Text: Matthew 16:1-26
Event(s): The Pharisees and Sadducees seek a sign from heaven, The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, Jesus predicts His death and resurrection
Matthew 16:1 “The Pharisees and Sadducees” Since we’ve not done so yet, it may be helpful to provide some clarity of the difference between these two groups, so today, I’m going to spend some time doing that.
First of all, it’s important to note – The Pharisees and Sadducees were both theological and political enemies. So to see them combine forces and act together is shocking. As it is often said, a common opponent can transform even the greatest of enemies into allies.
The Pharisees were mostly middle-class or what we would call “blue-collar” businessmen. They were held in much higher esteem by the common man than the Sadducees were because the people could relate to them better. The name “Pharisee” seems clearly related to the word paras, meaning “to divide, separate.” So most likely, interpreted this would mean the “separated ones”.
They had emerged from the exile as the dominant faction because they (correctly) connected Israel’s abandoning of the Law of Moses as the reason of their punishment of exile. So, they were big time rule-keepers and created “fences” in an attempt to keep the people from even coming close to replicating this rebellious behavior and thereby casting all of Israel into exile and further punishment. This is why they were so incredibly “religious”…to the point of being legalistic. As opposed to the Sadducees, they were far more concerned with religion than they were with politics.
As for their religious beliefs, they accepted the written Word as inspired by God, which at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry would have been what we now call the Old Testament. But they also gave equal authority to oral tradition, meaning religious practices they held to as a result of their interpretation of the of the law of Moses. An example of such oral tradition is what we just saw in Mark 7 a couple of days ago when they accused Jesus of not holding to the tradition of washing of hands. No where in the Law of Moses did God command such a practice, but they added their own traditions like this in an effort to be super strict about making sure people followed the Law. They elevated such religious expressions like this one on an equal plateau with the written word of God.
The Pharisees also maintained that an after-life existed and that God would punish the wicked and rewarded the righteous in the world to come. They also believed in the existence of angels and demons.
The Sadducees were aristocrats. Most of them were very wealthy and held powerful positions of authority including that of chief priests and high priest. They didn’t relate well to the common man like the Pharisees did. The name “Sadducees” is related to the Hebrew verbal form sadaq (tsahdak) meaning “to be righteous.” Whereas the Pharisees approach to righteousness was through strict law abiding, the Sadducees approach was through religious liberalism.
Because their focus was less on religion and more on politics, they worked hard to keep the peace by agreeing with the decisions of Rome and were quick to jump on anything that would threaten that. This is why they opposed Jesus – because they feared the people, and they feared Rome.
The Sadducees were more conservative in one area of doctrine, and that was that they considered only the written Word to be from God. As opposed to the Pharisees, they denied the existence of the spiritual world (angels and demons) and denied that there was an afterlife. They denied the resurrection of the dead.
These groups, combined with the Roman influence, produced a very tense atmosphere to live in. While the two sects were huge rivals, they managed to set aside their differences on one occasion—and that was at the trial of Jesus. It was at this point that the Sadducees and Pharisees united to put Jesus to death, which we come to later in our study (Mark 14:53; 15:1; John 11:48-50).
Today’s Takeaway: Against this backdrop and tense environment, it took great boldness for Peter to declare with the confidence he did who Jesus was. “Who do men say that I am?” would produce only communicated knowledge based on what the disciples had heard other people say. That kind of knowledge will always sway depending on what kind of environments we find ourselves in. But “Who do you say that I am?” resulted in Peter declaring what had come to him by revelation. Revelation of who Jesus is to us, on a personal level, produces a confidence that cannot be shaken. Also notice that in getting a revelation of who Jesus was, Peter received revelation of who he was in Jesus. It is so true that we find ourselves in Him. (Colossians 3:1-4) If we ever find ourselves at a place where we are struggling with our identity the best thing we can do is get in His presence.
Additional (optional) reading: Some of yesterday’s text overlaps with todays as far as parallel accounts. But the continuing parallel accounts of these events can be found in Mark 8:27-38 and Luke 9:18-25