Matthew 16:1-12 Part 2

Before we come to the conversation between Jesus and the disciples concerning the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, we still have some work to do in verse four.  This coalition of religion and civil government in Israel is attempting to put Jesus to the proof before a crowd of thousands, and they have required of Him a sign from the heavens in order to prove His Messiahship.  Strongly suspecting that He can’t do such a thing, the crowds will see that He is a fake and turn their esteem back to the leadership of Israel where is rightfully belongs!

But Jesus responds to them by humiliating them before the crowds – saying that their wisdom and sophistication affords them only the ability to read the weather; and intimating that all the signs from the God of history point directly to the imminent occurrence of the most momentous events in all of that history!  And they aren’t able to read those signs!

And then He says to them, verse four: 


“’A generation evil and adulterous seeks out a sign, and a sign will not be given to it save the sign of Jonah.’  And having forsaken them He went away.”


Now, the issues here are:  what does Jesus mean when He says, “a generation evil and adulterous”; what does He mean that a generation evil and adulterous “seeks out a sign”; and what is “the sign of Jonah”?

We’ve already been made aware of the fact that Jesus never makes judgments and accusations “out of the moment”, but that He is prosecuting a covenantal lawsuit against His Father’s adopted people – Israel!  So each and every time He confronts Israel’s leadership and has something like this to say to them, we know that we must go back to the Law and the Prophets in order to find the context!  (And, at the same time, we’re to assume that these leaders of the nation already knew what the context was!)

But we have to go back to the original constitution of this separated-out-people and read what was said to them when the covenant was originally made.  And only then can we determine why Jesus said to them what He did.

And the place where we find what He was referring to, here in verse four, is the thirty-second chapter of Deuteronomy.  At the end of that chapter is a statement which gives us the importance of what is being said there.  It reads like this:


“And Moses wrote this song in that day and taught it to the children of Israel; and Moses went in and spoke all the words of this Law in the ears of the people, he and Joshua the son of Nun.  And Moses finished speaking to all Israel.  And he said to them, ‘Take heed with your heart to all these words which I testify to you this day, which you shall command your sons, to observe and do all the words of this Law.  For this is no empty word to you – it is your life….’”


So as Moses says, these are no vain words, here.  What is heretofore said is the covenantal constitution of the nation – a covenant of life and death of faith-obedience!  And at the beginning of this chapter thirty-two is a statement of God’s greatness, and justice and faithfulness – a statement of His perfections.  And the question is asked – “Has God blemished Himself?”  And the rhetorical answer is, of course, no.  “Blemished children… a generation evil and perverted.”  Then Moses relates what God has done for His people.  So now we have God’s perfections and His deeds!  And what does Israel do?  Moses says that Israel provoked God with strange gods and new and abominable things!

Then Moses says (chapter thirty-two) that Gods’ wrath was kindled toward this perverse generation.  And God said,


“I will turn away My face from them, and will show what shall happen to them in the last days.  They have provoked Me to jealousy with that which is not God, and I will provoke them to jealousy with that which is no nation!”


Moses then goes on to write that God’s wrath will burn all the way into hell, and Israel’s foundations will be incinerated in the conflagration!  And that the angels in heaven and the Gentiles will rejoice!

So Jesus’ statement in verse four of our text is directly from Deuteronomy thirty-two, a prophetic song having to do with the end-of-the-age – the irremediable destruction of the nation, and the inclusion of the Gentiles who were no nation!

So as these Pharisees and Sadducees come to “put Him to the proof,” Jesus sees those who are about to be purged from the land; and his first words to them come right out of the passage of Scripture which promises what is about to happen to them!  When Jesus said, “a generation evil and adulterous” – there’s no way the Pharisees and Sadducees could have missed the connection, because the song of Moses – chapter thirty-two of Deuteronomy – was taught to the children!  And it had been for fifteen hundred years!

Of course their eyes were blind!  And they made no connection between themselves and the evil and perverted generation in the “last days”.  And they couldn’t even conceive of God having pleasure in the Gentile nations!  And they certainly did not anticipate the coming utterly consuming anger of God at the close of the age!  All of it known; all of it memorized; all of it sung routinely as children – but they did not know it!  They could forecast the weather, but they couldn’t read the sign of the end of the age!

So Jesus connects the Pharisees and Sadducees to the prophecy in the song of Moses.  And, as He continues, He then connects them to the Word of Prophecy in Jonah!  “A generation evil and adulterous seeks out a sign, and a sign will not be given to it save the sign of Jonah….”

