Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 30th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Matthew 16

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

A. Opposition, instruction, and healing 13:54-16:12

This section records the course that Jesus’ ministry took because of Israel’s rejection of Him. Opposition from several quarters led him to withdraw to safer places where He continued to minister to Jews and Gentiles and to prepare His disciples for what lay ahead.

Verse 1

Matthew introduced the Pharisees and Sadducees with one definite article in the Greek text. Such a construction implies that they acted together. That is remarkable since they were political and theological enemies (cf. Acts 23:6-10). However a common opponent sometimes transforms enemies into allies (cf. Luke 23:12; Psalms 2:2). Representatives of both parties constituted the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish governing body in Israel (cf. Acts 23:6). This delegation, evidently from Jerusalem, represented the most official group of religious leaders that Matthew reported coming to Jesus thus far.

These men came specifically to test Jesus (Gr. peipazontes), to demonstrate who He was by subjecting Him to a trial that they had contrived (cf. Matthew 4:1; Matthew 4:7). The scribes and Pharisees had asked Jesus for a sign earlier (Matthew 12:38). Now the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Him to produce a sign from heaven. The Jews believed that demons could do signs on earth, but only God could produce a sign out of heaven. [Note: Alford, 1:169.] The Jews typically looked for signs as divine authentication that God was indeed working through people who professed to speak for Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:22).

Verses 1-4

The renewed demand for a sign 16:1-4 (cf. Mark 8:11-12)

Verses 1-12

7. The opposition of the Pharisees and Sadducees 16:1-12

Back in Jewish territory Jesus faced another attack from Israel’s religious leaders.

Verses 2-3

Jesus replied that His critics did not need a special sign since many things pointed to His being the Messiah. They could read the sky well enough to predict what the weather would be like soon. However they could not read what was happening in their midst well enough to know that their Messiah had appeared. The proof that they could not discern the signs of the times was that they asked for a sign.

"It is surprising that in a wide variety of different fields of knowledge human beings can be so knowledgeable and perceptive, yet in the realm of the knowledge of God exist in such darkness. The explanation of the latter sad state is not to be found in a lack of intellectual ability-no more for the Pharisees and Sadducees than for today. The evidence is there, examinable and understandable for those who are open to it and who welcome it. The issue in the knowledge of God is not intellect but receptivity." [Note: Hagner, Matthew 14-28, p. 456.]

What were the signs of the times that Israel’s religious leaders failed to read? John the Baptist’s appearance and preaching were two. John had told these leaders that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of Messiah’s forerunner (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:1-12). [Note: For the Jewish understanding of Isaiah 40:3, see Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:744.] Jesus had also identified John as the forerunner (Matthew 11:14). Jesus’ works were another sign that the King had arrived, and Jesus had pointed this out (Matthew 12:28). Finally the prophecy of Daniel’s 69 weeks should have alerted these students of the Old Testament to the fact that Messiah’s appearance was near (Daniel 9:25-26; cf. John 5:30-47; John 8:12-20).

Verse 4

Jesus refused to give His critics the sign they wanted. The only sign they would get would be the sign of Jonah when Jesus rose from the dead (cf. Matthew 12:38-42).

"The only sign to Nineveh was Jonah’s solemn warning of near judgment, and his call to repentance-and the only sign now, or rather ’unto this generation no sign,’ [Mark 8:12] was the warning cry of judgment and the loving call to repentance." [Note: Ibid., 2:70.]

"Miracles will give confirmation where there is faith, but not where there is willful unbelief." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:56.]

Jesus withdrew again in response to opposition. However this time Matthew used a stronger word (kataleipo) meaning "to forsake or abandon." Jesus turned His back on these religious leaders because they were hopeless and incorrigible. [Note: Plummer, p. 221.] This was to be Jesus’ last and most important withdrawal from Galilee before His final trip south to Jerusalem (Matthew 19:1). He remained outside Galilee through Matthew 17:20, when He returned there from the North.

Verses 5-7

The NIV translation of Matthew 16:5 is clearer than that of the NASB. "When they went across the lake" pictures what follows as happening either during the journey, probably by boat, or after it. Jesus was still thinking about the preceding conflict with the Pharisees and Sadducees, but the disciples were thinking about food. Leaven or yeast is primarily an illustration of something small that inevitably spreads and has a large effect (cf. Matthew 13:33). Often it stands for the spread of something evil, as it does here (cf. Exodus 34:25; Leviticus 2:11; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8). The disciples may not have understood what Jesus meant because they were thinking in literal terms, but He was speaking metaphorically. Perhaps they were still thinking about Jesus’ instructions for their mission in Matthew 10:9-11. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 609.] Another possibility follows.

"They thought the words of Christ implied, that in His view they had not forgotten to bring bread, but purposely omitted to do so, in order, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, to ’seek of Him a sign’ of His divine Messiahship-nay, to oblige Him to show such-that of miraculous provision in their want. The mere suspicion showed what was in their minds, and pointed to their danger. This explains how, in His reply, Jesus reproved them, not for utter want of discernment, but only for ’little faith.’" [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:71.]

Verses 5-12

Jesus’ teaching about the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees 16:5-12 (cf. Mark 8:13-26)

Verses 8-12

Jesus’ rebuke probably arose from the disciples’ failure to believe that He could provide bread for them in spite of their having witnessed two feeding miracles. This was a serious mistake for them (cf. Matthew 6:30).

"The miracles Jesus performs, unlike the signs the Pharisees demand, do not compel faith; but those with faith will perceive their significance." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 363.]

