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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Matthew 16

Verses 1-99

16:1. The Pharisees also with the Sadducees ] “The Pharisees” (Mark). The coalition between these opposing sects can only be accounted for by the uniting influence of a strong common hostility against Jesus.

a sign from heaven ] They could not perceive the inner beauty of Christ’s teaching, but they would follow the rules of a Rabbi who, like one of the ancient prophets, should give an external sign a darkening of the glowing sky a flash of light a peal of thunder. The answer of Christ teaches that the signs of the times, the events of the day, are the signs of God, the signs that Christ gives.

3 . the face of the sky ] Perhaps Jesus and his questioners were looking across the lake towards the cliffs of Gergesa, with the sky red from the reflected sunset. In Luke the signs are “a cloud rising in the west” and the blowing of the “south wind.”

the signs of the times ] Which point in many ways to the fulfilment of prophecy, and to the presence of Christ among men.

4 . adulterous ] See ch. 12:39.

the sign of the prophet Jonas ] See ch. 12:39 41. The words in Mark 8:12 are “there shall no sign be given unto this generation,” i. e. no such sign as they demanded.

5 12 . The Leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees

Mark 8:14-21 , where the rebuke of Christ is given more at length in stirring language; and Luke 12:1 , where the context is different.

7 . It is because we have taken no bread ] “Neither had they more than one loaf” (Mark). It is possible that Jesus may have employed figurative language even more than was usual with Eastern teachers; certainly this special metaphorical use of leaven was new. See Lightfoot ad loc . Again, the Pharisees had rules of their own as to what kind of leaven it was lawful to use, and what kind it was right to avoid. Hence it was not strange that the disciples should imagine that their Master was laying down similar rules for their guidance.

The error of the disciples was twofold; (1) they took “leaven” in a literal sense, (2) they thought Jesus intended a rebuke to their forgetfulness. The first (1) implied a want of spiritual insight; the second (2) a want of trust.

12 . Then understood they ] The Greek word and its derivative is used specially of spiritual intelligence.

13 20 . The great Confession of St Peter, and the Promise given to him

Mark 8:27-30 : The question is put “while they were on the way,” the words “the Son of the living God” are omitted, as also the blessing on Peter. Luke 9:18-20 : Jesus was engaged in prayer alone; the words of the confession are “the Christ of God;” the blessing on Peter is omitted.

13 . Cesarea Philippi ] The most northerly point reached by our Lord. The city was rebuilt by Herod-Philip, who called it by his own name to distinguish it from Cæsarea Stratonis on the sea coast, the seat of the Roman government, and the scene of St Paul’s imprisonment.

The Greek name of this Cæsarea was Paneas, which survives in the modern Banias. Cæsarea was beautifully placed on a rocky terrace under Mount Hermon, a few miles east of Dan, the old frontier city of Israel. The cliffs near this spot, where the Messiah was first acknowledged, bear marks of the worship of Baal and of Pan. See Recovery of Jerusalem , and Tristram’s Land of Israel .

Son of man ] See note ch. 8:20. The question of Jesus is: In what sense do the people believe me to be the Son of man? In the sense which Daniel intended or in a lower sense? Observe the antithesis in Peter’s answer: the Son of man is the Son of God.

14 . Jeremias ] Named by St Matthew only. He is mentioned as a representative of the Prophets, because in the Jewish Canon the book of Jeremiah came first of the Prophets, following the books of Kings. See Lightfoot, on ch. 27:9.

16 . Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God ] This confession not only sees in Jesus the promised Messiah, but in the Messiah recognises the divine nature. He is more than one of the old prophets risen from the dead.

17 . Bar-jona ] “son of Jonah.” Bar is Aramaic for son; cp. Barabbas, Bar-tholomew, Bar-nabas.

for flesh and blood, &c.] Not man, but God; “flesh and blood” was a common Hebrew expression in this contrast.

18 . Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church ] Cp. Isaiah 28:16 , from which passage probably the expression is drawn. There is a play on the words “Peter” and “rock” which is lost in the E. V. It may be seen in a French rendering, “Tu es Pierre et sur cette pierre je bâtirai mon Eglise.”

On these words mainly rest the enormous pretensions of the Roman pontiff. It is therefore important (1) To remember that it is to Peter with the great confession on his lips that the words are spoken. The Godhead of Christ is the keystone of the Church, and Peter is for the moment the representative of the belief in that truth among men. (2) To take the words in reference: ( a ) to other passages of Scripture. The Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Ephesians 2:20 , on Christ Himself, 2 Corinthians 3:11 . ( b ) To history; Peter is not an infallible repository of truth. He is rebuked by Paul for Judaizing. Nor does he hold a chief place among the Apostles afterwards. It is James, not Peter, who presides at the Council at Jerusalem. ( c ) To reason: for even if Peter had precedence over the other Apostles, and if he was Bishop of Rome, which is not historically certain, there is no proof that he had a right of conferring such precedence on his successors.

