These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Matthew 16:1-20 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Verse by Verse Commentary

I. The rulers seek a sign to test Jesus (1-4)
II. Jesus warns the disciples about the leaven of the rulers (5-12)
III. Peter declares Jesus is the Messiah (13-20)
IV. The cost of discipleship (21-28)

I. The rulers seek a sign to test Jesus (1-4)

Discussion Questions

What was their motivation in coming to Jesus? Did they really want to see a sign?
What did they hope would happen?
What do we learn from this about people’s motivations and methods?
Since Jesus could do a sign at any time, why didn’t He?
Why did He sometimes perform a sign, but not others?
What is the sign of Jonah? Why is this the key sign that Jesus would give them?


1 Corinthians 1:22 – The Jews seek for signs and the Greeks seek for wisdom.

Judges 6:17 – Gideon asked for a sign.

John 2:11 – Jesus performed a sign at the wedding in Cana?

Verse by Verse Commentary

  1. The rulers were not serious in wanting to see a sign so that they could believe in Him. They instead hoped that Jesus would refuse so that they could then claim that He was a pretender. Their words expressed one thing, but the thoughts of their heart were completely another. It was highly deceptive. Of course Jesus saw through their deception.
  2. Verses 2-3 – Jesus tells them about the common practices of the day of discerning the future weather based on some simple signs. Everyone knew these general truths. So they were not blind to signs in general. But they were blind to spiritual signs. They could predict the weather based on the color of the sky, but they could not see Jesus right in front of them. (1 Corinthians 2:6-16 – Their spiritual eyes had not been opened.)
  3. Even though Jesus saw through their deception, He still did not do a sign for them. For Jesus, doing signs was not done on demand. He didn’t perform them as a type of show or attraction. He did not allow the deceptive manipulations of the Jewish rulers to manipulate Him. He performed signs when it when it would be beneficial to do so, primarily for the purpose of actually helping people who needed it (the blind, the mute, the crippled, etc.) We should not let other people’s wrong ideas shift us from what we know God wants us to do.

On the Pharisees testing of Jesus from Mark 8.

Verse by Verse Commentary

  1. The Pharisees were still hostile to Jesus’ ministry. Crowds followed Jesus around wherever He went. But not all of the people were welcoming or friendly. Pharisees travelled long distances just to watch Jesus “like a hawk” and find any excuse to blame Him or argue with Him in public. Wherever there is a large crowd of people together there are sure to many people there with their own motivations, sometimes even bad ones. Not everyone goes to church because they want to learn more about God and grow in their relationship with Him. The Pharisees had an amazing privilege. Of all the people who have ever lived on the earth, they actually had the chance to see Jesus face to face and listen to His teaching. But they wasted their chance.

Application: We too are greatly privileged. We each have a Bible. Most of us actually have multiple Bibles and Bibles on our computer, smart phone, kindle, etc. There are many churches and fellowships around which we can go to. We have unprecedented access to Bible teaching. The internet gives us loads of information on any passage we are studying and there are hundreds of thousands of Christian books which we can read. Do you take this for granted? Do you give your complete attention to the sermon on Sundays? Do you treasure God’s Word? Do not waste the opportunities God has given you to get to know Him better.

  1. The Pharisees demanded that Jesus give them a sign. In and of itself this was not a bad request. Jesus was making a lot of claims and promises. It would be natural to want some evidence that Jesus is who He said He was. However, Jesus had already done many signs (what signs have we read about in recent chapters?) Did these not count? The Pharisees dismissed all the signs that Jesus had already done and kept demanding more. Notice too that their request was not sincere. They were not considering believing in Him. It was a challenge, not a genuine desire to learn.
  2. Jesus saw through their request. He knew their hearts. He knew that doing a sign for them would not change their minds. It would be like showing off just because He could. Why did Jesus do most of His signs? Most of them were motivated out of compassion. Any examples? I cannot think of a single miracle which He did (except for the Resurrection) just to show people He could. He is not like a trained monkey to perform on demand. He did not need to prove Himself to them and indeed nothing He did would have been proof in their minds anyway. This demand is actually very similar to Satan’s testing of Jesus in the wilderness. Clearly Jesus was not swayed by, “If you are the Son of God, you will…” challenges. In Matthew 12:38-40, we see that Jesus said only one sign would be given to the people and that sign was not given immediately. That sign is the sign of the resurrection. This is the greatest and only proof necessary to show Jesus is who He said He was. It also seems to be the only one He did to show who He was rather than to help other people (although all of His miracles showed His divinity as well.) What do we learn from this?
  • We should not challenge/test God.
  • The same question could be asked out of a sincere heart (Gideon) and granted, or out of a desire to challenge. Evaluate your heart.
  • .Jesus did what He knew was right, not just what people expected of Him. He did not give in to peer pressure of any kind. We should not either.
  • Invest your time in people who are sincere about learning about God, not in people who seek to challenge or argue.
  • It is not normally worthwhile to argue with those types of people (a possible exception could be for the sake of sincere people who are also in the group).”

On the sign of Jonah from the notes in Matthew 12:38-42:


Matthew 27:62-64 – The religious leaders wanted a guard until the third day.

Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, Luke 24:7, 21, 46 – Jesus would raise on the third day.

