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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Matthew 16

Verse 1

Observe here, 1. The persons demanding of our Saviour a sign, the Pharisees and Sadducees, person of contrary opinions and interests; yet both agree in tempting and opposing Christ.

Learn hence, That wicked men, how opposite soever they are one to another, yet can agree together in opposing Christ, and undermining his truth.

Observe, 2. The sign demanded; Shew us a sign from heaven: as if they had said, Put us not off with such earthly signs as we have seen, in multiplying loaves; but let us see a miracle from heaven, such as Moses and Elias wrought. This they desired, not so much for their satisfaction, as out of curiosity, nay wicked treachery.

Learn thence, That to demand a sign, not to confirm our faith, but to harden ourselves in our unbelief, is a dangerous tempting of Christ.

Observe, 3. Our Saviour's rejection of this demand of the Pharisees to give them a sign; O ye hypocrites, says he, ye can discern the face of the sky, but ye cannot discern the signs of the times. As if Christ had said, "Did not malice and obstinacy blind your eyes, ye might as easily see and discern that these are the times of the Messias, and that I am he, by the miracles wrought by me, as you can make a judgement of the weather, by looking upon the sky."

Learn, that to pretend more ignorance and uncertainty in discerning the signs of the gospel times, than the signs of the weather is great hypocrisy: Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky, but ye cannot discern the signs of the times?

Observe lastly, That our Saviour doth not condemn the study of nature, or making observation of the state of the weather, from the face of the sky. All that our Saviour blamed was, that they were better skilled in the signs of the weather, than in the signs of the times. As God by natural signs gives us warning of a change in natural things: so by his providential dispensations he gives us warning of a change in civil things. He that is wise, will observe these things; and by their observation will come to understand the pleasure of the Lord.

Verse 5

Observe here, 1. How dull the disciples of Christ were under Christ's own teaching, how apt to put a carnal sense upon his words; they apprehended he had spoken to them of the leaven of bread, what he intended of the leaven of the Pharisee's doctrine.

Observe, 2. The smart and sharp reproof which Christ gave his disciples, for not understanding the sense and signification of what he spake. The Lord Jesus Christ is much displeased with his own people, when he discerns blindness and ignorance in them after more than ordinary means of knowledge enjoyed by them; How is that ye do not yet understand?

Observe, 3. The metaphor which Christ sets forth the corrupt doctrine of the Pharisees and partly for its diffusiveness. Leaven is a piece of sour dough, that diffuses itself into the whole mass or lump of bread with which it is mixed.

From whence our Saviour intimates, that the Pharisees were a sour and proud sort of people; and their doctrine like themselves, poisonous and pernicious in their consequences; the contagion of which our Lord warns his disciples to avoid and shun.

Whence learn, That error is as damnable as vice; persons erroneous in their judgments are to be avoided, as well as those that are lewd and wicked in their conversations. He that has a due care of his soul's salvation, must as well beware of erroneous principles as of debauched practices.

Observe, 4. Our Saviour does not command his disciples to separate from communion with the Pharisees, and oblige them not to hear their doctrine; but only to beware of the errors that they mixed with their doctrine. We may and ought to hold communion with a church, though erroneous in doctrine, if not fundamentally erroneous. Separation from a church is not justifiable upon any other ground than that which makes a separation between God and that church: which is either the apostacy of that church into gross idolatry; or in point of doctrine into damnable heresy, or imposing sinful terms of communion.

Verse 13

Observe here, 1. Our Saviour's question, and the disciples answer, Our Saviour's question is twofold:

1. Whom do men say that I am? Not that the Son of God was ignorant what men said of him; but he had an intention more firmly to settle and establish his disciples in the belief of his being the promised Messias.

And therefore, 2. He puts the question to them, Whom do you, my disciples, say that I am? "You, that have heard the holiness of my doctrine, and seen the divinity of my miracles: what say you to me? And what confession do you make of me?"

