Session #107 Red Alert
Scripture Matthew 16:1-4
Summary Red Alerts are warning signs that the enemy is approaching or that danger is imminent. In Matthew 16:1-4, to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus was the common enemy. However, Jesus warns of more critical signs that they are not seeing and the most important one they must not miss. These red alerts are still and especially relevant in the times we live in.
Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ ]Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed. Matthew 16:1-4
The title of this teaching is ‘Red Alert’ which signifies a warning; the final stage of alert in which we realise that the attack of the enemy appears imminent. It is a state of alert because there is an impending danger that is coming very soon. The colour red is used because it gets our attention and the bells and alarms will be ringing red alert!
We have some local examples of red alerts. Singapore is experiencing one of the worst dengue outbreaks. If you move through the different estates, you will find banners or posters that indicate a green, a yellow or a red alert implying that the number of cases is really high. In our Covid-19 situation, the Singapore measurement of the state of affairs would be the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition or DORSCON for short. Currently, it is orange and we do not want it to go to the next stage, which is red. Going red would mean it is more dangerous and serious.
Our passage contains a few ‘red alerts’ too and it is more than just the “red skies” as we shall see. We will go through four red alerts and these are seen from different points of view and perspectives. After that, we will observe a few implications so that we too can respond to the red alerts of our day.
In our past teaching that focused on Matthew 15, we learnt that Jesus took some time out of His primary assignment to the Jews within Israel in order to rest with His disciples. However, He ended up ministering to the Gentiles in the region surrounding Israel, which was His secondary assignment. Jesus met a Syro-Phoenician woman, and after that, he taught and then healed the multitudes. It all ended with the feeding of the 4,000. The fringe Gentiles welcomed this fringe guy in Jesus because He was there to proclaim the things of the kingdom of God.
In Matthew 16, we observe Jesus coming back to Jewish territory, to the region of Magdala as stated in Matthew 15:39. Who did Jesus find waiting for Him but the Pharisees and Sadducees? It was not necessarily a warm welcome. This brought us to the first red alert from the point of view of the Pharisees and Sadducees!
RED ALERT 1: Enemy Approaching
When the Pharisees and Sadducees saw Jesus coming, they treated Him like a red alert. For them, Jesus was someone opposing them. We have seen confrontation after confrontation, and increasingly so, as Jesus moved towards His final mission in Jerusalem. For us to understand why these two groups were against Jesus, let us learn a bit more about them by looking at their similarities first. These two groups were the ruling class of Jews, and they held some political power. They were also religious sects within the larger framework of Judaism. Both groups honoured Moses and the Law. As far as similarities go, that is all we can really see between them.
Key Differences Between Pharisees and Sadducees
But they had a lot of differences between them. The Pharisees were very strict in their adherence to God’s law. They realised that when they broke God’s law, they were judged and sent out of the land into exile. The Sadducees agreed to the keeping of God’s law, but they were more supportive of prevailing rulers for political and economic benefit. They were friendlier with Rome and more accommodating to Roman laws.
The Pharisees added on oral traditions and they gave it almost equal weightage. A previous study on this revealed how Jesus told them they were putting oral traditions above the Law. For the Sadducees, the Law was just the Law and to be interpreted literally. If some matter was not in the Law, it did not count to them, and they considered it to be man-made and not from God. The two groups differed where the Law was concerned, and also the additional interpretation of what it means.
One stark difference is that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, but the Sadducees did not. The Pharisees believed in the afterlife because of the resurrection. They believed that there is a heaven and hell, and the way a person lives now will determine their reward or punishment. For the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection, there was no afterlife and souls perished at the point of death.
The Pharisees believed in the coming Messiah to bring peace and deliverance. However, the Sadducees were not looking out for a Messiah. They believed that God has given the law and they have free will to live according to it and to reap the corresponding consequences. This meant that peace is largely dependent on how they live and how they coexist with the powers-that-be.
The Pharisees believed in the supernatural, that there are angels and demons in existence. On the contrary, the Sadducees believed that there is no such thing as the unseen or the spiritual world. They believed that everything could be in their control and they live as they are today.
