What is the meaning of Matthew 12:46?
“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”” (Matthew 12:46–50, ESV)
Through Jesus’ ministry, he had to balance his earthly family with his heavenly family. One instance is the beginning of John 2 at the wedding in Cana when his mother essentially told the servants to do whatever Jesus said, even though he asked to not be involved.
Yet he did it anyway. He took care of the supply of wine at the wedding feast. But Jesus never does anything at the command of a human being. What he did at the wedding in Cana he did to show his divine provision and power.
So when Jesus says that his mother and brothers are those that do the will of his Father, he isn’t disowning his earthly mother and brothers. He is making a spiritual comparison. Those who do God’s will are part of God’s family. Therefore, they are Jesus’ brothers and sisters and mother.
At the point of this account, Jesus’ earthly mother and brothers are interrupting his teaching. No matter what they want, it can wait until after he is finished teaching and preaching. Jesus cares deeply about his family on earth. But they must not keep him from doing the Father’s will also.
For anyone who is involved in any type of ministry, even as a volunteer, this same ability to weigh family relationships with God’s work is a challenge. Depending on your family background, your family members may not understand the importance and priority you place on being part of God’s work.
Many of Jesus’ brothers did not come to believe in him until after his death and resurrection. But some of their writings are recorded in Scripture, most notably James and Jude. But at this time in his ministry they did not understand the importance of the Father’s work for Jesus.
Perhaps what the family had to tell Jesus was important at the time. But it’s hard to interrupt him in the middle of his teaching. So he makes an illustration of what it means to do God’s work and be part of his family.
This doesn’t give us permission to neglect our family members when we are working for God. Too many ministers have families that have been torn apart because they did not give adequate attention and time to their family members.
Part of doing God’s work is loving your spouse and raising your children in the fear of the Lord. If you don’t accomplish that, all of the other things you do for God will be judged and held in question at the end of the age.5