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Matthew 16:1. The Pharisees also with the Sadducees.—The presence of members of the latter sect, who do not elsewhere appear in our Lord’s Galilean ministry, is noticeable. It is probably explained by St. Mark’s version of the warning in Matthew 16:6, where “the leaven of Herod” appears as equivalent to “the leaven of the Sadducees” in St. Matthew’s report. The Herodians were the Galilean Sadducees, and the union of the two hostile parties was the continuation of the alliance which had begun after our Lord’s protest against the false reverence for the Sabbath which was common to both the parties (Mark 3:6) (Plumptre).
Matthew 16:4. The sign of the prophet Jonas.—As if he would say, I refer you to my former statement on this subject
(12) as sufficient and final (Lange). He left them.—This abrupt termination indicates that He judicially gave them up (ibid.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 16:1-4
Evil repeating itself.—We have seen reason to believe that the Saviour, in going to Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21), and in going afterwards to the other side of the lake (Matthew 15:29) was actuated by a desire, for the sake of His work, to be out of the way of His enemies. The story before us seems to show us how much reason He had for this wish. Scarcely is He back again before some of His bitterest enemies—sinking for the time their mutual antipathy (Acts 23:7-9) in their greater hatred of Him—come upon Him with a hostile design. It is a repetition of what we have read of before in Matthew 12:38—a request for a “sign from heaven”—as though to put an end to their doubts (Matthew 16:1). The Saviour meets this second request, the insidious and treacherous character of which He fully perceives (Matthew 16:4), by a twofold reply, in which He points them, first, to what they already possess, and, secondly, to what He has already promised—in the very way they demand.
I. What they already possess.—They possessed signs, on the one hand, which were not difficult to perceive. They might see this by that which was palpably true about them in other respects. They speak of “heaven.” Let them look upon “heaven.” Are there not certain frequent and well-known appearances there by means of which they were all in the habit, in a certain way, of judging of the times? Did they not constantly argue, e.g. from what they saw of such signs as to the kind of weather to be expected by them in the immediate future (Matthew 16:2-3)? And were there not at that time, also, in the spiritual firmament, very similar signs? Certain conspicuous appearances which the least intelligent among them, if only they looked for them, could not fail to descry? Possibly, in so speaking, the Saviour referred to such cotemporaneous occurrences as the mission and message of John the Baptist, and His own subsequent appearance and works as predicted by John himself. And certainly, if He did so, He referred to such things as the generation He spoke to had already acknowledged as signs (see such passages as Luke 3:15; Matthew 3:1-6; John 3:1-2, etc.). Let them, therefore (so He says to them, first), make use of these signs. In other words, let them read what they had before seeking for more. And that all the more, in the next place, because of the character of the signs they possessed; these not being of such a character as to make them, in reality, at all difficult to interpret. A certain amount of discrimination would be required, no doubt, if men would do so aright. But the same thing was true, and that notoriously, in regard to those “weather-signs” too of which He had spoken. Men had to consider, in judging of them, the question of time as well as that of appearance. The very same appearance, when seen at one time, meant the exact opposite of that which it signified when beheld at another (Matthew 16:2-3). Men knew this so well, in fact, that they argued accordingly every day that went by. Let those that heard Him, therefore, do the same by those other “signs” to which He had alluded. Let them consider their date, as it were, as well as their nature. Let them consider how things were in Israel (Matthew 21:13), let them consider how they were in the world (Romans 1:28-32), when these spiritual signs, so to call them, were seen in that sky. Let them consider these things and they will see how these “signs” pointed to Him as the “Christ.”
II. What He had already promised.—Besides these present “signs” there was that future one of which He had spoken before (Matthew 12:39-40). Three things seem observable here with regard to this sign. The first is, that, as before, our Lord does not allow it to be a thing to be claimed. It was an “evil and adulterous generation” that was “seeking” it at His hands (Matthew 12:39, and here Matthew 16:4). They were not asking for it in sincerity. They would not use it aright. All the same they should have it in its proper season and way. Not even this unreasonable request of theirs should be wholly rejected. The second is that the Saviour, on this occasion, merely refers to the fact. On the previous mention of it, whilst even then leaving the event itself to explain His meaning in full, He yet gave some sort of intimation of the kind of “sign” to be expected (see Matthew 12:40). Now He appears to do nothing more than, as it were, refer back to those words. It is to be, but what it is to be you will not fully know till it comes. And the last is, that when He has given them this, He has given them all they must ask. In the future let them understand fully that there should be evidence enough of His mission. A “sign” should be given which would declare plainly enough that “heaven” attested His work. But for the present they must understand as fully that He was only biding His time; and must diligently, therefore, fall back on the use of those signs they possessed. Such was the tone of the Saviour’s language. Such also appears to have been the significance of His action. “He left them and departed” (see also Mark 8:13).
Here is, therefore, a lesson for all of us as to hearing the word. When the Saviour had given these inquirers what was enough for them at the time, when He had let them know that a good deal more might be expected by them in time, He added no more. He left it with them to do with it as they thought well. Even so of the world at large and of Scripture at large. It is not intended to give us light on every department of thought. It does not aim at making it impossible for us to disbelieve in its truth. It appeals to us only as free agents and reasonable beings. And it asks us, therefore, while waiting for more light, to use the light that it gives (2 Peter 1:19). We shall not find it too little, if used aright, to be a guide to our steps. Neither shall we find it too little, if despised by us, to prove our condemnation and death (cf. John 5:45-47; Luke 16:31).
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 16:3. The signs of the times.—Two evils in Judging the moral and spiritual condition of our times: that of the optimist, and that of the pessimist. Reasons for difficulty of forming fair judgment.
1. They are our times. We are not dispassionate.
2. Each one’s circumstances tend to warp his judgment.
3. Special opinions bias our conclusions. Christ told us that we ought to understand the “signs of our times.” What then can we see?
I. Vast increase of intelligence and education.—Supposed panacea for all woes. Knowledge is wider, but shallower. Knowledge of our day loves surprises. Men are becoming “vain in their imaginations.” To know is trying to take the place of to believe. Will it succeed? Can we ever know?
II. Seeking after pleasure.—We are sent into the world to serve, not first to enjoy. We may come to put pleasure before duty. And what moral condition would that indicate?
III. Pressure of business and haste to be rich.—Fortunes made rapidly in manufacturing districts. Is this consistent with Christian calmness and content? Success is the modern god.
IV. Preaching is intellectual and moral, rather than evangelical and spiritual.
V. Organisations for Christian work are multiplied.—In this advantages and disadvantages. Danger of loosening the sense of personal responsibility.
Points to impress.—
1. God must not be thought of as separate even from a decaying and dying church. See His messages to the Seven Churches of Asia.
2. It is in the power of God alone to revive a dying church. 3. Revival begins in the experience of some individual soul. The kindled flame will run and enlarge, until the new love will inspire the whole church. Will you be the one?—Weekly Pulpit.
Overlooking the signs of the times.—
I. There are signs of the times by which wise and upright men are enabled to make moral prognostications, and so far to understand the motions and methods of Providence as from thence to take their measures, and to know what Israel ought to do, as the men of Issachar, as the physician from some certain symptoms finds a crisis formed.
II. There are many who are skilful enough in other things, and yet cannot, or will not, discern the day of their opportunities; are not aware of the wind when it is fair for them, and so let slip the gale (see Jeremiah 8:7; Isaiah 1:3).
III. It is great hypocrisy when we slight the signs of God’s ordaining, to seek for signs of our own prescribing.—M. Henry.
The duty of pondering the signs of the times.—It is a religious duty to estimate the times in which we are called to live a Christian life, and by our life to render our witness for God. It is said that some years before the Franco-German war, German officers had visited the probable battle-fields, and had made plans and maps of mountain range, village, wood, watercourse, road, and rail. To that wise foreknowing and estimating of difficulties the German success was largely due. It is possible for us to hide ignorance and unpreparedness behind the use of merely general terms. We say that the Christian must fight the “world, the flesh, and the devil,” but we fail to observe the exact forms in which each evil power is clothing itself in our times, and for us.—Weekly Pulpit.
Matthew 16:9-10. Baskets.—See notes on Matthew 14:20, Matthew 15:37.
