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The Pharisees and Sadducees desire a sign. (Mark 8:11-13.)
The Pharisees also with the Saddueees; rather, and the Pharisees and Sadducees. The scribes and Pharisees are often mentioned together as watching or attacking Jesus; but this is the first time that we hear of Pharisees combining with Sadducees for this purpose. The two sects were directly opposed to each other, the traditional belief of the former being antagonistic to the scepticism and materialism of the latter. But both were hostile to Christ, whose teaching, on the one hand interfered with rabbinism, and on the other maintained the existence of the supernatural and the certainty of the resurrection. The Sadducees alone seem to have attacked Christ only on two occasions. They were probably Herodians (comp. Matthew 22:16), and on this account also disliked by the Pharisees; but they were powerful, and held most of the highest offices in the state, and their alliance was sought or allowed in order more effectually to compromise Jesus. Even theological hatred and political opposition sank into indifference in the face of what was regarded as a common danger. Strauss and his school regard this combination as so unnatural that they throw discredit on the whole account. This is shallow criticism. Nothing is more common than for persons opposed on all other subjects to coalesce for an unholy purpose in which they are jointly interested. The most violent political opponents will join forces in order to gain some desired point, and. when an attack on the Church is meditated, even unbelievers are gladly welcomed. Tertullian says forcibly, "Christ is always being crucified between two thieves." Tempting. Trying him with captious questions, to bring him into a difficulty, or to give them an opportunity of accusing him of heterodoxy, or disloyalty, or insubordination, and of discrediting him with the people. A sign from heaven. The rabbis held that demons and. false gods could perform certain miracles on earth, but God alone could give signs from heaven, such as, e.g., the manna of Moses' time, the staying of the sun and moon by Joshua, the lightning and thunder that came at Samuel's word, the stroke of death on the captains who tried to arrest Elijah. They had heard of the miraculous meal just before, and saw how deeply the people were moved by it, and they would imply that such a miracle was no proof of a Divine mission, as it might have been wrought by magical or Satanic agency. Let Christ give a sign from heaven, and they would acknowledge his claims. They knew what Christ's answer would be, as they had already attacked him with the same demand (Matthew 12:38); and they hoped that he would either refuse to gratify them, as before, or else make an attempt and fail. In either case they thought they might turn the circumstance to his disadvantage. The Sadducees joined in the request, because they disbelieved in all such occurrences, and were fully persuaded that they were impossible, and any one who attempted to produce them must prove himself a miserable impostor. The word translated desired. (ἐπηρώτησαν) is emphatic; the verb is used classically in the sense of "to put a question for decision;" so the interrogation here would signify that this was to be a final test of the claims of Christ; on his answer depended their adhesion or opposition.
The paragraph consisting of this and Matthew 16:3 is omitted by many good manuscripts, probably owing to its similarity to the passage in Matthew 12:38. These verses are most probably genuine; and they certainly could not have been foisted into the text from Luke 12:54-56. The circumstances are too different, and the variations too marked, to make such interpolation probable. When it is evening. The Pharisees had demanded a sign from heaven; Jesus points to the western glow in the sky, and taunts them with being ready enough to read the signs of the weather, but slow to interpret proofs of more important circumstances. He does not, in the case of these mixed cavillers, argue from Scripture, but from the natural world, and he points out that, had they eyes to see and a mind to discern, they might mark tokens in historical events, in the moral and spiritual world, which attested his Messiahship as clearly as any specially given sign from heaven. Ye say, It will be fair weather (εὐδία). Probably an exclamation, Ye say, Fair weather! Rabbinical schools made a point of teaching weather lore; prognostications on this subject were greatly in vogue, and the rains of the coming year were annually foretold. On such meteorological observations, we may refer to Virgil, 'Georg,' 1.425, etc.; and Pliny, 'Nat. Hist.,' 18.35 and 78.
It will be foul weather today more tersely in the Greek, Today a storm! Such prognostications are found among all peoples. Many examples are collected by Wetstein. Lowring (στυγνάζων); a word applied to the expression of the countenance, and therefore applicable, by prosopopceia, to the look of the sky. Fillion quotes Aulus Gellius, Matthew 13:29, "Non solum in hominum corporibus, sed etiam in rerum cujusquemodi aliarum facies dicitur. Nam montis et coeli et maris facies, si tompestive dicatur, probe dicitur." O ye hypocrites (ὑποκριταί). The word is omitted by some uncial manuscripts, the Vulgate, etc., and many modern editors. If it is genuine, we must consider that Christ thus calls them, because their pretence of being satisfied with sufficient proof of Christ's claims was a mere fiction, as they were obstinately determined never to acknowledge him. It would be casting pearls before swine to give further external proofs to people without sympathy and not open to conviction. The signs of the times (τῶν καιρῶν). Critical times, the age foretold for the appearance of the Messiah. These signs, which all who were candid and unbiassed might read, were such as the following: the sceptre had departed from Judah, and the lawgiver from between his feet; the fourth great empire was established; the prophetic weeks of Daniel were at their close; the Baptist had come in the spirit and power of Elias; all the world was expecting the advent of some great personage; the best and holiest Jews were looking for the Redeemer; Christ's own miracles and teaching proved his Divinity and the fulfilment of many obscure prophecies; these and such like signs were set for all to see and ponder, and the Lord, as he marked the obstinate unbelief of his countrymen, might well be grieved, and "sigh deeply in his spirit" (Mark 8:12).
A wicked and adulterous generation … Jonas. These words our Lord had already uttered on a former occasion (Matthew 12:39), but he does not here explain them, as he did before (see Introduction, § 7). Under similar circumstances he repeats himself, but he wastes not time in useless discussions with perverse opponents who will not see the truth. Of his death and resurrection, whereof Jonah was a type, they knew and understood nothing. Perhaps they thought of Jonah only as a prophet against the heathen city Nineveh, and a preacher of repentance, and were disposed to resent the allusion as an affront to their vaunted righteousness. He left them. Took ship for Magedan, and crossed the lake to the northeast shore, in the neighbourhood of Bethsaida Julias. He, as it were, despaired of their improvement, and left them in righteous anger at their obduracy. "A man that is heretical after a first and second admonition refuse; knowing that such a one is perverted and sinneth, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10, Titus 3:11). Jesus never taught publicly or worked miracles again on this spot.
Warning against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Mark 8:14-21.)
They had forgotten (ἐπελάθοντο, not pluperfect); came to the other side, and forgot; obliti sunt (Vulgate); i.e. they perceived that they had forgotten to take sufficient bread for the journey before them. The district which they were about to traverse was but sparsely inhabited, and offered no hope of supplying this want. It is doubted whether the ensuing conversation took place during the voyage or after they had landed. The language of St. Mark inclines one to believe that the deficiency was discovered during the transit, and the remarks now narrated were made then. As it would take some hours to cross, there was ample time to feel and expatiate upon the need; and if Christ had told them of his future movements, they would naturally feel regret for their carelessness and want of forethought. Or it might be that Christ's observation concerning the leaven was made in the beat, and his reproof of their thoughts was given on landing.
The leaven. Christ's thoughts were still fixed on the late disputants, whose powerful influence on popular opinion called for forcible warning. By "leaven" he does not here refer specially to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees, as in Luke 12:1, but to the evil influence which they exercised, which was diffused far and wide, and penetrated to all ranks and classes. Their unsound opinions, their inability or disinclination to enter into the spiritual sense of Scripture, vitiated their whole system, and made them dangerous teachers directly they attempted to explain or amplify the letter of Holy Writ. It was this same perverse blindness that led them to refuse to accept Jesus as Messiah in spite of all the proofs which had been brought before them. That leaven, in one aspect, was regarded as a sign of impurity and corruption, we learn from the strict rules which banished it from Divine service, and especially during the Passover season. Says St. Paul, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (Galatians 5:9); and, "Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened" (1 Corinthians 5:7). Elsewhere Christ makes a distinction between what these teachers taught ex cathedra, and what they put forth on their own authority or what they practised themselves (Matthew 23:2, Matthew 23:3, where see note).
They reasoned among themselves. With a crass literalness, the apostles utterly misunderstood the drift of their Master's warning, and thought that he alluded to their forgetfulness in coming without bread. They were always slow to apprehend the metaphorical and spiritual signification of their Master's language. Thus at the synagogue in Capernaum they failed to grasp his meaning when he spoke of himself as the Bread of life (John 6:1-71.), and at Jacob's well they interpreted of material food his Divine words concerning the nourishment of the soul (John 4:1-54.). It is well remarked by Sadler (in loc.) that "it is no small proof of the good faith and consequent truth of the gospel, that the apostles should have recorded things so against themselves as this account. If they had written for any purpose except the simple exhibition of the truth, they could easily have suppressed facts such as this, so very discreditable to their spiritual, indeed to their mental, perception. But if we had lost accounts such as these, we should have lost the proof of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, miracle of its kind; for no miraculous change in the spirit of man which God has wrought can be accounted greater than this—that men who, before the resurrection and the Day of Pentecost, should have exhibited such utter want of the lowest spiritual discernment, should, after the descent of the Spirit, have written such searching spiritual documents as the catholic Epistles of Peter and John." In the present case some commentators take it that the apostles fancied Christ was warning them against procuring any leavened bread from Pharisees and Sadducees, whom Jesus so sternly denounced; but it is more probable that their anxiety arose simply from the want of provisions, not from the consideration that they were debarred from obtaining them at the hands of certain parties. These doubts they seem to have whispered one to another.
When Jesus perceived (γνούς). He knew their thoughts, if he did not overhear their words, and he reproved them severely on two accounts—first, for want of faith in his care; and secondly, for not understanding the mystical allusion in the word "leaven." Ye of little faith. They showed lack of faith by being solicitous concerning bodily wants, thinking that Christ was regardless of, or unable to provide for them under all circumstances. He applied the same term to them elsewhere, as when they apprehended not the lesson of the grass of the field (Matthew 6:30), and when they were fearful in the storm on the lake (Matthew 8:26).
Matthew 16:9, Matthew 16:10
Christ, in support of his reproof, refers to the two miracles of the multiplication of food, which ought to have assured them of his care and power. Do ye not yet understand? So he asked in Matthew 15:16, "Are ye also yet without understanding?" Their heart was hardened, and they failed to apprehend the spiritual bearing of the incidents. Neither remember? This was an additional ground for censure, that they even forgot the facts at the very time when they ought to have been recalled to their memory. Jesus reminds them of the distinctive differences between the two miracles, mentioning even the receptacles in which the fragments were collected—in the one case κόφινοι, small baskets, and in the other σπυρίδες, large panniers. It is surely wilful perversity that has deemed these two incidents, thus pointedly disjoined by our Lord, as versions of one story; and yet this is what some modern critics have suggested and upheld.
That I spake it not to you, etc. The Revised Version, following many modern editors, divides the clause into two, thus: that I spake not to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven, etc. This is the second ground for the Lord's reproof administered to the apostles. They had taken in a carnal, literal sense a word which he had used in a symbolical or mystical meaning. It is the want of spiritual discernment which he censures. They had had frequent opportunities of hearing and appreciating his mode of teaching: miracles, parables, discourses, had an inner signification, which it was their duty to apprehend. The want of understanding was a moral fault for which they were answerable. We may say it would have been easier for our Lord to have spoken of doctrine without using the misunderstood figure of leaven. But it is in the way of his providence to speak words which need thought and grace to make them fully comprehended. They are thus more impressed upon the heart and memory, and bring forth better fruit. A well instructed Hebrew ought to have no difficulty in understanding metaphorical allusions. His Scriptures were full of them, and could not be intelligently read without the light thus cast upon them.
Then understood they. Jesus did not explain his meaning further; but his reproof roused their intellect, made them reflect, set them on the road to the truth. The doctrine. This was what Jesus meant by "the leaven." In a wider sense it might include practice as well as precept, manner of life as well as teaching. The same spirit permeated all. "See," says St. Chrysostom, "how much good his reproof wrought. For it both led them away from the Jewish observances, and, when they were remiss. made them more heedful, and delivered them from want of faith; so that they were not afraid nor in alarm, if at any time they seemed to have few loaves; nor were they careful about famine, but despised all these things."
The climax of recognition of Christ's true nature declared in the great confession of Peter. (Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21.)
Coasts (μέρη); parts, as Matthew 15:21, etc. Caesarea Philippi. The addition to the name Caesarea is intended to commemorate its restorer and beautifier, the tetrarch Philip, and to distinguish it from the city of the same name on the coast between Joppa and Carmel (Acts 8:40, etc.). Our Lord had landed at Bethsaida, where the Jordan enters the Lake of Gennesaret, turned northwards, and, following the course of the river, had now arrived in the vicinity of one of its chief sources at Caesarea Philippi, the most northerly city of the Holy Land. It was, if not identical with, in close proximity to, the Dan of the Old Testament, whence arose the saying, "From Dan to Beersheba," to denote the whole extent of country from north to south. Later it was called Paneas, and now Banias. Philip altered the name to Caesarea in honour of Tiberius Caesar, his patron. Christ seems not to have visited the city itself, but only the outlying villages in the district. We may conjecture why at this Lime he moved to this remote region. It was probably, partly, a measure of precaution. He had excited the fiercest animosity of the dominant party, and even of the sceptical Sadducees; he was pertinaciously followed by their emissaries, always on the watch to lay hold of his words and actions, and to found upon them dangerous charges; and now, knowing it was time to announce to his followers in plain terms his claim to be Messiah, he would not do this in Judaea, where it might cause commotion, and embroil him with the authorities, but preferred to teach this great truth where he might speak freely without fear of immediate consequences, out of the reach of his persevering opponents. Virtually, also, his public work in Judaea and Galilee had reached its end. He had no chance of a hearing if he had made further attempts at teaching. The calumnies of the rabbis had affected the fickle populace, who would willingly have followed a military pretender, but had no heart to set at nought their national teachers in favour of One whom they were persuaded to regard as a dangerous innovator, not improbably upheld by Satanic agency. He asked his disciples. It was after a time of solitary prayer (Luke 9:18) that he put this question to his followers. Determined now to reveal himself, he desired to make them express the mistaken views which were rife concerning his Person and office, and to lead them to the more important inquiry—what opinion they themselves held touching this momentous mystery (verse 15). Whom (who) do men say that I the Son of man am? Quem dicunt homines esse filium hominis (Vulgate); Who do men say that the Son of man is? (Revised Version). The versions represent the variation of manuscripts between τίνα με λέγουσιν κ.τ.λ., and τίνα λέγουσιν, omitting με. The pronoun is probably genuine and emphatic. In the other case, "the Son of man" is equivalent to με in verse 15. I call myself the Son of man: what do the multitudes say of me? Who do they consider the Son of man to be? This was the term he used to show the truth of the Incarnation—"perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting." To Jewish ears it connoted Divinity (see Luke 22:69, Luke 22:70; John 3:13).
John the Baptist. This was the opinion of Herod Antipas (Matthew 14:1, Matthew 14:2), who fancied that Christ was animated by the spirit of John the Baptist, or was actually that personage' revived; though it was noticed by others that John did no miracle (John 10:41), and lived a life in contrast to that of Christ (Matthew 11:18, Matthew 11:19). Elias; Elijah, who was taken up to heaven without dying, and was announced by Malachi (Malachi 4:5) as destined to return before the appearance of Messiah. Jeremias. Some opined that he was Jeremiah, who was expected to come as a precursor of Messiah (2 Esdras 2:18), and reveal the tabernacle, ark, and the altar of incense, which, according to the legend of 2 Macc. 2:4-7, he had hidden in Mount Nebo, "until the time that God gather his people again together, and receive them unto mercy." One of the prophets. One of the celebrated prophets of antiquity revived, restored to life again to prepare the way for the great consummation. The well known prediction of Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15) may have given rise to this idea. The four popular opinions here mentioned showed two facts—that Jesus had a high reputation among his contemporaries, and that he was by none at this time regarded as the Messiah. Even those who, after certain of his marvellous works, had been ready to honour him with that title, soon cooled in their ardour, and, checked by his reserve and the slanders of the Pharisees, learned to see in him only a wonder-worker or a precursor of the expected Prince and Liberator.
But whom (who) say ye that I am? More emphatic in the Greek, Υμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι; But ye, who do ye say that I am? This was the important question to which the previous one led. Ye, who have shared my life and received my teaching, witnessed my miracles and have been endued by me with supernatural powers, ye know better than the people, whose crude opinions you have heard and recounted; so tell plainly what you believe of me: who you think and say that I am? A momentous inquiry! upon which hung the foundation of the Christian Church. Their knowledge of the real nature of Jesus was now to be tested.
Simon Peter answered and said. The ardent Peter, when all were asked, replies in the name of the rest, giving, however, his own personal sentiment and belief, as we see from Christ's answer (Matthew 16:17). Some of the others probably would have been less ready to make the same confession; but in his vehement loyalty, Peter silences all hesitation, and declares boldly what must be the conviction of all his comrades. He speaks out the persuasion wrought in his soul by Divine grace. Thou art the Christ (ὁΧριστὸς), the Son of the living God. The Christ; the Anointed, the Messiah. The Son of God; of the same substance, one with the Father. Living; as alone "having life in himself," "the living and true God" (John 5:26; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). The same (or nearly the same) confession was made by Peter in the name of all the apostles at Capernaum (John 6:69); but the sense of the expression was different, and sprang from very different conviction. It referred rather to the subjective view of Christ's character, as it influenced the believer's inward assurance of the source of eternal life. Here the acknowledgment concerns the nature, office, and Person of our Lord. That there was some special distinction between the two enunciations is evident from Christ's unique commendation of Peter on this occasion compared with his silence on the former. The present confession is indeed a noble one, containing itself a compendium of the Catholic faith concerning the Person and work of Christ. Herein Peter acknowledges Jesus to be the true Messiah, commissioned and sent by God to reveal his will to man, and accomplishing all that the prophets had foretold concerning him; no mere man, not even the most exalted of men (which common opinion held Messiah to be) but the Son of God, of the substance of the Father, begotten from everlasting, God of God, perfect God and perfect man, Son of God and Son of man. Such was Peter's faith. The Church has added nothing to it, though she has amplified and explained and illustrated it in her Creeds; for it comprises belief in Christ's Messiahship, Divinity, Incarnation, personality, and the momentous issues depending thereon. We need not suppose that Peter understood all this or speculated on the question how these several attributes were united in Christ. He was content to accept and acknowledge the truth, waiting patiently for further light. This is the attitude which Christ approves.
Jesus answered and said unto him. This weighty and momentous answer is given alone by St. Matthew. St. Mark, who wrote under the instruction of Peter, and for Roman Christians, mentions it not; the other two evangelists are equally silent, having evidently not understood the special importance attached to it. Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona. "Blessed," as in the sermon on the mount (Mark 5:1-43.), expressing a solemn benediction, not a mere encomium. Peter was highly favoured by a special revelation from God. Christ calls him "son of Jona," to intimate that Peter's confession is true—that he himself is as naturally and truly Son of God as Peter is son of Jona. So Christ addresses him when he restores the fallen apostle at the Sea of Galilee after the second miraculous draught of fishes, reminding him of his frail human nature in the face of great spiritual privileges (John 21:15, etc.; comp. Matthew 1:1-42). Simon would be the name given at his circumcision; Bar-jona, a patronymic to distinguish him from others of the same name. For (ὅτι). This introduces the reason why Christ calls him "Blessed." Flesh and blood. This is a phrase to express the idea of the natural man, with his natural endowments and faculties. So St. Paul says (Galatians 1:16), "I conferred not with flesh and blood;" and "Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6:12). The Son of Sirach speaks of "the generation of flesh and blood" (Ecclesiasticus 14:18). No natural sagacity, study, or discernment had revealed the great truth. None of these had overcome slowness of apprehension, prejudices of education, slackness of faith. No unregenerate mortal man had taught him the gospel mystery. My Father which is in heaven. Christ thus accepts Peter's definition of him as "the Son of the living God." None but the Father could have revealed to thee the Son.
