Because Chapter 16 starts with the word "And", we have to assume that the Pharisees and Sadducees were waiting for Jesus when he exited the boat from verse 15:39. This is the first time we see the Pharisees and Sadducees challenge Him together. Many times we have seen the Pharisees and the teachers, or, Scribes come and challenge Him or ask for a "sign" but never before, in this Gospel, have we seen these two groups together.
There is a good reason for that. The Pharisees and the Sadducees had fundamental differences in their beliefs. Please forgive if you already know this, but the Pharisees and Sadducees were different sects of Judaism. Much like Charismatics and Southern Baptists are different sects of Christianity.
According to Unger's Bible dictionary ;The Sadducee were the wealthy, ruling aristocrats that did not believe in using the Talmud as a guide. They adhered strictly to the teachings of Moses. They did not believe in the resurrection of the body or angels or spiritual beings except God Himself. The Pharisees held to the Talmud as law and believed that the law was open to interpretation through the Talmud.
The two groups did not agree on much, so it was very unusual that they would team up to confront Jesus.
In verse 16:1 They ask Him for a sign. According to Erdman's commentaries, they were not asking for a miracle. They had seen and heard of many of those. They wanted the sign that would put an end to all doubt. They wanted a defining moment. They wanted to see the vision spoken of in Daniel
7:13-14, where the Messiah comes and presents Himself to God for all eternity as the almighty ruler of all peoples. The "Son of Man".
This was a favorite sign of the Jews. They eagerly awaited the return of Elijah and this vision of the Messiah. Jesus knew this well, he often called Himself the Son of Man.
He answers them in verses 16: 2-3, and says that they knew how to look at the sky to figure out the weather (red sky in the morning, sailor take warning ect...) but that they could not discern the spiritual things by looking at what was happening all around them. In verse 16: 4, he calls them evil and adulterous and tells them that no sign except Jonah would be given.
The next passage, verses 16:5-12, is a marvelous example of the work of the Holy Spirit in the scriptures. We are told that the disciples had forgotten to bring bread on their journey, so when Jesus said to them "beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" they immediately think that He is saying this because they forgot to bring bread. Jesus calls them "men of little faith" and asks them didn't they remember the five thousand He fed or the four thousand He fed and how much was left over? He asks them how is it that they can think that He is talking about bread when he is talking about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Verse 16:12, says, they then understood that He was talking about the teachings of the Pharisees and Saducees being able to permeate everything like leaven in bread dough, not physical bread.
What makes this a marvelous example of the Holy Spirit at work in the scriptures, is the fact that most people do not want to expose their shortcomings to the world. The disciples would probably have rather left out the parts of the story where they let Jesus down or fell short in their spiritual understanding. Instead, their mistakes, lack of faith and shortcomings are here for us to see. I am convinced that Matthew wrote these verses only by the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Verses 16:13-20 are long debated, and commented on by everyone so I will skip those verses. The assumption I make, is that you, on your own, are reading these chapters over and over again. Make sure you read these verses if you haven't already.
As we finish the chapter starting with verse 16: 21, something very interesting happens. In verse 21 Jesus starts to show His disciples the Messiah described in Isaiah 53. He wants to show them that this prophesy of the suffering servant must be fulfilled by the Son of Man, before He can come in His Glory and fulfill the vision asked for by the Pharisees and Sadducees. There is no doubt that the disciples were waiting for Him to reveal Himself and fulfill the prophesies in Daniel just as the Pharisees and Saducees were. He takes the time to explain what will happen to Him. He tells them plainly that He will be tortured and killed at the hands of the rulers, scribes and even the Priests and He will be raised up on the third day.
(In verse 16:22-23, we take a little detour here, where we have the famous verse that Jesus said to Peter that Christians and non-Christians alike are familiar with. "Get thee behind Me Satan" We will use this to remember the chapter because it is such a familiar verse. However, we need to remove the "thee" and use 'GET BEHIND ME SATAN' because this phrase without "thee", has sixteen letters. ) OK, So we need to regather our thoughts to get the point.
Jesus goes on , starting in verse 16:24, to show them that the way to the glorious kingdom age that they were all waiting for, was going to be through the cross. He makes this amazing statement to them "if any man wishes to follow Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me". Remember, Jesus had not gone to the cross yet. We have the benefit of hindsight, the disciples did not. It is not clear whether they even understood what He was really saying to them.
In verse 16:25, He says:" For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it". He is explaining to them that they must be willing to lose their lives in their decision to follow Him. In verse 16:26, He speaks in general terms here and makes it clear that not only are their souls at stake, but every mans soul.
He then finishes right where the chapter began. In verses 16:27-28, He speaks of just what the Pharisees and Sadducee are asking to see. "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels and will recompense everyman according to his deeds" He was making it clear to them that , it is going to happen. He is coming, He will fulfill the prophecies and will be seen in His glorious kingdom.
He also tells them that some from their group would be able to see this happen before their death. John was the only one, that we know of, that got this opportunity. You can read about it in the book of Revelation.
I know that this is hard work. I know that it is time consuming, but keep going. The Lord will use it in your conversations with everyone. You will be able to find topics easily in the Book of Matthew. You will know your Bible better than you ever have before and the Lord will bless as you think and pray to remember His word.
I am praying for all of you.