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The Pharisees require a sign. Jesus warneth his disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The people's opinion of Christ, and Peter's confession of him. Jesus foresheweth his death, reproveth Peter for dissuading him from it: and admonisheth those that will follow him, to bear the cross.
Anno Domini 31.
Matthew 16:1. The Pharisees also— Dr. Campbell reads the last verse of the last chapter and the prefect verse, Then having dismissed the multitude, he embarked, and sailed to the coast of Magdala. Thither some Pharisees and Sadducees repaired, who, to try him, desired that he would shew them a sign in the sky. Whilst Jesus wasinDalmanutha,orMagdala,thePharisees, having heard of the second miraculous dinner, and fearing that the whole body of the people would acknowledge him for the Messiah, resolved to confute his pretensions fully and publicly: for this reason they came forth with the Sadducees, who, though the opposers and rivals of the Pharisees in all other matters, joined them in their design of oppressing Jesus, and together with them demanded of him the sign from heaven. It seems that the Jews, from Dan 7:13 expected that the Messiah would make his first appearance in the clouds of heaven, and take unto himself glory and a temporal kingdom. See the note on ch. Matthew 12:38-39. Agreeable to this, Josephus, describing the state of the affairs in Judaea under Felix, tells us, "That the deceivers and impostors pretending to inspiration, endeavouring to bring about changes, and so making the people mad, led them into the wilderness, as if it had been to shew them signs of liberty:" Wherefore when the Pharisees desired Jesus to shew them the sign from heaven, they certainly meant, that he should demonstrate himself to be the Messiah, by coming in a visible and miraculous manner from heaven with great pomp, and by wresting the kingdom out of the hands of the Romans. These hypocrites craftily feigned an inclination to believe, if he would but give them sufficient evidence of his mission: however, their true design was, that by his failure in the proof which they required, he should expose himself to general blame. It was upon the same principles that they continued their demands in the Apostles' time (see 1 Corinthians 1:22.); though so many signs from heaven had then been given, in the voice from thence, in the preternatural darkness at our Lord's crucifixion, in the descent of angels in repeated instances, and in that of the Holy Spirit in a visible form, as well as in most sensible effects. See Josephus's Jewish War, b. 2. 100. 12 and Lardner's Credibility, lib. 1. 100. 5.
Matthew 16:2-3. He—said unto them, &c.— Our Saviour's reply may be thus paraphrased: "It is most apparent that you ask this out of a desire to cavil, rather than to learn the divine will: for, in other cases you take up with degrees of evidence, far short of those which you here reject. As for instance, you readily say in an evening, It will be fair weather to-morrow; because the sky is, this evening, of a bright and fiery red: And in the morning,—It will be tempestuous weather to-day, for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, you know how to distinguish the face of the heavens, and to form thence probable conjectures concerning the weather, and can you not distinguish the signs of the present times? and see, by the various miracles which are daily performed among you, by the prophetic and various other tokens which attend my appearance, that this is indeed the period which you profess to desire with so much eagerness, and which you might discern with much less sagacity." Dr. Lightfoot has observed, that the Jews used to value themselves highly on their skill in prognosticating the weather; and Grotius, in his note on this place, has shewn what a variety of signs marked out that time for the arrival of the Messiah. The Syriac version, instead of the times, reads very well the time, Καιρον . See Doddridge, Lightfoot, and Grotius.
Matthew 16:5. And when his disciples were come, &c.— This would be rendered more properly, Now the disciples, going to the other side, had forgotten to take bread; for it is more agreeable to the nature of the thing to suppose, that this conversation happened as they sailed, than when they were come to the other side, where they might easily have been supplied with bread. The version of 1729 renders it, Now at their departure to go to the other side, &c. And with it, Dr. Heylin and the Prussian editors agree. It seems Jesus and the disciples had remained so long in Dalmanutha, that they had consumed the seven baskets of fragments which they had taken up after the late miraculous dinner. Our Saviour hence took occasion to give his disciples a solemn charge to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees, which he called leaven, because of its pernicious influence to sour men's tempers with pride and other evil passions. For as these hypocrites chiefly enjoined the observation of frivolous traditions, their doctrine was a great enemy to the principles of true piety, and puffed men up with a high conceit of their own sanctity. The slowness of the disciples' understanding shewed itself on this occasion, as it had done on many others. As they had forgotten to take bread with them, and had often heard the doctors prohibit the use of the leaven of heathens and Samaritans, they thought that he forbade them to buy bread from bakers of either sects, lest it might be made with impure leaven; and so they looked on the advice as an indirect reproof of their carelessness.
Our Saviour, after properly reproving them, soon gave them to understand his meaning. See Matthew 16:12. Mac-knight and Calmet.
Matthew 16:13. When Jesus came into the coasts, &c.— When Jesus came into the territories of, or was going towards, Cesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say I am? the son of man? Heylin. Cesarea Philippi, while it was possessed by the Canaanites, was called Leshem, Jos 19:47 and Laish, Judges 18:27. But when the children of Dan took it, they named it after their progenitor. In later times it was called Paneas, from the mountain beneath which it stood. The situation of Paneas pleased Philip the tetrarch so exceedingly, that he resolved to make it the seat of his court; for which purpose he enlarged and adorned it with many sumptuous buildings, and called it Cesarea in honour of the Roman emperor: the tetrarch's name, however, was commonly added to distinguish it from the other Cesarea, so often mentioned in the Acts, which was a fine port in the Mediterranean sea, and had been rebuilt by Herod the Great, and named in honour of Augustus Caesar. See the note on Acts 8:40. Josephus gave Philip so good a character, that some have thought our Lord retired into his territories for security from the insults of his enemies elsewhere. See Beausobre and Lenfant, Introduction, p. 27.
