Matthew 12:1-21 Part 2

The Lord makes reference to the temple no less than three times here in the first few verses of chapter twelve, where the context is complicated by occultic, Pharisaical religion.

A place of rest in Christ Jesus is the immediate subject matter brought over from chapter eleven.  And it’s for us to see that there is an inextricable affiliation between “rest” in Christ (Sabbath), mercy, the temple, and all the wonderful furnishings and items in there – including the table of showbread mentioned in verse four.

The Pharisees and other leaders in Israel had no such insights.  They had re-invented the law, and their manipulations of that law oppressed the people in a demon-possessed, cultic political structure.  The temple and the Sabbath days were still there, but the figures no longer represented mercy and the place of rest in Christ Jesus the Messiah!

God had warned them in the early text of Scripture (Leviticus twenty-six; Deuteronomy twenty-eight) what the historical sanctions were for breaking the Covenant, and He had sent prophet after prophet to warn them.  But Israel remained stiff-necked – wanting its own way rather than God’s way.  And, now, Christ had come to pass sentence and execute the lawsuit against them in what Scripture calls “the Day of the Lord.”

Last Lord’s Day we spent some time learning about the Sabbath and the temple as they prefigured the Messiah and the place of Rest in Him.  And we also learned that mercy was inherent in the Law – not only the Law of the sacrifices and the ceremonies, but the whole corpus of Law for culture and society.  So the Law is merciful, and it speaks of the mercy and rest in Christ Who is its fullness.

One of the things that is so often neglected in preaching the Word, I think, is the fact that not only do the sacrifices and ceremonies speak of Christ, but so do the very tabernacle and furnishings!  The place itself and the things in it are types of Christ.  And we can learn much about His Character and His work by examining them!  So I intend to do that with you today since the text mentions the table of showbread, and since Jesus says “greater than the temple is here.” (verse six)

In refuting the demonic religion of the Pharisees, Jesus mentions David and his men eating the showbread because they were hungry.  And that the priest gave it to them, since he had no other bread in the house, out of mercy – all of this foreshadowing the mercy and rest and refreshing which belong to the person of Christ.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, saw no Messiah, discerned no mercy, had no rest in the Sabbath observance which, they thought, was being polluted by Jesus’ disciples picking corn to eat.  Their natures were so twisted and depraved that they could see no mercy in the Law which allowed the hungry to eat openly in the fields of their neighbors, or that the Sabbath observance commanded mercy and rest to men as it foreshadowed the coming rest in the Messiah!  Mercy is commanded by God in His Law, and the religious leaders of the people had no inkling of it!

The historical event of David eating the showbread in the tabernacle was the first of five things that Christ said to the Pharisees to expose their blindness and to drive them further away from the truth of what was happening.

In his second point Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter, for even the priests work on the Sabbath!  Verse five says,


“Or did you not read in the Law that on the Sabbaths the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?”


In other words, the very manipulations of the Law that you and the priests and the Sadducees and the Scribes of Israel have concocted are being broken by you yourselves by the priests slaying and dressing the animals for sacrifice – a work of hard labor, I might add – and performing circumcisions, and doing all the other things necessary for worship!  But the priests working on the Sabbath has always been acceptable before God, because their work is work of mercy and necessity!  It is work of mercy, because it portrays, for all of Israel to see, the mercy and rest in the coming Messiah of God!  That’s what the Sabbath and the temple and the sacrificial system was all about!

Under the Pharisee’s reinterpretation of the Law, the priests in the temple were profaning the Sabbath by their work!  And yet nothing was said to them about it, because they were a part of the system!  Exceptions to their own law system were always made to better their situations or excuse their aberrations.  It was no longer God’s Law, but it was the law of the Pharisees.  And since it was their standard they could make exceptions and excuses and adapt it to their needs.

Since there was no mercy in the Pharisee’s law system, and no rest foreshadowed in their observance of the Sabbath, the priests doing all that work in the temple was a profanation of Pharisaical law, you see.  And exceptions were made to their own law, for themselves, which weren’t made for the general population!  So this example from Jesus exposes the whole lurid mess, and it, in essence, destroyed the fabric of their system!

Then Jesus says, verse six,


“now I say to you ‘greater than the temple is here.’” 


I don’t know about you, but when I read that I can almost hear the growling and snarling of the wolves as rage backs up in their throats!  How can this man, born in Nazareth of poor trash, claim to be greater than the temple!  That’s a foolish, blasphemous statement that can only come from one who is Beelzebul incarnate!  All of Israel looked to the temple as the center of its culture, and it had for many centuries!  The temple was the greatest place in all the earth!  And this man was degrading it – claiming that He was greater!

Jesus is saying to them that if those things in the old temple, which foreshadowed the Messiah of God, were acceptable and even delightful to God, then they are even more delightful to God since that which was foreshadowed is now here!  If the temple, in other words, prefigured in shadows that which was now here, then the reality of all those shadows must be greater than the shadows!

Now, you see, since the temple spoke of the Messiah, if the Messiah is here, which He claimed to be, then the temple is now obsolete!  And the Pharisaical way of life is obsolete!  All of it is abandoned.  The Christ of God, claiming to be greater than the temple and the entire system, was most threatening to the Pharisees, and it caused them to mock Him and discredit Him, and, eventually, to kill Him!