The disciples did not perceive their significance, namely, that Jesus was the Messiah who could and would provide for His people. In this their attitude was not much different from that of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Jesus did not explain His metaphor to the disciples, but, as a good teacher, He repeated it forcing them to think more deeply about its meaning. Matthew provided the interpretation for his readers (Matthew 16:12). Though the Pharisees and Sadducees differed on several points of theology, they held certain beliefs in common. Specifically, the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees that Jesus warned His disciples about was the skepticism toward divine revelation that resulted in failure to accept Messiah. These critics tried to fit the King and His kingdom into their preconceptions and preferences rather than accepting Him as the Old Testament presented Him.

This section of the Gospel (Matthew 13:54 to Matthew 16:12) emphasizes the continuing and mounting opposition to the King. Matthew recorded Jesus withdrawing from this opposition twice (Matthew 14:13; Matthew 15:21). In both instances He proceeded to train His disciples. The first time He ministered to Jews, and the second time He ministered to Gentiles. This was the pattern of Jesus’ ministry that Matthew hinted at in the first verse of this Gospel. Opposition arose from the Jewish people (Matthew 13:54-58), from the Romans (Matthew 14:1-12), and most strongly from the religious leaders within Judaism (Matthew 15:1-9; Matthew 16:1-4). The rejection of this last group finally became so firm that Jesus abandoned them (Matthew 16:4). From now on He concentrated on preparing His disciples for what lay ahead of them because of Israel’s rejection of Her King.

B. Jesus’ instruction of His disciples around Galilee 16:13-19:2

Almost as a fugitive from His enemies, Jesus took His disciples to the far northern extremity of Jewish influence, the most northerly place Jesus visited. At this place, as far from Jerusalem and Jesus’ opponents as possible, Jesus proceeded to give them important revelation concerning what lay ahead for Him and them. Here Peter would make the great confession of the true identity of Jesus, whereas in Jerusalem to the south the Jews would deny His identity. In this safe haven Jesus revealed to the Twelve more about His person, His program, and His principles as Israel’s rejected King.

Verse 13

The district of Caesarea Philippi lay 25 miles north of Galilee. Its inhabitants were mainly Gentiles. Herod Philip II, the tetrarch of the region, had enlarged a smaller town on the site at the foot of Mt. Hermon. The town’s elevation was 1,150 feet above sea level. He named it Caesarea in honor of Caesar, and it became known as Caesarea Philippi in distinction from the Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, Caesarea Sebaste (also known as Caesarea Palaestinae and Caesarea Meritima).

Since Jesus had previously used the title "Son of Man" of Himself, His question must have meant, who do people say that I am? The disciples answered accordingly.

Verses 13-17

1. Instruction about the King’s person 16:13-17 (cf. Mark 8:27-29; Luke 9:18-20)

Verse 14

There were many different opinions about who Jesus was. Some, including Herod Antipas, believed He was the resurrected John the Baptist (Matthew 14:2). Others believed He was the fulfillment of the Elijah prophecy, namely, the forerunner of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6; cf. Matthew 3:1-3; Matthew 11:9-10; Matthew 17:10-13). Some concluded that Jesus was the resurrected Jeremiah probably because of similarities between the men and their ministries. For example, both men were quite critical of Israel generally, and both combined authority and suffering in their ministries. Still other Jews thought Jesus was some other resurrected prophet. It is interesting that the disciples did not say that some said Jesus was the Messiah. That opinion was not a popular one, reflecting the widespread unbelief in Israel.

"What we must recognize is that christological confession was not cut and dried, black or white. It was possible to address Jesus with some messianic title without complete conviction, or while still holding some major misconceptions about the nature of his messiahship, and therefore stopping short of unqualified allegiance or outright confession." [Note: Ibid., p. 365.]

Verses 15-16

The "you" in Matthew 16:15 is in the emphatic first position in the Greek text, and it is plural. Peter responded, therefore, partly as spokesman for the disciples, again (cf. Matthew 15:15). Peter said he believed Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah that the Old Testament prophesied, the hope of Israel (cf. Matthew 1:1). Matthew’s only use of Peter’s full name here, Simon Peter, highlights the significance of the disciple’s declaration.

He further defined Jesus as the Son of the living God. This is a more definite identification of Jesus as deity than "God’s Son" or "a son of God" (Matthew 14:33). That title leaves a question open about the sense in which Jesus was God’s Son. The Jews often described their God as the living God, the contrast being with dead idols. By referring to God this way Peter left no doubt about the God who was the Father of Jesus. He was the true God. Since Jesus was the Son of God, He was the Messiah, the King over the long anticipated earthly kingdom (cf. 2 Samuel 7:14; Isaiah 9:6; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Micah 5:2). Peter expressed belief that Jesus was both Messiah and God.

"In the region of Caesarea Philippi, a center for the worship of Pan (as it had been previously of the Canaanite Baal), the title would have a special resonance as marking out the true God from all other gods." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 619.]

This was probably not the first time that the idea that Jesus was the Messiah had entered Peter’s mind. The disciples followed Jesus hoping that He was the Messiah (John 1:41; John 1:45; John 1:49). However, as we have seen, the disciples gained a growing awareness and conviction that Jesus really was the Messiah (cf. Matthew 14:33). Their appreciation of the implications of His messiahship would continue to grow as long as they lived, though Jesus’ resurrection resulted in their taking a giant step forward in this understanding. Peter’s great confession here was an important benchmark in their understanding and faith.