my church ] The word ecclesia (Church) occurs twice in Matthew and not elsewhere in the Gospels. See note ch. 18:17 where the Jewish ecclesia is meant. From the analogy of the corresponding Hebrew word, ecclesia in a Christian sense may be defined as the congregation of the faithful throughout the world, united under Christ as their Head. The use of the word by Christ implied at least two things: (1) that He was founding an organized society, not merely preaching a doctrine: (2) That the Jewish ecclesia was the point of departure for the Christian ecclesia and in part its prototype. It is one among many links in this gospel between Jewish and Christian thought. The Greek word ( ἐκκλησία ) has passed into the language of the Latin nations; église (French), chiesa (Italian), iglesia (Spanish). The derivation of the Teutonic Church is very doubtful. That usually given Kuriakon (the Lord’s house) is abandoned by many scholars. The word is probably from a Teutonic root and may have been connected with heathen usages. See Bib. Dict. Art. Church .

the gates of hell ] Lit. “the gates of Hades.” The Greek Hades is the same as the Hebrew Sheol , the abode of departed spirits, in which were two divisions Gehenna and Paradise . “The gates of Hades” are generally interpreted to mean the power of the unseen world, especially the power of death: cp. Revelation 1:18 , “the keys of hell (Hades) and of death.”

shall not prevail against it ] The gates of Hades prevail over all things human, but the Church shall never die.

19 . the keys of the kingdom of heaven ] This expression was not altogether new. To a Jew it would convey a definite meaning. He would think of the symbolic key given to a Scribe when admitted to his office, with which he was to open the treasury of the divine oracles. Peter was to be a Scribe in the kingdom of heaven. He has received authority to teach the truths of the kingdom.

whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven ] To bind (cp. ch. 23:4) is to impose an obligation as binding; to loose is to declare a precept not binding. Such expressions as this were common: “The school of Shammai binds it, the school of Hillel looseth it.” The power is over things, not persons. The decisions of Peter as an authorized Scribe of the Kingdom of God will be ratified in heaven.

20 . they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ ] Lest the Galilæan enthusiasm should endeavour to make Him a king.

21 23 . The Passion is foretold

Mark 8:31-33 ; Luke 9:22 . St Luke omits the rebuke to Peter

21 . From that time forth ] An important note of time. Now that the disciples have learned to acknowledge Jesus to be the Messiah, He is able to instruct them in the true nature of the Kingdom.

elders and chief priests and scribes ]=the Sanhedrin. See ch. 2:4, and 26:3.

be killed ] As yet there is no mention of the Roman judge or of the death upon the cross; this truth is broken gradually, see v. 24.

be raised again the third day ] How can the plainness of this intimation be reconciled with the slowness of the disciples to believe in the Resurrection? Not by supposing that obscure hints of the Passion were afterwards put into this explicit form; but rather (1) partly by the blindness of those who will not see; (2) partly by the constant use of metaphor by Jesus. “Might not,” they would argue, “this ‘death and rising again’ be a symbol of a glorious visible kingdom about to issue from our present debasement?”

22 . Be it far from thee, Lord ] Literally, (1) “ may God pity thee ,” i. e. “ give thee a better fate ,” or (2) “ pity thyself .”

23 . Get thee behind me, Satan ] Peter takes the place of the tempter, and argues for the false kingdom instead of for the true. If the words of the tempter are in Peter’s mouth he is addressed as the tempter; when he speaks the words of truth he is the foundation-stone of the Church.

an offence unto me ] Literally, my stumblingblock; by suggesting visions of earthly pride.

thou savourest not the things that be of God ] The Greek word, literally, to think , is often used of political partisanship, “to take a side,” “thou art not on God’s side but on man’s.” The English “savourest” is connected with Lat. sapere through the French savoir .

24 28 . Self-renouncement required in Christ’s followers. Their Reward. Mark 8:34-9:1 ; Luke 9:23-27

24 . take up his cross ] St Luke adds “daily.” The expression, ch. 10:38, differs slightly, “he that taketh not his cross,” where see note.

25 . whosoever will save his life shall lose it ] See note, ch. 10:39. Let Christ’s follower lose the lower life on his cross, crucify his earthly affections, and he shall win the higher spiritual life here and hereafter.

will save ] Not the mere future, but= “shall resolve to save.”

26 . and lose his own soul ] The Greek word translated “life” in the preceding verse is here translated “soul,” which is life in its highest phase.

27 . For ] The reason given why the higher life the soul is of priceless value: (1) The Judge is at hand who will condemn self-indulgence and all the works of the lower life, and will reward those who have denied themselves. (2) Further ( v. 28) this judgment shall not be delayed it is very near. The same motive for the Christian life is adduced by St Paul, Philippians 4:5 , “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” Cp. 1 Corinthians 16:22 .

28 . Taste of death ] Compare

The valiant never taste of death but once. Jul. Caes. Act. ii. 2.

St Matthew’s version of this “hard saying” indicates more plainly than the other Synoptic Gospels, the personal presence of Christ. St Mark has, “till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power;” St Luke, “till they see the kingdom of God;” but the meaning in each case is the same. Various solutions are given. The expression is referred to (1) the Transfiguration, (2) the Day of Pentecost, (3) the Fall of Jerusalem. The last best fulfils the conditions of interpretation a judicial coming a signal and visible event, and one that would happen in the lifetime of some, but not of all, who were present.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 16". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/matthew-16.html. 1896.