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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 16

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

1 The Pharisees require a sign.

6 Jesus warneth his disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

13 The people’s opinion of Christ,

16 and Peter’s confession of him.

21 Jesus foreshoweth his death,

23 reproving Peter for dissuading him from it:

24 and admonishes those that will follow him to bear the cross.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came. — These were not the Pharisees from Jerusalem mentioned in the preceding chapter, but persons of these sects residing in Galilee. Between the Sadducees and Pharisees there were great differences of opinion; but in their enmity to Christ all were united, whether in Jerusalem or in other parts of the country.

And tempting him, desired that he would give them a sign from heaven. — To tempt signifies to put his claims as Messiah to the test. This test, however, was one devised by themselves: and, as in Matthew 12:38, it was to be the exhibition of a sign from heaven; by which they may be supposed to have meant a luminous appearance, or thunder, or the descent of fire, or some other prodigy similar to some of those mentioned in the Old Testament. It is not easy to say what led these Jewish sects to agree, as they appear to have done, in fixing upon a sign in the heavens as a proof of the appearance of Messiah. They have by some been thought to derive this from a literal interpretation of Daniel 7:13, where the “Son of man” is said to “come with the clouds of heaven;” but as he is there represented as coming in this manner that he might appear before the Ancient of days, it is scarcely to be admitted that they could so interpret this of his appearance among MEN; nor is there a portion of prophecy which speaks of any extraordinary appearance in, or sign from heaven, as to be given by Messiah in demonstration of his claims. It is more probable that, as there had been an agreement among the Pharisees, both in Jerusalem and in Galilee, to account for the miracles of Christ, and to destroy their evidence, as proofs of his Divine mission, by attributing them to Satan; so, as they had observed that his extraordinary works were chiefly miracles of healing, and dispensations of mercy which had in view the communication of some practical benefit, that they fixed upon signs of quite a different kind and order, as flaming fires, destructive thunderbolts, &c., as necessary proofs, well knowing that he was not likely to show them at their request, and thus to create a pretence for their own incredulity, and to counteract among the people the impression of his miracles, by disparaging them as not worthy to be compared to signs from heaven. Or this expectation might rest upon their own vain traditions; which is rendered somewhat probable by this, that their late writers speak of such phenomena as among the signs of Messiah. The appearance of an extraordinary rainbow, for instance, is mentioned as one of these indications. — Whatever origin this notion might have, it was not for want of evidence that they continued in unbelief. This is sufficiently proved by their disregarding even signs from heaven.

On one occasion there was a sign of this kind so manifest that the people said, “An angel spoke to him;” yet the Pharisees did not believe. There were signs from heaven at the crucifixion; and, by the testimony of the Roman soldiers, on the morning of the resurrection; and, finally, on the day of pentecost; and yet they continued contemptuously to reject the truth. It was therefore the state of their hearts which occasioned that blind and determined unbelief which ultimately caused their ruin. Their obstinate insensibility to the plainest evidence is reproved by what follows. See note on Mark 8:12.

Verse 3

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The signs of the times. — By this our Lord doubtless means those strong proofs already given, in the very aspect of public events, of the Messiah being come, but which they utterly disregarded. One of these was the departure of the sceptre from Judah, according to the prediction of Jacob; for Judea was now a Roman province, and what remained of power in Galilee, and the neighbouring districts, to their last race of kings, Herod and his descendants, was fast passing away, and was indeed altogether dependent upon the Romans. Another was the appearance of the forerunner of our Lord, in the person of the Baptist, who had so established the authority of his mission, that “all the people held John to be a prophet;” but, if a prophet of God at all, then his testimony was necessarily true; and he had pointed to Jesus himself as the Christ. To these were to be added the character and conduct of our Lord, which so exactly answered to prophetic description; the fact that a great and extraordinary teacher had appeared among them, learned in the law without being taught in their schools, speaking as never man spoke, refuting all objections, exposing all errors, and instructing all who would follow him, in the purest doctrines, expressed with superhuman eloquence, and confirmed by the greatest miracles, publicly wrought, extending to innumerable cases, conferring the most signal blessings, and filling the country with the most indubitable witnesses of his mission. These were the “signs of the times,” strongly marked by the finger of God; which yet, plain and palpable as they were, the Pharisees and Sadducees disregarded. They could discern the face of the sky, and, by carefully marking the atmospheric phenomena of their climate a matter to which their “wise men” applied themselves with attention, laid down the prognostics of the weather which would follow; but they refused to apply the same carefulness and seriousness to mark “the signs of the times; to consider their character, to inquire what they indicated, and to draw their conclusions as honestly, and as much without prejudice, as in the case of the signs of the weather. They are, therefore, called “hypocrites;” and this part of their conduct proved how truly they were so. — They professed to be in quest of evidence to ascertain whether Messiah had come, and they neglected all that had for years been urged upon them. They could not dispute it, but they rejected it, because they had not some other sign which God in his prophetic word had never promised to give, and which could not, in the nature of things, be more convincing than those already before their eyes. It was not truth, therefore, that they sought; and they were justly charged with hypocrisy for pretending it.

Verse 4

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

A wicked and adulterous generation. — See note on Matthew 12:39.

And he left them, and departed. — As persons wholly incorrigible, he took no farther pains with them, but departed to the vessel in which he had arrived, and passed over to the other side of the lake.

Verse 5

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Forgotten to take bread. — For they had no more, says St. Mark, than one loaf in the ship; and had probably been so intent upon our Lord’s discourse, and had embarked so suddenly, as to forget to purchase provision, which was the more necessary, as they landed in an unfrequented place, and had before them a considerable journey toward Cesarea Philippi.

