traditions that the Pharisees thought were more important (see the introduction to Matthew 12 above):

  • David and his men ate the temple bread but were not guilty because they were on the Lord’s business (see 1 Samuel 21:1–6).

  • The temple priests must do many things in the temple on the Sabbath that would be unlawful anywhere else.

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Matthew 12:18–20—A Prophecy of Isaiah

The meaning of this prophecy is that the Messiah would not respond in judgment against those who were against Him until He had finished His work. The symbols in verse 20 are of things that anyone could easily do (break an already bruised plant and put out a fire that is nearly out), but the Messiah would not even do what He easily could do (punish His enemies) until His work was finished.

Matthew 12:31–32—What Is “Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost”?

The Prophet Joseph Smith explained, “All sins shall be forgiven, except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy. This is the case with many apostates of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith,  358).

Studying the Scriptures

Do two of the following activities (A–C) as you study Matthew 12.

Activity A iconThe Sabbath Day

Matthew 12, verses 1–9 and 10–14, tells about two different times when the Pharisees accused Jesus and His disciples of not keeping the Sabbath day holy. Write about one idea from each account that can help you keep the Sabbath day holy. As part of what you write, explain what you will do differently, or better, because of these ideas.

Activity B iconIt Depends on How You Look at It

  1. 1.

    After Jesus performed the miracle recorded in Matthew 12:22, how did the Pharisees respond that was different than the response of the rest of the people? (see vv. 23–24).

  2. 2.

    Why do you think two groups of people who saw the same event could have such a difference in opinion? (see v. 14).

  3. 3.

    How did Jesus respond to what the Pharisees said about Him in verse 24? (see vv. 25–29).

Activity C iconFollow the Example of Jesus

Since Matthew 12 mostly records how Jesus dealt with those who opposed Him, choose one thing Jesus did or said in this chapter that you think you could use in dealing with people who oppose the Church, and explain how you would use it.