Matthew 16:12. Doctrine.—Teaching (R.V.). Not so much the formulated dogmas of the sect as its general drift and tendency (Plumptre).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 16:5-12
Unlearned learners.—When the Saviour has left His enemies, as He appears to have done somewhat abruptly and with a good deal of decision (Matthew 16:4), He is in the company of His friends (Matthew 16:5). His thoughts were with them as well; and He has that, in consequence, which He feels it important to say to them when they arrive at “the other side.” What this was, in the first place; how it was misconceived, in the second; and how that misconception was put right, in the third place—are the points we have to consider.
I. What the Saviour said.—It is the language, on the one hand, of agitation and distress. Evidently His mind is still full of His late encounter with His enemies. Evidently He is much impressed with the secret “hypocrisy” of their conduct (cf. Matthew 16:6 with Luke 12:1). The description given of Him in Mark 8:12 applies to Him still. The sight of such wickedness—the sight of such folly—has left a deep mark on His soul. It is the language, also, of apprehension and fear. This leaven-like insincerity of theirs was a thing much to be dreaded. Corrupt in itself it tended inevitably to produce corruption in turn. It tended to do this, also, in a peculiarly dangerous and insidious way, after the manner of “leaven.” He Himself, it is true, had only just now withstood and exposed it. Would the same be true of those disciples whom He had chosen to speak in His name? It was the language, therefore, in the third place, of earnest entreaty and warning. “Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:11). St. Mark has it (Mark 8:15) a little differently in appearance. “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.” The difference is not a discrepancy but rather a proof of agreement. For Herod himself is believed to have been a Sadducee, and may very well, therefore, have had something to do with the movements of the Sadducees at this time and in that part of Palestine which was subject to him (see above Matthew 14:1; Matthew 14:13; Luke 13:31-32). Anyway, there was that about the men referred to which made them a danger indeed. Take heed and beware—take note of and avoid—that which I mean by their leaven.
II. How the disciples misunderstood Him.—Looked at from their point of view this was an exceedingly natural thing. Partly, it may be, in consequence of the abruptness (end of Matthew 16:4) with which they seem to have left the other side of the lake, the disciples had “forgotten” to “take bread.” It was found, indeed, when they came to inquire—or else came out in some other way—that they had only with them “one” little “loaf” (Mark 8:14)—“little,” i.e. compared with such as we are accustomed to see. This being so, it was not unnatural, when they hear mention of leaven, that they should bethink them of loaves. When their Master had spoken of sowing seed He had meant preaching the word
(13). When He had spoken of a dead child as only sleeping, He meant that she could be recovered from death (Matthew 9:24). May there not, then, be something similar in this mention of leaven? Something other and further meant than that which is said? To us, in these days, it may be, with all that we have further learned of this Teacher of teachers, such a way of reasoning may appear almost like that of a child. But it is highly probable, had we been in the place of those disciples, that we should have done the same thing. We should have thought that the Master must be referring to that which was at that time in our thoughts (cf. Matthew 9:4; Matthew 12:25; John 2:25, etc.).
III. How this misconception was put right.—This does not, at first sight, seem quite easy to follow. There seems, indeed, at first sight, something like inconsistency in the Master’s language. At one time He seems to reprove His disciples on the score of their unbelief. “O ye of little faith.” At another time He seems to point rather to the obtuseness of their understandings. “How is it ye do not perceive?” Perhaps the explanation lies in supposing one deficiency to lie at the root of the other. Perhaps they did not understand for the simple reason that they did not believe as they ought. And how this might come about in their case is not difficult to imagine. Evidently the thought which was pressing on them was that of deficiency of supply. What was that one loaf among more than a dozen? Full of this thought they had no room for the thought of what the Saviour had done already in two cases of far greater necessity and far less comparative supply; still less for that far remoter meaning which the Saviour then had in His mind. A view this which appears to be strongly confirmed by two other considerations. One is that the Saviour, in correcting their thoughts, sets Himself to do so not only by reminding them of the two occasions in question, but of certain also of their most striking and characteristic distinctions; such as the relative numbers and needs, and the precise kind of basket employed in each particular case (Matthew 16:9-10). The other is that, having done this, He does nothing beside. “How is it,” He asks, “that ye do not understand that I was not speaking to you about bread?” What He was speaking of He leaves them to find out for themselves. In other words, having driven out the wrong thought in this manner He makes room for the right. Having shown that One who had supplied those far greater deficiencies could hardly have been referring to this very much smaller one now in the way of complaint, there is at once an opening, as it were, for what He was thinking of to come in (see Matthew 16:12).
Here are lessons of much importance:—
1. With regard to ourselves.—What need we have to pray that we may come with unbiassed minds to the study of Scripture! How little can be learned from the words of Jesus Himself unless this is the case. Be the “wells of salvation” as deep as they may, we shall taste none of their waters if the vessels we bring to them are already otherwise filled.
2. With regard to others.—Some candid minds are greatly disturbed sometimes by the way in which they find other minds misusing the Scriptures of truth, and by noting how they seem to overlook that in them which is as plain to them as the day. We seem to be taught here that this is not to be wondered at even amongst true disciples of Christ. “The eye sees what it brings the power of seeing,” says Thomas Carlyle. “It is no argument against the writings of Paul,” says a still higher authority, “that they are ‘wrested’ by some” (2 Peter 3:15-16). There are those whom the sunshine itself only lights to their death. Let us not, on that account, refuse to enjoy it ourselves.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 16:5-12. The Master and His disciples.—
I. The foresight of the Master and the negligence of the disciples.
II. The freedom from care of the Master and the anxieties of the disciples.
III. The calmness of the Master and the excitement and distress of the disciples.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Matthew 16:6. The soul’s hunger for truth.—Let us look at some thoughts arising out of this passage.
I. That the profoundest energies and most urgent appetites of life are those of the moral and spiritual nature.—“They had forgotten to take bread.” How was this? A more urgent hunger was at their heart; a profounder appetite was craving for satisfaction. The expulsive power of this more potent principle had banished hunger from their thoughts. Has not the history of the growth and expansion of spiritual truth in the world—religious progress—illustrated this principle ten thousand times? The Divine Master’s ministry began with its assertion. Fasting forty days—ignoring bodily wants, forgetting physical appetites. The Master had bread to eat that the tempter knew not of. “Man shall not live,” etc. So the Great Teacher’s searching words aroused the dormant inner life of His disciples, and leaving fishing nets, etc., all the sources of bodily revenue, they cling to this poor Nazarene. There are epochs in life in which the higher nature of the man transcends the earthly appetites; he breathes a Diviner air, “hungers and thirsts after righteousness.”
II. That those truths, therefore, which deal with the spiritual nature of man take the deepest hold upon his life.—All doctrines that touch the moral and spiritual in man are leaven like:—
1. In the subtlety of their operation.—“Not with observation.”
2. In their progressive effect.—“A little leaven leaveneth,” etc.
3. In their assimilative power.—The leaven makes the mass like itself.
III. That hence it is imperative to guard against the inroads of erroneous doctrine.—“Beware,” etc. Life can not be right if those beliefs that are the basis of its moral character be wrong. What was the Pharisee’s life? What the Sadducee’s? Why? Their lives were the direct result of their doctrine.—Nevison Loraine.
Caution against false doctrines.—
I. Of Sadducees.—Materialism, no soul, no hereafter.
II. Of Pharisees.—Human righteousness a sufficient ground of hope.
III. With each false doctrine was held some truth.—Hence the danger.
IV. Respectability of sects and moral uprightness of some individuals holding false doctrine, increase the danger.—J. C. Gray.
Matthew 16:13. Coasts.—Parts (R.V.). I.e. neighbourhood. There were various inhabited places in the locality (see Mark 8:27). Cæsarea Philippi.—Probably on the site of the Old Testament Baalgad (Joshua 11:17), at the foot of Hermon, built by Philip the tetrarch, and distinguished by his name from other Cæsareas (Macpherson’s Bible Dictionary). This conversation at Cæsarea Philippi is universally regarded as marking a new era in the life of Christ. His rejection by “His own” is now complete.… With the very small band He has gathered around Him He withdraws to the neighbourhood of the Gentile town of Cæsarea Philippi; not for seclusion only, but, as the event shows, to found an Ecclesia—His church (Gibson).
