As noted in a previous post, Matthew 11:20-24 and 11:38-45 parallel each other, and in many ways complement each other too (look at sections B and B'). After Jesus finishes teaching the crowds about the importance of John the Baptist's ministry, and it's relationship with the kingdom of heaven which had already come (11:12), Jesus begins to proclaim loud and clear his own judgment upon the cities which knew of his works but did not repent of their own sins. Matthew 11:20-24 says:
Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his
mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to
you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had
been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and
ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of
judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum,
will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the
mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until
this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the
day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Notice Jesus' indignation: First, two "woes" are issued, then two comparisons are presented, then two final verdicts are delivered against the cities. The micro-literary structure for this section is below:
Introduction: "Then [Jesus] began to denounce the cities... because they did not repent."
A) "Woe to you... Woe to you!"
B) "For if the mighty works done in you had been done in..."
C) "But I tell you... it will be more bearable on The Day of Judgment ...than for you."
A') "And you!"
B') "For if the mighty works done in you had been done in..."
C') "But I tell you... it will be more tolerable on The Day of Judgment ...than for you."
It's interesting that Jesus mentions Tyre and Sidon. By doing so, he compares the Jew-saturated cities of Bethsaida and Chorazin with two Gentile-saturated cities. Surely this was no accident. At this point in Matthew's gospel, Jesus had not yet visited Tyre or Sidon (which is northwest of Galilee, along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea). Therefore Tyre and Sidon had not yet seen the mighty works which Jesus had done. But they will. As noted in a previous post (see E and E'), Jesus visits the region of Tyre and Sidon once (in 15:21-28) and the faith on display in that region --from a Canaanite nonetheless!-- is exponentially greater than the faith of the Pharisees here in chapters 11 & 12. Jesus is on a mission to conquer the land for his name's sake and claim a people for himself, and if Tyre and Sidon had seen the mighty works which Jesus had done around the sea of Galilee, they would have repented. But woe to the Jews around Galilee who will suffer God's wrath because they would not repent and find rest in him.
The parallel section to this story (section B') can be seen below:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him [Jesus], saying,
“Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them,
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given
to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 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. 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. “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it
passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then
it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it
finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and
brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and
dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also
will it be with this evil generation.”
The micro-literary structure to this section is below:
Introduction: Some Scribes and Pharisees seek for a sign
Jesus gives them a “sign” (part one): “An evil and
adulterous generation seeks for a sign. And just as Jonah the prophet was in
the belly of a “Sea-monster”1 for three days and nights, “so will it be” (outos estai) for Israel’s prophet, the
Son of Man, in the heart of the “Land”2 (of Israel) for three days and nights.
A) The men of Ninevah
will rise up at The Judgment with this generation and condemn it
B) For they repented
at the preaching of Jonah
C) And behold! Something greater than Jonah is here
A’) The queen of the
south will rise up at The Judgment with this generation and condemn it
B’) For she came from
the outer-limits3 of the land to hear the wisdom of Solomon
C’) And behold! Something greater than Solomon is here
Jesus gives them a “sign” (part two): When an unclean
spirit goes-out of a man and goes-through waterless places to seek "rest," it
finds no rest. But when it goes back and finds it’s “house” empty, clean, and
in order, it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself back into its "house." The last of that man becomes worse than the
first. “So will it be” (outos estai) with
this evil generation.
At first glance, it's not obvious what kind of a "sign" Jesus is giving these scribes and Pharisees. But it is obvious that Jesus is giving them some kind of sign, even though he starts off by telling them that an evil generation, i.e. a generation like them, seeks after "signs." Jesus then proceeds to offer what seems to be a two-part "sign". The first part is about a prophet named Jonah with whom every first century scribe and Pharisee was familiar. They knew Jonah was the only prophet in Israel's history whom Yahweh sent to a Gentile nation --the nation of Ninevah. And here, Jesus compares himself to Jonah, and the "evil generation" before him is compared with the Ninevites. Just as Jonah was swallowed up by a Sea-monster and delivered three days later to teach for forty days a message of repentance and faith to the Ninevites, so Jesus will be swallowed up in the heart of the land of Israel and delivered three days later to teach for forty days about the kingdom of God to the Jews (Acts 1:3).
Jesus then moves on to his central point: a description of wisdom among the Gentiles. It's as though, when Gentiles accept wisdom they are accepting salvation as well. How much more would this be true for the people of Israel who have Wisdom-personified in their midst?
Jesus says that the people of Ninevah understood wisdom when they saw it. They knew Jonah was a great prophet of Yahweh, and they repented because of Yahweh's messenger. For that reason, Jesus says those Gentiles (i.e. Ninevites) will rise up at The Judgment to pronounce a verdict along with Jesus against Israel's unrepentant Jews --Jews who end up rejecting a greater prophet than Jonah.
The queen of the south (i.e. of Sheba, I Kings 10:1-10) also understood wisdom when she heard it. She too understood that Solomon was a great Prophet-King of Yahweh, and she even traveled from the outer-limits of the land (around Egypt and Ethiopia) to listen to the wisdom of Yahweh's Prophet-King. For that reason, Jesus says that she will rise up at The Judgment to pronounce a verdict along with Jesus against Israel's unrepentant Jews --Jews who end up rejecting a greater Prophet-King than Solomon.
Concluding the second part of this "sign" which the scribes and Pharisees requested, Jesus moves on from talking about himself, to talking about "this evil generation" again. It is "this evil generation," Jesus says, that has a "house" with a "man" in it; and that man/house has an unclean spirit. Then comes a day when that unclean spirit leaves its "house" to find rest somewhere else. The "little children" of Israel have been searching for rest for a long time, and have finally found it in Jesus (11:25-30). But such revelation has been hidden from "the wise and understanding", i.e. the scribes and Pharisees. Their disciples are like those who leave their house for rest somewhere else, passing by the water-filled location of rest that is found in Jesus. They don't want the rest which Jesus offers. And so, after a while the unclean spirit returns and find its house cleaned up and put back in order by the man of the house. But it doesn't like the way the house has been cleaned up; and so seven more evil spirits are gathered together to return to this man's cleansed house, making it worse than it was at first.
Little do they know that Jesus owns everything in the world, and is the master of the house in which this man lives; and if seven evil spirits worse than the first return into his house, making it seven times more unclean than it was at first, he won't come back to clean it up and make it look pretty inside again. He'll return to break down the house, its stones and timber, and all the plaster of the house (Lev. 14:43-45), and it will be delivered over to a place outside the city of God, to an ash heap of uncleanness forever.
1. The Greek word translated as "great fish" literally means "Sea-monster," and is used throughout ancient Greek literature in reference to sea-monsters, not merely "great fish."
2. The Greek word translated as "earth" is misleading. Although it can and often does mean "earth," it rarely means the planet earth. In context, Jesus is simply expressing that the queen of Sheba traveled all the way from the outer limits of the land from Israel came. And Sheba is located around Egypt & Ethiopia, which is the stretch of land from which Israel as a nation came.
3. The Greek word translated as "ends" means "limits" and in context it means the outer-border or outer-limits of the land. It does not mean the other "end" of the physical planet. That would be absurd.