Theme: Knowing the Times
This week we see the dangers of legalism and modernism still among us.
‘The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Every chapter of the Bible is important. But you know what they say about all persons being born equal: “Some are more equal than others.” So also with the Bible. Some chapters are more important than others, though all are important. Matthew 16 is one of these “more important” chapters. It is the central or critical chapter in Matthew’s account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Or to put it another way, it is the high point in Jesus’ teaching and the disciples’ growth in spiritual understanding.
To put it yet another way, chapter 16 is the climax of those chapters in which Jesus withdraws from the crowds to teach his disciples privately. The change began in chapter 13 when Jesus began to teach in parables, explaining that this was so the crowds as a whole might not be able to understand his teaching while those who had been given to him by the Father would understand it. The chapters that follow (chaps. 14-16) contain private teaching through which the disciples make slow spiritual advances. In chapter 16 Peter makes the single most important confession of faith in Jesus thus far in Matthew— “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16)—after which Jesus began to teach the disciples that it was necessary for him to die and then be raised again (v. 21).
Chapter 16 also contains the first mention of the church (v. 18), as well as Jesus’ important teaching that anyone who would be his disciple must “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v. 24). All in all, it is a critical collection of vital teaching in a small space.
This teaching begins with a prelude which relates another confrontation with the religious leaders of Christ’s day. Matthew identifies them as the Pharisees and Sadducees, saying that they came to test Jesus “by asking him to show them a sign from heaven” (v. 1).
This was an odd combination of forces, for the Pharisees and Sadducees were very different even to the point of being rivals and antagonists in the leadership of Israel. The Pharisees were strict observers of the law. Their very name means “separated,” and what they were separated unto was the law and traditions of Israel. They were the most highly spiritual people of the time. Although their zeal for the law drew them into legalism and a sad preoccupation with minutia, which Jesus condemned, they nevertheless believed in all the right things: a supernatural written revelation from God (our Old Testament), miracles, the coming of the Messiah, the resurrection and a final judgment at the end of time. The Sadducees were modernists. They did not believe in miracles, and although they looked for a Messiah, the Messiah they looked for was no more than an effective political leader. They were really politicians themselves, and their policy was to collaborate with and support whatever government happened to be in power at the time. 1
War, like misery, makes strange bedfellows, however, and here both the Pharisees and Sadducees appear side by side in their opposition to Jesus. That they are both here probably indicates that they were representing the Sanhedrin, which included both groups. So this was probably an official delegation. The narrative flow suggests that they were waiting in Galilee for Jesus, anticipating his return from the north, and that they confronted him as soon as he arrived. Matthew says that they wanted to discredit him by demanding a miracle that he either could not or would not perform.
1 ‘The Sadducees are not mentioned very often in the gospels. In fact, they appear at only three places: 1) at the baptism of John (Matt. 3:7); 2) demanding a sign of Jesus, which is what they are doing here (Matt. 16:1); and 3) posing their trick question about the resurrection (Matt. 22:23; also Mark 12:18, Luke 20:27). Earlier in Matthew (Matt. 12:38), it was only the Pharisees and teachers of the law (scribes), who asked Jesus for a sign.
Explain the significance of Matthew 16.
How did the Pharisees and Sadducees differ? For what reason did they come together?
Do we have religious leaders like the Pharisees and Sadducees today?
In chapter 16 Peter makes the single most important confession of faith in Jesus thus far in Matthew—”You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).