Matthew 16:14. And they said.—Some, entertaining the opinion suggested by the fears of Herod, say, that Thou art John the Baptist; others, adopting the Jewish notion of the advent of Elijah as the forerunner of the Messiah, say that Thou art Elias; others, in accordance with the prevalent tradition that Jeremiah was to come and reveal the place where the sacred vessels were concealed (2MMalachi 2:1-7), say that Thou art Jeremias; and others, generally and Indefinitely, that Thou art a prophet, perhaps the herald of the Messiah (Gloag).
Matthew 16:17. Bar-jona.—“Bar” is Aramaic for “son”; cf. Bar-abbas, Bar-tholomew, Bar-nabas. For flesh and blood, etc.—Not man, but God; “flesh and blood” was a common Hebrew expression in this contrast (Carr).
Matthew 16:18. Thou art Peter (Petros) and upon this rock (petra), etc.—The only natural interpretation is that which refers the rock, on which Christ builds His church, to St. Peter himself. This is the opinion adopted not only by the Romanists, but by most recent critics and commentators. It is certainly the one most agreeable with the connection and the sense of the passage; and is assuredly not to be rejected, merely because it appears to militate against our preconceived opinions. There is in the passage an evident play upon words; a paranomasia which is not seen in our version; the πέτρος in the first clause refers to the πέτρα in the second; so that the words might be rendered: “I say unto thee that thou art indeed a rock (πέτρος), and upon this rock (πέτρα) will I build My church.” It is assuredly most natural to refer the emphatic pronoun this to the rock previously mentioned; that rock was St. Peter, being his name, and the rock afterwards mentioned is a manifest allusion to that name. The whole beauty and force of the allusion would be lost, and the meaning of the passage rendered obscure, if we did not adopt this interpretation. Similar allusions to names are common in the Old Testament. As when God said to Abraham, “Thy name shall be Abraham, for a father of many nations have I made thee” (Genesis 17:5); and to Jacob, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel, for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:28); so here, in precisely the same manner, it may be said: “Thy name shall be called Peter; for on this rock will I build My church.” The interpretation, then, most agreeable with the connection of the passage, the natural meaning of the verse, the force of the allusion to the name Peter, and the grammatical structure, is to refer the rock on which the church was built to St. Peter (Gloag). 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:
(1) To other passages of Scripture. The church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets (Ephesians 2:20), on Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 3:11).
(2) To history. Peter is not an infallible repository of truth. He is rebuked by Paul for Judaising. Nor does he hold a chief place among the Apostles afterwards. It is James, not Peter, who presides at the council at Jerusalem.
(3) 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 he proof that he had a right of conferring such precedence on his successors (Carr). The gates of hell (hades, R.V.) shall not prevail against it.—Death is the entrance into hades, and therefore the gates or entrance of hades denote death. The expression may accordingly denote that death will not destroy the church of Christ. The church will never become extinct (Gloag).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 16:13-19
A culminating point.—The Saviour is once more at the outskirts of the land. This time He has gone to the north of it, to the “parts of Cæsarea Philippi,” near the sources of Jordan. It can hardly be, however, that He should thus continue to absent Himself from the proper sphere of His work (Matthew 15:24). Some day the dangers which threatened Him there would have to be faced, if only for the sake of that very work which had led Him to shun them for a time. How would it be, when He did face them, with regard to His disciples? Apparently His present object is to prepare them for this. Knowing so fully, as He presently shows that He does know (Matthew 16:21), all that is to happen so soon to Himself, He would first establish them in their faith. And this He does, first, by eliciting from them what they have to say about Him; and then by informing them, secondly, of what He has to say about them.
I. What they have to say about Him.—This is brought out, on the one hand, in the way of report. They knew His usual name for Himself. He had called Himself constantly “the Son of man.” Who did men say that He was? (Matthew 16:13). The answers given are one in substance, though they vary in form. Some identify Him with His predecessor, the Baptist. Some with the Baptist’s predecessor, Elias. Some with that prophet Jeremiah who is said to have been looked upon by the Jews as the greatest of the prophets. While others again only regarded Him as a conspicuous and undoubted revival of the old spirit of prophecy, without identifying Him with anyone in particular. All practically agree, therefore, in pronouncing Him equal to any before. There are no men like men of God in any age of the world. There are no men amongst such to whom Jesus had not been compared. That, in substance, is their report (Matthew 16:14). The same is brought out, on the other hand, in the way of confession. This report of theirs, though striking enough so far as it went, did not yet go, for all that, so far as it ought. The Saviour, therefore, inquires further,—“But who say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). The answer is given by that one of their number who usually speaks out for the rest (Matthew 16:16). He does so, to begin, in a way which marks the depth of their faith. It is not of that which they think or suppose—nor even of that merely which they hold or believe—but of that which they regard as undoubted, and which is, therefore, to them, in short, nothing less than a fact—that this witness proceeds to speak: “Thou art the Christ.” How brief, how emphatic, how unqualified, and, therefore, how undoubting this confession of faith! He answers next in a way that shows the clearness and definiteness—and that in two ways—of their faith. Their faith in the office of the “Saviour”:“Thou art the Christ”—the Anointed One—such as never any, therefore, so fully before. Their faith in His nature. Of all life the life of God Himself, is the intensest and highest. To that life no other stands in so intimate a relation as Jesus. “Thou art the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Do all the creeds together say more than this, as a matter of fact?
II. What the Saviour has to say about them.—This we learn from what He says to that one of their number who had just spoken for all in answer to His question, “Who say ye that I am?” Taking him thus as a sample of all, He speaks, first, of the present. He declares with unusual fervour how great is the blessedness of being enabled to make such a confession as that. All that we have just seen in it the Lord sees in it too. It is indeed, in its way, the very summit of truth. “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah”—blessed art thou, who soever thou art, who hast reached such a height. Never, as it were, had any father’s son a happier standing than this. The Saviour next, in a precisely similar spirit, proceeds to speak of the past. Not by any mere human power had that happy disciple been brought to that height. Not “flesh and blood,” but the wisdom which made them, had taught him these truths. He has acknowledged Christ as the Son of the Father. He has been taught to do so by the Father Himself. Finally, the Saviour addresses Peter with regard to the future. Having received so much, he was to give as much in His turn. First of all mankind, in this solemn way, to make this confession, he was to be first in other ways too. As his very name signified, e.g. he was to be the first “stone” in that edifice of the church which the Saviour was then intending to build (1 Peter 2:4-8), which was to be also so emphatically His church (observe “My” in Matthew 16:18) because built upon Him as its only foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11), and against which, therefore, all the powers of the unseen world, though often attacking, should never prevail (Matthew 16:18). Also, as being such, this “Peter” was afterwards to be the first man authorised to proclaim to mankind, whether Gentiles or Jews, the terms of admission into that heavenly kingdom, and to lay down the requisites to be demanded of those who sought admission thereto (see Acts 2:37-42; Acts 10:0; Acts 15:7). The first so to do, but not the only one (Acts 15:13-29); nor yet in all things the chief (1 Corinthians 15:10). First in order, in short, if not first in everything, because first to confess.
Certain things, therefore, even in this disputed passage, would appear, in conclusion, to be clear. One is that we see here, in the strictest sense, the first beginning of the church of Christ in the world. “The holy church throughout all the world doth acknowledge Thee.” The first beginning of that wide acknowledgement is what we read of in this place. Another is that none but those who make such a confession, as well in life as by the lips, really belong to that church. A third would seem to be that all those who really do make such a confession do belong to that church (Ephesians 6:24). A fourth certainly is that we can only make such a true confession by help from above (see above, also 1 Corinthians 12:3). And a last is that there shall never be wanting a true succession of such true confessors whatever the “times” that pass over the church, and whatever the powers that rise up against it. Here, in short, began a confession which is never to end.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 16:13-19. The Divine Christ confessed.—I. The preparation for the confession.—Our Lord is entering on a new era in His work, and desires to bring clearly into His followers’ consciousness the sum of His past self-revelation.
II. The contents of the confession.—It includes both the human and the Divine sides of Christ’s nature.
III. The results of the confession.—They are set forth in our Lord’s answer, which breathes of delight, and we may almost say gratitude. His manhood knew the thrill of satisfaction at having some hearts which understood, though partially, and loved even better than they knew.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 16:13-17. “What think ye of Christ?”—Our Lord’s Divine wisdom is seen as well in the questions He put as in the answers He gave.