Now.  To gain some insight into Christ, Who was greater than the temple, I want you to know something bout the temple and its furnishings.  We’ll wait until another day to get a view of the Law of the offerings and the priesthood, and we’ll just concentrate on the place for awhile today.  Even the place is so specific to the person and work of the incarnate God-man!  Every item and every measurement – in both the older tabernacle in the desert, and in the later temple in Jerusalem – everything foreshadowed Him.  Especially His mercy and the place of rest.

The tabernacle was built in the early part of the forty years in the desert after the expulsion from the womb of the Egyptians.  God had given very specific instructions and measurements for the tabernacle and everything in it.  But it wasn’t until about 900 BC that Solomon built the permanent structure in Jerusalem.

Nebuchadnezzar’s army destroyed that structure in 586 BC, and it wasn’t rebuilt until after the exile seventy years later.  That structure was called the temple of Zerubbabel, and it was built on the same site as Solomon’s temple.  Zerubabbel’s temple was later destroyed, and the temple wasn’t rebuilt until Herod built it for the Jews before Christ was born.  That was a political move rather than a desire for worship.

But, as Jesus said, all things were delivered over to Him by His Father.  He is now the reality of the temple and the Sabbath and the whole ceremonial system.  And, as I said before, there is this very close relationship between the temple, and the Sabbath, and the “rest” which is foreshadowed in Christ.

The entire temple structure, the dimensions, instructions, materials and furnishings of which, were specifically given by God to Moses – all pointing to the Christ – all prefiguring the Sabbath Rest in Him.  And that absolute perfection is figurative of the Christ now with us in His perfect Holy Temple, dwelling in us and we in Him, giving us mercy and rest in Him.

It’s interesting to note that when the nation fell into sin, the place of rest was destroyed.  Solomon’s temple, Zerubabbel’s and then Herod’s.  Non-obedience always brings destruction, chaos and burden – in history, as well as in eternal abandonment!

But in that first tabernacle the blood oath was confirmed.  And the people of Israel, at Sinai, had said, three times, “we will obey,” confirming the oath.  And the sacrifice began.  But they did not obey.  And the covenantal sanctions came – in history – and the Jews were cut off from the covenant.

It’s also interesting to note that the twelve tribes were specifically situated around the tabernacle in the desert – three tribes on each side – indicating that the coming Messiah, the very Presence of God, and His Law-Word, was the center of society.  He and His Word and His Salvation were to be the core of culture!  And when the temple was built in Jerusalem it was with the same figuration in mind.

Now, let me give you just a quick idea of the configuration and size of the tabernacle (and temple) on the inside – the courtyard.  With glorious and beautiful brass and gold and linen everywhere, the tabernacle was one hundred fifty feet long and seventy-five feet wide.  Inside the courtyard (which was all enclosed, and had only one entrance) were two rooms, one behind the other – both situated at the far end of the court from the entrance.

The priests went in the entrance, and the first thing they saw was the altar of burnt offering, then the brazen laver, and then the entrance into the holy place in which were three things:  the table of showbread, the candlestick and the golden incense altar.  At the back of the holy place was a beautiful, large, multicolored veil which led into another room called the holy of holies.  And in there was the ark of the covenant with the golden Cherubim situated on the top; and this was called the “mercy seat.”  It is over this mercy seat that God is said to have His throne of judgment in the heavens.  It was here that the Shekinah glory of God came to have Presence with the people and judge them.

You remember that Cherubim were placed at the entrance to the Garden of Eden after the fall.  The Garden was the place of eternal rest and communion with Jahveh.  And here they appear again over the mercy seat, indicating that this is the place of perfect rest – worship and obedience to God.  Two angels appear, one on each end of the slab of the risen Savior.

Inside the box, or the Ark, were three things – the Manna, the bread of life, which is Christ; the blossoming almond limb, which had been Aaron’s rod, indicating worship; and the tablets of the Law, indicating obedience to God.

Back outside, now, the priests had to enter the one entrance (remember that Christ said “I Am the door,” or the entrance), and the first thing inside the tabernacle was the Altar of burnt offering where the animals were slain and prepared for sacrifice and then burned.  No access to God, no praise or thanksgiving could ascend to God, without offerings being burned upon this altar – signifying the offering of Christ being the propitiation of God’s wrath, and the entrance into the holy of holies where there was mercy and rest.  All the mercy, rest and blessings to the world are celebrated with reference to this one offering – the blood of the Lamb, the propitiation of the wrath of God, as He smelled the sweet savor of the sacrifice as it ascended to Him.  This and this only is acceptable to Him.  He delighted in it and was perfectly glorified in it.  Without the blood of the perfect sacrifice, there is no access to God!

Then, after the burnt offerings, came the brazen laver.  This was the furnishing at which the priests washed themselves clean of the stains of defilement.  The laver was made from the brass mirrors belonging to the women of Israel.  They no longer needed them, because they now stood before God, shaped in iniquity, with no way to cover up the ugliness, death and corruption.  The impotence and uncleanness of man is washed clean, and he is sanctified, as Christ washes us clean and makes us acceptable before God.  Look in the mirrors and see the bath that is necessary in Christ as He washes us and sanctifies us and makes us clean from the stains of corruption and death!