So Jesus Christ has connected the apostate leadership of Israel to two portions of the Word of Prophecy.  And apparently there is an implied relationship between the two passages in the mind of Jesus; and also implied in Jesus’ words is the requirement that these Jews see that relationship!

Now, in order for us to see the relationship of the two prophecies we have to go back and review what we know concerning Jonah, as it was learned when we covered Matthew chapter twelve, in verses forty and forty-one.  In that passage, you may remember, two far-away Gentile nations, Nineveh and the Queen of the South, responded favorably to God in separate historical situations.  Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, and the Queen of the South gave of all the riches of the nation to Solomon, who was a representation of the Glorious King to come.  And that passage also says that a greater “Jonah” is here!  And a greater “Solomon” is here!

And, as you may further remember, Jonah was in the “the deep” – in the abyss – (for all intents and purposes – dead) for three days.  And upon being expelled from the confines of that “hades” (a resurrection of sorts), he then went into the Gentile nation to preach repentance!  And the whole city/state of Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes, and they fasted – even down to the last animal!  The whole Gentile city/state responded to the preaching of the “lesser” Jonah!

Now, although Jonah hated preaching to the Gentiles, and hated the fact that God said they would repent, and hated the fact that they did repent, and went into a fit of despondency when it happened (and, so, represented Israel and its mind-set toward anything Gentile), although those things were the case, the “sign” of Jonah points to the “greater” Jonah to come.  The Messiah’s being “swallowed up in death” was greater!  His descendancy into Hades was greater!  His resurrection from “down under” was greater!  His preaching to the Gentile nations is greater!  And the response and repentance of the nations is wider and greater!  Jesus said that this evil and adulterous generation would receive no sign from Him other than this Word of prophecy!

And the connection between the song of Moses and the sign of Jonah becomes very obvious, doesn’t it?  In the Song of Moses, an evil and perverse generation was to be consumed in the fiery wrath of a jealous and angry God – all to the benefit of the Gentiles who were no nation!  And the sign of Jonah is God’s Messiah Who arises from the dead to preach the Gospel to those Gentiles – to their repentance and rejoicing!

The Pharisees and Sadducees had come requiring a sign that they could verify, proving that they were the evil and adulterous generation prophesied by Moses!  Only an evil and adulterous generation would seek a sign of verification!  Legitimate sons of God would have recognized, from the Word of Prophecy, that God was consummating the age, and that the covenant was being opened to the nations, and that the Kingdom was at hand, and that Jesus was God’s Messiah!  Legitimate sons of God would not have needed a sign from the heaven that the Song of Moses and the prophecy of Jonah were being fulfilled right before their eyes!

But an evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign.  Not that the seeking of a sign is the cause of a generation being evil and perverse – but that a generation already evil and adulterous requires a verifying sign!  This nation was so upside-down that it was their verification that was required rather than God’s Own prophetic Word!

The last phrase of verse four sums up what Jesus came to do to this generation, doesn’t it?  “…and having forsaken them He went away.”  It’s very interesting that Matthew uses a word here, the root of which is the same root for “remnant”.  And it’s very telling that Jesus leaves behind those who have forsaken the remnant of Jacob and left them scattered and lost.  As God said in His Word – “I leave your house desolate.”

Now let’s spend the remainder of our time on verses five through twelve.  As you can see in verse five, we now have another “crossing over” the Sea of Galilee.  “And the disciples, having come into the other side, forgot to take bread.”  A quick look at verse thirteen will verify that Jesus and His disciples had gone back over to the east side of the lake, because they then go into the region of Caesarea Phillippi.  I’ll say more about that region two Lord’s Days from now.

But remember that the west side of the lake was Galilee which was more densely populated.  The eastern side was the wilderness where Jesus had been on three other occasions.  It was sparsely populated with mixed and pagan communities – a good example of which was Gadara, a city which had been terrorized continuously by the Gadarene demoniac who lived among the tombs in the sides of the hills.

But having crossed over, it dawned on the disciples that they had forgotten to buy bread before they left the opportunities to do so back in Galilee!  And now they find themselves in a wilderness area again without any source for their next meal!  And while they were talking among themselves about what they were going to do, Jesus uses the opportunity to give them a stern warning concerning the insidious nature of Phariseeism and Sadduceeism.  “Observe and beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Of course He was referring back to the confrontation He had with them back in Magadan.  But the disciples had forgotten all about that by now, and they had their minds on more immediate things – such as how they were going to eat!  As verse seven says, “…they were pondering in themselves saying, ‘We didn’t bring bread.’”  You see, they thought that Jesus’ mentioning of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees had something to do with the fact that they had forgotten the bread!  Their minds were on more mundane things, and they were failing to observe and appropriate the things of the Kingdom!  They had eliminated the more valuable aspects of what was going on around them in favor of more “mercenary” interests!

