Matthew 16:1-4, The face of evil

Some have passed the point of no return. What they fail to understand is where their journey will end.

Matthew 16:1-4

1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

2 He replied, When evening comes, you say, It will be fair weather, for the sky is red, 3 and in the morning, Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. Jesus then left them and went away.

Commentary

You may think at first that the fresh appearance of the Sadducees in Galilee means that some new faces are in town (verse 1). The NIVs wording conceals the fact that the whole purpose for the Pharisees and Sadducees approaching Jesus was to test him.[1] We have examined this verbal form before: Greek peirazo can mean either tempt or test, and the hostile context here tells you what is going on. Indeed, this verb occurs only six times in Matthews Gospel, and the first two involve Satan tempting Jesus, while the last four involve emissaries of Satan, as seen here.

Even without such analysis, their request for a sign from heaven rings hollow after Jesus has performed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miraculous healings in Galilee and the nearby regions. Accordingly, Jesus answers them in a metaphorical way. There is irony here as well, because Jesus will play with the various meanings of heaven as either the place where God dwells or the sphere in which weather occurs. The NIV translates the same Greek noun ouranos as heaven in verse 1 (in the demand from the Pharisees and Sadducees) and sky in verses 2-3 (in the pointed answer that Jesus gives using the weather analogy).

Jesus notes that the religious leaders are experts at reading the signs provided in the ouranos by the changing weather, yet they cannot discern the signs of the favorable moment, the moment of opportunity (verse 3). We know why this is the favorable moment, but the willful blindness of the religious leaders leaves them clueless.

In verse 4, Jesus tersely rejects the request for a sign, but not without calling them a wicked and adulterous generation (verse 4), where the adultery is spiritual and consists of failing to honor their covenant with God. The sign of Jonah is not explained here, but can be found in Matthew 12:40-41. Osborne rightly points out that the sign consists of the resurrection of Jesus and the repentance of Ninevah.[2] The Sadducees did not accept any kind of resurrection, and none of the Jewish religious leaders saw any need to repent. But they could not have been more wrong!

When Jesus left the leaders and Galilee behind, he did not return to Galilee until after his resurrection. Constant opposition put an end to their hour of opportunity.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 636.
[2] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 613.

Separation at the end, Matthew 13:47-50

You have surely noticed that, whether in good situations or bad, mostly our lives just rock along in a routine set of events. We take that as the way of the world and expect it, but one day all of this will suddenly stop. Then what?

Matthew 13:47-50

47 Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Commentary

With the words once again (verse 47), Jesus launches another parable using a common element of life in Galilee, the dragnet. A dragnet could be hundreds of feet long and perhaps 6 feet wide. The top of the net was kept on the surface by floats, and the bottom forced to hang down by the use of weights. Teams of people could stretch such a net out into shallow water and gradually drag it ashore, or the net could be deployed between two boats. Either way, the dragnet scooped up whatever fish were in its path.

Jesus said that the dragnet caught all kinds of fish (verse 47), and Keener suggests that the Sea of Galilee had about 24 kinds of fish.[1] Not all were edible, and not all met the kosher requirements set down in the law. So, the fishermen dragged the net ashore and started separating the acceptable from the unacceptable.

The Parable of the Dragnet is one of the few parables that Jesus explains. He spends no time whatever on the dragnet process but focuses only on (1) the separation of the wicked from among the righteous, and (2) the terrible circumstances of the wicked after the separation.

Of all the English versions, only KJV (sever the wicked from among the just) and NASB (take out the wicked from among the righteous) rightly preserve the italicized word, translated from the Greek original. It may be that this detail is not significant, but possibly the wicked are trying to hide among the righteous. After all, who is going to step forward voluntarily to be thrown into a blazing furnace?

The parable seems to serve as Jesus confirmation that his present kingdom would indeed lead to a time when evil is obliterated.[2]

Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t eliminate evil people? How does this parable address that question?

Copyright 2017 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally prepared for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 392.

[2] Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008), 491.

Wanting to See, Matthew 12:38-42

Surely, we would agree that if we want to see something, we are more likely to see it. When my wife and I go to Ecola State Park (on the Oregon coast) we look for Haystack Rock to the south, down the stunning beach.

Imagine a situation in which the object someone wants to see is affirmatively present, and clearly visible, yet they do not see it. I think we would agree that, in such a situation, something is fundamentally wrong. Jesus confirms!

Matthew 12:38-42

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.

39 He answered, A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomons wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

What Old Testament figures are named in these verses?

Commentary

We have in verse 38 what looks like an innocuous request, but that is not the case. Just at the moment when Jesus has spoken about being judged for careless words about God, then (verse 38) the scribes and Pharisees make a statement to Jesus. Matthew introduces that statement using a pattern that Greek grammar tells us is significant because it draws special attention to the speech that follows.[1]

Matthew 12:39-40 39 He answered, A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Osborne explains that the Jewish religious leaders are asking for a heaven-sent spectacle, something that Jesus has already proven he will not do to draw attention to himself (Matthew 4:1-11).[2] Jesus also uses the verbal pattern to heighten the significance of his refusal and reasons (verse 39). He first notes the ongoing demand for a sign and his decision not to grant one. If you have been following Jesus ministry of healing and casting out demons, then you understand that asking for one more miracle on top of hundreds cannot be a serious request.

While it is easy to find fault with the Pharisees, how do you sometimes stop short of living by faith while waiting for a sign from God?

Since it was not obvious how any sign related to Jonah could be given (verse 39), Jesus explains it in verse 40. Remember that Matthews Gospel was written after the death and resurrection of Jesus, so Matthew knows that his readers will interpret the words of Jesus in light of his death followed by his resurrection three days later.[3]

Matthew 12:41-42 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomons wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

To understand verses 41-42, keep in mind that shame and honor provided the framework of the dominant moral system. Jesus is contrasting the Jews unbelieving response toward him with the positive response of the Ninevites to the preaching of Jonah. The Ninevites will find honor at the judgment by having repented at the preaching of Jonah, but the Jews of this generation will have only shame from their rejection of Jesus, because Jesus is greater than Jonah. A further source of shame for the unbelieving Jews at the judgment will be the fact that the Ninevites had been Gentiles of the most cruel and violent sort prior to their repentance.

The legendary wisdom of Solomon had convinced the Queen of the South (1 Kings 10), yet the current religious leaders were not listening to the greater wisdom of Jesus (verse 42), so she will rise with honor to condemn them at the judgment. Their shame will know no bounds.

[1] Steven, E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 150. We saw this device earlier in Matthew 11:25. The pattern consists of redundant verbs of speaking, often “answered and said.”

[2] Osborne, Matthew, 485.

[3] By Jewish reckoning, any part of a day counted as a full day. Jesus was in the grave from dusk on Friday until Sunday morning. Osborne, Matthew, 486.