Matthew 16:14. And they said, Some, &c.— Perhaps those who held Christ to be Elias, did not think him the Messiah, but only his forerunner; this being the received opinion of the whole nation, that Elias was to come before the Messiah, and anoint him when he came. Those who thought that he was John the Baptist risen from the dead, spoke suitably to the opinion of the Pharisees, "who (says Josephus) held that there was for good men an easy return to life." That he was Jeremiah, or one of the prophets, was the consequence of an opinion which prevailed, that the Messiah was to come not from the living, but from the dead: As they thought noneof that age of piety sufficient to bear him, and that the resurrection was to begin with his kingdom, they might easily be induced to think that he would be one who should rise from the dead; and as God had said of Jeremiah, that he was set to root out, pull down, and destroy kingdoms, &c. ch. Matthew 1:5-10.; and as it was their opinion that the great business of the king Messiah was to pull down all the nations whichruled over them, and make them tributaries and servants to the Jews; they might on this account pitch on him, as the fittest person to be the Messiah. See Whitby, Craddock's Harmony, and Malachi 2:5; Malachi 2:5. Messrs. Beausobre and Lenfant think, that they mentioned Jeremiah rather than any other prophet, because the ancient Jews used to place Jeremiah at the head of the prophets. It seems to follow, both from the question in the preceding and in the following verse, that Jesus had not as yet directly assumed the title of the Messiah at least in their hearing.
Matthew 16:17-18. Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona, &c.— Bar-jona is the Son of Jona. Some authors suppose, that John and Jona are one and the same. Flesh and blood is a Hebraism, signifying his own reason, or any natural power whatever. This knowledge had not been communicated to him, either by the sentence of the Sanhedrim, declaring Jesus to be the Messiah, or by the authority of any human testimony whatever, but merely by the teaching of God. See on John 6:45. "Blessed and happy art thou, O Peter; for this confession which thou hast made is not a bare human conjecture, formed by report, or by the unassisted sagacity of thine own mind; but my Father in heaven has discovered it to thee, and wrought in thy soul this cordial assent, in the midst of those prejudices against it, which present circumstances might suggest."Our Saviour goes on, and promises, (alluding to the surname of Peter, which comes from Πετρα, a rock,) that he should have a principal concern in establishing his kingdom. "Thou art, as thy name signifies, a substantial rock; and, as thou hast shewn it in this good confession, I assure thee, that upon this rock I will build my church: faith in me, as the Son of God, shall be its great support, and I will use thee as a glorious instrument in raising it." This is evidently one of those Scriptures, the sense of which might be most certainly fixed by the particular tone of voice and gesture with which it was spoken: if our Lord altered his accent, and laid his hand on his breath, it would shew, that he spoke not of the person, but of the confession of Peter,—as most protestant divines have understood it; and meant to point out himself as the great foundation. Compare 1 Corinthians 3:10-11. And it is observable, to confirm this sense, that the Lord, when he says upon this rock, does not make use of the word Πετρος, referring to Peter himself, but πετρα, which is an appellative noun, and immediately refers to Peter's confession: but if our Saviour turned to the other Apostles, and pointed to Peter, that would shew that he meant to intimate the honour he would do him, in making him an eminent support to his church. This is the sense in which many of the commentators have understood it. However, to be a foundation in this sense was not his honour alone; his brethren shared with him in it (see Ephesians 2:20. Revelation 21:14.); as they did also in the power of binding and loosing; (see Matthew 18:18. John 20:23.). Upon the whole, how weak the arguments are which the papists draw hence to support the supremacy of Peter in their wild sense of it, is sufficiently shewn by Bishop Burnett on the Articles, p. 198. Dr. Barrow on the Creed, serm. 28.; Dr. Patrick, in his sermon on the text; and many others needless to be named. There seems a reference in the expression before us to the common custom of building citadels upon a rock. The gates of hell or of death, is a periphrasis for hell or death itself. So the phrase is used, Isa 38:10 where Hezekiah, speaking of himself, says, I shall go, εν πυλαις αδου, to the gates of Hades, that is to say, "I shall die." Our Lord's meaning therefore is, that the Christian church shall never be annihilated; no, not by the united force of men and devils combined against it. See More's Theological Works, page 110. Whitby, Grotius, &c.