Verse 7

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. — Lightfoot illustrates the meaning by referring to a practice of the Jewish doctors, who frequently forbade their disciples to buy the bread of heathens and Samaritans, which was a partaking of their leaven. This well connects the observation of our Lord with the occasion, although the disciples were perplexed as to his meaning. They could not understand him literally, for they were not likely to buy bread of the opulent Pharisees and Sadducees, nor were they in a place where they could buy it at all, being in a desert; and they did not as yet lay hold of the spiritual meaning of his words. On this account they reasoned among themselves, both as to the supply of their necessities, and what might be the meaning of their Lord’s words. This clearly appears, because our Lord’s reproof relates both to their want of faith as to supplies, and their want of a prompt spiritual discernment.

Verse 12

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

But of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. — Leaven is usually the metaphor for evil affections; but here, and in Galatians 5:9, it is used for bad doctrine, which actively diffuses itself, and in the results corrupts and vitiates. St. Mark says, “And the leaven of Herod,” because Herod was a Sadducee, and the head therefore of the Sadducees of Galilee, with whom the conversation had been held.

Verse 13

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Cesarea Philippi. — This city was situated at the foot of the mountain Paneas, whence flow the springs or source of the river Jordan. It was anciently called Laish and Paneas, and was rebuilt by Philip the tetrarch, who gave it the name of Cesarea, in honor of Tiberius Cesar, and added Philippi from his own name, to distinguish it from Cesarea, a seaport on the Mediterranean, formerly called Strato’s Tower, and magnificently rebuilt by Herod the Great, Philip’s father, and named in honour of Augustus Cesar. The city is destroyed, but the circuit of the walls is still discernible. — A few miserable huts inhabited by Mohammedans stand upon its site.

Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am? — This question, as we learn from Mark, was put to the disciples as he was travelling to visit the towns of this district; and from St. Luke we have the farther particulars, that it was when he was alone with them, and had been engaged in prayer.

Some, by altering the pointing, resolve this question into two, “Whom do men say that I am? The Son of man?” But, though the ancient MSS. were written without points, and to supply them is the work of criticism, regard must always be paid to the most obvious sense, and to the construction; and as the second question is made to begin without any interrogative particle, as μη , or μητι , usage is violated. Beside, it is clear from the answer that our Lord did not inquire whether the people said that he was the Son of man or Messiah, to which their reply is as indirect an answer as can be conceived: but indefinitely, what were the reports respecting him.

The question must, therefore, be taken as one. Our Lord declares himself, as he had often done, to be THE SON OF MAN; and asks, Whom do men, the people in general, say that I am? There is, however, no reason to suppose, with other commentators, that our Lord intended, by calling himself “the Son of man,” to intimate emphatically his low and humble condition. This is the title of Messiah, as given by Daniel, who, by using it, doubtless predicted his incarnation; but it is one which does not necessarily imply humiliation, inasmuch as he is now, though glorified, as much the Son of man as when he sojourned upon earth; that is to say, as truly a human being. Stephen saw THE SON OF MAN standing at the right hand of God. This was the prophetic designation of the Messiah, and as such our Lord had adopted it; and no other reason can indeed be assigned for its use. It is therefore a most unsupported opinion of Macknight, that our Lord had not yet directly declared to his disciples that he was the Messiah. The use of this very title, from the commencement of his ministry, was a declaration of it; beside that all those of his apostles who had been disciples of John the Baptist had left their master and joined Christ, on the ground of the former having borne his testimony that Jesus was the Messiah, of whom he himself was the forerunner. Under this persuasion too, all his other disciples had joined themselves to him. The question then in the text is the same as if he had said, “Whom do men say that I, THE MESSIAH, am? What are the opinions of those who have not acknowledged me under that character?” Lightfoot, indeed, conjectures that Christ inquires what kind of person they thought him to be; since τινα , rendered whom, often relates to the quality of the person: but quality here is no farther intended than as it would be involved with the particular character men might judge our Lord to be, as the answer of the disciples sufficiently proves. Some MSS. omit με , which, however, makes no difference in the sense, since Christ is evidently speaking of himself. Griesbach marks it as only doubtful; but, as it has been well observed, it would be less difficult to account for its omission in some MSS. than for its insertion in others.

Verse 14

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

John the Baptist, &c. — From this answer of the disciples it has been contended by some commentators, that the Pharisees held the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, and supposed that the soul of John, or Elijah, or of one of the prophets, had assumed the body of our Lord; forgetting that these opinions of Christ were not those of the Pharisees who had no views so honourable of our Saviour, but of the people at large, and especially those of Galilee, among whom this doctrine of the Greek and oriental philosophy was not probably heard of. Nor is it at all clear that any of the Jewish sects held this notion of the metempsychosis. The Sadducees, who were materialists, could not entertain it; and all the evidence for the Pharisees having adopted it, is an equivocal passage in Josephus, which appears rather to regard the resurrection of the body at the last day. But the case is determined by other considerations. It appears from chap. 14:2, that Herod had heard it as a common rumour that John had risen from the dead in the person of Jesus; not that his soul had passed into a new body. And with respect to the prophets also mentioned, St.

Luke has it, “And others say that one of the old prophets is risen again;” so that whether they thought Jesus to be John, or Elias, or one of the prophets, they conceived of him as one “risen from the dead.” The notion that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead, could only exist in those parts of the country, distant from the scenes of their joint or neighbouring ministrations. This was, however, in a limited district, and John’s public ministry soon terminated after that of Christ commenced. The report, however, shows the great veneration in which John was held for the popularity of our Lord in Galilee was now very great. As for Elijah, the Jews, taking the prophecy of Malachi literally, expected that illustrious prophet in person; (see note on Matthew 11:14;) and being greatly perplexed as to the mysterious character of our Lord, the solution in which others rested was, that Elias had risen and appeared in him, though under another name. That the Jews expected Jeremiah, rather than any other of the prophets in particular, appears from this passage, although the addition of, or one of the prophets, shows that they were not very confident.

