The Hostility of the Pharisees and Sadducees
Demand for a Sign (Matthew 16:1-4; Mark 8:10-13)
After leaving Decapolis, Jesus travels across the Sea of Galilee to Magdala in the region of Dulmanutha. There Pharisees and Sadducees confront him, asking for a sign from heaven as a test. Paul noted this trait of the Jews in I Corinthians 1:21-24. The fact that signs had been done is never enough. Because they do not want to believe the message, they look for some way to discount the messenger. They weren’t looking for any old sign, they wanted a sign from heaven; that is, a sign like those found in the Old Testament where the sun stood still (Joshua 10:13), or moved back ten degrees (Isaiah 38:8), or lightening striking from the sky (I Kings 18:38). They demanded a big, showy sign that would be readily attributed to God – which they believed Jesus could not produce.
Jesus sighs and points out that they were able to tell the weather for the day by observing the signs that the weather produces in the sky in advance. While they were willing to pay attention to these small details, they refused to see the signs that have already been given. It is useless to give additional signs to people who refuse to see signs.
They would not get the sign they were demanding because they were a sinful and adulterous people. The only sign they would see is one similar to what happened to Jonah. By this Jesus is alluding to Jonah having spent three days in the deep before being restored to land (Jonah 1:17). He is hinting that the one sign they would recognize is his resurrection (Matthew 12:39-40).
Returning to the boat, Jesus and the disciples return to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, probably near Bethsaida.
Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 8:14-21)
Somewhere in the journey, the disciples realized that they and forgotten to bring food with them, which was unfortunate since they had left seven baskets of food back in Decapolis. All they could find was one loaf of bread.
Jesus uses this discussion as an opportunity to teach. “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15). Matthew’s account says “Sadducees” instead of “Herod,” but this is the same group. The party of the Sadducees tended to be made up of the ruling class and in the Galilee area these would be people who followed Herod.
Puzzling over Jesus’ words, the disciples decided that he was referring to the fact that they had no food. But Jesus scolds them for that conclusion. That conclusion showed how little they understood and how little faith they had in Jesus. When there were over 5,000 people to be feed, Jesus was able to produce enough food to feed everyone and still have 12 baskets of leftovers. When there were over 4,000 people to be feed, Jesus again was able to produce enough food to feed everyone and have 7 baskets of leftovers. Why would Jesus be concerned about the lack of food? And why would they think this given that they had seen what Jesus could do? How sad how quickly they forgot the miracles they had seen (Psalm 78:11; Deuteronomy 4:9).
Once the wrong line of reasoning was exposed, the disciples finally realized that Jesus was warning them to beware of the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus use of a metaphor better illustrated why the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees were dangerous. Like leaven in a lump of dough it grows and spreads (I Corinthians 5:6).
Healing of a Blind Man in Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26)
Jesus and his disciples now enter Bethsaida where a blind man is brought to him. The man begs for Jesus to touch him, implying that he had heard of Jesus’ earlier miracles where people were healed at his touch. Evidently the man was not born blind because later he describes seeing men who look like trees (Mark 8:24).
The events in this healing have lead to many questions because they do not follow the way other healings were recorded. Jesus leads the man out of Bethsaida, spit upon his eyes, laid his hands on him, and then ask if he saw anything. The man states that he sees men who look like trees walking about. That is, the men and trees looked alike to the man, but he could tell which were men because they moved. Jesus then puts his hands on the man’s eyes again. Depending on your translation, Jesus either had the man look up, that is to look again, or Jesus looked at the man intently. The variance is due variations in the Greek copies. Two different word, though somewhat similar in spelling, are used in different copies. The resulting variation deals with who did the looking. After this second time, the man’s eyesight was completely restored and he saw clearly.
The difference in methods Jesus used to heal tells us that healings did not come about by the method but by the power of the Lord. Other people imitating the methods of Christ should not expect to have the same results (see Acts 19:13-17).
Others note that Jesus’ method in this case would require some faith on the blind man’s part. The man had to accept being lead out of town. He had to endure having someone spit into his face. He was first given only partial sight and had to trust that Jesus’ touch again would give him full sight. The patience with which this man endured this treatment hints at his faith in Jesus.
Jesus sent him home and told him not to go into the town or tell anyone. Once again we see that Jesus is not doing these miraculous works for the publicity they might generate. Instead, he sought to keep it quiet, perhaps to keep crowds from following him and demanding his time.