Matthew 16:1-12 Part 1

ter sixteen, we will notice an ever-increasing intensity as our Lord Jesus Christ moves inexorably toward His crucifixion, which is only, now, a few short months away.

It was Matthew’s intent, at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to write down, in historical sequence, a number of events which reveal the intent and purpose of the Son of God.  And, as we have seen over and over again, Jesus, in His obedient glorification of His Father, is executing covenantal sanctions against the nation of Israel; and, at the same time, He mercifully includes the nations of the world in the gracious salvation of God!

As chapter fifteen concluded, Jesus has just signified His Own body as the Bread of Life for the thousands of the lost sheep of the house of Israel – with full baskets of pieces left over for the pagan nations.  And the last verse indicates that He crossed back over the Sea of Galilee to the region of Magadan which is back in Galilee.

We don’t know how much time He spent in Magadan, because Matthew only records one event there!  And since, as we’ve already said, it is Matthew’s design to write only some of the incidents significant of Jesus’ purpose, we can only conclude, then, that this confrontation with the leadership of Israel was the primary reason for this “crossing over”.  That’s been His pattern throughout the Gospel, hasn’t it?  Cutting off and separation of the nation of Israel on the west side of the sea, in Israel; and restoration and healing and feeding across the sea in the wilderness.

So as Jesus departs from a place in the wilderness where He has signified the inclusive unity of God’s people in His Own body, we now anticipate that He will again prefigure the wrath and anger of God and the cutting off of this nation of Jews which has forsaken the covenant of God.  And that’s exactly what happens.  The first four verses of chapter sixteen record the single event in Magadan, after which, as supporting evidence from the other Gospels indicate, Jesus and His disciples cross back over the Sea.

Verse one:


“And having come forth, the Pharisees and Sadducees, putting to the proof (or testing, or tempting), asked Him to show to them a sign from the heaven….”


Now, if we just read that superficially, we would get the impression that there were these men there – waiting for Jesus there in Galilee when He arrived.  And that there was this short little conversation held in private there on the beach!  And that it was just an insignificant disagreement between Jesus and a few official-looking people.

But such is not the case.  As the Gospel writer Luke says, after Jesus and His disciples arrived in Magadan, thousands of people soon gathered around Him – so many that they were trodding on each other!  As we have seen of late, Jesus can now go nowhere without huge crowds gathering from everywhere within traveling distance!  And we can assume that He was involved with the people as He had been on each occasion that this happened!

And we can also assume that word had gotten back to Jerusalem that this vast multitude of people had gathered around Jesus up in Galilee, and that He was having great influence with them!  And the political situation being what it was, and with Rome breathing fire against rebellious outbreaks, and with religious dissent everywhere, there was a continuing immediacy with regard to Jesus and His following.  He had to be discredited and His influence diminished!  Because, you see, if this talented carpenter’s son from Nazareth convinced enough people that He truly was the Messiah, they, in their great emotional frenzy and need for release from Rome, could, by the tens of thousands, attempt to enter Jerusalem and install Him!  Then there would be a national resistance and great bloodshed – and Rome’s armies would come and smash the city!  This situation was already very, very tense between Israel and Rome anyway.  And this new charismatic Icon from Galilee could very easily push everything right over the edge!

So another delegation was sent up there from Jerusalem.  That’s what the words of the text mean when it says “and having come forth….”  Pharisees and Sadducees came forth out of Jerusalem to Galilee to put Jesus to the test – to discredit Jesus before the crowds of thousands, to shame Him, to lessen His influence with the people, to show Him up for what He was – another sycophant, a parasite upon the people – another Icon with delusions of grandeur, another “magi” talented in the arts of eastern mysticism, another charismatic speaker seeking power for himself with the people, another religious zealot with libertarian political goals.  Whatever His intent, he had to be taken down!

And even further than that, there is another indication here that the level of enmity between Jesus and official Israel had taken another leap forward.  The text says Pharisees and Sadducees came forth putting Him to the test!  This is the first time that we see Sadducees joining the Pharisees in confrontation with Jesus.

Heretofore it has been the Pharisees – with their master-lawyers, the Scribes – attempting to reveal Jesus’ true nature to the people.  But now we see another mark of the stepped-up hostility toward Jesus among the leadership of Israel.  This delegation from Jerusalem includes Sadducees!

Now, we’ve all heard sermons before which cover passages of Scripture in which the Pharisees and Sadducees are mentioned.  And we have languished and starved for the truth while it was being explained that the Pharisees were the ones who believed in the Law and not grace; and that it was sad – you see – that the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection.

But trying to play cute word games with the Scriptures while speaking utter nonsense is not feeding the Lord’s people with the Bread of Life!  And we sigh and groan from truth deficiency!  We’re not only undernourished and unedified by trite clichés like that, but we’re also filled with falsehoods!

