Harmony of the Gospels

 Harmony of the Gospels

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(44) Pharisees Increase Attack
Matthew 16:1-4, Mark 8:10-13



1 Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven.
2 He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’;
3 and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.
4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.


The unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees came seeking a sign from heaven, that is to say, an outward miraculous demonstration, of which Jesus had already given many. They wanted to see some other sign; something different than He had already done.  There had already been many miracles; every miracle that Christ had done was a sign, for no man could do what He did unless God were with him. 

They wanted to tell Him what the miracle should be.  Actually, they wanted to see a sign from heaven.  They wanted to see something like what happened on Mount Sinai when the Law was received by Moses: thunder and lightening and the voice of God. They pretended that if they saw these signs from heaven that they were willing to be satisfied and convinced, when that was really not so.

These men (the Pharisees and Sadducees) had a difference of opinion with each other on many articles of doctrine, which can be seen in Acts 23:7-8.  There we read, “And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided.  For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. However, they were in agreement in their opposition to Christ, because His word pointed out the errors and heresies of the Sadducees, who denied the existence of the Holy Spirit and of both heaven and hell.  And He also spoke out against the pride, tyranny and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who forced all the traditions of their ancestors on the people.

They had to have a miracle of their choice; but you see, miracles alone never saved anyone. They only serve to validate and call attention to the message, which must be believed in order for salvation to be experienced in the soul. What they really wanted to do was to tempt Him; not to be taught by Him.  If He showed them a sign from heaven, they would attribute it to a union with the Devil; and if he did not give them a sign, as they supposed he would not, they would use that as an excuse for why they did not believe in Him.

Instead of another miracle, He points them to the signs of the times, which are related to the sky and His second coming. He referred to their ability to determine the coming weather by the sky and implied that they should have been able to determine the time of His coming also. When Jesus said, “When it is evening you say, It will be fair weather, for the sky is red; and in the morning, It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening,” He was referring to common rules for making weather forecasts, drawn from observations and experience.  If only they could have as easily identified the times they were living in. 

The miracles that Christ wrought, and the gathering of people to Him, were plain indications that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  These men could not even see that their own ruin was coming for rejecting Christ.  Even today, millions are not aware of how they will end up for refusing Christ. Why is it that people believe the weather report, but not the Word of God? They fail to see what God is doing in His world. Keep your eyes open, and ask God for wisdom to understand His plan.

Jesus condemned them for overlooking the signs they already had.  They were seeking for signs of the Kingdom of God when it was already among them.  He refused to give them any other signs, as he had done before.

The “adulterous generation”, that He mentions, is used here in a spiritual sense, to stand for those who are unfaithful to God. The “adulterous generation” is the Pharisees and Sadducees that He is speaking to, but they were pure in their own eyes. He will only give them the sign of the prophet Jonah. The sign of the prophet Jonah is one of Jesus’ favorite sayings for it relates to His resurrection (see 12:38–40; Jn 2:18–22).

In Matthew 12:38-40 we read, “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”   But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” And in John 2:18-22 it was recorded, “So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?”   Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”   Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”   But He was speaking of the temple of His body.  Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. This sign gives hope to the believer but it is an indication of judgment for the unbeliever, who will be judged by the risen Christ at His second coming. In referring them to the sign of Jonah, He is talking about a future event for them; His resurrection from the dead.

This discourse broke off abruptly; he left them and departed. Christ will not tarry long with those that tempt him, and He will withdraw from those who argue with him. He left them as if they were hopeless; He left them alone. He left them to themselves, left them in their own hands; so he gave them up to their own hearts’ lust.


Mark begins by reporting that Jesus-
10 immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and came to the region of Dalmanutha.
11 Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him.
12 But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.”
13 And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side.

The location of Dalmanutha is unknown, although the context implies that it is on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. The parallel passage in Matthew 15:39 calls it Magadan: “After sending the people home, Jesus got into the boat and went to the area of Magadan.”

The Pharisees’ approach to Jesus had an apparent motive; they were seeking a sign, but they actually came tempting him.  They said that they wanted to see “a sign from heaven.”  But they had already been given a sign from heaven at His baptism.  At that time, in the decent of a dove and the voice of God, it was public enough and those who had attended the baptism by John had witnesses the miraculous event.  It says in Matthew 3:16-17, “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.  And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Later on, when He was nailed to the cross they demanded a different sign; they said, “Let Him come down from the cross and we will believe in Him.”  And now, they demanded this sign, tempting him; not in hopes that he would give it to them, that they might be satisfied, but in hopes that he would not, so that they would have a reason to give for not believing in Him. Their request implied that Jesus’ previous miracles were in-sufficient evidence for them that He was of God.

Matthew 13:58 sets forth a principle which relates the Lord’s response to this religious party, “He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”  It wasn’t the first time that He withheld miracles because of unbelief.  His own city of Nazareth did not believe Him, and He did very few miracles there, and so He left them after they tried to kill Him.

Here we see that the request for miracles was an indication of their defective faith. The disciples were also subject to times where their faith appears to be defective.  For example, they didn’t know what to do with the hungry crowd, even though they had seen Jesus feed the five thousand.  They apparently “soon forgot His works; they didn’t wait for His council.” 

Each work that He does should encourage you and me to trust Him.  Keep a long memory for His mercies and a short memory of your failures.

Not only was the disciple’s faith defective, but they also appear to have a defective understanding.  They did not understand some of His parables and needed them explained.  The blindness of the Pharisees doesn’t surprise us, but why were His followers so blind.  Just like Israel in the Old Testament, the disciples saw His acts, but did not understand His ways. Psalms 103:7 says, “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.” Ask God to give you spiritual insight.

He denied their demand, and we are told that He sighed deeply in His spirit.  He grieved, because of the hardness of their hearts, and because of the little influence that His preaching and miracles had upon them.  He reprimands them for demanding a sign, and asks, “Why does this generation seek a sign? He refuses to answer their demand, and He tells them, “I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.” 

In the Old Testament, when God spoke to particular persons in a particular case, they were encouraged to ask for a sign, as Gideon and Ahaz were; but when he speaks in general to all of us, as in the law and the gospel, we would be presuming too much to ask for sign other than what he has already given. 

He denied them, and then left them, as men not fit to be talked with; if they will not be convinced, He will leave them to their strong delusions.


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