Christ expects greater measures of grace and knowledge, and higher degrees of affiance and faith, from those that have enjoyed the greatest means of grace and knowledge. The disciples were eye and ear-witnesses of his doctrine and miracles, and accordingly he expects from them a full confession of his divinity.

Observe, 2. The answer returned,

1. By the apostles in general; and they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some Elias: some Jeremias. It is no new thing, it seems to find diversity of judgments and opinions concerning Christ and the affairs of his kingdom. We find, that when our Saviour was amongst men, who daily both saw and heard him, yet there was then a diversity of opinions concerning him.

2. Peter, in the name of the rest, and as the mouth of all the apostles, makes a full and open confession of his being the Son of God; thou art Christ the Son of the living God.

Whence note, that the veil of Christ's human nature did not keep the eye of his disciples' faith from seeing him to be the Son of God as well as the Son of man; thou art Christ the Son of the living God.

Observe, 3. How highly pleased our Saviour was with this confession; he pronounces Peter, and the rest in him, Blessed, who had by him made this Christian confession; Blessed art thou, Simon; and tells him,

1. What did not enable him to make that confession, Not flesh and blood; that is, not man, nor the wisdom and reason of man.

2. But postitively, God the Father, by the operation of his Spirit, and the dispensation of the gospel has wrought this divine faith in you, and drawn forth this glorious confession from you, that I am indeed the Son of God.

Thence learn, That no man can savingly believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, and Saviour of the world, but he in whom God himself by his Holy Spirit has wrought such a persecution by the ministry of the gospel.

Verse 18

Observe here, 1. As Peter confessed Christ, so Christ confesses him; Peter said, Thou art Christ; Christ says, Thou art Peter, alluding to his name, which signifies a rock; he having made good that title, by the strength, stability, and firmness of his faith.

Observe, 2. A double promise made by Christ to Peter.

1. For the building. 2. For the upholding of his church.

For the building of his church;

1. Upon this rock will I build my church.

Upon what rock? Upon Peter, the rock confessing, say the papists; but if so, no more is said of Peter here, than of all the apostles elsewhere. Galatians 2:9.

James and John are called pillars as well as Peter. So that Peter's superiority over the rest of the apostles can with no shew of reason be from hence inferred. "Upon Christ, the rock confessed," says the protestants; for Christ is the foundation-stone upon which his church is built; Ephesians 2:20.

Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone. So then, not upon Peter the rock confessing, but upon Christ the rock confessed, and upon the rock of Peter's confession, that fundamental truth, that Christ is the Son of the living God, is the church built.

Upon this rock will I build my church, Super hanc confessionis tua Petxam edificabo Ecclesiam meam.

Yet Christ may here be said to build his church upon Peter, because he used St. Peter's ministry in laying the foundation of a christian church among the Jews and Gentiles; he being the first preacher of that faith which he here confessed first to the Jews, Acts 2:29-Haggai :. and then to the Gentiles Acts 10:33-John :.

And accordingly St. Peter's conversion of thousand souls by his ministry, Acts 2:41 is looked upon by some as a punctual fulfilling of this promise here made upon him. He was stiled the rock, because he laid the foundations of faith among the nations, that is, the first foundations of a christian church in the world.

Whence it appears, that in this matter St. Peter neither had nor can have a successor; but if the pope will pretend to be his successor in this affair, he must not sit a Rome, lording it there over God's heritage, but must go in person to the unbelieving Jews, and unconverted Heathens, as Peter did; and labour by his preaching to bring over the Turk, the Jew, and the Infidel to christianity.

Observe next, our Saviour's promise for the upholding, as well as the building of his church; The gates of hell shall not prevail against it; that is, all the policy and power of the devil and his instruments shall neither destroy my church, nor extinguish the light of this divine truth, which thou hast now made confession of; namely, "That I am the true Messias, the Son of the living God."

Note, 1. That Jesus Christ is the builder, and will be the upholder of his church.

