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Wednesday, July 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 16

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-28

Matthew 16:1 . The pharisees also with the sadducees came, soliciting a sign from heaven: Matthew 12:38. This was the second time, and they received the appellation of hypocrites, as professing the highest attainments of oriental literature, and yet blind as to the signs of the times. If they could augur future weather from present appearances of the sky, why not discern the aspects of providence, and study the signs of the times? The weeks of Daniel were coming to a completion. In Herod the sceptre was departed from Judah. Pious men were expecting the Messiah. Multitudes were rushing into the kingdom of God, while on the other hand the crimes of the rulers, and the corruptions of the sanctuary were precipitating the nation to the vortex of destruction, by revolt against the Romans. Like the ancient cloud, those signs were dark on the one side, and bright on the other.

Matthew 16:4 . There shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. The Saviour names this prophet as a striking figure of himself, being a voluntary victim thrown into the sea, raised on the third day, and sent to preach repentance to the gentiles, as Christ sent the gospel to all nations. The resurrection of Christ, the keystone of the church, was the sign of his Divinity, who should gather the nations to himself, and cause the glory of the ritual law to vanish away, being eclipsed and absorbed in the unfading glory of Christ.

Matthew 16:6 . Beware of the leaven of the pharisees and of the sadducees. To this the evangelist Mark adds, “and of the leaven of Herod:” Mark 8:15. The caution is against their cabala, or traditions, exalted above the law of God; but chiefly against the exterior pomp and parade of devotion, an empty substitute for real piety in the heart. Gibbon may boast of the elegant mythology of the Greeks, and the continental catholic may talk of the splendour of his devotions; but after all God prefers the humblest heart for his abode, before all temples built with hands.

Matthew 16:7-9 . It is because we have taken no bread. The disciples were next admonished for not being more acute in apprehending the Saviour’s figure of speech, that the leaven designated the misguided and unfounded doctrine of the scribes. Do ye not remember the five loaves, and the five thousand? When ministers want a loaf, they should learn to trust in providence, else how can they exhort others to live by faith?

Matthew 16:13 . The coasts of Cesarea Philippi, situate at the fountain-head of the JorDaniel Pheneas was the original name, but Philip having built many houses there, called it after his own name. Philip the evangelist, one of the seven deacons, resided here. Acts 21:8.

Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am? By asking the question, our Saviour meant to give the greater distinction to the confession which followed. It is very remarkable, that when our Saviour was about to disclose his Godhead, he calls himself the Son of man, which marks his humanity, that he was the son of Adam, or rather, the second Adam, the promised Seed. The same name was given Ezekiel, when favoured with high revelations, but in a different sense to this title of Christ: for in Christ it signifies the sovereign Judge of heaven and earth, the Father having given him authority to execute judgment, because he is by preëminence the Son of man. John 5:27.

Matthew 16:14 . Some say thou art John the baptist. Both Herod and the scribes believed in the Pythagorean notion of the transmigration of souls from one body to inform another, as is implied in Matthew 14:2. Some say, Elias. He is mentioned first among the old prophets, having been foretold by Malachi as coming to prepare the way of the Lord; for the jews understood not John the baptist, whose ministry resembled that of Elijah. Others say, Jeremias. This singular opinion seems to have been founded on the enlarged and extraordinary commission given to this prophet, as mentioned in Jeremiah 1:10. “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.” Many of the rabbins also, from the words of Malachi 4:5, entertained a notion that Enoch and Elijah would reappear in the days of the Messiah. Hence others said that one of the old prophets was risen again. Luke 9:8.

Matthew 16:16 . Simon Peter answered and said, thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. This is the grand confession of faith. This is “the pillar and ground of truth; and without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifest in the flesh.” 1 Timothy 3:16. Similar confessions occur in numerous other places. See Psalms 2:8. Proverbs 30:4. Isaiah 9:6. Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5. John 1:49. Acts 8:37.

It is apparent that this confession was made by all the apostles, as well as by Peter; for when the multitude were offended, and went away because the Lord had said that he came down from heaven, and would give them his flesh to eat, he put the question, “Will ye also go away? Peter answered, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe, and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” John 6:68-69. St. Matthew having related this conversation in full, the evangelists Luke and Mark merely name it, saying, “Thou art the Christ of God,” the only Mediator and Saviour of men.

On the subject of the deity and humanity of Christ, I would earnestly recommend all young clergymen to read and study bishop Bull’s Latin work, the defence of the Nicene creed, and primitive fathers of the church, with notes by the learned professor Grabe, editor of the Septuaginta. Ed. London, 1721. There they will find christianity in all its glory, and less than that is not christianity.

Among the cloud of testimonies which might here be collected, I will add that only of Dr. Doddridge, the Socinians having claimed him as an Arian in disguise. “Peter said to him in the name of the rest, Lord, we know that thou art the Messiah; and not only the Son of man, but in a proper and incommunicable sense, the Son of the everliving God.” Sect. 88.

Matthew 16:18 . Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. These words are a confirmation of Peter’s confession of faith. The reference is to the surname which the Lord gave to Peter, when he was first called to the ministry. John 1:42. “Thou art Simon the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a stone.” The name is just; for Peter abides in the temple of the Lord as a stone remains in the building. In this view, the church is built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the foundation, and the chief corner- stone. Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 2:22. A glorious testimony that Peter was pure in faith, and sincere in piety.