"Matthew shows that whereas the public in Israel does not receive Jesus and wrongly conceives of him as being a prophet, Peter, as spokesman for the disciples, confesses Jesus aright to be the Son of God and so reveals that the disciples’ evaluative point of view concerning Jesus’ identity is in alignment with that of God [cf. Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5]." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 75.]

Verse 17

"Blessed" (Gr. makarios) identifies someone whom God has singularly favored and who, therefore, enjoys happiness (cf. Matthew 5:3-11). It is not the announcement of some special benediction or blessing on Peter for answering as he did. [Note: Morgan, p. 210.] However, Matthew 16:19 does reveal that Peter would receive a reward for his confession. "Barjonas" is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew bar yonah meaning "son of Jonah" (short for Yohanan). This address stressed Peter’s human nature. Jesus only used this full name for Peter when He had something very important to say to him (cf. John 1:42; John 21:15).

Peter gained the insight about Jesus that he had just expressed because God had given it to him (cf. Matthew 11:27; cf. John 6:44). It did not come from Peter himself. "Flesh and blood" was a Hebrew idiom for man as a mortal being (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50; Galatians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12; Hebrews 2:14). [Note: M’Neile, p. 240.] Jesus perceived that Peter’s confession came from God-given insight. However not all such statements about Jesus did or do necessarily (cf. Matthew 21:9; Matthew 27:54).

2. Instruction about the King’s program 16:18-17:13

Jesus proceeded immediately to build on the disciples’ faith. They were now ready for more information. He gave them new revelation concerning what lay ahead so they would be ready for it.

Verse 18

"I say to you" (cf. Matthew 5:18; Matthew 5:20; Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:28; Matthew 5:32; Matthew 5:34; Matthew 5:39; Matthew 5:44; Matthew 8:10) may imply that Jesus would continue the revelation the Father had begun. However the phrase occurs elsewhere where that contrast is not in view. Undoubtedly it means that Jesus was about to teach the disciples something, at least. Peter had made his declaration, and now Jesus would make His declaration.

Jesus drew attention to Peter’s name because He was about to make a pun on it. The English name "Peter" is a transliteration of the Greek name Petros. Petros translates the Aramaic word kepa. This word transliterated into Greek is Kephas from which we get "Cephas" in English (John 1:42; et al.). The Aramaic word kepa was a rare name in Jesus’ day (cf. Matthew 4:18). It means "rock." Peter’s nickname was "Rocky." Petros commonly meant "stone" in pre-Christian Greek, but kepa, which underlies the Greek, means "(massive) rock." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 367.] It is incorrect to say that the name "Peter" describes a small stone.

There are three main views about the identity of "this rock." The first is that Jesus meant Peter was the rock. [Note: E.g., Plummer, pp. 228-29; Carson, "Matthew," p. 468; France, The Gospel . . ., p. 621-22; Edwin W. Rice, People’s Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, pp. 168-69; and most Roman Catholic interpreters.] Peter’s name meant "rock," so this identity seems natural in the context. Moreover, Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus’ subsequent confirmation of his confession also point in that direction. Peter became the leading disciple in the early church (Acts 1-12), a third argument for this view.

However, Jesus used two different words for "Peter" and "rock." Matthew recorded the Aramaic distinction in Greek. If Jesus had wanted to identify Peter as the rock on which He would build the church, the clearest way to do this would have been to use the same word. Second, while Peter’s confession triggered Jesus’ comment about building His church on a rock, it did not place Peter in a privileged position among the disciples. Jesus never treated Peter as though he occupied a favored position in the church because he made this confession. Third, the New Testament writers never connected Peter’s leadership in the early church with his confession. That rested on divine election, Jesus’ command to strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32), and Peter’s personality.

A second view is that Jesus meant the truth that Peter confessed, namely, that Jesus is the Messiah and God, was the rock. [Note: E.g., M’Neile, p. 241; Tasker, p. 158; and Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 202.] This position has in its favor the different words Jesus used for "rock" and the definite "this" before "rock" as identifying something in the immediately preceding context. Furthermore other New Testament references to the foundation of the church could refer to the truth concerning Jesus’ person and work (Romans 9:33; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:5-8).

Nevertheless calling the truth about Jesus a rock when Jesus had just called Peter a rock seems unnecessarily confusing. The addition of "this" only compounds the confusion. Also, the other New Testament passages that refer to the foundation of the church never identify that foundation as the truth about Jesus. They point to something else.

This leads us to the third and what I believe is the best solution to this problem. Many interpreters believe that Jesus Himself is the Rock in view. [Note: E.g., Morgan, p. 211; Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 123; Lenski, p. 626; Barbieri, p. 57; and Wiersbe, 1:57.] The Old Testament prophets likened Messiah to a stone (Psalms 118:22; Isaiah 28:16), and Jesus claimed to be that stone (Matthew 21:42). Peter himself identified Jesus as that stone (Acts 4:10-12; 1 Peter 2:5-8), as Paul did (Romans 9:32-33; 1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 2:20). Second, this interpretation explains the use of two different though related words for "rock." Third, this view accounts for the use of "this" since Jesus was present when He said these words. Fourth, the Old Testament used the figure of a rock to describe God (Deuteronomy 32:4; Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:18; Deuteronomy 32:30-31; Deuteronomy 32:37; 2 Samuel 22:2; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 18:31; Psalms 18:46; Psalms 28:1). Since Peter had just confessed that Jesus was God, it would have been natural for Jesus to use this figure of God to picture Himself.

