These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Matthew 12:1-21 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Verse by Verse Commentary

Matthew 12:1-21

Taken from parallel passage study in Mark 2:21-3:6

  • Controversy about the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28, Matthew 12:1-8
  • Jesus heals a man’s hand on the Sabbath (Matthew 12: 9-14, Mark 3 1-6)
  • Jesus fulfills prophecy (Matthew 12:15-21)

Discussion Questions

What accusation did the Pharisees level at Jesus’ disciples?
Were they accurate in saying that the disciples were breaking the Sabbath?
What was Jesus’ reply? Does He defend the disciples or agree with them?
So was David right in taking the food from the house of God for his hungry men?
Why does Jesus mention this example here? What is His point?
What do verses 27-28 tell us about the Sabbath? What can we conclude about the purpose of the Sabbath from this passage?


Matthew 12:1-8- A parallel passage with more explanation.

1 Samuel 21:1-6 – This is the original description of what David did.

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 – An individual could pluck grain or grapes from a neighbors’ fields to satisfy his hunger, but not for profit.

Verse by Verse Commentary

  • The Pharisees always scrutinized Jesus closely. But here we see that this scrutiny didn’t extend only to Jesus. His disciples were under this same microscope because of their close association with Christ. Any Christian who identifies as a follower of Christ in public may also face this same scrutiny.
  • Pharisees accuse the disciples – The Pharisees accused the disciples of breaking the Sabbath law. The question is, did they? See Exodus 35:2 and Nehemiah 13:15-22. The exact commandment is to have a solemn rest holy to the Lord, and not to do any work. So the question is what does “work” mean? According to physics work = force multiplied by distance. From this definition we all do work every time we move. Did God give us a command that was impossible to follow? And did He really mean not to move at all on the Sabbath? Obviously not. If then the strictest definition is not meant, we have to derive what is meant. For that the passage in Nehemiah is helpful. The people are condemned for using the Sabbath as a day to make profit. The idea is that they are still “going to work” on the Sabbath. They are still working at their occupation for the sake of personal gain. And that is what the OT law prohibits. People already spend 6 days a week on themselves. The seventh is to be a holy day for God. That doesn’t mean that a person cannot lift any objects, but it does mean that a person must not labor at their job. What the disciples were doing did not break the Old Testament law. In fact, Deuteronomy 23:24-25 make it clear that a person could pick grain from fields as they passed through as long as it wasn’t for personal profit (the same problem with working on the Sabbath).
  • Jesus defended them – Beyond this, we know that the disciples did not break God’s law because Jesus defended them. He would not have defended them if they were breaking it, but would have rebuked them. The disciples probably broke one of the many additional man-made traditions which the Pharisees added on to the Old Testament law, but these they were not required to keep.
    • Application: Do not add or subtract from the Bible. We must be careful not to add our own traditions onto the teaching of God’s Word. These traditions can cause bondage and legalism instead of a heart to serve God. At the same time, be very careful not to judge others for things which the Bible doesn’t condemn.
  • Jesus uses the example of David to show that sometimes the spirit of the law is more important than the letter. This doesn’t mean that we can just chuck aside any law which we don’t like at that moment because of a greater heart motivation. Jesus is God and can make this comparison, but we should be careful before doing likewise.
  • Verses 27-28 – The Sabbath was made for man. This day was not meant as a yoke of bondage where people would sneak around scared of breaking one of the thousands of rules on this day (the Rabbis had come up with many additional rules governing every area of life including how many steps you could take on the Sabbath and forbidding spitting on dirt because when the dirt turned to mud that is work.) The purpose of this day was to rest from their work and spend time learning about and worshiping God as a family and country. How could a person ever rest it he had to count every step he took during the day, weigh out everything he carried to make sure it wasn’t too heavy, and look before spitting ,etc. These kinds of rules crush people and turn them off from following God. But imagine the other way. Knowing they weren’t supposed to work in the fields, gather grain, or plow, the people could truly rest. They could put aside all of their worries for one day and just enjoy each other and the Lord. God’s commands are not burdensome, but ours very well could be. 1 John 5:3.


Discussion Questions

What were the Pharisees doing when Jesus first entered the synagogue? Why?
What do we learn from this passage about their character/hearts?
What do we learn about Jesus’ character?
Did Jesus break the Sabbath? Are there any laws in the OT forbidding what He did? So then what was their problem with it?
From verse 4, what can we learn about God’s intention for the Sabbath?
What is the difference between God’s intention for the Sabbath and how man kept it?
Is there any lesson for us today? What application can we make from this passage?
How did the Pharisees react to this?


1 Samuel 16:7 – God looks at the heart.

Verses on Legalism –

Colossians 2:20-23

Human regulations like do not taste or touch have the appearance of wisdom.

Galatians 5:13-15 – Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Do not bite or devour one another.