And I say also (I also say) unto thee. As thou hast said unto me, "Thou art the Christ," so I say unto thee, etc. Thou art Peter (Πέτρος, Petrus), and upon this rock (πέτρα, petra) I will build my Church. In classical Greek, the distinction between πέτρα and πέτρος is well known—the former meaning "a rock," the latter "a piece of rock," or "a stone." But probably no such distinction is intended here, as there would be none in Aramaic. There is plainly a paronomasia here in the Greek; and, if our Lord spoke in Aramaic, the same play of words was exhibited in Kephas or kepha. When Jesus first called Peter to be a disciple, he imposed upon him the name Cephas, which the evangelist explains to be Peter (John 1:42). The name was bestowed in anticipation of Peter's great confession: "Thou shalt be called." This preannouncement was here fulfilled and confirmed. Upon this passage chiefly the claims of the Roman Church, which for fifteen centuries have been the subject of acrimonious controversy, are founded. It is hence assumed that the Christian Church is founded upon Peter and his successors, and that these successors are the Bishops of Rome. The latter assertion may be left to the decision of history, which fails to prove that Peter was ever at Rome, or that he transmitted his supposed supremacy to the episcopate of that city. We have in this place to deal with the former assertion. Who or what is the rock on which Christ says that he will hereafter build his Church? French Romanists consider it a providential coincidence that they can translate the passage, "Je te disque, Tu es Pierre; et sur cette pierre je batirai," etc.; but persons outside the papal communion are not satisfied to hang their faith on a play of words. The early Fathers are by no means at one in their explanations of the paragraph. Living before Rome had laid claim to the tremendous privileges which it afterwards affected, they did not regard the statement in the light of later controversies; and even those who held Peter to be the rock would have indignantly repelled the assumptions which have been built on that interpretation. The apostolic Fathers seem to have mentioned the passage in none of their writings; and they could scarcely have failed to refer to it had they been aware of the tremendous issues dependent thereon. It was embodied in no Catholic Creed, and never made an article of the Christian faith. We may remark also that of the evangelists St. Matthew alone records the promise to Peter; Mark and Luke give his confession, which was the one point which Christ desired to elicit, and omit that which is considered to concern his privileges. This looks as though, in their view, the chief aim of the passage was not Peter, but Christ; not Peter's pre-eminence, but Christ's nature and office. At the same time, to deny all allusion to Peter in the "rock" is quite contrary to the genius of the language and to New Testament usage, and would not have been so pressed in modern times except for polemical purposes. Three views have been held on the interpretation of this passage.
(1) That Christ himself is the Rock on which the Church should be built.
(2) That Peter's confession of Jesus Christ as Son of God, or God incarnate, is the Rock.
(3) That St. Peter is the rock.
(1) The first explanation is supported by passages where in Christ speaks of himself in the third person, e.g. "Destroy this temple;" "If any man eat of this bread; Whoso falleth on this stone," etc. In the same sense are cited the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 28:16), "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious comerstone, a sure foundation." Almighty God is continually called "a Rock" in the Old Testament (see 2 Samuel 22:32; Psalms 18:31; Psalms 57:2, Psalms 57:6, Psalms 57:7, etc.), so that it might be deemed natural and intelligible for Christ to call himself "this Rock," in accordance, with the words of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 3:11), "Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid (κεῖται), which is Jesus Christ." But then the reference to Peter becomes unmeaning: "Thou art Peter, and upon myself I will build my Church." It is true that some few eminent authorities have taken this view. Thus St. Augustine writes, "It was not said to him, 'Thou art a rock (petra),' but, 'Thou art Peter,' and the Rock was Christ" ('Retract.,' 1.21). And commentators have imagined that Christ pointed to himself as he spoke. In such surmises there is an inherent improbability, and they do not explain the commencement of the address. In saying, "Thou art Peter," Christ, if he made any gesture at all, would have touched or turned to that apostle. Immediately after this to have directed attention to himself would have been most unnatural and contradictory. We may safely surrender the interpretation which regards Christ himself as the Rock.
(2) The explanation which finds the rock in Peter's great confession has been widely adopted by commentators ancient and modern. Thus St. Chrysostom, "Upon this rock, that is, on the faith of his confession. Hereby he signifies that many were now on the point of believing, and raises his spirit, and makes him a shepherd." To the same purport might be quoted Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory Nyss., Cyril, and others. It is remarkable that in the Collect from the Gregorian Sacramentary and in the Roman Missal on the Vigil of St. Peter and St. Paul are found the words, "Grant that thou wouldst not suffer us, whom thou hast established on the rock of the apostolic confession (quos in apostolicae confessionis petra solidasti) to be shaken by any commotions." Bishop Wordsworth, as many exegetes virtually do, combines the two interpretations, and we cite his exposition as a specimen of the view thus held: "What he says is this, 'I myself, now confessed by thee to be both God and Man, am the Rock of the Church. This is the foundation on which it is built.' And because St. Peter had confessed him as such, he says to St. Peter, 'Thou hast confessed me, and I will now confess thee; thou hast owned me, I will now own thee. Thou art Peter,' i.e. thou art a lively stone, hewn out of and built upon me, the living Rock. Thou art a genuine Petros of me, the Divine Petra. And whosoever would be a lively stone, a Peter, mast imitate thee in this thy true confession of me, the living Rock; for upon this Rock, that is, on myself, believed and confessed to be both God and Man, I will build my Church." As the opinion that Christ means himself by "this rock" is untenable, so we consider that Peter's confession is equally debarred from being the foundation intended. Who does not see that the Church is to be built, not on confessions or dogmas, but on men—men inspired by God to teach the great truth? A confession implies a confessor; it was the person who made the confession that is meant, not the mere statement itself, however momentous and true. Thus elsewhere the Church is said to have been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20), "Ye," says St. Peter (1 Peter 2:5), "as living stones are built up a spiritual house." "James and Cephas who were reputed to be pillars" (Galatians 2:9). In Revelation (Revelation 21:14) the foundationstones of the heavenly temple are "the twelve apostles of the Lamb." Hence we gather that the rock is a person.
(3) So we come to the explanation of the difficulty which naturally is deduced from the language if considered without regard to prejudice or the pernicious use to which it has been put. Looking at the matter in a straightforward way, we come to the conclusion that Christ is wishing to reward Peter for his outspoken profession of faith; and his commendation is couched in a form which was usual in Oriental addresses, and intelligible to his hearers. "Thou hast said to me, 'Thou art the Son of God;' I say to thee, 'Thou art Peter,' a rock man, 'and on thee,' as a rock, 'I will build my Church.' "As he was the first to acknowledge Christ's nature and office, so he was rewarded by being appointed as the apostle who should inaugurate the Christian Church and lay its first foundation. His name and his work were to coincide. This promise was fulfilled in Peter's acts. He it was who took the lead on the Day of Pentecost, when at his preaching, to the hundred and twenty disciples there were added three thousand souls (Acts 2:41); he it was who admitted the Gentiles to the Christian community (Acts 10:1-48.); he it was who in these early days stood forth prominently as a master builder, and was the first to open the kingdom of heaven to Jews and Gentiles. It is objected that, if Peter was a builder, he could not be the rock on which the building was raised. The expression, of course, is metaphorical. Christ builds the Church by employing Peter as the foundation of the spiritual house; Peter's zeal and activity and stable faith are indeed the living rock which forms the material element, so to speak, of this erection; he, as labouring in the holy cause beyond all others, at any rate in the early days of the gospel, is regarded as that solid basis on which the Church was raised. Christ, in one sense, builds on Peter; Peter builds on Christ. The Church, in so far as it was visible, had Peter for its rocky foundation; in so far as it was spiritual, it was founded on Christ. The distinction thus accorded in the future to Peter was personal, and carried with it none of the consequences which human ambition or mistaken pursuit of unity have elicited therefrom. There was no promise of present supremacy; there was no promise of the privilege being handed down to successors. The other apostles had no conception of any superiority being now conferred on Peter. It was not long after this that there was a strife among them who should be the greatest; James and John claimed the highest places in the heavenly kingdom; Paul resisted Peter to the face "because he stood condemned" (Galatians 2:11); the president of the first council was James, the Bishop of Jerusalem. It is plain that neither Peter himself nor his fellow apostles understood or acknowledged his supremacy; and that he transmitted, or was intended to transmit, such authority to successors, is a figment unknown to primitive Christianity, and which was gradually erected, to serve ambitious designs, on forged decretals and spurious writings. This is not the place for polemics, and these few apologetic hints are introduced merely with the view of showing that no one need be afraid of the obvious and straightforward interpretation of Christ's words, or suppose that papal claims are necessarily supported thereby. I will build my Church (μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν). My Church, not thine. Plainly, therefore, the Church was not yet builded. Christ speaks of it as a house, temple, or palace, perhaps at the moment gazing on some castle founded securely on a rock, safe from flood and storm and hostile attack. We know how commonly he took his illustrations from objects and scenes around him; and the rocky base of the great castle of Caesarea Philippi may well have supplied the material for the metaphor here introduced. The word translated "church" (ἐκκλησία), is found here for the first time in the New Testament. It is derived from a verb meaning "to call out," and in classical Greek denotes the regular legislative assembly of a people. In the Septuagint it represents the Hebrew kahal, the congregation united into one society and forming one polity (see Trench, 'Synonyms'). The name kehila in modern times is applied to every Jewish community which has its own synagogue and ministers. From the use of the metaphor of a house, and the word employed to designate the Church, we see that it was not to be a mere loose collection of items, but an organized whole, united, officered, and permanent. Hence the word Ecclesia has been that which designated the Christian society, and has been handed down and recognized in all ages and in all countries. It may be regarded as the personal part of that kingdom of heaven which was to embrace the whole world, when "the kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ" (Revelation 11:15; see Introduction, § 10.). The gates of hell (ᾅδου) shall not prevail against it. Hades, which our version calls "hell," is the region of the dead, a gloomy and desolate place, according to Jewish tradition, situated in the centre of the earth, a citadel with walls and gates, which admitted the souls of men, but opened not for their egress. There are two ways of explaining these words, though they both come to much the same idea. The gates of Hades represent the entrance thereto; and the Lord affirms that death shall have no power over the members of the Church; they shall be able to rise superior to its attacks, even if for a time they seem to succumb; their triumphant cry shall he, "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55). Through the grave and gate of death they shall pass to a joyful resurrection. The other interpretation is derived from the fact that in Oriental cities the gate is the scene of deliberation and counsel. Hence "the gates" here may represent the evil designs planned by the powers of hell to overthrow the Church, the wiles and machinations of the devil and his angels, Hades being taken, not as the abode of the dead, but as the realm of Satan. Neither malignant spirits nor their allies, such as sin, persecution, heresy, shall be able to wreck the eternal building which Christ was founding. Combining the two expositions, we may say that Christ herein promises that neither the power of death nor the power of the devil shall prevail against it (κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς), shall overpower it, keep it in subjection. The pronoun refers doubtless to Church, not rock, the verb being more applicable to the former than the latter, and the pronoun being nearer in position to ἐκκλησίαν. To see here an assurance of the infallibility of the pope, as Romanists do, is to force the words of Scripture most unwarrantably in order to support a modern figment which has done infinite harm to the cause of Christ. As Erasmus says, "Proinde miror esse, qui locum hunc detorqueant ad Romanum Pontificem."
I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The metaphor of a house or castle, with its gates that must be opened with keys, is still maintained; or else the idea is of the exercise of a stewardship in a household. But the latter seems unnecessarily to introduce a new notion, and to mar the concinnity of the passage. In Isaiah 22:22 we read, "The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open"—where the figure is similar. The delivery of the keys of a city, etc., to a person, symbolizes the handing over of the authority to that person. "The kingdom of heaven" means here the visible Church of Christ in its most extended form. In this Church, hereafter to be constituted, Peter personally is promised a certain authority. This is a personal reward for his good confession, and a prediction of the way in which he was to exercise it. At the same time, there is a change in the figure used. He who was the foundation of the Church is now its overseer, and may open or shut its doors, may admit or exclude whomsoever he will, always following the guidance of the inspiring Spirit. This promise was fulfilled after the Day of Pentecost. It seems to have been at this time only promised, not conferred upon Peter. The actual gift of the power to him and his brother apostles took place after the Resurrection, as we read in John 20:22. The "power of the keys," as it is called, is considered to have two branches—a legislative pewee and an absolving power. The former Peter exercised when he took the lead after the effusion of the Spirit, and opened the door to the Jews. It was his action that admitted the Gentiles, without compliance with the distinctive rites of Judaism, to all the privileges of the gospel (see Acts 15:7). This most momentous precedent he established and made good for all time. These were legislative acts which he had the honour of introducing, and which, thus inaugurated, upheld, and defended by him, tended to advance that unity which the Lord held so dear. As an instance of his shutting the door of the kingdom in the face of an impious intruder, we may notice his rebuke to Simon Magus (Acts 8:21), "Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter." The absolving power, supposed to be contained in the gift of the keys, seems rather to belong to the terms of the succeeding promise. We conceive that this power was first given to St. Peter in acknowledgment of his good confession, and as an emblem of unity, and was afterwards bestowed on all the apostles. That the Fathers did not regard it as limited exclusively to Peter, may he seen by quotations gathered by Wordsworth and other commentators. Thus Tertullian, 'Scorpiac.,' 10, "Memento claves hic Dominum Petro, et per illum Ecclesiae reliquisse;" St. Cyprian, 'De Unit.,' p. 107, "Apostolis omnibus post resurrectionem suam parem potestatem tribuit;" St. Augustine, 'Serm.,' 295, "Has claves non homo unus, sed unitas accepit Ecclcsiae." Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, etc. "Binding" and "loosing" has been explained in various ways. Some say the terms mean admitting or debarring from the Church, which would make them identical with the power of the keys, and would give no additional privilege; whereas it is plain that further honour is intended to be bestowed. Others affirm that the expression is to be understood of absolution from sin. They take the metaphor to be derived from a prisoner and his chain. Sinners are tied and bound with the chain of their sins; they are released on repentance by the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18, 2 Corinthians 5:19); they are bound, when the means of grace are withheld from them, owing to the absence of tokens of'sincerity and faith. This is the view taken in the Anglican Ordinal, where to the priest it is solemnly said, "Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sips thou dost retain, they are retained." But this was no special gift to Peter; it was bestowed not long after upon all the apostolic body in the very same terms (Matthew 18:18), and was indeed inherent in the ministry. This interpretation also introduces a new element into the promise, which does not agree with the context. There is nothing to lead one to expect such an item, and to supply "sins" to the general term "whatsoever" twice repeated, is harsh and unnatural. A more reasonable explanation of the phrase is derived from the use of the terms among the Jews themselves. In their Talmudic glosses we find equivalent expressions. "To bind" is to forbid, to pronounce unlawful; "to loose" is to allow, to declare lawful. And the Lord here promises Peter a certain pre-eminence in the government and organization of the Church, and that the rules which he ordained and the sentences which he should pass in the due exercise of his apostolical authority, should be ratified and confirmed in heaven (Burgon). The phrase is found in Josephus, expressive of the possession, of unrestricted authority. Thus he speaks of the Pharisees as having power to loose and bind (λύειν τε καὶ δεῖν) whom they would ('Bell. Jud.,' 1.5. 2). And it is noted that an inscription upon a statue of Isis reads, "I am the queen of the country, and whatsoever I bind no man can loose" (Diod. Sic., 1.27). This is a personal distinction conferred on St. Peter in the exercise of an office common to all the apostles, it was needful, in the early Church, that one should be chosen, primus inter pares, to be the chief office bearer and leader of the body of believers. Not that he conceived himself to be, or was recognized by others as, infallible, or as an irresponsible despot; many events before and after Pentecost forbid such an assumption; but his faith, character, and zeal pointed him out as well constituted to regulate and order the infant community, and to take the first part in maintaining that unity which was essential to the new kingdom. This personal primacy may justly be conceded, even by those who are most inimical to the arrogant claims of the papacy; for it carries not with it the consequences which have been appended. Precedence in rank does not of necessity involve supreme or even superior authority. A duke has no authority over a baron, though he has precedence. The fuller consideration of this sphere of the subject belongs rather to the historian and the polemist than to the expositor, and to such we leave it, only adding that, in his peculiar privilege, Peter stands alone, and that in his extraordinary power he had, and was intended to have, no successors.
Then charged he his disciples. Immediately after Peter's confession and Jesus' promise. St. Matthew's word "charged" (διεστείλατο) becomes more emphatic in the other synoptists (ἐπετίμησεν), implying a command with a rebuke attached to it on its infringement; Vulgate, comminatus est (Mark 8:30). That they should tell no man that he (αὐτὸς)was [Jesus] the Christ. The received text inserts the word "Jesus," but very many good manuscripts omit it; and it seems to have been received by inadvertence, the point being that he was Messiah. The injunction to tell no man (with which comp. Matthew 8:4) was necessary at this time for many reasons. The time was not ripe for the declaration which might have led to tumult and disorder among an excited populace. Any ambitious ideas which the apostles might have formed from what had just passed were here nipped in the bud. They were not sufficiently familiar with the true notion of the Messiah, especially a suffering Messiah, to be competent to preach him to others. This we see by Peter's inconsiderate remonstrance in verse 22. Till they received the Holy Ghost after Christ's ascension, they could not rightly and profitably preach of Christ's nature, office, and kingdom. Jesus may have looked forward to their desertion of him in his hour of trial, and prevented them from proclaiming his real character, which, in the face of such desertion, would have proved a stumbling block to the faith of believers. Some of these reasons we may reverently believe were those which led Christ to lay this severe restriction on the enthusiasm of his followers (see on Matthew 17:9).
SUFFERING: JESUS ACCEPTS AND DOES NOT SHUN IT.
Jesus announces plainly his death and resurrection. Rebukes Peter. (Mark 8:31-1; Luke 9:22-27.)
From that time. Henceforward Christ changes his teaching and his behaviour. He tells of his sufferings, and of their necessity in the order of things, so that any one who opposes this design is fighting against God; and shows how self-denial and pain must be the lot of his followers. Began to show unto his disciples. No longer obscurely, but plainly and without reserve. He had already intimated his future sufferings, though his disciples had been slow to receive these dark hints, so opposed to all their preconceived opinions of Messiah's glory and victorious career. Such sayings as, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19); and, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (John 3:14), had fallen unheeded on the disciples' ears, and had not guided them to forecast the future. Even the allusions to their own trials, in the warnings about bearing the cross and following him (Matthew 10:38), were not understood. The great point of his real nature had become clear to them; they had now to learn that the way to glory, both for him and them, led through suffering and death. Conscious of Christ's Divinity, they could now more patiently endure the mystery of his cross and Passion. Unto Jerusalem. The appointed scene of these events (see Matthew 20:17). He must (δεῖ) go thither to meet and endure these sufferings, because it was so ordained in the counsels of God and announced by the prophets (comp. Matthew 26:54; Luke 24:26, Luke 24:46). Many things. These are detailed in Matthew 20:18, Matthew 20:19; Luke 18:31-33. Elders, chief priests, and scribes. The various members of the Sanhedrin (see Matthew 2:4). The three classes are, in Nosgen's opinion, intentionally named here—the elders, as the most aged and venerated members, or such as were distinguished by rank and character; the chief priests, heads of the twenty-four courses, as office bearers of the theocracy; and scribes, at that time occupying almost the position of the prophets. The whole religious world would thus be combined against Christ. Be killed. He does not here say "crucified," as he did afterwards (Matthew 20:19), only gradually revealing the whole awful truth. Be raised again the third day. This announcement was intended to support the disciples in view of Christ's sufferings and death. And "the third day" is mentioned, not only for typical reasons, but to assure them that his death should be speedily followed by his return to life from the grave. It is obvious to us that Jesus prophesied plainly concerning his resurrection; but such an event, so unprecedented, so unexperienced, was not understood; and though the prediction was so far known as to cause his grave to be watched, it was only a vague kind of expectation, without form or definiteness, that was cherished, and the actual fact came as a surprise.