Critics of this view point out that this interpretation makes Jesus mix His metaphors. Jesus becomes the foundation of the church and the builder of the church. However the New Testament refers explicitly to Jesus as the church’s foundation elsewhere (Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Peter 2:5-8), and Jesus referred to Himself as the church’s builder here. Second, Paul’s statement that God builds the church on the apostles and prophets has ruled Jesus out as the foundation for some interpreters (Ephesians 2:20). However, the apostles and prophets were the foundation in a secondary sense, Jesus being the chief rock (cornerstone) around which they also provided a foundation (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:10-11). Third, Peter’s prominence among the disciples and in the early church seems to some to argue against Jesus being the foundation in view. Still Peter was only the first among equals. His leadership in the church was not essentially different from the other apostles as the New Testament writers present it.

The next key word in this important verse is "church." The only occurrences of this word (Gr. ekklesia) in all four Gospels are here and in Matthew 18:17. [Note: See Benjamin L. Merkle, "The Meaning of ’Ekklesia in Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17," Bibliotheca Sacra 167:667 (July-September 2010):281-91.] The Greek word refers to an assembly of people called out for a particular purpose. It comes from the verb ekkaleo, "to call out from." The Septuagint translators used it of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:10; Joshua 9:2; Judges 20:2; et al.; cf. Acts 7:38). [Note: See M’Neile, p. 241.] In the New Testament it also refers to an assembly of citizens with no religious significance (Acts 19:39). [Note: See Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, 1:93.] However, Jesus used it here with a new meaning.

". . . ekklesia was the only possible word to express the Christian body as distinct from Jews. . . . He had just ended His public ministry in Galilee, had taken the disciples on a long journey alone, and was about to go to Jerusalem with the avowed intention of being killed; no moment was more suitable for preparing His followers to become a new body, isolated both from the masses and from the civil and religious authorities." [Note: M’Neile, pp. 241-42.]

Jesus used the term ekklesia to refer to a new entity that was yet to come into existence. He said He would build it in the future. He would not yet establish His kingdom on earth, but He would build His church.

"The word build is also significant because it implies the gradual erection of the church under the symbolism of living stones being built upon Christ, the foundation stone, as indicated in 1 Peter 2:4-8. This was to be the purpose of God before the second coming, in contrast to the millennial kingdom, which would follow the second coming." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 124.]

Furthermore Jesus claimed the church as His own in a unique sense by calling it "my church." Jesus revealed the existence of this new organism here for the first time in history. There is no Old Testament revelation of its existence. Jesus brought it into being because Israel had rejected her Messiah, and consequently God would postpone the kingdom of God on earth. In the meantime Jesus would construct an entirely new entity. He Himself would be its foundation and its builder.

Jesus’ "church" is not the same as His "kingdom." It is interesting that even some scholars who were not dispensationalists acknowledged this. [Note: E.g., Carson, "Matthew," p. 369; and Plummer, p. 230.] Jesus would create a new entity (on the day of Pentecost), but He only postponed the kingdom, which will come into being at His second coming after He has taken the church to heaven (John 14:1-3). "Christians" (believers living in the church age) will return with Jesus Christ at His second coming and will participate in His messianic kingdom on the earth in glorified bodies (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:17).

"Gates" in biblical usage refer to fortifications (Genesis 22:17; Psalms 127:5). "Hades" is the place of departed spirits (cf. Matthew 5:22; Matthew 11:23). Together these terms refer to death and dying (Job 17:16; Job 38:17; Psalms 9:13; Psalms 107:18; Isaiah 38:10). [Note: See Jack P. Lewis, "’The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against It’ (Matthew 16:18): A Study of the History of Interpretation," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38:3 (September 1996):349-67.] Jesus meant that the powers of death, Satan and his hosts doing their most powerful work of opposing life, would not prevail over the church. The church cannot die. This statement anticipated Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection and translation of church saints. Even Jesus’ death would not prevent Him from building the church. Jesus’ church would be a living church just a Yahweh was the living God (cf. Matthew 16:16).

This is all that Jesus revealed about the church here. He simply introduced this new revelation to the disciples as a farmer plants a seed. All of their thinking had been about the kingdom. To say more about the church now would have confused them unnecessarily. Jesus would provide more revelation about the church later (ch. 18; John 14-16).

Verses 18-20

Revelation about the church 16:18-20

Verse 19

Jesus resumed talking about the kingdom. In Matthew 16:18 His promise looked into the future when the messianic kingdom would exist on earth. He continued this perspective in Matthew 16:19. When Peter first heard these words he probably thought that when Jesus established His kingdom he would receive an important position of authority in it. That is indeed what Jesus promised. The kingdom in view is the same messianic (millennial) kingdom that Jesus had been talking about since he began His public ministry. It is not the church. Peter did receive a reward for his confession of Jesus as the divine Messiah. It was not superiority in the church but a position of authority in the kingdom (cf. Matthew 19:27-28). Jesus’ reintroduction of the subject of the kingdom here helped the disciples understand that the church would not replace the kingdom.

"We must . . . be careful not to identify the ekklesia with the kingdom. There is nothing here to suggest such identification. . . . To S. Peter were to be given the keys of the kingdom. The kingdom is here, as elsewhere in this Gospel, the kingdom to be inaugurated when the Son of Man came upon the clouds of heaven. . . . The ekklesia, on the other hand, was the society of Christ’s disciples, who were to wait for it, and who would enter into it when it came. The Church was built upon the truth of the divine Sonship. It was to proclaim the coming kingdom. In that kingdom Peter should hold the keys which conferred authority." [Note: Allen, p. 177.]

