Open Matthew 9:32-34.
Jesus is doing something unique. He’s demonstrating his kingship before his people even acknowledge him as king. That’s not how it’s usually done.
Politicians work the other way around. “Put us in power,” they say, “and we’ll fix everything.” It’s an ancient technique. 3000 years ago, David’s son Absalom wanted to be king, and this is how he went about it:
2 Samuel 15:3–4 (ESV)
3 Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” 4 Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.”
Jesus isn’t seeking people’s approval so he can become their king. He sees himself as the divinely appointed king, so he uses his regal authority to remove every form of oppression from his people. Just look at his track record:
- He brings lepers back into the community (8:1).
- He helps a Roman officer who recognizes his authority (9:5-13).
- He lifts sickness and spiritual oppression from his people (8:14-17).
- He stills the storm that threatens his followers (8:23-27).
- He takes someone who was financing Israel’s oppression, giving him an appointment in his own government (9:9-13).
- He restores a dead daughter to her grieving parents (9:18-26).
- He restores sight to blind people (9:27-31).
- He sets free someone whose speech was bound (9:32-34).
The crowds marvel at this concerted effort by their anointed king to release God’s people from every form of oppression. They can’t recall ever seeing anything like it. There’s been nothing like this since the exile 600 years ago. They recall the days of Elijah and Elisha when God had done astounding miracles to challenge Israel’s evil rulers like Ahab and Jezebel. They consider the days of Moses when God led them out of Egypt and created them as his nation. No, there had never been such a demonstration of divinely delegated authority:
Matthew 9:33 The crowds marvelled: “Nothing like this has ever been brought to light in Israel.”
The king is present. His authority — his appointment by God as ruler of his people — is evident to everyone.
Well, almost everyone. There are sour grapes:
Matthew 9:34 But the Pharisees were going, “It’s by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”
Remember, the Pharisees were upset with Jesus for hanging around with “sinners,” sharing meals with them (9:9-13). That makes Jesus unclean in their view. How could an unclean person have authority over unclean spirits? Presumably the head of the unclean spirits could tell the spirits where to go, so they figure he must be in league with Satan (9:34).
Why were the Pharisees so blind? Why couldn’t they see what was obvious to everyone else? Jesus is liberating his people from every form of oppression, across such a wide spectrum. How could they miss all the colours of God’s liberating power at work in him, and imagine that he was in league with the enemy that wanted to destroy God’s people?
The Pharisees had a certain authority over the communities of Israel (to the extent that you could say they had authority while under foreign rule). They need to quash Jesus’ authority if they don’t want to yield theirs. They must paint him as a traitor; otherwise they themselves will be seen as traitors for failing to recognize his authority.
This confrontation increases exponentially from this point. On one side stands the king appointed by God. On the other side stand the self-appointed shepherds of Israel. They accused Jesus of siding with God’s enemy, but who are the real traitors who want to bring down God’s appointed king?
The kingdom conflict has begun. Either you recognize Jesus’ authority, or you oppose him. There is no neutral ground.
What others are saying
Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 374:
Without eyes of faith the Pharisees cannot see beyond their parochial experience that God is doing something unique in Israel in the word and work of Jesus. So they gather their opposition to Jesus, both protecting their religious domain and thinking they are protecting the people from Jesus. This is an ominous tone, which tragically sets a trajectory for the cross that will inevitably come.
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 369:
But perhaps, as this is the final crowd reaction in this anthology of works of power, we should read it as an evaluation not merely of this one exorcism but of the whole range of Jesus’ miracles which these two chapters have set out: others might perform the occasional exorcism, but this man’s ministry of deliverance is on an altogether different scale. A similarly climactic effect, but in an ominously different direction, is achieved by the Pharisees’ accusation. They do not deny Jesus’ power, but question its source. Such a total and offensive repudiation of his authority brings the growing hostility to a new level, and suggests a breach which is now irreparable.
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