Several reasons have been given by commentators for their having fixed upon Jeremiah, but none of them are satisfactory. They are chiefly taken from the rabbinical writings, and are the speculations of later ages, without having sufficient proof that they preserve the sentiments of our Lord’s time on this point, which was indeed less a rabbinical than a popular notion.

Here too it is to be noted that our Lord makes no remark upon these various opinions, or he suffers the statement of them by the disciples to pass in silence; the only reason for his asking the question, as to the opinion entertained of him by others, being to give them an occasion of solemnly declaring their own. Hence he subjoins, But whom say ye that I am?

Verse 16

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, &c.

— On this confession of Peter it may be remarked,

1. That it was made by Peter in the name of the rest of the apostles, for the question was put to them collectively, “Whom say ye that I am?” And the answer is to be taken in the same way.

2. That the confession has two great parts, “Thou art THE CHRIST,” is the first part; and the Messiah, taken alone, might be held without any higher conceptions of his nature than were entertained by the majority of the Jews and their teachers in that day. That the views entertained of the Messiah by the Jews of that age were very various, is not only a natural inference, for ancient truth does not all at once vanish from the minds of a whole people, but is made certain by the different opinions entertained of our Lord during his ministry, by those who either did acknowledge him to be the Christ, or were withheld from doing so, not by their want of conviction, but from the fear of persecution. A few only, such as Nathanael, attached the ancient idea of Divinity to the title Messiah; others seem to have regarded the Messiah as a glorious but middle being between God and men; others an angel, others a supernaturally endowed man. The two latter were the prevalent notions, and these lower conceptions of his character would prevail just as the expectation of the re-establishment of a temporal sovereignty prevailed, or by a gross interpretation of the prophecies was carnalized by the growing worldliness of their minds. From about the time of the birth of our Lord, they appear to have become increasingly uneasy under the Roman power, and the desire to be avenged of it, and rescued from its control, was at length wrought up to passion and infatuation. The progress of this feeling among the Jews, all through the life of our Lord, will account for the constantly diminishing views of Messiah’s character, as compared with the faith of their fathers. For earthly wars, conquests, and cares, a mere man, if endowed with power to command signs from heaven, thunders, hail storms, lightnings, to blast the enemies of Israel, or at most an angel, would by such be naturally thought a Messiah quite adequate to accomplish all they expected, and, in fact, all they desired. THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD is therefore emphatically added, to express Peter’s own view and that of the other disciples of the true nature of him whom they acknowledged to be the Christ; an acknowledgment not now made by them for the first time; for, after he had walked on the water, and had come into the vessel, all the disciples “worshipped him, saying,” in the most emphatic manner, “OF A TRUTH THOU ART THE SON OF GOD.” That confession, indeed, they had made in a moment of great excitement, occasioned by a most impressive display of his Divine power over the elements; but now they make it calmly and deliberately.

3. That the title SON OF GOD is a designation of nature, not of office, like that of THE CHRIST. The latter, indeed, is a noble part of the confession, for it includes all those high offices to which he was ANOINTED by the Holy Ghost, and which are so largely dwelt upon in the prophetic Scriptures; but the title, “Son of God,” is added, and stands in manifest opposition to the phrase, “the Son of man,” in the question of our Lord, which, though a designation of Messiah, is founded altogether upon his real humanity. By this he was declared both to be the Messiah, and truly a man; but was he nothing more? The disciples in the ship, and now Peter in their name, again reply in the affirmative, and call him THE SON OF GOD, the Son of the LIVING GOD, which is the high and distinguishing appellation of Jehovah, in opposition to dead idols. That this title, the Son of God, was given by the disciples with reference to their faith in our Lord’s Divine nature, although as yet the mystery of the Trinity was not so distinctly revealed to them as afterwards, is rendered indubitable by the sense put upon that very phrase by the Jews themselves. Of its universally received import the gospels afford complete evidence, and that both as to the popular sense in which it was understood, and with which, therefore, the disciples could not be unacquainted, and also of the interpretation put upon it by the learned. As to the first, we have this pregnant instance, that when our Lord, amidst an indiscriminate company of hearers, claimed God as his proper Father, the Jews accused him of blasphemy, and took up stones to stone him. And of the second we have evidence in the fact, that he was tried and condemned before the Jewish sanhedrim on a charge of blasphemy, grounded upon this fact, that he professed to be THE SON OF GOD? “Then said they all, Art thou then THE SON OF GOD? And he saith unto them, Ye say that I am;” thereby affirming it. And they said, “What need we any farther witness? for we ourselves have heard out of his own mouth;” and “the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy. Behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy, what think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of DEATH.” So fully demonstrated is it, by these two facts alone, that the title, “Son of God,” was considered by the Jews to involve an assumption of the Divine nature, which Jesus himself did not deny; but, by his entire silence as to his having used the term in any lower sense, most forcibly and infallibly confirmed. See note on chap. 26:63.

Verse 17

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Simon Bar-jona. — The son of Jona, or Jonah, which was the name of his father; these patronymics being in frequent use among the Jews.

Flesh and blood hath not revealed, &c. — Flesh and blood is the Hebrew periphrasis for man; and the meaning of our Lord is, that Peter had not derived this knowledge of Christ from his own sagacity, or from the teaching of man, or from the notions respecting the nature of Messiah current among the Jews, but from the special teaching of THE FATHER, giving him a right understanding of these great truths, and a docile disposition to yield to those demonstrations of them which he had beheld in the works of Christ. Nor is this to be understood exclusively of Peter, but of all the other apostles, whose knowledge of this mystery could only come from the same source, the revelation of the Father; and as Peter was on this account pronounced blessed, so was the benediction pronounced through him upon them all; for as he had answered in the name of the rest, so he receives the blessing as representing the rest.

Verse 18

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And I say also unto thee. That thou art Peter, &c. — Here, again, the key to our Lord’s meaning is that peculiarity in his teaching which, by the use of beautiful and easily understood enigmas, and by taking terms in a literal and figurative sense in the same sentence, or giving a lower and a higher application of the same term, for the moment involves his meaning in obscurity, only to unveil it in greater force and clearness to attentive minds. In this passage our Lord confirms to Simon the new name of Peter, which had before been given him, instead of his old name Simon Bar-jona. It was not unusual for the Jewish doctors to impose new names upon their disciples; and our Lord, in this instance, had followed the example, having given the name of Cephas to Simon, “which is by interpretation a stone,” at his first calling, John 1:42. That it was not considered improper in a Jew to use a name derived from the Greeks or Latins, is also clear from the example of Saul, who assumed the name of Paul, or Paulus. Peter, Πετρος , signifies a stone or rock, and from this signification of his name our Lord declares that he should be a foundation stone upon which he would build his Church: “Thou art Peter,” a stone, and επι ταυτη τη πετρα , upon this stone, this foundation stone, “will I build my Church.” The Papists take the words to have been addressed to Peter exclusively, and ground upon this famous and oft-controverted passage their notion of the supremacy of Peter and his successors; while many Protestants, in order to rebut this conclusion, contend that the foundation on which the Church was to be built, was either Christ, who is supposed to have pointed to himself with his finger; or the profession of faith which Peter had just made. The latter view was also that of Chrysostom, τη πετρα — τουτεστι τη πιστει της ομολογιας , “Upon the rock, that is, the faith of his profession.”

In favour of this, an argument has been founded by some upon the difference of termination between Πετρος and Πετρα . If the apostle, say they, had himself been the rock, our Lord would not have changed the term to η πετρα ; and it would have been more direct to have said, Thou art Peter, and upon thee will I build &c. But this change of gender is sufficiently explained by the figurative manner in which our Lord must on every scheme of interpretation be supposed to have spoken. After all that has been said, the most natural interpretation of the words is that which refers them to Peter. His name signified a stone, and our Lord, taking the term figuratively in his usual manner, says, Upon this stone will I build my Church, meaning unquestionably not upon Peter’s person, but upon Peter’s office and ministry, which — as that necessarily includes Peter’s doctrine, for his ministry was to teach that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and the only true object of the trust of men for salvation — brings us, in fact, around to the opinion of those who hold that the true foundation referred to is Peter’s profession of faith. No ill consequence can therefore result from allowing that Peter was intended as the foundation on which the Church was to be built, when that necessary distinction is made, that Peter is not spoken of as a man, but as an apostle, whose sole office it was to bring men to trust in Christ alone for salvation; for from hence it follows that the doctrine he taught was the true foundation of the Church.

But here again it is to be observed that although Peter is addressed; it is still as before, not exclusively, but as the representative of the rest of the apostles. They had all joined in the same confession: they had all been taught of the Father, not by flesh and blood; they had all been pronounced blessed in the blessing pronounced upon Peter; and now Peter’s name is enigmatically made use of to show that they were all, collectively, in their office and doctrine, to be the foundation of the Christian Church; and thus this passage is in entire harmony with that of St. Paul: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone:” where we see no distinction made among the apostles, but all are represented as constituting the foundation of a building the chief corner stone of which is Christ. It corresponds also with the representation of the city or Church of God, the new Jerusalem, which had twelve foundations, bearing “the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Peter stands foremost on several occasions in the history of the gospels, and he was chosen, notwithstanding his foul offence, the denial of his Master, to preach the first evangelical sermon to the Jews, and to be the first also to open the gate of faith to the Gentiles: but the notion of his supremacy over the other apostles is a pure fiction: no shadow of evidence appears in the history of the New Testament in favour of it; nay, on the contrary, he was “withstood,” by St. Paul, “to the face,” in a matter of indecision, for which that apostle declares “he was to be blamed.” St. Paul, therefore, allowed him neither infallibility nor supremacy.

My Church. — The Church of Christ is the assembly of true believers. The word itself, εκκλησια , signifies a public assembly; but, in a religious sense, an assembly collected for the public confession and worship of Christ, united in affection as brethren, and pledged to walk by the rules of their Divine Master. Every society of true Christians is a Church, for such particular societies are so denominated in the New Testament; but the body of the faithful throughout the world constitutes THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, and it is in this general sense that the term is here used. It is not the Church of Jerusalem, nor the Church of Rome, nor the Church of Antioch, or of any other place, nor any body of Christians distinguished from others by some external peculiarity; but all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in every place. This Church is here and in other places compared to a building, “a spiritual house,” “a temple,” because it is established for spiritual ends, and for holy services; and its members are called “living stones” in the building, not merely as they are living men; but as persons quickened into spiritual life, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And the gates of hell, &c. — Αιδης , rendered hell in our translation, does not necessarily mean the place of the punishment of the wicked, but generally the world of the dead, the unseen world, from α privative and ειδω , to see. It is the vast receptacle of disembodied human spirits until the resurrection, having two regions, one of the blessed, or, as the Hebrews called it, paradise; the other, the abyss or gehenna, the place where the wicked are collected, and are in a state of misery. This lower region is also the abode of evil spirits or devils, though not rigidly so, since they are permitted to have access to our world; while paradise is inhabited not only by the departed faithful, but by the angels of God. Figuratively, this region of the dead, and particularly with reference to them, is said to have gates, the keys of which are in the hands of Christ, so that “he opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens;” by which we are to understand his absolute power over life and death, and that his dominion extends not only over earth, but into the world of spirits, and is absolute over all the beings which it contains, — angels, devils, and men. The promise, that the gates of hades shall not prevail against the Church has been differently understood by interpreters. Since hades is the place of the spirits of the dead, the gates of hades have been understood to mean death. Thus Isaiah 38:10, “I shall go to the gates of the grave, εν πυλαις αδου , meaning I shall die.

And Wis_16:13 ,” Thou leadest to the gates of hades, εις πυλας αδου , and bringest up again.” The import of the promise is therefore taken to be, My Church shall endure for ever; death shall not so prevail against it that it shall ever become extinct, but it shall continue from generation to generation to the end of time. But though this be an important and encouraging sense, it does not well comport with the imagery of the text. The idea suggested by the Church being built upon massive foundation stones, intimates its power to resist assaults of war like the strong fortresses of antiquity, built upon the strongest sites; and the word κατισχυω , used in the text, indicates the application of violent force, as of an assault of enemies to vanquish and subdue; a metaphor which cannot well be applied to express the slow and silent wastes of death. We must therefore look for another interpretation, and this is intimated to us by other scriptures. In the book of Revelation hades is represented as a region under the government of death as its sovereign: this is one instance of striking personification applied to this subject. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the devil is represented as a sovereign who has “the power of death,” whose dominion our Lord was “to abolish.” This is an instance in which we see Satan brought into immediate collocation with the ravages of death, and the state of separate spirits.

By hades we may therefore understand that region which is not only the receptacle of the wicked dead, but the abode of the devil and his angels, who are represented as having dominion there, and who issue from this ABYSS to carry on their ravages among men, to oppose the life-giving and saving doctrine of Christ, and to disturb and destroy the Church, which is the shelter of souls from their malice and wiles. Now, as the strongly fortified GATES of cities were anciently the places, not only where the sovereign and his chief men, the elders, sat to give judgment, but also to hold their councils and arrange their plans of peace or war; by a metaphor easily understood, our Lord promises that all the counsels of Satan against the Church, and the wars he may wage by his agents to overthrow it, shall never so prevail against it as to vanquish and subdue it. Such has been the glorious fact; the Church still survives the conflicts of centuries; it still lives and flourishes, in spite of persecutions and corruptions: from its lowest depressions it has risen with renovated vigour; and it is again seen carrying on offensive and successful warfare against the kingdom of darkness throughout the world. To this day the fulfilment of this prophetic promise gives clear and powerful evidence to the truth of the Gospel. These words of our Lord also secure to us the continuance of the Church, not of any particular Church, but of the Church universal; the world shall never be without true believers, openly confessing Christ and maintaining the institutions of his religion; for αυτης is more naturally taken to refer to the εκκλησιαν , and not to the foundation stone, because the former is the nearest antecedent; but in either way the sense is the same, for the foundation would only be declared perpetual with reference to the edifice which it is in all ages to sustain.

Verse 19

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, &c.

— Some who apply these words to Peter exclusively, understand by the gift of the keys the honour assigned to Peter to open the gates of the kingdom of heaven, that is, the perfected evangelical dispensation, to the Jews at the day of pentecost, and then afterward to the Gentiles, when he went down to Cornelius at Cesarea. Others, as the Papists, understand by the phrase the committal of a special authority to Peter over the Church of Christ, of which it is certain that we have no evidence or illustration in the New Testament. The emblem of the keys was a familiar one to the apostles, if the later Jewish writers have correctly described the ancient ceremony of constituting a rabbi or doctor of the law; for according to them the person admitted to this office had a key given to him as an emblem both of his ability and duty to OPEN THE MEANING of the law, which key he wore as a badge of his office. Still, without any reference to this custom, supposing it as old as our Lord’s day, the figure very naturally expresses the opening of “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” BY PUBLIC TEACHING, and so setting open the doors of evangelical knowledge, and, by consequence, of the Christian Church. — This is a much more natural exposition of the emblem in this connection, than that which regards it as significant of the committal of power and authority to govern the Church; and is indeed pointed out with great clearness to be its meaning, by what follows as to the power of binding and loosing, which must be taken as exegetical of the power of the keys. These expressions are manifestly Jewish, and may therefore be satisfactorily explained by reference to this mode of speaking. With the Jews to bind and loose was a usual phrase for declaring what was lawful or unlawful; what was BINDING upon men’s consciences; and that from the obligation of which they were LOOSED or free. Lightfoot, Schoetgenius, and others, have produced a great number of examples from the rabbinical writings; one or two instances will suffice.

“He asked one wise man, and he bound; do not ask another, lest perhaps he loose.” “The school of Shammai binds it; the school of Hillel looseth it.” “Get thyself a heart to hear the words of them that pronounce unclean, and the words of them that pronounce clean; the words of them that bind, and the words of them that loose; the words of them that reject, and the words of them that declare it right.” Under these terms, therefore, our Lord gave his disciples authority to declare the laws of the Gospel dispensation under the guidance of his own teaching and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; which authoritative declaration of the terms of man’s forgiveness, and how Christians ought to walk so as to secure the approbation of God, and that infliction of the Divine displeasure which should follow disobedience, he promises should be confirmed in heaven; as constituting his own law and rule of moral government to be laid down by them, first in their preaching and then in their writings. — It is this which distinguishes those writings from all others. They not only contain a revelation of truth from God, but they have an authority as LAW derived from this, — that God himself acts upon them. Whatever the apostles have in those writings BOUND is a matter of conscience: it must be obeyed, not of choice merely, but necessity, since our salvation depends upon it; but whatever they have not bound is LOOSE to us: we are free from it, and no lower authority can make it binding upon the conscience, or connect with our disregard of it the penalty of the Divine displeasure. But that this promise looked to that future time when they should be fully qualified for this great office, is evident from what took place after Christ’s resurrection, when the same power, under a somewhat different form, but of precisely the same import, was ratified. After breathing upon them, he said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted to them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.”

To qualify them for this authoritative declaration of what was obligatory upon men or otherwise, and of the terms upon which sins are remitted, and the circumstances under which they are retained, they previously received the Holy Ghost; a sufficient proof that this power was connected with the plenary inspiration of the apostles, and beyond them it cannot extend. The manner, also, in which the apostles exercised this power elucidates the subject, which has been greatly abused in the Romish and some other Churches. We have no instance of their forgiving the sins of any individual by virtue of any authority deposited with them, much less did they affect to transmit this power to their successors. — They merely proclaimed and laid down the terms of pardon under the authority of Christ. And we have no instance of their “retaining the sins” of any one, except by declaring the offender condemned by the laws of the Gospel, of which they were the teachers. — They authoritatively explain in their writings the terms of forgiveness; and, as to duty, they state what is obligatory, or not obligatory, upon Christians; they pronounce sinners of various kinds to be under God’s wrath, and they declare certain apostates to be put beyond forgiveness, but by their unbelief and blasphemies, and not by apostolic excommunication; and thus they bound or loosed, remitted sins or retained them. It is also to be remarked, as on the preceding verses, that whatever this power was, it was not given exclusively to Peter. Still he stands before the Lord as the representative of the rest of the apostles, and receives nothing but what they all received; and hence, in chapter 18:18, our Lord says to them collectively, and in the plural form of address, “Whatsoever YE shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever YE shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” God will act upon your inspired decisions.

Verse 20

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

That they should tell no man, that he was Jesus the Christ. — Many Greek MSS. and several versions omit in this clause the name Jesus, which indeed appears superfluous, and under this impression might be omitted by some transcribers; it may, nevertheless, be emphatic. The apostles were here strictly prohibited from telling, or openly proclaiming, their faith in his high character, not merely as the Christ; but, as St. Luke has it, “the Christ of God;” which appears to be but an elliptical mode of stating the whole confession they had just made, that he was “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The sense appears to be, not that they were inhibited from generally expressing their faith in him as the Messiah though that they were not to do officiously, and rather by their conduct as following him under that character as his disciples; but that they were not openly to declare their belief that he was “the Christ of God,” Christ, under those high conceptions of his nature which they had received from the teaching of the Father. The reason appears to be, not fear of the Romans as stated by some, lest they should connect the confession of his Messiahship with the intention of making him king; but more probably either because they were not as yet qualified to defend those deep doctrines which were involved in these views of his character; or, more especially, because he, as yet, reserved it wholly to himself, in the difficult circumstances in which he was placed, to explain who he was at the most fitting times and seasons, and to confirm every claim as he should advance it, both by his arguments of superhuman wisdom, and his miraculous works. This reason for the prohibition is free from the difficulty which the usual interpretation suggests. For why, it may be asked, should the apostles at that period of Christ’s ministry, have been restrained from telling any man simply, that they believed him to be the Messiah, when they openly followed him as such, and when he himself, in no mysterious manner, had so often intimated the same thing, and grounded his whole ministry upon it? But around the character of the Messiah himself, a great obscurity hung in the minds of the Jews, and with great mystery our Lord had generally chosen to invest his own. The apostles who had been now so long “with him,” had glanced within this veil, and been favoured with special manifestations of his concealed glory; but even they were yet “weak in faith,” and of obscure understanding in what “the prophets had spoken.” The faith they had was not as yet, therefore, to be openly proclaimed: it was their office yet to abide with their Master to learn, and his exclusively to teach. See the note on Mark 3:12.

Verse 21

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Began Jesus to show unto his disciples. — That is, more particularly and explicitly than before; not in dark sayings or occasional instructions.

Elders, chief priests, and scribes. — These three orders composed the sanhedrim or great council. The elders were the senators, and are to be distinguished from the elders of cities, who were heads of the inferior courts of justice. From the term elders, which included the idea of both rank and age, the council was sometimes called Πρεσβυτεριον . The chief priests, the heads of the courses of the priests, appear to have been members of the council by virtue of their office, and the scribes were assessors as learned assistants.

Verse 22

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Then Peter took him. — Of the various senses given to προσλαβομενος , in this passage, some of a rude, and others of a tender and respectful import, the most probable is that of taking by the hand or arm: an action natural to one who would remonstrate with another to whom he was fervently attached.

And began to rebuke him. — The term rebuke, in our translation, appears too strong. The earnest remonstrance of one who, neither on his own account, nor that of his Master, could bear to hear the subject of his sufferings and death, appears all that is indicated; and our Lord’s stern reproof is not directed against the manner of Peter’s address; but against those gross and carnal views of the Messiah’s kingdom and glory which still clung to him, and influenced his judgment and feelings.

Be it far from thee. — Ιλεως σοι , literally, Be merciful to thyself, but a phrase used by the Septuagint for a Hebrew word, which signifies God forbid, or far be it; and is here to be taken not as an entreaty of Peter to Christ, to deliver himself from impending danger by an exertion of his power, but as a passionate exclamation of forbidding or aversion: hence he adds, This shall not be unto thee: it cannot be; it is a thought not to be conceived.

Verse 23

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

But he turned. — St. Mark says, “When he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter;” from which it appears that Peter, in taking hold of Christ, had drawn him a little aside from the rest of the disciples; but, as our Lord designed to rebuke Peter in the presence of them all, he turned to them to be the more distinctly heard.

Get thee behind me, Satan. — It was nearly in these words that our Lord rebuked Satan himself at the close of his great temptation, and the force of this rebuke as to Peter was greatly heightened by applying to him the name of Satan himself. This was not done in the sense of adversary, the import of the word; for this scarcely suggests a meaning as applied to Peter; but as intimating to him and the rest that in this, though unconsciously, he was the agent of Satan, who, making use of Peter’s remaining worldly views as to the Messiah, and his consequent repugnance to the doctrine of his Lord’s death, did in fact, by his instrumentality, attempt to assail our Lord’s constancy, and to excite in him a reluctance to suffer. This appears the most satisfactory way of accounting for the apparent severity of Christ’s calling Peter by the name Satan: for he was, in fact, thereby told that he had rendered himself, by his want of spiritual views, the agent of him whose grand design was to obstruct the work of human redemption. And we can conceive of no occasion more fitly chosen than this by the wily tempter, to produce an impression upon the natural feelings of our Lord, when one of his disciples, who no doubt fully expressed the sentiments of the rest, remonstrated with him, from the very fulness of his affection, not to expose himself to danger and death. This is farther confirmed by what follows, Thou art an offence to me, σκανδαλον , a stumbling block, a hinderance; for by appealing to the natural horror of suffering and death to which our Lord’s human nature was subject, and to resist which by an invincible resignation was one of his most illustrious virtues, Satan through Peter, did what in him lay to shake his resolution, and to hinder the accomplishment of the purposes of his infinite love.

Thou savourest not the things that be of God, &c. — The word φρονεω in Romans 8:5, is rendered “to mind,” or to regard, and has here the same sense. Peter acknowledged the glory of Christ’s nature, but, with the expectation of spiritual blessings from him as Messiah, mingled that of an external national reign, and all those external benefits most pleasing to worldly men. The death of Christ at the hands of the great council of the nation was fatal to anticipations of the latter kind; and this consideration, united with his affection for Christ, had excited in him so great an impatience at the annunciation of Christ that he must suffer and die. Or the meaning may be, that he regarded in the case only what was agreeable to human nature, as all exemption from suffering must be; and not those counsels, and that supreme will of God, to which every thing ought to be sacrificed.

Verse 24

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

If any man will come after me, &c. — Our Lord not only rebuked Peter for endeavouring to turn him from his own purpose of surrendering himself to suffering and death; but takes occasion from it to prepare his disciples not for the honours of an earthly kingdom, but for a similar course of self-denial, and for submission to death itself. The verb απαρνεομαι , to deny, has two significations. The first is, to disown acquaintance or connection with any; and in this sense it is well illustrated by St. Jerome: “He that putteth off the old man with his works denieth himself; the unchaste, being converted to modest manners, does by his present chastity deny his former licentiousness; he that was once cowardly and timid, by becoming strong in fortitude knows not his former self; the unjust man who now cultivates justice denies his former iniquitous course; and not only in times of persecution and martyrdom, but in all our conversation, thoughts, doings, and discourse, we must deny what we were before.” The second sense is to renounce and disregard; and for the disciple in this respect to deny himself, is to disregard all personal consideration of ease, honour, liberty, and life, when they come into competition with his allegiance to Christ. And take up his cross, patiently submitting to every kind of sufferings, and even to die an ignominious and cruel death, like Christ himself, when called to it. “Not making the cross,” says Mr. Baxter, “but taking and bearing it when it is laid upon him, and follow Christ by sufferings to glory.” See note on Matthew 10:38.

Verse 25

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Save his life shall lose it. — See note on Matthew 10:39.

Verse 26

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And lose his own soul. — The word ψυχη , here translated soul, is the word used for life in the preceding verse; for, in fact, the word signifies both bodily life, and the immortal soul; and that it here means the higher life of man, that is, the soul, is so manifest from the scope of the argument, that one may be greatly surprised that any should have chosen to render it otherwise, and to argue that our Lord speaks primarily, at least, if not exclusively, of the loss of animal life. It is very true that a man would be nothing profited, were he to gain the whole world and lose his life; but had this been our Lord’s proposition it would have been an argument to enforce upon the disciples an extreme carefulness about the preservation of their lives, rather than a noble readiness to lay them down for the sake of the truth, which it was the intention of Christ to inculcate.

But as our Lord had said, in the preceding verse, “Whosoever will save his life,” his bodily life, by a cowardly desertion of my cause, “shall lose it,” shall lose his life in a higher sense, namely, his soul; “and whosoever will lose his life,” his bodily life, “for my sake, shall find it,” shall find an immortal life in a future state; so here he sets the loss of life in this higher sense, that is, the loss of eternal life, or, what is the same thing, the loss of the soul’s future happiness, against that worldly gain which might be the inducement to save life at the expense of a good conscience. And most strongly does our Lord thus convey the general and most important truth, that there is nothing earthly, no, not the gain of the whole world, of all its riches, honours, and pleasures, were that possible, which could compensate for the loss of the immortal soul, which consists in its exclusion from eternal life. So entirely ought the safety of the soul to engross our attention and call forth our efforts. Had our word life, like the Greek ψυχη , been commonly used both for the animal life of the body, and for the immortal spirit in men, it would have been allowable to translate, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his LIFE;” but, as the term life conveys but one meaning, our translators could not have expressed the true sense otherwise than by translating ψυχη in this verse soul. This could not be done in the preceding verse because of the paronomasia; the rhetorical figure employed by our Lord in this and many other of his discourses.

In exchange for his soul. — The word ανταλλαγμα signifies a thing given in exchange, a ransom; which also applies directly to the soul, as is manifest from the next verse, where the proceedings of the day of final judgment are immediately introduced. A man might in many cases offer such a ransom for his life as would be accepted; and nothing was more common anciently than to redeem life by gifts: but when “the Son of man shall come in his glory, to reward every man according to his works,” and the soul of the wretched man who has renounced Christ from the fear or love of the world has been doomed to the loss of eternal life, and to positive punishment, what shall he offer as a ransom? A question which has the force of the strongest negation. There is no ransom then; the only acceptable ransom of souls from the condemnation of death, the sacrifice of Christ, having been neglected or cast away in that period of probation during which it can be pleaded.

Verse 27

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

For the Son of man shall come in the glory, &c. — In the full manifested glory of the Godhead; accompanied by the whole host of holy angels; in strange contrast to his then humble condition, surrounded by a few poor disciples, despised and rejected of men! Thus if our Lord, on the one hand, represses the lingering expectation of the apostles that he would assume an earthly glory, by declaring that it was in the counsel of God that he should suffer and die, on the other he elevates their hopes to the higher final glories of his second advent. That these words relate, not to the setting up of his mediatorial kingdom, as predicted by Daniel, nor, figuratively, to his coming to judge the nation of the Jews, is most evident from what follows: And then he will reward every man according to his works. This is an act, not of gracious mediation, but of strict judgment; so that the coming of Christ in the fulness of his glory, as mediator, could not be intended; nor is a national judgment a rewarding of every or each man according to his work; for sinners of widely different degrees of delinquency are involved in the same public calamities, and the comparatively innocent share the penalty equally with the most guilty. Besides, those who apply this to the desolation of Judea by the Romans, which was no doubt a judicial act of Christ in his exalted state, ought to show how the pious and faithful, as well as the wicked, were then rewarded; which is undoubtedly in rendering to “every man according to his works.” The passage has clearly no meaning but as it refers to the end of the world, and the general judgment; for then only can those be fully rewarded who, have laid down their lives for the sake of Christ, one of the subjects on which he had been discoursing, and which stands intimately connected with these words.

Verse 28

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. — That this coming of the Son of man relates to the setting up of the mediatorial kingdom of Christ in its fulness and perfection, is as certain as that the coming of the Son of man in the preceding verse relates to his second advent, as Judge. The parallel passages sufficiently explain the meaning. St. Luke says, “Till they see the kingdom of God;” and St. Mark, “Till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” “The kingdom of Christ,” “the kingdom of God,” and “the kingdom of heaven,” are all phrases used to express the Gospel dispensation, or Christian economy. It is called a kingdom, because all men are placed under the power of Christ as MEDIATOR, to redeem, govern, and save; and, under his power as LORD, to correct, and, if impenitent, to condemn: and it has this appellation also because the administration of his Gospel, under his authority, was a new species of control introduced into human society, regulating the hearts and conduct of obedient men; attractively influential by its kindness admonitory by its threats, and, in the case of determined rebellion, terrible in the penalties which it has established. This kingdom our Lord began to found by his personal ministry; but it was not completed till his ascension, when according to the prophecy of Daniel, “the Son of man came to the Ancient of days,” “and there was given to him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him;” and then, to give efficiency to the means by which the sons of men should be thus brought into a state of willing, gracious subjection to him as their Lord, he poured out the Holy Spirit, in his plenitude of graces and gifts, upon the disciples at the day of pentecost.

This he himself termed enduing them “with power from on high;” which sufficiently explains the words of St. Mark: “Till they have seen the kingdom of God come with POWER” To taste of death is a Hebrew mode of expression, equivalent to see death. It merely signifies to die, and is constantly so used by the Jewish writers. “All the children of men taste the taste of death.” Thus were the apostles encouraged; for although he had assured them that he must die, yet they were not to die till they had seen his kingdom set up in its power; from which they might also have inferred, had they not been as yet “slow of heart to understand,” that even their Master’s death was in some manner mysteriously connected with the full establishment of his kingdom. This they afterward understood; they died not till they had witnessed the glorious triumphs of his kingdom over both Jews and Gentiles, the glorious earnest of its universal prevalence throughout the whole world. Those commentators who apply these words to the judicial visitation of the Jewish nation, and the destruction of Jerusalem, adopt an interpretation which is wholly forbidden by the parallel places from Mark and Luke, above referred to; for how that direful event could be the “coming of the kingdom of God with power,” is utterly inconceivable, when the established sense of the phrase, “the kingdom of God,” as used in the gospels, is considered.

For though the infliction of punishment upon the Jewish nation by the exalted and glorified “Lord and Christ,” whom they had rejected, be spoken of figuratively, as a “coming of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory,” the imagery being taken from the circumstances of the general judgment; yet this is never called “the coming of the Son of man in his kingdom,” nor “seeing the kingdom of God.” It is true that our Lord says, “There be SOME standing here which shall not taste of death,” which has been thought to intimate that the event alluded to was so distant that all but a very few of the disciples must, in the course of nature, be dead before it arrived; and this they state best agrees with the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened about forty years afterward. But a better reason may be found for the use of the word τινες , some or certain persons. ONE, at least, then present, was to be excluded; ONE was to taste of death before “the glorious resurrection, and ascension, and coming of the Holy Ghost,” which the others were to witness. That excepted person was Judas, who “went out and hanged himself.” The declaration could not then include all; and it is restricted, accordingly, by an indefinite limitation. The opinion of those is not better founded which refers the text to the transfiguration mentioned in the next chapter. Then, indeed, the Son of man appeared invested with glory; but in no good sense can it be said that he then “came in his kingdom,” or that then “the kingdom of God came with power.” The glory was great, but transient; and it was so because it was merely symbolical of something future to this illustrious event itself.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 16". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/matthew-16.html.
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