In terms of socio-economic classes, the Pharisees were considered the middle-class. The masses were able to relate to them more. They were representative of the working class and they represented the larger populace of Israel. The Sadducees were the elites and aristocrats. In fact, they would be the wealthier people, political and carry a lot more influence. The Pharisees as leaders would be called rabbis and would be the ones teaching and guiding the people. For the leaders of the Sadducees, because of their aristocratic pedigree, they would occupy the higher positions as chief priests and high priests. They were the priestly class and descendants of the priestly line of Zadok. They had a certain place in society and also in the temple. Understandably their power centred around the main temple in Jerusalem, whereas the Pharisees had more influence on the ground where the synagogues were.
The name Pharisees mean “people who are separated” – the set-apart ones. They protected Jewish identity with fervour and they resisted Hellenization when the Greeks conquered the land before the Romans. The Sadducees welcomed Hellenization, with the mindset of staying relevant with the changing times and adapting to the rulers who governed them. After the temple was destroyed in 70AD, the Sadducees as a sect ceased, but the legacy of the Pharisees continued. A group of them compiled the Mishnah, which is written documents that have laid the groundwork for present-day Judaism. Although the Pharisees were part of the ruling class and formed the whole Sanhedrin, the council that set the tone for Judaism during those times, they were very different in their beliefs, doctrines and way of living.
Paul, as a Pharisee and later having met Jesus on the road to Damascus, when he was put on trial facing this council, used his knowledge of these differences to his advantage in Acts 23:6 – “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” Paul played the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were at the trial, against each other over their disagreement about the resurrection. He pushed the right buttons to cause the two groups to start fighting, and this led the Romans to save Paul from this squabble. The Pharisees and Sadducees had more differences than they were similar. They co-existed with each other for the sake of Israel but did not truly get along.
Suddenly here comes Jesus – red alert – their common enemy! Why was Jesus their enemy? For the Pharisees, Jesus challenged their oral traditions and even revealed their hypocrisy. They put all their added laws on the people, yet they themselves are unable to keep them. The Sadducees considered Jesus the enemy because he spoke openly about the kingdom. Such talk could create problems for them because they were reporting to Rome. They had made their allegiance to Caesar and would have no other King. As such Jesus was a threat to the status quo, a threat big enough for both groups to put aside differences, to work together, to confront a common ‘enemy’. The first red alert was then from the perspective of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Red Alert 2: Incoming! Coalition Forces Throw A Curve Ball!
Jesus looked at the two groups and as they came, they tested Him by asking for a sign from heaven in Matthew 16:1. Jesus already knew that these two groups were ganging upon Him to shoot Him a curved ball. This curved ball is a diabolical ball to be precise to test Him. The Greek word for test is ‘peirazo’. This is the same word that was used when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. The word test here is not to prove something that is good. It carries the intention that is negative to show up the flaws and problems, to disprove with the intent to say that this is not good enough and we want to reject it. This is different from the word ‘dokimazo’ which is to prove the quality and to build this up to make sure we will pass this test. The two groups did not want Jesus to pass at all. They wanted to pull Him down. For them, Jesus is their red alert and they need to shoot Him down.
Jesus saw this curved ball coming and he intercepted it immediately. If we study through Matthew, we will notice that Jesus had been performing so many signs, miracles and deliverances, one after another. Was this not enough for them, were they not convinced? In Matthew 12:38 they asked Jesus for a sign and Jesus declined to perform it for them, just because they asked him to do it. This time around in Matthew 16:1, they asked Jesus for a sign from heaven if He claimed to be the divine Son of God. This could be a sign in the sky such as thunder, lightning hail or rain. To them, if something or someone is from God, you have to show evidence and revelation from God, just like in the Old Testament. We remember Moses at Mount Sinai where there was thunder and lightning. It is not just with the law but the prophets too. Elijah commanded rain to stop in the Old Testament. He also commanded the rain to come and the rain came. Their position was that If you are truly someone sent from God, show this to us. However, either way, we know the hearts of these guys. They were not sincere or open. They simply wanted Jesus to perform at their command and at their demands. Jesus saw through their intentions and this can be confirmed with a telling phrase in a parallel phrase in Mark 8:11-12 – “But He sighed deeply in His spirit” In today’s context, it would be close to the expression of ‘#rolling eyes’. They were not even interested yet they were asking for a sign from heaven.
