And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Understanding And Applying the Text
You may have heard someone say this. “If God wants me to believe in Him, He needs to show me a miracle.” In other words, if God would do my bidding, then I will do Him a favor. But, if God did your bidding He would no longer be God. You become God.
That is what the Pharisees were asking. How many miracles had they seen? There was the feeding of the five thousand. There was the healing of the lame, deaf, the dumb, and the blind. And Christ fed another four thousand in the previous chapter. This was not done in a vacuum. They were not private hidden miracles. They were public. Yet here come the Pharisees and Sadduccees asking to see one on command.
Their unbelief was not because they had not seen a sign. Their unbelief was because they did not want to believe. To believe meant their worldview was wrong.
They did not request a miracle to believe. They came to prove Jesus was a fraud. They had lost every debate with Jesus. They could not win using scripture as their basis. So they took another tack. They demanded a sign. Proving His messiahship based on scripture was not good enough.
Jesus told them He had already given enough signs for them to believe. They understood how to read signs. They could read weather signs. Christ asked why they did not recognize the kingdom of God. There were obvious signs. Their blindness was not a mistake. It was malice.
We are no different. We understand how to read the traffic signs. We know that the red light means stop. It is unsafe to go. The green light means it is safe to go. We understand those signs. Why do we ignore the signs God gives to invite us to Him. It is because we have an intentional indifference.
Some draw an absurd inference from this passage. That we may not ask of signs. They conclude we may not seek assurance. Jesus did not call the Pharisees an adulterous generation because they asked for a sign. They demanded to God grant their wishes. They demanded God act when they wanted and how they wanted. Their provocation of God was deliberate.
Christ told them they would receive a sign. It would be the sign of Jonah. Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days. Christ died and was in a tomb for three days. When he rose, that was their sign. But even rising from the dead was not good enough.
Jesus knew He needed to warn His disciples. They needed to be on guard. He spoke to them, as He often did, in a parable. The disciples did not recognize Christ’s symbolic language. They thought His speech was literal. As a result, it made no sense to them. They were thinking they needed bread. The disciples’ associated leaven with bread. It was a reasonable assumption. So they tried to understand Jesus based on their assumptions. Was Jesus saying don’t get bread from Pharisees? No.
As we do the disciples forgot the blessing of Christ. They assume the world operated by the rules they understood. They forgot Jesus fed over five thousand at one time. And He fed over four thousand another time. Jesus and produce bread and fish. The creator of the world can create. He does not need our puny little loaves and fish.
Jesus was speaking of spiritual things. So He spoke in symbolic language. He was speaking of the Pharisees’ teaching. Like, leaven bad teaching spreads. It spread throughout the church. We, are to watch for it. We are to root it out before it has a chance to spread.
Humans have an inclination toward vanity and error. Wickedness is everywhere. Wickedness exists even in the church. Wickedness exists even in so-called holy men. Remember society considered the Pharisees as holy men. But they taught doctrines that place human desire over God.
It is easy to stray from the purity of the word of God. We attempt to achieve holiness through many things. We punish ourselves. We deprive ourselves. We have civic virtue. But none of those make us holy. Once we become convinced of our holiness, the truth of the Gospel no longer holds sway over us. Our belief is we must achieve our own holiness. Instead, we must realize we are not holy. We have never been holy. We do not obey God’s commands. “And now, Israel, what doth Jehovah thy God require of thee, but to fear Jehovah thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve Jehovah thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, (Deuteronomy 10:12.)
Some think leaven always refers to evil. But in Matthew 13:33 Christ compared the kingdom of heaven to leaven. Leaven is better understood as a metaphor for something that spreads.
Today many in the church seek peace at any price. They refuse to point out the errors of false teachers They considered divisive. They believe peace and harmony are the highest values. They only rebuke those who condemn heresy. They claim opposing evil is not loving. It is not Christ-like. Those who condemn polemics have never read the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Christ condemned false teaching all the time. And here He commands us to do the same. Christ-likeness is to condemn false teaching. It is unloving to allow men to draw others into the pit of hell.
Who were the ones Christ spoke of? They were religious leaders. They were the ones who controlled the church government. These are the ones whose doctrine our Lord charges us to beware. That should not imply those in ecclesiastic offices speak false doctrines. But we are to beware of their doctrine. As the Berrians tested everything against scripture. Let me say that again, against scripture. We are not to test it against our own beliefs. We are to test all doctrine against scripture. We must reject anything that does not belong to scripture. It does not matter the rank or title of the teacher. If the doctrine does not agree with scripture, we are to reject it. Those who refuse to condemn false teaching are accursed.