Now I want to spend just a minute on this because I think it’s important.  There is a dialectic – or two separate thought processes – in our thought, much of the time, with respect to practical things and religious things.  It is reasoned that if we are thinking the thoughts of God after Him, then we can’t be involved in the day-to-day necessities of life!  That if we are faithful observers of Kingdom activity and faithful in our interaction with the world order on behalf of the Kingdom, then we aren’t practical!

Well, that’s a Greek dichotomy, and it’s thoroughly pagan!  There is no separation in Christian thought between what is real and practical (on the one hand), and living in the Kingdom of Christ!  In fact, if we, as adopted sons of God, live now in Christ, then we are to have His mind and see the whole world through His eyes!  I mean, there is to be no separation at all in our thinking!  To even begin a thought process with the practical on one side and the Kingdom on the other is faithlessness!  We shouldn’t even be thinking with those categories!

We ought to be waking at the beginning of the day looking at the world from Christ’s heavenly perspective.  You see, the Kingdom is not from this world – it is from Christ, Who rules from the right hand of God.  And our view of it all ought to begin there!  And, as you may be able to see, that eliminates the categories of practical and religious.  There are none!

And when Jesus approaches His apostles with this awful warning about the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, they didn’t understand it.  And it wasn’t because they were involved in more practical things at the moment; it wasn’t because their minds were taken up in doing something else; it wasn’t because they had switched their minds off of the religious perspective!

Jesus says here in verse eight, “Why were you pondering in yourselves, little faiths, that you have no bread?  Do you not yet understand…?”  You see, they have no understanding of the Kingdom yet!  They have no view of the totality from the heavenly perspective.  They are not yet thinking with the mind of Christ – and are therefore removed from, and prevented from, an understanding of Jesus’ comment!

This is even more evident when we look at Peter’s confession in the next section of this chapter.  He even forbids the death and burial of Christ – a forbidding which would negate the very source of the salvation of the world!

“Little faiths” He calls them.  “Why are you pondering in yourselves that I was speaking about ‘bread’ when I said ‘beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees’?  ‘Do you not yet understand…?’” He says, in a rather rhetorical question; “do you not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up?  Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many baskets you took up?”

The disciples failed to see the significance of the permeating evil of Phariseeism and Sadduceeism.  They just don’t comprehend Jesus’ words!  Even after the incident with the Syro-Phoenician woman when she asked for the pieces left over from feeding the children of the household; and even after the feeding of the five thousand men plus women and children – and having twelve baskets of pieces left over from five loaves of bread; and even after the feeding of the four thousand men plus women and children – and having seven baskets of pieces left over from seven loaves of bread; and the disciples were just worried that they didn’t bring bread with them!

But Jesus was speaking of something far greater than their immediate provisions.  They needed to have a view and an understanding from the mind of Christ of the battle for the Kingdom.  The remnant was small; and the apostles were only twelve.  But the nations of the world were huge – and many!  And the Judaizers – the coalition of religion and government in Israel – were ravenous wolves, ready to snatch away and devour the Kingdom.  And their promise was to attack at every opportunity!  “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”

Finally the disciples understood that Jesus wasn’t talking about the bread that they had forgotten to bring – but the teaching of the Judaizers!  It doesn’t say whether they made the connection to what Jesus was saying about the feeding of the crowds and the numbers of baskets that were left over.  We can only assume they did.

Next Lord’s Day we’ll get to a fuller understanding, hopefully, of the feeding of the crowds – and especially what it meant that seven full baskets and twelve full baskets were left over.  And how those magnificent events are connected to the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

But as we close, the issue this morning is having the mind of Christ; and understanding all that’s going on from His perspective!  Every event, every philosophy, every movement, every institution, every thought process – all seen from the distinctive heavenly view.  Every idea held captive to Christ.

It’s not impractical to see everything that’s going on from His perspective (which is ludicrous) – it’s the most practical conditions under which man can live!

“Little faiths” – how is it that you don’t understand…?”  “How is it that you don’t remember…?”  Do we as members of His body pass from day to day just dealing with the provisions for our next meal?  Or are we self-consciously (and Christ-consciously) aware of all that’s going on?

Are we fully occupied with just satisfying our immediate needs, or are we epistemologically conscious – from looking at it all from the heavens – of exactly what’s going on?

Are we just living – absently – from day to day, fitting in to the system around us, concerned with “getting along”?  Or do we see the world in its totality from the eyes of Christ?