Peter took him (προσλαβόμενος). Either taking him aside, or taking him by the hand or dress—a reverent familiarity permitted by the Lord to his loving apostle. And now this same Peter, who had just before made his noble confession, and had been rewarded with unique commendation, unable to shake off the prejudices of his age and his education, began to rebuke (ἐπιτιμᾶν) his Master. He presumed to chide Jesus for speaking of suffering and death. He, the Son of God most High, what had he to do with such things? How could he name them in connection with himself? Peter, while accepting the idea of Messiah as Divine and triumphant, could not receive the notion of his death and Passion. That the same person should be so humiliated and yet so glorious, was beyond his conception. He was as much in the dark as his fellow apostles; of that which was not specially revealed to him he knew nothing. It was the carnal mind that here influenced him, not the spiritually enlightened soul. By writing "began," the historian intimates that he had not time to say much before the Lord mercifully interposed and cut him short. Be it far from thee; ἵλεώς σοι: Vulgate, absit a te. The Greek phrase is elliptical, εἴη ὁΘεός being understood; "God be merciful to thee," equivalent to "God forbid." The complete expression occurs in the Septuagint of 1 Chronicles 11:19. It is used in deprecation of a disastrous event. This shall not be unto thee; οὐ μὴ ἔσται σοι τοῦτο. This is a very strong assertion, not a prayer or wish, as some would make it; the use of language is quite against that, as the phrase is predictive, never prohibitory, in his mistaken zeal and his ignorant affection, Peter would be wiser than his Lord. The cross and Passion shall never be thy lot; Messiah cannot suffer, the Son of God cannot die. Such merely human asseveration, even prompted by undoubted love, had to be checked and rebuked.
He turned. Peter and the rest were following Christ, as he walked onward. Now Jesus stops, turns, and faces them. Get thee behind me, Satan. Jesus uses nearly the same words in rebuking Peter that he had used to the devil in his temptation (Matthew 4:10); and justly, because the apostle was acting the adversary's part, by opposing the Divine economy, and endeavouring to persuade Jesus that the way he proposed was wholly unnecessary. The lively stone has became a very Satan in opposing the Divine will; hence the sharpness of the rebuke administered to him. An offence unto me (σκάνδαλον ἐμοῦ); my stumbling block. Petros, the stone, to maintain the metaphor, is now "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence" (1 Peter 2:8). He stood in the Saviour's way, and impeded his onward progress in the course ordained. He who would turn him aside from Calvary is the enemy of man's salvation, which was to be won there. Thou savourest (φρονεῖς) not; mindest not (as Romans 8:5); thy taste is not for the Divine plans, but for human considerations; thou art not promoting the great purpose of God, but worldliness and self-pleasing. "Peter," says St. Chrysostom, "examining the matter by human and earthly reasoning, accounted it disgraceful to him [Christ] and an unmeet thing. Touching him therefore sharply, he saith, 'My Passion is not an unmeet thing, but thou givest this sentence with a carnal mind; whereas if thou hadst hearkened to my sayings in a godly manner, disengaging thyself from thy carnal understanding, thou wouldst know that this of all things most becometh me. For thou indeed supposest that to suffer is unworthy of me; but I say unto thee, that for me not to suffer is of the devil's mind;' by the contrary statements repressing his alarm" (Oxford transl.).
St. Mark tells us that Jesus called the multitude unto him together with the disciples, as about to say something of universal application. The connection between this paragraph and what has preceded is well put by St. Chrysostom. Then. "When? when St. Peter said, 'Be it far from thee: this shall not be unto thee,' and was told, 'Get thee behind me, Satan.' For Christ was by no means satisfied with the mere rebuke of Peter, but, willing more abundantly to show both the extravagance of Peter's words and the future benefit of his Passion, he saith, 'Thy word to me is, "Be it far from thee: this shall not be unto thee;" but my word to thee is, "Not only is it hurtful to thee to impede me and to be displeased at my Passion, but it will be impossible for thee even to be saved, unless thou thyself too be continually prepared for death."' Thus, lest they should think his suffering unworthy of him, not by the former words only, but by those that were coming, he teaches them the gain thereof." If any man will (θέλει, wills to) come after me. To come after Christ is to be his follower and disciple, and the Lord here declares what will be the life of such a one (see a parallel passage, Matthew 10:38, Matthew 10:39). Jesus mentions three points which belong to the character of a true disciple. The first is self-denial. Let him deny himself. There is no better test of reality and earnestness in the religious life than this. (See a sermon of Newman's on this subject, vol. 1. serm. 5.) If a man follows Jesus, it must be by his own free will, and he must voluntarily renounce everything that might hinder his discipleship, denying himself even in things lawful that he may approach the likeness of his Master. Take up his cross. This is the second point. St. Luke adds, "daily." He must not only be resigned to bear what is brought upon him—suffering, shame, and death, which he cannot escape, but be eager to endure it, meet it with a solemn joy, be glad that he is counted worthy of it. Follow me. The third point. He must be energetic and active, not passive only and resigned, but with all zeal tracking his Master's footsteps, which lead on the way of sorrows. Here too is comfort; he is not called to a task as yet untried; Christ has gone before, and in his strength he may be strong.
(Comp. Matthew 10:39; John 12:25.) Whosoever will (ὃς γὰρ ἂν θέλῃ, whosoever wills to) save his life (ψυχήν). Here are set forth the highest motives for courage, endurance, and perseverance in the way of righteousness. The word translated "life" is used four times in this and the following verse, though in the latter it is rendered "soul" in the Anglican Version. The fact is the word is used in two senses: for the life which now is—the bodily life: and the life which is to come—the spiritual, the everlasting life. These are indeed two stages of the same life—that which is bounded by earth and that which is to be passed with the glorified body in heaven; but they are for the moment regarded as distinct, though intimately connected by belonging to the same personality. And the Lord intimates that any one who avoids bodily death and suffering by compromise of duty, by denying Christ and disowning the truth, shall lose everlasting life. On the other hand, whosoever sacrifices his life for the sake of Christ, to promote his cause, shall save his soul and be eternally rewarded. Shall find it. "Find," as the opposite of "lose," is here equivalent to "save." There may, too, be in it a notion of something great and unexpected, a treasure discovered, "salvation far beyond all that they looked for" (Wis. 5:2). Says St. Gregory, "If you keep your seed, you lose it; if you sow it, you will find it again" ('Hom. in Evang.,' 32.).
For what is a man (shall a man be) profited? This verse explains the paradox concerning loss and gain in the previous verse. It is probably intended as a reminiscence of Psalms 49:7, Psalms 49:8. Wordsworth notes that it is quoted by Ignatius, 'Ep. ad Romans,' 6.; but it is probably an early interpolation there. The whole world. It is but a trifle of the whole world, with its riches, honours, pleasures, which the most successful man can obtain; but granted it all lay at his feet, how would it repay him for the loss of everlasting life? Lose his own soul (life) (τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ζημιωθῇ). The phrase means "suffer loss in respect of," equivalent to "forfeit," as in Luke 9:25. "Life" here is the higher life, the life in God. The Vulgate renders, Animae vero suae detrimentum patiatur. In exchange; ἀνταλλαγμα: Vulgate, commutationem; as an equivalent for his life. Or, it may be, to purchase back his life. "Again, he dwells upon the same point. 'What? hast thou another soul to give for this soul?'saith he. 'Why, shouldst thou lose money, thou wilt be able to give other money;or be it house, or slaves, or any other kinds of possession; but for thy soul, if thou lose it, thou wilt have no other soul to give: yea, though thou hadst the world, though thou wast king of the whole earth, thou wouldst not be able, by paying down all earthly goods, together wits the earth itself, to redeem even one soul" (Chrys.,' Hom.,' 55). The value of the soul is often expressed in classical adages.
Ψυχῆς γὰρ οὐδέν ἐστι τιμιώρερον.
"Naught is of higher value than the soul."
Οὑγὰρ τι ψυχῆς πέλει ἄνδρασι φίλτερον ἄλλο.
"Naught unto men is dearer than the life."
So Homer, 'Iliad,' 9.401—
"For not the stores which Troy, they say, contained
In peaceful times, ere came the sons of Greece,
Nor all the treasures which Apollo's shrine,
The archer-god, in rock built Pythos holds,
May weigh with life …
But when the breath of man hath passed his lips,
Nor strength nor foray can the loss repair."
For the Son of man shall come. The final judgment would put things in their true light—would show the value of self-sacrifice, would reveal the punishment of self-pleasing. Our Lord seems to refer to Daniel 7:13, as it were, in testimony to the truth of what he had just said. Shall come; μέλλει ἔρχεσθαι: venturus est (Vulgate), is more than the bare announcement, and implies that it is in accordance with the eternal counsels of God that he should appear this second time. In the glory of his Father. As one with the Father, and his Representative. So he speaks of "the glory which thou hast given me" (John 17:22). Reward; ἀποδώσει: render, reddet (Vulgate). The term includes punishment as well as recompense. Works (πρᾶξιν); doing, work. The word does not signify isolated acts, but general course of conduct, practice as a whole.
This verse has always been a crux to commentators, who cannot decide what is the event to which it refers. Many, taking it in connection with the preceding announcement, refer it exclusively to the day of judgment; but this idea is not compatible with Christ's assertion that some present shall see it ere they die. Nor can it refer to Christ's resurrection and ascension, and the mission of the Holy Ghost, which took place only half a year after this time, and the prediction of which so short a time before could not have been introduced in the terms here used. Other expositors, and some of great name, agree that the event to which Christ alludes is his transfiguration narrated in the next chapter. But there are insuperable objections to this view. How could Christ assert in the most solemn manner, Verily, I say unto you, that some of his hearers would tire to witness an event which was to occur only a week hence? Nor is it likely that he would thus publicly announce a transaction which was strictly private, seen only by three chosen witnesses, who were further charged not to reveal the vision till the Son of man was risen from the dead. The Lord had been telling of the final judgment; he now announces, with the formula used by him to present some revelation of Divine truth, that there was to be a coming of the Son of man at no very distant date. This advent is doubtless the destruction of Jerusalem, which, as it occurred only some forty years after this time, some of his auditors, apostles and the multitude, would live to behold. This great event was a type of the second advent, the two being closely connected by Christ himself (see Matthew 24:1-51.). There is some truth in all the views that have obtained concerning this passage: "The prophecy unfolded itself by degrees; it has put forth buds and blossoms, but it will not be in its full bloom of accomplishment till the great day" (Wordsworth). There was some display of Christ's kingdom at the Transfiguration; another at his resurrection, and the events consequent thereupon; but the great one was when the overthrow of Jerusalem and its temple made way for the full establishment and development of the gospel, putting an end to the first dispensation. Some standing (of them that stand) here. Among the apostles St. John certainly survived the destruction of Jerusalem. There seems to be no recondite meaning in the term "standing," as if it signified "remaining steadfastly by me, adhering to my side;" as, taste of death is merely a periphrasis for "die," and has not the sense of tasting the bitterness of death, experiencing its sting. It appears to have been originally a metaphor derived from a nauseous draught, which every one must drain. Coming in his kingdom. Not "into his kingdom," but in the power and glory that appertain to his kingdom. Not that he will personally appear, but his mystical presence will be seen by its effects, the judgment on the Jewish nation, the establishment of a spiritual, yet visible kingdom in the place of the old covenant. There may be a similar allusion in Christ's words about St. John, "If I will that he tarry till I come" (John 21:23), and "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34)—where the dissolution of the Jewish polity is the event signified.
The visit to Galilee.
I. THE LORD CROSSES THE LAKE TO THE WESTERN SHORE.
1. He dismisses the multitude. They went away quietly, it seems. There was no need now to constrain the disciples to depart first. The people did not attempt to take the Lord by force to make him a King. They were more docile than the five thousand had been. They were full of thankfulness. They glorified the God of Israel. But they were simple-hearted people; they did not regard themselves as wiser than the Lord. They were content to believe and adore. So we must wait on him, and say, like the rustic people on the east of the Sea of Galilee, "He hath done all things well." He sent them away, and took ship, and crossed to the western side of the lake.
2. The coalition of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were bitterly hostile to each other. The Sadducees rejected the whole system of traditional interpretations and observances on which the Pharisees insisted so strongly, and maintained the necessity of accepting in every particular the literal meaning of the written Law. They were in possession of the chief places in the Church. They were cold hearted and apathetic. They clung to the honours and emoluments of the priesthood, but they had no earnestness, no faith in spiritual religion. They were the aristocratic party in the Jewish Church of the day. Their support of the Herodian family and the Roman rule made them unpopular with the people. The Pharisees were fanatics, full of zeal; but it was misguided zeal—zeal for the letter of the Law as interpreted by the immense mass of rabbinical learning which, though not yet digested into the Mishna and Gemara, was taught in the school of the rabbis, and regarded as at least of equal authority with the Scriptures themselves. The Pharisees were intensely national. They mixed with the people. They sympathized with and encouraged their hatred to foreign domination. Their principles were generally accepted. They were looked upon with reverence as the teachers of the nation. Their great popularity more than compensated for the fact that all the highest positions in the Church were held by the Sadducees, The Pharisees were narrow-minded fanatical zealots; the Sadducean priests were worldly unspiritual ecclesiastics. The two parties hated one another with all the bitterness of party spirit; but they hated the Lord yet more; and this common hatred now brought them together in ill-omened union against the most holy Saviour. Apparently they had been on the watch for his return. He had been some time absent; first, in the borders of Tyre and Sidon, then in the half-heathen Decapolis. The rude country-people had received him with enthusiasm; but, it may be, his holy human heart (for he was made like unto us, sin only excepted) yearned for the familiar Scenes of the much-loved Galilee, his own country, his home, so far as he could be said to have had a home during the years of his ministry. He returned; but his feet had scarcely touched the land when his enemies were upon him. They came with a renewed demand for a sign from heaven. The Lord had wrought miracles in abundance, but these they wickedly attributed to the agency of the evil one. Let him show some sign from heaven, they said, such as Joel and Daniel had predicted; then they would recognize him as the Messiah. They understood not the Scriptures. They confused the first and second advents. They expected an earthly Messiah—a king like David or Solomon. They prescribed the kind of miracle which they required. So unbelievers now say, "Let there be such and such a miracle wrought publicly in London or Paris; then we will believe." But this is tempting God. Such a demand implies a presumptuous boldness which is the very opposite of trustful faith. If men will not believe after all that God has done for our salvation, "neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead."
3. The Lord's answer. They were weather-prophets, he said. They talked much about the weather, as people do still; they knew the signs of its probable changes. These things interested them; they were much in their thoughts and on their lips. But there were signs of far more momentous import for those who had eyes to see. The sceptre had departed from Judah; the mystic weeks of Daniel were fulfilled; the Lord himself had pointed out to the messengers of the Baptist the signs of the Messiah's presence. These things they would not understand. The signs of the times should be to us a subject for careful study and solemn thought. The signs of the workings of the Holy Spirit in the Church should strengthen and encourage us; the signs which seem to point to the approach of the great apostasy and to the coming end should stir us up to watchfulness and earnest prayer; the signs which show the energy of the wicked one, and his awful power in ensnaring the souls of men, should kindle in us a determined resolution to resist even unto death. The Lord had shown signs of his Divine mission sufficient to the full to satisfy all earnest seekers after truth. The Pharisees and Sadducees came in the spirit of the tempter, tempting him. The Lord would work no further miracle in proof of his Messiahship; had he done so they would not have believed. He replied in the same stern words which he had used once before (Matthew 12:39) in answer to the like demand. He left them, and departed. It was not his last visit to Galilee, but it was his last public appearance them. He preached there no more; he wrought no more miracles there. "He sighed deeply in his spirit," St. Mark tells us, as he spoke these last words, and entered into the ship again. He had come to Galilee with words of love, with a message of peace and salvation; but these hard, selfish men rejected him, and prejudiced the people against him. He was indeed "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." That deep sigh told the anguish of his spirit. He came to save them. He had given up the effulgence of the Divine Majesty. He was ready to lay down his life for their salvation; and they would not be saved. He had come to his own country, the Galilee which he loved so well; and they opposed and insulted him, and drove him from his only home on earth. Let us be patient when we meet with opposition and disappointments. Opposition and disappointments, if we take them meekly and in faith, will help to make us more and more like unto our Lord.
II. HE RETURNS TO THE EASTERN SIDE.
1. The Lord's caution. He bade his disciples beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. It was not the first time that he had used this figure; but they misunderstood him. Probably they were in great distress. They had hoped to return to Capernaum. They had seen it in the distance. Now they were obliged to depart again to the inhospitable eastern side of the lake, away from home and kindred, away from the scene of the many triumphs of the Lord's earlier ministry. They felt, too, that their Master's popularity was passing away. The influence of the scribes and Pharisees had undermined it. Now the Sadducees, who wielded all the power of the priesthood, had joined them in opposing him. The disciples continued faithful. They followed Christ in his retreat; but probably with very sad and troubled hearts. In their excitement they had forgotten to rake bread. They had only one loaf, St. Mark tells us, with his wonted exactness in little details. The discovery of their neglect added to their trouble. What should they do? Where should they find bread in those uninhabited regions? They interpreted the Lord's warning according to the thoughts that filled their mind. He seemed to forbid them from using the bread of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees, though they had but one loaf with them. They thought that Christ's words were aimed at their neglect, as people sometimes suppose that the preacher is aiming at them, when it is really their own conscience that disquiets them. The disciples were full of excitement and hurry; the Lord was calm. Let us imitate him, and try to learn of him that holy calmness of spirit which will keep us by his grace thoughtful and collected amid trouble and disappointment.
2. His explanation.
(1) He rebuked them for their want of faith. They had seen his miracles. Twice he had fed with his sovereign bounty vast multitudes on those same barren shores which they were now approaching. He recalled to their memory the details of those wondrous banquets in the wilderness. He had bidden them take no thought for the morrow, what they should eat or what they should drink. Strange that they could have forgotten his words, enforced, as they had been, by those marvellous displays of power; strange that they could have been anxious about food while the Lord was with them. They knew him then after the flesh; we know him, if we are his indeed, with a deeper and holier knowledge. Let us trust him. If only he is with us, we have all that we can really want. We need not fear the enemies of faith, whether fanatics or freethinkers. We need not tremble for ourselves. We need not be anxious about our future, if only we are Christ's and Christ is ours.
(2) He explained his words. It was not of bread that he had spoken; such a caution would have been like the formal precepts, the countless ceremonial rules of the Pharisees. The Lord's words had a deeper meaning. As the children of Israel at the first institution of the Passover were forbidden to take leaven with them, in token that the defiling influences of Egypt were to be left behind; so now, when the disciples were departing from the controversy with the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Lord had warned them to take with them nothing that savoured of error and corruption. The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy; the leaven of the Sadducees was indifference. We may well dread such evil influences; we may well shun such evil examples. The leaven of hypocrisy or of indifference spreads itself with a corrupting power through the heart which admits it, through the society which encourages it. "Take heed and beware," the Lord says. The human heart is prone to evil, prone to sloth; indifference and hypocrisy soon take possession of it, if they are once received through the contagion of sinful companionship. We must depart from the Pharisees and Sadducees. We must not make friends of the hypocritical and the indifferent; we must take none of their influences with us. We must depart with the Lord.
(3) We must be careful, in reading Holy Scripture, not to understand literally what is spoken figuratively; and we must be equally on our guard against the opposite error. We must not explain away by figurative interpretations what is intended to be taken literally. The disciples made both mistakes at different times. The student of the Scriptures needs humility, single-hearted patient thought, and earnest prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
1. Party spirit is an evil thing; beware of it.
2. Study the signs of the times; look for the fulfilment of prophecy; prepare for coming troubles; prepare for the second advent.