Signs in the Skies
Our King, the Messiah and Lord was so sharp and He was aware of the curveball thrown at Him to trap Him and throw him down. In Matthew 16:2 Jesus addressed this matter of asking for signs in the sky by drawing their attention to what they should be truly looking at. He answered them by acknowledging how they knew to read the weather. If it is red skies in the evening when the weather is said to be fair. If it is red skies in the morning, then it will be foul and threatening weather. Such skies will be a red alert and they would know how to conduct themselves and make the necessary preparations. Jesus was not introducing anything new but quoting an ancient weather forecast system which became a rhyme right up to the present day:
“Red sky at morning, sailors take warning;
Red sky at night, sailors delight.”
Even sea-farers and farmers knew how to read the signs in the skies. Then Jesus calls them hypocrites in Matthew 16:3 because they knew how to discern the face of the sky, but they could not discern the signs of the times. They were like actors, ‘acting blur’. In fact, they already knew what was happening around them and had the signs. They did not need to be asking for signs. Their problem was that they were not seeing the right signs. If they knew how to apply this spirit of discernment to the right signs and the right climate, they would not need to look to Him to tell them the signs because it was all around them. Their eyes were fixed on the wrong weather and looking at the wrong enemy. They were sounding a red alert for the wrong things. If they really understood the spiritual climate, they would know how to respond correctly.
Red Alert 3: The Signs Of The Times. A Wicked And Adulterous Generation
Jesus told them immediately that a wicked and adulterous generation sought after a sign. If they wanted to see the real problem and imminent danger that was all around them, then look at wickedness and the adulterous generation that they were in. This is Old Testament language that the Sadducees and Pharisees would have recognised, and would have been upset that this was applied to them. They were the ones putting rules and regulations in place so that they would not fall into wickedness and adultery. However, they missed the fact that their entire generation was living in that way. This is why Jesus sounded the bell to them to wake up to the red alert around them but they were not seeing it.
The Old Testament phrase ‘a wicked and adulterous generation’ would refer to idolatry and also the fertility worship that was rampant in those days. ‘Wicked people’ describes people who were unfaithful and disobedient to the ways of God. People who would run according to the dictates of their own heart. People would say, “I come first and as long as I am happy and run through the desires of my own heart, I am fine. I don’t care too much about God.” Adulterous people refer to those practising spiritual adultery; worshipping idols and mammon. Idolatry is closely linked to sexual immorality. Even in the New Testament, Paul and the apostles always warned against idolatry and sexual immorality, so we must not miss the relationship between these two.
Jewish people understood that a sinful generation would precede the coming of God’s kingdom, the Day of the Lord. This is what it will culminate in because God is righteous and just. He will come with salvation and righteousness. The Pharisees and Sadducees were leaders in those days and yet they were oblivious of these things. This is why Lord Jesus gave them this red alert that He is not their enemy. In fact, He has come to tell them what is correct. As leaders, they should be preparing the people but both groups were too self-absorbed with themselves. It was all about the institution, the religion, the politics, the power and personal gain. They knew how to tell the people how to live, but they were doing it for their own advancement and greed. This is why Jesus called them out as hypocrites. Jesus was sounding the alarm and warning them that it is going to be foul weather; storms are coming. They should know how to discern the sign of the times and not miss this but prepare for this.
But the leaders of these two groups were not interested! The Pharisees would insist, “I am ok. I’m very righteous. I am helping you. I am putting in all this fencing for you so that you do not break the law. How can you tell me I am not righteous? I am righteous, there will be no judgement after this so I am fine. In fact, you are the problem, Jesus. You did not listen to us. You did not wash your hands and follow the traditions of the fathers.” The Sadducees’ position would be, “I am good. There is no afterlife so there is no judgement. Let’s live now and do the best we can. God understands. After all, we are children of God and descendants of Zadok – those who are righteous. You are the problem Jesus and that is why we are coming after you.”
