The well-known parables in Matthew 13 are given in response to the circumstances and events in Matthew 12. The initiating event was a confrontation that began with Jesus healing a demon-possessed blind-mute (verse 22). He established His authority as the One who had power and dominion. Everything that transpires from this point sets the stage for the subsequent parables, and this context is critical for grasping why Jesus spoke these parables. After the miraculous healing, many wondered if He might be the Son of David (verse 23), the One who would restore the Kingdom. However, the Pharisees, in their usual defiance, attributed the healing to the power of Satan (verse 24).
Jesus responds that, if exorcism manifested Satan's power, then the Pharisees must admit that their “sons” (disciples) were likewise in league with the Devil, for they were doing the same thing (verse 27). But if God's Spirit had performed the exorcism, then the Kingdom of God—the dominion of God—had come upon them (verse 28). He could rob the demon of its possession only if He bound it first, showing that He had authority over the spirit realm (verse 29). There is no neutrality; a person is aligned either with God's dominion or with Satan (verse 30).
He continues His unwelcome correction by contrasting Himself with them. After warning about blaspheming the Holy Spirit (verses 31-32), Jesus draws on the principle of examining fruit to determine whether a tree is good or bad (verse 33). He calls His opponents a “brood of vipers,” saying that their blasphemy proved the evil within (verses 34-37).
Since the people expected a conquering king to come and restore the Kingdom to its former glory, Jesus' assertion that the authority of heaven was working through Him challenged the current leadership. The scribes and Pharisees ask Him for a sign—some proof of His claim—prompting Christ's words about the sign of Jonah (verses 38-42). His answer focuses on the timing of His death and resurrection, which only the Most High could bring to pass. It also includes the example of a major Gentile city that repented at the preaching of Jonah, while the current “Kingdom of God” would not repent at the preaching of One greater. He also refers to the “queen of the South” (Sheba) who came to hear the wisdom of the man sitting on the Lord's throne, yet He was greater than Solomon—not only in wisdom, but also because Solomon's throne belonged to Him!
Jesus follows this with another lesson, warning that unless something positive replaces the evil that is cast out, the former evil—and worse—will return (verses 43-45). He foretells that this would happen “with this wicked generation” (verse 45). All the repentance, baptisms, healings, and exorcisms that had been taking place would do no good if the people did not make their lives inhospitable to the evil influences.
In verses 46-50, Jesus teaches that flesh-and-blood family is of less importance than the spiritual Family, which He defines as those who do the Father's will (or those “who hear the word of God and do it”; Luke 8:21). The matters of parentage and family relations came up frequently during Christ's ministry (for example, John 8:39-59) because the Jews felt secure in their position before God because of their physical descent from Abraham. Though not obvious, His clarification of “family” in spiritual terms appears throughout the parables of Matthew 13, as Jesus contrasts Abraham's physical descendants with his spiritual ones.
David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)
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