Click here to learn more!
The Request for a Sign
When people come to the Lord, they can have very different motives. In Matthew 15 people come to Him (Matthew 15:30), but with very different motives to the Pharisees and Sadducees here. There He helps, here He leaves them and goes away (Matthew 16:4). Pharisees and Sadducees are enemies of each other, but here these natural enemies unite in their resentment of Christ. They close ranks to stand strong to test Him. The Sadducees are the free thinkers of their day, while the Pharisees are the advocates of the statutes and authority of the law and especially of their own statutes and laws. Together they come to Him and long for a sign from heaven, while the greatest Sign ever given by God from heaven stands in front of them.
In His answer, the Lord points to the signs of nature. When they observe certain natural phenomena, they know exactly how to interpret them. In the evening they can see from the color of the sky that beautiful weather is coming. For those who can see spiritually, there is beautiful weather coming. The “Sunrise from on high” (Luke 1:78) has visited them in Christ. Similarly, they can see from the color of the sky whether a storm is coming. From a spiritual point of view, however, they cannot discern that bad weather is coming, that is, that God’s judgment will come as a result of their rejection of God’s Sign from heaven.
The Lord Jesus calls them “an evil and adulterous generation”. They are “evil” in their hearts, in their minds. They are “adulterous” in their actions, their actions of unfaithfulness to their God. He gives them a sign. The sign that He puts before them is what happened to Jonah. It is the sign of someone who disappeared from the earth, who disappeared from the Jewish people by death, as it were, and was given back to them after a while. It is the picture of death and resurrection. The Lord Jesus will act accordingly. He will go into death, but he will also rise out of death and then bring the message that Israel has despised to the nations. That is what Jonah did, and with that he is a picture, a sign, of what Christ will do.
The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees
When the disciples have come to the other side, they notice that they have forgotten to bring bread. The Lord knows that they are concerned about this. However, He is concerned with other things. He is not concerned for their physical well-being, but for their spiritual well-being. He knows how sensitive His disciples are to the arguments of the Pharisees and Sadducees. So He warns them about this. He does this by using a metaphor that they should understand.
But the disciples are on a very different wavelength to the Lord. When He speaks of leaven, they immediately make the connection with the bread they have forgotten. They can only think of physical needs. When the Lord says something and Christians begin to reason, they never understand. That’s because they start with man and then try to climb up to God. Good and healthy reasoning begins with God and ends with man.
The Lord notices both about what and how they are discussing with each other and asks a question about it. By calling them “men of little faith”, He also points out to them that they are wrong. We begin to discuss when we are not thinking of Christ. The Lord points this out in His answer. If they had thought of Him, they would not have concerned themselves with bread.
He reminds them of His feeding of the five thousand. He points out not so much what he did with the five loaves of bread, but how much remained afterwards. He not only provides, He gives in abundance. To impress His abundant provision upon His disciples He also reminds them of the seven loaves of bread which He used to feed many more than four thousand people and here too emphasizing what was left over.
They were present. They distributed the bread themselves and even collected the excess pieces themselves. They have been so closely involved in both miracles. Yet they are now so focused on the bread they have forgotten that they can only relate the Lord’s words to that. They should understand from the Lord’s reminder that He was not speaking about bread. After that He again says to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees. Then the disciples understand what He meant. By leaven He meant the evil teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
In Scripture, leaven is always a picture of that which is wrong, which is sinful. The leaven of the Pharisees represents religious hypocrisy that places all emphasis on external and ceremonial acts. The leaven of the Sadducees is the intellectual pride that places the human mind on the seat of the judge and dismisses the revelation of God and faith with a hand wave.
Christianity is pervaded by this leaven. On the one hand we see ritualism and on the other hand rationalism and sometimes a mixture. In the letter to the Colossians, Paul warns us of rationalism, reason, as well as ritualism and formalism (Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:16-Song of Solomon :).