Here is the washing of regeneration and sanctification.  The old man and his attachment to the world order has to be washed absolutely clean or His approach to God is unacceptable.  Any effort of self is denied.  But the washing of the Holy Ghost in the blood of Christ is perfected forever!

Then, after the whole burnt offerings and the washing of water, then the priest could enter the Holy Place which contained, you remember, three things.  The Alter of Incense stood just before the veil into the Holy of Holies.  And upon this altar was burned a perfect apothecary mixture of three (now) unknown perfumes mixed in equal parts with frankincense.  No one in Israel was to duplicate this mixture for their own delight, for this incense was only to the Lord for His delight!  It was holy unto Him.  This perfect mixture was to signify the purity and holiness of Christ in His obedience to His Father – sinless perfection being a delicious perfumed savor to God.

Our prayers (having been atoned for by the Perfect Sacrifice, and having been sanctified – washed clean – by His blood) – our prayers now ascend to the Father in Christ, and, because of Him, they, too, ascend to the Father and are a sweet savor to Him!  All endeavors to approach Him in prayer without the One Who is here signified, is met with corruption such as that of Uzziah, who contracted leprosy (corruption of the flesh) when he attempted to burn the incense.  It all signifies the fact that we cannot go before God except in the purity and holiness of Christ!  He prefers only the sweet savor of the perfection of His Son.

Also in the Holy Place (outside the veil) was the candlestick.  (It actually burned fine olive oil, but it is called a candlestick).  It had a large center shaft with a large bowl; and then six branches – three on each side.  All language in Scripture referring to light is here signified.  But the pre-eminent figure is the glory and beauty of the New Heavens and the New Earth – seven being the perfection of the rest in Christ Jesus and the glory of the victory which He has won and will win!  All of which bring ultimate light/glory to His Father!  It is strange, but very beautiful, that no dimensions are given for this item!  It’s the only thing in the whole sacrificial/ceremonial system with no dimensions!  But when we contemplate it carefully we can see that Christ is the Light of the whole world (the seven lamps give the dimensions of perfection), and His atonement and salvation are infinite to the accomplishment of all His Father’s will.  It is Christ, alone, Who is able to present to His Father, “a glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.”  The “Light of the world.”

There are one or two allusions in Scripture which connect the candlestick to the branches of an olive tree which produces fine oil – the figure of the Spirit of Christ anointing the whole world, which has been given over to Him by His Father for cleansing.  We’ll see this figure again a little later on in Matthew – in the parabolic language of Christ.

Lastly, the third thing in the Holy Place was the showbread.  Let me begin the explanation of it by saying that, in the Garden, Adam had communion with God.  He knew God and had fellowship with Him and joyed in that fellowship!  But he lost that communion when he died in sin.  The communication was gone.  And he was cursed forever.  He brought death into the world, and God thundered at him and cast him out of the Garden!

Adam hid himself from God – acknowledging that there was no common ground on which to approach Him.  He considered himself safer at a distance; and God “was not in all his thoughts.”

But God has mercifully showed us His throne in the heavens – similar to the Ark and the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies.  But, He is unapproachable there!  So He has given us the blood sacrifice, at the altar of burnt offering; and He has given us the laver of washing!  (regeneration and sanctification)  What else is necessary?  What more do we need in order to approach the Mercy Seat?

What is needed is God made flesh, in Whose body we have our being!  It’s His Son’s body that is so delightful to The Father.  In Him we have our covering and acceptability before God!  And it is this unity in Christ – He is us and we in Him – that provides our refuge, out place of Rest!  And the Showbread is figurative of that.  The priests ate it on the Sabbath Day of Rest.

The entire Kingdom of Christ is here represented in the twelve loaves – one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel.  And they were each made of fine flour, which is the perfect type of the purity of the body of the God-Man, Who obeyed His Father perfectly.  His perfection, His Character, His “fineness” are all foreshadowed here.  And all of true Israel are included in the delight of God as He looks at the loaves before Him in perpetuity.

There was no leavening in the bread, indicating that there was sinless perfection in the God-Man.  There was salt – never insipid, seasoning all the world.  And that same Spirit anoints the world in the Body of Christ.  He is the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry “Abba, Father.”  And we cry out that way because, in the body of His Son Jesus, we have acceptability before the Father.

The Pharisees, with their occultic religion, and their self-serving manipulation of the Law, and their subsequent rejection and murder of Christ, denied all of these things.  The Mercy and Rest in Christ.  By prophetically preaching all these things, Christ continued to separate them out.  And their abandonment and eternal destruction was complete as Christ was crucified, resurrected from the dead, and ascended unto His Father in the clouds of glory.

At His death, the veil between the holy place and the Holy of Holies was ripped, by the hand of God, from top to bottom.  And merciful access to God by those who are laboring and burdened down by their own corruption is now made perfect in the body of the risen Savior.  A place of rest.