3. Shun hypocrisy and indifference; be truthful and earnest; see that your religion is real and living.
4. Remember the Lord's past mercies, and be not anxious for the future.
I. THE GREAT CONFESSION.
1. The Lord's question. It was asked amid scenes of singular beauty; there was much to delight the eye: the gushing source of Jordan, the terraced heights on which the city was built, the majestic mass of Hermon with its crown of snow. But these fair sights were associated with sad thoughts of idolatry and sin. Dan was near at hand—the seat of the old worship of the golden calf. The city itself was more than half heathen; its name told of the Roman supremacy; it had its great temple dedicated by the first Herod to Augustus Caesar; it had its famous cave sacred to the Grecian Pan. But here, in the tetrarchy of Herod Philip, the Lord found that rest and freedom from persecution which he could find no longer in his own Galilee. Awful events were coming; his hour was at hand; he must be alone with the twelve to prepare them for the approaching trial. St. Luke tells us that he was alone praying; only his disciples were with him. There were no thronging multitudes here needing his gracious mercy; there were no Pharisees and Sadducees to disturb him with their taunts and hypocrisies. But a great crisis was at hand, and the Lord was alone praying. The holy Son of God teaches us by his own blessed example the infinite value of prayer to prepare us for times of peril. He ever lived in unbroken communion with the Father. Those who by the help of his Spirit are learning to live in that fellowship which is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, will naturally have recourse to prayer in all the emergencies of life; habitual communion with God leads his people to live always in the spirit of prayer, and keeps them always ready. Those who thus ever live with God will instinctively draw closer to him, and pour out their hearts in the intense energy of earnest supplication at all the turning points of life, in the hour of danger or temptation, in the critical times of the history of the Church. It was a critical time now. The Lord had been rejected; he had been driven from Galilee, where he was once so popular. His own action had caused this seeming failure. Not long ago the multitude sought to take him by force to make him a King. They would have flocked around him in countless numbers and in fierce enthusiasm, if, like Judas of Galilee, he had raised the standard of national independence against the Roman rule; if he had announced himself publicly as the expected Messiah, he would have been hailed as the Deliverer, the Son of David, the Heir to David's throne. But instead of following the current of popular thought and popular expectation, the Lord had set himself directly against it. He had put aside the offered crown; he had himself forced the apostles to leave him, and had sent the multitudes away in the hour of his seeming triumph. They did not understand his mission; his kingdom was not of this world. Henceforth his work of teaching lay mainly with the twelve; he was to convince them of the true character of his Person and office. He was bringing them to the point now. He was bringing them face to face with the great truth which they had long felt in their hearts, but which had not been yet distinctly declared save once or twice in private. "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" the Lord asked. In the dignity of his conscious Divinity he had never asked such a question before; he heeded not the opinions of men; he sought not their praise; he knew their hearts. But he asked for the sake of the apostles, to bring their vague thoughts into clearer distinctness, to deepen their convictions, to confirm their faith. The well known phrase, "the Son of man," seemed to point to the true answer; from the time of Daniel it had a Messianic significance, it was associated with the Messiah, both by the priests (Luke 22:69, Luke 22:70) and by the people (John 12:34), but not, perhaps, always certainly and distinctly. "Who is this Son of man?" the people asked in the passage last referred to.
2. The answer of the disciples. They were men of the people; they had mixed freely with them; they had, heard frequent and eager discussions about their Master's teaching and miracles, about his character, his authority, his claims. His life must have been regarded with the deepest interest and the intensest curiosity throughout the country. It excited jealousy and opposition in many quarters; but it could not be ignored by any one. It forced itself upon public attention; it was so strange, so unlike any other life in its originality, in its perfect holiness, in its Divine power. And now the Lord asked what had the disciples heard men say of him. The answer was sad, not disappointing, to him who knew all things; but a hard thing for the apostles to confess. None now owned him to be the Christ. There were many opinions: some, like the terrified Antipas, thought that he was John the Baptist risen from his martyr's tomb; some thought that he was Elijah, come again as Malachi had prophesied; some said he might be Jeremiah, come to restore the ark, as the Jews fondly hoped (2 Macc. 2:1-8); others imagined that he might be some one or other of the old prophets, come, perhaps, as the forerunner of the Messiah. Such were the various opinions current among the people. None, as far as the apostles knew, then recognized his Messiahship. It had not been so always. From the time when John bare record that he was the Son of God, when Andrew said, "We have found the Messias," there had been many who asked, "Is not this the Christ?" The belief revived afterwards at Jerusalem (John 7:41; John 9:22; John 12:13); but now in Galilee, his own country, it seems to have become extinct. The change in popular feeling had been brought about, partly by the Lord's own conduct and teaching (John 6:66), partly by the influence of the enemies. Had he adapted himself to the spirit of the times, and yielded to the wishes of the people, the way to transient and apparent success lay open to him. His refusal gave strength to the combined opposition of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and enabled them to undermine his popularity. He knew it. He asked the question, not for information, but to lead on to deep and holy teaching. Observe the truthfulness of the apostles; they report the exact truth; they do not attempt to hide the ebbing tide of popular applause. They do not flatter the Lord with false hopes; they were too sincere for that; he was too high and holy.
3. The second question. "But whom say ye that I am?" This was the question that was in the Lord's heart. The views entertained about Christ in the world, the different phases of opinion concerning the Lord's Person and office, are subjects of interest to the student of theology; but this is the momentous question which is presented to each individual soul, "What think ye of Christ? Whom say ye that I am?" The speculative opinions of unbelievers or half believers are not without their importance; but the great question is, what do they think who have known the Lord, who have heard his holiest teaching, and lived in close communion with him? What do they think who are to be the Lord's ambassadors, who are to go forth in his Name to preach the gospel of salvation, to carry on the blessed work which he began? They must be men of deep and strong convictions; they must not be carried about by every blast of vain doctrine; they must be established in the truth of the holy gospel which they preach. Double minded and lukewarm men are worse than useless in the ministry; it is only the force of strong conviction that can win souls for Christ.
4. The confession. The question was put to all the apostles; Peter answers in the name of all. He was, as Chrysostom says, the mouth of the apostles, the leader of the apostolic choir. Yet there is some thing of his individual character, his fervid impetuous personality, in the strong decided answer. Peter had no doubts, none at all He may have shared (all the apostles shared) in the general mistake as to the office and work of the Messiah; he had looked for a king to reign on the earthly throne of David. But he was at least sure of this—the Lord Jesus was the Messiah. Whatever might be his surroundings, whether poverty and seeming weakness or magnificence and sovereign power; however he might be received, whether scorned and rejected by Pharisees and Sadducees, or welcomed with the acclaiming shout, "Hosanna to the King of Israel!" whatever might happen, Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed King. Of this Peter was convinced with an absolute undoubting conviction. But this was not all. Peter not only recognized Jesus as the Christ according to the Jewish conception of the Messiah; he rises higher. The Lord was not what the Jews, it seems, expected—a Man very highly distinguished for wisdom and holiness, chosen by God to be the Messiah. He was far more; he was the Son of the living God. The words are full of force and energy. Men may become the sons of God by adoption and grace; but, we feel instinctively, no mere man could be styled "the Son of the living God." The Lord is the Son of him who hath life in himself, and by virtue of that eternal generation he hath life in himself (John 5:26). He is the only begotten Son, Life of life, as he is Light of light, very God of very God. We know not whether St. Peter himself understood at the time the full meaning, the blessed, holy, awful meaning of his great confession. It was revealed to him now by the Father. The Holy Spirit led him by degrees to realize the great and solemn truths which it implied. Nathanael, indeed, had anticipated him; the disciples had hailed the Lord as the Son of God when he had come moving over the stormy sea to their succour; Peter himself, not long before, had confessed his faith in the same exalted terms (John 6:69). But on those occasions the Lord seemed not to heed the title which was ascribed to him. Now he formally accepted it. The time was come when the apostles should recognize their Master as the Christ, the time for the first founding of the Christian Church.
II. THE RATIFICATION OF THE CONFESSION.
1. The blessing. The Lord repeats the word which he had so often used on the Mount of the Beatitudes in describing the children of the kingdom; he applies it nosy to St. Peter. "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona," he said solemnly, using the full name, patronymic as well as personal name, as we do on solemn occasions; as he did once again when he put to the same apostle the searching question, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" Simon was blessed, for this knowledge had come, not from human teachers, but by revelation from the Father. Simon's confession was not like other confessions of the Lord's Messiahship, an inference from his words or works; it was the expression of an inward spiritual conviction, a knowledge gained by Divine revelation, like St. Paul's knowledge of Christ (Galatians 1:15, Galatians 1:16), a knowledge which transformed his heart and consecrated his whole life to the service of the Lord. Blessed are they now who have the like knowledge, into whose hearts God hath shined, "to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." Blessed are they who with that inner knowledge of the heart own the Lord Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God; for thus to know Christ, he himself hath told us, is eternal life.
2. The prophecy.
(1) "Thou art Peter." The Lord had given him that name long ago, at his first interview with him (John 1:42). It was then given by anticipation. Now Simon had shown the truthfulness of the Lord's foreknowledge; he was proving himself to be a true Peter, or rock like apostle, strengthened and established by the grace of Christ for the work. to which the Lord had called him. He was Peter, rock like, a piece of rock. "That Rock was Christ," the Lord whom Peter had just confessed to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. There is not "any rock like our God." He is the Rock of Ages, the Rock that is higher than the highest of saints, the Rock of our refuge, the Rock of our salvation. The Lord Jesus is our Rock, because he is God, the Messiah, the incarnate Son of the living God. "The Word was made flesh;" that great fact is the foundation of all our hopes. "God manifest in the flesh" is the Rock on which the Christian Church is built, the one foundation once laid (1 Corinthians 3:11); the Stone which the builders disallowed, but nevertheless the Head of the corner; the chief Cornerstone, elect, precious. Peter had no strength in himself apart from the one Rock; he was sinking in the stormy sea when the Lord caught him by the hand; he was failing into a deeper abyss when the Lord's loving mournful look recalled him to the sense of his sinfulness. Peter was as the dove (Bar-Jona: Jonah means "a Dove") that is in the clefts of the rock (So 2:14); he was only safe, as we are only safe, when he was hidden in the Rock of Ages. Yet, in a secondary sense, Peter may be regarded as a rock. He derived his new name, which is by interpretation "a Stone," from Christ the Rock; he derived his rock like character from spiritual union with the Rock of Ages; he was one of the living stones, hewn out of the Rock (Isaiah 51:1), built into the Rock, which form the spiritual house described by himself in his First Epistle. (Doubtless he was thinking then of these great words of Christ when he spoke of Christ as a living Stone, a chief Cornerstone, a Rock.) But he was more than this; he was one of those who helped to lay the one foundation, the one only foundation in the truest sense (1 Corinthians 3:11), the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets of the New Testament (Ephesians 2:20), when they preached Christ as the only Saviour. And in a secondary sense he might himself, like the other apostles, be called one of the foundations (comp. Revelation 21:14), one of the pillars (Galatians 2:9), and in another figure one of the master builders (1 Corinthians 3:10). But the foundationstones rest upon the Rock, the one true Foundation; and' the wise master builders build under the one Master, which is Christ.
(2) The Church. We meet with this great word here for the first time as we read the Scriptures of the New Testament in the existing order; once more only it occurs in the Gospels (Matthew 18:17). We must remember where this prophecy was spoken; in the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, among the most remarkable rock scenery of the Holy Land, possibly under the shadow of the high red limestone cliff which overhangs the town, the summit of which was crowned by the white marble temple built by Herod in honour of Augustus. That rock, Dean Stanley says, "may possibly have suggested the words which now run round the dome of St. Peter's." That temple with its blasphemous dedication was an outrage in the eyes of the holy Son of God; the temple which he would rear was wholly different, built on a Rock more stable, more abiding far. "My Church"—it was a wondrous prophecy. All seemed to have forsaken him save only the twelve; one was a traitor even in that little company; yet the Lord looked forward, in the vision of his Divine foreknowledge, to that great multitude which no man could number, called out from all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues. It was to be the whole congregation of Christian people called out of the whole world, first by himself, then by his apostles and their successors speaking in his Name. It was to be built up (edified) in him, resting on him the living Rock, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Cornerstone. It was to be one, and yet many; many living stones built up into one holy temple, united into one by the one chief Cornerstone, the one Rock on which it rests. It was Christ's, "my Church;" given to him by the Father, bought to be his own with his most precious blood, sanctified and illuminated by the indwelling of his most Holy Spirit. It is the Church of the living God; therefore the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it. Hades is the realm of the disembodied dead; it is insatiable, it hath never enough, it enlargeth itself, and openeth its mouth without measure. The Lord himself, the Head of the Church, seemed once to yield to its power; he descended into Hades. But it was not possible that he could be holden of death; the third day he rose again from the dead. "He is alive forevermore, and hath the keys of Hades and of death." Because he liveth, his Church shall live also. The gates of Hades shall not prevent his saints from rising to meet the returning Lord. The abode of the dead shall not retain the Church which belongs to Christ, the Son of the living God, the Church which is his bride, nay, his body; which liveth in the life of Christ and rejoiceth in his love. Filled with this blessed hope, the Church sings its song of triumph in the presence of death, "O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
3. The promise.
(1) The keys. The Church is now presented to our view as the kingdom of heaven, the holy city. The Lord Christ hath the key of David; he openeth, and no man shutteth; he shutteth, and no man openeth (Revelation 3:7). That power was now delegated to St. Peter as the representative of the apostolic college. He exercised it when under his ministry three thousand souls were added to the Church on the great Day of Pentecost; he exercised it when he baptized Cornelius, when he said to Simon Magus, "Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter." The Church exercises that power now in preaching, in baptizing, in admitting to Communion, in declaring by God's authority God's absolution of the penitent. "He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent."
(2) Binding and loosing. The words seem to mean, according to constant Hebrew usage, "to forbid" and "to allow." The Lord commits to Peter, as afterwards (Matthew 18:18) to all the apostles, the government of the Church; he gives him legislative authority, power to declare what is lawful, what is unlawful; what is obligatory, what is open. That power he exercised when he spoke in favour of the Gentiles at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:7-11). That power St. Paul exercised again and again. That power in some degree is still vested in the Church. "The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith; and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another."
1. What is the Lord Jesus to us? Oh that he may reveal himself into our hearts, that we may know him as the Son of the living God!
2. It is a blessed thing to have St. Peter's strong convictions; let us pray, "Lord, increase our faith."
3. Christ is the Rock of Ages; let us seek to be living stones, built into that living Rock.
I. THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF COMING SUFFERING.
1. Lord. Two figures come prominently into contrast—the Lord and Peter: the Lord looking forwards with sweet and holy calmness to agony and shame and death; Peter, eager and impetuous, burning with zeal for what seemed to him his Master's honour. The Lord bade the apostles tell no man that he was the Christ. The people were not ready for the announcement; if they accepted it, they would in their present temper misunderstand it; they would again try to take him by force to make him a King. Let us learn of our dear Lord to be indifferent to titles, not to care to make known things that may bring us earthly honour. The Lord had received, as his due, the homage of St. Peter; he was the Christ, the Son of the living God. But while he accepted, as his by right, those loftiest of all conceivable titles, he prophesied the near approach of the extremest humiliation. He must go to Jerusalem; he must suffer many things; he must be killed. It must be, he said; it was necessary for the fulfilment of the Divine purpose, for the remission of sin, for the salvation of mankind. He must rise again the third day. He could not be holden of death, for he hath life in himself; he is the Life. The apostles did not understand him; they could not think that he was speaking literally; they could not believe that the Divine Messiah would suffer what seemed to them such utter degradation. And when it had come to pass, their misery and despondency were so great that they found no comfort in the prophecy of the resurrection; their horror and distress drove it quite out of their hearts. The Lord was graciously and tenderly preparing them for the coming trial. Let us prepare in the time of health and strength for what must come, sickness and pain and death; so by his grace may we be ready.
2. Peter. He was impulsive, impetuous, as always. He took the Lord, caught him by the dress or hand; he ventured to rebuke him, as if he was wiser than the Christ. The Lord interrupted him; he would not allow him to proceed in his thoughtless talk; he sternly checked his improper freedom. "Get thee behind me, Satan," he said to the apostle whom not long before he had pronounced "blessed," to whom he had committed the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The Lord had used those same strong words once before. The evil spirit, whom he had foiled in the wilderness, was now tempting him again through the agency of Peter. Again the Lord repelled the temptation. It was the old temptation, the last of Satan's approaches in the wilderness (Matthew 4:8, Matthew 4:9), the temptation to wear the crown without bearing the cross; to take the kingdom which was his by right, but to take it without treading the path of suffering, the way ordained by God. Peter was a stumbling block now. Years afterwards, in his First Epistle (1 Peter 2:8), he described "the chief Cornerstone" (with a manifest allusion to this conversation) as being to the disobedient and unbelieving "a Rock of offence (πεìτρα σκανδαìλου)." He was now making himself a stumbling block to Christ; he was minding, not the things of God, but the things of men. Men set their affections on earthly things, ease, comfort, honour, riches; these are not always good for us. Affliction, meekly borne, is better; it worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Peter acted the tempter's part. Our kindest friends sometimes unwittingly do the like, when they dissuade us from enduring hardness, from making sacrifices for Christ's sake. Peter loved the Lord fervently, but his love was not wise. He was presumptuous, forward, even in some degree irreverent. Perhaps he was exalted above measure by the Lord's commendation, as St. Paul thought he himself might have been through the abundance of the revelations (2 Corinthians 12:7). There is no safety without humility; the nearer we draw to Christ, the more we need to learn of him that most precious grace.
II. THE DISCIPLE MUST FOLLOW THE MASTER'S STEPS.
1. The daily cross of self-denial. The Lord had told the apostles of his own coming sufferings; now he warns them that those sufferings must, in some sense, repeat themselves in all his faithful followers, he speaks to all. "If any man willeth to come after me," he said. There must be the wish first. There is no perseverance in religion without desire, without longing, without love. "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness." They who do not hunger are not filled. Again, the true Christian wish is to come after Christ. All men wish, more or less earnestly, more or less languidly, to get to heaven at last. That wish is, as many entertain it, utterly selfish. The Christian wishes to come after Christ, and, following Christ here, to be at last with him there. To come after Christ, then, is the central wish of the Christian life, and the means by which that wish is realized is self-denial. Christ pleased not himself; his disciples must follow him. The true self is the conscience; but the lower part of our nature, the appetites and affections which we share with the rest of the animal creation, are so noisy and turbulent, fill so large a part of our conscious existence (in many men, alas! almost the whole), that they seem to be the self, and usurp the name of self, which properly belongs to the higher self, the conscience and the reason. It is the lower self which we must deny. When appetite says, "This is pleasant," but conscience answers, "It is wrong," then we must take part with conscience, which bears in itself the evidence of authority, and deny that lower self which would disturb the harmony of our nature by usurping the position of command which does not belong to it. The precept is one of paramount importance. The Lord repeats it, translating it now into the distinctive language of Christianity, "Let him take up his cross." He had used those words once already (Matthew 10:38). It was long, probably, before the apostles understood them. We know their meaning now. The cross was a thing of horror once; but the exceeding great love of our Master and only Saviour Jesus Christ has shed a halo of resplendent light around the tree of shame. The word has changed its meaning; it has become a name for the noblest self-denial, the most Divine self-sacrifice. Not all acts of self-denial are a bearing of the cross, but only those which spring out of faith in Christ, and radiate from the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. He taketh up his cross who denies himself daily in the faith of Christ, and for the sake of Christ, seeking only to please him and to be made more and more like unto him. Such acts of holy self-denial are taken up, so to speak, into the one great act of holiest self sacrifice, and become parts of it (Colossians 1:24), and derive their beauty and glory from the reflected glory of the Saviour's cross. Such faithful Christians, whom the strong wish to come after Christ urges with ever growing earnestness to take up their cross daily, will follow him who bore the cross for them along the narrow way till they appear, sealed with the seal of the living God upon their foreheads, before the glory throne.