I. Our Lord’s question reminds us that at the very beginning there were various and conflicting opinions concerning Him.
II. We learn from our Lord’s question that amidst the diversity of opinion we must look well to our own belief. “Whom do ye say that I am?”
III. We learn from our Lord’s question that He counts correct opinions of Himself to be of great importance.
IV. Amidst the diversity of opinions concerning Him, there was one which our Lord emphatically commended, and the possessor of which He pronounced to be blessed. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”—Charles Vince.
Matthew 16:13-16. What men say of Christ.—Christ did not ask this question:
1. For information.
2. Nor because He desired the applause of men.
3. Nor because He intended to form His course according to the reply.
4. But because He desired to ground His disciples in the deepest faith. It was a kind of catechising to photograph and engrave the fact upon their hearts. The answer to His question suggests the following things.
I. People held different opinions concerning Christ.—“Some say,” etc. These different opinions were very natural. There was something like every one of these men in Christ. I should like to speak here in praise of Christ. All the virtues, all the graces of the ancient spiritual men met in Him.
II. The opinions held of Him were high and honourable.—Only some five or six people in the whole history of literature have spoken disrespectfully of Him.
III. High as these opinions were they fell short of the reality.
IV. It is important that we should have this high estimate of Jesus Christ.—Thos. Jones.
Matthew 16:13. Who is Christ?—I want to show that Christ in the gospel is the resting-place where the heart of man can find repose; not because we there at once learn all that we want to know, but the greatest questions are there set at rest; and there we may ultimately find the key to interpret all the problems that have so long and so painfully agitated the thoughtful mind. Two phrases, full of deep significance, Christ applied to Himself; Son of God and Son of man; and different as may be the precise meaning of the term “Son” in these two applications of it, the two phrases point in the same direction—viz., that Christ is the best and completest revelation of both God and man.
I. Son of God.—How did men conceive of God without Christ? We know quite well how they did, and how we should if we were left once more without a gospel. The human mind wavered, and was cast about in painful perplexity between mere abstractions that could not move the heart, and gross ideas, that corrupted the heart. The men of genius, the philosophers, who knew quite well that no idol, no material thing, could represent God, lost themselves in the abstractions of their own minds, or confounded the Deity with the powers of nature, or tried to rest in the Athenian belief in the unknown God. The mass of men, incapable of rising to such conceptions, found gods in every material object, and then came to shaping gods for themselves—ending, at last, in a low, sensual, and debasing worship. Men of shrewd intelligence, with too much sense really to believe in any sensual religion, and too little devotion laboriously to think of God philosophically, took refuge in a universal scepticism, until they came to doubt, not only whether God could be known, but whether it was possible to know anything at all, when the highest Object of knowledge seemed so inaccessible. Now, in the midst of all this confusion, superstition, gross folly, and unattainable abstraction, when the mind of man seemed rapidly sinking into the most dreary despair, Christ stood forth, and said to the world, I can tell you what God is; I am the Son of God; he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father. How, then, shall we understand this phrase, Son of God? Doubtless Paul has given us the best interpretation of it. “In Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Suppose we had heard of such a thing as loving generosity, but had never seen a generous action. Our own feeling of love might tell us something, but whatever we may be conscious of in our hearts, we do not really know its meaning till it appears in the life. Never, then, having seen an action of self-denying love, never having put forth a hand to help a fallen brother, or to feed a hungry brother, how little would the word “love” convey to the mind. It would be only an abstraction. But if, while trying to imagine what love might mean, we should see an act of splendid generosity, how instantly would the meaning of love, in all its depth and tenderness, be revealed to us; and we might then comprehend the power of this principle throughout the universe of intelligent creatures. This is true of everything; it is life alone that we can understand. Only in living does any principle of heart and mind become intelligible. Just what this explanatory action is to the inexplicable principle, just that is Christ to God.
II. Son of man.—By the universal consent of mankind, man’s own poor life does not tell him what man is. Yet till Christ came there was no other source of knowledge accessible to the masses. We may be perfectly sure that when any thoughtful mind looked on human life—then as now—it could not possibly appear as if man—the race—was answering the end of his creation. How little can we tell the passionate earnestness with which the best men longed, for ages, that some one would arise and tell them what life meant and why man was created! That One came at last. I am the Son of man. Christ said, here let your questionings, your agonising doubts, your dreary scepticism, end. Human life is meant for what I make it; man in his real nature is what I show you. I am the Light of the world. By Me if any man walk, it shall not be in darkness. His universal precept to men—“Follow Me”—rightly understood, can mean nothing less than that every thing in His human life is possible to His followers.—S. Edger, B.A.
Jesus at Cæsarea Philippi.—In its original name of Panium, as in its modern equivalent Banias, has been preserved the memory of the great god Pan who, with the nymphs, had his shrine there and whose empty, shell-bound niche is still shown in the recess of the grotto. But now, face to face with that embodiment of all heathen religions, was brought the King of everlasting life; and as the mummy crumbles with its first exposure to the air, so must all the discrowned deities of Olympus go to dust before the incoming of the true Messiah. Here then of all places it was fittest that Christ should establish in the minds of His disciples the supremacy of His own character and claims—C. E. B. Reed, M.A.
Matthew 16:18. The church: its Builder and its safety.—
I. The church.—This is the first place in the New Testament in which we meet with this much used and much abused word. What did it mean when Christ used it? Remember that He was speaking to a few poor, plain men, and these men evidently understood it. The word which we have translated “church” means simply a number of people called together. Hence, in the Acts of the Apostles, where we find it again, it is translated “assembly,” and the revisers have not attempted to change it. By common consent we have now enlarged the meaning and imported the idea of religion into it, and may regard it as a number of people united for the worship and service of God. We read of churches—churches in cities, churches in towns, and more than once we read of “the church that is in thy house”; and so with perfect correctness we speak of the Methodist church, the Baptist church, the Episcopal church. Let us, however, beware that we do not apply the definite article to any of our churches; the word belongs only to the church of which Christ speaks. A part is not the whole; the regiment is not the army. Christ speaks of His church. What is this? The glorious title belongs to no earthly organisation, but to all true believers on earth and in heaven. The church is Christ’s special property, the gift of His Father and the object of his tenderest love.
II. The Builder of the church.—“I will build My church.” The church is frequently referred to in the Scriptures as a building. Hence we read of stones, workmen, house, and temple. Of this glorious structure it had been foretold by Zechariah that Christ should be the Builder. He had said that the Messiah should “build the temple of the Lord and bear its glory.” Here Christ claims the prophecy as having been spoken of Him, and says, “I will build My church.”
1. It is His to prepare the material of which the building is composed.—The church is His workmanship.
(1) Look at the two corner-stones. See the first, Simon Peter by name; who but the Omnipotent could have made a cornerstone of him? A stone? By nature he was but a handful of sand, which a maiden’s breath can scatter to the winds; but Christ touched him and petrified him into a rock that neither earth nor hell could move. Here is the second, Saul of Tarsus, a human volcano, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against all that called on the name of Christ, but at a word from Christ he is changed into a whole burnt-offering, counting not his life dear unto him so that he may win Christ. And as we gaze upon them, we may hear them gratefully saying: “By the grace of God we are what we are.”
(2) Look next at the first course of stones in the building. You have them described in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
(3) Let us again glance at the building itself, as it rises before us. On this side I see a lot of Kingswood colliers, who could not open their mouths without blasphemy; but Christ touches them, and “blasphemies are changed to praise.” On that side I see a lot of Fijian cannibals, whose very name was a terror to those around them; but Christ touches them, and they “love one another with pure hearts fervently.” On the other side I see a lot of African Hottentots, who had sunk so low that our scientific men refused to own them as brethren; but Christ touches them, and they become sons of the living God, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. Yes, every stone in the building is a miracle of grace, and as we gaze upon it we can only say: “This is the Lord’s doing, and marvellous in our eyes.”
2. It is His to provide the labourers.—It has pleased God to save man by man, to make us co-workers with Himself, that the excellency of the power may be of God. There is a great variety of work to be done.