The Roman Catholic Church, following Augustine, equates the (Roman Catholic) church with the kingdom. Protestants who follow Augustine in this matter, namely, amillennialists, as well as many premillennialists (covenant or historic premillennialists and progressive dispensationalists) also equate the church and the kingdom, at least to some extent. Most normative dispensationalists acknowledge that there is presently a mystery form of the kingdom of which the church is a part, but that is not the messianic millennial kingdom.

The "keys" in view probably represent Peter’s authority to admit or refuse admission to the kingdom. They may also signify his authority to make appropriate provision for the household. [Note: U. Luz, Matthew 8-20, p. 364.] In Acts we see him opening the door to the church for Jews (Acts 2), Samaritans (Acts 8), and Gentiles (Acts 10). All who enter the church will eventually enter the messianic kingdom, so Peter began to exercise this authority when the church came into existence. However the church is not the kingdom. Jesus’ prerogative as Judge is in view here (cf. Matthew 3:11-12; John 5:22; John 5:30; Revelation 19:21). Probably the keys stand for the judicial authority that chief stewards of monarchs exercised in the ancient world (Isaiah 22:15; Isaiah 22:22; cf. Revelation 1:18; Revelation 3:7). [Note: Vincent, 1:96.] They could permit people to enter the monarch’s presence or give them access to certain areas and privileges. As the Judge of all humanity, Jesus gave this authority to Peter. Of course, some of the other Apostles exercised it too (Matthew 18:18; Acts 14:27).

"The traditional portrayal of Peter as porter at the pearly gates depends on misunderstanding ’the kingdom of heaven’ here as a designation of the afterlife rather than denoting God’s rule among his people on earth." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 625.]

The next problem in this verse is the binding and loosing. First, what is the proper translation of the Greek text? The best evidence points to the NASB translation: "Whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." [Note: See Carson, "Matthew," pp. 370-72; or Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 206-7; for explanation of the syntactical arguments leading to this conclusion.] The "whatever" seems to include people and privileges in view of how the Old Testament described the stewards’ use of keys.

The rabbis of Jesus’ day often spoke of binding and loosing in the sense of forbidding and permitting. [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:85; Wiersbe, 1:59.] So Jesus could have meant that whatever Peter forbade to be done on earth would have already have been forbidden in heaven, because Peter would be speaking for God and announcing God’s will. Whatever he permitted to be done on earth would have already been permitted in heaven for the same reason. The problem with this view is that hereafter Peter did not always say and do the right thing (Galatians 2:11). Roman Catholics appeal to this interpretation to argue that when Peter, and his supposed successors, the popes, speak ex cathedra they are using the keys of the kingdom.

"These two powers-the legislative [i.e., binding and loosing] and judicial [i.e., remitting and retaining]-which belonged to the Rabbinic office, Christ now transferred, and that not in their pretension, but in their reality, to His Apostles: the first here to Peter as their Representative, the second after His Resurrection to the Church [John 20:23]." [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:85.]

Another less likely view is that this was a promise that Peter will fulfill only in the messianic kingdom.

". . . the verse is a promise to Peter of a place of authority in the future earthly kingdom. With this promise the Lord gives Peter the basis of the decisions which he shall make. Peter is to discern what is the mind of God and then judge accordingly." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 207.]

Peter may determine God’s will in particular instances of rendering judgment in the messianic kingdom. Perhaps he will consult the Scriptures or get a direct word from Jesus who will be on earth reigning then. Then he will announce his decision. With his announcement Peter will give or withhold whatever may be involved in the judgment, but he will really be announcing what the divine authority has already decided. Peter did some of this in the early history of the church (cf. Acts 5:1-11; Acts 8:20-24). All the disciples will have similar judicial functions in the kingdom (Matthew 19:27-28). Furthermore all Christians will have some judicial function in the kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).

Verse 20

Jesus’ warning in this verse seems to run contrary to His purpose to manifest Himself as the Messiah to Israel for her acceptance (cf. Mark 8:30; Luke 9:21). Jesus wanted His disciples to keep a "messianic secret," namely, that He was the Messiah. Jesus was not trying to conceal His true identity, but He was controlling how people would respond to Him (cf. Matthew 12:38-39; Matthew 16:4). If the disciples had broadcast the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, some people would have tried to draft Jesus as a political liberator. However, Jesus wanted people to come to believe on Him because of the words He spoke and the works He performed (cf. Matthew 11:4; Matthew 11:25-26). These were the tools God had ordained to give people divine insight into Jesus’ identity (Matthew 11:27), as Peter had experienced (Matthew 16:17).

"Contrary to common misappropriation of the messianic secret, it was not Jesus’ purpose to conceal his messianic identity. It was his purpose to set before Israel symbol-charged acts and words implying a persistent question: Who do you say that I am?" [Note: Ben F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus, p. 350, footnote 59; cf. pp. 250, 309-10, footnotes 119-20.]

Jesus wanted His disciples to stay within the means and limits that He had imposed on Himself for His self-disclosure. They should not appeal for people’s acceptance of Jesus because of nationalistic zeal or misguided messianic expectations but because of faith rooted in understanding. Jesus’ popularity on a superficial level could short-circuit the Cross. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples could take a more unrestrained approach to calling people to repentance and faith (cf. Matthew 10:27). The disciples apparently grasped the danger of people accepting Jesus for superficial reasons, but they did not understand the threat of short-circuiting the Cross, as the next section shows. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 375.]

