Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Matthew 16:1

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The Pharisees also with the Sadducees - Though a short account of these has been already given in a note on Matthew 3:7, yet, as one more detailed may be judged necessary, I think it proper to introduce it in this place.

The Pharisees were the most considerable sect among the Jews, for they had not only the scribes, and all the learned men of the law of their party, but they also drew after them the bulk of the people. When this sect arose is uncertain. Josephus, Antiq. lib. v. c. xiii. s. 9, speaks of them as existing about 144 years before the Christian era. They had their appellation of Pharisees, from פרש parash, to separate, and were probably, in their rise, the most holy people among the Jews, having separated themselves from the national corruption, with a design to restore and practice the pure worship of the most High. That they were greatly degenerated in our Lord's time is sufficiently evident; but still we may learn, from their external purity and exactness, that their principles in the beginning were holy. Our Lord testifies that they had cleansed the outside of the cup and the platter, but within they were full of abomination. They still kept up the outward regulations of the institution, but they had utterly lost its spirit; and hypocrisy was the only substitute now in their power for that spirit of piety which I suppose, and not unreasonably, characterized the origin of this sect.

As to their religious opinions, they still continued to credit the being of a God; they received the five books of Moses, the writings of the prophets, and the hagiographa. The hagiographa or holy writings, from αγιος holy, and γραφω I write, included the twelve following books - Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. These, among the Jews, occupied a middle place between the law and the prophets, as divinely inspired. The Pharisees believed, in a confused way, in the resurrection, though they received the Pythagorean doctrine of the metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls. Those, however, who were notoriously wicked, they consigned, on their death, immediately to hell, without the benefit of transmigration, or the hope of future redemption. They held also the predestinarian doctrine of necessity, and the government of the world by fate; and yet, inconsistently, allowed some degree of liberty to the human will. See Prideaux.

The Sadducees had their origin and name from one Sadoc, a disciple of Antigonus of Socho, president of the Sanhedrin, and teacher of the law in one of the great divinity schools in Jerusalem, about 264 years before the incarnation.

This Antigonus having often in his lectures informed his scholars, that they should not serve God through expectation of a reward, but through love and filial reverence only, Sadoc inferred from this teaching that there were neither rewards nor punishments after this life, and, by consequence, that there was no resurrection of the dead, nor angel, nor spirit, in the invisible world; and that man is to be rewarded or punished here for the good or evil he does.

They received only the five books of Moses, and rejected all unwritten traditions. From every account we have of this sect, it plainly appears they were a kind of mongrel deists, and professed materialists. See Prideaux, and the authors he quotes, Connex. vol. iii. p. 95, and 471, etc., and see the note on Matthew 3:7.

In Matthew 22:16, we shall meet with a third sect, called Herodians, of whom a few words may be spoken here, It is allowed on all hands that these did not exist before the time of Herod the Great, who died only three years after the incarnation of our Lord. What the opinions of these were is not agreed among the learned. Many of the primitive fathers believed that their distinguishing doctrine was, that they held Herod to be the Messiah; but it is not likely that such an opinion could prevail in our Savior's time, thirty years after Herod's death, when not one characteristic of Messiahship had appeared in him during his life. Others suppose that they were Herod's courtiers, who flattered the passions of their master, and, being endowed with a convenient conscience, changed with the times; but, as Herod was now dead upwards of thirty years, such a sect could not exist in reference to him; and yet all allow that they derived their origin from Herod the Great.

Our Lord says, Mark 8:15, that they had the leaven of Herod, i.e. a bad doctrine, which they received from him. What this was may be easily discovered:

  1. Herod subjected himself and his people to the dominion of the Romans, in opposition to that law, Deuteronomy 17:15, Thou shalt not set a king over thee - which is not thy brother, i.e. one out of the twelve tribes.
  • He built temples, sat up images, and joined in heathenish worship, though he professed the Jewish religion; and this was in opposition to all the law and the prophets.
  • From this we may learn that the Herodians were such as, first, held it lawful to transfer the Divine government to a heathen ruler; and, secondly, to conform occasionally to heathenish rites in their religious worship. In short, they appear to have been persons who trimmed between God and the world - who endeavored to reconcile his service with that of mammon - and who were religious just as far as it tended to secure their secular interests. It is probable that this sect was at last so blended with, that it became lost in, the sect of the Sadducees; for the persons who art called Herodians, Mark 8:15, are styled Sadducees in Matthew 16:6. See Prideaux, Con. vol. iii. p. 516, etc., and Josephus, Antiq. b. xv. c. viii. s. i. and x. s. iii. But it is very likely that the Herodians, mentioned c. xxii. 10, were courtiers or servants of Herod king of Galilee. See the note there.