In the first place, as we’ve already seen a number of times, the Pharisees were not those who held to the Law while dispensing with grace!  That’s a senseless and sophomoric blunder that has no historic basis in fact!  The Pharisees were legal hypocrites who had re-written God’s Holy Law in order to serve their own ego-centricity – turning the truth of God upside-down; and then they had taught the people from their own man-made wisdom and elevated themselves as judges over the people according to their own law!  In doing so they freed themselves from the constraints of God’s Law and subjugated the people to their own!  We’ve gone through this in great detail in the past, and that’s all I want to say about the Pharisees right now.  When we come to chapter twenty-three, we’ll get into it again, because Jesus performs definitive heart surgery on the scribes and Pharisees in that chapter.

But I do want to say some things about the Sadducees here – not just because this is the opening confrontation with them; but because of what they represented!  The fact that this party did not believe in a final resurrection from the dead has absolutely nothing to do with this passage of Scripture – other than the fact that they were in opposition to the sovereignty of God in the salvation and recreation of His world!

But the fact that the Sadducees were now participating in the hostility between Jesus and Israel’s leadership is very significant.  The Sadducees were the aristocracy of Israel.  It was a kind of priestly-political nobility with the high priest of Jerusalem at their head.  They were rich and very powerful.  You remember that Herod the Great, Rome’s governor of Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth, was married three times.  And his first wife was Miriamne.

Well, Miriamne was the daughter of Simon, the high priest of Israel at that time.  So there was this intimate connection between the Herodian family and the priestly tribe of Levi in the culture and society of Israel!  In fact, this priestly nobility, called Sadducees, became not only sympathizers but intermediaries and defenders of Herodian policy in Israel!  And, as the aristocrats of the nation, their goal was to interculturalize with world-wide Roman society!  Just as their fore-fathers had done after Alexander the Great had spread Greek culture into all the world, the Sadducees worked for the re-culturalization of Israel so that it might “fit in” to Romanism – philosophically, economically and politically.  They were pragmatists who hung on to their connection to Herod because that connection would better their own condition, and, in the long run, be good for Israel!

So, you see, this was the party of the status quo – the party of moderates – the aristocracy – the party with high government connection.  They were the representatives of Herod!  They were the representatives of the civil government as well as representatives of the Levitical priesthood!

So now we have this delegation coming forth out of Jerusalem to confront Jesus before this huge crowd of followers, which is made up of a team of Pharisees and Sadducees – representatives of religion and representatives of civil government!  Religion and government had now formed a coalition against God’s Messiah!  And their plan was, as the text says here in verse one, to put Him to proof!  To test Him before thousands in order to show His true colors!

Now, before I get to how they tested Jesus, let me just say that if any of you have read, or will be reading, the parallel passage in the Gospel of Mark, you will see that Mark uses the term “the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees”.  Mark goes ahead and uses the name “Herod” as the representative of civil government, where Matthew uses the term “Sadducees” to be more exact, for he has no fear of the Jews misunderstanding who the Sadducees were.  They all knew that this party was the aristocratic Jewish insiders to the Herodian government; and that, by being so, they were Herod’s representatives to the rest of Israel’s population.

So now let’s go back to the text and see how this new coalition planned to “uncover” Jesus’ true nature to these crowds of people.  The picture of how this all happened is easy to imagine.  The thousands of people were all around Jesus – so many that they were stepping all over one another.  And the blind and the deaf and the lame and the lepers and the deformed were everywhere waiting to see Jesus – crushing in and trying to find a spot closer to Him; listening to Him speak and watching as He ministered life and restoration to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And watching as He lay condemnation at the feet of the pseudoshepherds of Israel.

And all at once a lane began opening from the far fringes of the crowd.  As the esteemed lawyers and government aristocrats from Jerusalem came closer, the lane would further open up, as, in awe and fear, the people moved back to let them through.

And having come all the way to the front of the crowd, and having no need to announce who they were – since everyone knew who they were – they said to Jesus, verse one:  “Show us a sign from the heaven.”  If You can produce a sign from heaven that You are who people say You are, then we will verify it!  We are the civil and religious authorities in Israel, and we will rule on Your candidacy as the Messiah.  Show us a sign from the heaven and we will confirm who you are!

In other words, if the Pharisees and Sadducees were to receive some kind of phenomenal happening from the heaven, and then if they did pronounce Him the Messiah, they would still be the official powers of Israel!  Because the ones ultimately judging are the ultimate leaders. They are the ultimate authorities.

But if Jesus could not provide for them a sign from heaven of His Messiah-ship, then they have exposed Him to the masses of people as being a fake!  And they would increase in the esteem of the people!

