Matthew 16:1-12: The Teaching of the Pharisees 

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Matthew 16:1-12: The Teaching of the Pharisees 

February 14, 2021


Exodus 35-37; Psalm 37:1-22; Matthew 16:1-12; Acts  22 

Matthew 16:1-12:

The contrast between those who received Jesus’ teaching and responded with faith (like the Canaanite woman, 15:21-28), and others (like the Pharisees), becomes yet more stark and glaring. The Pharisees, along with the Sadducees, come to Jesus to test him (16:1). And what a test! They want a sign. Wow. Have they been paying no attention at all? He just fed four thousand people with a small picnic (15:32-39); he has been healing countless numbers; he has been teaching vast crowds with authority. 

Every sign imaginable has been performed for them—if they have eyes to see and ears to hear. But they come “demanding” a sign. And therefore no sign will be given to them. Jesus is not a “jack-in-the-box” who will do their bidding; he is not a genie in a lamp that will come out and perform tricks for them. He has done all that they could possibly have looked for. But they are not looking—they are blind. And so there will be no sign—except the sign of Jonah, that of Jesus dying and rising again after three days, as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish and as it were rose again. 

Jesus then warns the disciples explicitly about the Pharisees. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees, he says (16:6). The disciples think that Jesus is criticizing them for not bringing bread (16:7)—as if by now they had not figured out that Jesus did not need their human bread for his purposes! And so Jesus reminds them of the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand (16:9-11) —and then they realize Jesus is talking about the teaching of the Pharisees (16:12). That kind of teaching spreads. In other words, the Pharisaic approach is not simply something that took place in first century Galilee or Israel, but is an attitude, an approach, that can continue to infect, to spread like gangrene, like leaven through bread. We should beware of the legalistic, hard-hearted religion as show—power, politics, religion—of the Pharisees. Beware like the plague. 

Instead, with integrity of heart and straightforwardness of intention, trust in Christ and follow him as simple, but not simple-minded, pure, but not prideful, disciples.


Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.


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