The Danger Behind the Demand for a Sign

“The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.’ Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.”—Mark 8:11–13 (NIV)

I’m guilty. I’ve definitely begged God for a sign before. I want a fleece like Gideon. I want to see seas part like Moses. I want to witness walls fall down like Joshua.

So did the Pharisees. Jesus had just come from performing a major miracle—feeding a large crowd of people for the second time—and the Pharisees came to Him and began to argue with Him. They were testing Him.

The word “test” here is the Greek word peirazō. Blue Letter Bible defines peirazō as “to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quality, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself.” It could be that the test proves or demonstrates the highest quality in a person. But, Blue Letter Bible goes on to explain the word means “in a bad sense: to test one maliciously, craftily to put to the proof his feelings or judgment.” This word is also used when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:1-3; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2).

The Pharisees’ motives were impure. They were not convinced of Jesus’ authority. They were threatened by His increasingly large following. One day, their pride would ultimately lead them to find a way to accuse Jesus and put Him to death.

Jesus doesn’t match their behavior, doesn’t argue back, and doesn’t perform a sign from heaven like they ask. He sighs deeply. The Greek word here, anastenazō, is only used this one time in the New Testament. It’s indicative of deep emotion, an extended breath.

Jesus doesn’t perform signs and wonders as a way to show off or to get even. He doesn’t do it as a power play or a demand for authority, respect, or prestige. Jesus’ miracles show the people what God is like and points them to God the Father. God is powerful, merciful, gracious, kind, and good.

And so, just as He stood up to Satan in the desert, Jesus very pointedly responds to the Pharisees. Jesus, being God, knows their intentions were not to point to the quality of His character and nature or to glorify His father in heaven. He denies their request saying, “no sign will be given” and then leaves their presence. He goes on to teach His followers and perform miracles for those who humbly need it the most.

Is it wrong to ask for a sign? Not necessarily. But if we’re asking to test God, or with any other intent outside of bringing glory to God or sharing His goodness with others, our request may not be answered. Take comfort in the fact that God hears every request we have and is sovereign enough to say no sometimes for our good!

Pause: Have you ever requested a sign from God? Has He granted your request?

Practice: Look for ways to glorify God like Jesus did. How can your actions, requests, and stories point to Jesus?

Pray: Jesus, I thank You that You came to show us the way to the Father. I know that You are good, sovereign, powerful, gracious, and kind. Even when I cannot see it or feel it, I trust that You are at work on my behalf. Help my life to point others to God and show people what He is like! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

About the Author

Denise Trio

Denise Trio has been on staff with Calvary for almost two years, serving as the Director of Strategic Development. She has 10 years of project management experience, with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and Engingeering from Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA and a Master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling from Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA. When not on campus, Denise is either making her way through her book list at the beach, ordering tacos on any menu that serves them, or running her side business, The Rose Creative, which specializes in creating beautiful and meaningful products for her clients.