2. The true life. The wish which is centred in this present life is opposed to the Christian wish to come after Christ. When the heart is set upon the things of this life, comfort, station, wealth, and such like, it loses sight of Christ, who is the Life of men. Therefore he who willeth, whose set purpose is, to save this life, with all its treasures, must lose the true Life, which is Christ. For the Lord died upon the cross. His first followers shrank not from the death of martyrdom for his sake. All true Christians must have the martyr spirit; they must be martyrs in will; they must be willing, if need be, to lose all earthly things, even life itself, for Christ's sake. The Lord gave himself for us. He asks for our whole self in return. We must keep nothing back, or we shall lose the true life, which is the life in Christ—eternal life, Christ himself. And if this is lost, all is lost. Nothing can compensate a man for the loss of the true life. No gain, not even the gain of the whole world, if it were possible, can balance that tremendous loss. For the loss is real, but the gain illusory. A man may seem to gain all that the world prizes; but if with that gain the true life is lost, there is no true joy, no brightness, no abiding gladness. And all that was gained, though it seemed like all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, must vanish in a moment when the years come to an end as it were a tale that is told. Then what shall a man give in exchange for his life, when the true life is lost, and only that life, which is living death, remains? What shall a man give then, when he hath naught to give; when his riches, and his knowledge, and his strength, and his earthly rank, and the time given him for working out his own salvation, and all his opportunities of serving God and doing the work which God had given him to do, have passed away forever;—when all these things have fallen away from him and left him all desolate and alone, a poor soul, helpless and destitute, realizing, when it is too late, the bitter truth that it is in the sight of God wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked—what shall a man give then? Let him learn to give now—to give his heart, and, with his heart, his time, his labour, his prayers, his earthly goods. It is a poor gift at the best; but if it is given in faith and love, it is lent unto the Lord, and the Lord will repay with large increase in the great day of account. We are unprofitable servants; the best of us only do what is our bounden duty; we only give him what is his own. But he is pleased in his gracious condescension to accept this poor service of ours, and to give us in return that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, that eternal life which is the gift of God.
3. The end. "The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels." He is the Son of man in virtue of his incarnation; but in his essential Being he is God, equal with the Father as touching his Godhead. The Father's glory is his; the angels of God are his angels, for "all things that the Father hath are mine" (John 16:15). Then he shall reward every man according to his work, his work as a whole. The award will be proportioned to the whole scope and meaning of each man's earthly life in infinite justice, and, blessed be his holy Name, in infinite mercy. He bids us to look ever forward to the coming of that great day, and to estimate things in reference to the coming judgment. The glory of the world seems now, to our short-sighted eyes, very great and magnificent and overpowering. But look at it in the fierce light that streams from the judgment throne; then it shrinks into nothingness. Its brightness is like the poor little candle in the effulgent radiance of the noontide sun; you see that its beauty is marred with the traces of decay, rottenness, death. "The world passeth away … but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever." Let us not lose that eternal life for the sake of this fleeting, dying world. For the Son of man cometh in his kingdom. There were some, the Lord said, standing there who should see that kingdom before they died. Three of them soon saw the transfigured Saviour in his glory. All, save one, saw the risen Lord, victorious over death, manifested as the Lord of life, the everlasting King, to whom all power in heaven and in earth is given. Some of them, we know not how many, saw the manifestation of his power in the destruction of Jerusalem; when the old dispensation made way for the kingdom of heaven, the one Catholic Church over which Christ shall reign as King until the end cometh; then, on the ruins of the old theocracy, was established that spiritual kingdom which shall reach its consummation in the day of the Lord. In each of these great events the Lord's prediction was in some sense fulfilled. If we cannot define its meaning to our complete satisfaction, let us remember what he said of the last survivor of the apostles, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me."
1. The cross is the very emblem of our religion; he is no true Christian who beareth not the cross.
2. The whole world is worth nothing to him whose soul is lost. No price can redeem the lost soul. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
3. The judgment is at hand. Think of this life in the light of the judgment. "Love not the world."
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
The cry for a sign.
It strikes us as somewhat remarkable that the contemporaries of our Lord should be inquiring a sign; for was not his work teeming with signs and wonders? Plainly the demand of the sceptical people, and the response with which Christ met it, give us another view of miracles and their relation to the evidences of Christianity from that commonly held by apologists.
I. MEN DESIRE A CONVINCING SIGN OF THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY. This desire is not in itself wrong or unreasonable. To believe without sufficient evidence is a symptom of weakness, and such a faith is only a superstition. It is not a mark of pride, but a simple consequence of loyalty to truth, that we should seek for good grounds on which to establish our convictions. If this were all that the people demanded, our Lord could not have met the cry for a sign with the auger which we see he displayed against it. But it is evident that the Jews were not satisfied with the signs Christ offered. They wanted a "sign from heaven"—some flaring portent that would compel conviction. Is there not a tendency in the present day to look away from the only sources of truth that are available, and to demand impossible grounds of conviction?
II. THE DEMAND FOR A SIGN MAY SPRING FROM AN UNWORTHY CHARACTER. It is most unjust to accuse doubters of exceptional wickedness. Many people have no doubts simply because they dare not face truth. They would be sceptics if they were not cowards. On the other hand, it cannot be maintained that scepticism is in itself an indication of sanctity. Now, Jesus tells us that the pure in heart are they who shall see God. But all men—doubters included—have lost the vision of God by their sin. Thus the whole faculty of discerning the spiritual has become dim. Further, an age of self-indulgence must be an age of aggravated spiritual blindness.
III. CHRIST WILL NOT SATISFY THE UNWORTHY DEMAND FOR A SIGN,
1. He cannot. With all reverence this must be affirmed. No portent can prove a spiritual truth to one who has not spiritual sight. You might as well expect the blare of a trumpet to reveal the beauty of a landscape to a blind man.
2. He would not if he could. Forced faith has no moral worth. Truth revealed to unprepared hearts is but as pearls cast before swine. Abraham refuses the prayer of Dives that Lazarus, risen from the dead, should be sent to his brothers, telling the miserable man that no good would come of such an errand.
IV. CHRIST GIVES THE SIGN THAT IS REALLY NEEDED. He never disappoints the honest seeker after truth, although he does not always lead to truth by the expected path. The only truth of value is that which touches our hearts and consciences, and this is not thrust upon us by sheer authority, with threats of punishment if we will not accept it blindfold. That insolent and tyrannic ecclesiastical method is quite abhorrent to "the sweet reasonableness" of Jesus. His way is to bring a genuine proof to the awakened soul, and he compares this to the sign of Jonah. The preaching of Jonah convinced by reaching the consciences of the Ninevites. Christ's teaching, his life—above all, his death and resurrection—speak to our consciences. When these are responsive, they can perceive the weight of his claims.—W.F.A.
It is astonishing to us that our Lord's disciples should have been so slow to understand the simplest metaphors employed in the teaching of their Master. When he speaks of leaven, they think of baker's bread! The fact that the evangelists describe this singular backwardness is a strong evidence of the truthfulness of the Gospel writings; for it is not to be supposed that such humiliating circumstances would have been invented or imagined by a later generation which regarded the apostles with the greatest reverence. The backwardness itself must have been one of the trials of Christ; his efforts to meet it and overcome it reveal his wonderful patience and perseverance. By such means he succeeds in bringing his warning lesson home to the dullest comprehension (Matthew 16:11, Matthew 16:12).
I. THE CHURCH IS INFECTED WITH DANGEROUS LEAVEN.
1. Evil influences in her midst. The leaven is plunged into the meal; it cannot produce any effect until it is thus mixed up with what it is to influence. We have to beware, not only of entirely external dangers, but of such as are found in the very teaching and practices of Christian people.
2. Subtle influences. The leaven is almost invisible. There is at first but "a little leaven." Obscure, unobserved influences may be the causes of much serious harm.
3. Spreading influences. The growing power of the leaven, its marvellous capacity for propagating itself, makes it a serious thing to admit but a little. Sinful ideas tend to spread and permeate Christian society when once they are permitted to exist unchecked.
II. THE LEAVEN OF EVIL MAY COME FROM RESPECTED AUTHORITIES, The Pharisees were the professed saints of their day; the Sadducces were the party of the priesthood and of the national council. Yet both of these were spoken of by our Lord as sources of evil influence. We can with difficulty picture to ourselves the immense significance of his words. It is as though the mediaeval Church were warned against the influence of the monks and priests; as though the Church of today were told that there was danger for her in the presence of the most pious looking of her communicants and the most respected of her ministers. Surely here is a warning against being misled by appearances in religion.
III. THE LEAVEN MAY ASSUME VARIOUS FORMS. It is startling to meet this conjunction of Pharisees and Sadducees, because we know that the two parties were bitterly opposed to one another; but then we also know that they were brought into a sort o partnership in their common enmity to Jesus Christ. Now, both of them are represented as constiuting the dangerous leaven.
1. Pretentious piety. This is one of the most dangerous of evil influences, because
(1) it ensnares with a show of religion, and
(2) it denies the true essence of religion. It is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1).
2. Worldly scepticism. The doubt of the typical Sadducee was not the perplexity of the serious student of truth; it was the scoffing indifference of the man of the world who did not believe in the spiritual because his whole life was absorbed in the earthly.
IV. THE DANGER OF THE LEAVEN NECESSITATES A WATCHFUL ATTITUDE. "Take heed and beware." It is not enough to cultivate Christian graces. The servant of Christ must be a soldier as well as a husbandman. He must stand as a sentry challenging all suspicious thoughts and influences. He must exercise the policeman's office in arresting the dangerous disturbers of the peace and purity of his soul.—W.F.A.
The great confession.
Jesus had now reached a crisis in his ministry. Away from the scenes of his earlier labours, at the beautiful Roman colony by the foot of Mount Hermon, close to the famous altar of Pan, where the Jordan springs from the mountain side, he suddenly called upon his disciples to give a definite expression of their thoughts concerning himself.
I. THE MOMENTOUS QUESTION. This was preceded by a less important inquiry—as to the various opinions of the world about Christ. Then the disciples were brought face to face with the question for themselves, "Whom say ye that I am?" We must be able to furnish an answer to this question. The whole weight and worth of the gospel hangs upon it. The special character of the gospel is that it is immediately concerned with its Founder. The Christian ethic and the Christian theory of the universe will neither of them redeem the world. Beneath and before all else comes the Person of Christ. To know him is to know the gospel. If he is not what he claims to be, all our faith rests on a delusion. But if his claims are true, all else is of secondary importance.
II. THE DIFFICULTY OF ANSWERING THIS QUESTION. The Jews were much perplexed. They could not but be impressed with the greatness of Christ, yet they failed to recognize his high claims. It would not have been surprising if the disciples also had been perplexed; indeed, many were troubled, and many forsook the great Teacher (John 6:66). Jesus had not fulfilled the hopes of the people; the religious leaders of the nation had definitely rejected him; be was now in voluntary exile, deserted by the crowds that had once followed him with enthusiasm. If some of us find it difficult to believe in him today after his great work has been completed, and we see the fruits of it in history, is it wonderful that many felt the difficulty in his lifetime?
III. THE TRUTH CONFESSED. St. Peter does not hesitate or doubt for one moment. He knows that his Master is the Christ, the Son of God. His confession contains two ideas.
1. The office of Christ. The apostle saw that Jesus was the long expected Messiah. This truth means to us that he is the Saviour of the world.
2. The nature of Christ. The apostle also saw that Jesus was "the Son of the living God." How lab these words expressed a faith in the essential Divinity of Christ we cannot say. The Church was not very slow in perceiving that tremendous truth, for we find that the earliest heresy was not a denier of the Divinity, but a denial of the humanity, of our Lord.
IV. THE SECRET OF THE CONFESSION. How did the apostle come to see this great, truth under the most unpropitious circumstances? Jesus says it was a revelation. We need not understand by that term any direct heavenly voice. The revelation was inward. Some such revelation is always needed. Until the eyes of our hearts are opened, we cannot perceive the true character and nature of Christ. In the spiritual world this is parallel to the fact of daily life that we can only understand a man when we are in sympathy with him.—W.F.A.
The rock on which the Church is built.
This famous sentence, which is emblazoned in great letters of gold round the interior of the dome of St. Peter's at Rome, has been a centre of controversy in the Church for generations. It would be beside our present need to discuss the history of that controversy. Leaving out of account the angry arguments of polemical theology, let us see what positive truth our Lord is here teaching us; for too often the jewel of truth is lost by both parties in a quarrel while they are contending as to who has a right to the possession of it.
I. ST. PETER'S CONFESSION IS THE ROCK ON WHICH THE CHURCH IS BUILT. Accepting this idea as the most probable outcome of a fair exegesis of the passage, let us see what its real significance is.
1. The Church is built on Christ. He is its Author, its original Foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11), and its chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). When we abandon faith in Christ we forsake the grounds of our faith.
2. The Messiahship and Divinity of Christ are essential to the stability of the Church. These two facts were the contents of St. Peter's confession. The Church cannot rest on vague sentiments concerning Christ. Exact philosophical definitions may not be attainable; the history of theology shows that the effort to form them nearly wrecked the Church. But the great central truths themselves are essential.
3. The confession of these truths is requisite in order that the Church may be firmly planted. It looks as though our Lord spoke of the confession as being itself the foundation. We must have faith in Christ before we can profit by him, and we must have courage to confess him if we would possess a robust Christian life.
II. THE CHURCH ON THIS ROCK WILL BE SECURE.
1. It is built by Christ. Therefore the superstructure will be sound as well as the foundation. Our Lord is ever at work on his Church. He can do nothing with those who will neither believe him nor confess him. But wherever he finds the faith and confession, he himself builds up the strong structure of a Christian character.
2. It is assailed by evil. The powers of hell attack the Church because she is their enemy; therefore the question of a sure foundation is of vital importance. The floods are sure to come and try the house.
3. It cannot be overthrown. This is a positive prediction of Christ's, and it ought to dispel our fear and confirm our faith. Of all he has predicted nothing has failed. He promised that the grain of mustard seed should become a great tree; and his promise has come true. His assurance that nothing shall overthrow the Church built on the true confession of faith in him has proved to be correct for nearly twenty centuries.
4. Its security is shared by those who confess the faith it embodies. St. Peter's name is justified by his rock like confession. The Christian character is confirmed by a loyal faith and a bold confession. The spirit of St. Peter's confession is typical of the Christian heroism that can withstand all attacks of doubt or opposition.—W.F.A.
A terrible anti-climax.
Immediately after receiving his apostles' confession of his claims Jesus began to tell them of his approaching death. He wanted to be assured first that they had the faith which would stand the test of this announcement. Then he delayed no longer in confiding to them the dark secret which oppressed his own heart. The result was a terrible anti-climax. St. Peter, who had been treated with the greatest honour, is seen for the time being as only an incarnation of the tempter.
I. THE SAD ANNOUNCEMENT. Jesus now for the first time distinctly declares his approaching rejection by the rulers, his death, and his subsequent resurrection.
1. The facts predicted.
(1) Rejection. This looked like utter failure, for Christ came to be the King and Deliverer of Israel.
(2) Death. This would put the crowning stroke on the. apparent. failure. It would also add, a new horror, for "all that a man hath will he give for his life."
(3) Resurrection. This should completely transform the prospect. But the final announcement does not seem to have been understood or at all taken in by the disciples.
2. The foresight. Jesus saw what lay before him, yet he set his face steadfastly to go up to Jerusalem. His foresight meant much to him.
(1) Additional distress. God mercifully veils the future from us. If we saw the coming evil with certainty it would be very difficult to face it. But Jesus walked with the shadow of the cross on his path.
3. The prediction. Why did Jesus tell his disciples of this awful future?
(1) To prepare them for it, and prevent the disappointment of false hopes.
(2) To claim their sympathy.
II. THE FOOLISH REBUKE. St. Peter's conduct is culpably officious. He lays hold of Christ with undue familiarity, and even ventures to rebuke his Master. His action, however, is true to the well known impetuosity of his character, and it reveals very natural traits.
1. Intense affection. The apostle loves his Master unwisely but greatly, with a love that is not sufficiently submissive, yet with one that is most intense. It is easy for cold-hearted people to blame the apostle. But they who do not approach his love for Christ are not the men to sit in judgment upon the devoted disciple.
2. Elated self-confidence. Jesus had just greatly commended St. Peter. It looks as though he were one of those unhappy people who lose their balance when they are too much praised. Such people have many a sad fall from glorious self complacency to deepest humiliation.
3. Sudden surprise. The apostle did not speak deliberately. The astounding words of Christ started an ill-considered remark. Hasty words are not often weighty words.
III. THE STERN REPLY.
1. Rebuffing a temptation. The quick answer of Jesus shows how keenly he had felt the well meant dissuasion of his friend, which had just chimed in with the cravings of his human nature. Here was a real temptation of the devil which must be faced and conquered! Jesus recognized it as a stumbling block laid on his path.
2. Unmasking an illusion. The words were from St. Peter, but the spirit of them was Satan's, and the keen conscience of Jesus at once assigned them to their true source. In an unguarded moment the apostle had let the tempter into his heart, had become but a tool of Satan. The character of the words reveal their origin, they have a savour of men about them. The common principles of men of the world are many of them directly counter to the will of God. Then, for all their innocent appearance, they are of a Satanic character.—W.F.A.
The great condition.
The heart-searching truths of this verse are too often neglected in popular presentations of the gospel. We have a Christianity made easy as an accommodation to an age which loves personal comfort. Not only is this unfaithful to the truth, no part of which we have any right to keep back; it is most foolish and shortsighted. It prepares for a surprising disappointment when the inevitable facts are discovered; and it does not really attract. A religion of sweetmeats is sickening. There is that in the better nature of man which responds to the doctrine of the cross; it is the mistake of the lower method that it only appeals to the selfish desire of personal safety, and therefore does not awaken the better nature at all. Christ sets the example of the higher and truer method; he does not shun to set before us the dangers and difficulties of the Christian course. If we meet with them we cannot say we have not been warned.
I. CHRISTIANITY IS FOLLOWING CHRIST. It is not merely receiving certain blessings from him. If we think we are to enjoy the fruits of his work while we remain just as we were, we are profoundly mistaken. He does give us grace, the result of his life work and atoning death. But the object of this grace is just that we may have strength to follow him. It is all wasted upon us and received quite in vain if we do not put it to this use. Now, the following of Christ implies three things.
1. Imitating him.
2. Seeing him.
3. Obeying him. He whose experience comprises these three things is a Christian; no one else is one.
II. FOLLOWING CHRIST IS CONDITIONED BY SELF-SURRENDER TO HIM. This is what be means by self-denial. He was not an ascetic, and he never required asceticism in his disciples; those who did not understand him accused him of encouraging an opposite mode of life. There is no merit in putting ourselves to pain for the mere sake of enduring the suffering. Christ will not be pleased if we approach him in agony because we have affixed a thumb screw to our own person. It is possible to be very hard on one's body and yet to remain terribly self-willed. What Jesus requires is the surrender of our will to him—that we may not seek to have our own will, but submit to his will.
III. SELF-SURRENDER TO CHRIST LEANS TO BEARING THE CROSS FOR HIM. It is impossible to give ourselves up to Christ without suffering some loss or trouble. In early days the consequence might be martyrdom; in our own day it always involves some sacrifice. Now, the cross which the Christian has to bear is not inevitable trouble, such as poverty, sickness, or the loss of friends by death. These things would have been in our lot if we had not been Christians. They are our burdens, our thorns in the flesh. They are sent to us, not taken by us. But the cross is something additional. This is taken up voluntarily; it is in our power to refuse to touch it. We bear it, not because we cannot escape, but because it is a consequence of our following Christ; and the good of bearing it is that we cannot otherwise closely follow him. He, then, is the true Christian who will bear any cross and endure any hardship that is involved in loyally following his Lord and Master.—W.F.A.
Matthew 16:25, Matthew 16:26
The gain that is loss, and the loss that is gain.
Great confusion has been introduced into these verses in the Authorized Version by the rendering of the same Greek word as "life" in Matthew 16:25, and "soul" in Matthew 16:26. The Revisers have helped to a better understanding of the passage by translating the word "life" throughout. Christ was not speaking of the soul as we understand it, of the higher nature of man; but of life as opposed to the idea of being killed and so losing one's life.