Red Alert 4: You Can Miss Every Sign, But Don’t Miss This One
Jesus went on and He said in Matthew 16:4, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.”
Jesus emphasised to them that they could miss every other sign but there was one huge sign that was up and coming that they must not miss. This is a red alert, and if they miss this they miss everything. What was this sign of the prophet Jonah? This was not the first time Jesus had declared this. In Matthew 12:40 He declared the same thing to them about the sign of Jonah. We have covered this teaching in Session #90 entitled ‘Sign Here’ that explored the death, burial and resurrection of the Son of Man, Jesus. The religious leaders did not understand the significance of this sign at that point in time, even though they knew about the story of Jonah in the Old Testament scriptures. However, Jesus was giving them a hint that this was the main sign they should look out for – not to miss His death, not to miss His burial, and not to miss His resurrection. Jesus was speaking of the power of the cross and the power of His resurrection. Jesus alerted them that it was not about the Pharisees keeping their laws to be righteous. It was not about their heritage of being Sadducees and of a priestly line, inheriting the things from the temple because the temple was going to be torn down. “You pull this temple down and I will raise it up in three days” – but would they believe in this resurrection and the raising up of His body? If they still insisted there was no resurrection then they would miss this sign. Salvation is only possible and available if they believe in His death, in His burial and in three days, His resurrection. This is the only sign that will save – RED ALERT!
Implications for the World Today
What do these four red alerts and four different perspectives of them mean for us today? The key phrase is in Matthew 16:3 You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. We live in a world today of information, knowledge, scientific and technological advancement. There are new discoveries every day in the fields of quantum physics, nanotech, infotech, medicine. We have satellites all over the place, space programmes and explorations into realms that we may not even understand. It is quite scary when we read about these and wonder if we should even go that far. With our weather forecasting capabilities so sharp today, we can look and tell the signs of the skies even before anything happens. Cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes – we know exactly when and where they will happen, the paths they are going to take, how strong they will be, and we send out red alerts that tell people how to prepare. We are even able to track solar and lunar eclipses so many years ahead. We are tracking meteorites, asteroids and new planets. We can predict, discern and look at the signs in the skies, but we are still missing the signs of the times. If we can apply our knowledge to the signs of the times, perhaps we will be better prepared for the coming of the Lord. Or is it still true that Jesus will declare in our time that we are a wicked and adulterous generation?
Let’s look at the world around us. There is a humanistic belief that mankind will have the power to save ourselves. For all the developments and all the advancements, we think we can save the world because we have the power within us and we take things into our own hands. Even our morality is relative – “you live the way you want and I will live the way that I want”. We live in a time of post-truth where we say there is no such thing as absolute truth. Truth is no longer relevant because it is about personal freedom. Each one of us needs to be free with our own rights and we need not disturb each other but tolerate each other. If we go a little bit further, there is the stand that all religions are the same, teaching us to do good and nice things – let’s join together and help one another – and we see once more mankind will save itself. We understand that this is idolatrous, and with idolatry comes sexual immorality. This is why we have gender fluidity at this point in time and sexual confusion. It is no longer man and woman and it’s anything and everything else in between. Sexual immorality is the conversation being dialogued today, and it is being condoned in so many places. If Christians bring this up and say, “Red Alert! Red Alert!”, the world will say to us, “Christians you are the bigots and intolerant ones, you are the enemy!” From the perspective of these people, we are the problem.
Implications for Christians Today
How about the Christians? Are we doing ok? Are we any different from the world today? In James 4:4, the apostle James rebukes the church calling them adulterers and adulteresses! He says we cannot be friends with the world, with one leg in the kingdom of God and try to live on one leg in the kingdom of this world. If we become friends with the world, then we make ourselves enemies of God. When Jesus saves us, He brings us to be at peace with God. Why would we as kingdom people want to be friends with the world that we become enemies of God again? The apostle John warns us in 1 John 2:15-17 not to love the world because if we have the love of the world, we do not have the love of the Father. Are we any different from the people of the world? At times we look at the lives of supposed kingdom people and the phrase holds true that the world has come into the church and we are living the ways of the world.