3. It is His to complete the erection.—It is strange that any of God’s servants should talk about Christianity being a failure and Christ being defeated. What, hath He spoken and shall He not do it? True, as with earthly structures, there will be hindrances to the progress of the building, but He knew His ability to overcome them all. Sometimes the storms of persecution howl around the church, and men have to die instead of work, and it hinders building. Sometimes the frost of unbelief sets in, and men’s hands get so cold that they cannot give, and their tongues so stiff that they cannot speak, and their knees so cramped that they cannot pray, and that hinders building. Sometimes the fog of error steals around, and everything gets disproportionate, and men imagine that because they don’t see what their fellow-workmen are doing, they are doing nothing, and those who are at work can’t see what they are doing, and this hinders building. Sometimes there is a strike—Judah vexes Ephraim, and Ephraim envies Judah—and the workmen quarrel with each other, and this hinders building. The great Master sees all this, and though for a while He may hide Himself, it will be but for a moment. Does the storm howl? He says, “Peace, be still,” and there is a great calm, and the church has rest, and is multiplied. Does the fog blind? At the breath of His mouth it is scattered, and men see clearly. Does the frost set in? He, the Sun of Righteousness, pours His warm rays upon them, and the winter is soon past and gone. Is there a strike? He takes the two sticks into His hand, and they become one.
III. The safety of the church.—“The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Men talk about “the church being in danger.” A more foolish cry was never raised. The church is the most precious thing in the universe. It is “the bride—the Lamb’s wife.” His love is towards it, and His omnipotent arm is ever around it. The church on earth is as safe as the church in heaven.—Charles Garrett.
Christ’s commendation of Peter’s confession.—A writer quoted by Stier says, “The demonstrative (this rock) can just as little have the force of isolating the faith and the confession of Peter from his person, as it would be justifiable to refer the promise to the person of Peter apart from his faith;” or, as another puts it more succinctly, “The word of Peter is the heart of Peter; it is he himself.”
The character of Peter.—As the world counts rock, rock was no character-name for this favourite of Jesus, with whom He chose to live as His daily and nightly friend. Immovableness, solidity of character to the outward eye, Peter had none. But the outward eye judges falsely. Peter was clearly neither a great pioneer, nor a great theologian, nor a great scholar; but he was a great child, and for his fitness to express this one permanent power of the life of faith he was the foremost of the Twelve.—Mary Harrison.
“The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”—The traveller on the Highland Railway can hardly fail to be struck, as he journeys north, with the unusual sight of a picturesque and well-kept flower-garden blooming in the angle of ground formed at the junction of two railway lines. The helpless flowers thrive there in spite of the terrible forces that come so near them on every side. If you were to put an untaught savage inside the garden hedge, and let him hear the screaming engines, and see the files of carriages, or the trucks laden with coal, timber, and iron, converging towards this fairy oasis, he would be ready to say, “these beautiful things will be torn to shreds in a moment.” But behind the garden fences, there are lines of strong, faithful steel, keeping each engine, and carriage, and truck in its appointed place; and though the air vibrates with destructive forces, the pansy, primrose, and geranium live in a world of tremors, not a silken filament is snapped, and not a petal falls untimely to the earth. In the very angle of these forces the frailest life is unharmed. To all these possibilities of destruction the steel puts its bound. So with the fine spiritual husbandries that foster faith in the souls around us. That faith sometimes seems a thing of hair-spun filaments, a bundle of frailties, a fairy fabric of soft-hued gossamers trembling at every breath. The arrogancies of sacerdotalism menace it. The avalanche of nineteenth century atheism is poised over it. The air hurtles with fiery hostilities. The mechanisms of diabolic temptation encroach on every side upon our work. Public-house, gaming club, ill-ordered home threaten disasters, of which we do not like to think. The air quivers with the anger of demons. Yet the work is God’s, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. In the very angle of these demoniac forces the work shall thrive, for the hidden lines of His protecting power are round about it. “I, the Lord, do keep it; I will water it every moment; lest any hurt it. I will keep it night and day.”—T. G. Selby.
Matthew 16:19. The keys.—
1. The kingdom of heaven does not mean heaven. Yet the failure to mark this obvious distinction has given prevalence to the foolish notion that St. Peter is porter at heaven’s gate, and admits souls to paradise.
2. The kingdom of heaven does not mean the church. Attention to this distinction would have made short work with the Papal claim to the power of the keys, and would have saved our Protestant divines a great deal of discussion regarding the power of the keys in the church and the hands in which that power is vested. But what is meant by the keys? The phrase is metaphorical, and the meaning is to be found by comparison of this and other Scriptures. It certainly indicates power.
I. Administrative.—The keys of a palace are entrusted to the major-domo. The key of the house of David is said in Isaiah to be laid on the shoulders of Eliakim, a trusty counsellor (Isaiah 22:20-22). The mention of keys suggests stewardship, not lordship. So a power of administration in the kingdom of heaven was assigned to Simon Peter, as the first of the Apostles. It is from this that divines have described the light to exercise church discipline as “the power of the keys,” distinguishing it from the jurisdiction of civil rulers, which is enforced by the power of the sword.
II. Didactic.—Jesus reproached the lawyers of the time for having “taken away the key of knowledge.” They hindered the enlightenment of their nation. On the other hand, a scribe well instructed unto the kingdom of heaven had been likened by Him to a householder with command of a treasury. We infer that the Lord promised to Simon Peter the keys by which he would have access to the treasure of wisdom and understanding in the kingdom of heaven, and so be able to teach with clearness and authority. This interpretation is confirmed by the words which follow: “And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth,” etc. Not “whomsoever,” but “whatsoever.” The saying refers to points of doctrine or practice which might come into dispute. Among the Jewish Rabbis to bind meant to forbid or declare forbidden; to loose meant to allow or declare allowed. We understand, therefore, that the Apostles were authorised to teach and guide their fellow-Christians, showing what things were forbidden and what allowed, indicating what rites and ordinances were superseded, and how debatable questions should be settled in the new community. In fact, the power to bind and loose was just the function of directing the judgment and practice of the new-born, inexperienced church, and ordering its beginnings of thought and life according to the mind of Christ. But while he shared the power to bind and loose with all his colleagues, there is, in the Acts of the Apostles, a very special ascription of the power of the keys to Simon Peter. The door of faith was opened first to the Jews at Jerusalem (Acts 2:0; Acts 3:0; Acts 4:0); next to the Samaritans, a kind of intermediate people (Acts 8:0); and finally to the Gentiles (Acts 10:0). So was the gospel given to the whole world, and in each instance it was the hand of Simon Peter that held and turned the key.—D. Fraser, D.D.
On earth and in heaven.—Go into an observatory and watch some astronomer as he is following the transit of a star. His telescope is so adjusted that an ingenious arrangement of clock-work is made to shift it with the transit of the star. His instrument is moving in obedience to the movement of the star in the heavens. But the clock-work does not move the star. The astronomer has made his faultless calculations; the mechanic has adjusted his cranks and pendulums and wheels and springs with unerring nicety, and every movement in the telescope answers to the movement of the star the far-off heavens. The correspondence rests on knowledge. And so when the things that are bound on earth are bound in heaven. Every legislative counsel and decree and movement in a truly Apostolic and inspired church answers to some counsel and decree and movement in the heavens. But then the power of discerning and forecasting the movements of the Divine will and government rests upon the power of interpreting the Divine character, and applying its principles of action, as that character is communicated to us by Jesus Christ.—T. G. Selby.
Binding and loosing.—“To bind up sins as in a bundle,” says Lange, “implies coming judgment, while sins forgiven are described as loosed.” It is, however, maintained strongly by other critics that the sense of the words is altogether different. Lightfoot has cited a triple decade “out of thousands” of instances of the Jewish use of this expression “binding and loosing.” To all manner of ceremonial regulations about leaven, festivals, starting on a voyage, or even so small an act as looking into a mirror, the formula is appended, “the school of Shammai binds it, the school of Hillel looses it,” in the sense of prohibition and permission; so that he paraphrases our Lord’s words thus: “If thou askest by what rule that church is to be governed, when the Mosaic rule may seem so improper for it, thou shalt be so guided by the Holy Spirit that whatsoever of the laws of Moses thou shalt forbid them shall be forbidden; whatsoever thou grantest them shall be granted, and that under a sanction made in heaven.”—C. E. B. Reed, M.A.