I. SELF-SEEKING IS SELF-LOSING. Jesus is warning his disciples of the dangers and hardships of his service. Many will be tempted to shrink from the cross in order to save their lives. They are told that a cowardly unfaithfulness under persecution is not the way to save their lives. It is true a violent death may be thus avoided. But what is the use of a life preserved at the cost of honour and fidelity? It is not really saved, for it is so degraded that it has become a worthless thing. Thus it is a wasted life, a lost life. The same is true today under other circumstances. The man who denies Christ for his own convenience lowers himself to the level of worthlessness. He who greedily grasps at his own pleasure to the neglect of higher interests so impoverishes his nature by his mean and narrow way of living that his life is really ruined. This is the case on earth. It will be more apparent in the next world, when Christ comes to "render unto every man according to his deeds" (Matthew 16:27). Even in spiritual things, if a man's religion is purely selfish it will be of no use to him. If he thinks only of his own salvation, and nothing of the service of Christ and the benefit of his fellow men, he will be lost. It is not the teaching of Christ that our great business is to save ourselves. Religious teachers are greatly to blame for inculcating this most unchristian notion. Christ comes to save us from ourselves; but this will not be effected by the cultivating of a habit of supreme self-seeking in religion. Such a habit is ruinous to all that is worthy in a man. Therefore Matthew 16:26, which is often quoted in favour of a self-seeking religion, should be read in the light of Matthew 16:25.
II. SELF-LOSING IS SELF-FINDING. This is the opposite to the principle just considered; it has a positive importance of its own that demands careful consideration. 'How is the paradox verified in experience? We must first of all call to mind the immediate circumstances our Lord had in view. His disciples were being warned of coming persecutions. Some of them would lose their lives in martyrdom. Yet then they would most truly find them, for they would be the heirs of life eternal, and would live on in the bright future. That is the first lesson of the words. But they go much further. What is true under persecution is true at all times. The martyr temper is the Christian spirit. We gain the only life worth living on earth when we deny ourselves and embark on a career of unselfish service. The abandonment of selfish aims is the acquisition of heavenly treasures. There is a blessedness in the life of obedience and self-surrender that the selfish can never know. Happiness is not attained by directly aiming at it; it comes in as a surprise to him who is not seeking it when he is busy in unselfish service. Now, these lessons are driven home and clenched by the obvious truth of the following verse (Matthew 16:26). What is the use of a world of wealth to a man who loses his life in acquiring it? The pearl seeker who is drowned in the moment of clutching his gem is a supreme loser even while he is a gainer. Nothing will compensate a man for making shipwreck of his life by self-seeking.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY MARCUS DODS
This renewed retirement of our Lord is best accounted for by his need of quiet. What was now to be done? Another Passover was coming round. To proclaim himself at Jerusalem was indeed certain death; and yet was not the hour for taking this step at last come? Filled with inward conflict, our Lord journeys on and on until he finds himself at the very edge of the land of Israel But when his own mind is made up he at once communicates with the disciples, because it was necessary that those who were to be his witnesses should understand the state of matters and should willingly accompany him on the fatal journey to Jerusalem. And in asking them to declare frankly what they thought about him, he wished them to do this in presence of their remembrance of other and more generally received opinions, and feeling that the weight of authority was against them. With that generous outburst of affectionate trust which should ring through every creed, Peter exclaims, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Our Lord does not conceal his intense relief and keen satisfaction. "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for this faith is wrought in thee not by mere logical inferences from my works, nor by weighing other men's opinions, but by that enlightenment which God produces and suffers never again to be obscured." In this divinely wrought conviction of Peter's our Lord finds at last the foundationstone or solid rock on which the earthly building of his Church can be raised. Now for the first time does he introduce his disciples to the great idea that this divinely wrought power to see his nature and confess him is destined to form men into the most distinct and permanent of associations; that a new society is now begun in this little circle, a society, however, formed of those whom God calls, and who are distinguished from all others by their attachment to what is Divine, and by their being recipients of a Divine teaching. The significance, therefore, of this moment cannot be exaggerated, though it has been misunderstood. When our Lord says, "On this rock will I build my Church," he introduces to the minds of his hearers a new idea. They see their future associates in the faith forming together an edifice or spiritual temple in which God will dwell. And they are assured that amidst the wreck of other societies this shall stand. The power of "Hades," "the unseen," that mysterious region into which all human things pass, is to have no power over the Church. This is the fact: while empires moulder into a mere memory, the Church renews herself from age to age, and is as living now as ever before. But that Christ should have predicted this, and at the very time when all seemed over with his hope of being received by Israel, seems almost as wonderful as the continuance of the Church itself. "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven"—this certainly involves that Peter should have a position of the highest authority in the Church. And in point of fact, it was Peter who opened the gates of the kingdom to the Gentiles. This power is further explained in a form of speech common among the Jews, and which bore a perfectly definite meaning. The power to bind and loose was what we speak of as legislative power, power to introduce new laws and to repeal old ones. Such is the overwhelming return which our Lord makes to Peter for his confession. No confession can rival the first, or can bring the comfort, the relief, the hope which Peter's brought to the overburdened spirit of his Lord—no confession now made can seem to our Lord as the firm rock on which the Church may rise. And yet every acknowledgment must bring gratification to his spirit, and must be responded to by some recognition more or less distinct. Perhaps it is not easier for us than it was for Peter to come to a clear decision regarding the Person of Christ. Certainly there was a great weight of authority against Peter, but our own judgment is not free from the disturbing effect of similar influences. The verdict of the leaders of thought in our own day is almost unanimously against the distinctive claims of Christ. Christians, too, betray a consciousness that they are in a less secure and certain position than formerly, and are too careful to let it be seen they appreciate the difficulties of belief. There is all the louder call upon us to make our confession of Christ full, clear, hearty, and steadfast; to form an opinion for ourselves; so that we come to Christ with what he can accept as a fresh tribute, and not as a mere echo of some other people's confession. We see here that the difference between acknowledging him as a Prophet and acknowledging him as the Son of God is just the difference between faith and unbelief. In answer to Peter's "Thou art Christ," comes our Lord's "Thou art Peter." It is an instance of the fulfilment of his promise, "He that confesseth me before men, him will I confess before my Father;" but it is more than this. In recognizing who Jesus was Peter learned what his own character and his own prospects were. Now, for the first time, he saw the significance of his own name. It is so with every one. It is in the vision of Christ's true nature and purpose that a man awakens to a sense of his own worth and of the possibilities that lie before him. For you as for Peter he will mark out the proper work; he will give you a place as a living stone; he will impart to you every quality you need in the difficult circumstances of life and in the actual career that lies before you.—D.
Necessity of the cross.
Peter's words pierced like a sharp thorn into the very heart of Christ, and roused as keen an indignation as his previous words had awakened gratitude. For the horror which our Lord saw in Peter's face as he announced the near approach of death reflected the horror he himself had passed through during those past days in which he had been making up his mind to die; the incapacity of Peter to understand that death should be the necessary step to glory tended to upset the balance of his own mind as well as to disclose to him the extreme difficulty there would be in persuading the world at large that a crucified King could be a King at all. Peter seemed for the moment to be the very embodiment of temptation, to be inspired by that very spirit of evil which had assailed him in the wilderness. Instead of a rock on which to found the Church, he had become a rock of offence. The words of reprimand were severe, but in the circumstances intelligible. Seeing, then, the unwillingness of the disciples to think of a Messiah who should not come with armed followers and all the pomp and circumstance of war, our Lord from this time forward spends much time in an endeavour to demonstrate the necessity of his death, and to fix in their minds that in following him to Jerusalem they were going to see him die. Again and again we find him solemnly assuring them that he must be taken and put to death, and that he would rise again. And yet when he was crucified they were entirely disheartened, and had no expectation of his rising again. Our wonder at the small impression made by our Lord's words is lessened when we consider the originality of his conception of the Messiah's glory. Only by Divine illumination, he said, could Peter have known him to be the Christ, but even a higher Divine illumination was needed to teach him the doctrine of the cross. So clean counter to natural human belief is this law that the truest glory is in humiliation for others, that even now each one has to discover this law for himself, and, when he discovers it, thinks he alone has had it revealed to him. So difficult is it for us to comprehend that, what the world needs for its regeneration more than the strong hand of a wise Ruler is the entrance into it, and the diffusion throughout it, of a meek and lowly spirit, of a righteous and God-fearing life. But our Lord assures us that not only for the Leader, but for the follower, this law holds good; these who would be with him in his glory must take his own path to it. The man who means to keep near Christ must not only deny himself one or two enjoyments or sinful indulgences, but must absolutely deny himself, must renounce self as an object in life, must give himself up as the enthusiastic physician gives himself up, regardless of all consequences to self, to the relief of his patients or to the advancement of science. You may say that the physician who does so does not deny himself, but gives expression to his highest and best self, and that is what our Lord means when he adds as his first proof of the truth of his law, "For whosoever wilt save his life shall lose it: and whosoever wilt lose his life for my sake shall find it." So long as you make self your object, your end, and your centre, you are losing your life and your self; but when you are enabled to abandon self and to live for righteousness, for God, for Christ, for the community, you emerge into life eternal, you find your truest self. "And what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" This is one of those truths that need no demonstration, and yet are very difficult to act upon. To gain even a very small part of the world is so appreciable a gain, whereas the loss of the soul is so inappreciable often in the process, and it seems so easy to regain it, that we are tempted to act as if it were a very small matter. A third ground on which our Lord rests his injunction to follow him is laid down in the twenty-seventh verse. All permanent happiness is so bound up with character that he can only make men happy in proportion to their growth. The reward chiefly desired by every one who loves him is an increase of that love and a truer likeness to himself, and in eternity, as on earth, Christ and all who are like him, will find their glory in works of self-sacrificing compassion and helpful mercy. Matthew 16:27, Matthew 16:28 : As far as can be gathered from the abbreviated form we have in the text, our Lord meant to say that the man who spent his life on self, and so lost his truest life, would find his mistake in the day when at Christ's second coming things are forever arranged according to the principles he himself laid down and lived on in his first coming, and then, as if to answer the doubt whether such a day of true judgment should ever come, he goes on to say that the kingdom of heaven would, even in the lifetime of some standing there, be sufficiently manifested to make his Divine power clear to them.—D.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The signs of the Messiah.
Coming into the borders of Magadan, after the miracles of the mountain in which he healed all manner of diseases, and miraculously feasted about eight thousand persons, Jesus encountered the Pharisees and Sadducees, who, sinking their sectarian differences for the time, agreed to tempt or test him by demanding a special sign of his Messiahship. Jesus declined to gratify them in this, appealing to the signs of the times which should be sufficient for them, and giving them himself a special sign. Let us consider, then—
I. THE SPECIAL SIGN WHICH THE PHARISEES SOUGHT.
1. They sought a sign from heaven.
(1) This was dearly the sign of the Prophet Daniel (see Daniel 7:9-14). The Pharisees then desired Jesus then and there to prove his Messiahship to them by appearing in the heavens as the Son of man in glory, and to establish a visible kingdom.
(2) This is a true sign of the Messiah. Not only is it a favourite sign with the Jews, but one also which Jesus acknowledged. He commonly spoke of himself, in manifest allusion to that very sign, as "the Son of man." But why, then, did he not gratify their expectations? The answer is:
2. They sought that sign too soon.
(1) It is a sign of a second advent of Messiah. A second advent there must needs be, for Messiah is described in prophecy in two distinct characters, which he could not fulfil at one and the same time. He is to come in the character of a Priest, to make atonement for sin, in humiliation, suffering, and death. He is also to come in the character of a King, in glory and immortality.
(2) In the first of these characters Jesus had then appeared. He must first suffer before he can enter into his glory, and therefore, also, before he can be revealed in his glory (cf. Genesis 3:15; Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Psalms 16:8-10; Psalms 22:1-31.; Isaiah 50:5, Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 53:1-12; Daniel 9:24; Luke 24:26).
(3) In the second character he promises in due time to appear (cf. Matthew 24:29-35; Matthew 26:64-68; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 14:14). And in this character accordingly he is expected by his disciples (cf. Acts 1:11; 1Th 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
II. THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES TO WHICH JESUS APPEALED.
1. Those connected with his personal advent.
(1) At the period of his birth there was a general expectation. The weeks of Daniel were fast running out within which Messiah was to be cut off (see Daniel 9:23-27). He must be born a considerable time before the date of his Passion. Gentiles then shared in the expectation of the Jews.
(2) His birth was itself a miracle. He was born of a virgin, and m the house and lineage of David. This was according to the requirement of the first promise in Eden, that he should be the "Seed of the woman," and of that remarkable place in Isaiah where a virgin of the house of David was to bring forth a son, who was to be distinguished as Immannel (see Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).
(3) That birth was also attended by miracles. The annunciation to the Virgin by Gabriel corresponded to that made to Manoah's wife concerning the birth of Samson, who was a type of Christ (cf. Judges 13:2-5; Luke 1:26-35). The wonderful birth was then celebrated by angels, who appeared to the shepherds; and by a star seen by the Wise Men in the East (cf. Numbers 24:17; Matthew 2:2; Revelation 22:16; Luke 2:9-14).
2. Those connected with ills public ministry.
(1) Foremost amongst these was the miracle at his baptism, when he was about to enter upon that public ministry (Matthew 3:16, Matthew 3:17).
(2) This was followed up by the testimony of the Baptist. That testimony could not be impeached. The Baptist was authenticated as a prophet of God by the miracles connected with his birth (see Luke 1:5-22). In that character he was acknowledged by his nation. He announced himself, as the angel had designated him to be, the harbinger of Messiah. In that capacity he pointed out Jesus to his disciples as the "Lamb of God that beareth away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
(3) This wonderful character Jesus was able to sustain. He wrought the miracles which the prophets said Messiah was to work. He did everything and suffered everything which the prophets said Messiah was to do and suffer in his advent as a Priest.
(4) The very wickedness of the generation that "tempted him, and proved him, and saw his works," was a sign of the times (cf. Isaiah 6:9-12; Matthew 13:14, Matthew 13:15). And to all but themselves is their obstinacy in rejecting Jesus, together with their long continued sufferings, a proof that Jesus is the Christ; for these things he foretold (cf. Matthew 23:34-39; Luke 21:22-24).
III. THE SPECIAL SIGN WHICH JESUS GAVE.
1. He gave them a sign from the earth.
(1) They sought a sign from heaven. The sign they sought, as we have seen, was that of the Prophet Daniel. That he gave them was the sign of the Prophet Jonah (cf. Matthew 12:39).
(2) They sought the sign of the kingdom of glory. He gave them the sign of the priesthood and suffering. The burial presupposes the death, and the death the suffering, of Messiah. These things he afterwards plainly showed to his disciples (see verse 21).
2. This sign best suited a wicked generation.
(1) It fulfilled the sacrifices of the Law. Those sacrifices were ostensibly to make atonement for sin. But in what sense? Ceremonially and typically. Morally they could not remove sin. To suppose so would be to outrage common sense. "It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins." Their inability to do this was acknowledged, for it was necessary to repeat the sacrifices. In the light of the great sin sacrifice of Calvary, all is plain.
(2) It fulfilled the sacrifice of Isaac. In the daily prayers read in the synagogue we have this: "דלם אן), O most merciful and gracious King! we beseech thee to remember and to look back on the covenant made between the divided offerings, and let the recollection of the sacrificial binding of the only son appear before thee, in favour of Israel." But what sense is there in this unless the "sacrificial binding" of Isaac be accepted as typical of the only Son of God, the Seed of Isaac, in whom all the families of the earth are blessed?
(3) The sign of a sufficient sacrifice for the expiation of sin is, of all others, to be desired by a wicked generation. But were the Lord to have answered their foolish prayer, and to have appeared without a sin sacrifice, as their King in judgment, they would be the first to be destroyed in the fires of his anger.
3. Jesus rested his claims upon this sign.
(1) He predicted that he "must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed." Within a year this was literally fulfilled.
(2) But now comes the testing point. He added, "and the third day be raised up" (see verse 21). So about a year earlier he explained this sign of the Prophet Jonah to certain scribes and Pharisees. "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the seamonster; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (see Matthew 12:40).
(3) This also was fulfilled to the letter. No event of history is better authenticated than the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And if the evidence that Jesus is the Christ will not convince the Jews, they cannot be convinced by evidence; they can only be convinced by judgment. The sign from heaven will convince them.—J.A.M.
The leaven of error.
After an encounter with certain Pharisees and Sadducees at Magadan, Jesus warned his disciples against their teaching. This is not written for their sakes alone, but also for our admonition. From Luke's account we may infer that Jesus likewise warned the people (see Luke 12:1). Every age has its Pharisees and Sadducees, and it becomes us to note—
I. THE ERRORS AGAINST WHICH WE ARE WARNED.
1. Those which distinguish the Pharisee.
(1) He plumes himself upon his orthodoxy and superior sanctity. The ancient Pharisee was scrupulous in observing the ritual of the elders, and refused to eat with sinners. Hence his name, from the Hebrew word שדף, "to separate." But the reputation of orthodoxy is no security against error. The apostate Greek Church is called "orthodox;" and her Romish sister claims infallibility. These and their kindred are the Pharisees of our times.
(2) He is zealous for Church traditions. The ancient Pharisee pretended that his traditions came to Moses on Mount Sinai together with the Law, immediately from God, and concluded that they were of equal authority. Several of these traditions are mentioned in the Gospels; but a vast number more may be seen in the Talmud. Corresponding to these are the "apostolical traditions" and papal "decretals" of the Romanists.
(3) Such authority is worthless, to say the least. For any simple story passing through half a dozen hands will be found to receive so many new complexions and additions, and to suffer so many distortions and omissions, that the original narrator could scarcely recognize it. Church traditions are in this respect no better than others. Perversion and distortion could only be prevented by plenary inspiration continued throughout all the links of transmission.
(4) But it is worse than worthless. The ancient Pharisee set his tradition above the Law of God by making it the interpreter of the Law, and thus by it the Law was made void (cf. Matthew 15:1-9; Luke 11:39-42). The vicious effects of the traditions of our modern Pharisee upon the Gospel corresponds. What single truth of God is there that has not been distorted by this process?
2. Those which distinguish the Sadducee.
(1) The Sadducee of old derived from Sadoc, a disciple of Antigonus Sochaeus, who lived about three hundred years B.C. Antigonus, in his lectures, taught the duty of serving God from filial love and fear rather than in a servile manner, whence Sadoc concluded that there are no rewards after this life. His followers proceeded to deny the existence of a spiritual world, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, and the providence of God (see Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8). They differed little from the ancient Epicureans.
(2) Sadduceeism is not limited to ancient times. We have it still under the names atheism, deism, agnosticism, positivism, rationalism, erastianism. They are, in many respects, the opposite of Phariseeism. The one is the reaction of the other. Hence they are associated evermore.
(3) As the Pharisee boasts superior piety, so does the Sadducee affect superior intelligence. Sadduceeism is fashionable through the concessions of ignorance to this affectation. Herod was the head of the Sadducees in Galilee. The "leaven of the Sadducees" is otherwise described as the "leaven of Herod". Herod's courtiers, of course, were Sadducees. The conceited amongst the vulgar would sympathize with boasted intelligence, that they might, in turn, be credited with an intelligence which they did not possess.
3. Those common to both.
(1) Failure to discern the signs of the times. The prophecies of Scripture were lost upon them. The events of providence were to them without significance. Their intelligence went no further than discerning the face of the sky. With all their boasted piety and affectation of sagacity, Pharisees and Sadducees were alike in this condemnation. Note: The neglect of the study of prophecy is neither creditable nor innocent.
(2) Opposition to the truth of God. As Pilate and Herod became friends in their hostility to Christ, so did the Pharisees and Sadducees sink their differences to oppose him. However fiercely errors may wrangle together, they will evermore combine against the truth of God.
(3) Herein the Sadducee is open to the same impeachment of hypocrisy as the Pharisee. Pretence in devotion is the hypocrisy of the Pharisee; yet he opposes Christ, who is the impersonation of goodness. Pretence of a free and impartial search after truth is the hypocrisy of the Sadducee; yet he also opposes Christ, who is the impersonation of truth.
