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Demanding A Sign In The Heavens

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By jcarter - Posted on 22 February 2004

by Jeff Carter
Once already the scribes and Pharisees had come to Jesus to demand a sign from him to prove his claims; to establish his authority. (Matthew 12:38 – 42) Jesus had refused then to demonstrate saying that the only sign they would see would be that of the prophet Jonah. Once already the scribes and Pharisees had come to Jesus to demand a sign from him to prove his claims; to establish his authority. (Matthew 12:38 – 42) Jesus had refused then to demonstrate saying that the only sign they would see would be that of the prophet Jonah. Now again, the Pharisees had come demanding a sign – this time they came with the Sadducees(Matthew 16:1), a group with which they agreed about nothing except their hatred for Jesus. They came to Jesus demanding a sign from heaven in order to test him, in order to trap him. They demanded that Jesus show them some sort of miracle to prove that he had the authority he was claiming.

They had heard, of course, that Jesus had been traveling through the country healing all kinds of diseases – leprosy, epilepsy, paralysis, fevers, that he had exorcized demons, and that he had even raised people from the dead.

These were ‘parlor tricks’ they might have insisted, meant to wow the crowds, but they – the religious leaders – weren’t as gullible as the rest of the hoi polloi. “A trick or two with lepers and the whole town’s on their feet… (as Annas says in Jesus Christ Superstar)” IF Jesus was performing miracles, they reasoned, it was by the power of Beelzebul. But of course if it wasn’t by the power of Beelzebul, then he should be able to give some sort of sign from heaven, right? Some sort of stupendous signal? Something incontrovertible…

Instead, Jesus repeated, the only sign you’ll see will be the sign of Jonah. He wasn’t a circus pony to perform tricks for their amusement. He wasn’t a performing bear to dance for them. And it wasn’t as if Jesus hadn’t performed signs for them to see, or that he wouldn’t perform any miracles from that point forward. But the only sign that the skeptics would see – the only one their blinder of disbelief would allow them to see – would be the sign of Jonah. They would hear, but would never understand. They would see, but never perceive. For their hearts had grown dull. They had shut their eyes tight to avoid using their eyes to see. They had closed their ears so that they would not hear. They had closed their hearts so that they would not have to change their ways and be healed by Jesus. (Matt. 13:15)

Miracles and signs may have been necessary to convince Pharaoh of Moses’ authority or to convince wicked King Ahab of Elijah’s authority – but why should signs have been necessary to convince those who considered themselves to be the custodians of the law? Indeed they had already seen the signs he had performed. The Pharisee, Nicodemus, came to Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him. (John 3:2)” Yet many of the Pharisees and Sadducees still refused to believe.

“You can read the face of the sky,” Jesus said. “You know that when the sky is red in the evening it means good weather, and that when the sky is red in the morning it means a storm is coming. You know how to judge the appearance of the sky; why then can you not judge the signs of the time? You do not understand the signs of the messianic age. The blind see again, and the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the good news is preached to the poor – blessed is anyone who does not find me a cause for stumbling (Mat. 11:3 -5 ) It is an evil and faithless generation that demands a sign. The only one given will be the sign of Jonah.”

The prophet Jonah had been in the belly of a monster for three days and then preached the imminent destruction of the city of Nineveh. This was to be the only sign they would be able to see.

Then Jesus left them and went off.

Now Jesus’ thoughts were moving at a different pace than his disciples at this point. He was still ruminating on the encounter with the Pharisees and Sadducees and so said to his disciples, “Keep your eyes open, and be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The disciples, who had forgotten to bring any bread along thought that perhaps Jesus was criticizing them for their lack of preparation. “It is because we have not brought any bread,” they said among themselves.

But Jesus knew what they were saying

He knew that they were thinking of physical material things – while he was trying to instruct them in spiritual matters. They were making the same mistake he was trying to warn them against.

‘It’s not bread you dolts,’ he said to his disciples (if I may be allowed an irreverent paraphrase.) ‘Don’t you remember how I fed thousands and thousands with bread? How could you be thinking of bread? What I said was, ‘beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’

Then the disciples understood that he was telling them to be on their guard, not against yeast for making bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

From there Jesus and his disciples moved on toward the region of Caesarea Philippi where he questioned them: Who do the crowds say that the Son of Man is? A variety of responses were given indicating the mass of opinions held by the masses about the expected Son of Man. Then Jesus turned the question over, “who do you say the I am?” Simon Peter spoke up and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

Jesus blessed Simon Peter for his outburst saying, “You are a blessed man. Because it was no human agency that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my community. And the gates of the underworld (Hades) can never overpower it.”

Jesus promised that his community –his church – his kingdom would never be overpowered by the forces of darkness, by the underworld of death. But I’ve got to say that I think that yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees is still with us today.

Yesterday I came across an article on-line written by Rev. Jerry Falwell. ( How Satan And Darwin Undermined the Church – Rev. Jerry Falwell World Net Feb. 21, 2004 ) In this article Falwell described how Satan has used Darwinism to defeat the Church. I don’t want to get off on a discussion on the pro’s and con’s of evolution versus creation science but I think his article reveals a fundemental flaw (pun intended.) He believes that the church has been defeated, has been undermined by Satan. He believes this despite the fact that Jesus said that his community would NEVER be overpowered.