Matthew 16:19. And I will give unto thee the keys— As stewards of great families, especially of the royal household, bore a key, (probably a golden one, as Lords of the bed-chamber do with us, in token of their office,) the phrase of giving a person the key naturally grew into an expression of raising him to great power. See the note on Isaiah 22:22. The keys of the kingdom of heaven, which on this occasion are given to Peter, are to be understood metaphorically: for our Lord's meaning was, that Peter should open the gates of the kingdom of heaven, or Gospel dispensation, both to Jews and Gentiles; that is to say, should be the first who preached the Gospel to them, particularly the latter; and in this sense Peter seems to have understood the matter himself, Acts 15:7. Or by the keys, we may understand prayer and authority, which is sometimes the meaning of the metaphor: and according to this interpretation, the power of binding and loosing, added to the power of the keys, maybe considered as explicatory thereof: "After my ascension into heaven, I will give thee, and thy companions in the apostolate, authority to order all the affairs of my church; so that whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, &c." It can be no objection against this interpretation, that it connects the idea of binding and loosing with that of the keys, contrary to the exact propriety of the two metaphors; for all who have studied the Scriptures know, that in many passages the ideas and expressions are accommodated to the subject matter, rather than to the precedent metaphors. The power of binding and loosing now conferred on Peter, and afterwards on all the Apostles, (see ch. Matthew 18:18.) was a power of declaring the laws of the Gospel, and the terms of salvation; for in the Jewish nation, to bind and loose are words made use of by the doctors to signify the unlawfulness or lawfulness of things. Wherefore our Lord's meaning was, "Whatever things thou shalt bind up from men, or declare forbidden on earth, shall be forbidden by heaven; and whatsoever things thou shalt loose to men, or bid to be done, shall be lawful and obligatory in the esteem of heaven." Accordingly it may be observed, that the gender made use of in both passages agrees to this interpretation: in that under consideration it is ο, not ον; in the other it is οσα, not οσους. This high power of declaring the terms of salvation, and precepts of the Gospel, the Apostles did not enjoy in its full extent till the memorable day of Pentecost, when they received the Holy Ghost in the plenitude of his gifts. After this their decisions on points of doctrine and duty being all given by inspiration, were infallible definitions, and ratified in heaven. Here then was an immense honour conferred on theApostles, and what must yield great consolation to all believers. There is nothing doubtful in the Gospel, much less false; but we may safely rest the salvation of our souls on the discoveries made to us there, since they are all originally derived from God. See Doddridge, Macknight, Lightfoot, Bishop Hoadly, and the other writers on this controverted passage of Scripture.
Matthew 16:20. Then charged he his disciples, &c.— Jesus forbade his disciples to tell any man that he was the Messiah, because he was to suffer the punishment of death;—a circumstance, which could not fail to give his followers great offence, as they did not yet understand the nature of his kingdom; for which reason he thought it better to leave every one to form a judgment of his character from his doctrine and miracles, than in all places to assume the title of Messiah publicly under such disadvantages. Or, his meaning may have been, "Because it is determined that the Messiah shall suffer death, it is not proper to assume that title publicly, lest the people, declaring in my behalf, endeavour to prevent the execution of the divine counsel." The Romans certainly, say some, would not have suffered him to proceed, if he had gone about preaching that he was the king whom the Jews expected; unless he had interfered by his divine and irresistible power. Such an accusation would have been instantly brought against him by the Jews, if they could have heard it out of his own mouth; and if that had been his public doctrine to his followers, which was openly preached by his Apostles after his death, and of which they are accused, Acts 17:5-9. Though the magistrates of the world had no great regard to the talk of a king who had suffered death, and appeared no longer upon earth; yet, if our Saviour had openly declared this of himself in his lifetime, with a train ofdisciples and followers everywhere owning and crying him up for their king, the Roman governors of Judea could not have forborne to take notice of it, and to make use of their force against it. In this the Jews were not mistaken, and therefore they made use of it as the strongest accusation, and the likeliest to prevail with Pilate against him, for the taking away his life; it being treason, and an unpardonable offence, which could not escape death from a Roman deputy, without the forfeiture of his own life. See Luk 23:2 and the note on Matthew 12:16. Dr. Campbell, following many of the manuscripts, leaves out the word Jesus: then he forbade his disciples to tell any man that he is the Messiah.
Matthew 16:21. From that time forth began Jesus, &c.— Though all the circumstances mentioned in this verse were marks of the Messiah, yet, says a commentator, how little they were understood by the Apostles, or suited to their expectation of the Messiah, appears from the manner in which they were received by Peter, Matthew 16:22. Peter had twice before acknowledged Jesus to be the Messiah, and yet here he cannot bear the thought that he should suffer, and be put to death, and be raised again: whereby we may perceive how little Jesus had at this time explained to the Apostles what personally concerned himself. They had been a good while witnesses of his life and miracles, and thereby being grown into a belief that he was the Messiah, were in some degree prepared to receive the particulars which were to fill up the character, and answer the prophesies concerning him. This from henceforth he began to open to them, though in a way out of which the Jews could not form an accusation; the time of the accomplishment of all, in his sufferings, death, and resurrection, now drawing on, (for this was in the last year of his life,) he being to meet the Jews at Jerusalem but once more at the passover, and then they were to have their will upon him; wherefore he might now begin to be a little more open concerning himself, though yet so as to keep himself out of the reach of any accusation, which might appear just or weighty to the Roman deputy.
Matthew 16:22. Then Peter, &c.— Then Peter—began to expostulate with him, &c. Dr. Doddridge renders the original word προσλαβομενος, by taking him by the hand: Dr. Fuller supposes that phrase Ιλεως σοι, should be rendered, may God have compassion upon thee: Heinsius, Grotius, and Le Clerc give the same interpretation; and the accurate Dr. Scott, who is followed by Dr. Heylin, renders it, Mercy on thee! which is most literal. The phrase,as used by the LXX, generally signifies God forbid! or, as we render it, be it far from thee. See 1 Samuel 14:45. 2 Samuel 20:20. 1Ki 21:3. 1 Chronicles 11:19. Compare 1Ma 2:25 and see Doddridge, and Wetstein.