2. That the church upheld by Christ's power and promise, shall never be vanquished by the devil's policy or strength: upon &c. and the gates, &c.

By the gates of hell, understand, 1. The wisdom of hell, gates being the seat of council.

2. The censures and sentence of hell, gates being the place of judicature.

3. By the gates of hell, understand the arms and powers of hell, gates being a place of strength and guards.

So that when Christ secures against hell, he secures against all that receive their commission from hell; neither hell, nor any envenomed by hell, shall prevail against my church.

Verse 19

Observe here, 1. The person to whom this promise is made, namely to Peter, with the rest of the apostles; the confession being made by him in the name of the rest. Elsewhere we find the same authority and power given to them all, which is here committed unto Peter; Whose sins soever ye remit, they are remitted. John 20:23. Although there might be a priority of order among the apostles, yet no superiority of power was founded in any one of them over and above the rest.

Observe, 2. The power promised; I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; that is, the key of doctrine, and the key of discipline, or full power and authority to preach the gospel, to administer sacraments, and execute church censures. The speech is metaphorical, and alludes to stewards and officers in great houses, to whose trust the keys of the household are committed. Christ's ministers are the stewards of his house, into whose hands the keys of his church are committed by Christ; the pope would snatch them out of all hands, and keep them in his own; he snatches at Peter's keys, but makes shipwreck faith, arrogating Peter's power, but abrogating his holy profession.

Learn, 1. That the authority and power which the ministers of the gospel do exercise and execute it from Christ; I will give thee the keys of the kingdom.

2. That this power of the keys Christ dispensed promiscuously to all his apostles, and never designed it as a peculiar for St. Peter. As they all made the same profession of faith by Peter, so they all received the same authority and power with Peter. And accordingly, the apostles exercised their office independently upon Peter, in converting those of the circumcision as well as he.

And St. Paul who was the apostle of the Gentiles, opened the kingdom of heaven to far more Gentiles than ever Peter did; and therefore had this key of the kingdom of heaven given to him, as much as to St. Peter.

Verse 20

That is, till after his resurrection. It may seem strange, that our Saviour should charge his disciples to tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ, seeing the knowledge of it was so necessary. The reason is conceived to be:

1. Because the glory of his godhead was not to be fully manifested till after his resurrection, and then to be published by himself, and confirmed by his own miracles.

2. Lest the knowledge of it should have hindered his death; for had the rulers known, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.

Learn, That Christ has his own fit times and proper season, in which he reveals his own mysteries to the world.

3. That Christ was so intent upon his laying down his life for sinners, that he would not have his death hindered by an untimely declaration of his being truly and really God; after his death it was, that he declared himself to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead.

Verse 21

Observe, 1. The wisdom of our Saviour, in acquainting his disciples with the near approach of his death and sufferings. This he did for several reasons:

1. To let them understand that he was really God, (as they had just before confessed him to be) by his foreknowing, and foretelling things to come.

2. To convince them of their error, in apprehending that his kingdom was of this world, and that he was to reign here as a temporal prince.

3. To prevent their being offended at his sufferings, and to prepare them for their own, that they might not shrink at them, nor sink under them.

Observe, 2. The persons foretold by Christ, that should be the bloody actors in the tragedy of his death; namely, the rulers and chief priests; it was the poor that received Christ, and embraced the gospel; it was the great ones of the world that rejected him, and set him at nought; and the rulers both in church and state condemned and crucified him.

Verse 22

No doubt Peter spake all this out of a sincere intention, and with a singular affection towards our Saviour; but pious intentions and good affections will not justify unwarrantable actions.

From this counsel of St. Peter to Christ we learn,

1. How ready flesh and blood is to oppose all that tends to suffering; Master, spare thyself.

2. What need we have to be fortified against the temptations of friends as well as of enemies! for Satan can make good men his instruments to do his work, when they little think of it,. Peter little suspected that Satan set him on work to hinder the redemption of mankind, by dissuading Christ from dying. But observe in the next verse with what indignation Christ rejects Peter's advice.