"Why this prohibition? Because although the disciples correctly understand who Jesus is, they do not as yet know that central to Jesus’ divine sonship is death on the cross. Hence, they are in no position at this point to go and make disciples of all nations." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 75.]

"In the second part of his story (Matthew 4:17 to Matthew 16:20), Matthew tells of Jesus’ ministry to Israel (Matthew 4:17 to Matthew 11:1) and of Israel’s repudiation of Jesus (Matthew 11:2 to Matthew 16:20). Sent to Israel, Jesus teaches, preaches, and heals (Matthew 4:23; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 11:1). He also calls disciples, and commissions them to a ministry in Israel modeled on his own (Matthew 4:17 to Matthew 11:1). Israel’s response to Jesus, however, is one of repudiation (Matthew 11:2 to Matthew 16:20). Still, even as Israel repudiates him, it wonders and speculates about who he is. Wrongly, the religious leaders think of him as one who acts in collusion with Satan (Matthew 9:34; Matthew 12:24), and the Jewish public imagines him to be a prophet (Matthew 16:13-14; Matthew 21:46). In stark contrast to Israel, the disciples, as the recipients of divine revelation, are led by Jesus to think about him as God ’thinks’ about him, namely, as the Messiah Son of God (Matthew 16:15-17; Matthew 14:33). Nevertheless, because the disciples do not know at this point in the story that the central purpose of Jesus’ mission is death, Jesus commands them to silence concerning his identity (Matthew 16:20)." [Note: Ibid., pp. 161-62.]

Verse 21

This is only the second time in his Gospel that Matthew used the phrase apo tote erxato, "from that time" (cf. Matthew 26:16). The first time was in Matthew 4:17, where Jesus began to present Himself to Israel as her Messiah. Here it announces Jesus’ preparation of His disciples for the Cross because of Israel’s rejection and His disciples’ acceptance of Him as the divine Messiah. Thus the evangelist signaled a significant turning point in Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus had hinted at His death earlier (Matthew 9:15; Matthew 10:38; Matthew 12:40). However this is the first time He discussed it with His disciples. He began "to show" or "to explain" (Gr. deikeyo) these things with His actions as well as His words, not just "to teach" (Gr. didasko) them.

Jesus said that He "must" (Gr. dei) go to Jerusalem. He had to do this because it was God’s will for Messiah to suffer and die as well as to experience resurrection. [Note: Lenski, p. 634.] He had to do these things to fulfill prophecy (Isaiah 53; cf. Acts 2:22-36). Jerusalem had been the site of the martyrdom of numerous Old Testament prophets (cf. Matthew 23:37).

". . . Jesus reveals to his disciples, in all he says and in all he does beginning with Matthew 16:21, that God has ordained that he should go to Jerusalem to suffer, and that his way of suffering is a summons to them also to go the way of suffering (i.e., the way of servanthood) (cf. Matthew 20:28). In other words, Matthew alerts the reader through the key passages Matthew 16:21 and Matthew 16:24 that suffering, defined as servanthood, is the essence of discipleship and that Jesus will show the disciples in what he says and does that this is in fact the case." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 140.]

Jesus identified three groups that would be responsible for His sufferings and death there: the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes (cf. Matthew 27:41). Together these groups constituted the Sanhedrin, Israel’s supreme religious body. One definite article describes all three groups and binds them together in a single entity in the Greek text (cf. Matthew 16:1; Matthew 16:6). This would be Israel’s final and formal official rejection of her Messiah. [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 208.] Jesus’ announcement implied that a trial would take place. [Note: M’Neile, p. 244.] However, Jesus also announced that He would arise from the dead on the third day (cf. Matthew 12:40; Psalms 16:10-11; Psalms 118:17-18; Psalms 118:22; Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53:10-12).

Here, as in the following two announcements of Jesus’ death (Matthew 17:22-23; Matthew 20:18-19), the accompanying announcement of Jesus’ resurrection made no impression on the disciples. Apparently the thought of His dying so upset them that they did not hear the rest of what He had to say to them.

Matthew 16:21 "prepares the reader already for the resolution of Jesus’ conflict with Israel in at least two respects: (a) It underscores the fact that there are three principals involved in Jesus’ passion, namely, God (dei: ’it is necessary’), Jesus, and the religious leaders. And (b) it reminds the reader that while all three desire the death of Jesus, the objective the leaders pursue is destructive (Matthew 12:14), whereas that intended by God and Jesus is to save (Matthew 1:21)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 77.]

Verses 21-23

Jesus’ passion 16:21-23 (cf. Mark 8:31-33; ; Luke 9:22)

Verses 21-27

Revelation about Jesus’ death and resurrection 16:21-27

This is the second aspect of His program that Jesus proceeded to explain to His believing disciples, the first being His creation of the church. He told them about His coming passion and then about His resurrection.

Verse 22

Peter obviously understood that Jesus was predicting His death. He began to rebuke Jesus privately for thinking such a thing, but Jesus cut him off (Matthew 16:23). Apparently Peter’s understanding of Messiah did not include a Suffering Servant, which almost everyone in Israel rejected as well.

"Like many modern readers of the Bible, Peter did not want to accept what did not agree with his hopes and ambitions." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 125.]

Peter used a very strong negative expression meaning "Never, Lord!" The Greek expression is ou me, and it is comparatively rare in the New Testament. Peter followed up his great confession (Matthew 16:16) with a great contradiction.