This warning from the Lord for this leaven immediately precedes His revelation regarding the church we hear from Him in the following verses. That is, we will not understand His revelation concerning the church in the following verses if we choke on one or other form of leaven.
Who Do People Say That I Am?
The Lord’s question directly concerns His Person and is at the heart of all other questions. It is a question to the disciples. He expects an answer to this from them as people who are familiar with the common opinions that are circulating about Him. He asks this question in an area that speaks of the heathen rule over the people and thus of the sinful state of the people and its discipline by God. “Caesarea Philippi” is named after Caesar, the emperor of Rome who also subdued the land of Israel, and Philip I from the family of Herod. In these regions, whose name so clearly indicates how much God’s people have departed from God, the Lord Jesus will speak about the church.
But first he wants to hear from His disciples what kind of thoughts people have about Him. The disciples know that. From their answer it becomes apparent that the people make quite flattering comparisons from a human point of view. But in reality they are completely ignorant of Who He really is. All their thoughts are only opinions and have nothing to do with faith. It envelops man in uncertainty. It is the uncertainty resulting from indifference and the absence of conscious spiritual need of the soul that can only rest in the truth, in the Savior one has found.
This kind of people has a high opinion of Christ, but still falls infinitely short in the appreciation of His Person. These people form a second class, after the Pharisees who in their pride and unbelief reject the Savior. But there is a third class of people. It is found in Peter. These are the people to whom God reveals Who Christ is with faith given by Him.
Who Do You Say That I Am?
Then the Lord’s question is put directly to His disciples: Who do they say He is? This question is of the utmost importance to every disciple. Simon Peter answers the question first. He confesses that Jesus is the Christ. Christ is to say Messiah as the One Who is the fulfilment of the promises of God and of the prophecies that have announced their fulfilment. He is the Messiah promised by God. Moreover, He is the Son of God according to Psalm 2. This is the confession of the Jewish remnant (John 1:49).
In addition, Peter confesses Him as the Son of the living God. With that he says that there is life in Him. Also connected with this is that He possesses life-giving power. To be the Son of the living God means that He Himself has this life. What is built on it cannot be affected by death or anything connected with it. The life of God cannot be destroyed. Everything is based on His Person. No one can understand the truth of the church unless He has first accepted the truth about His Person. In the following verses, the Lord Jesus begins to reveal the truth of the church.
The Church and the Kingdom
Christ has provided enough evidence of Who He is. But all these proofs have clearly had no effect whatsoever on the heart of any human being. The revelation of the Father is the only way to know Who He is, and that goes far beyond the expectation of a Messiah. The Lord Jesus adds a new revelation on top of the Father’s revelation to Peter. By saying “I also say to you” He places Himself on the same level as the Father. He and the Father are one (John 10:30). The Father has revealed something and now He will reveal something.
For this revelation, He uses the meaning of Peter’s name in saying to him, “you are Peter”. Peter means ‘stone’. The Lord thus indicates that Peter is one of the stones that will be built on the rock, in Greek petra. We see in Peter’s first letter that he made an allusion to the Lord in his name. In it he writes about the believers as “living stones” which together form a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5).
The building of the church is still future here because the Lord says: “I will build.” This also makes it clear that the church does not exist from Adam. He further points out that this work of God cannot be disrupted by the power of the enemy. When it comes to man building the church, there is a possibility of disruption (1 Corinthians 3:12-Esther :). The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is proof that He is the Son of the living God (Romans 1:4) and that death has no power over Him. He Himself has the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:18).
He gives Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. These are not the keys of the church. The kingdom is shaped by people, while the church as presented here is God’s work alone. From the use Peter makes of the keys, we see that the kingdom and the church are two different areas.
We see Peter using the keys in Acts 2 to “loose” the Jews, that is, to free them from their Jewish environment (Acts 2:37-Matthew :). In Acts 10 he uses those keys to “loose” the Gentiles, that is, to separate them from their Gentile environment (Acts 10:44-Galatians :). Baptism is the gate through which they enter the kingdom of heaven. In Acts 8 he uses the keys to “bind” Simon the magician, that is, to bind his sins upon him (Acts 8:20-Isaiah :). Although Simon the magician was baptized, he appeared to be bound to his sins, which is, as it were, confirmed by the action of Peter.