Matthew 16:23. Get thee behind me, Satan!— See Luke 4:8. The word Satan, which is originally Hebrew, and has thence been taken into several languages, is often used in the Old Testament, as we have had occasion to observe, to signify an adversary; and the expression has appeared so harsh to some, as coming from the mouth of Christ to one of his Apostles, that they have rather chosen to translate it, O mine adversary. The version of 1729, reads the verse, But he frowned upon Peter, and said, Out of my sight, pernicious obstacle to my designs! your views are all worldly, regardless of what is divine. But as the Evangelists have made use of the word Σατανα, which must be owned to have a found as harsh in the Greek, as it has now with us; we may conclude that it was used by Christ, or his rebuke to Peter would have been otherwise expressed by some Greek word signifying an adversary. Nor can the word appear at all too harsh, when we consider that the tendency of Peter's saying, though it might be spoken out of a singular affection to his Master, was to obstruct the great design for which he came into the world; and none but Satan could desire to prevent what he was ready to submit to for the salvation of lost sinners. Dr. Young, in his sermons, vol. 2: p. 137 rendering the phrase Ιλεως σοι, favour thyself, supposes that our Lord calls Peter, Satan, because he now fell on that advice, which Satan uses the most successfully of all his artifices to undo men,—that of self-indulgence, and so makes this Scripture an introduction to his discourse on self-denial. See Romans 8:5. Php 3:19 and Colossians 3:2. It is remarkable, that our Lord, immediately after conferring upon St. Peter the high dignity before mentioned, openly, in the hearing of all his disciples, calls him Satan, or adversary; and declares that he had then no particular relish for the divine appointments, but was influenced merely by human views and expectations of worldly interest. If the papists rightly attended to this passage of the Sacred History, they would see their fancies of the primacy of St. Peter, which they built upon it, in a better light than they seem to do. See Macknight, Doddridge, and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Matthew 16:24. If any man will come after me— Because Peter's improper behaviour, just before mentioned, proceeded from his love to the world and its pleasures, Jesus declares publicly, that all who would be his disciples, and share with him in the glory of his kingdom, must deny themselves; that is to say, be in constant readiness to renounce every earthly pleasure, with life itself, when called to do so, (See Luke 14:33.); and, in ordinary cases, take up his cross; see on ch. Matthew 10:38. After having undergone many afflictions, the disciples of Christ may still look for more; which, when laid upon them, they must sustain with equal patience, followingtheir Master in the footsteps of his afflictions. This indeed is a hard and difficult lesson, but at the same time it is absolutely necessary; because if, in order to preserve our temporal life, we displease Christ, Mat 16:25 we shall lose what is really and truly our life,—the eternal happiness of our souls: whereas, if we will die rather than disobey him, we shall obtain infinite and endless joys. See the next note. Dr. Clarke paraphrases the latter part of Matthew 16:25,: "Whoever parts with his virtue and good conscience to save his temporal life, shall lose that which is eternal; and, by escaping the first death for a time, shall incur the penalty of the second death for ever." See sermon 4: vol. 7 and for an exposition of Mat 16:17-18 his 17th sermon, vol. 8.
Matthew 16:26. For what is a man profited, &c.— To carry home the argument more closely, he puts them in mind of the method according to which men estimate things. If God should offer the riches of Solomon, the strength of Samson, the policy of Ahithophel, the beauty of Absalom, the eloquence of Apollos, universal monarchy, and all kinds of pleasures, and say, Take them for one hour, and then die,—who is the man that would not immediately reject the proposed condition, and reply that life is better than them all? But will men forego every earthly thing for life,—the life of the body? and will they not part with them, nay, and with life itself, for their souls? since the longest any one can enjoy this life with all its pleasures is, in comparison of eternity, no longer than he enjoys the good things before mentioned, who dies in the same hour that he receives them. The latter part of this verse may be rendered, and lose his own life; Ψυχη, (the same word is used, Matthew 16:25.) or what shall a man give as a ransom for his life? The Greek word ανταλλαγμα, properly signifies a ransom; and in this connection leads us to reflect, how willing a condemned malefactor would be, to give up all that he had gotten by his crimes to buy his pardon, and how vain his attempt must in this case prove. The phrase Την Ψυχην ζημιωθεσθαι, does not merely signify to lose the life, which might be applied to a man who accidentally met death in the pursuit of gain,—as a merchant who should be lost in his voyage; but it properly imports the undergoing a capital execution; which is an idea of much greater terror, as well as of much stricter propriety in the present case. See Job 2:4.Luke 9:25; Luke 9:25. Raphelius's Annotations, and Archbishop Tillotson's Sermons, vol. 3.
