Sermon The Leaven of the False Teachers Matthew 16:1–12

Truth Taught- We must be aware of and avoid false teaching in all its forms

Last time we saw Jesus’ ministry among the Gentiles in the area that was the east side of the Sea of Galilee.   The final verse in Chapter 15 tells us that He got into a boat and travelled back to the region of Magadan, back into Jewish territory on the west side of the Sea of Galilee.  No sooner does He get there than the Religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees look to come to Him.  The opposition is growing.  Jesus again denounces their false teaching calling it leaven.  Like yeast that permeates an entire lump of dough so too false teaching, left unchecked, will filter through the entire group.

False teaching is everywhere today.  Every new technology affords another means for the false teacher to promote his heresy or as Jesus calls it in our text today, their own form of leaven.

If you watch any television, listen to any radio or podcasts, keep up on the news, or interact at depth with just about anyone in modern society, you are being exposed to some form of false teaching. If you cannot identify any voices you hear as false, it’s not because you aren’t being exposed, but because you’re falling for it in some way.

We have been warned that false teachers are coming…
Jesus warns us…

Matthew 24:24 (ESV) 

24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 

The Apostle Paul warns us…
Elders of Ephesus…

Acts 20:29–31 (ESV) 

29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 


2 Timothy 4:3–5 (ESV) 

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 

The Apostle Peter warns us…

2 Peter 2:1–3 (ESV) 

2 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 

Matthew 16:1–12 (ESV) 

16 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. 

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

1.  False Teachers Never Submit to Truth  

16 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.

These guys are like a stuck record aren’t they?  They say the same thing over and over.  Show us a sign from heaven…

Our text today tells us they ask for a sign from heaven to test Jesus.  The original uses a word that carries a negative thrust.  Their testing was to prove Jesus was not the Son of God as He has claimed but an imposter because they thought He would fail in being able to produce such a sign.

They want a miracle with divine significance such as a sign in the stars or a celestial miracle of some kind.  They demand that Jesus prove Himself to them on their terms.  God never bends to our whims.  People are not going to tell Jesus what to do and when to do it.  

All they had to do was to look around and watch Jesus heal people but this was not enough.  The fact is they would never believe.  False teachers will not believe truth.

False teachers will often team up against the truth.  This is what we see here.

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. They did not believe in angels. They did not believe in Spirit. They did not believe in immortality. They were theological liberals. The Pharisees were theological conservatives. And all he had to do was say, “I believe in the resurrection,” and they were at each other’s throats.  What we see is that these false teachers were willing to put aside their disagreements if they could take down their mutual enemy, Jesus Christ.

They wanted a sign from heaven.  They failed to see that He was the sign from heaven. When He was born…

Luke 2:34 (ESV) 

34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 

He Himself was the sign from heaven. Where did they think He got all that food to feed the thousands that must have been in those two feedings? Not from the earth. And where did those limbs come from that He reattached, and those eyes, and that life that He breathed into those who were dead? No, all they wanted to do was discredit him.  Jesus wasn’t playing their game.  

The original language translated as test means to test in hopes that Jesus could be discredited.  That was their goal.  They were not asking sincerely because they wanted to believe but to prove Jesus as a fraud.

2.  Jesus Shows Them Their Failed Logic

He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

Here’s the bottom line…They are asking Jesus for another sign and they cannot understand the sign right in front of them.  This text is not speaking of eschatology (end times’ signs) as many teach.  The context is that they are currently missing the signs they had already been given.  They’ve missed the Messianic signs that Jesus has been doing from the beginning of His ministry.  They’ve missed His teaching, healing and other miracles that they should have seen and logically through their knowledge of the OT reached a correct conclusion.

Our Lord tells them they can tell if it’s going to rain the next day but they’ve missed the more important signs already given to them.

The word Jesus uses is Kairoi, which doesn’t just mean times as in the passage of time, but it means a specific or a decisive time.  In other words, the fact that He is here right in front of them means this is a specific time like not other.  They have failed miserably to discern the current times.   

At the coming of Jesus, this current time is the time of the church being gathered of both Jew and Gentile, a time of both Jews and Gentiles receiving salvation by grace through faith.  This is a time when the Kingdom of God is at hand, a time when the Messiah is being revealed.  While all this is taking place they are looking at the sky to see whether it might rain tomorrow.  These guys are the kings of majoring on minors or those who miss the forest for the trees.  They are not seeing the true reality that Jesus is the sign they say they would like to see and He’s standing right in front of them.  They could see but were blind.

These were the blind who would never see.  Why should Jesus give them a sign?
How can this level of blindness be explained?  How can someone see Jesus standing right in front of them and then be blind to who He really is.

Blindness is a judgment of God.  Not physical blindness but spiritual blindness…

Romans 1:18–25 (ESV) 

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 

The Jews thought that while they were in their own land that everything between them and God was okay.  They thought, we’re not in exile so we are okay.  That was not true at all.  They were exiled in their own land.  God had removed His glory and as they reject Christ His wrath will fall on them.

3.  False Teachers are Evil and Adulterous  

An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. 

They asked for some sign to prove Jesus was everything He said He was.  They wanted a miracle that was impossible for anyone to accomplish except the Son of God.  What’s Jesus’ response?  He tells them that there is one miracle that will prove that everything He said is true.  This miracle will be on God’s terms not their terms.

This sign will show that Jesus is the Messiah; that He is sinless; that He has victory over all His enemies.  This sign will be for all His followers and for all His enemies.  This sign is to be for them as well, those who have been plotting His death.  You see they have no understanding that when they finally to murder Jesus that our Lord will have the final and lasting word.  The sign Jesus gives is what He calls the sign of Jonah.

Matthew 12:38–41 (ESV) 

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 

Their fate is now sealed.  Their request for another sign is their death sentence.  They will never repent no matter what sign is shown to them because in their sin God has blinded their eyes.  The only outcome for the Pharisees who hate Jesus is eternal punishment.

The Sadducees who did not even believe in the resurrection will have a rude awakening.  They are abandoned to their fate, the destiny they, by their hardness of heart, have chosen for themselves is going to take place on God’s terms.


Do you believe?  Do you currently believe all Jesus has done and said in God’s Word?  Or are you someone who is always seeking something more?  Are you asking God for a sign for some miracle that would prove to you that Jesus and salvation and everything in the Bible is true.

An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. 

He left them and departed.  The resurrection is the sign for us and that’s it.  No other sign will be given that will prove to us that Jesus is all He said.  To look for more is to seal your fate for all eternity in hell.

*Resources Used:

Matthew by D A Carson in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary

A Theology of Matthew by Charles Quarles

A Gospel of Matthew by France

Matthew by Craig Bloomberg

Matthew by Doriani

Matthew by Charles Price

Matthew by Leon Morris

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