2 Corinthians 3:5-6 – The law (OT) kills but the Spirit gives life.

Verse by Verse Commentary

  • They were watching Him – From the very moment Jesus entered the temple people were watching Him, seeking for a chance to accuse Him. At the beginning, they didn’t say anything. They watched in silence. This was typical for Jesus’ entire ministry. The leaders were always seeking a way to trap Him or discredit Him. Can you think of any other Biblical characters who were scrutinized this closely by people seeking to hurt them? Daniel. Paul when he entered Jerusalem after his third missionary journey. Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. People under his influence help him in this task. Does this take place in today’s world too? Yes. Those living in darkness still hate the light because their deeds are evil. They seek to extinguish the guilt in their hearts by finding a problem in believers so that they can justify their own sin by saying that everyone is the same. At the same time, Satan takes true pleasure in bringing down Christians. People are watching us. Not all are watching out of evil desire. Some are watching out of curiosity. They want to know what a Christian is and does. What should we do? We must follow the teaching in Titus 1:6a. Daniel was an amazing example because the only thing they could find to accuse him of was praying to God too much. Wouldn’t it be great if after close scrutiny someone could say the same thing about us?
  • Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath? Here Jesus implies an important purpose of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day to do good to others. It is a day to heal. It is a day to share God’s love. It could easily be argued that there is no better day to show God’s power and love by healing someone than on the Sabbath day. This fulfills the purpose of the Sabbath as a day to rest from our pursuit of profit and take time apart to worship and glorify God together with other believers. Rabbitical tradition taught that healing could not be done on the Sabbath. I wonder how many thousands of people died because of this human tradition not to treat the sick. Sick people do not take a break from getting sick on the Sabbath either.
  • They kept silent – As normal, the Jewish leaders could find nothing to say to refute Jesus. His logic was undeniable. But were their hearts changed? No. Jesus “bested” them in this “debate.” He showed them clearly they were wrong. But they didn’t, they wouldn’t, admit it. Not once in Jesus’ entire ministry do we see the religious leaders admit their wrong view and correct it. They never say, “Oh, we never thought of it from that angle before. You are right, Jesus.” Instead each and every time Jesus shows them they are wrong they stubbornly shut their mouths, lock their jaws and begin thinking of something else they can argue with Jesus about.
    • Application 1:. We don’t always have to be right in every discussion. It is better to be humble and teachable than to be right. Be willing to admit your mistakes and learn from others instead of “going down on a sinking ship” every time.
    • Application 2: These people’s hearts weren’t changed even when Jesus defeated them in debates. Don’t think that by debating people you can win their hearts for God. It is probably useful to spend more time praying for them instead of arguing with them (On a side note, Jesus had to respond to them in many cases because of the crowds around them so the “debate” was not necessarily for their benefit so much as for the others who were watching who were truly seeking the truth. It is good to be able to discern the difference between the two types of people.)
  • Jesus was grieved at their hardness of heart – Their hardness of heart is the real issue. This is what prevented them from admitting that they were wrong and agreeing that Jesus should heal this man. We can see in verse 6 just how hard their heart was. After Jesus healed this man, they angrily left the synagogue and began conspiring how to destroy Jesus. Jesus healed a man. This is the best day in the man’s life. Everyone should be happy and excited and filled with awe. But the Pharisees aren’t. They are instead trying to kill Jesus for it. Never in this passage do we see even one iota of concern for this sick man. There is no compassion. There is no congratulations when he is healed. To the Pharisees, he is merely a pawn in their chess match. His own life and feelings are of no consequence to them at all. This is a sad reflection of the state of peoples’ hearts without God.
  • What do we learn about Jesus from this passage?
    • Jesus did have compassion.
    • Jesus cared more about what was right than appearances.
    • Jesus did what was right regardless of the consequences. He knew that healing this man would stir up the anger of the leaders. He knew they would even try to kill him for it. He could have tried to find an alternative such as asking this man to come back the next day. But He didn’t look for the easy way out. Jesus did what was right even when it brought personal danger to Himself.

III. Jesus fulfills prophecy (Matthew 12:15-21)

Discussion Questions

What is the “that place” which Jesus withdrew from?
Why did he warn them not to tell who he was?
Who is the person talking as “I” in this prophecy?
What qualities of His servant do we see here?
Why does it say that “no one will hear his voice in the streets?”
What is the meaning of the words in verses 20 that a “bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out?”


Isaiah 42:1-4 – This prophecy in verses 18-21 is taken from here.

Verse by Verse Commentary

  • My Servant – Jesus came to serve the Father and accomplish His will. He set the model for the apostles/disciples who often used terms like bond-servants of Christ.
  • My beloved – Here it shows the intimate relationship between Father and Son.
  • I will put My Spirit on Him – The third member of the Trinity was also working.
  • He will declare justice to the Gentiles – Salvation of the Gentiles was prophesied from Old Testament times. See also verse 21.
  • Verse 19 – This stresses Jesus’ gentle nature. He didn’t incite riots or mobs to accomplish His objectives. He was gentle and not-violent. (Examples of false prophets who do not fit this description include: Acts 5:36-38, Acts 21:38.) The phrase does not mean that it was impossible to hear Jesus speaking in any street, ever. Rather it emphasizes his gentle, non-violent ministry.
  • Verse 20 – He cares for the weak and needy. He nurtures the injured and afflicted rather than crushes them with judgment and scorn (like the pharisees.) The part about the smoldering wick reminds me of the story of Lot. Lot believed in the Lord, but when he went to Sodom, his passion and zeal grew cold. Society influenced him and his family. He was not on fire for God, but there was still something remaining there. There was a spark of belief, a spark of obedience. Lot was not mature. And yet God did not snuff him out. He saved him and his family. Jesus is patient and kind and long-suffering. He doesn’t quickly snuff out or judge the spiritually immature, but instead seeks to rekindle the flame again. This verse too highlights His compassionate and gentle nature.