Matthew 12:38-50 Part 1

Back in verse twenty-two the charge by the Pharisees was that Jesus was doing exorcisms in connection with demons.  Jesus isn’t finished answering that, by the way.  We’re still in that same context.

But, having been rebuffed before the crowd and condemned to eternal damnation as blasphemers, the Pharisees now come back for another try at slandering and libeling Jesus in order to win the crowds back to themselves.

And Matthew records, verse thirty-eight: 


“Then some of the Scribes and Pharisees responded to Him, saying, ‘Teacher we wish to see a sign from you.’” 


So some of the Pharisees, who are also Scribes, are now demanding a sign.

These were the Pharisees who were called sopherim, lawyers who had passed an advanced examination and demonstrated the necessary learning.  No sooner than thirty years of age they were formally admitted to the chair of the Scribe by the laying on of hands and by receiving tablets on which to write the sayings of the wise.  They had the key to knowledge to open or shut the treasures of wisdom.  They were the authorized expert expounders of the law.

Now, coming from them, the demand for a sign to see means that a sign would have to be furnished by Jesus in order for Him to receive Jewish acknowledgment as the Messiah!  The verb “to see” is in the emphatic position in this sentence, so the last half of the verse might read, “Teacher, we want from You a sign to see.”

In other words, there was to be an open, cosmic authorization from God (we’ll go into that some more in a minute), which would be verified by the Scribes; and then they would pronounce yea or nay on Jesus’ Messiahship!

Now, it’s pretty easy to see the trap that the Scribes thin they’re setting for Jesus.  First, if He can’t produce the expected sign, then He’ll be discredited before the crowds.  But, on the other hand, if He submits to this temptation and produces the required sign, then that’s the same as acknowledging that the Scribes have the right to verify His Messiahship!

Let’s go over that again to make sure we’ve got it.  The Scribes are demanding a sign that they can see that He is the One sent from God.  Now, let’s note that this is not a humble and submissive request to a great Teacher.  This is a hypocritical attempt to subvert Jesus’ influence with the crowds and prove once again that the leadership of Israel are the spiritual shepherds of the people.

The Scribes, the intellectual giants of Pharisaical religion, think that there are two possible results from their demand for a sign.  First, that Jesus will try to produce the sign for them and fail, most likely.  In that case, He would expose Himself as a false prophet, and a fake, and a magician who really does exorcise demons in connection with Beelzeboul!  And the Pharisees would prove themselves, once again, to be the true religious leaders of the nation.

But, second, if Jesus happened somehow to be successful in producing the required sign (after all, He had, indeed, done some remarkable things), if He was successful, He would have done so at the demand of the Scribes and in submission to their verification!  And the party that verifies, or makes final judgment, is the party with ultimate authority!  Do you see?  If it so happened that a major event in history was happening, then the Scribes would be the greatest beneficiaries of it!  Because they would be the ones to whom Jesus submitted for verification and acknowledgment!

Of course this is exactly what Satan got Eve to do – submit to his authority rather than God’s – and that’s what he tried to get Jesus to do in the forty days in the desert.  And here the learned Pharisees were taking up the same course – proving themselves to be in league with the demons – and rushing headlong to the final cutting off of the covenant stalk.  We’ll begin to look at Jesus’ response to them in a few minutes.

But first I want to spend some time on the sign that was demanded.  Here the Anointed One of God, the Lamb Who was about to be lead to slaughter for the sin of His people, The King of Kings, had healed broken, twisted and unclean bodies, raised the dead and forgiven sin – all these things signifying the depravity of mankind and salvation in Christ; and He had sent the demons under, signifying the binding of Satan and the loosing of the nations; He had shaken heaven and earth signifying the coming destruction of Israel and the institution of His Kingdom on earth; and the Scribes show up, after all that fullness of Old Testament prophecy, and demand a sign for them to see!

Jesus had already taken them back to the prophecy of Isaiah a number of times, especially with reference to John the Baptizer, in explanation of His Messianic work.  But the Scribes weren’t interested in that.  They were anticipating SNMEION, signs in the heavens such as those which might be found in places like Isaiah thirteen, verses ten through eleven, which says,


“For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light:  the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.” 


Or Isaiah thirty-four, verse four: 

“And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine….”


In the Scribes’ minds, the coming of the Messiah would be accompanied by heavenly signs, and that the Messiah would conquer the world and be the king in Jerusalem forever!  (But, as another theologian has said, the religion of Israel at the time of Christ wasn’t even recognizable as the religion of the Old Testament.)  The Scribes wanted more than the Word of God Incarnate; more than the suffering Servant of God; more than the Son of God Who wanted to bring glory to His Father rather than to become a celebrity king!  More than a sin offering for his people!  They wanted to see great signs in the heavens rather than live by every Word breathed from the nostrils of God!