Paul warns in 2 Timothy 3:1–5 that in the last day will be perilous times because men will be lovers of themselves. They will be lovers of money and be boasters and proud, blasphemers. So many of these worldly traits that we can recognise and we see this in many people within the kingdom of God. They are lovers of pleasure more than they are lovers of God. On one hand, we say we love God, but on the other hand, we make decisions based on our comfort and our pleasure. Paul says, “Red Alert!”. These Christians have a form of godliness but deny its power. “Red Alert!” Keep away from people like that.
In Matthew 24:4-13, Jesus Himself speaks of the signs of the times that will indicate the coming of the Lord. In these last days, deception is happening with false Christs, false prophets, apostles and teachers. Wars and rumours of wars becoming rampant. Famines, pestilences, earthquakes, persecution and tribulations – we see all these happening but can we discern them? Often in conversation with believers, they are clueless with their heads in the sand. Many Christians don’t want to know and are just busy making money and tending to their retirement plans, praying for their house, for their exams or their next car. Red Alert!
There is a warning today that believers will have to live right, to wake up and to get aligned with the Lord, so that we can move on the assignments of the kingdom. However, be warned that if we want to bring this alert to liberal Christians, we will be faulted for being ungracious and too serious. To the legalistic Christian, kingdom people are too gracious. They may ask for signs but are not interested to know Jesus and His kingdom.
As kingdom people, we must not miss the most important sign! We need the cross of Jesus and we need to live in the power of His resurrection. To those who are not believers and not saved, there will come a day of judgement when the King of kings comes, only one thing will save. Your faith in the work of Jesus upon the cross sacrificed for you, and He did not stay dead. He rose again on the third day and if you believe in Him, you will rise with Him, righteousness given to you. The Holy Spirit enables you to live a righteous life for Him. This is what will save you, this red alert – believe in the death, burial & resurrection of Jesus.
If you are a believer, have you appropriated the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. So many believers live in defeat, in powerless lives because they declare the cross but they don’t understand the power of the cross. They are still trying to be restored, not understanding that once I believe in the death of Jesus, I myself died with Christ. I am buried with Him, and as Jesus has been raised again, I am also raised to new life for Him. Christ lives in me and sin has no power over me. If we do not comprehend and appropriate this, this is a red alert for us. Let’s not live defeated lives anymore, legalistic self-righteous lives. Let’s not live as if sin has a hold on us. Christ has set you and me free. If you feel you are still not there and don’t know what it is all about, this is a red alert to get out of religion. Live in the freedom of a relationship with Jesus and in the power of His cross and with the power of His resurrection. This is the one sign we cannot miss, not only for pre-believers but also for believers.
The Sign of Christ Crucified
This is why Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23. The Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek after wisdom. But God goes beyond all these and will give only one sign, Jesus who is crucified. To the Jews Christ crucified is a stumbling block, they cannot understand this. The Greeks look upon the cross as foolishness, that dying on the cross tells of a weak God. But God’s wisdom is foolishness to the people of the world who today hold on to worldly wisdom. The world thinks it’s very smart and sometimes we are too smart for our own good. Paul says that he preaches only Christ crucified. If you are not a believer, hear this message of Christ crucified. Believe in Jesus and be saved into His kingdom. If you are a believer this message of Christ crucified is for you also. The power of the cross and His resurrection is not just at the point of salvation but throughout our entire kingdom life and on our kingdom assignments, until one day when He comes for us that we shall be saved.
Red alert! We live in perilous and exciting times. Can you discern the signs of the times? If you can’t, then be warned like how Jesus gave the warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus loves you enough to warn you through this session so that you can be saved when He comes again. This is also an invitation to you to join in to sound the alarm to so many more who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Don’t be like the Pharisees and Sadducees coming with wrong intentions and motives, wanting to fight against the Messiah who will save them. Don’t get caught up with the wrong doctrines if you are a believer. Live the life of the kingdom, follow the King.