Matthew 16:1-4

BLIND TO THE SIGNS

Matt. 16:1-4

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to him, trying to put him to the test, and asked him to show them a sign from Heaven. He answered them: “When evening comes, you say, `It will be fine weather, because the sky is red.’ And early in the morning you say, `It will be stormy today, because the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. An evil and apostate generation seeks for a sign. No sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” And he left them and went away.

Hostility, like necessity, makes strange bedfellows. It is an extraordinary phenomenon to find a combination of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They stood for both beliefs and policies which were diametrically opposed. The Pharisees lived life according to the minutiae of the oral and the scribal law; the Sadducees rejected the oral and the scribal law completely, and accepted only the written words of the Bible as their law of life. The Pharisees believed in angels and in the resurrection of the body and the Sadducees did not, an opposition which Paul made use of when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin (Ac.23:6-10).
And–in this case most important of all–the Pharisees were not a political party and were prepared to live under any government which would allow them to observe their own religious principles; the Sadducees were the small, wealthy aristocracy, who were the collaborationist party and were quite prepared to serve and cooperate with the Roman government, in order to retain their wealth and their privileges. Further, the Pharisees looked for and longed for the Messiah; the Sadducees did not. It would have been well-nigh impossible to find two more different sects and parties; and yet they came together in their envenomed desire to eliminate Jesus. All error has this in common–that it is hostile to Christ.

The demand of the Pharisees and the Sadducees was for a sign. As we have already seen, the Jews had a way of wishing a prophet or a leader to authenticate his message by some abnormal and extraordinary sign (Matt. 12:38-40). It is Jesus’ reply that the sign was there, if they could only see it. They were weather-wise. They knew the same weather saying that we ourselves know:

“A red sky at night is the shepherd’s delight;
A red sky in the morning is the shepherd’s warning.”

They knew very well that a red sky in the evening presaged fine weather; and that a red sky in the morning was the warning of a storm to come. But they were blind to the signs of the times.

Jesus told them that the only sign they would receive was the sign of Jonah. We have already seen what the sign of Jonah was (Matt. 12:38-40). Jonah was the prophet who converted the people of Nineveh and turned them from their evil ways towards God. Now the sign which turned the people of Nineveh to God was not the fact that Jonah was swallowed by the great sea monster. Of that they knew nothing; and Jonah never used it as a means of appeal. The sign of Jonah was Jonah himself and his message from God. It was the emergence of the prophet and the message which he brought which changed life for the people of Nineveh.

So what Jesus is saying is that God’s sign is Jesus himself and his message. It is as if he said to them: “In me you are confronted with God and with the truth of God. What more could you possibly need? But you are so blind that you cannot see it.” There is truth and there is warning here. Jesus Christ is God’s last word. Beyond him the revelation of God cannot go. Here is God plain for all to see. Here is God’s message plain for all to hear. Here is God’s sign to man. It is the warning truth that, if Jesus cannot appeal to men, nothing can. If Jesus cannot convince men, no one can. If men cannot see God in Jesus, they cannot see God in anything or anyone. When we are confronted with Jesus Christ, we are confronted with God’s final word and God’s ultimate appeal. If that is so, what can be left for the man who throws away that last chance, who refuses to listen to that last word, who rejects that last appeal?

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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