Upon this rock I will build my church. The Vulgate, edited by Leo 10. puts “rock” in the feminine gender; super hanc petram. But how does this agree with Peter in the masculine? In Biblia Magna, the jesuits contend that Peter is the rock on which the church is built, and that the popes of Rome, as his successors, are also the rock of the church. Blasphemy beyond example! If so, the glorious confession, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, is superseded; the stone which God hath laid in Zion for a foundation, the rock cut out of the mountain without hands, is rejected. Paul is in error to say, “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:11. Rome once hardened with a million of martyrs lost all shame. I will build my church. The Hebrew has two words rendered by the LXX promiscuously, Συναγωγη , synagogue, and εκκλησια ecclesia or church; these are קהל cahal, and עדה edah. Thus we find the congregation of the Lord, the congregation of the people, the princes of the congregation. Exodus 12:6. Numbers 16:3; Numbers 20:4. Psalms 22:23; Psalms 35:18; Psalms 89:6. It is also applied to the assembly of the wicked. Psalms 26:5.

In the new testament, the word εκκλησια ecclesia designates an assembly for the worship of God. 1 Corinthians 14:34. The saints. Ephesians 5:17. The house of God. 1 Timothy 3:15. The faithful in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 1:22. Col 1:18 .

The Gothic word kirk, and the Greek κυριος kurios are both primitive words, equivalent to the house of the Lord.

And the gates of hell, or hades, shall not prevail against it. The gates of fortified towns were doubly defended with a tower, and possession of the tower was to have the command of the city. The first effort of the powers of darkness to destroy the church was in Judea, as described in Acts 8:4. The second was the violent persecutions of pagan Rome, as referred to in Revelation 12:4. The third struggle was to destroy the church by arianism in the east, followed by the mahommedan scourge, which removed the candlestick out of its place. Revelation 2:5. The fourth effort of the enemy was to gain possession of the church by the idolatries and tyrannies of papal Rome. The fifth was long-continued; for after the old Roman empire was dismembered, the northern nations, under the names of Thyrkenos, Teutones, Thuscos, Thyrsa-Getes, Titanes, Scythas, Gebros, Cumeos, Umbros, Gallos, Germanicos, Francos, Ascanios, Oscos or Scotæ, overran Europe, stormed Rome, marked their route with blood to the rock of Gibraltar, and drove the old Cimbrians to the mountains of Wales. The issues were, that christianity converted and softened the ferocious manners of all those bloody nations. The sixth, and present struggle is, the alliance of atheism and unitarian infidelity; a struggle we have referred to in the war of the Lamb, mentioned in Ezekiel 39:0. Is it possible, we ask, for the church to subsist through all the revolutions of empires, with apostasy within, and legions without; is it possible for a church so weak to subsist, and convert her murderers to the faith; unless she had been built on the rock of ages, and defended by an Omnipotent arm?

Matthew 16:19 . I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Peter’s keys were all reality. With one key he principally opened the door to the circumcision on the day of pentecost; and with the others, he opened the door to the gentiles in the house of Cornelius. Acts 10:0. And as to the remission of sins, that in the absolute sense belongs to Him alone who reads the heart. But he can commission his servants to preach remission of sins, and to tell Zion that her iniquity is pardoned. Ministers have plenary powers to apply promises to penitents, and afflicted believers; yea, to all sincere souls according to the light they have, and God can realize all those promises by the comforts of the Holy Ghost. Yea, ministers, consulting the elders of the church, have power to bind and loose, to receive and expel members; and what is worthily done on earth will be confirmed in heaven. But at the same time, the other apostles here believed as well as Peter; and Christ gave them all the same power to bind and loose, as in Matthew 18:18. St. Paul had the keys to open a larger door to the gentiles in Europe, than St. Peter ever did in Asia. All the apostles had power to bind men with the yoke of Christ, and to loose them from the yoke of the ceremonial law.

Matthew 16:20 . Tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ. See on Matthew 17:9.

Matthew 16:23 . Get thee behind me, Satan. The speech was Satan’s to frustrate our redemption, though Peter was not aware of it.

Matthew 16:24 . If any man will come after me, let him deny himself. See on Mark 8:34; Mark 8:38, where the narration is more copious.

Matthew 16:28 . There be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. Till they see my resurrection from the dead, the descent of the Holy Spirit, with tongues and miracles, and the gospel preached to the Roman world.


This conversation of the Saviour which fully, for the first time, declared his glory in explicit words, was at the sources of the river Jordan, and at the extremity of the land. It was a secluded conversation, as Mark states, by the way. It was an unexpected disclosure of glory and of grace. He had indeed said as much to the woman of Samaria, it being essential to her conversion, nor was there any fear that the jews would believe her words.

We must notice here, the divine prudence of the Saviour, in gradually disclosing the glory of his person by his ministry and miracles. While engaged in his preparatory work, he called himself the Son of man, which was his proper title, had they so known it. Psalms 8:4-5. He spake and acted as a servant, with regard to Him that sent him. But now, the tragic scenes of his passion being near, the suffering church required the strong pillars of Deity for her support. Had he said at first, I am the Christ, the Son of God, (and the rulers wished him to say so that they might stone him for blasphemy) wars and tumults would have followed, for all Jewry expected the Son of David on the throne. But the Saviour’s kingdom was not of this world.

Seeing now the Saviour risen from the dead, and glorified at the Father’s right hand, we are called to confess him openly before men, and even at the risk of life itself. Then the blessing that followed on Peter shall follow on us, and in every form of glory and of grace.

And thou, oh Unitarian, who according to Milton, and our best divines, followest the fallen angels in refusing submission to the Son; the subsequent words of the Saviour have a strong bearing on thy case. If you are ashamed of him before men; if you prefer a poor, blind, and dry philosophy to revelation, he will, on the fair law of retributive justice, be ashamed of you before his Father and the holy angels. Take your choice; be saved with Christ, or damned with Satan.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 16". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/matthew-16.html. 1835.
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