They wanted a genuine sign that they could see and verify, and nothing less would satisfy them.

Irrespective of the authority issue, suppose for a moment that Jesus had met their demand for a heavenly sign.  Such things meet no spiritual need at all!  They point to no deliverance from sin; they have no relation to faith; and they respond only to the sensual side of our nature; they stimulate an unhealthy craving for such things that, having been fed, only demands more.  And when more and more isn’t forthcoming, that craving reverts to dissatisfaction, doubt and denial!  The faith that these Scribes promise Jesus for just one such sign is a spurious faith.  That’s the reason Jesus says such things to them beginning in the next verse.

But now I think we need to be reminded again about living by faith and not by sight!  Because beliefs and belief systems which come about due to sensual experience are illegitimate!  And they are deceptive – hypocritical.  And they lead us away from faith in Christ.

The Bible says, “the just shall live by faith,” and that “faith is the substance (ground) of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” and “without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

And Jesus said, here at the beginning of verse thirty-nine, that


“a generation wicked and adulterous eagerly searches for a sign….” 


It’s looking for confirmation from God; and it wants to judge for itself whether the sign meets its criteria!

Now this first century Judaism certainly sounds like today’s movement to me, does it to you?  This very vigorous movement within the Church is always looking for another confirmation from God – it’s never satisfied; and the signs have to be of a particular type or they’re not acceptable!  A miraculous gift has to accompany another “filling” of the Holy Ghost; and the miraculous gift is the “sign” that the recipient has entered into a fuller relationship with God!  “The gift is the sign of full spirituality.”

Tens of thousands have been attracted to this kind of thinking because there is taught that “something more” is there to be received from God, and miraculous gifts come as evidence that the “something more” has been received!  And this is the very reason why, even though will often involve themselves in sordid activities in rebellion against God’s Law, this is why they consider themselves very spiritual.  The miraculous gift has been received evidencing a full walk with God!  They’ve got personal and experiential proof that God has especially blessed them – He’s given them a sign, a gift, to let them know!  And, like I said, even though their lives aren’t holy, there is that proof of a second filling of the Spirit – or a third – or a fourth – the sign, the token of blessing from God!

But, you see, faith is the evidence of things unseen!  Not miraculous gifts!  (Hebrews eleven, verse one)  And holiness of life is the confirmation of the filling of the Holy Spirit.  And what comes out of the mouth shows what’s in the heart, according to what we’ve just learned earlier in this chapter.

So, according to the God-breathed words of Scripture, those who seek after signs – confirmations – from God are a wicked and adulterous generation!  Signs of miraculous gifts to confirm the filling of the Spirit is a lie and a deception!  Those who want visible or tangible proof rather than speaking and doing the will of God are under a spirit of deception!

Fellowships of charismatics are marked by talk of personal satisfaction, the joyful use of miraculous gifts, thrill and excitement, and great emotional highs.  But when God promised the Spirit, in Ezekiel chapter thirty-six, He said,


“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do them….”


And then, right after that, He tells His people what to expect when He puts His Spirit within them:


“Then shall you remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.”


In Zechariah twelve we have another promise of the outpouring of the Spirit.  And when that happens God tells us to look for men who mourn and who shall be in bitterness!  The Lord told the disciples that when the Spirit came He would reprove the world of sin!  And when the Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, thousands were pricked in their heart, and they cried out in distress!

And not only does the Spirit bring an initial sorrow for sin, but He quickens a continuing sorrow for personal and national sin.  And Christ called His Own people a “mourning” people in the Sermon on the Mount – which we covered months ago.  We struggle to do the will of God against ourselves!

And since God has removed restraints from the national morality of our country, no one who has God’s Spirit can walk through the world order without deep groanings of sorrow and distress – vexation!  When the stench of immorality fills our nostrils none of us can escape the constant awareness of the culture’s depravity!  And if God were to pour out the Spirit anew upon our society, it certainly would not cause us to be exhilarated with excitement; according to Scripture, He would cause us to tear our clothes and cover ourselves with ashes in poverty of spirit and sorrow!  That’s what Scripture says!

 Charismatics speak about the miraculous gifts of speaking in tongues, which, they say, everybody who’s filled with the Spirit ought to have.  And that this gift is one of great personal joy and benefit.  It is a sign from God that He has indeed filled them with holiness, and they use the gift to great private benefit in their own closets.