Matthew 16:27. For the Son of man shall come, &c.— That the argument in the preceding verse, by which the necessity of self-denial is so clearly established, might have the greater weight, our Lord spake more particularly concerning the rewards and punishments of a future state; assuring his disciples, that they are all to be distributed by himself, the Father having appointed him universal Judge; so that his enemies cannot flatter themselves with the hope of escaping condign punishment, nor his faithful friends be in the least afraid of losing their reward: and to encourage them the more, he told them, that he would come to judge the world, not in his present low and contemned state, but most magnificently arrayed, both in his own glory, and in his Father's. See Luke 9:26. He would come, not attended by twelve weak disciples, but surrounded with numberless hosts of mighty angels, to reward every man, not with the honours of a temporal kingdom, great offices and large possessions, but with the joys of immortality. See the Inferences and Reflections at the end of this chapt
Matthew 16:28. Verily I say unto you— Because the doctrine of Christ's being constituted universal judge might appear to the disciples incredible at that time, on account of his humiliation, he told them, that some of them should not taste of death till they saw him coming in his kingdom; and by that should have not only a proof of his being the judge, but an example of the judgment which he was to execute: "Do not doubt that there shall be a day of judgment, when I shall come clothed with Divine Majesty, and attended by millions of angels, to render unto men according as their actions in this life have been good or bad: there are some here present who shall not die till they have seen a faint representation of the glory in which I will come, and an eminent example of this my power, exercised on the men of the present generation." Accordingly, the disciples saw their Master coming in his kingdom, when they were witnesses of his transfiguration, resurrection and ascension, had the miraculous gifts of the spirit conferred upon them, and lived to see Jerusalem with the Jewish state destroyed, and the Gospel propagated through the greatest part of the then known world. Raphelius, Albert, and some other critics, would have the latter part of the verse translated, till they shall see the Son of man going into his kingdom; understanding it to be the disciples beholding Christ's ascension into heaven, where he took possession of his mediatorial kingdom, and which without doubt was a very proper proof of his coming again to judge the world; but the common translation appears much more natural and just, as well as the sense above given; especially as our Lord's manner of speaking intimates, that most of these present should be dead before the event referred to; but his ascension happened a few months after this. This verse, says a commentator, which imports the dominion that some there present should see him exercise over the nation of the Jews, was so covered by being annexed to Matthew 16:27.—where Christ speaks of the manifestation and glory of his kingdom at the day of judgment,—that though his plain meaning be, that the appearance and visible exercise of his kingly power was so near, that some there should live to see it; yet if the foregoing words had not cast a shadow on these latter, but had been left plainly to be understood, as they plainly signified that he should be a king, and that it was so near, that some there should see him in his kingdom,—this might have been laid hold on, and made the matter of a plausible and seemingly just accusation against him by the Jews before Pilate. This seems to be the reason of our Saviour's inverting here the order of the two solemn manifestations to the world of his rule and power, thereby perplexing at present his meaning, and securing himself, as was necessary, from the malice of the Jews, which always lay ready to entrap him, and accuse him to the Roman governor: and they would no doubt have been ready to allege these words,—Some here shall not taste, &c. against him, as criminal, had not their meaning been, by the former verse, perplexed, and the sense at thattime rendered unintelligible, and not applicable by any of his auditors to a sense that might have been prejudicial to him before Pontius Pilate: for how well the chief of the Jews were disposed towards him, St. Luke tells us, Luk 11:4 which may be a reason to satisfy us respecting the seemingly doubtful and obscure way of speaking used by our Saviour in other places;—his circumstances being such, that without such a prudent carriage and reserve, he could not have gone through his work in the way that it pleased the Father and him, nor have performed all the parts of it in a way correspondent to the descriptions given of the Messiah, and which would be afterwards fully understood to belong to him when he had left the world.
Inferences.—How aweful an event does our great Redeemer here offer to the serious contemplation of all mankind! In the glory of his Father, accompanied with a mighty hope of holy angels, he shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, making all heaven, earth, and hell to resound. The dead of all countries and times hear the tremendous call. Hark! the living, filled with joy, exult at the approach of God; or, seized with inexpressible terror, send up doleful cries, and are all changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Behold; the dead press forth from their graves, following each other in close procession, the earth seems quick, and the sea gives up its dead. Mark the beauty, the boldness, and the gladness of some, springing up to honour; but the ghastly countenances, the trembling, the despair of others, arising to shame and everlasting contempt. See how amazed and terrified they look! with what vehemence they wish the extinction of their being! fain would they fly, but cannot: impelled by a force as strong as necessity, they hasten to the place of judgment. As they advance, the sight of the tribunal from afar strikes new terror: they come on in the deepest silence, and gather round the throne by thousands of thousands. In the mean time the angels, having brought up their bands from the uttermost parts of the earth, fly round the numberless multitudes, ringing melodiously with loud voices, for joy that the day of general retribution is come, when vice shall be thrown from its usurpation, holiness exalted from its debasement to a superior station, the intricacies of Providence unravelled, the perfections of God vindicated, the church of God, purchased with his blood, cleared of them that do iniquity and of every thing that offendeth, and established impeccable for ever. Let God arise! let his enemies be scattered! as smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. But let the righteous be glad! let them rejoice before God! yea, let them exceedingly rejoice! Psalms 68:1; Psalms 68:35. For strong is the Lord God who judgeth. Revelation 18:8.
And now the Son of man appears on the throne of his glory; and all nations, princes, warriors, nobles, the rich, the poor, all intirely stripped of their attendance, and every external distinction, stand naked and equal before him, silently waiting to be sentenced to their unchangeable state; and every individual is filled with an aweful consciousness that he in particular is the object of the observation of Almighty God, manifest in his sight, and actually under his eye, so that there is not one single person concealed in the immensity of the crowd. The judge, who can be biassed by no bribe, softened by no subtle insinuations, imposed upon by no feigned excuses, having been himself privy to the most secret actions of each, needs no evidence, but distinguishes with an unerring certainty.
He speaks! Come from among them, my people, that ye receive not of their plagues. They separate; they feel their judge within them, and hasten to their proper places, the righteous on the one hand of the throne, and the wicked on the other; not so much as one of the wicked daring to join himself with the just. Here the righteous, most beautiful with the brightness of holiness, stand serene in their looks, and full of hope at the bar of God,—a glad company! while the wicked, confounded at the remembrance of their lives, and terrified at the thought of what is to come, hang down their heads, inwardly cursing the day of their birth, and wishing, a thousand and a thousand times, that the rocks would fall on them, and the mountains cover them: but in vain; for there is no escaping nor appealing from this tribunal.