Matthew 16:20. Tell no man.—Jesus had not, even to His Apostles, said that He was the Christ, but He left it that they might discover it themselves from the testimony of facts. It was not suitable, therefore, that that should be openly told by the Apostles to others before His resurrection which was to corroborate the whole testimony to the fact of His being the Christ. For he who injudiciously propounds a mystery to those who do not comprehend it, injures both himself and others. Had they done so, those who believed in any way that Jesus was the Christ might have sought for an earthly kingdom with seditious uproar; whilst the rest, and by far the greater number, might have rejected such a Messiah at that time more vehemently, and have been guilty of greater sin in crucifying Him, so as to have the door of repentance less open to them for the future. Afterwards the Apostles openly bore witness to this truth (Bengel).
Matthew 16:21. 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 His kingdom (Carr).
Matthew 16:22. Then.—And (R.V.). We should do injustice to the reality, were we to imagine that in a moment or two after Peter’s noble confession, our Lord abruptly said all He had to say about the tragedy that was looming in the distance; and that in a moment or two later, Peter acted the part that is now about to be narrated. It is the salient points of many, and perhaps of lengthened, conversations, that alone jut up into view in the narrative of the Evangelist (Morison). Took Him.—I.e. aside. Began.—But the gracious Lord rose up in majesty and interrupted him. Be it far from Thee.—God forbid! (Doddridge).
Matthew 16:23. He turned.—See Mark 8:33. Get thee behind Me, Satan.—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 (Carr). An offence.—Literally, My stumbling-block; by suggesting visions of earthly pride (ibid.). Thou savourest.—Mindest (R.V.). Thou art carried away by human views of the way of setting up Messiah’s kingdom, quite contrary to those of God (Brown).
Matthew 16:24. Take up his cross.—These words, which the disciples had heard before (Matthew 10:38), were now clothed with a new meaning.
Matthew 16:25. Whosoever will save his life, etc.—See note on Matthew 10:39.
Matthew 16:27. Works.—Doing (R.V. marg.). The word is put in the singular, for the whole life of man is one “doing” (Bengel). The total outward manifestation of his inner life as a believer or unbeliever (Lange).
Matthew 16:28. There be some standing here, etc.—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 all, who were present (Carr). Our Saviour refers, though in an indefinite way, to the establishment and extension of His kingdom, and the manifestation of Himself as the victorious King, that took place when Jerusalem and Judaism—both thoroughly corrupted to the core—were overturned (Morison).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 16:20-28
A sudden descent.—Most unexpected must have been the opening words of this passage to those who heard them first. One of their number had just openly confessed Jesus as Christ; and had been just as openly commended for doing so; and been encouraged also, in consequence, by many promises with regard to the future (Matthew 16:16-19). Yet now, on the other hand, with regard to the future—to the immediate future at any rate, if not to anything more—they are all solemnly admonished, and even “charged” to do nothing of the kind. Do not confess Me before men. So Matthew 16:20, in effect. Some of the reasons for this unexpected injunction are what come next in the story; and are such as appear to turn first, on what was about to be true of Jesus Himself, and, secondly, on what was about be true of His disciples.
I. About the Saviour Himself.—This, for example, was true of Him, on the one hand, viz., that He would have to suffer and die. In various ways before now He had obscurely hinted at this (John 2:19; Matthew 12:40). Now He plainly “shows” it to them (Matthew 16:21) in so many words. In what place; by whose hands; in how many ways; and to how extreme a length He was thus to “suffer” is “shown” (Matthew 16:21). Also how, in a certain sense, these were things that “must” be. Of one mitigation only, and that of a most mysterious kind (end of Matthew 16:21) does He make mention. All else here foretold of Him was of the gloomiest possible kind. They must prepare themselves “from that time” to think of Him as an eminently suffering Man. On the other hand, it was true about Him, also, that He meant to accept this to the full. This resolution of His is brought out in a highly noteworthy manner. When that forward disciple who had just before stood out from the rest to confess Him as Christ, hears this (as it clearly was to him) most extraordinary announcement, He cannot receive it fit all. On the contrary, it is something which seems to him as “far” as possible from what is fitting. What can the Master be thinking of to speak in that way? He even takes upon himself to “chide” Him (ἐπιτιμᾷν) for what He has said. Why speak in this way? Why talk thus about “must?” Surely there is some other and less painful way of doing Thy work? Such appears to have been the inward spirit of this most unbecoming reproof. Apparently, if we may say so, it touched the Saviour in a very sensitive part. Once before, the great adversary had approached Him in a virtually similar way. Only worship me, he had said, and Thou shalt be at once, and with ease, all thou deservest to be to mankind (Matthew 4:8-9). Once again, therefore, and with the same vehemence as previously (Matthew 4:10), He bids the adversary begone—even going so far as to address Peter himself by that name, and speaking now of that chosen “stone” as a rock of “offence,” and declaring of that once God-instructed witness (end of Matthew 16:17) that he was now taught from below (Matthew 16:23). So resolved is the Saviour to let nothing stand between His appointed “sufferings” and Himself.
II. About the Saviour’s disciples.—That they must be prepared, first, on their part, for a similar kind of experience. A similar experience, not necessarily—not possibly, indeed, in some respects—of the very same kind. This was true of all those who would be His disciples indeed. If “any man” makes up his mind to “come after Me,” he must make up his mind also to meet the kind of things which I meet with Myself (Matthew 16:24). He must be as resolved in his way as I am in Mine. He must “deny himself and take up his cross” as you see Me taking up Mine. Only so can he “follow Me” and walk in My steps. That they will find it, next, well worth while to do so. To see this let them consider, in the first place, the nature of the alternative before them. Not thus to deny themselves in some things would be, in effect, to lose all—to lose one’s “life,” which is more than all else—to lose that for which there is no possible compensation. Better never have such a gift at all than thus to have and to lose it. Let them consider, next, the certainty of this statement. For who is to decide this in the end save He who is speaking? In whose awful name, also, and with what holy assessors, will this be done on His part? (Matthew 16:27). And on what principles, finally, in that day of days will the issue be made to depend? Is it not, in fact, on that very principle of which He has assured them just now, viz., that as a man sows so shall he reap? (end Matthew 16:27). Better, therefore, give up anything than be on the wrong side on that day. Also, let them understand—so, perhaps, in conclusion—that that most momentous of days was nearer in some ways than many persons imagined. At any rate, there were some standing there at that moment, who, before the little span of their lives should come to its close, would see that which might be regarded as such a second “coming” of Christ (Matthew 16:28; see also 2 Peter 1:16-18).
The passage thus treated shows us:—
1. How much these disciples had to be taught.—Their Master was destined and resolved to endure what they, at that time, could hardly endure to hear mentioned. Things were to become realities both about Him and themselves which had no place as yet in their dreams. How wise of the Saviour, therefore, and how considerate, thus to teach them these things beforehand (cf. Luke 14:28). Even with all He did in this way from this present “beginning” of doing so (Matthew 16:21), how all but fatal to the faith of some of them were the things foretold when they came (see Luke 24:21, “we trusted”—we used to trust—that He should redeem Israel). What a key there is in all this, therefore, to the constancy, and continuity, and earnestness with which the Saviour from this time forth begins to show forth His death. Not until they had learned very much more both about Him and themselves would they be either fit or able to confess Him before men.
2. How very unlikely that many of the Saviour’s present disciples should know much about the future.—At any rate in regard to anything more than its more conspicuous and ultimate features. We may judge this from what we see here of these personal disciples of Jesus. Also from what ought to be evident to us of the nature of the case. God’s plans are too wide, His purposes are too deep, our experience is too scanty, and even the light He has given us is too partial (1 Corinthians 13:12) and mysterious to allow of any but directly inspired men being safe guides on such points. Not improbably, the most unfitted of all for such semi-prophetical work are those who suppose themselves the most fit. Certainly this experience of St. Peter rather points in that line.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 16:21. Christ foretelling His death and resurrection.—
1. Our Lord was not ignorant of what He was to suffer ere it came, nor ignorant of the outgate appointed for Him, how He should be killed and raised again.
2. Whose would look rightly on Christ’s sufferings must also look unto His outgate and victory over the same—he must look on His raising as well as His killing.—David Dickson.