    Show them a sign - These sects, however opposed among themselves, most cordially unite in their opposition to Christ and his truth. That the kingdom of Satan may not fall, all his subjects must fight against the doctrine and maxims of the kingdom of Christ.

    Tempting - him - Feigning a desire to have his doctrine fully proved to them, that they might credit it, and become his disciples; but having no other design than to betray and ruin him.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible
    Verses 1-4

    See also Mark 8:11-12.

    The Pharisees also, and the Sadducees - See the notes at Matthew 3:7.

    Tempting - That is, trying him - feigning a desire to see evidence that he was the Messiah, but with a real desire to see him make the attempt to work a miracle and fail, so that they might betray him and ruin him.

    A sign from heaven - Some miraculous appearance in the sky. Such appearances had been given by the prophets; and they supposed, if he was the Messiah, that his miracles would not all be confined to the earth, but that he was able to give some signal miracle from heaven. Samuel had caused it to thunder 1 Samuel 12:16-18; Isaiah had caused the shadow to go back ten degrees on the dial of Ahaz Isaiah 38:8; and Moses had sent manna from heaven, Exodus 16:4; John 6:31. It is proper to say, that though Christ did not choose then to show such wonders, yet far more stupendous signs from heaven than these were exhibited at his death.

    Matthew 16:2, Matthew 16:3

    He answered … - The meaning of this answer is, There are certain indications by which you judge about the weather.

    In the evening you think you can predict the weather tomorrow. You have evidence in the redness of the sky by which you judge. So there are sufficient indications on which you should judge concerning me and these times. My miracles, and the state of affairs in Judea, are an indication by which you should judge.

    Is red - Almost all nations have observed this as an indication of fair weather.

    In the morning … the sky is red and lowering - That is, there are threatening clouds in the sky, which are made red by the rays of the rising sun. This, in Judea, was a sign of a tempest. In other places, however, the signs of a storm may be different.

    The face of the sky - The appearance of the sky.

    Matthew 16:4

    A wicked and adulterous generation … - See the notes at Matthew 12:38-40. Mark adds Mark 8:12 that he signed deeply in spirit. He did not say this without feeling; he was greatly affected with their perverseness and obstinacy.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    The Pharisees and Sadducees were opposed to each other in principles and in conduct; yet they joined against Christ. But they desired a sign of their own choosing: they despised those signs which relieved the necessity of the sick and sorrowful, and called for something else which would gratify the curiosity of the proud. It is great hypocrisy, when we slight the signs of God's ordaining, to seek for signs of our own devising.
    Ellen G. White
    Christ's Object Lessons, 212

    This chapter is based on Luke 13:1-9.

    Christ in His teaching linked with the warning of judgment the invitation of mercy. “The Son of man is not come,” He said, “to destroy men's lives, but to save them.” Luke 9:56. “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:17. His mission of mercy in its relation to God's justice and judgment is illustrated in the parable of the barren fig tree. COL 212.1

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    Ellen G. White
    The Desire of Ages, 405-7

    Then taking a boat with His disciples, He crossed the lake to Magdala, at the southern end of the plain of Gennesaret. In the border of Tyre and Sidon His spirit had been refreshed by the confiding trust of the Syrophoenician woman. The heathen people of Decapolis had received Him with gladness. Now as He landed once more in Galilee, where His power had been most strikingly manifested, where most of His works of mercy had been performed, and His teaching given, He was met with contemptuous unbelief. DA 405.1

    A deputation of Pharisees had been joined by representatives from the rich and lordly Sadducees, the party of the priests, the skeptics and aristocracy of the nation. The two sects had been at bitter enmity. The Sadducees courted the favor of the ruling power in order to maintain their own position and authority. The Pharisees, on the other hand, fostered the popular hatred against the Romans, longing for the time when they could throw off the yoke of the conqueror. But Pharisee and Sadducee now united against Christ. Like seeks like; and evil, wherever it exists, leagues with evil for the destruction of the good. DA 405.2

    Now the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Christ, asking for a sign from heaven. When in the days of Joshua Israel went out to battle with the Canaanites at Bethhoron, the sun had stood still at the leader's command until victory was gained; and many similar wonders had been manifest in their history. Some such sign was demanded of Jesus. But these signs were not what the Jews needed. No mere external evidence could benefit them. What they needed was not intellectual enlightenment, but spiritual renovation. DA 406.1

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