After these special announcements from the Lord, perhaps the disciples have a great desire to make Him known as the Christ. The Lord does not want that. The time for that has passed. The people have rejected Him. It is now about something else, namely the work on the cross. He presents this in the following verse.
First Announcement of Suffering
After the revelation of His building of the church, the Lord Jesus speaks for the first time about His suffering, death and resurrection. He knows that this now lies before Him. If there is to be a church, He must first complete the work of redemption on the cross and also endure all the suffering that He will be inflicted upon Him in connection with it. To undergo all this he has to go to Jerusalem – and not to ascend the throne. He adds that He will be raised on the third day. His death is not the end. He wants His disciples to know that.
But Peter does not want to know anything about a suffering Messiah. This cannot be true and it may not happen! He even calls on God to forbid. Peter is still too concerned with the establishment of the kingdom here and now. By doing so he ignores the problem of the sins of the people. However blessed and honored Peter may be by the Father’s revelation, his heart still operates in a carnal way with the human glory of the Messiah and in reality that of himself. He cannot rise to the height of the thoughts of God. He is not alone in that. It is one thing to be convinced of the most exalted truths and even sincerely enjoy them as truth. It is something else that the heart has absorbed and enjoyed those truths and that they lead to a walk that is in accordance with those truths.
The Lord recognizes the source from which Peter speaks. Peter allows himself to be used by satan, who wants to turn him away from the path of obedience. Satan can use him for this because he does not think of the things of God, but those of men. People shun suffering and want glory without suffering. With God there can be no glory on earth except through suffering.
Following a Rejected Christ
The Lord immediately connects to His rejection teaching for His disciples. He presents to them what it costs to follow Him. Following him costs someone everything. Whoever wants to follow Him must set himself and all his own interests completely aside. Then he must be prepared to suffer the reproach of the world. This is the meaning of “take up his cross”. Both one and the other are presented by the Lord as a choice to His disciples. Whoever wants to follow Him will have to meet these two conditions. Only when he does this he can follow Him. No one is forced to do it, but if someone wants to, that is the cost.
Whoever wants to live for this life and thus keep his life, will not keep it in the end, but certainly lose it. If, on the other hand, someone surrenders his life to Him, he will find the true life that is only found and enjoyed in His company. What the Lord says here is always true, there is no escape: whoever wants to save his life will lose it; whoever loses his life for His sake will find it.
The Lord gives a consideration to make the choice easy. He wants that they and we think about it. Imagine that we win the whole world. How long can we enjoy it? At most a hundred years and then only very limited. For example, we may have an abundance of delicious food and jewelry, but our stomach has a limited capacity and our body can only wear a very limited number of pieces of jewelry. After all, there is death and eternity. When the soul is forfeited, eternal torment follows the short earthly pleasure.
The soul of a human being is the most precious possession he has. If he loses it forever, there is no means of exchange that frees him from eternal pain. The Lord points out with these words the importance of the soul. People should be concerned about this and not about the temporary pleasure of the world.
The Lord Jesus places the importance of the soul in the light of His imminent coming as the Son of Man to reward everyone according to his works. And He will not come alone, but His angels will accompany Him while He is surrounded by the glory of His Father. Everything radiates majesty and splendor. Anyone who passes this by, and does not already bow in faith for the future majesty, is hurting his soul.
After these serious words, He has an encouragement for some of His disciples. These turn out to be Peter and James and John. They will see the Son of Man coming into His kingdom with their own eyes before they die. They will see it soon, for with these words the Lord is referring to the scene we have in the next section, the transfiguration on the mountain. What they will see there will encourage them to do their service for Him, no matter how great the opposition.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Matthew 16". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany