What does it say?
Pharisees are orthodox lay leaders while the Sadducees are trained theologians, more liberal and rational in their views. Both groups approach Jesus and demand from him a sign that he is the Messiah (Mat 16). Jesus warns his disciples against what he calls the leaven (yeast) of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus is using leaven to represent the hypocrisy of these religious leaders (Luke 12:1). With all the questions concerning his true identity, Jesus asks his disciples who they say that he is. Peter gives the correct answer that is the Christ, to which Jesus gives his promise of building his church on the rock. Matthew 16:21 begins the next major section of the book as Jesus begins to clearly inform them that he will be crucified and raised again the third day.
Mark 8 opens with the feeding of the 4,000 that we already saw in Matthew 15. . Mark then records the demand of the religious leaders for a sign and Jesus’ warning about leaven. Before Peter’s confession of faith and Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection, Mark inserts the account of Jesus healing a blind man in Bethsaida (8:22-26). Both Matthew 16 and Mark 8 end with Jesus instructing his disciples on the cost of discipleship.
What does it mean?
The problem is not that the religious leaders wanted a sign to identify Jesus, but that they stubbornly refuse to accept the many scriptural signs already given. Previously, the Pharisees demanded a sign of Jesus (Mat 12:38-40) and Jesus responded that they would be given the sign of Jonah, meaning that Jonah in the fish pictures the death, burial and resurrection that he would accomplish. This is the same answer, the same sign that Jesus gives them here.
Following his great profession of faith, Peter becomes an instrument of the Devil (Mat 16:23; Mark 8:33). Jesus had named Simon as Peter, meaning rock, seeing the impetuous Peter as the solid believer he would become. Here, however, the rock becomes a tool of Satan. This reminds us of the reality of the spiritual warfare in play as Jesus moves forward in his mission. The story is about more than “saving souls,” this is the story of God’s passion to redeem and restore the peoples of the world in order that all may bring the greater glory to his name.
How will I respond?
Can I think of a time in my life when I have been a tool in the Devil’s hand? What practical step can I take to keep this from happening again?