But a good exegesis of Scripture proves that tongues were clearly identifiable and translatable languages which were not for personal prayer at all; speaking in the different languages of the nations was not for the benefit of believers, but for a condemnation upon unbelieving Jews!  The Gospel was now going to the nations of the world – in their own tongues – and Israel would now replace them as the desert wasteland of the world – with no Truth and no Light in it!

So whatever it is that’s going on in the religious world today is a spirit of delusion!  And if I might be allowed to make a prediction by good and necessary inference, I say that as the culture continues to disintegrate morally, this spirit of delusion will grow stronger!  It has the very opposite effect of the work of the Holy Spirit.  Men don’t mourn their sin and repent – they continue to practice it while bubbling over with joy, wonder and excitement, oblivious to the Commandment of God!  Holiness is required!

Another great work of the Spirit – the Holy Spirit – in the hearts of men is a yearning for, and dedication to, the Truth.  As Psalm eighty-five says, “Truth shall spring out of the earth.” When there is an outpouring of the Spirit, men’s minds will be captivated with Truth.  After the Spirit broke the hearts of many men at Pentecost, those same men continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine!  (Acts two, forty-two)  But charismatics are involved in existential experience which cannot be communicated to others in doctrine!  Everything is subjective, so faith in the objective Truths of God means very little.  So groups of charismatics can come together in unity with all others, no matter what their beliefs are, and share their experiences!  So, as a result of relegating doctrinal Truth to an almost nonexistent position, nuns and priests and liberals and mystics and fundamentalists and modernists and homosexuals and feminists can all come together and share the Lord’s “blessings” as evidenced by miraculous gifts.  Nobody is “run off” by theological dogma!  But by the Spirit there is a yearning for Truth!  There is hungering and thirsting for Truth!

But a wicked and adulterous generation will not live by faith, it is out after a sign!  This is a whole generation, here in verse thirty-nine, a whole generation of Jews – the entire nation of an entire generation.  Wicked and adulterous.  The second adjective, “adulterous,” further defining the first one, “wicked.”

The wicked actions Jesus has in mind are “adulterous” breaches of God’s Covenant with the people.  And that Covenant is conceived here as similar to a marriage bond between God and Israel – an idea which is prophesied in a number of places in the Old Testament, most explicitly in the prophesy of Hosea.

But this spiritual adultery includes all unfaithfulness to God, hypocrisy, and friendship with the world order.  And in this particular occasion, here in verse thirty-nine, the adulterous character appears in the form of scorning of the signs of the time; and in their pretentious hypocrisy.  By their illegitimate demand for something more, they revealed their inner divorce from God.  They were actually seeking a sign of confirmation from God when the whole Covenant relationship was being terminated!  The bill of divorce was being delivered by Christ.  His betrothed was in continuous adultery.

And do not think that this can’t happen today!  The Church in our nation is a good example!  Adultery from the Covenant marriage promises of God can be applied today to those who are outwardly connected to the Church, and who claim a connection with God through Christ in it, and yet who violate the Covenant by perverting His Word, by disobeying His Holy Law, by feigning pretense, by uniting with others of the same type, and by eagerly seeking something more.

It is adultery.

No sign was forthcoming to the Scribes and Pharisees and to the rest of the Judaizers.  The signs of the advancing Kingdom were all around them, and they had had ample warnings to turn from being a wicked and adulterous generation.

And it could well be that God considers His Word enough for the American Church.  It could be that He is cutting it off for its apostasy – its adultery!  The signs of the time are all around it, God said, and the Word is sufficient and efficient for its repentance.  But the Church seeks more and more miraculous gifts to confirm God’s blessings!  God is not blessing religion in America, but the Church eagerly seeks evidence of His blessing!  Isn’t that hopelessly hypocritical?!  And on top of that, it thinks it is receiving the evidence!  And, further, while rejoicing in the evidence it thinks it has received, the Church continues to wallow in its adultery against God’s Covenant Lawlessness!

Next Lord’s Day – the only sign given to Israel – Jonah.  And the reasons are startling!


Scripture says that the Table of the Lord is a sign and a seal.  The sign is clearly discernable.  This is My Body, and you are to live in it and be holy as I Am Holy.  My Flesh for your flesh.  Be in union with Me and glorify My Father in the Heavens.

The sign is clearly discernable.  This is My Blood.  Not the blood of sacrificial animals, but The Blood – My Blood – The Blood of the Covenant.

A wicked and adulterous generation eagerly searches for signs – miraculous occurrences in the heavens.  Gifts.  Wonders.  Experiences.

But here is the sign.  Seen often in church.  The sign of Covenantal union in Christ.  And God’s Covenant says “Obey Me – faithfully obey Me – and live.  Rebel and disobey – and die.”