Behold, with mercy shining in his countenance and mild majesty, the king invites the righteous to take possession of the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world: but with angry frowns he drives the wicked away, into punishment that shall have no end, no refreshment, no alleviation, everlasting punishment!—O the rejoicing! O the lamenting! the triumphant shouting of ascending saints, caught up in the clouds, to be ever with the Lord! the horror, the despair, the hideous shrieking of the damned, when they see hell gaping, hear the devils roaring, and feel the unspeakable torment of an awakened conscience!
Now they bitterly cry for death;—but death flies from them. Now they envy the righteous, and gladly would be such;—but all too late! Lo! the Son of God bows his head,—the signal for his servants;—the heavens and the earth depart, their works being at an end. See and hear—with what a terrible thundering noise the heavens pass away,—the elements melt with fervent heat, and the earth, and all the works that are therein, are burnt up! the frame of nature dissolves! earth, seas, skies, all vanish together, making way for the new heaven and the new earth.—It appears!—the happy land of Promise, formed by the hand of God, large, beautiful, and pleasant, a fit habitation for his glorified saints, and long expected by them as their country. Here all the righteous, great and small, are assembled, making one vast blest society, even the kingdom and city of God. Here God manifests himself in a peculiar manner to his servants, wipes away all tears from off their faces, and adorns them with the beauties of immortality, glorious to behold. Here they drink fulness of joys, from the crystal river proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, and eat of the tree of life; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; but every one, happy in himself, imparts the blessing to his fellows: for mutual love warms every breast; love like that which subsists between the Father and the Son; mutual conference on the sublimest subjects refreshes every spirit with a divine repast of wisdom, and joys flowing from the tenderest friendship, fixed on the stable foundation of an immoveable virtue, gladden every heart. All the servants of God serve him in perfect holiness, see his face, feel transports of joy, and, by the reflection of his glory, shine as the sun in the firmament for ever and ever. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither the light of the sun; for the Lord God hath given them light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.
Happy day! happy place and happy people! O blessed hope of joining that glorious society!—All the servants of God shall serve him, and see his face.—Serve God, and see his face!—What an immensity of felicity is here! imagination faints with the fatigue of stretching itself to comprehend the vast, the unmeasurable thought.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, However opposite in their tenets the Pharisees and Sadducees were, they perfectly agreed in their enmity against Christ and his gospel.
1. They came in concert with a view to tempt and entangle him, and, pretending dissatisfaction with the miracles that he wrought, desired a proof of the divine mission which he assumed, by some sign from heaven. Not indeed that they wished to be convinced, but merely sought some refuge for their infidelity. Note; They who, after all the miracles which Jesus has wrought, desire farther evidence of his character, evidently shew that they determine not to receive him; and if never so many signs or wonders were granted them, yet would they not believe in him.
2. Christ justly refuses to gratify their vain curiosity, and unreasonable requests. There was evidence sufficient before them, if they chose to see; and they did not want natural sagacity to judge of it. From observing the appearances of the sky, they determined what weather would follow. If the sky was red at evening, they presumed, by observation and experience, that the following day would be fair: but, if in the morning the sky appeared red and lowering, then it would be wet or windy: and from great probability they drew these conclusions. But how glaringly did they play the hypocrite, when, pretending the highest veneration for Moses and the prophets, though they could judge of the weather by the appearances of the sky, they could not discern the signs of the times, so clearly and distinctly revealed in the sacred writings; could neither see the present exact fulfilment of all the prophesies concerning the Messiah, nor the ruin coming upon themselves for rejecting him: and therefore, since they were a wicked and adulterous generation, wilfully blind to the evidence of truth, no other sign shall be given them than the miracles which they had already rejected, except his resurrection from the dead after three days, prefigured by the abode of the prophet Jonas in the belly of the great fish. And with this he left them, as incorrigible sinners, with whom it was in vain to remonstrate, and crossed the lake to another part of the country. Note; (1.) Many are wise enough in human concerns, yea, deeply skilled in the mysteries of science, who yet are stark blind with regard to their souls. (2.) They who by their obstinacy and infidelity provoke Christ to depart from them, are justly given up to perdition.
2nd, Departing in haste, the disciples had forgotten to take with them provisions as usual: and thereupon from temporal things he takes occasion to introduce spiritual instructions.
1. He cautions them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees; of their principles and doctrines, which would spread their pernicious influences through the whole man.
2. They mistook his meaning, and, taking his words literally, concluded privately among themselves that it was intended as a rebuke for their carelessness; or a caution not to make use of the bread of the Pharisees and Sadducees, or so much as to eat with them.
3. He reproves them for the sinful distrust of their hearts, and the dulness of their apprehensions. It was a proof of the weakness of their faith, after the miracles they had so lately seen, to harbour a moment's distrust about a provision which their Master could so easily supply: and it shewed their stupidity, not to understand, after what had passed, that it could not be of bread, literally, that he spoke, but of something spiritual and figurative, of much greater moment than merely bread. Note; (1.) Christ is displeased with his people, when they harbour worldly fears, and are disturbed about the meat which perisheth. It is a proof of little faith indeed, to suppose that those who have a promise of heaven for their home, should want bread by the way. (2.) If we remembered better the part experience of God's care, it would administer an argument to silence our present distrusts and perplexities.
4. At last they comprehend his meaning, that he spake not of the bread, but of the doctrines of these sects, cautioning them against the false traditions, pride, and self-righteousness of the Pharisees, and against the infidelity and licentious principles of the Sadducees; both fatally dangerous: against which we have alike need to be on our guard. Take heed and beware of them.
3rdly, Being now in the remotest part of the country, our Lord took occasion in private conference to inquire into the opinions entertained concerning himself by the people in general, and by his disciples in particular. Not that he was ignorant of either; but he meant to lead them to an open confession of their faith in him.
1. He asks concerning the general opinion which the people formed of himself, who appeared under the name of the Son of man—the humble title which he assumed when he emptied himself, and was made in the likeness of sinful flesh. Or it may be read, Whom do men say that I am? the Son of man? Do they acknowledge my character and mission as the Messiah: or, what do they think of me?
2. The disciples, who had heard the different sentiments of the multitude, informed him that there were various conjectures formed concerning him; some supposing him John the Baptist risen from the dead; others Elias, prophesied of by Malachi; others Jeremias, or one of the ancient prophets sent to reform the guilty age: opinions which shewed the honourable sentiments that the people in general entertained of him, yet far short of the truth. The meanness of his birth, relations, dress, and followers, seem to have quite excluded the notion of his true character as the Messiah, whom their prejudices had always represented as to come with all the pomp of majesty, and the glory of a conquering hero.
3. He questions them concerning their own sentiments of him. They had been better taught, and therefore should have higher notions of his true character; and, being shortly to become teachers of others, they were peculiarly called upon to entertain right apprehensions of this important truth themselves. Note; We must know Jesus ourselves, his person and offices, or it is impossible that we should truly be his ministers to others.
4. Peter, according to his usual zeal and forwardness, in the name of the rest, and as their spokesman, nobly replies, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. They understood his real character, they truly believed in him as the divine Messiah, the anointed prophet, priest, and king of the church, and were ready to confess him not merely as Son of man, but as the coequal Son of God.
5. Christ expresses his high commendation of this truly apostolic confession. It was a distinguished blessing which Peter possessed, thus to know the Lord's Christ; and what neither sprang from his birth, education, nor his own reasoning, but from divine revelation. So noble and open a profession of his faith shewed him to be what his name imported, a rock: and hereupon Christ adds, Upon this rock I will build my church: which some apply personally to Peter, who may in a sound sense be admitted as one of those apostles on whom, as the foundation, the church is said to be built, being raised in the first instance by their ministry, Ephesians 2:20. Revelation 21:14. Nor can this at all countenance the absurd pretensions of the bishops of Rome, who are neither his successors in office nor in doctrine. Indeed, nothing can more evince the weakness of their claims, than such perverted scriptures, wrested and pressed into the service. But by the rock more probably is meant Christ himself, who in speaking pointed to his own person, and who was evidently the rock on which Peter himself built, the true foundation, other than which can no man lay, 1 Corinthians 3:11. Hereon he is pleased to raise the glorious superstructure of his church: the glory of it is all his own; and on his power, love, and faithfulness, its stability rests: nor shall the gates of hell ever prevail against it: the faithful souls that cleave to him, he will save from Satan, sin, death, and hell. Note; (1.) Nothing is so acceptable to Jesus as a bold profession of our confidence in him. (2.) They are truly blessed who savingly know the Son of God. (3.) All that we know of God and his Christ is from his own revelation.
6. Having engaged to erect his church, Christ provides for the government of it, and commits to Peter and the other Apostles the keys, the ensigns of authority, empowering him and them, in his name, to declare what was lawful and unlawful, to charge sin upon men's consciences, and to declare the absolution of them on their humiliation and genuine repentance, to pronounce spiritual censures, or loose men from them; and what they did upon earth in his name, and according to his will and word, he engages to ratify in heaven. And this is particularly addressed to Peter, as being appointed to be the first preacher of the Gospel both to the Jews and Gentiles, and as the honour conferred upon him for the glorious confession which he had made.
7. He strictly charges his disciples to conceal at present what they knew of his divine person and character: and this for many reasons; because his hour was not yet come, and such declarations would exasperate the Pharisees to destroy him, alarm the government, and occasion an insurrection among the people, big with the hopes of a temporal Messiah: besides that they were to be better furnished, after his resurrection, with greater abilities for their work, and fuller evidence of the truth in their own souls, and for the conviction of others.
4thly, To check the aspiring hopes which his own disciples foolishly entertained concerning the nature of his kingdom, he begins to inform them of the sufferings that he must undergo: and from that time, when their faith appeared more or less established in him, inculcated this mortifying lesson, as they were able to bear it. Christ's method is to let us into the knowledge of his truth by degrees: it might utterly have staggered them, if they had known at first all the discouragements with which they were afterwards to meet.
1. He foretels his sufferings, and death, (strange tidings to their ears!) the scene of which would be in Jerusalem, the holy city; and the instruments, the most admired characters, the elders, chief priests, and Scribes, who by their office and profession should have been the first to receive and honour him as the Messiah: but withal he informs them, to support their hopes, that the third day he should rise again.
2. Peter, still the foremost to speak, though now as faulty as he had been before commendable, could not bear to hear of his death and sufferings, and therefore had the boldness to take him aside and expostulate with him, expressing his displeasure at what he had heard, his abhorrence of the thought of it, and his presumption that it was impossible the Messiah should thus suffer, and the Son of the living God be put to death. Note; (1.) Our hearts ill bear commendation; like Peter, we are too apt to presume upon it. (2.) How intricate soever God's ways may appear, and his dispensations however painful to us, it is not for us to question the rectitude of his procedure, or pretend to be wiser than he: submission and silence are our bounden duty. (3.) Our corrupt nature ever shrinks from the cross with abhorrence. Had Christ thus started back from it, what had become of us?
