In Matthew, we see a recurring theme: this idea that the intentions of a person are the source of what pleases God, rather than actions being what brings God pleasure. Join us as we continue our study in Matthew 16; here we will learn once more from Jesus’s teachings what it is that pleases God.
Jerome considered the signs from heaven to have been refused to those without faith, but revealed in the form of the appearance of Elijah and Moses in Matthew 17:1-3.
“When the scribes and Pharisees tested him and demanded signs from heaven, he was unwilling to give them.65 Instead he silenced the perverse request with a prudent answer. Here, however, in order to increase the faith of the apostles, he gives a sign from heaven. Elijah comes down from heaven to the place where Jesus had ascended. Moreover, Moses rises up from the lower world”
Jerome, Commentary on Matthew
“They did not seek him out in order to believe but to lay hold of him. Had they come with any readiness to believe, he would have given such a sign. For he who said to the woman, “It is not fair,”1 and afterwards gave, much more would he have shown his bounty to these officials.
“But since they did not seek to believe, he therefore calls them hypocrites, because in another place they said one thing and meant another. If they had believed, they would not even have asked. It is evident that they did not believe, since when reproved and exposed, they did not remain with him, nor did they admit “We are ignorant and seek to learn.”
“But for what sign from heaven were they asking? Either that he should stay the sun, or curb the moon, or bring down thunderbolts, or work a change in the air, or some other such thing. The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 53.3.2 1”
Manlio Simonetti, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture
Isaiah gives an interesting messianic prophecy concerning “signs from heaven and the depths”
It is also interesting to note that this same theme concerning “signs from heaven” comes up again in the book of John’s Revelation 12:1-6.
Now, we’re not trying to figure out times and prophecies here, in this study; but this does set the framework for our thinking as we look into the rest of this chapter. The Jewish religious leaders were looking to force Jesus’s hand. Either fulfill the messianic prophecies, or be rejected as the Messiah; and Christ turns it right back on them!
He points them back to Jonah. In Luke 11:30, “For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation.”
How did the Jews respond? Just as Jonah: In the face of God’s demonstration of Kingdom Reality, and His message of repentance, ran from God’s message and instead tried to make things happen their way.
We can understand why Jesus was disgusted with the Jewish leaders, since we’ve seen over and over again the attitude that they’ve had toward Him throughout His ministry. Here we see that not only did Jesus rebuke the Pharisees and Sadducees, but He also took His disciples to the side and warned them against believing everything the Jewish religious leaders taught.
Why do you think that the disciples had such a hard time understanding when Jesus was teaching them with these sorts of illustrations?
There are many examples in the Bible using this theme of leaven. It is in interesting illustration to use, since it was easily one of the most common household items to be found at that time. There are also mentions of leaven going back to the Pentateuch.
Consider your own life: Can you think of any recent news/teachings/ideas that may be influencing your actions lately?
Are they drawing you into a deeper sense of peace with your God, or are they drawing you away from the shelter you need in God’s will?