Verse by Verse Commentary

  1. They ask for a sign – Jesus refuses to give a sign on demand. He is not a parlor magician. He doesn’t do miracles just to appease their appetites or draw attention to Himself. But He does tell them He will give them one sign. It is the greatest sign of all. It is His death and resurrection. He uses the analogy of Jonah who is in the belly of the fish and then appeared live on land as a comparison to His own death and resurrection. God doesn’t ask us to believe in Him blindly. He has always been in the business of giving reasons to believe in Him. And this is no exception. The greatest reason to be a follower of Jesus is His resurrection. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, without it our entire faith crumbles and loses all meaning and merit. In Matthew 27:62-64 we see that the religious leaders remembered what He said. So they did understand this prophecy and could have seen and believed this sign if they would have been willing to humble themselves.

Three days and three nights – This phrase is the center much debate. The traditional interpretation of the biblical account is that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and rose from the dead on Resurrection Sunday. That allows for 1 complete day and two nights. It is reasonable to consider Friday and Sunday also count as a day since they are part of the day. But that would be three days and two nights, which falls one night short of Jesus’ statement here. For an explanation you can visit: . Those who hold to a Friday crucifixion remind us that we have to understand the Bible through a Jewish cultural lens. And in their culture the statement “three days and three nights” simply means across three days. It is hard for us to understand how it could mean that, but we see a similar case of this meaning in Esther 4:16 and 5:1. We also see that the religious leaders thought it was enough to have the guard present at the tomb until the third day (Matthew 27:62-67). The Greek does not say through the third day. So in the minds of Jesus’ listeners He was saying that He would rise again on the third day, which is in fact what many other verses in the Bible say. We know that the next day was going to be a Sabbath day, which is another reason for the traditional interpretation. The Jews did have other high days or Sabbath days beyond the normal weekly ones related to the Passover festival. So some scholars rightly point that Jesus could have been crucified on Thursday. This is not a reason to get angry or divide over believers who view this issue differently. The most important thing is that Jesus was crucified and did rise again, not that his crucifixion was Thursday or Friday. For the people that become adamant about one view or another I would ask you a question, what practical difference will it make in your life whether Jesus was crucified on Thursday or Friday?”

II. Jesus warns the disciples about the leaven of the rulers (5-12)

From the parallel passage in Mark 8.

Discussion Questions

What may have stimulated Jesus to talk about the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Herod?
What do you think he was referring to?
What does leaven generally represent in the Bible? In this case is it good or bad? How do you know?
How did the disciples interpret Jesus’ statement?
What was Jesus’ view of this?
Why did they keep thinking about the physical things when Jesus was referring to spiritual things?
What was Jesus’ response this time to their short-term memories?
What can we learn from verse 18? How can we move beyond focusing on the things we can see around to the spiritual truths and Christ’s spiritual kingdom?
What teaching method did Jesus use here? (Questions)
Did it lead them to understand? (Yes, see Matthew 16)


Matthew 16:8-12 – Parallel passage.

Colossians 3:2 – Set your mind on things above not on things on the earth.

Hebrews 5:14 – Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained.

Colossians 2:8 – See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition.

Verse by Verse Commentary

  1. Jesus often used situations they were facing to teaching something. In this case it appears that the discussion of bread prompted Jesus to give an illustration about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. Because Jesus was normally with the disciples everyday life provided countless “teachable moments.” For those who are discipling others, try to spend more time with them so that you can share in real life situations. Parents also should seek to teach their children not just at set times during the day but all through the day as you encounter teachable moments.
  2. Originally, the disciples didn’t understand this statement. They thought it had something to do with the fact that they forgot to take the bread. But Jesus didn’t care they forgot to take the bread. He had just done two miracles feeding more than nine thousand people anyway. The issue seems to be that they were still thinking in the physical plane rather than the spiritual plane. Jesus had already done many miracles and taught them many lessons. Yet many times, they still didn’t “get it.” When Jesus used examples or parables they were often stuck and couldn’t figure out the meaning of what He taught them. Jesus wanted them to move past the basics and their immature thinking and start to grasp what He was teaching them.

Application: Discernment is important. We need to look at the things around us with spiritual eyes filled with wisdom from the Lord. We need to keep studying, keep growing, and keep pressing on towards a closer relationship with and a higher understanding of and a deeper obedience to the Lord.

  1. Jesus used questions to lead them to understanding. He did not just give them the answer or lecture them. Rather through questions He forced them to use critical thinking skills to look at the issue. These questions helped them to think through this statement on their own and then find the answer. Instead of feeding them the answer this time (in which case they probably would have forgotten it soon after anyway) He showed them how to use their minds in order to find the answer, which they would be able to do every time in the future. This is similar to the Chinese idiom, “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” As we disciple others we need to carefully consider this truth. Do not always be in a hurry to tell others the answer or lecture. Instead try to “coach” people to find the answer themselves. This will be much more powerful.
  2. See Cross-References. Jesus’ teaching method worked. The disciples thought of the answer themselves. They realized Jesus was referring to the teaching of the Pharisees and Herod. What was the matter with the Pharisees’ teaching? How about Herod’s?

III. Peter declares Jesus is the Messiah (13-20)

Verse by Verse Commentary

  1. Jesus uses questions to stimulate the disciples to think. Notice He doesn’t come out and say “I am the Messiah.” He says there are many different opinions on this. Then He asks for theirs. When leading a Bible study or discipling others or educating children (any type of instruction or teaching actually), it is effective to use more questions to stimulate thinking and response rather than straight up lectures.
  2. Peter speaks up. He is bold and outspoken. There are good sides to his outspoken nature, and there are also weak sides. We see both in this