38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”
The Pharisees (and scribes) rejected the prophesied signs Jesus demonstrated, healing the blind and mute man, and demanded a sign they would accept.
39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For 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 three days is, of course, his death, burial, and resurrection. The Pharisees, like many leaders in Israel’s history, did not depend upon God but depended upon themselves and made deals with the surrounding kingdoms for their place and power (1 Kings 15:16-21). These men didn't accepted Jesus if God even after witnessing the events surrounding His death and resurrection.
41 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.
Jesus demonstrates the depth of their rebellion by comparing these rebellious people to the men of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba. The men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah the prophet, a lesser man than the Son of Man. The Queen of Sheba left her kingdom and traveled many miles to hear Solomon’s wisdom (Which is to say, she traveled many miles to hear God’s wisdom or God’s word), words related to her by a lesser king than the King of kings. The Pharisees were talking the Son of God, to the King of kings—and they would not hear Him.
In the movie Contact, staring Jodi Foster, her character, while debating the existence of God said, “I need proof of God’s existence.” This is exactly what the Pharisees were saying to Jesus—if you are the Christ, prove it.
But it is written: “…without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
The next verses are a continuation of the symbolism Jesus used in Matthew 12:29 (“29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.”) In addition, He is comparing the Pharisees’ occupation and control over Israel to the man who had been possessed by the demon. Remember the church’s history. God took vengeance upon Israel through the Roman destruction of the Temple. Thereafter, the church spent a period of freedom from perverse leaders. Then, around 150 AD, after a few years of false teachers and errant elders, the church experienced a massive falling away (prophesied by Paul in 2 Thess 2:3). Thereafter, the Catholic Church came into existence and grew into a power greater than the Pharisees could have imagined in their wildest dreams.
43 “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none.
Zechariah prophesies the unclean spirit.
1 “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.2 “It shall be in that day,” says the Lord of hosts, “that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered. I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land.
Jesus’s death at Calvary opened the fountain for the house of David, bringing salvation from sin and uncleanness. In that day, prophecies concerning the coming Christ were fulfilled. In that day, the unclean spirit of rebellion was cast out. In the early days of the church, there were no false leaders, perverting God’s people. That came later.
The opposite of a dry place is a wet place. A wet place has water. In relation to Jesus’s message, the opposite of a dry place is a place of living waters. A dry place is a place without God and His salvation.
O Lord, the hope of Israel, All who forsake You shall be ashamed. “Those who depart from Me Shall be written in the earth, Because they have forsaken the Lord, The fountain of living waters.”
Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
44 Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order.
False leaders came to the Christ's church and found it swept clean, refreshed and new.
2 Peter 2:1
"But here were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be
false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies,
even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift
destruction." (2 Peter 2:1)
45 Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”
When false leaders did return and populate the church, the end result, the Catholic Church, which suppressed and even tried to kill God’s church, did more damage for a longer time period than the Pharisees could have hoped to perform.
Notice His remarks were about this “wicked generation” not just the Pharisees specifically. The honeymoon period the church experienced lasted only a short time, within that generation, before false teachers began taking their toll. (Read 2 Peter 2 and Revelation chapters 2 and 3).
Jesus was prophesying the future of the church. Remember this whole thing started with Pharisees blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The Catholics' blasphemy makes the Pharisees’ blasphemy pale in comparison.
The numbers, seven, one, and eight are an important part of this prophecy concerning the Catholic Church, used elsewhere in scripture in a different but connected way. However, I must reserve the explanation of these numbers for later when I am able to fully explain that related but misunderstood subject.
This entire episode in Matthew 12 is not just a condemnation of the Pharisees but also a prophecy of coming events in the church. Like all prophecy, it is best understood as history. Nobody listening to Jesus in that day would have understood everything He meant. There is good reason, though, for His church to fully understand His words today.