Demand for a Sign (Matthew 16:1-4; Mark 8:11-13)

Submitted by admin on Wed, 2008-02-20 11:24.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

To test Jesus, the Pharisees and Sadducees asked for a sign from him. This was a faithless demand for Jesus to provide a heavenly sign in keeping with their view of how the Messiah should identify himself. It may have been their intent to discredit him because of his inability to do so. (Matthew 16:1; Mark 8:11; see the Notes section for additional comments on Mark 8:11.)

Jesus, however, did not yield to their insincere request. According to the reading of numerous manuscripts, he exposed their unwillingness to accept the evidence that was available to them. Based on seeing a red evening sky, they concluded that it would be fair weather. If, though, the sky was red and overcast in the morning, they expected a stormy or wintery day. Their ability to draw conclusions about the weather based on the appearance of the sky indicated that they possessed evaluation powers. In the case of Jesus and his activity, including his many miracles, they refused to draw the right conclusion from the undeniable evidence and to respond in faith. They manifested themselves as unable to interpret the “signs of the times” as they related to the Messiah. (Matthew 16:2, 3; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

In his response, Jesus referred to these unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees as being part of a “wicked and adulterous generation.” They were wicked in rejecting the evidence of God’s power operating through Christ and attributing it to a demonic source. When persisting in unbelief, they proved themselves to be unfaithful to God, to whom the law covenant bound them like a wife to a husband. Their unfaithfulness constituted adultery. (Matthew 16:4)

The refusal of the unbelieving generation to accept the abundant evidence that could have led to their being divinely approved greatly grieved Jesus. In his “spirit” or within himself, he sighed deeply and then said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?” As on an earlier occasion, Jesus solemnly declared that they would not be given the sign they were seeking. The only sign to be given them was that of Jonah. Just as Jonah came out of the belly of the great sea creature after three days and three nights, so Jesus would come forth from the tomb after parts of three days. With his disciples, he then left. (Matthew 12:38-40;16:4; Mark 8:12, 13)


Mark 8:11 does not mention the Sadducees, as does Matthew 16:1. This may be because the Pharisees were primarily responsible for demanding a sign, with the Sadducees joining them in challenging Jesus. Although the Pharisees and Sadducees differed greatly in their beliefs, they were united in their opposition to him.

According to the reading of the oldest extant manuscripts, Matthew 16:2 ends with the words, “but he said to them,” and the text of verse 3 is missing. For this reason, the Revised English Bible rendering follows the abbreviated text. “He answered: ‘It is a wicked, godless generation that asks for a sign; and the only sign that will be given it is the sign of Jonah.’ With that he left them and went away.”