I. The scene.—Jerusalem.
II. The instruments.—The rulers of the ration.
III. The climax.—Death.
IV. The issue.—His resurrection.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Why Christ suffered.—
I. The Divine necessity, as expressed in that solemn “must.”
II. Christ’s willing acceptance of that necessity.—“Go.” The necessity was no external compulsion, driving Him to an unwelcome sacrifice, but one imposed alike by filial obedience and by brotherly love. He must die because He would save.—Ibid.
Matthew 16:22-23. Mistaken views of good men.—Founded upon:—
I. Error of Judgment.
II. Lack of knowledge.—Why should the innocent Jesus suffer?
III. Misguided affection.—Far from Thee, etc. Men often are biassed in their views of the sins, sufferings, and future of others by their affections.—J. C. Gray.
Matthew 16:23. Christ’s reproof of Peter.—
1. Our Lord so loved to work out our redemption that He could not endure to be any way hindered; therefore, saith He, “Get thee behind Me.”
2. What Satan cannot do immediately, he will essay to do by instruments. Christ findeth him out here, saying, “Get thee behind Me, Satan.”
3. Naturally a man savoureth not things spiritual, neither knoweth them, nor loveth them, if they be told him.
4. We should, in temptations beware of Satan, whoever be the instrument, and the more impudently we be tempted unto sin, we should the more stoutly and peremptorily resist, as Christ did, saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan.”
5. After a man hath been much lifted up in consolation, he may readily miscarry, and fall in some offence, as Peter’s case is here, compared with Matthew 16:16.
6. A man may be a stumbling-block unto others, albeit he do not intend it, for to Peter it is said, “Thou art an offence.”
7. Apparent good counsel from a carnal friend may readily carry some temptation in the bosom of it, as Peter’s counsel here doth; and sin will serve Satan’s turn, wherever he find it, whether in the godly or wicked, for Peter’s corruption here is Satan’s instrument fit enough for the time.—David Dickson.
Matthew 16:24. Self-denial.—Self-denial is the foundation of godliness; and if this be not well laid the whole building will fall. Self-denial is the thread which must run along the whole work of religion. To deny signifies to lay aside, to put off, to annihilate one’s self. Beza renders it, let him renounce himself. “Self” is taken four ways.
1. Worldly self, i.e. his estate (Matthew 19:27).
2. Relative self, i.e. his dearest relations if God calls (Luke 14:26).
3. Natural self; he must be willing to become a sacrifice, and make Christ’s crown flourish, though it be in his ashes (Revelation 12:11).
4. Carnal self. This I take to be the chief sense of the text.
I. He must deny self-ease (2 Timothy 2:3).
II. He must deny self-opinion.
III. He must deny self-confidence.—Peter’s self-confidence undid him (Matthew 26:33-34).
IV. He must deny self-wisdom (2 Corinthians 1:12; James 3:17).
V. He must deny self-will (2 Peter 2:10).
VI. He must deny self-reasonings.—Consider:
1. Whatever you deny for Christ, you shall find again in Christ (Matthew 19:29).
2. ’Tis but equity that you should deny yourselves for Christ; did not Jesus Christ deny Himself for you?
3. Self-denial is the highest sign of a thorough-paced Christian. I have read of a holy man who was once tempted by Satan. “Why takest thou all this pains,” saith he; “thou watchest, and fastest, and abstainest from sin; O man, what doest thou more than I? Art thou no drunkard, no adulterer? No more am I. Dost thou watch? Let me tell thee, I never slept. Dost thou fast? I never eat. What doest thou more than I?” “Why,” saith the good man, “I will tell thee, Satan; I pray, I serve the Lord, nay, more than all, I deny myself.” “Nay then,” saith Satan, “thou goest beyond me, for I exalt myself,” and so vanished.
4. To deny yourself is what others have done before you (Hebrews 11:8; Hebrews 11:25).
5. If you do not deny the world for Christ, the world will deny you, and, what is worse, Christ will deny you (Matthew 10:33).—Thomas Watson.
I. Inquire what self-denial is.—
1. It is not to deny what a man is or has, what he truly is, and what he really has, for that would be a falsehood; in this sense “God cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13); not His nature, and the perfections of it; or do, or affirm anything contrary thereunto. So a man ought not to deny himself as a man, nor the rational powers which he is possessed of. If God has bestowed internal endowments on men, gifts and talents, qualified for public service and usefulness, some way or another, they are to own them and use them; and not to wrap them in a napkin or hide them in the earth, which is interpretatively to deny that they have them. Nor should a truly good and gracious man deny what he is and has, but acknowledge it, and how by grace he came by it.
2. To deny a man’s self is not to refuse favours conferred on him in a course of Providence, nor to neglect a lawful use of them, nor to take care of himself and of his affairs.
3. Self-denial does not require that a man should refuse temporal honours and riches bestowed on him in a Providential way.
4. Nor are the creatures of God, and the use of them, to be rejected (1 Timothy 4:4).
5. Nor should a man be careless of his life, and health, and family, though he should not be anxiously careful for life, nor food and raiment, to support and secure it.
6. There is a self-love which is not criminal, nor contrary to the grace of self-denial (Ephesians 5:29).
7. Nor is it self-denial, or any part of it, to abuse the body in any respect; not even on religious accounts. Self-denial lies in a man’s renouncing, foregoing, and postponing all his pleasures, profits, relations, interests, and whatever he enjoys, which may be in competition with Christ, from love to Him, and to be given up at His command. A self-denying Christian is made willing to part:
1. With natural and civil self, with things relative both to soul and body, of which a man’s self consists.
2. Another branch of self-denial lies in denying sinful self; this lesson not nature but grace teaches, even to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, which includes all kinds of sin; internal lusts and external actions of sin; sins of heart, lip, and life; everything that is contrary to God and His righteous law.
3. Another branch of self-denial is to deny righteous self, which is not to refuse to do works of righteousness for necessary uses, to glorify God, to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour; but to deny righteous self is to renounce all trust in and dependence on a man’s own righteousness for justification before God, and acceptance with Him, and to submit to the righteousness of Christ, and depend upon that for such purposes (Philippians 3:6-9).
II. The arguments or motives to excite to the exercise of this grace of self-denial, in the several branches of it.
1. It is an injunction of Christ on His disciples, even all of them.
2. Christ has not only commanded it, but! He has set an example of it Himself (Philippians 2:5-8).
3. The examples of saints in all ages may serve to excite and encourage to it.
4. If a man do not deny himself, as required of God, he sets up himself for God; makes a God for himself, lives to himself and not to God.
5. The loss and gain of not denying, and of denying self, should be considered.—Anon.
The imitation of Christ.—The command which the text contains is based upon the great principle of the imitation of Christ. Unlike all other legislators, His life is the law of His people. If we would gain the root of the matter, then we must contemplate suffering as manifested in Christ Himself.
I. The great primary fact, upon which all the essential peculiarities of our religion are founded, is that God became strangely, inconceivably connected with pain; that this Being, whose nature is inherent happiness, by some mysterious process entered the regions of suffering, crossed the whole diameter of existence, to find Himself with His own opposite; bore, though incapable of moral pollution, the dark shadow of pollution, even anguish unspeakable; and though unsubdued by the master, Sin, exhibited Himself, to the wonder of the universe, clad in the weeds of the servant, Death. The main reason of this fact is to be found in the necessity of atonement. But the Divine Person also visited the regions of pain in such a sense as to be our Example; for so the text presents Him.
II. Must we not think that there is something in the sorrow, thus cordially and perpetually chosen by our Master, that is eminently adapted to elevate and purify our being?—Must there not be something Divinely excellent in that which was deliberately chosen by a Divine nature as its peculiar tabernacle out of all the world afforded, the sad but awful cloud above the mercy-seat in which, while among us, His glory was to dwell? This special excellence is not hard to discover. Humbleness of spirit, the most pervading and universal of all graces, is in the Christian code the very essence of perfection, and sorrow borne with resignation has a direct tendency to produce it. Now, because our Redeemer knew, what it is so hard to persuade even His avowed followers, that in this direction lies the true perfection of man—that a gentle, unmurmuring submission is his truest, brightest heroism—therefore did He, in His own person, adopt the way that leads to it. He daily suffered, because suffering subdues the pride of human hearts, and He would teach us to accomplish that conquest.—W. Archer Butler, D.D.
