There are times of little or no opposition to what is good, but if any times should have been purely that, it would be those times we're reading about here in Matthew, during this stage of the Lord's ministry. But they weren't such.
The opposition story (16:1ff.) is similar, in the way it is introduced, to how chapter 15 begins. Pharisees and scribes (15:1) are natural co-workers, but "Pharisees and Sadducees" (16:1) are not. Between the two of them, however, they held the field in the area of religion, for those who weren't off in the Essene monastic movement, or among the Zealot party versus Rome. So to hear, as we do in this passage from Jesus to beware "of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (16:12), is equivalent to someone coming to us and saying "beware of most teaching around here."
So what was the original reference Jesus made (16:6) a reference to, exactly? A straight-across comparison of 16:6 and 16:12 indicates that the teaching of the Sadducees and the Pharisees is one, in this respect. It is a "teaching" that the Lord wants them to beware of: their teaching is equated with leaven. What is it in the "teaching" (16:12) that the disciples need to beware of, that is like leaven?
Well, what is leaven? We have already heard a parable narrating its characteristic behavior in bread: it is inserted into unleavened bread and gets mixed together until the bread is all leavened (13:33). So the teaching of both parties is a leaven to beware of. What incipient thing that works like leaven does "the teaching" of both groups have in common, and is also what the disciples need to beware of?
The Pharisees and Sadducees had come to the Lord just prior to that comment of His: "testing Jesus, they asked Him...." (16:1). This, without having to go any further, provides one of possibly many examples of teaching that is like a leaven and must be avoided.
"They asked Him to show them a sign from heaven." With all the healings, and the two miraculous feedings of thousands, and the walking on water, by Peter also, only interrupted by Peter's doubt, not the Lord's ability, the reader must be wondering, what possible sign could be lacking?
The analysis about such questions is still fresh in the reader's ears: "an evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign" (Mt 12:38). Here, in today's section from the One Year Bible, it is "testing Jesus, they asked Him." To test Jesus, in the manifest presence of His works (the magnitude of which attracted crowds time after time) is similar to the testing of God in the wilderness. As the biblical commentator about those Old Testament events said, take care that there is not in any of them "an evil, unbelieving heart" (Heb 3:12). This dovetails with the criticism of Mt 12:39, and the further explanations about an adulterous generation in our chapter.
What the Pharisees and Sadducees had in common was their unbelief toward Christ despite what has manifestly happened again and again. Not skepticism alone, but unbelief in the presence of overwhelming and convincing evidence. It is completely contradictory to have seen God's work and test God at the same time. It is completely contradictory to know what Christ has done and to test Him at the same time. In the wilderness, they had not simply a skeptical heart, but un unbelieving heart after all that God had done. Here, their teaching led them to test Christ, in spite of what everyone knew that He had done.
The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees was their unbelief despite what they knew the Lord had done. Such a thing resisted the many instances of what had already happened, and demanded more, "on demand."
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