But this delegation was sure that Jesus could not provide a sign for them, because inherent in these words “putting Him to the proof” is an evil intent.  Their main purpose was to expose and discredit.

Now, what is the sign from heaven that this delegation was requiring from Jesus?  Certainly all that He had done among the people was not sufficient proof!  What did they want to see?  Or what was it they were requiring that they already knew, or suspected, that He couldn’t perform?

Only a sign from heaven would suffice.  In other words, He would have to do something that the Pharisees and Sadducees could judge as coming from God.  And certainly it would be something that Jesus was not commissioned from His Father to do.  Joshua made the sun and moon to stand still.  And the Messiah was to be a greater Joshua!  Elijah caused fire to come down from heaven, and Samuel prayed and thunder frightened the Phillistines – and yet, the Messiah was to be a greater prophet than them all!  A pillar of smoke and pillar of fire had led the nation of Israel in the desert, but the Messiah was to rule all the nations of the world from Jerusalem!  Since the Messiah will be a greater Moses, then He will prove this, to the satisfaction of the leadership of Israel, by doing at least one thing which, in outward grandeur, will exceed all the other things which have ever been done.  After all, the whole world will come to the new ruler of Israel!

But, you see, the whole issue here is that signs and wonders never proved anything to anybody.  All that Moses did before Pharaoh, never moved him to believe.  Do you remember the Scriptures concerning Lazarus and the rich man from Dives?  The rich man died, went to hell, and he asked that someone be sent back from the dead to warn his brothers.  And it was told him that – if not Moses and the prophets, then one rising up from hell will not bring belief!  A dead man cannot be convinced by signs to become alive!

Voltaire, the French writer and philosopher, who so hated Christianity, truly saw the condition of himself and mankind.  He put it like this:  “Even if a miracle should be wrought in the open market place before a thousand sober witnesses, I would rather mistrust my senses than admit a miracle!”

Signs and wonders, rather than confirming Lordship, condemn unbelief!  They accomplish nothing toward moving men from death unto life!  Death and blindness always find a way to deny truth, no matter with what credentials they are presented!  Another credential is required – and then another!  All of them discredited and all insufficient.

So what would prevent the Pharisees and Sadducees from attributing any sign from heaven to a confederacy with Beelzebul?  They had already done that once!  If there is no awakening from the Law and the prophets, then miracles and signs are useless.  And an unbelieving generation is always clamoring for signs and wonders and miracles!  But when they have happened in the past, they have, on every occasion, been a sign of unbelief rather than a confirmation of the truth!  It’s just as Jesus tells them in verse four:  “…only an evil and adulterous generation seeks for signs and wonders and miracles.”  Unbelief seeks signs and miracles!  Wherever there are those seeking tongues and healings and additional revelation and other special gifts and proofs, there is unbelief!

But here is this very distinguished delegation from Jerusalem, before thousands of people, and Jesus shows them and everybody else how blind they are and denies their request!

And the example of their stupidity that He uses comes from simple weather forecasting!  Late in the day you say it’s going to be fair weather, because the sky in the west is fiery red.  And early in the morning you say it’s going to be stormy, because the sky in the east is fiery red!  Although they aren’t meteorologists, they are good observers of what’s going to happen by experience!  And they can generally tell what’s going to happen by reading the signs!

But, then, Jesus goes on to say:  “But the other signs of the times you are not able!”  The only signs you can comprehend are the ones about the weather!  But you don’t have sense enough to read the signs of the times!  The Day of the Lord has come; the Kingdom of the heavens has come, and you can’t read the signs!  Here is the culmination of the age and the beginning of the New Age, and there’s no discernment among the wise and sophisticated of Israel.  All they can do is forecast the weather!

They’ve had the prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel and all the others.  They’ve had the warnings of Moses and others.  They’ve seen the coming of John the Baptist; and the appearance of Jesus.  There is rank spiritual blindness and obduracy and hypocrisy and resistance in Israel!  All four of the kingdoms of Daniel have come to pass, and it’s time for the fifth!  The lost and blind and lame and dumb of the house of Israel are being found and restored and healed as prophesied by the prophets!  The destruction of Israel and Jerusalem and the temple is prophesied a hundred times by the prophets!  And it will all come upon them in suddenness – as a thief in the night – because they don’t know anything about it and they aren’t ready.  They’re too blind to read the signs!

I haven’t given you all the signs of the times which the Pharisees and Sadducees couldn’t read – by any means.  But you get the picture.  We haven’t heard anything about what an evil and adulterous generation is yet.  And although the sign of Jonah has been mentioned once by Matthew, we need to look carefully at that again:  there is so much more to say about it in addition to the obvious sign of the resurrection.  And then, lastly, this word “forsaken” here at the end of verse four.

But that’s all the time we have for this morning.  May God bless His Word as we feed upon it and are edified by its preaching.