Author: Ron Graham
People of Jesus’s day knew that a red sky at night meant the weather would delight; but a red sky in the morning was a stormy weather warning. They could read the signs of the sky. But Jesus chided the religious leaders of his day that they couldn't read the signs of the times (Matthew 16:1-4).
The Pharisees and Sadducees (the religious rulers) asked Jesus for a sign from heaven. This is a remarkably impudent request. Jesus had been performing miracles and signs, healing the lame, the blind, the sick, and twice feeding thousands of people with a few loaves and a few fish. (These signs are recorded in the two previous chapters Matthew 14 & 15). These Pharisees and Sadducees would surely know of those miracles, even if they had not seen any with their own eyes. So they are “testing” Jesus. How many signs must he do before they will believe?
If I had been Jesus, I would have made the ground go soft under their feet for a whole day, so that wherever they stepped, even on rock, they would sink up to their knees. But Jesus was not like that. He gives them no sign. He calls them “hypocrites” and “an evil and adulterous generation”. They can discern the sky and predict the weather, but they can't observe the signs of the times (Matthew 16:2-4).
There is a lesson in this for all of us today. Are we looking at the world around us with open and objective eyes? Can we see most people seeking God? Or are the majority drifting away from him? Do we observe many following righteousness? Or are the many becoming more and more godless, walking the dark and heathen ways? Do we discern the signs of the times? Can we mark what is Satanic and what is of Christ? Do we even care?
But bringing our minds back to Jesus’s time —to what was he referring when he spoke of "the signs of the times" (Matthew 16:3)? Jesus answers this question when he speaks of "the sign of the prophet Jonah" (Matthew 16:4).
Jesus saw Jonah as a symbol or type of the Christ or Messiah whom Jesus himself claimed to be. We don't need to puzzle over this. Jesus had previously explained it. "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so likewise the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:38-40).
Jesus is referring to his coming death and resurrection. There is a storm of hatred brewing against him and his disciples. "If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. But the word written in their Law must be fulfilled: 'They hated me without a cause.'" (John 15:24-25). This hate culminated in the demand, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" (Matthew 27:22-23).
So Jesus died a cruel death. That was a dark day indeed. But within three days and three nights Jesus was alive again and the angel at his tomb was saying to the two Marys, "I know you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay" (Matthew 28:5-6).
If we had been among the crowds when Jesus was crucified, would we be with those who hated Jesus, or with those who loved him? There's no middle ground here. Jesus once said, "Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather with me scatters." (Matthew 12:30). Where do we stand? Are we with him? Do we love him? Or are we against him? Do we hate him?
We can discern the sky and prepare for the weather ahead. But can we discern the times and be prepared for a crisis of faith ahead? Can we see what is going to test us? The Pharisees and Sadducees tested Jesus; yet he was also putting them to the test; and they were failing that test. They helped whip up a storm of hate, and it consumed them. If, instead, they had listened to Jesus and believed in him, they could have survived the storm.
Satan still hates Jesus and all of his disciples and he is behind the storms of life that heave against us and hurt us so. But if we have faith in Jesus and cling to it, we will survive every storm. He can rebuke the storm and it will not harm us, just as he rebuked the storm on lake Galilee (Matthew 8:23-27).
If you discern the signs of the times and wish to survive the storm; if you love Jesus and want to be his follower, listen to him tell you, in his own words, how you should begin...