The Pharisees and the scribes came to Jesus saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” (Verse 38) What they were actually asking was, “Prove you are the Son of God.”
Jesus had already performed many signs and miracles before their eyes and yet they still did not believe in him. He had cast out demons, healed the sick and even raised the dead, but they did not believe. One wonders what kind of sign they needed to change their hearts and minds.
The truth of the matter is that no sign would have been sufficient for them. It did not matter what Jesus did, their hearts were still hardened against him. With every successive sign they got harder and more furious with him and sought ways to condemn and destroy him.
So asking for a sign was sheer malice on their part. They were cunning and mocking also when they called him teacher, for they did not accept his teaching and did not recognise him as the Son of God. It was evident that such seeking of signs was common amongst the Jews at that time. Even Paul made mention that, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23) Even today we see that those who come into contact with Christians are still seeking proof of who Jesus is through signs. Christians are opposed on many fronts and often they are asked to, “Prove there is a God.” This may be by some profound proof of wisdom or by showing a sign from God, which is exactly the point Paul made. So there is no real change today when dealing with those who are not followers of Jesus.
Jesus response to the scribes and Pharisees was evidence that he understood their hearts and their malice. He said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” In this remark he condemned them for asking for this sign, but also told them that a sign would be shown anyway. The sign would be that three days after he was put to death he would arise in the same way that Jonah returned from supposed death after three days in the belly of the whale.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus said, “And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'” (Luke 16:30-31) Now Jesus has risen from the dead as he said he would, and he did so after three days, giving them the sign of Jonah. Did they believe? No they didn’t. And right through his time of ministry Jesus continually upbraided the scribes and Pharisees for even though they claimed to be followers and teachers of the Law of Moses, they did not keep the law. So as Jesus said, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.”
The law shows the difference between right and wrong. It is both a standard and a preparation for it shows what is required to live a good standard of life. It is a preparatory step for we see Paul write, “…the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24 KJV) In the law we see we were being trained. The law contains the wisdom of God for Paul also said the law is holy, just and good. (Romans 7:12) Thus Jesus rightly said that any person, who would not listen to the wisdom of God contained in the Law of Moses or the words of the prophets, would not be convinced if someone (Jesus) were to rise from the dead. Both are from the same source, the power and wisdom of God. So if they ignore and reject one they will ignore and reject the other.
And finally Jesus said of the Pharisees and scribes that through their rejection of him and his teachings, they would be condemned. They did see signs and wonders, but more importantly, they had the Son of God, Messiah and Saviour himself teaching them and they rejected him. Jesus’ teaching was much more important and greater than the teachings of all the prophets of the past, and so to reject him is a greater failure than to reject them. Let us today not make the same mistakes and fail to hear the words of the truth of Jesus so that we do not share in their judgment.