Greater ThanApril 30th, 2012 by Anthony Bosman
- Its digits add up to 7. Like 61 (6+1=7) or 232 (2+3+2=7).
- It has two digits. Like 12 or 95.
- It’s a perfect square–that is, it equals a number times itself. Like 9 (3×3) or 100 (10×10).
- It’s less than 20.
Can you figure it out?
Notice, each relation helps us figure out what this mystery number is. Similarly, Jesus gave us relations between himself and historical entities to help us understand who he is. Thus Matthew 12 presents three statements describing Jesus as “greater than…”
Greater than the temple
The context: Jesus’ disciples have been accused of unlawful activity on the Sabbath. Granted, they had just plucked some grain for a snack, but the Pharisees construed it as harvesting and hence a form of work. Jesus replies:
“Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” (Matt. 12:5,6)
He’s referring to the fact that priests had work to perform on Sabbath; namely, they handled Sabbath sacrifices (see Numbers 28:9). The Pharisees had accepted that this was necessary temple work, similar to how present day churches need pastors to preach on Sabbath. If the work is necessary for the temple–the site of divinity among humanity–of course it was appropriate.
Hence Jesus defends his disciples by explaining he is greater than the temple. Christ is the true site where divinity intersects humanity, so let his disciples work!
Greater than Jonah
Asked for a sign, Jesus responds.
“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matt. 12:40,41)
Jonah’s experience in the fish’s belly is both a historical event and a preview of what Christ would experience. Jonah records: “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jonah 2:2).
Likewise on the cross, “Jesus cried out with a loud voice… ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” By faith, Jesus must have clung to the promise of Jonah–“and he answered me”–until he received the confirmation three days later.
But not all accepted Jesus as Messiah. Even the wicked city of Nineveh had acknowledged Jonah’s testimony; how tragic that some would fail to recognize the one greater than Jonah.
Greater than Solomon
Jesus reiterates this tragedy:
“The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” (Matt. 12:42)
Great rulers traveled far to hear Solomon’s wisdom. But now, those present in Israel were rejecting the one who had given Solomon his wisdom.
Jesus is greater than the temple, greater than Jonah, and greater than Solomon. These relations inform us to his identity. Then we make a choice. How will we respond?