The words “as he said these things” indicates the woman said this while Jesus was talking about by the power by which he cast out demons. In contrast to those who opposed Jesus in the preceding verses, this woman admired Jesus and his words.
The words “blessed is the womb that bore you” is a form of blessing among the Jews and others of the time. The commendation is not so much to Mary, but to Jesus. (Gill) Today, someone might tell you “your mother must be proud”.
The woman intended to magnify the excellence of Christ. There is no indication she knew Mary. She did not use Mary’s name. So, there is likely no connection here specifically to Mary.
There are some who refer to this verse as an indication that Mary has a special role in heaven, but the context show that Jesus’ response is actually a correction of the woman’s words. He said “blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it”. The use of the word “rather” means he is saying the more important blessing is on those who receive the gospel and are saved. Although Mary was blessed to be chosen to bear Jesus (1:48), she is more blessed to believe in him and receive eternal life.
Jesus also expands the scope of blessing. It is not just his mother who is blessed; it is every person on the planet that hears God’s word and keeps it.
Psalm 1:1-2 states much of the same truth. It says a person is blessed who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night. This person leaves the wicked, the sinners and scoffers for God’s law. Jesus’ message is the same, but updated for the full message of the gospel. Those who hear the gospel and believe it receive the ultimate blessing of eternal life.
The blessing on those who believe is followed by a curse for those who seek more and more signs. This relates back to verse 16. Some accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. But other kept testing him by seeking more signs from heaven.
Jesus responded to that by saying “this generation” is not blessed, in contrast to those who believe. Instead, this generation is evil. (29) Jesus’ words, the words of God, are not enough for them. They want more and more signs. Really, they just have more excuses to reject Jesus. So, they are ripe for judgment.
Jesus has given many signs to the Jews already. He has healed the sick, cast out demons and fed a multitude of people from a kid’s sack lunch. He had just cast out a demon, as evidenced by a man speaking for the first time. Yet, none of this was enough.
It is likely they would not have believed no matter what sign Jesus gave them. They were not really seeking reasons to believe; they were rationalizing their unwillingness to believe.
Jesus said no sign would be given except the sign of Jonah. The Son of Man would be a sign to this generation as Jonah was a sign to Ninevah. As Jonah was in the fish for three days (Jonah 1:1-17), and then delivered as a sign of God’s power, Jesus would be in the tomb for three days and delivered (resurrected) from death.
Jesus himself is the sign. Specifically, the resurrected Jesus is the sign. We are to believe in him. We are to believe in his resurrection. His resurrection is God the Father’s declaration that Jesus is his Son. (Romans 1:4)
Paul understood the importance of the resurrection. He said it was a matter of first importance. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) He wrote about those who saw Jesus resurrected. Jesus appeared to the Twelve. He then appeared to more than 500 believers, most of whom were still alive at the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. He appeared to James, then to all of the apostles. Last of all, he appeared to Paul after the ascension. (1 Corinthians 15)
Jesus made two comparisons of lesser to greater to stress his point. First, he said the queen of the South would condemn this generation, for she came and heard Solomon and believed that he was made king and given wisdom by God. She said “Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may executed justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9-10) But, Jesus is greater than Solomon and this generation of Jews does not receive him.
The second comparison is of Nineveh. Jesus said Nineveh would also condemn them, because the people of Nineveh repented upon hearing Jonah preach, and Jesus is greater than Jonah, but the Jews did not repent and believe.
Spiritual Light & Spiritual Darkness
You have to be careful in reading this teaching. In another place, Jesus used a lamp as an example and the lamp stood for our witness. This is not the case here.
Instead, Jesus likened his coming and his preaching to a lamp. Oil lamps were common in Israel. When darkness came each evening, there were no electric lights. If you wanted to escape darkness, you lit one or more of these little lamps. So, Jesus used the lamp as a metaphor for spiritual light .
Jesus said no one hides a lamp after lighting it. (33) It would make no sense to do so. Everyone in the crowd would find that an obvious statement. When our electricity goes out, we light a candle. We do not cover it with a basket. We set it on a table to light up the room.
Similarly, Jesus preached the message of salvation and God’s kingdom. He preached openly and performed signs\miracles openly. He was shining spiritual light into spiritual darkness. John wrote “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness…” (John 1:4-5)
However, no matter how bright the light is, you cannot see it if your eye is bad, or blind. For example, one day this week I was walking down the hallway at work. The hall was lit by many fixtures. Sunlight streamed in through the doors. Yet, a man slowly and carefully made his way down the hall, holding onto the wall with one hand, tapping the floor with a cane held in the other hand, and taking tiny steps. He was blind. All the light in the world would not help him, for he could not see it. His eye was bad.
Jesus was referring to a person’s spiritual darkness. If you are full of spiritual darkness, you cannot see the spiritual light. Many of the Jews were in this place of spiritual darkness. Some did not want a Messiah that would upset their political or religious position. Some had sin they did not want to give up. Some were mad because they did not think Jesus acted as a Messiah should act. They were in danger of letting their spiritual darkness prevent them from seeing the light of Christ.
They were the ones John wrote about. He wrote “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” John 1:9-11
Paul wrote that “their foolish hearts were darkened”. (Romans 1:21)
I pray that you will not be one of these. Rather, you will put on your spiritual glasses and see the light of Christ. You will allow it to shine into your life and bring you to eternal life. You will allow him to transform every area of your life. You will eagerly anticipate the day when the age to come becomes the present age, when all will be light and there will be no darkness at all.