"Peter’s strong will and warm heart linked to his ignorance produce a shocking bit of arrogance. He confesses that Jesus is the Messiah and then speaks in a way implying that he knows more of God’s will than the Messiah himself." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 377.]

Verse 23

Evidently Jesus turned to confront Peter face to face. "Get behind me, Satan" probably means, Do not stand in my way as a stumbling block. Jesus had used similar language when rebuking Satan himself (Matthew 4:10). "Satan" means "adversary." Jesus viewed Peter’s comment as coming from Satan ultimately.

"It does not matter how one interprets the rebuke to Peter. Jesus’ main point is one that demands a response from his audience. Whether he said, ’Get out of my sight!’ [NIV], ’Get behind me!’ [AV], or ’Follow after me!’ [Note: Footnote: Gundry, Matthew . . ., p. 338.] , he intended to focus his attention on the necessity of unconditional obedience in discipleship." [Note: Dennis C. Stoutenburg, "’Out of my sight!’, ’Get behind me!’, or ’Follow after me!’: There Is No Choice in God’s Kingdom," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36:1 (March 1993):178.]

Jesus had recently called Peter a rock. Now He called him a different type of rock, a rock that causes someone to stumble (Gr. skandalon). Satan had offered Jesus messiahship without suffering (Matthew 4:8-9), and now Peter was suggesting the same thing. These were both appeals to Jesus’ humanity. The idea of a suffering Messiah caused Peter to stumble here, and after Jesus’ resurrection the same concept caused many Jews to stumble (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23).

Peter was not thinking God’s thoughts but man’s. When he confessed that Jesus was the Messiah earlier (Matthew 16:16), he was thinking God’s thoughts. Now he was not only thinking without regard to revelation but in opposition to revelation, as Satan does. The contrast between Matthew 16:13-20 and Matthew 16:21-23 clearly shows that the disciples’ understanding was a matter of growth. As they accepted what they came to understand progressively by divine illumination, their faith also grew.

Verse 24

Discipleship would require self-denial in the most fundamental areas of individuality. What Jesus said applies to anyone who really wants to follow Him. The Jews had renounced Jesus, but His disciples must renounce themselves (cf. Matthew 10:33; Romans 14:7-9; Romans 15:2-3). The Romans customarily compelled someone condemned to crucifixion to carry at least part of his own cross. This act gave public testimony to his being under and submissive to the rule he had opposed. This was both a punishment and a humiliation. Likewise Jesus’ disciples must publicly declare their submission to the One whom they formerly rebelled against. [Note: Barbieri, p. 59.]

Jesus did not explicitly identify the method of His death until later (Matthew 20:19), but the disciples understood at least initially what Jesus meant about the price they would have to pay.

"Death to self is not so much a prerequisite of discipleship to Jesus as a continuing characteristic of it . . ." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 379.]

"(I once met a lady who told me her asthma was the cross she had to bear!)" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:60.]

Asthma, or another similar affliction, is not the type of cross that Jesus had in mind. Self-denial as Jesus taught it does not involve denying oneself things as much as it does denying one’s own authority over his or her life (cf. Matthew 4:19; John 12:23-26). This is the great challenge. The three verbs in this challenge are significant. The first two, "deny" and "take up," are aorist imperatives indicating a decisive action. The last one, "follow," is a present imperative indicating a continuing action.

Verses 24-27

The cost and reward of discipleship 16:24-27 (cf. Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26)

Jesus proceeded to clarify the way of discipleship. He had just explained what was involved in messiahship, and now He explained what is involved in discipleship. In view of Jesus’ death, His disciples, as well as He, would have to die to self. However, they could rejoice in the assurance that the kingdom would come eventually. Glory would follow suffering. Interestingly this was one of Peter’s main emphases in his first epistle. He learned this lesson well.

Verses 25-26

Matthew 16:25-27 all begin with "for" (Gr. gar). Jesus was arguing logically. Matthew 16:25 restates the idea that Jesus previously expressed in Matthew 10:28. The Greek word translated "life" is psyche, translated some other places in the New Testament "soul." It means the whole person (cf. James 1:21; James 5:20). Jesus was not talking about one’s eternal salvation. [Note: See Dillow, pp. 116-18.] The point of Jesus’ statement is that living for oneself now will result in a leaner life later whereas denying oneself now for Jesus’ sake will result in a fuller life later. It pays to serve Jesus, but payday will come later. As the next verse explains, the later in view for these disciples was the inauguration of the kingdom.

Two rhetorical questions show the folly of earning great material wealth at the expense of one’s very life (psyche, Matthew 16:26). Life in the physical sense is not all that Jesus meant. As He used the word, it includes one’s existence, his or her entire being.

"For the world, there is immediate gain but ultimate loss: for the disciple, there is immediate loss but ultimate gain." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 126.]

Verse 27

God’s future judgment of His disciples, as well as Jesus’ example, should be an inducement to deny self, identify with Christ, and follow Him (Matthew 16:24; cf. Matthew 10:24-25). This verse teaches both eschatology and Christology. Jesus will come with the glory of His Father when He returns to earth at His second coming (Revelation 19:11-16). Jesus is the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13) who will come with the same glory that God enjoys. The angels will enhance His glory and assist Him in gathering people for judgment (Matthew 13:41; Matthew 24:31; Matthew 25:31-32; Luke 9:26). The angels are under Jesus’ authority. Then He will reward each person according to his deeds (conduct). Conduct demonstrates character. Again Jesus referred to the disciples’ rewards (cf. Matthew 5:12; et al.). The prospect of reward should motivate Jesus’ disciples to deny self and follow Him. The disciple who does so simply to obtain a reward has not really denied himself. Rewards are precisely that: rewards.

