At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”
3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6 Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” — Matthew 12:1-8.
Jesus and His disciples are walking through fields of grain on the Sabbath. The hungry disciples pluck and eat heads of grain because they are handy. The judgmental religious leaders, who always followed Jesus, are quick to find fault with Jesus’ disciples and their action.
Pharisees: “Look! Your disciples are acting unlawfully on the Sabbath!”
Jesus reminds them of the time when a hungry David entered the temple and deceitfully obtained and ate the holy bread meant exclusively for the serving temple priests (see 1 Samuel 21:1-9). Jesus cites this example because the Pharisees would not dare to condemn David for doing this unlawful act but were condemning His disciples for doing a lawful one.
Jesus goes on to remind them of the priests in the temple performing certain duties on the Sabbath which, by the Pharisees’ interpretation, would amount to profaning the Sabbath (see Leviticus 24:5-9; Numbers 28:9,10). Jesus is comparing the holy work of the priests under the old law done on the Sabbath with the work of his disciples. If the work of the priests profaned the Sabbath yet was authorized, the work of the disciples would be just as blameless. They were engaged in the work of One Who is greater than the temple!
Profane the Sabbath – He referred them to the conduct of the priests also. On the Sabbath days they were engaged, as well as on other days, in killing beasts for sacrifice, Numbers 28:9-10. Two lambs were killed on the Sabbath, in addition to the daily sacrifice. The priests must be engaged in killing them, and making fires to burn them in sacrifice, whereas to kindle a fire was expressly forbidden the Jews on the Sabbath, Exodus 35:3. They did that which, for other persons to do, would have been “profaning” the Sabbath. Yet they were blameless. They did what was necessary and commanded. This was done in the very temple, too, the place of holiness, where the law should be most strictly observed. (Barnes.)
He tells them of their failure to understand God’s will. Jesus cites God’s desire for mercy from Hosea 6:6. He tells them that had they really understood God’s will, they would not have condemned the innocent. This was the true character of the Pharisees. They had no mercy or love.
Then Jesus proclaims that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. The One who exercises authority even over the rules and regulations that govern the Sabbath day. Jesus is God. He is the Lord. He is above the law given through Moses. As Creator, the Christ is the original Lord of the Sabbath (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:10). He has the authority to overrule the Pharisees’ traditions and regulations because He created the Sabbath—and the Creator is always greater than the creation. Furthermore, Jesus claims the authority to correctly interpret the meaning of the Sabbath and all the laws pertaining to it. Because Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, He is free to do on it and with it whatever He pleases.
“The Son of Man” has the right to claim that He is Lord of the Sabbath and therefore has the right to interpret the laws regulating the actions of His disciples on that day. Since Jesus was God in the Flesh (John 1:1-14) [and as Author of the Law] surely He had the right to understand the nature of the Sabbath and its purpose, as well as the law regulating its observance. He was, therefore, Lord or Master of the Sabbath.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.