Self-denial is the first law of grace.—A number of ministers were once dining together after an ordination, and when one of them seemed unduly attentive to the good things before him, he met with the approval of the host, who said, “That’s right! To take care of self is the first law of nature.” “Yes, sir,” said an old minister sitting near, in reply; “but to deny self is the first law of grace!”
The cross.—Every high mission means the cross.—W. S. Lilley.
Matthew 16:25. Gaining life by losing it.—It is true that with respect to the work man has to do outside himself, the way to do it is to keep it directly in view, aim consciously at it. But the moment you come to the operations of mind or life in man himself, not merely in this higher life Christ speaks of, but in almost any part of his nature, in man himself, the opposite principle comes in—this very principle which seems so paradoxical, the principle that losing the life, letting it go, not thinking of it, is the surest way of saving it. This is not only true with regard to coming to the best for one’s soul, it is true of coming to the best even in the commonest faculties and qualities of life. Did you ever try to cross a stream by some rather awkward stepping-stones, or by a rather narrow plank? Or have you tried to walk at some dangerous height? or, in fact, anything requiring a particularly clear, steady head? If you have, you know that it is to be done exactly by not thinking about it. If you begin looking down at the stepping-stones, or at the water, or at the depth beneath you, and thinking about it, and about how you shall go through with it, you are lost. Whereas, if you are so occupied, thinking about something else, that you hardly notice the stepping-stones; if you are on some errand in which you are so eager that you are not thinking of yourself—that losing yourself is your safety; you may go perfectly safely over places and heights that afterwards, when you do come to think about them, will make you dizzy to look at. There, too, life is safest by not thinking about saving it. Take another matter, the preservation of health. One condition of keeping in good health is not to think about your health, but to be wholesomely occupied with quite other thoughts. Think about your health, begin feeling your pulse, watching your symptoms, considering all the things which might possibly be the matter with you, and you may think yourself into an illness. Why do physicians so often order “change of scene” and “something to distract the mind,” but that the patient may be led to lose himself and so find the health which he could not gain while anxiously thinking of himself? And so, when there is some epidemic about, how true you constantly see it that “he that will save his life shall lose it.” The most dangerous thing of all is to be constantly thinking and scheming how to escape infection. Take reasonable precautions, indeed—especially such precautions as are demanded for the general safety—and then go straight forward. Think of others, not of self.—Brooke Herford.
Matthew 16:26. The preciousness of the soul.—
I. The soul is very precious.
1. The soul has an intrinsical worth, which appears in—
(1) Its spirituality. It is spiritual in its essence (Genesis 2:7), a sparkle lighted by the breath of God; in its object, it contemplates God and heaven; in its operation, it doth not depend upon the body in its working.
(2) Its immortality.
2. The soul has an estimative worth.—
(1) Jesus Christ hath set a high value and estimate upon the soul. He made it, He bought it, therefore He best knows the price of it.
(2) Satan doth value souls.
II. The soul is more precious than a world.—The world is of a coarser make.
1. If the soul is so precious, see what the worship is that God doth expect and accept, viz., that which comes from the soul (Psalms 25:1).
2. If the soul is so precious, then of what precious account should ordinances and ministers be.
3. Take heed of abusing your souls.—Socrates exhorted young men that they should look at their faces in a glass, and if they saw they were fair, they should have a care to do nothing unworthy of their beauty. Christians, God hath given you souls that sparkle with Divine beauty; oh, do nothing unworthy of these souls! They abuse their souls:
(1) That degrade their souls, (a) Panting after the dust of earth (Amos 2:7). (b) Making their souls lackeys to their bodies.
(2) That sell their souls. (a) The covetous person sells his soul for money. (b) The ambitious person sells his soul for honour. (c) The voluptuous person sells his soul for pleasure.
(3) That poison their souls.
(4) That starve their souls.
4. Take heed you do not lose your souls.—
(1) It is a foolish loss, because: (a) There is a possibility of saving the soul, (b) Because we lose the soul for things of no value. (c) Because the man hath himself a hand in the loss.
(2) It is a fatal loss (a) Unparalleled, because so much is lost with it, Christ, the Comforter, heaven, etc. (b) Irreparable, (c) Eternal.
5. Do what you can to save these precious souls.—Thos. Watson.
Profit and loss (To young men).—You are resolved to gain the world, and I want you to abandon your resolution:—
I. On the ground of probable failure.—That the pleasures of the world are agreeable I admit; and that its honours are attractive I admit also; and that its riches are desirable I admit besides. But you may not be able to get them for your own. Have you never heard of competition? You may find yourselves outstripped. By untoward circumstances you may find yourselves baffled. By bodily sickness you may find yourselves unmanned. By mental malady you may find yourselves prostrate in the dust. You are embarking, therefore, upon an absolute uncertainty.
II. On the ground of impending unsatisfactoriness.—Let our supposition be that you have actually gained, in the particular forms most pleasant to yourselves, the world’s pleasures, and the world’s honours, and the world’s wealth. You have gained the world, but it does not fit you, and by the want of fitness you are vexed; it does not solace you, and by its want of solace you are irritated; it does not assure and reassure you of the future, especially of that future away beyond the grave; and by its want of assurance you are aggrieved.
III. On the ground of inevitable ruin.—That old Book tells you that you cannot go in for the world without losing your soul.—W. Brock, D.D.
A terrible mistake.—I. Let us look at the profit side of the account. “If he gain the whole world.”
1. What a world of meaning there is in that little word “if”! It suggests the fact that few, perhaps not one in ten thousand, does gain that portion of the world on which he sets his heart. We see this in the struggle for all kinds of prizes on which men set their hearts.
2. But let us come now and consider the question as if the man were successful. Suppose a man should gain the whole world, what then? Where is the profit? Let us not be unreal enough to make light of worldly prosperity, of happiness, of friendship, of learning, of wealth, of place or power. It is surely well to be above want, to have no undue pressure from without. Who again does not know how the burden of life is lightened by family ties and friendships? And if we think of the blessings of learning, surely no one will dare to despise the man to whom knowledge has unfolded her ample page, rich with the spoils of time! And is there nothing noble in the warrior’s or the statesman’s career?
3. But now comes the grand question. What is the exact profit to the fortunate possessor of all that the world can give of wealth and wisdom, of honour and friendship, and material comfort? Does the possession of wealth add to human happiness? Was David the king happier in his palace with all Israel at his bidding than he was when, as a shepherd boy, he solaced his nights of watchfulness with his harp? Was he not more “a man after God’s own heart” in that pure, strong youth, than when his soul was led astray by the vanities and vices which became the bane of his later years? But surely wisdom, the pursuit of knowledge, is free from drawbacks. Surely there is deep delight in knowing, yet what saith the wisest of men? “In much wisdom is much grief,” and “he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” Well then, you may say, you will spare us our last sanctuary on earth—the warm light of home, and the love of friends? Surely a father’s care, a mother’s love, a wife’s devotion, a child’s trust, a friend’s proved fidelity—surely these things are all gain? Yes; but do these things endure? Is not decay written on them all?
II. This brings us to consider the loss side of the account. What is it to lose one’s own soul? What is the worth of a human soul? Doubtless some souls are of more intrinsic value than others. But to every man his own soul, whatever its value in the estimation of others, is of infinite value to himself. The man who loses his own soul loses “himself.” The account stands thus: Eternal ages of loss against seventy years of all that the world can give. If duration alone were to be taken into account the mere worldling makes a poor bargain; but the loss will be still more apparent if you consider the nature of the loss sustained. Verily, the soul is lost when its faculties are degraded. Man has been created with a soul capable of pure desires, of holy effort, of loving sacrifice, and therefore capable of communion with the Father of Spirits, who is pure and holy, just and true and loving. If any man degrades his soul till it is dead to love, to truth and purity, what remains? Has he not slain his soul?—J. W. King, M.A.
Matthew 16:27. The final advent of Christ.—Our attention is here directed to:—
I. The Son of man.—As the Promised One. As the Manifested One. As the Ascended One.
II. His reappearance on earth.—It is predicted. It is possible. It is necessary.
III. His superhuman glory.—His herald is glorious. His Person is glorious. His retinue is glorious.
III. His important work.—To raise the dead. To change the living. To judge all. To reward each. To resign the reins of government into His Father’s hands.—A. Macfarlane.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30