Jerry Falwell and many others like him expect that this world and everything in it – including the Christian church (except for the faithful few true believers…)– is doomed and about to be destroyed. Theirs is a sad pessimistic worldview that sees only gloom on the horizon. Nothing good can happen until Christ comes with his kingdom….

This is the flaw in their understanding. Just a few verses later in chapter 16 Jesus tells his disciples: “ For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and he will reward each one according to his works / behavior. In truth I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming with his Kingdom.”

Generally commentators ignore the plain meaning of these versus. The plain sense of it is that Jesus told his disciples that he would come with his kingdom before all of them had died – that is, that he would come within their lifetime. This is confirmed in John’s gospel. In John chapter 21 Jesus tells Peter of the death that he (Peter) will die. “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them…Seeing him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘what about him, Lord?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you? (John 21: 20 – 23)

Many try to explain away the obvious conclusion by saying that Jesus was speaking of his transfiguration – which happened just a week later (chapter 17 of Matthew). But there are numerous problems with this explanation:

1) Would normal language say, “before you all die X will happen” to indicate something only a week away? Before all of you reading this die I will have seen The Passion movie...

2) There was definitely the ‘glory of the Father’ in the transfiguration event, but there were no angels

3) There were no rewards based on behavior / works

Other commentators try to say that Jesus was referring to his Resurrection, or Pentecost… but the same problems are found in those explanations as well. The best understanding is that Jesus intended to tell his disciples that his coming with his kingdom would be within their lifetime.

You can compare his words here in Matthew chapter 16 with his words in Revelation chapter 22: 12 “Look, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me, to repay everyone as their deeds deserve.”

The reason Falwell and others believe that the world is doomed and that the church is defeated is because they have not believed what Jesus taught. They have refused to believe that Jesus has established his kingdom, that he rules and reigns now and forever and ever. Amen.

They are like the Pharisees and Sadducees saying, ‘Show us a sign in the heavens. Give us a physical literal observable coming in the clouds so that we can believe you. Let us see him coming in the clouds, let us see him split the Mt. of Olives in two, Then we'll believe that he's come with his kingdom...'

But like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day, they will not be given any sign except the sign of Jonah the prophet who was in the belly of the monster of three days and then preached 40 days until the destruction of the city.

History confirms that the city of Jerusalem was destroyed – that the temple was razed to the ground – just as Jesus said it would in Matthew 24 and parallel chapters – In this destruction of Jerusalem and the earthly temple was Jesus’ coming with his kingdom – not an observable kingdom with a king sitting on a physical throne in a particular city but a spiritual kingdom with a king who rules over the entire universe.

Satan has not undermined the church. Christ’s community can never be overwhelmed. To accept this idea or to accept the idea that Christ has yet to come with his kingdom is to accept the yeast of modern day Pharisees and Sadducees who are still demanding a sign in the heavens to convince them.

We don’t have to wait for the kingdom. We don’t have to watch the sky for signs. We have already come to the mountain of Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival with the whole Church of first-born sons, enrolled as citizens of heaven. (Hebrews 12:22 – 23)

So be on your guard and beware of the yeast of the modern-day Pharisees and Sadducees.

Melody's picture

Jeff, that was a good read, thanks. It helps me to remember that we must be on guard at all times, against the yeast of more than the obvious 'Jerry Falwells' and 'Harold Camping' types. (and I say that knowing that God can open their eyes to more truth, as He has done with all His people as they seek Him.) The fact is, if along our journey we stop seeking God for a time, pride steps in, and then ANY of us can become a blind Pharisee or a deaf Sadducee!

It is especially hard in preterist circles, as we all seek to be open-minded and are often harshly corrected when we appear to be otherwise. Some differences of opinion will always exist because of 'gray' areas in the Bible, and that's normal. But sometimes we can be too open minded -- toward esoteric beliefs and subtle new age philosophy, spiritual humanism and the like, which I see as modern day pride and the 'yeast' of our time. We need to pray for discernment as well as search the Scriptures diligently like a Berean for confirmation. Thanks again!

Roderick's picture

Your best observations yet. You tie everything together nicely. It is especially how many think the church is doomed (ie Harold Camping) that worries me. I still believe one of the reasons so many fall into this is because they don't realize the "church" is much more and much different than that first century infant body. The Church is no longer merely a bride in waiting. So, when they see downfalls with elements that say they are the church it makes them believe the Church universal is falling as well. This seems to stem from the fundamentalist concept of the so-called "local body". The church in its very nature is universal. Could you imagine the congregations mentioned in the New Testament being as exclusionary as many of these congregations are today? "We can't have fellowship with that congregation...they aren't of our stripe." Let them be divided so that we may see who is shown approved.

chrisliv's picture


The article follows along nicely.

The reference in Hebrews though, it is a past-tense that was written pre-70 AD.


Virgil's picture

its perfect-tense; i.e. completed action with present consequences...the coming to Zion is done - time of the writing is irellevant.

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