The rewards in view seem to be opportunities to glorify God by serving Him (cf. Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). The disciple will have greater or lesser opportunities to do so during the millennial kingdom and forever after in proportion to his or her faithfulness on earth now. The New Testament writers spoke of these rewards symbolically as crowns elsewhere (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25; Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:11). It is perfectly proper to serve Jesus Christ to gain a reward if our motives are correct (Matthew 6:19-21). We will one day lay our crowns at the feet of our Savior. The crown is an expression of a life of faithful service that we performed out of gratitude for God’s grace to us (cf. Revelation 4:4; Revelation 4:10). [Note: For a helpful introduction to the study of the Christian’s rewards, see Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse.]

Both Jesus and Paul urged us to lay up treasure in heaven, to make investments that will yield eternal rewards (Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:31-34; 1 Timothy 6:18-19). It is perfectly legitimate to remind people of the consequences of their actions to motivate them to do what is right. That is precisely what Jesus was doing with His disciples here.

"By including this discussion here Matthew once more emphasized the program of the Messiah as it is based on Daniel’s prophecy. The Messiah must first be cut off (Daniel 9:26), a period of intense trouble begins at a later time (Daniel 9:27), and finally the Son of Man comes in glory to judge the world (Daniel 7:13-14). Thus the disciples must endure suffering, and when the Son of Man comes in His glory, they will be rewarded." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 208.]

"In the third part of this story (Matthew 16:21 to Matthew 28:20), Matthew describes Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and his suffering, death, and resurrection (Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22-23; Matthew 20:17-19). Jesus’ first act is to tell his disciples that God has ordained that he should go to Jerusalem and there be made by the religious leaders to suffer and die (Matthew 16:21). On hearing this, Peter rejects out of hand the idea that such a fate should ever befall Jesus (Matthew 16:22), and Jesus reprimands Peter for thinking the things not of God, but of humans (Matthew 16:23). Then, too, Peter’s inability to comprehend that death is the essence of Jesus’ ministry is only part of the malady afflicting the disciples: they are also incapable of perceiving that servanthood is the essence of discipleship (Matthew 16:24)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 162.]

More revelation about the kingdom 16:28-17:13

Jesus proceeded to reveal the kingdom to His inner circle of disciples to strengthen their faith and to prepare them for the trials of their faith that lay ahead of them.

Verse 28

The announcement of the kingdom’s appearing 16:28 (cf. Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27)

Jesus revealed next that some of the disciples whom He addressed would not die until they saw Him coming in His kingdom. This prediction may at first appear to be very similar to the one in Matthew 10:23. However, that verse refers to something else, namely, Jesus’ reunion with His disciples following their preaching tour in Galilee.

This verse (Matthew 16:28) cannot mean that Jesus returned to set up the messianic kingdom during the lifetime of these disciples since that did not happen. Neither does it mean that Jesus had already set up the kingdom when He spoke these words, as some writers have believed. [Note: E.g., C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, pp. 53-54.] What Jesus predicted would happen in the future rules this out. Some interpreters have taken Jesus’ words as a reference to His resurrection and ascension. However, Jesus spoke of those events elsewhere as His departure, not His coming (John 16:7). Moreover such a view interprets the kingdom in a heavenly sense rather than in the earthly sense in which the Old Testament writers consistently spoke of it.

Most amillennial and some premillennial interpreters confuse the eternal heavenly rule of God with the millennial earthly rule of Messiah. Some take the kingdom as entirely heavenly, and others take it as both heavenly and earthly. Among the latter group are those who believe the kingdom is operating in a heavenly form now but will become an earthly kingdom later. A popular name for this view is the "now, not yet" view. This view often involves confusing the church with the kingdom. [Note: E.g., Ladd, et al.] This is the view that progressive dispensationalists hold as well.

Other interpreters believe that Jesus was speaking about the day of Pentecost. [Note: Morgan, p. 221.] However the Son of Man did not come then. The Holy Spirit did. Furthermore the kingdom did not begin then. The church did. Still others hold that the destruction of Jerusalem is in view. [Note: Richard C. Trench, Studies in the Gospels, p. 198.] The only link with that event is judgment.

Jesus appears to have been predicting the preview of His coming to establish His kingdom that He gave Peter, James, and John in the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 126; Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 209-10.] The Transfiguration follows this prediction immediately in all three of the Gospels that record it (cf. Mark 9:1-8; Luke 9:27-36). Moreover Matthew, Mark, and Luke all linked Jesus’ prediction and the Transfiguration with connectives. Matthew and Mark used "and" (Gr. de) while Luke used "and . . . it came about" (Gr. egeneto de). Peter, one of the witnesses of the Transfiguration, interpreted it as a preview of the kingdom (2 Peter 1:16-18). Finally Jesus’ "truly I say to you" or "I tell you the truth" (Matthew 16:28) separates His prediction of the establishment of the kingdom (Matthew 16:27) from His prediction of the vision of the kingdom (Matthew 16:28). Jesus’ reference to some not tasting death until they saw the kingdom may seem strange at first, but in the context Jesus had been speaking of dying (Matthew 16:24-26).

Jesus had just announced that He was going to build His church (Matthew 16:18), so what would happen to the promised kingdom? Here He clarified that the kingdom would still come (cf. Matthew 6:10).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 16". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/matthew-16.html. 2012.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile