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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Matthew 16

Verse 1

The Pharisees and Sadducees (οι Παρισαιοι και Σαδδουκαιοιhoi Pharisaioi kai Saddoukaioi). The first time that we have this combination of the two parties who disliked each other exceedingly. Hate makes strange bedfellows. They hated Jesus more than they did each other. Their hostility has not decreased during the absence of Jesus, but rather increased.

Tempting him (πειραζοντεςpeirazontes). Their motive was bad.

A sign from heaven (σημειον εκ του ουρανουsēmeion ek tou ouranou). The scribes and Pharisees had already asked for a sign (Matthew 12:38). Now this new combination adds “from heaven.” What did they have in mind? They may not have had any definite idea to embarrass Jesus. The Jewish apocalypses did speak of spectacular displays of power by the Son of Man (the Messiah). The devil had suggested that Jesus let the people see him drop down from the pinnacle of the temple and the people expected the Messiah to come from an unknown source (John 7:27) who would do great signs (John 7:31). Chrysostom (Hom. liii.) suggests stopping the course of the sun, bridling the moon, a clap of thunder.

Verse 2

Fair weather (ευδιαeudia). An old poetic word from ευeu and ευςZeus as the ruler of the air and giver of fair weather. So men today say “when the sky is red at sunset.” It occurs on the Rosetta Stone and in a fourth century a.d. Oxyr. papyrus for “calm weather” that made it impossible to sail the boat. Aleph and B and some other MSS. omit Matthew 16:2 and Matthew 16:3. W omits part of Matthew 16:2. These verses are similar to Luke 12:54-56. McNeile rejects them here. Westcott and Hort place in brackets. Jesus often repeated his sayings. Zahn suggests that Papias added these words to Matthew.

Verse 3

Lowring (στυγναζωνstugnazōn). A sky covered with clouds. Used also of a gloomy countenance as of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:22. Nowhere else in the New Testament. This very sign of a rainy day we use today. The word for “foul weather” (χειμωνcheimōn) is the common one for winter and a storm.

The signs of the times (τα σημεια των καιρωνta sēmeia tōn kairōn). How little the Pharisees and Sadducees understood the situation. Soon Jerusalem would be destroyed and the Jewish state overturned. It is not always easy to discern (διακρινεινdiakrinein discriminate) the signs of our own time. Men are numerous with patent keys to it all. But we ought not to be blind when others are gullible.

Verse 4

Same words in Matthew 12:39 except του προπητουtou prophētou a real doublet.

Verse 5

Came (ελτοντεςelthontes). Probably= “went” as in Luke 15:20 (ιρεire not ςενιρεvenire). So in Mark 8:13 απηλτενapēlthen (επελατοντοepelathonto). Perhaps in the hurry to leave Galilee, probably in the same boat by which they came across from Decapolis.

Verse 7

They reasoned (διελογιζοντοdielogizonto). It was pathetic, the almost jejune inability of the disciples to understand the parabolic warning against “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6) after the collision of Christ just before with both parties in Magadan. They kept it up, imperfect tense. It is “loaves” (αρτουςartous) rather than “bread.”

Verse 8

Jesus asks four pungent questions about the intellectual dulness, refers to the feeding of the five thousand and uses the word κοπινουςkophinous (Matthew 14:20) for it and σπυριδαςsphuridas for the four thousand (Matthew 15:37), and repeats his warning (Matthew 16:11). Every teacher understands this strain upon the patience of this Teacher of teachers.

Verse 12

Then understood they (τοτε συνηκανtote sunēkan). First aorist active indicative of συνιημιsuniēmi to grasp, to comprehend. They saw the point after this elaborate rebuke and explanation that by “leaven” Jesus meant “teaching.”

Verse 13

Caesarea Philippi (Καισαριας της ΠιλιππουKaisarias tēs Philippou). Up on a spur of Matthew Hermon under the rule of Herod Philip.

He asked (ηρωταērōtā). Began to question, inchoative imperfect tense. He was giving them a test or examination. The first was for the opinion of men about the Son of Man.

Verse 14

And they said (οι δε ειπανhoi de eipan). They were ready to respond for they knew that popular opinion was divided on that point (Matthew 14:1.). They give four different opinions. It is always a risky thing for a pastor to ask for people‘s opinions of him. But Jesus was not much concerned by their answers to this question. He knew by now that the Pharisees and Sadducees were bitterly hostile to him. The masses were only superficially following him and they looked for a political Messiah and had vague ideas about him. How much did the disciples understand and how far have they come in their development of faith? Are they still loyal?

Verse 15

But who say ye that I am? (μεις δε τινα με λεγετε ειναιhūmeis de tina me legete einai̇). This is what matters and what Jesus wanted to hear. Note emphatic position of hūmeis “But you, who say ye that I am?”

Verse 16

Peter is the spokesman now: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Συ ει ο Χριστος ο υιος του τεου του ζωντοςSu ei ho Christos ho huios tou theou tou zōntos). It was a noble confession, but not a new claim by Jesus. Peter had made it before (John 6:69) when the multitude deserted Jesus in Capernaum. Since the early ministry (John 4) Jesus had avoided the word Messiah because of its political meaning to the people. But now Peter plainly calls Jesus the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Son of the God the living one (note the four Greek articles). This great confession of Peter means that he and the other disciples believe in Jesus as the Messiah and are still true to him in spite of the defection of the Galilean populace (John 6).

Verse 17

Blessed art thou (μακαριος ειmakarios ei). A beatitude for Peter. Jesus accepts the confession as true. Thereby Jesus on this solemn occasion solemnly claims to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God, his deity in other words. The disciples express positive conviction in the Messiahship or Christhood of Jesus as opposed to the divided opinions of the populace. “The terms in which Jesus speaks of Peter are characteristic - warm, generous, unstinted. The style is not that of an ecclesiastical editor laying the foundation for church power, and prelatic pretentions, but of a noble-minded Master eulogizing in impassioned terms a loyal disciple” (Bruce). The Father had helped Peter get this spiritual insight into the Master‘s Person and Work.

Verse 18

And I also say unto thee (καγω δε σοι λεγωk'agō de soi legō). “The emphasis is not on ‹Thou art Peter‘ over against ‹Thou art the Christ,‘ but on ΚαγωKagō ‹The Father hath revealed to thee one truth, and I also tell you another” (McNeile). Jesus calls Peter here by the name that he had said he would have (John 1:42). Peter (ΠετροςPetros) is simply the Greek word for Cephas (Aramaic). Then it was prophecy, now it is fact. In Matthew 16:17 Jesus addresses him as “Simon Bar-Jonah,” his full patronymic (Aramaic) name. But Jesus has a purpose now in using his nickname “Peter” which he had himself given him. Jesus makes a remarkable play on Peter‘s name, a pun in fact, that has caused volumes of controversy and endless theological strife.

On this rock (επι ταυτηι τηι πετραιepi tautēi tēi petrāi) Jesus says, a ledge or cliff of rock like that in Matthew 7:24 on which the wise man built his house. ΠετροςPetros is usually a smaller detachment of the massive ledge. But too much must not be made of this point since Jesus probably spoke Aramaic to Peter which draws no such distinction (ΚηπαKēphā). What did Jesus mean by this word-play?

I will build my church (οικοδομησω μου την εκκλησιανoikodomēsō mou tēn ekklēsian). It is the figure of a building and he uses the word εκκλησιανekklēsian which occurs in the New Testament usually of a local organization, but sometimes in a more general sense. What is the sense here in which Jesus uses it? The word originally meant “assembly” (Acts 19:39), but it came to be applied to an “unassembled assembly” as in Acts 8:3 for the Christians persecuted by Saul from house to house. “And the name for the new Israel, εκκλησιαekklēsia in His mouth is not an anachronism. It is an old familiar name for the congregation of Israel found in Deut. (Deuteronomy 18:16; Deuteronomy 23:2) and Psalms (Psalm 22:25), both books well known to Jesus” (Bruce). It is interesting to observe that in Psalms 89 most of the important words employed by Jesus on this occasion occur in the lxx text. So οικοδομησωoikodomēsō in Psalm 89:5; εκκλησιαekklēsia in Psalm 89:6; κατισχυωkatischuō in Psalm 89:22; ΧριστοςChristos in Psalm 89:39, Psalm 89:52; αιδηςhāidēs in Psalm 89:49 (εκ χειρος αιδουek cheiros hāidou). If one is puzzled over the use of “building” with the word εκκλησιαekklēsia it will be helpful to turn to 1 Peter 2:5. Peter, the very one to whom Jesus is here speaking, writing to the Christians in the five Roman provinces in Asia (1 Peter 1:1), says: “You are built a spiritual house” (οικοδομειστε οικος πνευματικοςoikodomeisthe oikos pneumatikos). It is difficult to resist the impression that Peter recalls the words of Jesus to him on this memorable occasion. Further on (1 Peter 2:9) he speaks of them as an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, showing beyond controversy that Peter‘s use of building a spiritual house is general, not local. This is undoubtedly the picture in the mind of Christ here in Matthew 16:18. It is a great spiritual house, Christ‘s Israel, not the Jewish nation, which he describes. What is the rock on which Christ will build his vast temple? Not on Peter alone or mainly or primarily. Peter by his confession was furnished with the illustration for the rock on which His church will rest. It is the same kind of faith that Peter has just confessed. The perpetuity of this church general is guaranteed.

The gates of Hades (πυλαι αιδουpulai hāidou) shall not prevail against it (ου κατισχυσουσιν αυτηςou katischusousin autēs). Each word here creates difficulty. Hades is technically the unseen world, the Hebrew Sheol, the land of the departed, that is death. Paul uses τανατεthanate in 1 Corinthians 15:55 in quoting Hosea 13:14 for αιδηhāidē It is not common in the papyri, but it is common on tombstones in Asia Minor, “doubtless a survival of its use in the old Greek religion” (Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary). The ancient pagans divided Hades (αa privative and ιδεινidein to see, abode of the unseen) into Elysium and Tartarus as the Jews put both Abraham‘s bosom and Gehenna in Sheol or Hades (cf. Luke 16:25). Christ was in Hades (Acts 2:27, Acts 2:31), not in Gehenna. We have here the figure of two buildings, the Church of Christ on the Rock, the House of Death (Hades). “In the Old Testament the ‹gates of Hades‘ (Sheol) never bears any other meaning (Isaiah 38:10; Wisd. 16:3; 3 Maccabees 5:51) than death,” McNeile claims. See also Psalm 9:13; Psalm 107:18; Job 38:17 (πυλαι τανατου πυλωροι αιδουpulai thanatou pulōroi hāidou). It is not the picture of Hades attacking Christ‘s church, but of death‘s possible victory over the church. “The εκκλησιαekklēsia is built upon the Messiahship of her master, and death, the gates of Hades, will not prevail against her by keeping Him imprisoned. It was a mysterious truth, which He will soon tell them in plain words (Matthew 16:21); it is echoed in Acts 2:24, Acts 2:31 ” (McNeile). Christ‘s church will prevail and survive because He will burst the gates of Hades and come forth conqueror. He will ever live and be the guarantor of the perpetuity of His people or church. The verb κατισχυωkatischuō (literally have strength against, ισχυωischuō from ισχυςischus and κατkaṫ) occurs also in Luke 21:36; Luke 23:23. It appears in the ancient Greek, the lxx, and in the papyri with the accusative and is used in the modern Greek with the sense of gaining the mastery over. The wealth of imagery in Matthew 16:18 makes it difficult to decide each detail, but the main point is clear. The εκκλησιαekklēsia which consists of those confessing Christ as Peter has just done will not cease. The gates of Hades or bars of Sheol will not close down on it. Christ will rise and will keep his church alive. Sublime Porte used to be the title of Turkish power in Constantinople.

Verse 19

The Keys of the kingdom (τας κλειδας της βασιλειαςtas kleidas tēs basileias). Here again we have the figure of a building with keys to open from the outside. The question is raised at once if Jesus does not here mean the same thing by “kingdom” that he did by “church” in Matthew 16:18. In Revelation 1:18; Revelation 3:7 Christ the Risen Lord has “the keys of death and of Hades.” He has also “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” which he here hands over to Peter as “gatekeeper” or “steward” (οικονομοςoikonomos) provided we do not understand it as a special and peculiar prerogative belonging to Peter. The same power here given to Peter belongs to every disciple of Jesus in all the ages. Advocates of papal supremacy insist on the primacy of Peter here and the power of Peter to pass on this supposed sovereignty to others. But this is all quite beside the mark. We shall soon see the disciples actually disputing again (Matthew 18:1) as to which of them is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven as they will again (Matthew 20:21) and even on the night before Christ‘s death. Clearly neither Peter nor the rest understood Jesus to say here that Peter was to have supreme authority. What is added shows that Peter held the keys precisely as every preacher and teacher does. To “bind” (δησηιςdēsēis) in rabbinical language is to forbid, to “loose” (λυσηιςlusēis) is to permit. Peter would be like a rabbi who passes on many points. Rabbis of the school of Hillel “loosed” many things that the school of Schammai “bound.” The teaching of Jesus is the standard for Peter and for all preachers of Christ. Note the future perfect indicative (εσται δεδεμενον εσται λελυμενονestai dedemenon estai lelumenon), a state of completion. All this assumes, of course, that Peter‘s use of the keys will be in accord with the teaching and mind of Christ. The binding and loosing is repeated by Jesus to all the disciples (Matthew 18:18). Later after the Resurrection Christ will use this same language to all the disciples (John 20:23), showing that it was not a special prerogative of Peter. He is simply first among equals, primus inter pares, because on this occasion he was spokesman for the faith of all. It is a violent leap in logic to claim power to forgive sins, to pronounce absolution, by reason of the technical rabbinical language that Jesus employed about binding and loosing. Every preacher uses the keys of the kingdom when he proclaims the terms of salvation in Christ. The proclamation of these terms when accepted by faith in Christ has the sanction and approval of God the Father. The more personal we make these great words the nearer we come to the mind of Christ. The more ecclesiastical we make them the further we drift away from him.

Verse 20

That they should tell no man (ινα μηδενι ειπωσινhina mēdeni eipōsin). Why? For the very reason that he had himself avoided this claim in public. He was the Messiah (ο Χριστοςho Christos), but the people would inevitably take it in a political sense. Jesus was plainly profoundly moved by Peter‘s great confession on behalf of the disciples. He was grateful and confident of the final outcome. But he foresaw peril to all. Peter had confessed him as the Messiah and on this rock of faith thus confessed he would build his church or kingdom. They will all have and use the keys to this greatest of all buildings, but for the present they must be silent.

Verse 21

From that time began (απο τοτε ηρχατοapo tote ērxato). It was a suitable time for the disclosure of the greatest secret of his death. It is now just a little over six months before the cross. They must know it now to be ready then. The great confession of Peter made this seem an appropriate time. He will repeat the warnings (Matthew 17:22. with mention of betrayal; Matthew 20:17-19 with the cross) which he now “began.” So the necessity (δειdei must) of his suffering death at the hands of the Jerusalem ecclesiastics who have dogged his steps in Galilee is now plainly stated. Jesus added his resurrection “on the third day” (τηι τριτηι ημεραιtēi tritēi hēmerāi), not “on the fourth day,” please observe. Dimly the shocked disciples grasped something of what Jesus said.

Verse 22

Peter took him (προσλαβομενος αυτον ο Πετροςproslabomenos auton ho Petros). Middle voice, “taking to himself,” aside and apart, “as if by a right of his own. He acted with greater familiarity after the token of acknowledgment had been given. Jesus, however, reduces him to his level” (Bengel). “Peter here appears in a new character; a minute ago speaking under inspiration from heaven, now under inspiration from the opposite quarter” (Bruce). Syriac Sinaitic for Mark 8:32 has it “as though pitying him.” But this exclamation and remonstrance of Peter was soon interrupted by Jesus.

God have mercy on thee (ιλεωςhileōs Supply ειηeiē or εστω ο τεοςestō ho theos).

This shall never be (ου μη εσται σοι τουτοou mē estai soi touto). Strongest kind of negation, as if Peter would not let it happen. Peter had perfect assurance.

Verse 23

But he turned (ο δε στραπειςho de strapheis). Second aorist passive participle, quick ingressive action, away from Peter in revulsion, and toward the other disciples (Mark 8:33 has επιστραπειςepistrapheis and ιδων τους ματητας αυτουidōn tous mathētas autou).

Get thee behind me, Satan (υπαγε οπισω μου ΣαταναHupage opisō mou σκανδαλον ει εμου Satanā). Just before Peter played the part of a rock in the noble confession and was given a place of leadership. Now he is playing the part of Satan and is ordered to the rear. Peter was tempting Jesus not to go on to the cross as Satan had done in the wilderness. “None are more formidable instruments of temptation than well-meaning friends, who care more for our comfort than for our character” (Bruce). “In Peter the banished Satan had once more returned” (Plummer).

A stumbling-block unto me (ου προνειςskandalon ei emou). Objective genitive. Peter was acting as Satan‘s catspaw, in ignorance, surely, but none the less really. He had set a trap for Christ that would undo all his mission to earth. “Thou art not, as before, a noble block, lying in its right position as a massive foundation stone. On the contrary, thou art like a stone quite out of its proper place, and lying right across the road in which I must go - lying as a stone of stumbling” (Morison).

Thou mindest not (ou phroneis). “Your outlook is not God‘s, but man‘s” (Moffatt). You do not think God‘s thoughts. Clearly the consciousness of the coming cross is not a new idea with Jesus. We do not know when he first foresaw this outcome any more than we know when first the Messianic consciousness appeared in Jesus. He had the glimmerings of it as a boy of twelve, when he spoke of “My Father‘s house.” He knows now that he must die on the cross.

Verse 24

Take up his cross (αρατω τον σταυρον αυτουaratō ton stauron autou). Pick up at once, aorist tense. This same saying in Matthew 10:38, which see. But pertinent here also in explanation of Christ‘s rebuke to Peter. Christ‘s own cross faces him. Peter had dared to pull Christ away from his destiny. He would do better to face squarely his own cross and to bear it after Jesus. The disciples would be familiar with cross-bearing as a figure of speech by reason of the crucifixion of criminals in Jerusalem.

Follow (ακαλουτειτωakaloutheitō). Present tense. Keep on following.

Verse 25

Save his life (την πσυχην αυτου σωσαιtēn psuchēn autou sōsai). Paradoxical play on word “life” or “soul,” using it in two senses. So about “saving” and “losing” (απολεσειapolesei).

Verse 26

Gain (κερδησηιkerdēsēi) and profit (ζημιωτηιzēmiōthēi). Both aorist subjunctives (one active, the other passive) and so punctiliar action, condition of third class, undetermined, but with prospect of determination. Just a supposed case. The verb for “forfeit” occurs in the sense of being fined or mulcted of money. So the papyri and inscriptions.

Exchange (ανταλλαγμαantallagma). As an exchange, accusative in apposition with τιti The soul has no market price, though the devil thinks so. “A man must give, surrender, his life, and nothing less to God; no ανταλλαγμαantallagma is possible” (McNeile). This word ανταλλαγμαantallagma occurs twice in the Wisdom of Sirach: “There is no exchange for a faithful friend” (6:15); “There is no exchange for a well-instructed soul” 26:14}).

Verse 28

Some of them that stand here (τινες των οδε εστωτωνtines tōn hode hestōtōn). A crux interpretum in reality. Does Jesus refer to the Transfiguration, the Resurrection of Jesus, the great Day of Pentecost, the Destruction of Jerusalem, the Second Coming and Judgment? We do not know, only that Jesus was certain of his final victory which would be typified and symbolized in various ways. The apocalyptic eschatological symbolism employed by Jesus here does not dominate his teaching. He used it at times to picture the triumph of the kingdom, not to set forth the full teaching about it. The kingdom of God was already in the hearts of men. There would be climaxes and consummations.

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 16". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.