II. THE NECESSITY FOR THE ADMONITION.
1. Error is like leaven, subtle in its influence.
(1) As the "kingdom of heaven," in the parable, "is like unto leaven," so is the kingdom of hell. Many interpret the parable to describe the subtle working of error in the lump of the Church, rather than the secret working of the truth in the lump of the world (cf. Mat 13:33; 1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).
(2) Its subtlety lies in its hypocrisy. "Think not that false doctrine will meet you face to face, saying, 'I am false doctrine, and I want to come into your heart.' Satan does not go to work in that way. He dresses up false doctrine like Jezebel. He paints her face, and tires her head, and tries to make her like truth" (Anon.).
(3) Christians are not proof against this subtlety. They are often such as have no great forecast for this world. Here the disciples "forgot to take bread." Mark says they had only one loaf in the ship (Mark 8:14). In nothing is the veracity of the sacred writers more plainly seen than in the unsparing fidelity with which they record the proofs of their own infirmity. Their very simplicity would expose them to the subtlety of error. It was therefore needful to warn them.
(4) In the false concern of the disciples concerning the bread, we see already a Pharisaic care for externals, and a Sadducean forgetfulness of the supernatural. "It is because we took no bread." Men blame themselves most for carelessness in externals, which is just that in which God blames them least. We may blame ourselves for a forgetfulness for which God does not blame us, while he blames us for a forgetfulness for which we blame not ourselves. They did not remember the miracle of the loaves. If through thoughtlessness we come into straits, even then we may trust Christ to bring us out of them. The experience of the disciple is an aggravation to the sin of his distrust.
(5) For lack of faith it is easy to fall into errors of doctrine. "Why reason ye among yourselves? We waste much precious time in profitless reasonings. Reasonings are profitless when they are apart from Christ. "O ye of little faith." There are degrees of faith. Little faith may be the germ of great faith. Want of faith is accompanied by want of quick spiritual discernment.
2. The influence of error is demoralizing.
(1) It makes the Pharisee a hypocrite. The ancient Pharisee, with all his affectation of sanctity, was but self-righteous; he was proud, unjust, selfish, and worldly. The semblance of piety was the mark of wickedness. The modern Pharisee is like him.
(2) As superstition demoralizes the Pharisee, so does scepticism demoralize his complement. When the restraints of belief are removed, the rein is thrown over the neck of appetite and passion and every propensity of the evil heart. Extremes meet.
(3) Creed has greater influence upon temper and conduct than men are commonly aware of. Doctrines act in the soul like leaven; they assimilate the whole spirit to their own nature. False doctrine is like evil leaven souring the temper, and swelling and inflating with pride. Unsound faith will never beget sound practice. Zeal for purity of doctrine is essential to godliness.
(4) Error tends to blasphemy. "It is because we have brought no bread." The disciples here judged unworthily of Christ, viewing him through their own low medium of unbelief. Men are prone to make themselves their standard for Christ rather than making him their standard. As we can view Christ only in our thoughts, the spiritual alone can think justly of him.
3. The issues of error are disastrous.
(1) Christ cannot abide with perversity. After suitably replying to the Pharisees and Sadducees at Magadan, "he left them, and departed" (verse 4). A sinner abandoned by the only Saviour is in a melancholy case. Thereupon he warned his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees, viz. lest it should land them in a similar state of abandonment.
(2) Christ separated himself from them by crossing the sea. Was not this action parabolic? Did it not suggest that "great gulf fixed" by which the righteous are forever separated from the wicked (see Luke 16:26)?
(3) The caution to "take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees" suggests that their doctrine is especially pernicious, like poisoned leaven. The disciples should beware of any doctrine coming through such hands. "Come forth, my people, out of her, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and. that ye receive not of her plagues" (see Revelation 18:4).—J.AM.
The true confession.
"Who's who?" This is, generally speaking, a question of very little consequence. When the "Son of man" is concerned, it is of infinite moment. Everlasting issues turn upon the manner in which it is answered. From this important text we learn—
I. THAT THE FAITH WHICH IS HUMAN IS UNCERTAIN.
1. It may take colour from the distraction of guilt.
(1) "Some say John the Baptist." So said Herod. He has murdered the Baptist (cf. Matthew 4:1-12). Herod's courtiers would say as Herod said.
(2) Herod had not heard of Christ before. Some men never concern themselves with the claims of Jesus until conscience alarms them.
(3) Such alarms will come. They come in visitations of judgment—death bed experiences.
(4) The faith so excited is too often uncertain.
2. It may be influenced by the spirit of the world.
(1) "Some say Elijah." For Elijah was promised as the forerunner of Christ (see Malachi 4:5, Malachi 4:6). And the time for the advent of Messiah had arrived (see Genesis 49:10; Daniel 9:25).
(2) But why say "Elijah" rather than "Messiah"? The spirit of the world blinded them. They expected a secular king. They were too materialistic to see that John Baptist had come "in the spirit and power of Elijah." They now confounded Christ with an Elijah of their own devising, and missed him. in the mists of the world the spiritual Jesus is still fatally missed.
(3) They confounded the advents. They are two. Messiah was to come in humiliation. He was also to come in glory. They looked for the glorious appearing to be heralded by Elijah in person. They failed to discern the Christ in his suffering. Yet the advents are intimately related. Those only who confess him in his sufferings can share in his glory.
3. It may be distorted by the vanity of reason.
(1) "Some say Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." The doctrine of metempsychosis, transmigration, or passing of the soul from one body into another, was accepted among the Jews (cf. verse 14; Matthew 14:2; John 9:2).
(2) This doctrine largely entered into the Pharisees' notion of the resurrection. To them the question of the Sadducees would be a real puzzle, which Jesus answered to the astonishment of both (see Matthew 22:23-33).
(3) Herod, though a Sadducee, yet favoured this Pharisaic notion. In this he was inconsistent. But what of that? Unbelief is inconsistent evermore under the excitements of conscience.
II. THAT THE TRUE FAITH OF CHRIST IS A REVELATION FROM GOD.
1. In its doctrine.
(1) "But whom say ye that I am?" The disciples of Jesus should have it. They had the best opportunity of judging.
(2) What, then, was their confession? "Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Here Jesus was identified as the Messiah of the nation's hope. His Divinity also was recognized.
(3) But this confession had been made before. After the stilling of the storm, "they that were in the boat worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God" (Matthew 14:33). Nathanael's confession was still earlier (see John 1:49). And still later we have another remarkable confession (see John 6:69).
(4) The disciples of Jesus were, several of them, disciples of John; and from John they had this testimony concerning Jesus (see John 1:35-42).
2. In its experience.
(1) In this confession of Peter there is a new element, and an element too of great importance; for it had a special commendation. The earlier confessions were more speculative. This was experimental; from the very heart.
(2) Miracles cannot carry conviction to the heart. No effort of reason can give it. "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee."
(3) It is immediately from God. "No man can say Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit."
III. THAT HAPPY IS HE THAT CONFESSES CHRIST FROM THE HEART.
1. He is a living stone in the living temple.
(1) Simon, at his call, received this patronymic (see John 1:42). Literally, Peter is a "stone;" metaphorically it is stability, strength. The change of name suggests change of nature, or conversion (cf. Genesis 32:28).
(2) The firmness of the rock belonged not to Peter in respect to his mental temper (see Matthew 26:69; Galatians 2:11).
(3) It belonged to him in connection with his faith. He had the patronymic in anticipation of his confession; for when he made it Jesus said, "Thou art Peter," q.d. now thou hast merited thy name. Heart faith is the principle of Christian firmness.
(4) Whoever has the faith of Peter thereby becomes himself a Peter—a living stone. Peter himself witnesses to this (see 1 Peter 2:4, 1 Peter 2:5). Translate this figure, and what does it import?
2. He is founded on the Rock of Ages.
(1) This Rock is not Peter. Petros does not signify "a rock" otherwise than as a stone is a rock. Stone, not rock, is the proper meaning of that term. Petra is the name for the living rock. On the petra the Church is built.
(2) Peter is accordingly found amongst the other apostles, and together with them also the prophets, as one of the many foundationstones resting upon the Rock (see Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14).
(3) Christ, who is the Foundation (see Acts 4:11, Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 3:11), is also the Builder of his Church. In his hand every stone has its proper place and fitting.
3. His salvation is secured.
(1) "The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." In ancient times the gates of fortified cities were used to hold councils in, and they were usually strong places. This expression means that neither the counsels nor strength of Satan can prevail against the truth of this confession, nor against the Church that is founded on it.
(2) Hades is the abode of disembodied spirits, and death is the gate or entrance into that abode. But death does not prevail against the living Church. Its members die, but others take their places.
(3) Neither does death prevail against any living member of the Church to remove him out of it. For death does but translate him from that part of the Church which is militant to that other part which is triumphant. For the one true Church of Christ is catholic to the universe and to the ages. "Hell hath no power against faith; faith hath power for heaven."
IV. SIGNALLY BLESSED IS HE THAT IS FOREMOST IN THIS CONFESSION.
1. Peter had the honour of the keys.
(1) Keys were anciently a common symbol of authority; and presenting the keys was a form of investing with authority; and these were afterwards worn as a badge of office (see Isaiah 22:22). Peter's authority was to open the gate of faith to the world.
(2) He accordingly first preached the gospel to the Jew, on the memorable Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:41). He first preached the gospel to the Gentiles also (see Acts 10:44-47; Acts 15:7).
(3) In this honour Peter stood alone. In the nature of the case he could have no successor. In the preaching of the gospel to Jew and Gentile his successors are counted by millions; but in being the first to preach it he has no successor.
2. He had the power of binding and loosing.
(1) "The term of loosing and binding was customarily applied by Jews to a decision about doctrines or rites, establishing which were lawful and unlawful. Thus of many articles, it is said, 'The school of Shammai, which was the stricter, bindeth it; the school or followers of Hillel looseth it'" (Lightfoot).
(2) This Peter was to do authoritatively, by plenary inspiration, and therefore so as to be ratified and confirmed in heaven. And in this accordingly Peter took the initiative, declaring the terms of salvation when he first used his keys.
(3) But beyond this he had no distinction from the other apostles, who were also inspired authoritatively to set forth these terms. The question which Peter answered was addressed to the whole company of the apostles, "Whom do ye say that I am?" and Peter answered it in their name, or as their representative (cf. John 20:21-23).
(4) In this the apostles have no successors. Plenary inspiration has ceased with them. The fruits of that inspiration come down to us in the New Testament canon. To this we have our one and sole appeal.
3. Every foremost confessor has his honour.
(1) The martyr has his crown. He has his conspicuous place in the better resurrection (see Revelation 2:10; Revelation 20:4 Revelation 20:6).
(2) Superior goodness will be signally recognized (see Daniel 12:3; 1 Corinthians 15:41, 1 Corinthians 15:42).—J.A.M.
After the noble confession of Peter Jesus "began to show unto his disciples how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suite." This intelligence roused all the devil in Peter, so that he took that Blessed One whom he had just acknowledged to be the "Son of the living God," and began to rebuke him. Simon was not innocent of selfishness in his concern for the life of his Lord, for he shrewdly concluded that the servants might suffer with the Master. Jesus strongly resented this evil spirit of the world, and urged the absolute necessity of self-denial.
I. SELF-DENIAL IS REQUIRED BY OUR RELATION TO GOD.
1. The will of God is the creature's law.
(1) Ether expands, flame ascends, water finds its level, the blade of grass pushes sunward. Theories may be hazarded to explain these things, but the theories will need explanation. Sooner or later we come back upon the principle that the will of God is the creature's law.
(2) Man is no exception. His intellect, conscience, affections, will, are as truly creatures of God as the instincts of animals, the habits of plants, or the properties of matter.
(3) God does not coerce the human will, but he gives us a law with sanctions. The very superiority of our endowments should influence our heart to love and serve him to the limit of our ability.
2. Yet our inclinations cross the will of God.
(1) Originally this was not so. We were created in innocency and uprightness. Our senses let in the evidences of the power, wisdom, and goodness of our Creator. Our intellects were filled with admiration of his perfections; our hearts glowed with love to him; our obedience was loyal and delightful.
(2) But in an evil hour this Eden was blighted, and we became earthly, sensual, devilish.
3. Therefore now the necessity for self-denial.
(1) Without, it we cannot regain the forfeited favour of God. Worldliness must be fought and conquered. The flesh with its affections and lusts must be crucified. Waywardness must be resisted.
(2) Without self-denial that favour cannot be retained. Let the duty of reproving sin be neglected because it is unpleasant, and the relish for the worship of God will go, and his service will degenerate into formality. Let the duty of giving bountifully to the cause of God and humanity be restrained because the love of gain is pleasant, and the life of God will languish and expire.
II. SELF-DENIAL IS REQUIRED BY OUR RELATION TO MAN.
1. The human race is one great family.
(1) Polygenists should consider the striking differences in persons confessedly of the same nation and race, and how they might be aggravated by the influence of climate, diet, and habits of life extended over many generations. The same class of dog that in the tropics will grow a thin covering of hair will in the arctic regions grow a thick coat of wool. Let the experiment be fairly made with the negro, and he will flourish in any climate. Let him not be suddenly removed from one extreme of climate to another; but let him pass through gradations in a series of generations so as to give the powers of adaptation a chance.
(2) Developmentarians who trace the American Indian to the broad-nosed simian of the New World, the African to the Troglodytic stock, and the Mongolian to the orang, should consider that no two tribes of men differ as the orang and chimpanzee.
(3) Moses ought to know what he was writing about, living as he did within a few generations of the origin of our race. If the accepted chronology may be taken as correct, he was contemporary with men who were contemporary with Abraham, and Abraham was contemporary with men who remembered Noah, and Methuselah was at once contemporary with Noah and Adam. Could Moses have imposed on the men of his generation a fanciful account of the origin of their race which the traditions of every family might be presumed to contradict?
(4) Sin, not science, is the true origin of polygenism. Sin is dissocializing. It expels brotherly love, generates hatred, variance, emulation, strife, sedition. It originates wars and tyrannies.
2. The necessities of the family call for self-denial.
(1) Some of these are physical. Should not our luxuries minister to the necessities of the hungry and naked and homeless (see James 2:15, James 2:16; 1 John 3:17)?
(2) Some are spiritual. What is done for the headmen abroad and at home? For the street Arab? For the inhabitant of the mansion who habitually neglects the means of grace? Do we give money? Do we give personal service to Church work, which is more valuable than money?
(3) The temper of the world will tax our self-denial. Meet a hypocondriac, and he will weary you; but you may release yourself by asking after the health of his soul. The subject is unpalatable to the impenitent, but without encountering resentments we cannot clear our consciences of the blood of souls.
III. SELF-DENIAL IS REQUIRED BY THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST.
1. He stooped to the form of a servant.
(1) Born in a stable; cradled in a manger; associated with poverty.
(2) But who is this? The King of glory!
(3) Can the sticklers for precedence be the servants of this great Exemplar? How small in his great presence are the artifices (of pride! How contemptible is borrowed greatness!
2. He exercised himself with fasting.
(1) At the entrance upon his ministry he fasted in the wilderness as our Exemplar. If we would be successful in our spiritual conflicts we should in our measure follow him here.
(2) In this age of wisdom men see no reason in fasting, and vet here is a kind of devil that will not depart without faith; and here is a kind of unbelief that will not go out but by prayer and fasting.
3. He took up his own cross.
(1) He went to Jerusalem to suffer. There he "suffered many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes." The false accusation, the shame, the spitting, the scourge.
(2) There, at Jerusalem, he literally carried his cross. On it he was "killed."
(3) And every man has his cross to lift and carry, and perhaps on it to be killed for Christ's sake. It is not his place to rebuke Jesus for bringing him to it, but, when he finds it, to lift it and shame the devil.—J.A.M.
Profit and loss.
As the time of the brief ministry of Jesus drew to its close, he began to show his disciples how he must go to Jerusalem and suffer and be killed, and rise again the third day. The sombre part of this anticipation was a terrible shock to the strong Jewish prejudices of Peter; and he lost sight of the glorious element of the resurrection. So is prejudice blind evermore. He had. the presumption to take Jesus to task, and stoutly protested against any such issue. For this temerity Peter merited a terrible rebuke from Christ, who, after administering it, insisted upon self-denial and cross lifting as essential to his discipleship. Then he proceeded to reason and expostulate in the words of the text.
I. WHAT IS THE GAIN? THE WORLD.
1. Not the empire of the universe.
(1) "The whole world," in the largest sense, includes not only this globe, but the sun, the planets, and the moons of this solar system; and, moreover, all the firmaments of such systems within the searching power of telescopes and beyond into immensity.
(2) The proprietorship of the world in this large sense belongs to God alone. Such a sceptre could be wielded only by the Infnite.
2. Not the empire of this earth.
(1) Alexander the Great is said to have "conquered the world," and then to have "wept because he had not another world to conquer." Yet was that empire of Alexander but a small portion of the globe after all. And instead of conquering the other world of his own mind, his evil passions conquered him.
(2) The Romans were said to be "masters of the world," but there were barbarians beyond they could never subdue. There were vast continents they never knew.
(3) The British empire is the most extensive that the sun has seen. Yet are we far from possessing the monopoly of the globe. Universal empire, in this sense, is still reserved for the proper Man.
3. All the pleasures of the worldling.
(1) In his enjoyment of all natural endowments. Health of body; symmetry of proportions; vigour of mind; hilarity of spirits.
(2) All accidental advantages. The inheritance of wealth, of title, of position.
(3) All opportunities of animal indulgence. Luxuries of the table—choice wines, rare fruits—all in profusion. Every conceivable gratification for the appetite and passion.
(4) All opportunities for intellectual gratification. A taste cultivated to appreciate the finest poetry, the most exquisite music, the noblest eloquence, consummate painting and sculpture, and refinements of art, together with all these things.
4. But hold, the colouring is too high!
(1) Who can have all this with religion? Can it be all indulged if the claims of religion are respected?
(2) But who can have all this without religion? For are there not punitive sequences bound up with indulgence?
(a) Health will not abide it.
(b) Capacity is limited, and to surcharge is to produce revulsion and disgust.
(c) Conscience will have its reckoning.
(d) Fear will intrude with thoughts of the coming of the "Son of man in the glory of his Father with his angels" to "reward to every man according to his deeds." It will bring alarmingly near the judgment in the doom of death.
II. WHAT IS THE LOSS? THE SOUL.
1. Its greatness is seen in its achievements.
(1) Those of the astronomer. The calculation of the Nautical Almanac. The discovery of the planet Neptune. Light thrown upon chronology.
(2) Those of the chemist and electrician.
(3) Those of the engineers
(4) What a loss when such great rowers are prostituted, wasted, blighted, damned!
2. It is evident in its capability of God.
(1) Powers to contemplate his being and attributes; his government and his claims.
(2) Enjoying his friendship. Reciprocating his love. Working out his purposes.
(3) Hoping in his promises of heaven.
(4) But all this capability is capability also of suffering. Awful to the sinner is the very justice of his judgment. Thoughts of the being and attributes of an infinite Enemy. How terrible are the fires of his wrath!
3. It is seen in God's estimate.
(1) He framed the creation for man (see Psalms 8:1-9.).
(2) He gave himself for man. Became incarnate in our nature. In that nature suffered and died for us.
(3) Carried our nature into heaven. There it is exalted above all principality.
(4) In it he will come forth "in the glory of his Father with his angels."
(5) The distance between heaven's rapturous height and hell's horrible depth is the measure of God's estimate of man.
III. WHAT IS THE PROFIT?
1. For what do you barter your soul?
(1) "All that is in the world" is soon summed up. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father" (1 John 2:16).
(2) But what have we here?
(a) Sensuality. Wine. Women.
(b) Covetousness. Gain by meanness. Gain by trend. Gain by oppression.
The esteem of the deceived. Or the esteem of the vain. What does it profit?
2. What is the profit when life is spent?
(1) What would a damned soul give for the opportunity to retrace his steps?
(2) But life is spent before a man is dead. What does the world profit when a man outlives its pleasures—when his energy is spent?