3. With a sharp rebuke the Lord testifies his displeasure against Peter. He turned, with sternness in his look, and said unto Peter, in the hearing of the twelve, Get thee behind me, Satan; be gone: thou speakest under his influence: and this pretended kindness implies real enmity. Thou art an offence, or hinderance to me, opposing the great end for which I came into the world: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, dost not relish the contrivance of infinite wisdom, for the manifestation of his own glory, and the redemption of sinners, by my sufferings, but those that be of men, expecting in the Messiah a temporal monarch, and influenced by the hopes of worldly wealth, power, and honour. Note; (1.) We may find often as dangerous snares in the false kindness of our friends as in the avowed enmity of our foes. (2.) If any one would dissuade us upon any pretence from the path of duty, we must reject the advice with abhorrence, and rebuke him with severity. (3.) Maxims of carnal policy, and desire of earthly ease and honour, are strangely apt to insinuate themselves even into good men, and disincline them from taking up that cross which God hath appointed them. We have need of constant jealousy over our hearts, lest, imitating Peter's conduct in the present instance, we should meet with his rebuke.
5thly, As he had foretold to them the sufferings that himself must endure, he forewarns them also to expect the like treatment, and advertises them that only thus bearing his cross they could be truly his disciples.
1. He plainly sets before them the terms of discipleship; very different from what their national prejudices suggested. If any man will come after me, a volunteer in my service, and choosing it with all the trials which for my sake he may be exposed to endure, let him deny himself, his own will and wisdom, his pride and self-righteousness, his carnal lusts and appetites, his worldly honour, ease, and advantage, and whatever else would tend to clog, retard, or turn him back from my service; and let him take up his cross, cheerfully submitting to every providential affliction, and ready to expose himself in the way of duty to persecutions, losses, reproaches, sufferings, yea, even to death itself, if need be, for my sake, and the open and avowed profession of my name: and let him follow me in all humility, patience, faith, perseverance, steadfast and unmoveable in the work of the Lord, whether to do or suffer according to his holy will. Hard terms for flesh and blood! Indeed we must have more than human ability, or they would be impracticable. Note; (1.) Self-denial is the first lesson of Christ's school. (2.) There never yet was a Christian without his cross. Far therefore from being discouraged by what we suffer, we should rather conclude our real discipleship from this conformity to our Lord. (3.) It becomes us however to take care that the cross we bear is the cross of Christ; and not what our own wilfulness or sins have brought upon us.
2. Christ suggests the most powerful arguments to engage us with steadiness and cheerfulness to embrace his proposal.
[1.] An eternity of happiness or misery depends on our present choice and conduct. Whoever by base and sinful compliances with a world which lieth in wickedness, would screen himself from sufferings and death, takes the direct method to destroy for ever the life that he thus seeks to preserve: while he who with unshaken fidelity, for the sake of Christ and his Gospel, is ready to endure the loss of all things, and even of life itself, rather than dishonour his profession, or betray the cause in which he is engaged,—this man shall in eternity be unspeakably a gainer, and effectually secure the life that he thus bravely dares to part with. We must therefore weigh time against eternity, and, under the influences of realizing faith, shall not hesitate a moment, whether we shall suffer with Christ that we may reign with him, or, prolonging a momentary existence by our cowardice, perish everlastingly.
[2.] Our immortal souls are at stake, infinitely more valuable than ten thousand worlds. Admit that we should, by complying with the world, gain all that it has to bestow, wallow in its wealth, riot in its pleasures, or rise to the pinnacle of earthly grandeur, yet if this be purchased by the loss of our souls for ever, driven from the presence of God, and consigned to everlasting torment, how inconceivably foolish will this bargain shortly appear, and how irreparable the damage? since, had a man millions of gold and silver, yea, worlds unnumbered, to bestow, they would in God's account be lighter in the balances than vanity itself; yea, would be less than nothing, if proffered in exchange to redeem but one soul from death eternal. Note; (1.) The value of the soul and the vanity of the world should be the subjects of our frequent meditation. (2.) How many thousands are daily bartering their souls for the most miserable pittance of this world's honours, gain, and pleasures! and yet so has the God of this world blinded them, that they will not see the folly, the madness of their pursuits. (3.) A soul lost, is lost for ever; there is no redemption in the grave. (4.) There is but one sufficient price to redeem the soul from death, and that is the blood of Christ; and all other things for this purpose are in God's account as dung and dross.
[3.] The rewards of eternal glory will infinitely compensate all the sufferings of this present time. This is a perishing world; the end of all things is at hand; the Judge is at the door; the Son of man shall come in all the glory of Divinity with his angelic guards around his throne of judgment, and then will he dispense his rewards according to men's works; when the faithful shall receive the eternal glory, honour, and immortality, which he has promised; and the wicked, the worldling and apostates, the wages of their iniquity in eternal torment. Note;
To live under the constant expectation of this great day, is the best means of strengthening us against every trial that we may be called to encounter.
[4.] As an especial argument to secure their fidelity, Christ assures them, that some there present, before their death, should see the glory of the Messiah's kingdom begun, in his resurrection from the dead, the out-pouring of his Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the spreading of his Gospel, and the destruction of the Jewish state and nation, their bitterest persecutors, which would be an emblem of the final perdition of all ungodly men in the day of judgment.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 16". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany