Matthew 16:1–4: Seeking for a Sign
After the beginnings of a fruitful ministry among the Gentiles, Jesus returns briefly in Matthew 16:1–4 into Israelite territory. While Jesus had immediately met a Canaanite woman of faith in Gentile territory (Matt. 15:22), upon his return it is the faithless Pharisees and Sadducees who confront him immediately, in order to request from him a sign from heaven to validate his ministry (v. 1). What is behind this request? How does Jesus respond to them? Ultimately, Jesus urges them (and us) to seek Christ in the signs that he has provided.
1. Where had Jesus been in Matthew 15:21–39? Where is the region of Magadan (Matt. 15:39)? What kind of reception did Jesus have while he was among the Gentiles? How does that background contrast with the attitude of the Pharisees and Sadducees who confront him in v. 1? What are they asking for in a “sign from heaven” (v. 1)? Is the sign they request a sign to verify Jesus’ truthfulness, or to falsify his claims? What’s the difference?
2. What kind of weather signs does Jesus describe in vv. 2–3? How accurate are those kinds of signs toward interpreting and forecasting the weather for the coming days? What are the “signs of the times” that Jesus charges the Pharisees and Sadducees concerning their ignorance? What is Jesus saying about the “times” in which he had come? Which signs is he pointing them to that should have driven them to faith?
3. Why does Jesus accuse the Pharisees and Sadducees as representing “an evil and adulterous generation” (v. 4)? Does this suggest that their real problem is a lack of data, or something else? What does Jesus mean when he speaks about the “sign of Jonah” (see Matt. 12:38–39)? Is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead a sign from heaven? If so, why don’t the religious leaders believe? What sign does Jesus give by departing from them (v. 4)?
4. What kinds of signs does the world demand of Christianity in order to prove the truthfulness of the gospel? Have you ever hoped or prayed for a miracle so that God might prove that Jesus is the true God? Why do you think that God doesn’t make a clear, powerful demonstration of himself today? What signs does Jesus point us to instead? Why does God prefer to use the ordinary means of word, prayer, and sacraments instead?