Verse 23

Christ looked upon Peter with anger and displeasure, Christ heard Satan speaking in Peter. It was Peter's tongue, but Satan tuned it; therefore Christ calls Peter by Satan's name. They that will do the devil's work shall have the devil's name too. He that would hinder the redemption of mankind, is Satan, an adversary to mankind.

From our Saviour's smart reproof given to Peter, Learn, that no love or respect to men's persons or piety must draw us to flatter them in their sins, or cause us to speak lightly of their sins.

From our Saviour's resolution not to favour himself, notwithstanding Peter's advice, Learn, That so intent was the heart of Christ upon the great work of man's redemption, that he could not bear the least word that should obstruct it, or divert him from it.

Verse 24

Observe here, 1. How our Saviour recommends his religion to every man's choice; not attempting by force and violence to compel any to the profession of it. If any man will come after me, that is, if any man choose and resolve to be a Christian.

2. Our Saviour's terms propounded:

1. Self-denial Let him deny himself. By which we are not to understand the denying and renouncing of our senses in matters of faith, nor yet the renouncing of our reason in matters of religion; but by self-denial is meant, that we should be willing to part with all our earthly comforts, and quit all our temporal enjoyments, for the sake of Christ and his holy religion.

2. Gospel-suffering, He must take up his cross. An allusion to a Roman custom, that the malefactor, who was to be crucified, took his cross upon his shoulder, and carried it to the place of execution.

Where note, Not the making of the cross for ourselves, but the patient bearing of it when God lays it upon our shoulder, is the duty injoined: let him take up his cross.

3. Gospel-service, He must follow me: that is, obey my commands, and follow my example: he must set my life and doctrine continually before him, and must be daily correcting and reforming his life by that rule and pattern. See on Luke 9:23.

Verse 25

Observe here, 1. That the love of this temporal life, is a great temptation to men to deny Christ, and renounce his holy religion.

2. That the surest way to attain eternal life, is cheerfully to lay down a mortal life, when the glory of Christ and his service calleth us thereunto.

Verse 26

Learn, 1. That God has intrusted everyone of us with a soul of inestimable worth and preciousness, capable of being saved or lost, and that to all eternity.

2. That the gain of the whole world is not comparable with the loss of one precious soul. The soul's loss is an incomprehensible and irrecoverable loss.

Verse 27

There is a twofold judgment spoken of by this evangelist St. Matthew, namely, a particular coming of Christ to execute vengeance on the Jews, at the destruction of Jerusalem; and a general coming at the day of judgment.

If we understand this place of the latter, we have then, 1. The judge described, The Son of man, he who was and is both God and man, shall judge both angels and men.

2. The splendour of that day declared, He shall come in glory with his holy angels. The attendance of angels shall be required by Christ not for necessity but for majesty.

3. The work and business of that day demonstrated, and that is, To render to every man according to his work.

Learn, That the judgment of the great day will be most glorious and righteous: Christ will be glorious in his person, and glorious in his attendance: and the judgment will be according to righteousness, Without respect of persons, according to what has been done in the body.

Verse 28

A threefold sense and interpretation is given of these words.

1. Some will have them refer to our Saviour's transfiguration mentioned in the next chapter: as if he had said, "Some of you, as Peter, James, and John, shall shortly see me upon mount Tabor, in such glory as I will come into judgment."

2. Others understand the words of Christ's exercising his kingly power in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation; which St. John did have to see.

3. Others refer the words to the time of the gospel after Christ's resurrection and ascension, when the gospel was propagated and spread far and near, There are some standing here, that shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God come with power Mark 9:1; that is, till they see the increase and enlargement of the the church by the gospel.

Thence note, That where the gospel is powerfully preached, and cheerfully obeyed, there Christ cometh most gloriously in his kingdom.

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Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 16". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/matthew-16.html. 1700-1703.