The Pharisees came to Jesus seeking a sign from him to test him. They wanted proof that he was the Son of God, the Messiah who was to come, but they did not believe and would not believe even if he gave them that sign they sought.
Jesus had already done many signs and wonders in the presence of the people. The Pharisees were aware of this and he had even healed the daughter of one of the leaders of the synagogue. What other signs did they need of who Jesus was? But their request for a sign was not unusual and it was part of the psyche of the Jews.
Paul wrote of the Jews that, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 1:22) It is interesting the way Paul worded this statement. He said they DEMANDED signs, and this is what they were doing with Jesus. The Greeks were seeking wisdom. They were looking for knowledge, and this is evident from the great early Greek thinkers, philosophers, mathematicians and writers. But the Jews demanded a sign for their history was littered with the evidence of God’s presence through the signs that God had performed. Moses parting the Red Sea and at the burning bush, Gideon laying out the fleece, the many signs as the people spent forty years in the wilderness after leaving Egypt, Elijah and the woman whose jar of meal and cruse of oil never failed during the drought, Elijah with the priests of Ba’al calling down fire from heaven and many other signs of God’s power.
Throughout Jewish history God had sent signs and they demanded them as evidence of the presence of God. Thus we see the Pharisees demanding a sign from Jesus. But Jesus was not going to succumb to their wishes just to prove a point. There had been many signs and their lack of faith showed that one more would make not a dot of difference. Instead we see him say in other places that the only sign they would receive would be the sign of Jonah. As Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of the great fish, he would spend three days and nights in the grave and then be resurrected.
Resurrection is the sign and proof that Jesus is the one chosen by God to bring in the New Covenant. Death was unable to hold him for he had not sinned and therefore should not have paid the penalty for sin. It is through his death though that our penalties have also been paid when we come to him and enter into his death through baptism.
And this is our sign too. It is in baptism and by faith that we accept the death of Jesus as our own and are likewise resurrected as new creations in Christ. It is by baptism that we are truly, born again of water to be prepared to receive the Holy Spirit so we can be transformed into the image of Jesus.
We come to him to be relieved of sin and set free from law through this greater sign he did for our behalf. The Pharisees failed to see the wonder of this sign and missed out, but those who followed him and came to him accepting the sign he gave us in his death and resurrection have the opportunity of becoming the true Children of God.