3. What must we sacrifice for the soul?
(1) Not the world, in its use.
(2) We must sacrifice the world in its abuse. All sin must go.
(3) Life must be sacrificed if necessary. But then "to die is gain."—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The sign of Jonas.
There are many indications of the persistency with which our Lord was worried and hindered by a hostile party from among the Pharisees. They were ever trying new devices for entangling him. They hoped to nonplus him; or to get him to try something in which he would fail, or to say something which they could turn into an accusation. On this occasion the Pharisaic party united with the Galilaean Sadducees in what seemed a clever scheme. They were to plead that such miracles as he wrought could not prove his Divine claim, because they were all susceptible of natural explanations. They were to say that, if he meant them to believe in him, he must do some really wonderful firing—make thunder in a clear sky, as Samuel did (1 Samuel 12:18), or bring fire from heaven, as Elijah did (1 Kings 18:38). Of course, they intended the people to hear them put this test, and they would make use of his refusal as proof of his inability. Our Lord did refuse. He understood the temper and needs of his time far better than they did; and if they wanted manifest signs from heaven, the people did not; or if they did, such signs were not really best for them. What would most help to awaken men was the mystery of his death and resurrection. That was the true sign of his spiritual being and mission. These Pharisees might take that sign. It was foreshadowed in the story of Jonah. It was all they would get. They must do the best they could with it.
1. THE SIGN OF JONAS WAS INTENDED TO PUZZLE. Those who knew nothing of the spiritual nature of Christ, or of his redemption by suffering and sacrifice, could make nothing of this sign. It is a good way in which to treat malicious questioners, to answer them by giving them something to puzzle over, a "hard nut to crack." Can we imagine how these Pharisees, who were so clever at "splitting hairs" in argument, discussed this "sign of Jonas"? The people must have smiled when they saw them so answered and so discomfited.
II. THE SIGN OF JONAS WAS INTENDED TO SUGGEST. For us it suggests what was then the special burden on the mind of Christ. He was anticipating the time of his suffering and death. For them the sign seemed to say, "Your prejudiced opposition to me will grow until it consummates in securing my death. You will throw me overboard, as Jonas was thrown over. But you will be baffled even then. Like Jonas, I shall rise again."
III. THE SIGN OF JONAS WAS INTENDED TO TEACH. Only one point in the story is recalled by Christ. The only likeness between Jonas and Christ is that "rising again." The sign of the Divine origin, Divine mission, and Divine nature of Christ is his resurrection from the dead.—R.T.
In their short journeyings among the villages, and when they went east of the lake for the sake of retirement, the disciples were accustomed to carry in their little baskets sufficient food for a day or two. By some mischance the food had been forgotten on this occasion. Their minds were full of this lack of bread; and so they thought their Master's mind must be full of the same thing. He was quite unconcerned about bodily food, and meditating on the mischievous influence, upon themselves and upon others, of the characteristic spirit and disposition of the Pharisees, of which so striking an illustration had just been given. It was an evil force, an active force, and a dangerous force.
I. PHARISAIC DOCTRINE AS AN EVIL FORCE. It was the notion that a good creed will excuse an evil life; that a man may do evil that good may come; that religion is formality; that subtlety is more important than sincerity; that blind prejudice can make honest judgments. The "leaven" will go into the term "hypocrisy," or "religious insincerity;" "the unreality of a life respectable, rigid, outwardly religions, even earnest in its zeal, and yet wanting in the humility and love which are the essence of true holiness." Such hypocrisy and insincerity is a ruinous influence in character. A man cannot be noble who allows any shams. Religion a mere garb is worthless to man and dishonouring to God. Nothing roused our Lord's indignation like the leaven of insincerity.
II. PHARISAIC DOCTRINE AS AN ACTIVE FORCE. Here we find the reason for calling it leaven, which is a thing which will not keep quiet, and remain where it is and as it is. Leaven will act; it will grow; it will push through; it will pervade. Leaven consists of plant cells, which multiply with extraordinary rapidity under favourable circumstances. A doctrine which allows licence to man's evil passions, and hides it under a show of superior piety, is a doctrine that readily finds a sphere in man's corrupt nature, and there it acts vigorously. A little of such leaven leaveneth the whole lump. We need to see clearly that all error is active; but all error that tends to give moral licence is, for fallen man, especially active. You can never hope to keep such error still.
III. PHARISAIC DOCTRINE AS A DANGEROUS FORCE. Therefore our Lord warned his disciples against letting the Pharisaic spirit get into them unawares. It works such havoc in character. Any evil is possible to a man who once permits himself to excuse insincerity. Piety is nourished upon absolute truth and righteousness. Guile, formality, and outward show never can support it.—R.T.
Opinions concerning Jesus.
It seems strange that our Lord should want to know men's opinions about himself. Two explanations may be given.
1. These disciples mixed more freely with the people than Jesus could, and were more likely to know the common talk. So they could give him information which would materially help his work.
2. Our Lord's question may only have been meant to introduce a conversation, through which he might teach those disciples the higher truth concerning himself. Jesus removed into the district of Caesarea Philippi for the sake of retirement and safety. His work in Galilee was virtually finished, and something in the nature of a review of that work, and estimate of its results, was befitting. Our Lord's work, in its higher aspect, was a self-revelation. What he said, and what he did, were intended to show what he was. The mystery of the Person of Christ is the subject of the gospel. So our Lord, in asking, "Whom do men say that I am?" really proposed to test the results of his self-manifestation in mighty deeds and gracious words and holy example.
I. A POOR OPINION CONCERNING JESUS. "Some say that thou art John the Baptist." This was a poor opinion. There was no personal thought or consideration in it. In a time serving sort of way, some folk had taken up the excited exclamation of Herod, "It is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead." It was foolish, for there was no real likeness between the two men, or their two missions. Jesus could never have even suggested rough, half-clad John. Beware of taking up something somebody else is pleased to say about Jesus. Only very poor opinions of him can be gained in that way.
II. A BETTER OPINION CONCERNING JESUS. "Some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets." Elijah was a bad guess; for Jesus was in no way like him, Elisha would have been better. Jeremias was not a bad guess. And it was an advance to liken Christ to one of the spiritual, teaching prophets. It should be borne in mind that there was an almost universal expectation of the return of Elijah, and that this had grown to be a national mania, so that every unusual man was suspected to be Elijah.
III. A BEST OPINION CONCERNING JESUS. Peter may have been actually in advance of the other disciples in discerning the mystery of Christ; or he may only have been spokesman of a general apprehension. The disciples saw two things; but they involved more than they then saw.
1. Jesus was Messiah; but not the kind of Messiah anticipated.
2. Jesus was Son of the living God; and this involved that Jesus was doing his Father's moral work in the souls of men.—R.T.
Visions of the mystery of Christ.
It was the end and aim of our Lord's life to reveal the mystery of himself to his disciples. But what is so strange and yet so significant is, that he made scarcely any direct declarations on the subject. He evidently wanted it to be the impression left by his presence, his words, and his works. Later on in his life we find more of what may, in a good sense, be called self-assertion. But in his earlier ministry he virtually answered all inquiries as he answered the two disciples sent from John Baptist: "Go and show again the things ye do see and hear." Let him make what he can of them, and of me by the help of them. The impressions of himself had been borne in daily, for long months, upon those disciples, and so they had gained visions of his mystery. What is that mystery?
I. IT IS HIS DIVINITY. Because the word "divinity" has been applied to created beings, many persons prefer to speak of the Deity of Christ. The opened vision of the disciples found God in a man; they discerned the "Divine-human being, man with God for the soul of his humanity." It is hardly in place to inquire what notions of incarnations of deity prevailed among pagan nations, because such notions could not have reached or influenced these simple disciples. It is to the point to inquire how the Old Testament records and associations would help them. There were "theophanies" of various forms, which must have been helpful and suggestive. St. John the apostle, in his Gospel, finely represents the process which had gone on in his own mind, by the help of which he had grasped the mystery of Christ's Deity. It was the humanity that did it. John gives a series of narratives, and one after another they make on the reader a twofold impression.
1. He says—How manifestly Jesus was a real brother-Man!
2. But then he says—How manifestly Jesus was more than man, a Divine Man! No true notion of Christ's Divinity can ever be attained save in the disciples' way, by actual, constant, living contact with Christ's humanity. It is that extraordinary humanity which convinces of the Divinity.
II. IT IS HIS SONSHIP. A previous homily has dealt with this point. The impression on which we now dwell is that the Divinity of Christ is to be conceived as "equality with God," not subordination or creation. The contrast to son is servant. A servant is told the will; a son shares the will. A servant is at the footstool; the son is on the throne. "I and my Father are one."—R.T.
The rock truth.
"Upon this rock I will build my Church." There has been grave dispute over this passage. Is the rock foundation of the Church
(1) Peter himself; or
(2) Peter's faith; or
(3) Peter's confession; or
(4) Christ himself, the Son of the living God?
Without entering into that discussion, we may simply say that this is true—the confession which Peter made expresses the foundation, the rock truth of Christianity, every doctrine of which rests secure on the Divine-human Sonship of our Lord. Peter is taken as representing this rock truth, because he was the first distinctly to give it expression. The figure of rock foundation needs explanation in the light of Eastern modes of building, and ideas of building. Still, we know the importance of sound foundations, though there is no longer more than a poetical interest in foundation stones.
I. THIS CONFESSION WAS THE ROCK FOUNDATION OF CHRIST'S REVELATION. For Jesus brought a revelation from God, which was a revelation of God. Search down to the foundation on which all Christ taught of God rests; refuse to be satisfied until you have discovered its primary truth, its absolutely first and essential principle, and you will find it to be the Fatherhood of God—the permission to think of God. through the associations of our human fatherhood. But direct revelations of the Divine Fatherhood cannot be made to men; they come as the correlative of Fatherhood, as Sonship. Christ the Son primarily does this—reveal the Father-God.
II. THIS CONFESSION WAS THE ROCK FOUNDATION OF CHRIST'S MISSION. That mission was, to bring men to God. It included and involved much. Bearing penalty, setting example, teaching truth, offering a self-sacrifice, etc.; but get to the very foundation of it, and we see it was to recover for men their sonship and their proper son relations with God. Then we see how the Divine and perfect Sonship of Christ is the "rock truth" of his mission. Only the Son could hope to undertake and carry through the work of recovering sons.
III. THIS CONFESSION IS THE ROCK FOUNDATION ON WHICH CHRIST'S MISSION IS CONTINUED. Thoughtful readers will be struck by the constancy with which Christ used the term "Father," and the apostles use the term "Son." Those apostles clearly apprehended that the gospel they had to preach was the good news of the Divine Fatherhood; and that whoever received their gospel became sons again, linked in obedience, lure, and faith with Jesus, the "Son of the living God."—R.T.
The power of the keys.
It is necessary to understand the Eastern associations which help to explain our Lord's figure of the "keys." The key in the East was a symbol of authority; it was made long, with a crook at one end, so that it could be worn round the neck as a badge of office. To "confer a key" was a phrase equivalent to bestowing a situation of great trust and distinction. The expressions "binding" and "loosing" are figurative expressions, which were in familiar use in the rabbinical schools. "The school of Shammai bound men when it declared this or that act to be a transgression of the sabbath law. The school of Hillel loosed when it set men free from the obligations thus imposed." It should be borne in mind that this passage is a part of Christ's private teaching of the apostles. He was feeling that his own active work was nearly done, and very soon the work of saving men would rest on them. He would prepare them to understand their coming responsibilities; and he would assure them of their competent endowment to meet those responsibilities.
I. THEY WOULD HAVE SERIOUS AND AUTHORITATIVE WORK TO DO. It is remarkable that Jesus never attempted any organization of those who professed to believe in him. But he contemplated that his apostles would have to organize the converts they made. They could not help occupying a position of authority. They would be consulted on doctrines; on the application of doctrines to practical life and conduct; they would have to deal with inconsistent disciples. What they would have to do was illustrated in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, and in the admission of Cornelius. Their Lord would prepare them for undertaking those responsibilities.
II. THEY WOULD HAVE SPECIAL ENDOWMENTS FOR THEIR SPECIAL WORK. That is God's law. He makes the gift fit the service that is called for. Among the gifts in the early Church one is named "governments." That is the gift with which they were endowed. And this distinction needs to be made clear. Their gift came, not because they were apostles, but because this particular work was entrusted to them. Gifts are not possessions or rights; they are trusts; and all the honour of them lies in being thus trusted.
III. THEY WOULD HAVE SPECIAL DIVINE RECOGNITION IN THEIR WORK. What they did, in the loyal and faithful use of their gifts of government, would be owned and sealed by God. Illustrate by the Divine judgment on Ananias, following on Peter's condemnation of him; and the Spirit following Cornelius' admission.—R.T.
Testing the higher beliefs.
After our Lord had secured the recognition of his Divine claims, he proceeded to test the belief of those apostles, to see whether it was clear of those materialistic notions of his Messiahship which so constantly had hindered them. The test was found in the assurance that his Messiahship would seem to be a failure, and his bodily life end in shame and a cross. If they had grasped the spiritual nature of Christ's mission, they would not have felt so much his earth failure. If they still held their material hopes, the very mention of failure and a cross would be to them an offence indeed. Compare the record, in John 6:1-71, of Christ's testing his disciples by declaring high mystical truths. "Many went back, and walked no more with him." He even appealed unto the twelve, saying, "Will ye also go away?"
I. HIGHER BELIEFS MAY BE IMPULSIVE SENTIMENTS. A sort of vision a man may gain. Something that is a hope rather than an opinion; a sentiment rather than a judgment. Perhaps every man has some sublime but unworkable ideas. There are things we dream, wish they were true, and wonder whether they are. Perhaps the apostolic grip of the Divine Sonship was one of these things that are held convulsively for a moment. Perhaps St. Peter really spoke beyond himself, and no quiet, clear conviction lay behind his impulsive speech. And very probably he was, for the moment, quite beyond the reach of the rest. Our working beliefs and. our visions of truth often differ.
II. HIGHER BELIEFS MUST BE MADE WORKABLE PRINCIPLES. No truth is really worth anything to us that will not come as a vital force into our actual life, duty, and relation. Christ will not keep his apostles up in the high realms of mystical truths. "If you believe me to be the Son of God, we had better recognize some filets and truths, and see how the belief will affect them. This Son of God is going to suffer, to rid a prey to his foes, and to be killed. Will you still believe that he is the Son of the living God when you see him on a cross?" This is the point of our Lord's reference, just here, to his sufferings. All our advanced beliefs must be tested. No matter how beautiful they may seem to us, they are of no real value, they are vain dreams, unless they wilt stand the test of being actually fitted to fact, circumstance, and duty.—R.T.
He hinders Christ who would hold him back from his sufferings.
This brings before us another relation in which our Lord's sufferings stand. We have seen their relation as a testing of that higher truth to which St. Peter had given expression. Now we see how they bore on that particular mission which Jesus came to carry out. His sufferings were essential to that mission. He saved the world by his sufferings.
I. OUR LORD'S PURPOSE TO ENDURE SUFFERINGS. It should be clearly seen that our Lord knew beforehand all that was to happen to him; and he might have avoided all the pain and distress. Instead, he voluntarily determined to go steadily along the path, bearing and enduring all, because that was the Father's will for him. Explain in this way: Our Lord had to present to God the living sacrifice of a perfectly obedient Son. But he could not be a perfectly obedient Son if his obedience had not been adequately tested. The series of sufferings through which our Lord passed are the various testings of his Sonship. And because Christ was resolved to make the great redeeming sacrifice, he resolved to bear and endure every way in which the Father might be pleased to test his Sonship. A violent and shameful death was the final test.
II. OUR LORD'S OFFENCE AT THOSE WHO WOULD HINDER HIM FROM ENDURING HIS SUFFERINGS. They did the work of the flesh, which shrinks from suffering; they did not help the sanctified will to gain free expression. St. Peter became a tempter, a worker of evil; one who did the work of an adversary, of man's great adversary. Our Lord here uses the word "Satan" as a figure, without reference to the personal devil. Any adversary, any one who works against our best interests, is a Satan. To withdraw Christ from his sufferings was to withdraw Christ from his mission; since he could only be made "perfect," as a Bringer on of souls, by the experience and testing of suffering. Olshausen thinks that St. Peter forgot himself, and presumed upon the praise which Christ had given him for his noble confession. But it is better, in each case, to treat St. Peter as a mere representative, a mere spokesman, and to see how very imperfect an apprehension of Christ's deeper truth his words involve.—R.T.
The great gain, and the greater loss.
"What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" This is an extreme, a paradoxical utterance. No man can, in any precise sense, "gain the whole world." If he could, it would weigh nothing in the scale against the value of his life. For on life depends enjoyment of possessions. Illustrate by the parable of the rich farmer who boasted of what he possessed, and lost it all when he died in the night. Compare our Lord's advice to "lay up treasure in heaven."
I. THE GREAT GAIN IS EARTHLY THINGS. Look over the whole world. Examine the pursuits of every class. Read the story of the long ages. This is clearly men's opinion everywhere. They live to get, to win, to grasp, to hold what they call wealth, earthly valuables—houses, laud, jewels, money, fame. Is that really great gain? Test it by one thing—How does it stand related to man's real soul life? Then it is seen to belong only to the body, which man has for a while; and in no way to the being that he is, and will be forever. All a man acquires of a merely earthly character belongs to his body, and goes with his body when his body goes; then it is his no more. Treasure on earth is but falsely and unworthily called "great gain."
II. THE GREATER LOSS IS SPIRITUAL CHARACTER. For character is a man's true wealth; it belongs to the being he is, and is forever. And one application of our Lord's teaching here comes out in a very striking way. Gaining earthly things is only too likely to involve the destruction of spiritual character, because it is so sure to hinder that "self-denial" which is the absolutely essential foundation of noble and enduring spiritual character. A man gains the heavenly treasure by what he gives up, and not by what he holds fast to (see Matthew 16:24). The sublime illustration is presented in the case of our Lord himself, who acquired nothing earthly, who gave up everything he had that men are wont to esteem as gain, but who gained the eternal treasure of tested spiritual character, perfected Sonship.
In conclusion, meet the difficulty of the apparently unpractical character of such teaching. Show that it is really a question of relativity. Which is to be first, possessions or character?—R.T.
The coming of the Son of man.
"Not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." This is immediately suggested. "Christ's coming," and "Christ's coming in his kingdom," must be phrases used with a variety of meanings and with a variety of references. We begin to feel that it must be used as a proverbial phrase. Various explanations of our Lord's meaning have been given. Examine three.
I. CHRIST CAME IN HIS KINGDOM AT THE TRANSFIGURATION. This meaning is suggested by the fact that the narrative of the Transfiguration immediately succeeds, and the evangelist appears designedly to set them in close connection. That was a very sublime manifestation of his glory, but it is difficult to understand how it could be called a "coming of the kingdom." Moreover, there is no point in saying that some would be spared to the coming of the kingdom, when all were to be spared over the Transfiguration. That explanation cannot be regarded as satisfactory.
II. CHRIST CAME IN HIS KINGDOM AT THE DAY OF PENTECOST. That is properly regarded as the actual starting of Christ's new and spiritual kingdom. In part it may fulfil the reference of our Lord. But here again the difficulty occurs that the apostolic band was intact at the Day of Pentecost, with the exception of the traitor Judas, who had "gone to his own place." It is hardly possible to rest satisfied with this explanation.
III. CHRIST CAME IN HIS KINGDOM AT THE FALL OF JERUSALEM. "This was a judicial coming, a signal and visible event, and one that would happen in the lifetime of some, but not of all, of those present." John certainly lived beyond this event. "In a sense which was real, though partial, the judgment which felt upon the Jewish Church, the destruction of the holy city and the temple, the onward march of the Church of Christ, was as the coming of the Son of man in his kingdom." This is altogether the most satisfactory suggestion; and we need only suppose that Christ was carried away in his thoughts beyond the present, and was helped in thinking of the sufferings that were immediately before him, by comforting visions of the success and glory which would follow his suffering and his sacrifice in the world's by and by.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 16". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany